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Litro: Stories Transport You is a site that is new to me. I've read a couple of the works there now and think that maybe a touch more editing could be employed (some spelling issues, or homonym issues, for one thing---and tense changes that shouldn't be there slipping in) but I've liked the works that I've read so far. One of which is Julia LaSalle's "Aerial Acrobatics."
An early line, "He was standing under the “34th Annual Model Airplane Contest” banner...", brought this reader to life as it let me know that LaSalle was taking meto a place I'd not been before--neither in real life, nor in my readings. The story also brought shipyard welding into play--another aspect of life I've never encountered physically or in my readings.
In both instances, LaSalle got just deep enough into the subject for me to feel like I understood what was going on, but not so much that I felt like I was being lectured on the topic. There's a nice little thread throughout the story about the narrator's heart running alongside her narrative, and I found myself really liking the ending: "She watched Mustafa work until she trusted him, watched him until she became a spark herself, flying through the air, first rising then falling, and finally sputtering as her spark-self bounced once on the rubber mat by Mustafa’s foot and extinguished." I'll definitely be looking for more of Julia LaSalle's work in the future and remembering to visit Litro as well.
I think it's much easier to talk about poems from this second collection by Vievee Francis, Horses in the Dark (Northwestern University Press, 2012), by talking about the book as a whole. The poems interact with each other, memories mixing with the present, horses running throughout, a girl coming of age. However I think the opening poem in the first section shows some of what she does very well:
Texas Panhandle, 1971
Inland, where no seagulls circled,
no sea, but storms of dust and dust,
heartland: mouthless heart of thistles,
and waves of sun, and salt, and fish,
shimmering in their cans of oil,
as every surface boiled to rust.
This opening stanza does a nice job of showing just how well Francis evokes a sense of the place--the Texas Panhandle jumps out at me while reading her lines (and briefly cause laughter as I think of seagulls circling mall or grocery store parking lots when they're not full of cars, nowhere near large bodies of water).
Francis continues with images such as "Scruffs of scarecrows lined the fence posts, // coyotes with their lolling miens, // their smiles now fixed as any man's." This is an image that pops up more than once in the collection--coyote heads atop fence posts, scarecrow-like to warn live coyotes--stay away.
It's a fantastic entry into her collection, and as good as this poem is, in my opinion it is only enhanced by continuing on and finishing up the poems behind it.
The work this time around is an essay, Would Dying Alone Really Be So Terrible, from Samantha Irby's collection, Meaty (Curbside Splendor, 2013). Man, 2013--that means I've had this collection for over 2 years now. In that time it has rarely not been somewhere in one of my main reading piles. It's not a collection I'd suggest one sit down with and three or four hours later put it down. It is one however that I highly recommend.
Irby's writing is both funny and a bit angry all rolled together and takes on topics rarely seen in essay, or even fictional, form. From the middle of this particular essay:
I don't know, man. I'm just not big on spending every waking minute with someone you show your privates to. People are boring. I'm fucking boring. My funny runs out, my cute runs out, my smart sometimes hiccups, my sexy wakes up with uncontrollable diarrhea. I have a fucking attitude.
This really is pretty typical of her writing. There's self-deprecation, dark humor, quick wit. Nothing to not like. You can really open this collection up to any page and get a quick paragraph or two that will brighten your day, make you think a bit, and think that you'd like to hang our with Samantha Irby, watch some television maybe, have some snacks. Just be ready to get up at the end of an hour or two as she's not up for the company staying too long.
The Cortland Review brings a new short story, "G.O.D. Live in Concert", from Robert Kerbeck. It's another author I've not had the pleasure of reading before whose first effort I now have is one that I enjoyed. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for future work from him.
Taking his thirteen-year-old son to see G.O.D. hadn't been Tom's idea. His soon-to-be ex had roped him into it. Natalia said she wanted him to stay connected to Peter, despite their acrimonious divorce, complete with dueling restraining orders. A series of texts and two loud phone calls (she hung up on him once) were required to synchronize a neutral pickup spot, and then drop-off and pickup times spread far enough apart to ensure there weren't any violations.
opens the story and it's a nice, straightforward entry--Kerbeck gives the reader what is needed to get into the story. The next paragraph opens:
Tracey had made it too, herding a gaggle of thirteen- and fourteen-year-old girls. Her daughter, Daisy, kept inviting more friends to see the boy band, and Tracey kept saying yes. The girls, all four of them, were a welcome distraction of unbundled energy and fresh-smelling hair. They reminded her of the first days of summer, carefree and almost, but not yet, hot. The audience was made up of similar-aged girls accompanied by their mothers. There were only a handful of boys and no men, except for one.
Which brings into play a woman to sit in front of Tom and set up a bit more about the concert itself. What happens from there is Kerbeck allowing the reader into both Tom and Tracey's heads as they notice each other, wonder about each other, consider their own situations while judging the other, range from attempted flirting right on up to actual flirting. Oh yes, there's also a monstrous amount of female rear-end being flashed in Tom's face as Tracey's new skinny jeans don't seem to quite hold up at the hipline.
I thought for about 95% or more of this story that Kerbeck simply nailed things. Great internal thoughts, just enough for the reader to know where things were going and guess how they might end up, etc.
There are great thoughts expressed--Tracey noticing Tom's leathery skin and wondering about his inability to use sunscreen; Tracey's internal complaints about the youth of today's poor manners; Tom's awareness of the young girls interest in his son, but not of Tracey's interest in him.
There were a couple of times I thought he added a bit more than was necessary--"(and into bed)" for instance--sort of nudging the reader after they've laughed and asking if they know what he's saying? But again, that happened maybe one or two times and it's something that I'm probably an overly picky reader for. I much prefer to concentrate on the rest of the story where again, I think Kerbeck really hit strong. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for more of his work.
The Masters Review, a Platform for Emerging Writers. Seems like something the Emerging Writers Network should have known about prior to January 22, 2016 doesn't it? Well, we didn't. Stumbled upon it when either Jeff or Ann VanderMeer linked to this:
FALL FICTION WINNER! We’re so pleased to introduce “Animalizing” by Marisela Navarro, the third place winner in our Fall Fiction Contest judged by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. In “Animalizing,” our narrator starts walking a friend’s dog and suspects it sees something dark inside her. As she works with the sea urchins in her lab and develops a bond with the dog, she begins to think differently about the creatures in her care. A sea urchin embryo is a beautiful sight….
I clicked on the link and read the story. And then I cut and pasted it to a Word doc so I could print it out and read it again later on Friday night. And again yesterday. And once more this morning. I am still not completely sure what the freak is going on but I really like the writing, some of the offbeat lines that seem to come out of nowhere but fit very well. Interesting observations.
"Our friendship was very much like coming upon a puddle."
Describing a park area that was closed off once you were inside: "There was a sense someone could emerge from anywhere within the 360 degree angle, that they were on their way, and there was nothing you could do about it."
Describing the process to collect sea urchin embryos: "...by spinning the seawater in a centrifuge we cranked by hand. This was always the most fun part of the process. To me it seemed like I was taking these babies on a carnival ride."
"It is foolish to assume a certain thing could never happen."
