Hardly Children: Stories by Laura Adamczyk

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How strange when strangers tried to step inside of you, I thought. Like when men in rags announced themselves to a train car, telling everyone about their lives, their current states of disrepair and what they wanted, needed, God Bless, from everyone, which somehow included you, and you kept your head down, reading the same sentence again and again, never quite taking hold of it, and the harder your tried, the more the men’s voices got in your ear, the more like they were speaking only to you.

These stories are intense and unsettling. Children stretching into the eerie, harshly brutal light of adulthood as the sisters in Girls deal with their father leaving, and their mother now the head of the house. Their Saturdays spent exploring the series of rooms upstairs of their great-grandmother’s big rambling house while their mother worked, as if entering a strange world unsupervised, where their imaginations could run free. But one day, a door to the room they never entered is cracked and there they come across a very real adult. When the man says their names ‘like a little song’, it feels like an omen. Is the memory real? In Too Much A Child, an old man tells of the era when children were disappearing, just being taking if someone had a mind to take.  It is happening again, what is the logic, are ‘bad’ children being weeded out of the good? So begins the marching, but our narrator doesn’t really want to become one with many, despite the injustice. It hints at the ways we are immune to horror, being past a certain age (in the story) but could as easily translate as being a different sex, or out of the time period so safe from history or simply one’s ethnicity if you boil it down. We can be the ones who are safe and look away or we can see.

A man named Adam becomes a part of an art installation where he is suspended by hooks, but the hooks of truth sink into him when his father divulges the long-held secret of his origins. Will he ever ‘come down’ and own this new version of his life? Is it easier for Adam, or any of us, to just remain floating in the before? Must we confront the after? Do things really ever have to change? Much like the furniture in the installation, nothing fits the same after it’s been rearranged.

My favorite, the one that horrified me the most is Danny Girl. It is the whisper of the dangers that always lurk for young girls that made this one stand out. The dreadful ending shook me. Being a young girl can feel so dumb when you don’t know what you should. Being a girl is always full of threats. Girls come to terrible ends, sometimes at their own hands too, sometimes by accident.

Children and adults may be one in the same as in this collection full of characters who have slipped between the cracks, existing in a place where they’ve yet to embrace the world of adults, but do we ever? People abandon responsibilities or reconfigure their futures, break up their family, or start a new one. Whether its sisters needing each other when life just keeps going wrong, and using pieces of hair to start messages to begin meaningful conversations, or a woman dating a nice virginal boy who isn’t enough for her appetite,  every story engages the reader. The writing is clever, painting feelings with sentences “my laughter comes up like seltzer” and “we released each other, our faces smeared with time and truth.”  I feel like I need to read a novel by Laura Adamczyk, she visits the places in her writing where my mind often meanders. A solid collection! Can’t wait for a novel!

Publication Date: November 20, 2018

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

FSG Originals

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On My Aunt’s Shallow Grave White Roses Have Already Bloomed by Maria Mitsora

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At times I wish I could get to the beginning of my story. But the begining is lost in darkness even more than the end.

Maria Mitsora’s writing is beautiful, translated from Greek to English by Jacob Moe. I always wonder about translations, how much of the author’s work can suffer or shine is dependant on the translator. It is an interesting collection, strange at times, heartbreaking, stories blooming where they please. Some of the stories are broody, which is exactly why I enjoyed them so much, full of dreams which are as disjointed as our troubling thoughts. In Versions of Persephone, the character Axan ‘is on time for her rendezvous with the explosion.’Aren’t we all, of course in her case it is a physical explosion, she is in the underworld, trapped by pain. Her father, king of it all, the criminal warlord.

In Brown Dog in November, Nino needs to refrain from barking, as he mourns the loss of his Eleni. Eleni, the one woman who transfixed him, the one whose traces he still hunts for. What violence haunts him, as divorce from his love eviscerates him still? Who is the young fresh girl, another Eleni? It’s disturbing, the way he loves, if he loves at all. Eleni who wanted him to ‘walk in the sun’, Eleni who could calm the wild dogs. She, who turned her back on him.

Memories flash and dim, time rushes and stops. How much do we know of the storm inside our loved ones? In Stormy Verbs (my favorite), Verbia wants her beloved to feel the force of a river but it is the painful memories of the place that make that force dangerous, an abyss of pain. It is this place that created in Verbia what he fells for, her ‘fragile but unbreakable balance.’ A gut-wrenching story of regret and shame, short yet powerful.

