This book made me reconsider the word “story”—not the definition of story but our experience of story in its ages-old form before it had the word “short” in front of it; before it was bound in hardcover and made eligible for awards. Before all that there was someone talking and someone, often many someones, listening. And what they heard caused them to utter the equivalent of “Oh God.”

This still happens today. We tell stories in bars, in beauty shops, on tennis courts, on buses. A hand flies to the mouth or fingers lightly touch the base of the throat and the same utterance occurs: “Oh God.”

Richard Bausch is a master storyteller—a description/phrase that gets thrown around a lot but is pin-point accurate for him. He deftly strips a narrative down to the essence of story so in reading his work, finely represented in this new collection, you want to read it fast because you’re so engaged you can’t wait to learn what happens next. The characters are enduring the shifting, unpredictable weather of emotions and drama that befalls all of us. The hook for each piece could easily be the topic of eager discussion at a backyard barbecue, a girls night out, or while waiting in line for movie tickets.

Did you hear about that poor guy who went to mug someone and his victim turned out to be an off-duty cop?

Hey, they brought Freddie into the emergency room. His wife thought he was at the movies with his brother.

That guy at the museum? Isn’t he the one who ran over that kid?

My mom tried online dating and it ended in tears—but not hers!

See her? Her fiancé dumped her and she knocked him out cold.

Forget about Bausch’s accolades and long literary history. Read these stories because they’re great stories. Read them and pretend you’re with a friend, or out with the guys or gals trading tales. Only you’re really in the privacy of your own head, listening to Bausch. How long before you utter “Oh God”?

My guess? Not long.

Enjoy the book.