An unvarnished accounting of one man’s struggle toward sexual and emotional maturity.
In this unconventional memoir, Jonathan Alexander addresses wry and affecting missives to a conflicted younger self. Focusing on three years—1989, 1993, and 1996—Dear Queer Self follows the author through the homophobic heights of the AIDS epidemic, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the election of Bill Clinton, and the steady advancements in gay rights that followed. With humor and wit afforded by hindsight, Alexander relives his closeted college years, his experiments with his sexuality in graduate school, his first marriage to a woman, and his budding career as a college professor.
As he moves from tortured self-denial to hard-won self-acceptance, the author confronts the deeply uncomfortable ways he is implicated in his own story. More than just a coming-out narrative, Dear Queer Self is both an intimate psychological exploration and a cultural examination—a meshing of inner and outer realities and a personal reckoning with how we sometimes torture the truth to make a life. It is also a love letter, an homage to a decade of rapid change, and a playlist of the sounds, sights, and feelings of a difficult, but ultimately transformative, time.
Nancy Au’s debut collection is rich with scents, sounds, imaginative leaps, and unexpected angles of vision. These seventeen stories present the challenges facing characters whose inner and outer lives often do not align, whose spirits attempt flight despite dashed hopes and lean circumstances. Marginalized by race, age, and sexuality, they endeavor to create new worlds that honor their identities and their Chinese heritage.
Au excels at inhabiting the minds and hearts of children and the elderly. In the title story, Sophie Chu dresses daily in her increasingly shabby elephant costume to ensure her missing parents recognize her upon their return. In “The Unfed,” a village elder seeks to revive, with her dimming magic, a mountain community struck by tragedy. “Louise” follows, with deceptive hilarity (involving a one-eyed duck), the nuanced give and take between May Zhou and Lai, dissimilar yet passionate partners considering parenthood. The volume also offers sparkling speculative work that taps into the strength of nature—fox spirits and fire beetles, swollen rivers and rippling clouds—to showcase the sometimes surreal transformations of Au’s protagonists.
Spider Love Song and Other Stories treads the fault line that forms between lovers, families, friends, cultures—exposing injuries and vulnerabilities, but also the strength and courage necessary to recast resentment and anger into wonder and power. Au’s lyrical style, humor, and tender attention to her characters’ fancies and failings make this powerful debut a delight to read.
A dreamlike novel set in Pennsylvania in the 1990s, Here Is a Game We Could Play is the story of Claudia, an intelligent eccentric trapped in the rundown industrial town she grew up in—a place plagued with troubling memories and hidden threats. Seeking escape from tedium, loneliness, and her obsessive fear of poisoning, Claudia retreats into books. . . and into a fantasy life with her perfect lover, to whom she addresses letters about her life, all the while imagining outlandish sexual scenarios.
In each fantasy, her lover takes a different form, ranging from a prison guard in a world where metaphor is forbidden, to a more-than-brotherly Hansel from the Grimms’ fairy tale, to a tentacled mind-reading space alien. All share a desire for a deep intimacy that eludes Claudia, even as she forms new real-life relationships and reconsiders her sexual identity—building a rapport with an elderly volunteer at the library, striking up a friendship with a wily temp at her dead-end job, and embarking on a passionate affair with Rose, the town’s new librarian. When paranoia threatens to ruin her relationship with Rose, Claudia is forced not only to combat her anxiety but to face the unresolved trauma in her past—the disappearance of her father on a night she has long repressed.
Funny, dark, inventive, and moving, Here Is a Game We Could Play is an original debut novel recalling the work of Aimee Bender, Angela Carter, Rebecca Brown, and Margaret Atwood.
In ten provocative stories, Ethan Chatagnier presents us with characters in crisis, people grappling with their own and others’ darkness as they search for glimmers to carry them through difficult times, untenable tasks, uncertain futures. The collection explores with unflinching eloquence the quandaries of conscience posed by the present, but also plunges us into a startlingly prescient “what if?” world, exploring in both realms questions concerning the value of perseverance, art, hope, and heart.
