It's a testament to July's artistry that the narrators of this arresting first collection elicit empathy rather than groans. "Making Love in 2003," for example, follows a young woman's dubious trajectory from being the passive, discarded object of her writing professor's attentions to seducing a 14-year-old boy in the special-needs class she teaches, while another young woman enters the sex industry when her girlfriend abandons her, with a surprising effect on the relationship. July's characters over these 16 stories get into similarly extreme situations in their quests to be loved and accepted, and often resort to their fantasy lives when the real world disappoints (which is often): the self-effacing narrator of "The Shared Patio" concocts a touching romance around her epilectic Korean neighbor; the aging single man of "The Sister" weaves an elaborate fantasy around his factory colleague Victor's teenage sister (who doesn't exist) to seduce someone else. July's single emotional register is familiar from her film Me and You and Everyone We Know, but it's a capacious one: wry, wistful, vulnerable, tough and tender, it fully accommodates moments of bleak human reversals. These stories are as immediate and distressing as confessionals.