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The Necessity of Certain Behaviors

In a world where habit drives and consumes lives, Shannon Cain’s short story collection takes steadfast aim at those who cannot resist the pull of what society deems illicit. Nine stories delve into seemingly average people, who, upon closer inspection, engage in the illegal, the deadly, and the bizarre, risking their lives and jobs to continue pursuing their obsessions.

In a world where habit drives and consumes lives, Shannon Cain’s short story collection takes steadfast aim at those who cannot resist the pull of what society deems illicit. Nine stories delve into seemingly average people, who, upon closer inspection, engage in the illegal, the deadly, and the bizarre, risking their lives and jobs to continue pursuing their obsessions.

Cain’s quick, short prose creates a sense of urgency within each story, driving not only the characters, who remain attached to their behaviors, but plot as well. While some stories span months, others days, Cain’s craft of the short, direct sentence keeps lively pace, preventing these narrative from dragging or feeling bogged down.

In the opening story, “This Is How It Starts,” a woman named Jane has two lovers—one a man, the other a woman. As months progress, the woman keeps both lovers, unable to choose. Cain manages this passing of time with clear sentences, relaying complex information simply. For example, the narrator reveals that “The girl and the boy know about one another. Jane sometimes considers introducing them. The next part of the fantasy involves Jane floating a proposal that they both occupy her bed, maybe on Thursdays and Sundays. Jane knows the girl would not go for this. The boy, it nearly goes without saying, would.” This matter-of-fact presentation creates a sense of distance yet still implies intimacy with its candor.

By avoiding the fantastical, Cain develops characters that remain realistic and, perhaps, average people, yet also continuously intrigue, due to hidden obsessions. Ranging from mothers who grow weed to pay off divorce debts to a politician’s wife caught masturbating in a public steam room, these characters sometimes must confront their obsessions once revealed.

In “Cultivation,” the mother thinks of her obsession: “Yet, also: there’s nothing else in her life that offers the same satisfaction as the squat plants, the cultivation of perfect, tight, and tender buds, the recognition that she’s expert at something. She grows weed and she grows children, but the weed doesn’t talk back.” This tension between the mother’s love of growing weed and the love for her children reaches conflict when morals clash. In “The Steam Room,” a politician’s wife, unhappy with her marriage, finds herself in a legal situation when, “Two girls in City High School team swimsuits padded barefoot into the steam room and caught Helen deep in the throes of auto-arousal.” The event aids in Helen coming to terms with her marriage and her ever-public and political life.

Simultaneously focused yet diverse in exploration, The Necessity of Certain Behaviors closely examines individual lives, depicting engaging characters with tight and concise prose that evokes a sense of conflict within the high stakes. These stories challenge the everyday, adding strangeness to the mundane, reminding the reader of the possibility within even what, at first glance, appears ordinary. Expectations subverted, readers must look closer and reexamine even their own lives.

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