In fifteen sharply engaging essays, acclaimed novelist and short story writer Brock Clarke examines the art (and artifice) of fiction from unpredictable, entertaining, and often personal angles, positing through a slant scrutiny of place, voice, and syntax what fiction can—and can’t—do. (“Very: is there a weaker, sadder, more futile word in the English language?”)
Clarke supports his case with passages by and about writers who have both influenced and irritated him. Pieces such as “What the Cold Can Teach Us,” “The Case for Meanness,” “Why Good Literature Makes Us Bad People,” and “The Novel is Dead; Long Live the Novel” celebrate the achievements of master practitioners such as Muriel Spark, Joy Williams, Donald Barthelme, Flannery O’Connor, Paul Beatty, George Saunders, John Cheever, and Colson Whitehead. Of particular interest to Clarke is the contentious divide between fiction and memoir, which he investigates using recent and relevant critical arguments, also tackling ancillary forms such as “fictional memoir” and the autobiographical novel.
Anecdotal and unabashed, rigorous and piercingly perceptive—not to mention flat-out funny—I, Grape; or The Case for Fiction is a love letter to and a passionate defense of the discipline to which its author has devoted his life and mind. It is also an attempt to eff the ineffable: “That is one of the basic tenets of this book: when we write fiction, surprising things sometimes happen, especially when fiction writers take advantage of their chosen form’s contrarian ability to surprise.”
Grace for Grace brings celebrated cult filmmaker Steve De Jarnatt’s distinctive voice and cinematic vision to the page. Lush inner lives, idiosyncratic syntax, and sweeping scale characterize these wildly imaginative stories, which present characters in search of meaning and belonging, and often, at the same time, redemption and revenge.
“Rubiaux Rising” (a Best American Short Stories selection) is a tale of triumph amid calamity during Hurricane Katrina, while “Her Great Blue” a surreal interspecies love story. “Mulligan” reveals the private pain of parents traveling across the country to give away their children, and “Wraiths in a Swelter” is both a ghost story and a confessional memoir—following a deliriously exhausted EMT through a deadly Chicago heat wave.
Many of the stories in Grace for Grace are set against the backdrop of natural or manmade catastrophes. These disasters test the characters’ limits as they confront sudden changes and extremes, discovering through their unexpected resourcefulness and endurance something beyond suffering. . . something that approaches the sublime.
Hannah Dow’s debut poetry collection, Rosarium, is a series of beautiful interrogations. In precise, luminous language, Dow engages the mysteries of faith as a catalyst for meditations on the contradictory human condition—our knot of body and spirit. These poems engage the inexplicable, attempting to articulate the tension between doubt and a longing for certainty, between belief in the potency of language and acceptance of its failures. Yet these lyrics never evaporate into abstraction. They pulse with the particular. Postcards that read as prayers (spoken without hope of response) lead us around the corporeal world through vastly different landscapes—from Mississippi, to California, to Europe, to the Middle East—showing how place shapes us, how the mind cannot escape the body.
In 1844, Horace Wells, a Connecticut dentist, encountered nitrous oxide, or laughing gas—then an entertainment for performers in carnival-like theatrical acts—and began administering the gas as the first true anesthetic. His discovery would change the world, reshaping medicine and humanity’s relationship with pain.
But that discovery would also thrust Wells into scandals that threatened his reputation, his family, and his sanity—hardships and triumphs that resonate in today’s struggles with what hurts us and what we take to stop the hurt.
In this novel, Michael Downs mines the gaps in the historical record and imagines the motivations and mysteries behind Wells’s morbid fascination with pain, as well as the price he and his wife, Elizabeth, paid—first through his obsession, then his addiction.
The book is a love story, but also a story of what love can’t redeem; of narcotic dreams and waking insanity; of humbug and miracle; of pain’s destruction and what pains can never be eased. Following Wells throughout New England and across the ocean to Paris, the novel immerses the reader in the nineteenth century, conveying through rich physical description and telling dialogue the tragic life of a dentist who gave everything to rid the world of suffering.
Persephone in the Late Anthropocene vaults an ancient myth into the age of climate change. In this poetry collection, the goddess of spring now comes and goes erratically, drinks too much, and takes a human lover in our warming, unraveling world. Meanwhile, Persephone’s mother searches for her troubled daughter, and humanity is first seduced by the unseasonable abundance, then devastated by the fallout, and finally roused to act.