Sipping the ‘distant froth’ of childhood and memory, the stories in this collection can be biting and bitter, lost characters looking for escape or return to themselves and each other. Stories we all read differently, feel uniquely. Dreamy at times, people as distant as a fading thought, struggling against the mundane and soon we all reach The End of the Show much like the wasp, sprayed with poison to oblivion and yet with the capability to fly away in spite of it all, a surprise to whatever mean eye is watching, waiting for us to die.  I got lost in the writing, a collection that engaged me.

Publication Date: September 18, 2018

Yale University Press

 

Evening in Paradise: More Stories by Lucia Berlin

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Missed moments. One word, one gesture, can change your entire life, can break everything or make it whole.

I have been wanting to read A Manual for Cleaning Women for a long time, having read glowing reviews so when I saw this one up for grabs I tucked in and wasn’t disappointed. Reading that many stories were based on her real life made them all the more satisfying. I was tickled by Tiny on the roof in the story Noel. Texas.1956. Spending her time overhearing her family, not quite feeling the Christmas spirit for her relatives, the very ones she did her best to escape, I couldn’t help but picture it all in my head. Then the generous toy delivery by airplane that goes all wrong and all I can think is, “life, isn’t that just the way things always are?”

Drug addiction that is both haunting and common in love, family haunts much of the collection. Laughing that two women give a man both the ‘best’ and ‘worst’ years of their lives, coming together in misery and yet somehow stronger women, wiser women for it all. How can a man who is a complete addict be the sort that all those who follow cannot measure up to? Life is mystery! One husband’s drug habit that takes a shocking violent turn for the wife who has no choice but to take care of things, cover something up and yet the next day is just another ordinary collection of days to come. Somehow these stories are both terribly sad, shocking and funny. It echoes many lives, there is one story where a little boy goes missing and it reminded me of something my own son did when he was with my mother and aunt. It doesn’t always work when authors play with the ‘truth’ of their own lives, creating fiction out of fact, but in the end everything we knew, experienced, are just stories with a million perspectives. If you think about it, no one ever tells them same story anyway, and that makes us all fascinating in what we chose to remember. That makes some people uncomfortable, the fluidity of truth but it’s necessary for fiction, I think.

I love reading stories about youth too, as we grow older we forget the bonds we shared with others. How fierce we were about loyalty and friendship. ‘When we got off the bus at the plaza, Hope repeated that she’d kill me if I ever spoke to Sammy again.                       “Never. Want blood?” We were always cutting our wrists and sealing promises.’ It could be the 1940s, the 1970s… human nature doesn’t change that much really. People fall in and out of love, grow and weed out friendships, raise children beautifully and terribly and the world spins on…

In each person there are many lives all full of beginnings and endings, tracks jumped when marriages dissipate or children are born. I loved The Adobe House With A Tin Roof because of the characters, nothing wild has to happen, it’s a quiet story but the plants, all the plants and her rowdy neighbor whom Maya both hates and adores (even if she doesn’t know it) made me feel I was there. One that stayed with me, Our Brother’s Keeper not just for the death of Sarah but more due to the flaw that so many women (especially those old enough to know better) chose to forgive because we sometimes want so badly for everything to just be okay. When it’s good, it’s good, right? Shouldn’t that be enough? Well, no… We may get bitter with age, because of what life does to us but deep down there is still that longing of a young girl’s heart.

I can’t compare her prior work, her audience was small while she was alive and has since grown after her death. Lucia Berlin was born in November of 1936 in Juneau, Alaska and died in 2005. Evening in Paradise is a follow-up collection of her remaining stories, and I genuinely enjoyed them all. Maybe my pleasure is in part my being a fellow November baby, always a little dark humored, easily finding things to laugh about even in the roughest of life’s moments, I can relate. Fitting that the stories will be released in November.

Publication Date:  November 6, 2018

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 

 

The Secret Habit of Sorrow: Stories by Victoria Patterson

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Natalie still texts her dead sister. A one-way conversation. It’s a strange habit and no one knows.

Behind the beautiful cover of Victoria Patterson’s latest collection are stories that delve into the heavy territory of personal struggle, complicated relationships and human beings defects. In How to Lose, Natalie is dealing with the aftermath of abandoned failing fertility treatments and caring for her young nephew after the tragic  loss of her sister ‘the bad one’. A tender relationship is forming between aunt and nephew, as AJ trains in the hopes of no longer being a guppy in his swim class, or in life. Both swallowed up by grief. In Vandals Brian takes on simple tasks in his former home while his ex-wife and son are on vacation with her new husband and step-son. Walking through his former home is like a gut punch, realizing he is slowly being erased. Discarded by his son as well is a young girl named Madeline with whom he shares his inner turmoil, while working on his ex-wife’s pond. In Johnny Hitman childhood friends, one a born-again christian, the other a recovering (sometimes) drug addict cling to their strained relationship, is Vivian right to think her friend was damaged by an incident in their youth involving her dangerous half-brother? Or did she already have a clock set on self-destruction ticking within’ her. One of my favorites is Half-Truth, hindsight is a painful wisdom we gain too late. “Now that she’s in her twenties, Kelly better understands the consequences of being a teenage mom, knowing that this defines and shapes her life more than anything else.”  Motherhood as women imagined it when they were young is never quite the reality. Yearning still for his drug-addicted father, feeling her son is sometimes more the adult than her. In We Know Things Gwen seduces her mother’s boyfriend, later inciting the fury of his teenage son.

