With The Reclusives, Mark Puckett has written a gem of a collection. Each story is what a writer might scrawl on the backs of rejection letters for submissions that followed the rules set by workshops and literary journals. The language is impatient and emphatic, stating directly those first associations of image and meaning that come from the creation of narrative made of the observed absurdity of daily life. Freer and more open to asymmetric logic than the typical short story, each reflects the psychology of their protagonists, who, while recluses, are not rejects. Rather Puckett's characters are recluses from the hypocrisy of the cliches that construct the go-nowhere 9-to-5 work-a-day world. Their inability to remain tidily numbed by the sedative of no-meaning makes them unable to just be. A salary man discovers the cubicles of his office have the internal logic of a multi-floor crossword puzzle. A novelist finds success only by writing unpublishable novels in the voice of a Czech literary figure who does not exist. A Willy Lomanesque businessman has his moment of self discovery in the halls of a dog show among artificially coiffed poodles. And in the extended final piece, "Pool Man", Puckett lets rip an ecstatic freebase of an odyssey with twist after twist through an absurdist but eminently logical landscape that folds one moment upon the next. All the while, Puckett manages to maintain a sweet regard for his "reclusives", allowing each character the opportunity within their story to achieve a certain uneasy peace with themselves, their positions in this whacked out world, and move on into whatever awaits them beyond. The results are frequently curious, never quite what is expected and always very smart. I can heartily recommend his work to those for whom the status quo feels a bit more like a straitjacket. This is a good book and one worth taking for a swim.