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

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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

 

Belly up: Stories by Rita Bullwinkel

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Things are so easy to ruin, I remember thinking.  I remember thinking, why did I do that thing that I knew was going to have a bad ending?

This is a strange, unique story collection, but not so strange to be off-putting for some. Of all the tales, Black Tongue was my favorite. There is something painfully relatable to that part of us that is pulled by things we know are just a form of sabotage, be it physical or emotional. Standing there in the aftermath of a mess we made, thinking ‘I did this to myself.”  The Florida stories made me laugh, familiar with Cassadaga, the Spiritualist community, ‘psychic capital’ of the world and Gator tacos ‘tastes like chicken’ specials. Okay, so it’s a strange state and things are faded by the sun, and we are sometimes a world unto ourselves but we’re never boring.

What I Would Be If I Wasn’t What I Am is a thoughtful little piece. There are so many parts to us, made different by marriage as much as by being a parent, a sister, a friend. What is the true solid core? Because we are different for who we know, love. I’m mucking up an interesting story about a widow. Oh the strange life of cohabitation, of love. There are stories of ghosts and hired bra hands (some of us do pay outrageous prices for our brassieres, out of necessity), tricky snakes, and 24 hour donut shops where it’s okay to be an ugly teenager, who deserve love stories too.

In the South, the Sand Winds Are Our Greatest Enemy is a peculiar tale of banished brothers Gleb (the surgeon) and Oleg (the sculptor) working in a prison infirmary, full of wit and strange skills. There is nothing they can’t repair, and no one. They make great use of corpses, and outsmart the officer in control.

Stories that have an air of mystery while surrounded by the ordinary. Clever!

Available Now

Publisher:  A Strange Object

 

 

 

Five Hundred Poor: Stories by Noah Milligan

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When I was in the room, Frank stared at me the way men have since I was eleven years old, with a mixture of lust and apathy.

While this is a slim collection of stories it is so peculiar and wonderful that I hope Milligan writes more, I just realized he wrote a novel too titled An Elegant Theory that I will have to acquire. What I love about these stories is that they aren’t about perfect, successful happy folks.The men and women in this book seem to live outside the lives people imagine are waiting for the well-adjusted. Everything’s Fine is fantastic, what an odd story, there are some authors you read and ask yourself, ‘what inspired this tale?’ It is deeply sad, and these are the sort of characters (people) that will never be ‘normal’. Our narrator did strange things to herself, she tells us, when she was little. You can imagine her parents hovering over their daughter through her entire childhood scared, not of outside dangers, but of what she could do to herself. But that isn’t really the story, the story is where she works as an adult, at the Rosewood Medical Center for the Severely Disabled. More forgotten people who live in the cracks of time, stuck in facilities, lucky if their caretakers are gentle and kind. She meets the brother of a patient, and so begins one of the weirdest relationships I’ve read and yet this ‘living at a distance’, vicariously through another’s happiness that makes sense.

The Motion of Bodies exposes the dangers of our social comments whether they are light-hearted jokes or not. What’s more terrifying than an offhanded comment or joke that turns on you, makes you a social enemy? Not as far-fetched as we think. It can cost more than we ever thought we’d have to give up. How do you defend against a few words that paints a picture of you as someone you’re not? Especially if you wrote them? What we mean in this age is impossible to reign in, all it takes is one person to shape your thoughts, usually strangers. The jungle seems to be social media now.

A Good Start is the first story, a man grapples with caring for a boy who may or may not be his son, and truly what does it matter to him? He doesn’t much take to the idea of being ‘obligated’ to anything or anyone. I just kept thinking ‘born alone, die alone’. If it is his son, their childhoods and their mothers are mirrors. It produces raw thoughts and ugly feelings to imagine there are such upbringings that makes no room for innocence. Little boys and girls who learn all too soon not to trust any adults, most especially not their mothers and fathers, and that they better get streetwise fast if they have any chance of survival.

These are not your usual short stories, they aren’t pretty in fact in one a man’s job is to clean up crime scenes, suicides,  and nautral deaths in Status Zero, some are really weird but all are original. I read the following on goodreads.com under the book summary.  The title comes from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, “Wherever there is great property there is great inequality. For one very rich man there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many. The affluence of the rich excites the indignation of the poor, who are often both driven by want, and prompted by envy, to invade his possessions.” There must be five hundred poor.