Throughout each story, people do things for reasons they themselves don’t always understand. They struggle with drugs, affairs, parenting and relationships. In Nobody’s Business a teenager cares for his dying mother, thinking about her status as third wife to his father, remembering her solid advice through his youth. Missing her as she is living, learning how to exist without her when she’s gone. It’s not often stories are written of teenage children shouldering the responsibility of caretaker to their parent. It’s written with aching tenderness. These raw stories feel almost too real, and perfect. Yes, add this to your reading pile!!!

Publication Date: July 17, 2018

Counterpoint Press

All That Is Left Is All That Matters: Stories by Mark Slouka

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Who knows what somber ancestor had passed on to me this talent, this precocious ear for loss? For a while, because of it, I misheard almost everything.

The stories in this collection are moving and an expression, in a sense, of life and encroaching death be it through grief or aging. In The Hare’s Mask a son is drawn to his father’s past, having been the sole survivor in his family of the Holocaust. It is the saddest in the collection and beautiful. “Even as a kid I wanted to protect him,  and because he saw the danger in this, he did what he could.” The use of a rabbit hutch in the story is disturbing and so beautifully written I felt it long after I finished reading. When two lovers run into each other in Then, much older now, life having run its course the way it should they reminisce, fill each other in about what happened in between their parting, spouses, children. In parting she asks to be remembered as she was “Then”, and he does, sharing with the reader their passion like a blazing fire. Youth too is a burning, as painful as deep love. Time feasts on us, and we’re never quite as painfully alive as the early years.

Russian Mammoths reminds us everything is taken away from us without mercy. Working in a garden, the narrator interacts with Ecuadorian children who wait by the fence for the bus every morning, until tragedy strikes. These are each beautiful and affecting, it is at times the living and dying we all face that haunts us more than any wildly crafted tale.

Publication Date: June 26, 2018

W.W. Norton & Company

 

Half-Truths and Semi-Miracles by Anne Tyler

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Peculiar thoughts used to strike me back then. I wondered: When I cured the sickness where did it go?

Susanna’s gift enables her to perform healing miracles for the ill, but sometimes it just doesn’t work, maybe for a time it will give relief to some but not full recovery, hence Semi-Miracles. The gift is both blessing and curse, as loved ones drift out of her orbit uncomfortable with her strange abilities. Strangers travel from all over with the faith that she can heal them, even if she doesn’t always believe in herself or quite understand it.

The heart of the story is in who she cannot heal and what it costs her. This is a short, tender vintage story by Anne Tyler that is a little sweet ache to tide fans over until July when Clock Dance is out.

Available Now

Knopf Doubleday Publishing

 

Cliché and Wind Go Hitchhiking by: Marcel St. Pierre

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“Look again…” I told them.

“Mind your business,” my eyes replied. “It could be something you cannot unsee.”

This short collection was a lot of fun, ridiculously silly and just what I needed right now with all the difficulty that has been coming at those I love and myself. It seems people are generally under a lot of stress these days, and escape is always welcome. Two Hikers is my favorite, because fart humor never gets old, in my household it’s a mysterious invisible duck, or bull-frog depending on one’s mood, that never makes an appearance but is always to blame. A lot less dangerous than a bear! You have to read the story to make sense of that.

A bumblebee innocently interferes with criminals, a woman loses her job, her boyfriend and finds nothing in her life is working which is both a curse and maybe a blessing. A man struggles with his relationship in a haze of white while snowshoeing, his girlfriend disappearing while he was following behind. Clever little stories you could take on a train or while waiting wherever you are forced to waste precious minutes. Just little tales to tickle you and avoid the seriousness of each dragging day.

Marcel St. Pierre is a Toronto-based author hailing from Grand Falls, New Brunswick. Award-Winning Comedian Producer and Second City Alumnus, actor, improviser, writer, author and producer. Founding member and former Artistic Director of The Bad Dog Theater Company. Cliché And Wind Go Hitchhiking is his second collection. His first, Vengeful Hank & Other Short Weird Stories  was a first-day number one bestseller on Amazon.

Available Now

MKZ Press