Joseph Rein’s short story collection Roads without Houses is his powerful debut and the runner-up for the annual Press 53 Award for Short Fiction in 2017. This collection is a string of fifteen stories spanning in plot, characters, and fraught personal struggles, all within the landscape of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Rein’s prose is beautiful and tight. He wastes no space on his pages, revealing what he needs to of his characters, considering their obsessions while crafting the details of his narratives.
Each story is a fresh investigation of humanity, fears, broken relationships. He digs into his characters, their motivations and pains, to uncover a human truth within each of his stories. In “White Lies,” the main character flatteringly embellishes his part in a road rage incident, this little white lie of his quickly spinning out of his control. In the title story, a husband watches his wife recluse into her obsessive exercise and fall away from the life they’d built. In “Letters from the Dead,” postal service worker and main character Marla is compelled to write back and seek out those who send letters to the deceased with post office boxes that will soon expire. In two of his stories, Rein uses an encyclopedia form to mold content and craft insightful, experimental narratives.
Throughout this collection, connections run deeper than geographical location, extending to emotional truths, miscommunications, hope and hopelessness. Rein’s craft—his selective inclusion of details, concise language, compelling first lines and resounding resolutions—makes this story collection feel a cohesive whole. Each of these stories delight with originality, sometimes devastate with painful insight, or lack thereof. This collection is wrought skillfully, told wisely, and will stay with the reader long after the cover closes—Emily Johnson