The opening story in "Weird Black Girls," the third collection by Elwin Cotman, is called "The Switchin' Tree." It's set in a small town where a harsh tree punishes children by compelling grown folks to use its limbs as switches to give local kids a whuppin'. In one instance, the tree is motivated to punish a Black boy named Jesse because Jesse wandered off down a rural highway where white motorists hurled racial slurs at him.

As Jesse's father gives him a spanking, the tree speaks to the father about how the punishment he's giving is connected to a punishment he received when he was young. Beyond the wise tree, more than two bodies are present in this scene, passing down behavior from generation to generation. The boy and his father are easiest to see, but the motorists are present, too.

A similar idea shows up in "Owen," a different story, set in another time and another place, concerning different people. A father drives to his ex-wife's house to discipline his son for pushing his sister and, it's implied, for being weird. The father's intended message is "Don't hit girls," but other messages are present, too.

As he recalls a spanking he received, he argues "[b]lack boys have to learn some act right. Any lesson he doesn't get from me [white folks] will teach him with more permanent consequence." "Owen" and "The Switchin' Tree" both hold layers of history and meaning. Corporal punishment is one example among many of how themes and devices are braided through Cotman's stories in a way that gives the collection the same sense of oneness that great albums create from several different songs.

All seven stories in "Weird Black Girls" are well-crafted and wonderful, and weird Black kids and adults are present throughout. "Weird" sometimes means "interested in unusual things" and sometimes means "interested in things one might not associate with what is often considered to be Black culture." There's a message in that, too — Black people are not a monolith.

"Weird Black Girls" is an exceptional work of magical realism. As Cotman hops effortlessly from year to year and city to city, seeing each age and place distinctly and well, his stories remain of another world.

They are imaginative places where readers are always one sentence away from something unexpected. They're also grounded in sharp, concise truths that illuminate moments and generations. Impossible occurrences coexist naturally with real life in a very real America where weird things seem to be happening a lot lately.

"Weird Black Girls" is spectacular, full of energy and intelligence. It features notes of Jesmyn Ward's musicality, shares Percival Everett's wit and flair for metaphor and calls to mind Gayl Jones' fierce sense for the fantastic.

If you don't know Cotman's work, get to know it. "Weird Black Girls" is a great place to start. It is truly special and so is Cotman.

Michael Kleber-Diggs is a St. Paul-based essayist, critic and poet, whose collection "Worldly Things" was published by Milkweed Editions.

Weird Black Girls: Stories

By: Elwin Cotman.

Publisher: Scribner, 310 pages, $17.99.