Publication Date: June 1, 2018

Central Avenue Publishing

 

The Island Dwellers: Stories by Jen Silverman

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I am concerned because Camilo is inherently clumsy with things like words and money and other people’s feelings.

I devoured these interconnected stories that are about being shipwrecked in loneliness yet in constant motion, and every character seems to be in a sort of emotional underground. There was something so funny to me about Girl Canadian Shipwreck, the performance art had me laughing about the discomfort the girlfriend feels when she’s meant to rally support for her lover, at her desire to escape the very thing her boyfriend feels so passionate about. White People is perfection as Cynthia falls for Venezuelan Elias, and builds in her mind such ridiculous cultural clichés that you can’t feel bad for her in the least. Tired of white conversations, the rich meals and the sterile, privileged life she was living, Cynthina imagines (while in the process of divorce from her husband Seth) how different a life she could lead, now that she’s found Elias. There is meat to a bohemian existence, so what if she has to forsake creature comforts? But does she really? Can’t she just return to wealth, isn’t this just ‘slumming’ for her, so very brave she imagines she is for this love? Can she really remove herself from her charmed life, can someone’s ‘ethnicity’ rub off on you?  Isn’t he just another ‘exotic dish’ she orders? I love the reaction Elias has later when he uncovers the past Cynthia has invented for him. There isn’t a story in this collection that failed to engage me with intelligence, humor or devastating sorrow. Whether characters were adrift, spinning in circles, begging for love or using it to manipulate as a means for survival, I was invested in the outcome.

Expats living in Japan deal with more than complicated relationships, there is the threat of the yakuza shadowing lovers when one becomes a kept woman. A body in a suitcase manages to be a sexy date story for a girl named Rachel in Wolf. Love hotels paint the scene in Mamushi,  where a tale of  brutal sexuality encompasses a tender love story that explains so much about the distance inside of Ancash. Love that can’t be spoken, something broken inside of Ancash that makes him cold, the desperate violent desire he inspires in others, so many  swoon for him but the one he loves, wanting nothing more than to keep him for their own. Ancash appears to have a fluid sexuality, but there is someone, only one person whom really has teeth in his heart, and doesn’t even know it. Because sometimes the one you want to understand you can’t, and you protect them from yourself.

Some of the stories are light and funny until the next tale plunges you into the dark, disturbing pain of other characters yet all of them are equally captivating. There is so much said in every terrible choice made. There is avoidance in easy blindness, in what we project unto each other neglecting to really see what is inside of someone. We all do it, to some degree. It’s hard to review this collection because the tales are all different, though they are connected and unique.

 Pike interestingly had me remembering one of my favorite biographies, it is mentioned in the story. Lover of Unreason by Yehuda Koren and Eliat Negev, about the woman who came between Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, Assia Wevill. If you get a chance, read it, you won’t be disappointed.  I was tickled to read about Assia Wevill again, as I swallowed the afore-mentioned biography years ago, Silverman’s story about Cora was like a confection, poisoned by the ‘other woman’ that gives rise to another Assia. Innocuous meetings are often the ones we should pay attention to, as they can be the beginning or ending of our own love stories. Much like Hughes and Plath, a woman named Cora enters the colony of artists and stirs more than passions, is such a powerful presence that she cannot be ignored, nor her magnetic appeal denied. Is she an act? Cora resembles Assia in her hunger and need for company, that bottomless pit that can never be filled. “She’s like a tornado, everything she touches ends in destruction.” The highs and lows of love, the gaping wounds of betrayal, that ever-present other… other woman, other man, other something we all face in relationships, fuels the story and is painfully relatable, if your eyes are open. When love is young and fresh, we don’t notice the looming threats waiting to brutalize it. A tale of trust and it’s absence, the Pike is the perfect ending to this gorgeous collection of biting, intelligently written stories. Yes, add this to your to be read pile! I cannot wait to hear what other readers take from it!

Publication Date: May 1, 2018

Random House