There's also an interesting bit that describes how we sometimes converse with each other--the narrator telling a story that begins with a dog ringing his doorbell and going from the point he opens the door to the dog on the porch and beyond. At the end he asks his friend if he really believed that a dog had rung his doorbell and he replied that he didn't, but just assumed somebody else had left the dog there and rang the doorbell. How often do we gloss over a crazy detail so that the rest of a story we're being told makes some sense? We rationalize out the offbeat detail in order to be able to accept the rest that seemed believable, even though that original detail would, in or mind, make none of the story even possible in the first place. Could this be what Navarro is really trying to get across and throwing out some of those crazy, offbeat, details throughout just to prove her point? It's a story that is well worth your time to read.
It probably won't be frequent around here that I'll post up things entirely done by guests, but I'm a big Lori Ostlund fan, a fan of Black Lawrence Press, and when Caitlin Hamilton, my absolute favorite publicist of all-time (there are many others I love but she was the FIRST to believe the EWN was worthy of galleys and introductions to her authors), asks me if I'd be interested in an interview---and I enjoy it as much as I did this one---they just might pop up here:
Genanne Walsh is the author of the debut novel Twister (December 2015), which won the Big Moose Prize for the Novel, awarded by Black Lawrence Press. Twister is set in a small Midwestern town during the height of the Iraq war, and at its core is the grief being experienced by Rose, who is figuring out how to hold onto her farm in the wake of her son’s death in the war. However, in the way of most small towns, no event, certainly not grief, happens in a vacuum, and as the novel unfolds, we are introduced to other members of the community who, in some way, have their own stake in this loss.
Particularly impressive is Genanne’s structure. The novel is divided into three parts: the pre-twister hours, in which we are introduced to the perspective of each character in this small town during the lead up to the twister; the past, in which we learn the back stories about the tensions among them; and the post-twister ending, in which we see both the devastation of the twister and the potential for reconnection.
I met Genanne in 2008 through a mutual friend. Over the course of seven years, I have learned a great deal about how she views the world, about her sense of humor, her intelligence and compassion. While we are both writers, we don’t discuss writing much, so it was a pleasure for me to sit down with Twister and learn about Genanne as a writer, and an even greater pleasure to have the opportunity to ask her questions about Twister and how it came to be.
LO: We’ve known each other for several years, and though we talk about writing on occasion, we don’t talk much about process, so I recall being both surprised and intrigued not long ago when you told me that you never draw upon your own life in writing fiction. As someone who draws heavily on my past and present, I would like to begin at the beginning: how did Twister come about?
GW: Well, perhaps I should backpedal that declarative. I don’t tend to write autobiographical fiction that draws a lot of facts from my life. Though I do think fiction comes from a personal place and worries over personal obsessions—so in that respect it’s from my life. Twister started with an image: a woman haphazardly pruning roses in her yard. The voice that came through her head felt very alive to me, very compelling, but also chaotic and troubled. Rose, the central character, was in distress; there was something elemental that she couldn't face.
Rose first appeared on the page in 2002, during the excruciating build up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Looking back, it was a way to grapple with what was happening, and with what was to come. I knew very early in drafting those first pages that her son, Lance, had died in the war. And I think there was something important about her being at the midpoint, the heart of the continent.
People who prefer fact-based fiction might find this suspicious, but Rose just appeared in her yard, in twister country—my mythic version of twister country. Though the book’s setting isn’t “real,” and I’ve never lived in the Midwest myself, I lived there in a sense while I was writing it.
LO: Let’s talk a bit more about setting. As a Midwesterner, I know a good bit about the way that Midwesterners talk and think, and I was struck repeatedly by the way that you captured emotional restraint in your dialogue. For me, much of the tension in the book came from knowing a character’s story or feelings, and then watching the careful restraint with which the character spoke to others, how much got left out. It felt incredibly accurate to me. Can you talk about how you developed such a feel for Midwestern communication? Are there books or films that influenced you?
GW: I’m happy to hear that you think that! I didn’t study how Midwesterners talk and think, though I love the idea of going at it almost anthropologically. For me, that restraint—communication and its misfires and limitations and repressions—came out of the characters and their situation. As I wrote Twister, it became in some ways an exploration of how big events can be both galvanizing to a community, bringing people together, and also extremely isolating.
It comes out of point of view, really. Subjectivity—which I find so mystifying and maddening. The fact that two people can experience the same event and have vastly different interpretations; or know the same person and have wildly dissimilar impressions and feelings about that person. We are stuck in our own singular heads, like it or lump it—the fact that we can live together and build community at all sometimes feels miraculous to me. And needless to say, I don’t think this condition is just a Midwestern thing.
I’m not sure if I have Midwest influences per se, but I think everyone should read William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow (a perfect novel, to my mind) and Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. Willa Cather, Toni Morrison, and Marilynne Robinson are writers who will, I hope, be studied and read forever.
LO: Given what you say above, about the way that big events both galvanize a community and isolate the members of it, I understand even better your three-part structure: the before and after of the twister, with the backstory of these characters and their community sandwiched in the middle. Can you talk a little more about the structure: did you know all along that you wanted to structure it in three parts, or did the structure reveal itself later?
GW: That structure was thrilling to me, when I found it. Because it gave the baggy thing I had constructed a shape, even a purpose. It definitely didn’t arrive at the outset. The opening Rose chapter was a stand-alone story for a long time. I just loved her voice and wasn’t ready to let her go, so I kept turning back to her world and the people around her. I wanted to understand more about Rose and the nature of her loss—was this elemental crisis she was facing her own doing, or was she a helpless cog in the machine? Would she come through it? What could other people reveal about the things she couldn’t face or didn’t see?
When I started to write sections from other points of view, they roamed all over the map in terms of time and space. I had the Sylvie chapter (Lance’s high school sweetheart) in first person; and where and when the characters were in relation to the storm and to Rose varied widely from one voice to another. All very engaging to me personally, but also a complete mess.
I was in a writing group at the time and in that group was a man who didn’t like my work very much. As writers, I think it’s important to seek out readers who get us—who have simpatico styles and sensibilities, or who understand what we are trying to do on a gut level. But it’s also not a bad idea to find a few people who may not be swept away by your prose stylings or your take on the world. There is a real limit to how much they’ll be able to help you. I mean, seek out critics in moderation, protect your creative spirit and don’t be a masochist—but don’t entirely shy away from contrarians. This fellow leaned over one night after we’d discussed my pages and said, “What’s the point here, other than pretty sentences?”
That stung, of course. You can unpack plenty of sexist condescension in the “pretty” adjective alone—and believe me, I did. But at times this sort of jab can be creatively useful. After running through a color wheel of emotions, I decided I could use his question, at least part of it; it was a question that needed posing. A question that maybe even the work itself was posing: what was the point? What was the story trying to be?
Not long after that I was sitting at my desk one morning and the three-part structure came to me. The gathering and build-up; the storm’s eye that can see things beyond the limits of each individual character and move back and forth in time; and the aftermath, when they pick up whatever pieces are left and move on. A structure that was shaped like a storm, in a sense. A storm that came out of Rose’s perspective but could hold the other perspectives as well.
Though the book did not come quickly or easily after that by any means, the structure gave me a way to work into the action and questions. I don’t think the contrarian’s question to me was the catalyst for finding the structure, exactly, but it galvanized the process. It moved me further down the road. To be clear, it moved me toward what I knew the work was trying to be—it didn’t change the way I write sentences.
LO: I’d like to go back to what you said about seeking out critics. I know that you did an MFA at Warren Wilson. Can you talk about this experience a little bit, maybe starting with your main reasons for wanting to do an MFA and whether you came away from the experience with different ideas about the value of doing an MFA.
