Sexual and emotional awakenings form the core of many of these pungent stories in The Hotel Eden. Ron Carlson tempers his nostalgia for youth by tipping his tales with darkness, especially ”Oxygen,” in which a teenager spends his summer inhaling the elixirs of his newfound sexual and physical prowess while working a job delivering oxygen to the sick and dying. Carlson goes deepest when he moves beyond his small-town romantic dramas: In ”Dr. Slime,” a baker learns that his actor brother moonlights as a wrestler and, while watching him in operatic action, sees him as an artist for the first time. Although a certain cutesiness pervades some of these stories, they’re hauntingly evocative. A-

The Hotel Eden
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