This ecopoetic collection interweaves the voices of Persephone, Demeter, and a human chorus with a range of texts, including speculative cryptostudies that shed light on the culture of the “Late Anthropocene.” These voices speak of decadence and blame, green crabs and neonicotinoids, mysteries and effigies. They reckon with extreme weather, industrialized plenty, and their own roles in ecological collapse.
Tonally, the poems of this book range between the sublime and the profane; formally, from lyric verse and modern magical-realist prose poems to New Farmer’s Almanac riddles and pop-anthropology texts. At the heart of this varied and inventive collection is story itself, as Demeter deconstructs “whodunits,” as the chorus grasps that mythmaking is an act of “throwing their voices,” and as their very language mirrors the downward spiral of destruction. Together, the collected pieces of Persephone in the Late Anthropocene form a narrative prism, exploring both environmental crisis and the question of how we tell it.
This riveting debut from poet Faylita Hicks is a reclamation of power for black women and nonbinary people whose bodies have become the very weapons used against them. HoodWitch tells the story of a young person who discovers that they are “something that can & will survive / a whole century of hunt.” Through a series of poems based on childhood photographs, Hicks invokes the spirits of mothers and daughters, sex workers and widows, to conjure an alternative to their own early deaths and the deaths of those whom they have already lost.
In this collection about resilience, Hicks speaks about giving her child up for adoption, mourning the death of her fiancé, and embracing the nonbinary femme body—persevering in the face of medical malpractice, domestic abuse, and police violence. The poems find people transformed, “remade out of smoke & iron” into cyborgs and wolves, machines and witches—beings capable of seeking justice in a world that refuses them the option.
Exploring the intersections of Christianity, modern mysticism, and Afrofuturism in a sometimes urban, sometimes natural setting, Hicks finds a place where “everyone everywhere is hands in the air,” where “you know they gonna push & pull it together. / Just like they learned to.” It is a place of natural magick—where someone like Hicks can have more than one name: where they can be both dead and alive, both a mortal and a god.
After the Afterlife explores the zone between language and spirit. It is a book of inner and outer boundaries: of blockades, of tunnels, of wormholes. Where does our consciousness come from, and where is it going, if anywhere? With a nimble blend of wit, whimsy, and erudition, Hummer’s poems assay the border that the shaman is forced to cross to wrestle with the gods, which is the same border the mystic yearns to broach, and the ordinary human stumbles over while doing laundry or making lunch—where questions of identity melt in the white heat of Being:
which is like trying to teach
The cat to waltz, so much awkwardness, so many tender
advances, and I’m shocked when it actually learns,
When it minces toward me in a tiny cocktail gown, offering a martini,
asking for this dance, insisting on hearing me refuse
To reply, debating all along, in the chorus of its interior mewing, who
are you really, peculiar animal, who taught you to call you you.
In this debut poetry collection, a single speaker tries to control her body and negotiate her time with digital devices, all the while navigating identities, impulses, and relationships that are often in tension.
Metabolics, a book-length poem, borrows the movements of metabolic pathways to consider how nature accomplishes both balance and deep transformation. In visual figures and prose blocks that bridge the divide between poetry and nonfiction, Jessica E. Johnson employs scientific idioms to construct an allegory about a family in the Pacific Northwest. The region becomes a character in its own right, with cedars, moss, and heavy cloud knitting the mother, father, boy, and girl into their setting.
This far-reaching volume also serves as a study of the ecologies of contemporary parenting, with adults and children affected by “feeds” both on screen and off as their bodies metabolize food, the environment, and excess feelings such as rage. From climate change to kombucha to smartphones and curated produce, the smallest details of daily life in “Plasticland” catalyze a larger examination of selfhood: “Despite so many attempts to resolve this tension, sometimes you are you and also sometimes mother just as light can be both particle and wave.”
While treating Robert Percy, a burly factory worker, psychologist David Malden unlocks not only his patient’s memories of childhood abuse but also an upwelling violence. When Percy abruptly departs Buffalo for rural Michigan, where he grew up in a series of foster homes, Malden fears that his patient seeks revenge. Concerned with his liability under Duty to Warn laws, Malden sets out after the troubled young man using the only guide he has, his treatment notes—a list of people and places that may or may not exist, especially after twenty years.
