Pease’s longer stories are divided in this collection by eight short-shorts, allowing her to explore a greater variety of voices and ideas. Highlights of these, to me, were “Hearing Is the Last to Go,” where an elderly mother guilts her children for pawning her well-being off to a caretaking robot, and “Church Retreat, 1975,” where two girls have a close call with a pair of disturbed Vietnam veterans. Strong as these pieces are, I felt most gratified by the longer stories, where the reader has the pleasure of settling in with the complicated characters that Pease neither lauds nor absolves. Two of these stories, “Two Ways of Crying for Love” and “Honest and True,” revolve around the emotional and physical drama of young love and its many punishing outcomes. In these and in the ominous “The After-Life,” Pease skillfully builds tension upon tension, tautly contrasting the measured interior lives of her characters with the erratic paths their lives take on. Again and again, the stories come back to car rides where her characters are passengers, unable to dictate the course but strong enough to demand their own autonomy. “Let me out right here,” Lacy orders in one of the many disquieting scenes of “Honest and True”:
The car rocked from side to side. All the way down Peace Street they struggled, Lacy jabbing with her elbow, Tom holding her arm. ‘I’m walking!’ she shouted, but Tom only laughed.... As they rolled to a stop, she opened the door to the curb and leapt out, stopping to look back at Tom, who was trapped behind the wheel. She knew people were watching from the cars behind them; she knew how this must look.
Pease doesn’t limit her colorful characters to humans: from cornered dogs in heat to feral, vomiting cats, she intertwines the animals and landscapes of the South, lending to the wildness and volatility of her stories. In “Primitive,” the young Tennessean mother remarks, “Mountains hovered over us, and the forests were thick with animals. Anything could happen to anybody.” This is the lasting impression of Let Me Out Here: that of possibility, excitement, the flushed thrill of an adventure at the start of a road trip that fades to the looming wariness of the long path ahead. Pease is the talented driver, game for whatever detours and roadblocks may arise, and the reader is able to sit back and watch the scenery, admiring or recoiling at the scenes from the window. Readers picking up this excellent collection would be wise to follow the instruction of the young boyfriend in “Two Ways of Crying for Love,” captive to an unhinged creep who is baiting his girlfriend with the promise of a pet cat they must retrieve: “I wanted to get him talking, let him loosen up,” he says. “It was going to be a long, weird drive.”