GW: I’ve read a little bit about the debates, to MFA or not. I think good writers can learn anywhere, mostly from reading, and a writing program definitely isn’t a guarantee of anything. It’s a problem of access for some people, too. Even with fellowships and scholarships, it’s an investment. Not everyone feels comfortable in school. But for me, I wanted to start to take myself seriously as a writer, and that was the way I chose to do it. I'd wanted to write for more years than I’d actually written—and getting an MFA was a way to make it real to myself, to commit to myself as an artist.
Some of my most necessary readers—people I trust to understand what I’m trying to do and tell me constructively what they think is and isn’t working in a draft—are people I know because of Warren Wilson. You can meet great readers and comrades outside of academia—absolutely!—but you really need to expose yourself to communities of writers so you can find them. And then never let them go.
LO: So where do you go from here? Are you already working on the next project? Can you also discuss the biggest lesson that you (writer Genanne or human being Genanne) learned from Twister that you will take with you into the next project.
GW: I’m working on a project that I think will probably be a novel. I am a superstitious person and believe you can talk the mystery away, so I generally don’t chat about what I’m working on. Have you noticed that writers fall into two distinct camps? Tight-lipped people like me, and the people who are happy to share lots of details about a work-in-progress. There’s no correct approach. I think it’s like being right- or left-handed.
That said, I’ll say that it’s set in San Francisco. I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere, more than half of my life. But this is a first. Writing about the city in depth has always felt sort of like writing about a lover; I experience it too intimately to see it quite clearly. But there are issues in San Francisco now that I find fascinating and worrisome and they’ve worked their way in. Boom and bust cycles, issues of transience, income stratification, and the ways city dwellers coexist—with each other and with the natural world—in evolving and sometimes fractious ways.
What lesson have I learned? Some days I have no idea. Other days, I think it must be related to my process. That I really have to write toward understanding who a character is or what a story wants to be. I am never going to be one of those people who outlines or works it all out in my head in advance. Lots of smart people have said that you must learn how to write the next book as you write it—the last one won’t help you. Gnashing my teeth, I concur.
LO: You have the best dogs. How did this come about? Are they aware that you are a writer?
GW: They ARE the best! I have no sense of moderation when it comes to dogs. I just love them. Walking with them is my favorite part of the day. [My wife] Lauren and I have a theory that if you live your life to make your dog happy, you will have a really good life—lots of nature walks and trips to the beach, you get to know your neighbors at the dog park, and many lessons in living in the moment.
Bugsy, our 12-year-old charmer, was at my side for 99.9% of the writing of Twister. So he doesn’t merely know I’m a writer, he is my Muse. A few friends joked (or maybe they were serious?) that they were surprised the book isn’t dedicated to him.
As you know, we’ve recently adopted a new dog named Maggie. She has a traumatic history and some quirky phobias, but she’s coming along really well and is so clearly trying to live in harmony with us, her new pack. We’re taking Maggie to a basic training class at the SPCA. It had been years since we had a new pup and we wanted to brush up on communication techniques. The teacher has a great attitude about progress. Think about it: you’re trying to convey what you want to another species. Dogs study us so closely, but we are still alien brains making weird, confounding demands like “stay” and “leave it.” Why in the world would they want to do that?
So the SPCA approach is: patience. If you are working on “down,” for example, and she just isn’t getting it, don’t say “No!” or even “unh-unh.” Keep your voice and physical cues very relaxed and say, “Try again.” Then you try again. And maybe you need to take a break and go back tomorrow because today just isn’t the day she’ll get it. Frustration and impatience will never bring you closer to your goal. Even when she gets it, it’s never a given or a static thing. You’re never done—you have to keep trying, keep practicing. That’s what I want to keep in mind, in living with dogs and in writing.
Sarah Layden's story, "13 Things Your Mail Carrier Won't Tell You" appeared today in Booth. It's laid out exactly as the title suggests--13 numbered things from one's mail carrier. And while the 13 items may appear to be random, I believe they tell a story--the story of the mail carrier. The first section is:
It’s not about the dogs, but control. That you should learn to tame the untamed. That to let your pit bull ride shotgun is one step removed from handing over the keys. Barking, fine. That can be controlled. As can you.
Of course, I thought, a mail carrier would certainly be commenting upon dogs right off the bat. And that end, "As can you," seemed almost ominous.
It's followed by suggestions to invite the mail carrier into your home, but then a warning that the one time the carrier has been invited still cannot be spoken of even 20 years later. There's commentary on junk mail, and what goes on inside our homes, and tattoos, and the lack of books being delivered compared to days past (obviously not my mail carrier sharing these 13 things).
Again, I think Layden has actually done an interesting job listing these ideas out as separate "things" but doing so in a way that has created a fully realized person in the mail carrier. We know the thoughts rolling around in their head, what they think about our houses, our landscapes, our animals, their boots, their thoughts on the lonely, and more. A very well done story.
Starting off 50 with a nice quiet very early a.m. reading of a short story by Darrin Doyle, an author whose work I've enjoyed before. Passages North has published The Lumping as an extra story and their own Jason Teal notes "Darrin Doyle’s “The Lumping” is a cautionary allegory that thrillingly brandishes the first-person plural to dramatize a public assembly" and that is a great short description.
"The Lumping" begins:
By lumping, he said, we will become. Not by lumping on occasion, only when it is convenient, but with discipline and devotion, passionate at all times, with disregard for lesser obligations (clearly implying that every earthly obligation fell into this category). If everyone lumped three times a day, he stammered and sweated, ours would be a world of transcendence and joy. To lump is to live; to live, lump.
What is lumping the reader wonders, and that is where part of Doyle's genius with this work shines through--it's never really determined (or I'm just one lousy reader--thoroughly possible). It seemingly can be whatever the reader opts to believe.
Doyle's usage of that first-person plural--that public assembly--creates a form of authority to what is being stated from the stage before them as the communal belief they develop help push forward the idea in the reader's mind that what is being said is accurate.
Perhaps, we thought, this was the true meaning of lumping: to finally lay bare our most private selves, to unite through the world of the hidden, the inner place where heretofore none could live but the architects themselves. A playground where lumps could frolic: no names, no identities, no bodily trappings.
It's an interesting technique and one that seems very fitted to a short story of this length.
New work by Elizabeth Ellen? Yes, please. Somebody was kind enough to post a link to her new story, "Straight," at The Fanzine earlier today and I couldn't click on that link fast enough. Ellen's never been shy of writing stories that some would consider edgy. This one starts:
After that I go straight. Or after that I make an attempt at going straight. I try to take photographs of other things. I take photographs of myself. I try to figure out ways of making myself appear interesting as a solo act. I don’t incorporate Adam into my art. There is still Eli, occasionally Eli’s female friends, Coco and Alondra, but the boys are gone. All the boys are now gone, sent out to various ‘alternative’ high schools and juvenile detention centers in the Midwest and, in Saul’s case, a boarding school somewhere on the east coast. I study Darius’s face in the photographs from a year, two years ago. I remember how it could go hard or soft, the carved scars on his cheek, self-inflicted scars on his arms, how he lay his head on my arm in the movie theater, cuddled up to Eli on the couch in the basement. “Damn right I was scared,” he used to say. It was the ending to a story he told about when he was a young boy, hiding behind his father’s legs in the presence of strangers. His father, he said, had been shot four times. But he wasn’t dead; he had survived. Darius and Eli tried to set us up once, before Adam came back. I found Darius’s father good looking, affable, strong, but I couldn’t imagine not looking over my shoulder in his presence. I couldn’t imagine not feeling as though Darius were always watching, listening through walls.