To aid him in the chase, Malden calls on his colleague, the awkward, remote, intimidatingly tall Sonja Nielsen. She reluctantly agrees to help, either because of or despite her previous entanglements with Malden.
Told from the perspectives of these three characters, the story swerves and jolts and switches back, much like Percy’s recollections of his upbringing. Kersting presents the interior struggles of her characters in a searingly spare style, all the while drawing the reader through an escalating series of events as Percy hitches rides and takes buses, searching the small towns of central Michigan, alternately helped and hindered by both old and new acquaintances.
While following disparate leads toward Percy’s final, surprising destination, all three conflicted souls are compelled to examine their loyalties, test their convictions, admit their frailties, and confront the ghosts lurking in their pasts, resulting in a revelatory climax.
A strange museum, an even stranger curator, the deceased artist who haunts him, and the mystery surrounding the museum founders’ daughter, lost at sea as a child . . . The Ambrose J. and Vivian T. Seagrave Museum of 20th Century American Art is by turns a dark comedy, a ghost story, a romance, a whodunit, a family saga, and an exhibition catalog.
Through museum exhibit labels, as well as the interior musings of an elderly visitor wandering through its galleries, the novel’s numerous dramas gradually unfold. We learn of the powerful Seagrave family’s tragic loss of their daughter, the suspicious circumstances surrounding her disappearance during a violent storm, and of the motley conclave of artists (some accomplished, some atrocious) who frequented the Seagrave estate, producing eclectic bodies of work that betray the artists’ own obsessions, losses, and peculiarities. We learn about the curator’s rise to power, his love affair with a deeply troubled ghost—and when a first-time visitor to the museum discovers unexpected connections between the works on exhibit and her painful past, we are plunged into a meditation on the nature of perception, fabrication, memory, and time.
The third full-length collection from physician and poet Jenna Le blends traditional form and the current moment.
In Manatee Lagoon, sonnets, ghazals, pantoums, villanelles, and a “failed georgic” weave in contemporary subject matter, including social-media comment threads, Pap smears, eclipse glasses, and gun violence. A recurring motif throughout the collection, manatees become a symbol with meanings as wide-ranging as the book itself. Le aligns the genial but vulnerable sea cow with mermaids, neurologists, the month of November, harmful political speech, and even a family photo at the titular lagoon.
In these poems, Le also reflects on the experience of being the daughter of Vietnamese refugees in today’s sometimes tense and hostile America. The morning after the 2016 election, as three women of color wait for the bus, one says, “In this new world, we must protect each other.”
Manatee Lagoon is a treasury of voices, bringing together the personal and the persona, with poems dedicated to Kate Spade, John Ashbery, and Uruguayan poet Delmira Agustini. With this book, Le establishes herself as a talented transcriber of the human condition—and as one of the finest writers of formal verse today.
A crumbling marriage. An ancient mystery. And a way to change the past . . .
When archaeologist Aaron Keeler finds himself transported eighteen years backward in time, he becomes swept up in a strangely illicit liaison with his younger wife. A brilliant musician, Violet is captivated by the attentive, “weathered” version of her husband. The Aaron she recently married—an American expat—has become distant, absorbed by his excavation of a prehistoric site at Kilmartin Glen on Scotland’s west coast, where he will soon make the discovery that launches his career. As Aaron travels back and forth across the span of nearly two decades, with time passing in both worlds, he faces a threat to his revelatory dig, a crisis with the older Violet—mother of his two young children—and a sudden deterioration of his health. Meanwhile, Violet’s musical performances take on a resonance related to the secrets the two are uncovering in both time frames. With their children and Aaron’s lives at risk, he and Violet try to repair the damage before it’s too late.
The first nonfiction collection by internationally acclaimed writer and translator Amit Majmudar, Black Avatar combines elements of memoir, biography, history, and literary criticism.
