The Mountain: Stories by Paul Yoon

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“The passage connecting the wings of the hospital had long ago collapsed, so we signaled each other with candles, this brief joy at catching the blurred, lit shapes of other people’s faces over the rubble.”

This collection of stories is like sorrowful stones you will carry in your gut. It is beautiful and tragic and every rotten and fresh emotion lurking between. Different countries, after World War II, in a sanatorium high up in the mountains, at inns or train stations, each of the characters are stooped with grief.  A woman working factories with nothing, with only coins and a tight small space to sleep, remembering the care she gave her dying father. Thankful for that small solitary space, when used to sharing cramped quarters with strangers. Too many hands on her, comfort in her father’s knife tight in her grip. Remembering the river she swam in, a lurking danger, a chemical plant, finding it again long after her youth. Violence, empty hands, wounds- these are not lives of privilege.

In Milner Field an immigrant father shares a sad, terrible story from his past that drives his son to try and find the missing friend from long ago. In Still A Fire, Mikel sifts through rubble that was once city blocks and wonders “What wouldn’t he do?” There is so much hunger in the tales, emotional and physical. The characters are all from many walks of life, similar in not just their suffering but their longing. I walked away thinking about how each of our lives are like solitary planets, some violent, some cold and empty, others bursting with life, filled with love. People wake each morning, some with everything arranged as it’s always been others with everything that anchored them obliterated. In this wide world of ours, so many lives a spinning fury, alien realities we will never know. How the heart breaks with all the suffering and yet how it clings to hope.

Riveting.

Publication Date: August 15, 2017

Simon & Schuster

The Goat Fish and the Lover’s by Knot Jack Driscoll

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..she insisted nobody ever won: “Nobody, Sam. Remember that. Above all else, remember that when the fairyland dream smoke clears, women like us, like you and me, we always, every single solitary time, wake up elsewhere. And that other life we wanted so badly? The one back there? It’s nothing more than a mirage, the simple-sad story of our botched and misguided lives.”

The writing in this collection of stories is wonderful, the characters are raw, some stuck in their hopeless lives and old enough to know it’s not going to get better, others are scratching to escape households where their parents are miserable with the struggle of staying afloat, some still altered after being burned by love physically, bottom dwellers and those just ‘knocking around’. The children are just as perceptive and believable as the grown ups, maybe a little criminal but for good purposes.

Young boys ‘speak with bigger words ‘ than their mother’s loser boyfriends, those ‘stand ins’ they’re stuck with until the real father’s might possibly return, women remember their vanishing youth and wonder at the turns life takes-this is full of human reflection. Some mother’s look for and clip miracles, while her child laughs behind her back. A fourteen year old boy finds in his mother’s friend a mermaid like soul as she shares an intimate moment with him on the water.  People are let down, so many try but just can’t be good, just can’t shake the misery induced by a life that isn’t turning out right. Some homes are alive with quiet violence. “I hated how every conversation took on the urgency of a hurricane or tornado drill, and all I really wanted was to get as far away from the dangers of that house as quickly as I could.”  There are big moments and small moments we carry with us. The reader climbs inside so many character’s minds that they are dizzy with emotions: their hatreds, loves, regrets, hopes -all of it. Heavy stuff.

This collection is from the Made In Michigan Series, set in Michigan. The author is very perceptive, the characters are birthed fully in his imagination but feel like real people. Like all of us, in spite of their struggles they still cling to hope, and their fictional lives live parallel to our own in a strange manner. I have to read his other books, not every writer can capture the essence of people in sentences.

Available Now

Wayne University Press

 

Sour Heart: Stories by Jenny Zhang

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“She looked like an alien. (But then again, I was an alien, too; that was the box I had to check on every form. Did aliens have unalienable rights? Were we entitled to liberty and justice?)”

Let’s get this out of the way, there are a couple of stories at the start of the collection that some readers may find disturbing, particularly the sexual encounters between Lucy and Francine and the horrible treatment of Frangie. In fact, some people will stop reading there. But not all the stories carry on in that vein and it would be a shame to miss out of Zhang’s solid writing. Too, the children running wild on the streets of Shanghai, coming into power, turning in parents, abusing and punishing their elders, naming any and everyone at their whim as a counterrevolutionary is beyond humiliating and horrific. History is not pretty. I will revisit this collection in coming months, because it’s not out until the fall of 2017 and I want to wait to finish my review when it’s closer to the release date. But I was riveted by their struggles against poverty, trying to acclimate to a completely new culture and how it touched the lives of their children. Every immigrant experience is different,  I have much more to say when we’re closer to the actual release date. These are not light stories. When I got deeper into the book, they changed tone- the characters were fascinating. Watch this space.

Publication Date: August 1, 2o17

Random House Publishing

Lenny

Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages

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“She intends to be a good girl, but shrubs and sheds and unlocked cupboards beckon.  In photographs, her eyes sparkle with unspent mischief; the corner of her mouth quirks in a grin. She is energy that cannot abide fences. When she sleeps, her mother smooths a hand over her cheek in affection and relief.”

I am not going to be alone in loving the first story  The Education Of A Witch in this collection.. In fact, is it crazy to cling to some malingering hope that Klages might be inspired to write a full novel about this wicked little girl?  In another story a girl tumbles into Clue and other childhood games and dice plays a wicked “ROLL” , another two little girls have a sleepover and explore a place in the closest with a strange man named Hollis. All of these stories have a strange little bend in them but the magic isn’t overwhelming, they are ‘curiouser and curiouser’ still. None are as fantastic to me as the first but all are playful in their own right.

