See more of the story

We're only one-fifth of the way through the 21st century, and we've already had more than our share of monsters. They've been metaphorical ones, of course, but at this point, a literal kraken could make an appearance in Lake Minnetonka and nobody would bat an eye.

So do we really need to read about even more mythical creatures? In her wonderful new short story collection, "Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century," author Kim Fu proves that the answer is yes. It's an endlessly entertaining bestiary from one of the country's most exciting practitioners of fiction.

In the collection's second story, "Liddy, First to Fly," Fu follows a group of girls who are thrown for a loop when one of them gradually sprouts wings. It's a not-unwelcome development for the girls, who have found themselves on the cusp of adolescent jadedness: "The realm of pretend had only just closed its doors to us, and light still leaked through around the edges … Now we had something to bond us again, a new hidden world."

The girls keep their friend's secret for as long as they can, but it's hard to hide too long from protective parents. The story ends perfectly; it's a wistful, gorgeous look at the liminal space between childhood and what comes after.

In "June Bugs," the monsters are — at least at first blush — the titular insects, which are infesting a rental house that a woman named Martha has moved into after breaking up with her boyfriend, Neil: "The floor was a seething sea of beetles — their color of dried blood, the sheen of their glassy wings like cresting waves — that washed up and over the old front door."

Martha declares an unsuccessful war against the bugs while reflecting on her doomed relationship; her ex-boyfriend was possessive and abusive, and reacted with horror when he learned that Martha bought a gun and brought it into the apartment they shared. The story ends in horror, but not the kind the reader is expecting — Fu has a formidable talent for misdirection, and it lends her stories a sly air of the unforeseen.

Nearly every story in Fu's collection is a standout, from the dark "#ClimbingNation," about a woman attending a memorial for a former college schoolmate-turned-social media star, to "Do You Remember Candy," which pictures a world that has collectively lost its sense of taste. (The latter, coming in the midst of a pandemic that famously robs some victims of their ability to smell, is especially chilling.)

There's nothing to fault in this book; it's an endlessly inventive collection from a real talent. In one story, a character notes that people are "living in a paradise," because "the recent past was worse, the future would almost certainly be worse, and the present was worse for most other people, living elsewhere."

Welcome to the 21st century, Fu seems to be saying in this dark, clever book. Welcome to paradise.

Michael Schaub is a member of the board of the National Book Critics Circle. He lives in Texas.

Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century: Stories
By: Kim Fu
Publisher: Tin House, 224 pages, $16.95.