I think there's enough in the opening paragraph to let the reader know to expect the story to head toward the edge, but doesn't jump right into it or hit the reader over the head. Later on some of the implications above are elaborated upon--at times even very bluntly in a way that a critic might suggest that lines (which I don't wish to type as they'd be spoilers) this direct are unnecessary--that Ellen has already given the reader enough information. However, I believe they perfectly fit the narrator and how she would be telling the story. Everything about her has me believing she'd take her time opening up but once she did she'd be as direct as Ellen writes her.
It's not the most comfortable person or story to read--but comfort is hardly what I expect or look for when I see Elizabeth Ellen's name at the top of a page.
I'm a big fan of stories that move forward in small sections--Ander Monson's Big 32 comes to mind as an old example many reading this post will have read. Electric Lit has recently published a story that immediately reminded me of how much I enjoy these types, Jeb Bush is Sinking by Jeff VanderMeer.
Each section of VanderMeer's story begins with "Jeb at..." and a percentage, beginning at 6% and dropping all the way down to -6%. It begins:
Jeb at 6% feels as if he is walking inside an old-time diving suit, but kicks up sand across the bottom of the sea. Knows he is fated to rise like mercury, expelled into the sky through the emulsion of his own silver birthing.
I believe my favorite section is:
Jeb below 3% begins to haunt himself, walks ethereal through a wall. He cannot tell what he’s done/not done. Stops in the middle of tasks believing he has completed them.
VanderMeer keeps things interesting by changing styles from section to section--"Jeb at 4%" begins with a long list of things Jeb is, while "Jeb at -1%" is full of violence. Utilizing a real person in a real situation could lead to all sorts of difficulties--trying too hard to really nail the individual's personality and character; trying to hard to predict specifics; or missing the mark to a point where readers wonder exactly why you used that particular name/situation. I think VanderMeer hits everything just right in this short story. Bits of Jeb appear, bits of George W., some seeming absurdities (or are they?), and a lot of fantastic images. Follow that link above for a great read.
One of my favorite publishers, The Cupboard, recently released The Coupon Thief by Lily Hoang. If I understand the project correctly, she took donations from forty different authors and created micro-fictions around these donations. The donations, again, if I understand, were sentences, or sentence fragments--something that would spur Hoang to an idea that would lead to a complete micro-fiction. The works are not considered collaborations, though she does attribute the donations to the author in question for each piece.
It makes for a fairly quick and interesting read--seeing how different donations might have led Hoang into different modes of storytelling--from quick one or two line pieces that almost seem to be there to create an image for the reader, or to highlight a verbal twist, on up to what seem long (though they still are about a paragraph in length) that develop a little more.
In wanting to include an example, but not wanting to put Hoang's entire story on my site, I looked for the sentence that drew my attention to it each time I read this work (I read the full collection a few times yesterday--just got caught up in basketball and football and let the Work of the Day slide to the next day-sorry).
In the sizzling daylight, we quarry out dirt and sand, travelling lower into the crust, down towards all that magma, and when we see that resplendent devil, we say, It's getting hot.
It's a sentence that propels the story a bit as prior to this there was more talk of parents, along with the devil, and from here forward the story just focuses on the devil. It's the segue sentence to push Hoang's work toward its conclusion. It's the type of sentence, winding all over the place, that really only works in this type, a longer paragraph, of micro-fiction, as opposed to some of the 1-3 sentence pieces in this collection.
It's an interesting story, and collection, and I think Hoang has done a fantastic job of incorporating whatever was donated to her into works of her own that are so fully her own that if one were to try to guess the donation over and over throughout the collection, any that they got right would simply be guesses.
This story was published earlier today via The Collagist. To be honest, I'd never heard of Erinrose Mager, let alone read her work before--something I will try to continue rectifying in the future. A shorter story (two pages if printed out), it reads like my favorite type of shorter story--that is, one that every time I read it I begin to think about it differently.
I call up my mother before dinner. I ask her, "What about cinnamon toast? I remember this breakfast distinctly."
I look through the window above the sink at the cat splayed out in the yard near the driveway. He's been chasing something in the grass all afternoon. The cat is fifteen years old and very daring, and I check on him sometimes. I run the green beans under the tap and pour them into the pan with the garlic.
"Of course not," my mother says. "I fed you steel cut oatmeal and salads. Salads and oatmeal and ice water for your circulation. You ate your breakfast and read chapter books under the covers before school. You loved reading. I soaked the oats at night and stirred in honey early in the mornings."
A mother and daughter on the phone, the daughter trying to recall what she'd eaten as a child, the mother tossing out things the daughter not only doesn't remember, but finds there's no way it would have happened that way. Later the daughter notes:
No, no, no. I do however recall the cinnamon toast. She kept a cinnamon-sugar shaker in the cupboard. She buttered the bread to the edges. The shaker had a girl's face on the top. The holes of the shaker were the girl's freckles. I do not dream these kinds of details. I do not have the mind to imagine a past.
I love that last little bit--is it really true that she doesn't have the mind to imagine this stuff? Or maybe she has the mind to imagine a scenario that she does NOT have the mind to imagine it? Is she reliable or not? Actually re-reading the story for about the fifth or sixth time today, I'm not even sure I'm supposed to be reading the story the way I have been--I think the conversation may really be one with more concern behind it--a daughter, not so close, worrying about her mother for more serious reasons. Again, I love the fact that the more I read this, the more that slowly opens itself up to me--I find it an aspect of very short stories that I enjoy a lot--that re-reading them over and over isn't something that can't be done.
Every now and then I plan on tackling a larger book--most likely a novel, but occasionally maybe something non-fiction. As I don't want to have 7 to say 20 or so Work of the Day posts about the same title, I' plan to do this concurrently with the Work of the Day project.
I remember enjoying Jeffery Renard Allen's short story collection, Holding Pattern, when Graywolf published it. I did not jump on his latest novel, Song of the Shank, when it was published after that and do not really remember why not. However, they've recently re-published his debut novel, Rails Under My Back with a really nice introduction from Charles Johnson. The novel was originally published by FSG in 2000 and from what I can stumble upon, received pretty glowing reviews.
I took a quick peek at the beginning of the novel:
Long before Jesus entered the world, blades of southern grass sliced up the soles of his grandmother's feet. Her blood leaped from the danger, drew back into the farthest reaches of her heart, and the roots of her soul pulled away from the sharp earth which had nurtured her. But nothing escapes the laws of gravity. We martyr to motion. In step with the flowing sweep of her garments, an undercurrent of rhythm, she cut the final strings of attachment, her children, and on a rich spring day cut a red path to New Mexico--what business had a nigger there; New Mexicans had yet to invent the word--for a man eternally bound to a rakish fedora, his sweet face like a mask beneath it, pinstripe suit, diamond horseshoe tiepin, and two-toned patent-leather shoes. Drawn by the power of nostalgia--Hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour--she swept back two years later without a word about her lover, the father of R.L., her oldest child. A decade later he would be thrown through the windshield of his sparkling green (red?) Edsel (Eldorado?)--the squeal before the thud, the skid after--his decapitated body slipping the surly bonds of earth, sailing kitelike over a California highway, arcing over and beyond a thicket of treetops, to touch the face of God. Jesus was convinced that her exodus had strangled any impulse her surviving children--his mother and aunt--had to get close to her, and had ripped open his life, for an eye, like a shattered mirror, multiplies the images of its sorrow. The years only deepened the sorrow his family had in common. Even a hatred like hot ice could not halt destiny.
