It’s alarming to discover that Josh Green did not grow up in Atlanta, given his wicked precision in slicing the place down to its bleeding white bones.

“Like any American city, it’s a juxtaposition of affluence and despair, knocking into itself,” a character declares in “Dirty- ville Rhapsodies,” Green’s debut short story collection. Half of the book’s 18 tightly plotted tales of devastated lives and toxic affairs take place in Atlanta, though not always in neighborhoods you’d care to visit after dark.

The deeply flawed residents of this so-called “Dirtyville” — high-dollar Buckhead prostitutes, visibly scarred veterans, over-the-hill drag queens — burn with everyday desperation that’s anything but quiet. The author’s wry comic sensibility brings levity to the gloom, but any laughter must be filed under “nervous.” Green, an Indiana native who relocated to Georgia in 2007, cut his teeth in journalism covering cops and courts for the Gwinnett Daily Post. Crime-reporting clearly informs the police-procedural overtones of the collection, in which drug deals, abductions and unsolved homicides occur as regularly as rush hour.

The first story, “Twenty-First Century Itch,” delivers an opening salvo against modern complacency. Tommy Sparks, an underachieving Army vet, becomes a local celebrity after his wife contracts a flesh-eating virus. While the plot has a ripped-from-the-headlines feel, it works double-time as a commentary on the banality of broadcast news and a fable of the uninsured.

“Not to get preachy,” Tommy says, “but it felt like we were puttering around in a strange social void. We all lived under the illusion that, if tragedy struck, America would have our backs.”

Green maintains control — just barely — over the frenetic narrative that threatens to buckle under the weight of its heavy ideas. The titular “itch” turns out to be more pervasive than the freak infection, a cultural epidemic whose symptoms include garish consumerism, rampant economic injustice and a dreary national landscape where “South Georgia was no different than North Dakota or Bangor, Maine.”

Tommy kicks himself for squandering weekends in outlet malls and joins the Army “to wake up.” The gnawing urge to break free of cultural norms flares constantly in “Dirtyville,” mostly among middle-aged men. A cast of workday regulars (cops, firemen, car salesmen) ache to believe that “modern society is benign and functional,” as one story puts it, even as contradicting evidence mounts. Green frequently references our country’s recent military misadventures and the global recession, shockwaves that have left these characters anchorless, anxious and typically hooked on drugs or alcohol.

In “The Gulch,” a once-promising football-star-turned-narcotics-addict bounces between parks and fixes, crushing up Oxycodone tablets in the shadow of the Gold Dome.

If the men in “Dirtyville Rhapsodies” arrive hardened, hollow and beyond redemption, the women fare worse: They’re either kidnapped (“Missing Athena,” “The Abduction”), murdered (“In the Predawn”) or maimed (“Pinch Points,” which begins with a finger incident that will haunt your dreams). Others show up as crass caricatures, such as the merciless spouse in “Down and Out at the Breastfeeding School” who forces her husband to attend lactating classes.

A shining exception comes in “Exultation,” featuring a sassy female protagonist who shatters the reader’s every expectation. Newly widowed octogenarian Maxine walks weekly to Marthasville Baptist Church and pines for her late husband — until she develops an obsession for Internet pornography. The beguiling portrait of sexuality among seniors evokes unexpected candor and tenderness, no small stunt for any story.

Another standout, “Spaghetti Junction,” explores a different sort of longing. Ben, “an outlaw moonlighting as a corporate stiff,” lies to his wife and drives to Atlanta for a weekend with an expensive and selective escort. Bedroom transactions fade into the background as genuine, risky emotions surface.

In music, rhapsodies tend to be performed with enthusiasm suggesting improvisation, a description that fits “Dirtyville Rhapsodies” and hints at its shortcomings. Exuberance and originality definitely abound, maybe to the collection’s detriment overall. Entries such as “The Abduction” and “Missing Athena” overlap thematically, but stop way short of resolutions.

Similarly, “In the Predawn” and the title story offer titillating premises that cry out for further plot development. Omitting the weaker links could have made the lively anthology even more nimble.

A “less is more” approach applies to the prose as well. Green hits his storytelling stride when he lands on a narrative voice that’s controlled and authoritative.

His talent for colorful nouns and sizzling sentences can’t be denied, but his language acrobatics sometimes obscure the action.

In “Dirtyville Rhapsodies,” the most unforgettable stories strike an improbable balance between sideshow, sermon and war cry, leaving the reader to mull its idiosyncratic characters. As every Atlantan knows, the accidents always make for spectacular rubber-necking.

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