The eight pieces in this deeply engaging volume reflect author Amit Majmudar’s comprehensive studies of American, European, and Indian traditions, as well as his experiences in both suburban Ohio and the western Indian state of Gujarat. The volume begins with the title piece, a fifteen-part examination of “How Colorism Came to India.” Tracing the evolution of India’s bias in favor of light skin, Majmudar reflects on the effects of colonialism, drawing upon sources ranging from early Sanskrit texts to contemporary film and television.
Other essays illuminate subjects both timely and timeless. “The Ramayana and the Birth of Poetry” discusses how suffering is portrayed in art and literature (“The spectrum of suffering: slapstick on one end, scripture on the other, with fiction and poetry . . . in the vastness between them”), while in “Five Famous Asian War Photographs”—a 2018 Best American Essays selection—Majmudar analyzes why these iconic images of atrocity have such emotional resonance. In “Nature/Worship,” another multi-part piece, the author turns his attention to climate change, linking notions of environmentalism to his ancestral tradition of finding divinity within the natural world, connections that form the basis of religious belief.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of these wide-ranging essays is the prose itself—learned yet lively, erudite yet accessible—nimbly revealing the workings of a wonderfully original mind.
Synonyms for Silence
A. Molotkov Acre Books, 2019 Library of Congress PS3613.O49 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
A. Molotkov’s third poetry collection, Synonyms for Silence, traverses a terrain of terror and wonder. These sharp, brief lyrics and prose poems subject the world to ethical and metaphysical scrutiny, examining the familiar as well as the unknowable aspects of human existence and contrasting our transient chemical reality with our ability to manifest meaning.
Big Familia follows Juan Gutiérrez, a self-employed single father, as he navigates a tumultuous year of inescapable change. His daughter, Stella, is on the verge of moving away to college; his lover, Jared, is pressing him for commitment; and his favorite watering hole—a ramshackle dive presided over by Bob the Bartender—is transforming into a karaoke hotspot. The story is set in a neighborhood that is also changing, gentrification inciting the ire of the established community.
Upon the unexpected death of one of the bar’s regulars, Juan is sent reeling, and a series of upheavals follow as he both seeks and spurns intimacy, pondering the legacy of distant parents and a failed marriage and grappling with his sexuality—all the while cycling and dating, drinking at Nicks Lounge, and parenting a determined and defiant child-become-woman.
When his incarcerated father dies and Stella reveals she’s pregnant, Juan is forced to examine the emotional bonds that both hold and hinder him, to reassess his ideas of commitment, of friendship, of love. His encounters with various characters—his mother, his ex-wife, a middle-aged punker, an aspiring acupuncturist, a dapper veteran—lead Juan to the realization that he himself must change to thrive.
This is a story of making family and making mistakes, of rending and of mending. As a Latinx queer father with a mixed-race daughter, Juan exemplifies the ways identity connects and divides us. With wit, insight, and tenderness, Big Familia explores the complexities of desire, devotion, and the mysteries of the heart.
A multicultural saga, This Fierce Blood follows three generations of women in the Sylte family.
In rural late-nineteenth-century New England, Wilhelmina Sylte is a settler starting a family with her Norwegian immigrant husband. When she forms an inexplicable connection with a mountain lion and her cubs living near their farm, Mina grapples with divided loyalties and the mysterious bond she shares with the animals.
In 1927 in southern Colorado, Josepa is accused of witchcraft by a local priest for using the healing practices passed down from her Native mother. Fighting for her family’s reputation and way of life, Sepa finds strength in worldly and otherworldly sources.
When Magdalena, an ecologist, inherits her great-grandmother Wilhelmina’s Vermont property, she and her astrophysicist husband decide to turn the old farm into a summer science camp for teens. As Magda struggles with both personal and professional responsibilities, the boundary between science and myth begins to blur.
Rich in historical and cultural detail, This Fierce Blood combines magical realism with themes of maternal ancestral inheritance, and also explores the ways Hispano/Indigenous traditions both conflicted and wove together, shaping the distinctive character of the American Southwest. Readers of Téa Obreht and Ruth Ozeki will find much to admire in this debut novel.
Poet and playwright Dan O’Brien chronicles the year and a half during which both he and his wife were treated for cancer.