I am greatly anticipating reading this one. The descriptions above, the rhythm of the sentences...everything about that opening paragraph excites me for this road ahead. As great as it is for publishers to find new authors, I find it just as great when a publisher "re-discovers" an incredible old book, or an author the big houses have decided didn't sell enough and bring back their backlist as well as new works (hey, that Dzanc rEprint series just to my mind for some reason!).
The folks at Engine Books did a really good thing making sure that Patricia Henley's short story collection, Other Heartbreaks, got published. Jumping in and out of this collection I've really enjoyed, and tried to savor a bit, each story I've began. "Kaput" is a story somewhere near the middle of the collection. Like most of Henley's work found in between these covers, she does a masterful job giving her readers a couple of women whose lives have interacted. And as is also the case in many of these stories, in less than 20 pages Henley gives us the background of their relationship, the current status, shows some of their loves, their losses, their achievements.
Meekly, I said, "We've been building a bridge, right?" We had talked every three months for the last fifteen years.
"I thought--when I saw you--that the last little bit of the bridge would click into place." I had to catch my breath, as if I said too much. "But there's still a gap."
This is a 58 year old woman, unemployed as the college she worked at closed up shop the previous year, talking to Kim, her much more successful friend, who has flown her to Mexico for a visit. Kim is also the woman who was with Alex, the narrator's ex-husband, after the break-up (actually seems to have been at least part of the cause for the break-up), long enough to have had two sons with him. The two women have remained friends (Alex is now no longer with either of them).
Henley does a nice job of giving the background of the relationships without going into so much detail that the story lengthens unnecessarily. She gives her readers insight into the minds of both women, allowing for an understanding of why might continue to put up with the other. There are other characters--Willow, the narrator's adult-aged daughter, and various names of people that the narrator and Alex community farmed with back in the day. The inclusion of the farmers, in particular, allows Henley to go back and forth in time, to help her develop the narrator for the reader, and allow her readers to understand the level of loss that she's felt.
Henley's stories are really very layered. They should not be plowed through--they should be read slowly and allow for the details to be absorbed and thought about. "Kaput" is a great read with a wallop to the side of the head at the end (sorry, no spoiler here), and it fits right in with the other stories I've read so far in the collection. Looking forward to the rest.
So, if there's a writer I've mentioned here at the EWN more than any other, it's most likely Percival Everett as I believe I've written full reviews of 18 of his now 23 works of fiction, and 3 of his 4 poetry collections. So it should be no surprise that I've chosen one of the stories from his latest (Graywolf Press, September 2015) short story collection, Half an Inch of Water, to take a peek at.
In the story "Stonefly," a girl named Rachel drowns in the river. Her brother, Daniel, is 8 at the time. That and more background is given to the reader in the first paragraph. Then the story bumps forward six years and begins to really concentrate on Daniel. His parents naturally worry about him and have him seeing a therapist. A sample from one of their conversations:
"Any thoughts about your sister?" She cleared her throat. "Might as well get right to it, right?"
"You guess you've been thinking about her or you guess we should get right to it?"
"You're the one who put the question badly."
gives an idea pretty quickly as to Daniel's personality and thought process. And Everett has such precision with his language, I'd not be surprised to find out that the question the therapist asked might have been typed out accidentally, leading to Daniel's smart alecky reply. Daniel actually turns the tables on the therapist two or three more times during their session and a later meeting. The story turns a bit into a finding oneself story as Daniel does begin to focus a bit on his feelings about his sister, about how his parents hover over him (their only other child after Rachel's death). It uses elements from activities Everett has been known to both enjoy, and write about--the outdoors, horses and riding, fly fishing--and an abnormally large trout surfacing and shining near the area Rachel drowned to help propel Daniel forward.
As is typical with an Everett fiction, there's no hammering over the reader's head with a message or idea. Instead it's the combination of events, the writing, and the language that grab one's interest and keeps it. The ideas to mull over and consider for the next couple of days before moving on to the next story in the collection. About halfway through this most recent collection and placing it on one of my Everett shelves will be a pleasure.
"Once you counted eleven hundred days, you lot the desire to count." This opens the short story, "Journey's End," from Amelia Gray's short story collection, Gutshot (FSG, 2015). It's followed by:
"You threw out your notebooks, which freed up some space for fuel. Those days we were looking either for fuel or for places to store it."
A trio of lines that implies some sort of post-apocalyptic setting maybe? A shorter short story--only four paragraphs long--"Journey's End" still hits hard with some fantastic sentences:
"I began to fantasize what might happen if we discovered glowing cubes and cracked them open to find blistering stuff of the universe within."
"I found a cooler of urine buoying rotten cans, their metal bowed out, contents sunk in a haze at the bottom."
"We marveled; they had freed delicate glass from metal and filled each bulb, soldered to reattach, and affixed in place."
"You remembered your father obtaining a wood-boring drill-bit set; after he died, you found that every book in his house had been ventilated and the trees out back as well."
"I hooked up the generator and didn't immediately die."
"I wanted to break the screen and employ the services of its glass on my face but you warned me to be careful after all we had been through."
and ends with a killer: "You were thoughtful like that."
Me typing that could possibly ruin the story for you, but I don't think so. Every time I re-read an Amelia Gray story I catch little things I had missed on the previous reading. This one, which I've enjoyed four times in the past few days, is no different. The Los Angeles Review of Books has a conversation between two more of my favorite authors: Robert Lopez and Peter Markus. In it, they mention another friend, Andrew Richmond, saying "people doing people things" frequently. And that is what happens in Gray's stories, no matter how surreal the setting might be--people doing people things in as interesting a way as possible.
It's pretty amazing to me how long Dogzplot Flash Fiction has been around, consistently publishing great flash stories. I don't remember to check out every online journal as often as I used to, but this site is one I tend to remember to find my way to. A recent short by Joanna Arnow, titled, "A Legacy" caught my eye. It begins:
"They said to write whatever came to mind, but all I can think about is peanut butter."
What is never really established is who THEY are. Over the remaining 120 or so words, "peanut butter" is mentioned nine more times. It's an interesting use of repetition, one that I don't see that often in such a short story. It helps Arnow create a nice rhythm to the story if one were to read it aloud. It keeps the story very focused, which while you'd think it being such a short flash that it would almost have to remain focused, but it's not been that uncommon for me to read a flash that wanders and could have been tighter. Of course, Arnow also uses the word "orgasm" three times through the last half of the flash, which also makes the repetition of "peanut butter" seem that much more necessary.
2016-001: Vertigo by Joanna Walsh
115 pages, 2015 by Dorothy, a publishing project
Purchased direct from the publisher
Like all books published by Dorothy, a publishing project, I purchased this one as soon as it was published. Unfortunately, like most of the books I buy these days, it sat around for half a year before I picked it up to read it. I originally intended to read a story or three, choose one, and post on the Work of the Day. However, a combination of sitting at a car service department for longer than I'd hoped for, and the fact that I couldn't stop turning pages, led me to read the entire collection of stories by Joanna Walsh.
