Collections by Vauhini Vara, Shannon Sanders and LaToya Watkins feature characters caught in the challenges and contradictions of being alive.

The journalist and author Vauhini Vara follows up her debut novel, “The Immortal King Rao,” with THIS IS SALVAGED: Stories (Norton, 185 pp., $26.95), a dazzling collection full of spellbinding prose and intimate glimpses into the minds of people grappling with life’s familiar but lesser-discussed traumas.

The collection features several grief-stricken protagonists who are floundering in the wake of a loss. In “The Irates,” a bereaved high schooler seeks connection and distraction by entangling her reluctant best friend in a phone-sex operation. In “The Hormone Hypothesis,” two lonely transplants to Iowa City bond by discussing the biological and social differences between women and men in their 40s, and the difference between losing a sibling versus losing a child. As the women open up about their personal histories and what led them to the city, they must also consider whether oversharing puts their budding friendship at risk. Throughout the collection, Vara suggests that to lose a loved one is to lose a part of yourself, and to lose yourself is to lose something also worth grieving.

Many of the collection’s 10 stories take the form of exhilarating confessionals. In “I, Buffalo,” a disgraced alcoholic lawyer struggles to conceal her addiction during a surprise visit from her sister’s family, admitting to herself, “Well, it happens to the best of us. But the best of us don’t introduce drugs to our law clients.” In the title story, an artist, Marlon, whose latest installation will be a life-size ark built by the residents of a homeless shelter, quickly falls for the shelter’s young manager: “He had expected someone different: older, fatter, stronger. He was pleased that she was like this instead.” As we bear witness to these confessions, we feel implicated in the characters’ bad behavior, and feel that much more embroiled.

Through unrestrained characters and fresh scenarios, Vara masterfully makes anew what it feels like to be alive. We are flawed, we falter, we go on.

Shannon Sanders’s debut collection, COMPANY: Stories (Graywolf Press, 194 pp., $27), follows multiple generations of a Black American family, the Collinses, over decades as they battle the fragmentation of their clan, which splinters as each member pursues their own individual hopes and dreams.

Each story follows a particular family member, at a particular point in time. The stories are linked, though — over the course of the collection, they fit together to paint a larger, collaged family portrait.

One of the great pleasures of “Company” — and there are many — is how some stories double back to retell an event or re-establish a family member from a different vantage point, deepening our understanding of, and investment in, the Collinses. For instance, in the opening story, “The Good, Good Men,” the brothers Miles and Theo take up the task, as they see it, of saving their mother from her latest deadbeat boyfriend, and from her apparent naïveté. As the brothers drive to her house in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., Miles reflects on how their mother’s flighty, flirty behavior drove their jazz musician father away. But in a later story, “Amicus Curiae,” we learn that the boys’ father was hardly blameless in the dissolution of their marriage. In this way, Sanders effectively prompts readers to sit with the idea that a family can contain contradictory truths.

This is a collection that builds intrigue through both what we see and what we don’t see. As we jump from story to story, between different times and different perspectives, it’s thrilling to re-encounter past characters in new circumstances and speculate about how we got here. In one story, Theo is adamant about not moving to D.C. because of his career on Wall Street, but when we see him in a later story, he’s settled in Washington, working a dead-end job. What happened? What changed? That’s for the reader to find out, but many of the stories similarly hold us in suspense as we seek to learn what’s transpired since we last spent time with our favorite of the family members.

“Company” is a deftly woven tapestry that scrupulously depicts familial ties and estrangement, richly told with a nuance that allows each character dignity and grace.

LaToya Watkins returns, fresh on the heels of her 2022 novel, “Perish,” with HOLLER, CHILD: Stories (Tiny Reparations Books, 208 pp., $28), a collection that pulls readers into the lives of mothers and caretakers on the precipice of harrowing decisions.

Told in the rhythmic, lulling African American Vernacular English that has come to be Watkins’s signature, these stories run the gamut of difficult situations. In “Tipping,” a woman must decide how best to tell her young children that their father is dead. In “The Mother,” the mother of a deceased cult leader chooses whether or not to tell a reporter the identity of the father of the cult’s controversial figurehead, but her answer is complicated because she was working as a prostitute when her son was conceived. In the title story, a mother who was sexually assaulted in her past must figure out whether to hide her son from mob justice after he’s accused of raping a 13-year-old girl.

One standout story, told from a male perspective, is “Cutting Horse,” which sees a Black man who was formerly a horse breeder and a drug dealer thinking through what to do about a runaway horse that has wandered onto his property. The story expertly interlaces nationally televised images of Black people dying at the hands of law enforcement with the locally sensationalized story about the missing horse, perhaps to ask: In America, whose life is worth more? But the man is convinced that the horse needs his protection, adding a complexity that prevents easy, oversimplified interpretation of the juxtaposition of the ideas behind the two news stories, which now converge through the protagonist.

While he deliberates, he can hear wailing police sirens approaching — he assumes his white neighbors have reported him — and as the authorities close in, he contemplates how he got here and the perils that Black people all over the United States face.

Together the collection asks: Whom can we protect and at what cost? Atmospheric and cinematic, “Holler, Child” is well worth your time.

Jonathan Escoffery is the author of the linked story collection “If I Survive You,” which was nominated for the 2023 Booker Prize and the 2022 National Book Award.