On the fourteenth anniversary of 9/11—an event that caused their downtown apartment to become “suffused with the World Trade Center’s carcinogenic dust”—Dan O’Brien’s wife discovers a lump in her breast. Surgery and chemotherapy soon follow, and on the day of his wife’s final infusion, O’Brien learns of his own diagnosis. He has colon cancer and will need to undergo his own intensive treatment over the next nine months.
Our Cancers is a compelling account of illness and commitment, of parenthood and partnership. This spare and powerful sequence creates an intimate mythology that seeks meaning in illness while also celebrating the resilience of sufferers, caregivers, and survivors.
As O’Brien explains in an introduction, “The consecutiveness of our personal disasters, with a daughter not yet two years old at the start of it, was shattering and nearly silencing. At hospital bedsides, in hospital beds myself, and at home through the cyclical assaults of our therapies, these poems came to me in fragments, as if my unconscious were attempting to reassemble our lives, our identities and memories . . . as if I were in some sense learning how to speak again.”
The fourteen stories in Every Human Love redefine our sense of reality. Set seemingly in the quotidian, these tales veer into the unexpected, the uncomfortable, occasionally the eerie, thrusting characters in crisis into still greater quandaries, where the world of weddings and work, of frustrated hopes and mundane dissatisfactions, collides with a realm of legend, of fairy tale, of nightmare.
The Tilt Torn Away from the Seasons imagines a human mission to Mars, a consequence of Earth’s devastation from climate change and natural disaster. As humans begin to colonize the planet, history inevitably repeats itself. Dystopian and ecopoetic, this collection of poetry examines the impulse and danger of the colonial mindset, and the ways that gendered violence and ecological destruction, body and land, are linked. “This time we’ll form more carefully,” one voice hopes in “Ecopoiesis: The Terraforming.” “We’ve started on empty / plains. We’ll vaccinate. We’ll make the new deal fair.” But the new planet becomes a canvas on which the trespasses of the American Frontier are rehearsed and remade. Featuring a multiplicity of narratives and voices, this book presents the reader with sonnet crowns, application forms, and large-scale landscape poems that seem to float across the field of the page. With these unusual forms, Rogers also reminds us of previous exploitations on our own planet: industrial pollution in rural China, Marco Polo's racist accounts of the Batak people in Indonesia, and natural disasters that result in displaced refugees. Striking, thought-provoking, and necessary, The Tilt Torn Away from the Seasons offers a new parable for our modern times.
The coming-of-age chronicle of a queer Latinx Southerner.
In C. T. Salazar’s striking debut poetry collection, the speaker is situated in the tradition of Southern literature but reimagines its terrain with an eye on the South’s historic and ongoing violence. His restless relationship with religion (“a child told me there was a god / and because he was smiling, I believed him”) eventually includes a reclamation of the language of belief in the name of desire. “I felt myself become gospel in your hands,” the speaker tells his beloved. And, as the title poem asserts, a headless body “leaves more room for salvation.”
Though Salazar’s South is not a tender place, the book is a petition for tenderness, revealing in both place and people the possibilities for mercy, vulnerability, and wonder. The lyric I, as it creates an archive of experience, is not distanced from the poems’ subjects or settings, but deeply enmeshed in a tangled world. In poems with lush diction, ranging from a sonnet crown to those that explore the full field of the page, Headless John the Baptist Hitchhiking seeks—and finds—where the divine resides: “Praise our hollow-bell bodies still ringing.”
All the Tiny Beauties follows five characters in California as their lives intertwine.
All the Tiny Beauties begins with a kitchen fire that sends the reclusive Webster Jackson to the home of his new neighbor, Colleen, who discovers him on her doorstep wearing a lacy peignoir, his house in flames. Unwilling to take responsibility for the lonely eccentric, Colleen reaches out to Webb’s estranged daughter, Debra. She also helps him find a live-in companion, a young adult reeling from the loss of her childhood friend.
Moving among perspectives and generations, we see the longings and vulnerabilities that drive and impede these characters as their stories intertwine—Webb’s first love clashing with his last; Colleen embarking on a secret affair with Debra; the older Webb and his young housemate, Hannah, forming a bond over tragedy, guilt, and his passion for baking.