The collections focuses more on women in domestic situations more than anything else. Walsh's language is incredible--there's a dreamlike quality lulling the reader into a sense of security while at the same time writing about urgent situations--a mother in a children's ward waiting for news on her daughter; a woman dealing with the fact that her husband has developed online relationships with other women; a mother on a bus ride with her daughter to what she knows re her disappointed parents. It's a very interesting combination of situational tension being calmed down by the way Walsh writes her sentences and puts her paragraphs together.
Part of this is done through her usage of the ordinary. In "Online," the story with the flirtatious husband, the wife asks "How is your breakfast?" and "What do you like for breakfast?" The sort of things you don't typically see in stories. The second question does lead to the interesting point that she believes she's at a disadvantage with the collective that is the group of women he talks to online. She believes that because they can ask questions like this, where she sounds ridiculous doing so as she KNOWS what he likes to eat makes them more interesting to him than she is.
In "Young Mothers" a story wherein the mothers see their existence ebb and flow strictly through their children. They are not known by their names but as "Connor's mum, or Casey's mum." Walsh slides lines like:
"Colors were bright, so our children did not lose us, so we could not lose each other, or ourselves, no matter how hard we tried."
after couplets like:
"Fleece was warm and stretchy for growing bodies. Shoes were flat for running, playing.
A couple of nice, simple sentences describing the outfits of the children in standard terms and then just a hammer blow of truly getting inside a mother's head.
The collection has fourteen stories that are linked, not by character, or setting, but by mood, by language and the very smooth mixing of urgent situations with calming language. It's unlike any other collection I've read and I look forward to future works by Joanna Walsh.
Please be kind in your reading of this post--it's the first Work of the Day that is poetry and no matter how much poetry I read and try to discuss, I still don't feel overly comfortable in doing so. The poem, "Clorox," can be found in Nickole Brown's wonderful collection, Fanny Says (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2015).
Fanny would be Nickole's grandmother and this collection of poems, prose and otherwise, is Fanny's life story, frequently in her own words. It's a fantastic tribute to her grandmother and a collection I highly recommend. "Clorox" is a poem in five parts, with each beginning with a description of the word. The first section begins:
as in a commercial disinfecting agent,
but also a verb,
an action to make the water grow
teeth--tiny, crystalline, color-eating teeth--
The second section begins:
but also a verb,
as in to clorox:
to clorox that carny tub and toilet,
to clorox the chicken-grease backsplash and hand-smudge light switch,
as in to clorox the cup
Donosan drank from
when he visited
Other sections begin by describing it as a smell, and as a chemical agent designed to eliminate color, and a formula, genius in design as it is designed to poison, and then disappear nearly immediately.
What Brown does is follow these openings with little anecdotes about Fanny cloroxing the shit out of somebody's clothes, or about her Baptism, or having many white things in her home with no fear to hide behind darker colored objects. The anecdotes align with the opening with a nice subtlety and she ends the poem with a powerful blow to the reader's gut. I have to be honest, I read many of the poems in this book again looking for a nice, "easy," prose poem to post a sentence or two from as an example of Brown's great writing, but kept coming back to "Clorox" to read and re-read five or six times. While many of the prose poems hit on an aspect of Fanny's life, "Clorox" hits on more than a few (including a reminder or two that not all was pretty about Fanny or her life) and does so while fitting very nicely into the collection as a whole.
I'm actually going to simply give you the opening paragraph here:
I first met Ray up in the mountains at the I-40 rest stop, where I used to cruise sometimes. I found him leaning against a wall, albino-pale, with these watery fish eyes. We messed around in a stall for a bit, and then he said meet him at the red truck by the ravine.
And then the final sentence:
"So long as we find a dry bag of crystal," I said, because--here's how sober I was--I could feel high tide in my veins, srging toward the moon, cresting like it must have done every day of my life.
In between is one manic story where our protagonist continues seeing Ray, then doesn't see him for some time, then stumbles back into him and many others, mostly pretty sketchy. The crystal mentioned in the last sentence fuels both the characters and the pace of the story as there are times that the time jumps two or three months in a single sentence.
This story comes from the third of John McManus' collections (along with a great novel, Bitter Milk), Fox Tooth Heart (Sarabande, 2015), and the few stories I've read so far take that excellent starting point of those prior collections and raises up the level of the stories a bit--deeper characterization, crazier situations, even slightly more interesting writing itself. Look for this collection!
Both the best, and hardest, aspect of selecting a story from Amber Sparks' new collection, the unfinished world (Liveright/Norton, January 2016), was just that--trying to decide on which story to have as the Work of the Day. What it actually led to was me reading a good 60% of the book. I can't really say that "The Process of Human Decay" is my favorite--each time I started a new one, or accidentally re-started one I'd read, it immediately became my favorite (sometimes, again).
If nothing else was involved but the table of contents, the choice would be difficult--Sparks has some of the best short story titles around:
The Janitor in Space
The Lizzie Borden Jazz Babies
The Cemetery for Lost Faces
Lancelot in the Lost Places of the World
Birds with Teeth
and they continue. Rare is the title that doesn't cause you to think you'd really want to find out what happens.
So, I ended up picking "The Process of Human Decay" because I've read it three times now, and it was the last story I was reading when I decided it was time to start this post. It's EXCELLENT!
The story is brought into four sections: Fresh; Bloat; Delayed Decay; and Dry Remains
Each of the sections has one or two paragraphs. They follow the death and stages afterward and Sparks does not spare any details. It gets right to it:
Something is wrong. Your heart, it seems, has become a fish. It leaps, flutters, flops sideways a few times, then stops. You fall down.
One thing I found Sparks doing very well in this story was ending each section with a killer sentence--one that really helped lead to the next section:
- An army of blowflies is already on the way.
- There is a reason several wives have left you to die--and finally you have.
- Here come the worms.
- You always were better with plants than with people.
Actually there really isn't much that Sparks does NOT do well in this, or any of the stories in this collection that I've read so far. Great titles, great ideas, those ideas investigated and expounded upon. Great sentences, great transitions, and great endings. Nope, very very little that isn't done well in this collection (by "very very little" I believe I really mean "nothing") including this fantastic dedication:
May you grow into every hero, defeat every villain, and
show kindness to every misunderstood monster
Buy this book. Read this story and the many others within its covers.
I'm sorry but I will NOT be re-typing that title again. This story was first published in Yankee Pot Roast in May of 2006, nearly a decade ago, yet it was the very FIRST thing I thought of earlier today on my drive home from work when I heard a little Paul Stanley patter on the radio.
Dave Housley writes about pop culture better than anybody I've read, and does so in what is both a satirical AND an admiring manner all at the same time. Seemingly impossible but while Dave realizes what needs to be skewered, he can't help but hold it in a soft spot close to his heart. I only wish I could skewer these things Dave writes about nearly as well as he does. In all honesty, it frightens me that no matter what he writes about, I know exactly why it needs to be skewered, but also semi-revered, as, like Dave, I seem to watch way too much tv, listen to way too much music, see or read about way too many movies, etc.
Born in 1966, I was between 8 and 13 when KISS was in their heyday. I don't think many of us boys that age escaped having some fondness for the band. I've never lost that fondness, no matter how snooty I've ever gotten about music (and that's been pretty snooty at times). I've probably listened to those first two KISS Alive albums more times than I'd truly care to know--the sort of listening that I know every guitar note in solos, know where a drum beat has been missed, etc. And as much as Ace Frehley's solos were what originally pulled me in, Paul Stanley's banter in between songs is simply amazing. Excited, bombastic, drawing the crowd to a frenzy and saying ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Housley absolutely nails the pacing, the tone, and the excitement in these Stanley parodies. He simply sneaks in some Shakespeare into each lead in, matching plays with individual KISS songs in a sneaky way.
