I often feel unsatisfied by short stories. They are either too shallow (really? that’s all we get about these characters?), too gimmicky, too literary (more about words than real feelings), too easy (really? she realized life’s meaning because of the way the moon shone on the water?) or just plain brutal (yep, life is hard at times. really hard. and sometimes we fuck up. fuck up really bad. so what?). Finalist for the National Book Award, Among the Missing by Dan Chaon (pronounced “Shawn”) achieves the amazing feat of not even flirting with any of these weaknesses. In “The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom” a man struggles to bear the lifelong consequences of a lie he told as a teenager–a lie the majority of us would have told. In “Prodigal” a man tries to reconcile his anger at his father with the growing realization of their similarities and the anger his own children probably feel for him. In “I Demand To Know Where You’re Taking Me” a woman is trapped between her love for her husband and her fear and disapproval of his beloved (but very disturbing) brothers. Every story’s length and events are perfectly tuned to its subject, every one has a voice both unique, credible and compelling and every one asks a very hard question and manages, astoundingly, to both speak to the question and avoid a pat answer.