Running through Jeffrey Condran's excellent debut short-story collection, A Fingerprint Revealed (Press 53), is an intriguing thread: Each of the 10 otherwise diverse stories depicts non-Islamic Americans interacting with Muslims. But while some of these stories have clear political overtones — characters confronting immigration or anti-terrorism laws, for instance — most of them delve into individual human relationships, with characters' creeds and ethnicities contributing just one factor to the mix.
Another motif is the book's references to Pittsburgh: Condran, whose publication credits include the prestigious Kenyon Review, teaches writing and literature at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and is co-founder of indie publisher Braddock Books.
The opening story, "Praha," models these themes but doesn't set the tone: This is a more ambitious book than its well-written but fairly conventional entry suggests. The charming "Irregulars" is also an outlier: Narrated in "reminiscence," it's a Rushmore-esque story about a precocious grade-schooler who wants to be Sherlock Holmes and his Watson, a Muslim girl whose father's been carted away by the authorities.
Condran settles into his groove with stories like "House of Terror," in which an American abroad learns his wife has given half their life savings to a foundation run by a Jordanian poet with whom she might have had an affair. Condran skillfully sketches the armature of moments, his protagonist explaining how his wife has betrayed him by exploding their "personal mythology" as a couple.
"Cinemagic" is narrated by an ACLU lawyer separated from her husband, living with her vampire-obsessed teenage daughter, and representing a Jordanian man who has run afoul of the Patriot Act. The story plumbs intriguing domestic dynamics, partly through its characters' discussion of movies. In the collection's title story, Condran artfully deploys shifting points of view to depict an encounter between a divorced couple, with the man bitterly predicting that his ex-wife's new lover will "see him [the husband] in what she knew [in bed]."
"Mohammed Happened" — about a college student who savagely beats a Jordanian classmate — is told from the perspective of a female friend of the assailant, and leaves a sick feeling in the pit of the stomach. The resonantly complex "Building Cities" is narrated by a man who — though estranged from his own daughter — was once briefly a surrogate father to a young Islamic woman whose house he is now renovating.
Condran packs a lot into these 158 pages. None of these stories overstays its welcome, and most leave you wanting more.