Tulsa, Oklahoma, January 26, 1977
Paul: Yeah! You all are crazy, Tulsa! I think … I think … I think Tulsa might be the craziest place we played ON THIS TOUR. That’s right, Tulsa! You know what gets me crazy, Tulsa? You wanna knooooooooow what gets me CRAAAAA-AAAAA-AAAA-ZEEEEEE? I get craaaaazeeee when I see them young girls, Tulsa. I see ’em walkin’ down the street so young and clean and I just can’t help myself, people! Remind me of another young boy couldn’t help himself when he saw them young girls. And I ain’t talkin’ about just anybody Tulsa! I ain’t talking about you … or me … or Peter or Ace or even Gene, people! I’m talking bout a man named Romeo, Tulsa! ROOOOO-MEEEEEEE-OOOOOOH! My man Romeo he loved them young girls, Tulsa, oh YEAH, he loved ’em! And this one girl he loved her special. You know who I’m talkin’ about … shout it out Tulsa … tell me Romeo and …
Paul: What you say Tulsa? I can’t HEEAAAR YOU.
Paul: That’s right, Tulsa. This song is about a Juliet all my own, a little girl named … CHRISTINE SIXTEEN!
There is NOTHING off about this. The mentioning of women or young girls from the city the concert is in...the ridiculously drawn out words...the back and forth with the crowd...and especially the rising sounds leading to his booming out the upcoming song. This time just with a little Romeo and Juliet references fitting perfectly within.
The thing that kills me reading Housley's works are how effortless he makes it seem. Reading this story had me hearing Paul Stanley's voice--just nothing out of place at all. The only way something can read this effortless to me, well, I can't imagine just how much work Housley put into it. Nearly a decade since I first read this story and it came to my mind in a heartbeat this afternoon. That doesn't happen all that often.
Nine days into 2016 and I've received some galleys, seen many lists, and began to take notes for books that I really hope to get to during the upcoming year (while also trying to catch up on the books from similar lists in 2013, 2014, and 2015 that I've still not read)!
Rachel Cantor Good on Paper (Melville House) Novel
Garth Greenwell What Belongs to You (Sarabande) Novel
Amber Sparks The Unfinished World (Liveright) Short Story Collection
Amy Gustine You Should Pity Us Instead (Sarabande) Short Story Collection
Brian Evenson A Collapse of Horses (Coffee House) Short Story Collection
Allison Joseph Mercurial (Mayapple Press) Poetry Collection
Desiree Cooper Know the Mother (Wayne State University) Short Story Collection
Brian Oliu I/O: A Memoir (CCM) Non-Fiction
Chris Bacheldor The Throwback Special (Norton) Novel
Danielle Dutton Margaret the First (Catapult) Novel
C. Dale Young The Halo (Four Way Books) Poetry Collection
Stephen Dixon Letter to Kevin (Fantagraphics) Novel
Francine J. Harris Play Dead Poetry Collection
Jamaal May The Big Book of Exit Strategies (Alice James) Poetry Collection
Lydia Millet Sweet Lamb of Heaven (Norton) Novel
Pamela Erens Eleven Hours (Tin House) Novel
Stephen Graham Jones Mongrels (William Morrow) Novel
Jensen Beach Swallowed by the Cold (Graywolf) Short Story Collection
Donald Ray Pollock The Heavenly Table (Doubleday) Novel
Rosa Likson Compartment No. 9 (Graywolf) Novel (in translation)
Matt Bell A Tree or a Person or a Wall (Soho) Short Story Collection
Anne Raeff The Jungle Around Us (Georgia Press) Short Story Collection
Colson Whitehead The Underground Railroad (Doubleday) Novel
Anne Valente Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down (Harper) Novel
Now, I'm positive I've missed MANY titles--I don't see Two Dollar Radio, or Unbridled, or Dorothy, or Hobart, or Tyrant, or Engine Books, or The Cupboard, or many other publishers that I love. I also don't see names like Percival Everett (who generally publishes something every year) or the new novels by Richard Russo or Don Delillo on here either though I'm sure I'll want to read them. And there will be dozens of books that I'll stumble onto in stores, or on Facebook or via David Abrahms or other reviewer/readers that I trust. And this says nothing of the Dzanc Books list that I know is forthcoming and is amazing. It should be a great year ahead for reading.
So, hours after writing about what books I look forward to reading that will be published this year, I jump back to a short story collection that won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction back in 1984, Why Men Are Afraid of Women--only 32 years ago. If there is a series I try to make sure I pick up every year, it's the Flannary O'Connor Award for Short Fiction titles. I've probably owned this collection for half a dozen years and today is the first time I've cracked the covers open.
I opted for the story "A Hunk of Burning Love" because it was originally published in The Missouri Review, a journal I've enjoyed in the past. It begins:
Gene is already there when I come through the door of the New Deal Cafe and Bar.
Nothing overly special. Concise and in the not too distant future of the story, Camoin allows the reader the knowledge that the narrator is Larry, a male co-worker of Gene's. Also that Larry is sleeping with the waitress at the New Deal, Rita. While the title of the collection notes how men are afraid of women, and dipping into a few more of the stories this evening, it is a common topic, "A Hunk of Burning Love" looks a little closer at how relationships between men can veer hard toward awkward.
Gene and Larry do outdoor work--on the particular day in question they are putting up fencing on a pasture. The conversation in the diner is a little odd; then the conversation while Gene drives Larry to the property they'll work on gets a little more stilted as Gene accuses Law-rence (as he calls him) of not understanding Elvis because he's from Chicago--among other things; and during the day while they work it all but disappears as they work mainly in silence. A key bit of information about Rita comes about and I think from that point forward Camoin has the reader feeling just as awkward listening in on their conversation as they seem to be themselves, which makes for a great read.
Besides creating some great characters, Camoin writes deceptively simple prose--in that it's not simple at all, but very accessible and clean. He's got some great descriptions:
...the sky is like a TV screen when the station is off the air, a blank waiting to be filled in.
And not long after that:
...the sky is like a page from a book that hasn't been written.
He looks at relationships, at working men, at small daily events that we all recognize but don't frequently see in stories. This story and the others I've had the chance to read so far are excellent. And in good news, the University of Georgia Press has republished this collection in paperback and as an eBook as of late 2013 and it's widely available again.
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I didn't include any of these in my What I'm Looking Forward to Reading 2016 version for what should be obvious reasons. But each and every one of these titles is something that should absolutely be on your radar!
Just recently published
Triangle Ray by John Holman
Triangle Ray is a collection of short stories linked by the character of Ray Fielding, introduced first as a young black man coming of age in the 1980s and infatuated with his schoolmate, the brilliant, miraculous Marie. Against the wishes of their families, the two marry just out of high school, but the marriage falls apart within a few years as time makes them strangers to each other. Twenty years later, Ray is unmarried and still searching for a lasting connection—with his friend Dexter and his wife Olivia, whose name is so beautiful Ray has to ugly it up; with his cousin Barbara, raising her child while chasing an easy way out; and with passionate, mercurial Alma, a woman with whom Ray collides at right angles, a fleeting love affair neither of them can keep alive.
With sharp prose and startling insight, John Holman illuminates issues of race and class within the context of one man’s search for love and belonging, exploring the motives behind the ways we retell our stories and how we ignore or embrace the future that is already taking shape.
