Paige Cooper’s finely-crafted debut collection, Zolitude, crackles and spits with intelligence. Cooper has honed a style that lends itself to unusual, crystalline landscapes ranging from—an environmental camp on some soon-to-be-flooded Canadian islands to a crowded German brothel “beside the boarded library and neon bathhouse,” in a city bereft of men—and from a housing development covered in a frozen fog in Riga, Latvia to an isolated settlement on Mars. Even worlds that are familiar are made strange in Paige Cooper’s lucid imagination by the presence of extinct or mythical beasts. In “Spiderhole” we learn that the tourist-traps of Vietnam now use enslaved dinosaurs, and in “Moriah” the threat of a carnivorous roc looms around a group of cloistered sex offenders.

Cooper’s use of such disparate backdrops and characters could risk the collection’s cohesion, but the similar hearts residing in each of his stories preserves it. Characters wander through difficult relationships and wade their overwhelming sense of purpose. In “Ryan & Irene, Irene & Ryan” a music executive tries to protect a client coming out of an abusive relationship, but her nightly lucid dreams run parallel to her actual life, making it difficult for her to determine what is real and what is dream. And Cooper’s prose has a similar effect. It “runs in tandem harness with reality, but it is separate and unique. It’s hard to twist out of...Time fogs like it’s long gone already.” The stories in Zolitude require you to immerse yourself, to lose yourself, your sense of time, if only to briefly inhabit their desolate and exquisite worlds.