Confronting the many ways they’ve failed others as well as themselves, Webb, Colleen, Hannah, and Debra slowly find ways forward and ways out. While exploring the fragile nature of our connections to one another, All the Tiny Beauties asks larger questions about the constraints society imposes that warp and wound, leading us to deny those things that make us wholly ourselves.
The characters who populate Jenn Scott’s debut collection are both trapped and adrift. Stuck in dead-end jobs or stagnant relationships or simply caught in the grip of their own inertia, they opt out, act out, and strike out, searching for emotional sustenance in a landscape of pointless patterns and dwindling hopes. Cuttingly clever remarks and excoriating observations act as shields—thrown up to protect an aching vulnerability, a bewildering sense of loss . . . of being lost in a world rife with expectations, where responsibility is ritualistic and meaning elusive.
“The beauty of being young was, in fact, the ability to project all that might happen. She recognizes, suddenly, how less grandiose the projection of her plans has become. It’s like she was once standing looking an expanse of field, but now she’s trapped in a hallway hung with too many pastel prints of landscapes that refuse to interest her. It’s as if she’s moved her entire life inside a dental office, minus the gas that sings a person to sleep while their cavities are filled, their roots fixed.”
Assumed identities, Russian mail-order brides, pie theft, lost (and found) cleavers, coworkers who commit murder, the sudden ballooning of breasts, conversations with the (surprisingly opinionated) vegetables in a restaurant’s walk-in cooler: in stories sharply funny and deeply poignant, situations that delight and discomfit, Scott explores “the complicated, or simple, ways in which we settle.”
Hugh Sheehy’s riveting new collection draws heavily from the genres of horror, mystery, science fiction, and myth.
These are tales of seekers, often damaged, who find themselves caught up in skewed realities, facing lurking threats, violent deaths, strange entities, and alienating technologies. Confronted with unsettling, escalating, circumstances, the disparate cast of characters are driven toward self-revelation and perverse moments of poignancy.
A troubled high schooler traps a peer in an underground storage space. A traumatized felon returns home to rob the man who molested him as a child. A videogame help-line operator suspects a regular caller, obsessed with a disturbing role-playing game, of real-life misdeeds. In the title story, an unhappy couple adopts a “designer animal,” a genetic hybrid created to be the perfect pet. But the “grot” makes trouble in the neighborhood, becoming emblematic of a deeper problem. “Something is wrong with the world,” the narrator’s husband explains. “A design flaw. It’s so thoroughly corrupted, I’m not sure how to fix it.”
Inventive and unpredictable, these thirteen stories are wholly immersive, showing Sheehy at his captivating best.
Following his acclaimed debut novel, The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo, the eleven stories of Ian Stansel’s Glossary for the End of Days explore today’s cultural and political climate with a disarming blend of speculation and realism. Whether faced with tragedy, approaching disaster, or an all-too-familiar uncertainty, Stansel’s protagonists—siblings, lovers, executives, drifters—reveal complex and often startling turns of mind, surprising themselves as well as the reader.
In Boulder, a man calls into a radio program with an altered tale of his brother’s murder—and faces the consequences when the story goes viral. In Tampa, a woman attends a convention of people believing themselves to be targets of clandestine government agencies. In Houston, a family with many secrets attempts to escape an oncoming tropical storm. In an East Coast college town, a professor has a charged run-in with a young woman from the radical right. And in Iowa, a cult suicide spurs the lone survivor to create a “glossary” in an effort to come to terms with his experience.
Simultaneously gritty and lyrical, grounded and visionary, Glossary for the End of Days gives us characters grappling with how to push on through dark days and dark times. This arresting, relevant collection tunes into and seeks to illuminate shared anxieties about the present—and future—of our world.
In The Beforeland, a boy’s desperate act of rebellion against his grandmother reverberates outward, causing rifts and reckonings in the lives of others: a man fleeing his own troubled family who becomes the grandson’s unwitting accomplice; a poet struggling with the limitations of language and his wife’s distance; the proprietor of a dying motel; and the grandmother herself, who finds love for the first time as she recuperates from her injury. Set in the Mojave Desert and the suburbs of Southern California, this revelatory novel moves swiftly among characters who are caught between the deprivations of the past and the mysteries of the future. With unflinching precision, Vallianatos unearths the vulnerability and volatility at our cores.