Kafka's Son by Curt Leviant
Set in New York City and Prague in 1992, Kafka’s Son follows a documentary filmmaker whose life has been defined by the men he refers to as the two Ks: Danny Kaye and Franz Kafka. In a New York synagogue, he meets an elderly Czech Jew named Jiri, once the head of the famous Jewish Museum in Prague, with whom he discovers a shared love of Kafka. Inspired by this new friendship, he travels to Prague to make a film about Jewish life in the city and its Kafka connections.
In his search for answers, he crosses paths with the beadle of the famous 900-year-old Altneushul synagogue, where a legendary golem is rumored to be hidden away in a secret attic, which may or may not exist; a mysterious man who may or may not be Kafka’s son; Mr. Klein, who although several years younger than Jiri may or may not be his father; and an enigmatic young woman in a blue beret, who is almost certainly real.
As Prague itself becomes as perplexing and unpredictable as its transient inhabitants, Curt Leviant unfolds a labyrinthine tale that is equal parts detective novel and love story, captivating maze and realistic fantasy, and a stunning tribute to Kafka and his city. Initially published in France in 2009, Kafka’s Son was selected by the Association of French Booksellers as a Choice Book and chosen as one of 40 Best Foreign Books of the Year for 2009.
Waste by Andrew F. Sullivan
A breakneck tour of a brokedown city littered with ruptured families, missing mothers, busted bowling alleys, and neon motels.
Larkhill, Ontario. 1989. A city on the brink of utter economic collapse. On the brink of violence. Driving home one night, unlikely passengers Jamie Garrison and Moses Moon hit a lion at fifty miles an hour. Both men stumble away from the freak accident unharmed, but neither reports the bizarre incident.
Haunted by the dead lion, Moses storms through the frozen city with his pathetic crew of wannabe skinheads searching for his mentally unstable mother. Jamie struggles with raising his young daughter and working a dead-end job in a butcher shop, where a dead body shows up in the waste buckets out back. A warning of something worse to come.
Somewhere out there in the dark, a man is still looking for his lion. His name is Astor Crane, and he has never really understood forgiveness.
Movie Stars by Jack Pendarvis
These stories are linked by humor, setting, themes, and recurring characters—cat lovers, murderers, gamblers, ghosts, and fools—but mostly by the movie stars, gods, and goddesses who look down on us struggling mortals with a mixture of benevolence and wrath. From Scarlett Johansson to Joan Crawford, Clint Eastwood to Jerry Lewis, they represent the impossible ideals to which lesser beings turn for hope in an otherwise baffling world.
Loreena's Gift by Colleen Story
A blind girl’s terrifying “gift” allows her to regain her eyesight— but only as she ferries the recently deceased into the afterlife.
Loreena Picket is a blind young woman who lives with her uncle, a reverend at a small- town church. Loreena has a strange gift, which she’s not really sure is a gift at all. Her uncle has made good use of it, involving her in end-of-life “ceremonies,” during which she helps terminally ill people die in the most humane way. Taking their hands, she kills them with an invisible, painless power, but not before traveling with them to the other side. On her journey to the afterlife with her companion, she can see.
Loreena’s uncle believes her power is a gift from God, but when Loreena’s troubled brother returns to town, she saves his life by killing a drug dealer. Thrown deeper into her brother’s dark world and forced to survive being kidnapped and used for her power, she begins to wonder: is she an angel of mercy or just an assassin?
Late One Night by Lee Martin
On a night no one will ever forget, Della Black and three of her seven children are killed in a horrific fire in their trailer. As the surviving children are caught in the middle of a custody battle between their well-intentioned neighbor and their father and his pregnant mistress, new truths about what really happened the night of the fire come to light. When the fire marshal determines the cause—arson—rumors quickly circulate as the townspeople search for answers. Ronnie Black is the kind of man who can leave his wife and children for a younger woman, but is he capable of something more sinister?
Ronnie and his girlfriend, Brandi Tate, maintain his innocence—he’s a loving, caring father who wants to do everything he can to protect his family. But as the gossip mounts, Ronnie feels his children (and, eventually, Brandi) pulling away from him. Soon enough, he finds himself at a crossroads—should he allow gossipmongers to seal his fate, or should he fight to prove that he’s not the monster people paint him to be?
In Late One Night, Lee Martin examines the devastating effect of rumors and the resilience of one family in the face of the ultimate tragedy.
Worthy by Lisa Birnbaum
Told in a language all its own, Worthy is a tale of love, deception, and the art of the long con.
Worthy is the story of Ludmila—or Worthy, as she comes to be known— a “former” con artist from Eastern Europe managing an eccentric, failing strip club in Tampa for her lover, Leo. Though there is much she won’t reveal, she gradually unravels the story of her love affair twenty years earlier with Theodore, an erratic literature professor who embraces an ideology built around what he calls the Four Books: Mann’s Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man, Nabokov’s Despair, Melville’s The Confidence-Man, and Camus’s The Fall. Seduced by the scofflaws in these novels, Theodore and Worthy transform themselves into confidence artists, a tempest of shared madness that carries them from New York to Mexico City to the South of France. Despite her sly humor calculated to charm, Worthy’s picaresque narrative leaves the listener with deepening questions, from what happened to Theodore to the reasons she abandoned her son Mirek.
With the linguistic acrobatics of Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing and the confessional force of The Fall, Lisa Birnbaum weaves a lively tale of elusive truth about finding our way in the world, as love is inevitably lost and left behind.
Movieola! by John Domini
A collection of linked short stories that delights in and exploits the language and paraphernalia of industrial Hollywood.
The collection delves into a night at the movies, featuring all the familiar types—the rom-com, the action-adventure, the superhero, and the spy—but the narratives are still under construction, and every storyline is an opportunity for the unimaginable twist. Motive and identity are constantly shifting in these short stories that offer both narrative and anti-narrative, while the stunted shop-talk of the movie business struggles to keep up.
With the wit of Steve Erickson’s Zeroville and the inventive spirit of Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics, John Domini offers a collection at once comical and moving, care- fully suspended between a game of language and a celebration of American film.
Jamestown, Alaska by Frank Hollon Turner
Jamestown, Alaska is the story of Aaron Jennings, a bestselling novelist bored by his life of suburban monotony and increasingly disturbed by the stories of violence in his newspaper, who wakes one morning to find a small red book on his doorstep. There is no title, no author’s name on the spine: just the words The Survival Manifesto inscribed on the first page, and an invocation to a chosen few to abandon the society of the incompetent, lazy, and immoral and build a new utopia in the wilds of Alaska. Jennings is invited to the commune to write, or rewrite, the history of the imminent worldwide revolution.
Skeptical but insatiably curious, Jennings sets out for Alaska in the company of the seven mysterious members of the Committee, pursued by a sinister figure (his next- door neighbor?) who seems to oppose the Committee’s mission. But the human vices have reached Jamestown first, and the foundation of the commune is already faltering. As Jennings becomes entangled with the secrets of Jamestown, falling out of touch with his family and the life he left behind, he grows increasingly paranoid about what kind of game he’s stumbled into, and whether anything in Jamestown is as it seems.
With spare prose and sharp insight into the fallacies of the human mind, Frank Turner Hollon’s Jamestown, Alaska walks the line between ludicrous and ominous in the style of Karen Russell, Jim Shepard, and Kurt Vonnegut.