In Singing on a Star one could easily manipulate the story, look deeper into it. Could it all be a fantasy a little girl conjured about the sleepover to explain what happened to her friend? That’s the fun part in reading these sort of tales. We can put any meaning we want on them or just enjoy their playfulness. The lovers in Echoes of Aurora filled me with tenderness. Is she in love with a real person or her youth? “Everything was as familiar at it was alien, and in that setting, in the early spring twilight, logic and Rory could not co-exist. Rory smiled, and logic lost.” Logic truly is the murderer of our fantastical childhood. I enjoyed the originality of this collection. So many lyrical/magical stories try too hard, just throwing in weird happenings for the sake of being weird. Not so here. They aren’t outlandish in the telling-they sit just right in their strangeness.

Publication Date: May 23, 2017

Tachyon Publications

The Stone Collection (The Debwe Series) by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm

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“We’re all relations you know. We got that blood, that same blood. Remember that. And remember the land don’t belong to anybody. We belong to her.”

The Debwe Series features Indigenous writing by authors in Canada. The Stone Collection has stories are about the modern day Anishinaabe.  There is loss, violence, death,  and stones. Stones that are full of spirit. The horror that happens to an old woman, who is like a grandmother to all the children is strange, and the suicide attempt isn’t the point in Justin Root’s tale- it’s what led him there. Salvation could be the earth, in a tree’s ‘weakness’. Some of the stories didn’t hold my attention and then I would read one that moved me. The story Chloe made me think about houses all over the world, the ones you stay away from, the poor children that are trapped in them and the world turns a blind eye to. I thought too about the men who ‘make your hair stand on end’. Men who have access to children, be them their fathers, stepfather, etc.  A brother who is looking for his sister he wasn’t strong enough to leave with, knowing she may have come to a terrible end. It’s a story the traverses all cultures, isn’t it? It’s a fast read and was a break from the short stories I’ve read lately. There is a taste of a different culture I knew nothing about. Stories about life on and off the rez. My favorite was Mashkii- akii because sometimes it’s beautiful to be saved by something outside yourself, like a tree.

Available Now

Portage & Main Press

HighWater Press

Last Day On Earth: Stories by Eric Puchner

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“We collected their shells in our shirts and made necklaces that we wore around like witch doctors.” 

Something about the first story, Brood X, hit me with nostalgia. My guess, the cicada necklaces. I was one of those strange kids that used to marvel at the empty husks they left behind, clinging to branches, trees, walls, you name it. I was a bit of a tom boy, running around barefoot and in love with nature. When the cicadas take over in this story, it seems every animal (human too) goes a bit crazy with it. I wanted this short story to be a full novel, I loved everything about it.  As the boy in the story tells us of his mother, “Normally a lovely and compassionate woman, she took a devout interest in the deterioration of other people’s homes.” I laughed. It’s because everything about the characters in the story are believable, even in their obnoxiousness. The children are funny, talking about the ‘screwing’  bugs. Sometimes I forget how shocking information is to young ears, even something as natural as the fact that bugs  ‘joined’ together are having sex! I admit to once telling my little cousin on a walk that we had now entered Russia. I wasn’t a mean kid, just silly but it scared her – kids love to see what they can convince others are true. I was sad when it ended. Somehow it managed to give off a strange feeling, then sadness hits you for the strange new family that moved in, inspiring rumors.

Each story has it’s own tinge of disturbing, even in small ways. I think I loved Beautiful Monsters as much as Brood X. It comes off as terribly sad but creepy too. In Mothership, Jess comes off as selfish but troubled- she’s always wanted to crawl into the seeming perfection that is her sister. She is damaged, and in staying with her sister and her precocious children she may just see her sister’s life in another light. Doesn’t seem strange but an encounter she has gave me a gasp, because the ideal of it, what it reveals about her sister’s ‘perfect’ life. Who really has it all together? Who doesn’t have struggles? Something is wrong with Jess, for some people the simple things are a big struggle. It’s just a reality for some people. If I am honest, I have to admit I would eat up a full novel about the family in Mothership, I even loved the precocious niece. If you can write a short story with characters people would love to follow longer, I think you’ve nailed it. Nothing enormous had to happen, it was the small stuff that moved me.

These stories are ordinary and not. The youngsters are confused, and misunderstand so many things as they slowly shed the skin of their youth, as in the story where the young boy thinks his mother is a robot. Maybe a robot mother is easier to believe in than one that has human failings and needs. The writing is lovely, and the stories made me feel as ‘off’ as the characters, and I think that’s what I liked most about them. They just made me feel strange, and in many ways most of us are- at our core- a bit strange. From crippling depression, a world where parents no longer exist, mothers that may or may not be robots to a dad partying with his baby this collection takes a skewered look at the ordinary. What is stranger than being a creature with the ability to think so much about the meaning of everything, and to ponder the roles of everyone we are connected to?  I really enjoyed this collection, it’s the first book I have read by Puchner. This wonderful book of short stories will be available to buy next week.

 

Publication Date: February 21, 2017

Scribner

 

 

 

Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories by Mariana Enríquez

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“I think about Adela every day. And if during the day her memory doesn’t visit me- her freckles and her yellow teeth, her blond, too-fine hair, the stump of her shoulder, her little suede boots- she comes to me at night in dreams.”

This a strange, eerie collection of stories. My favorite is Adela’s House because it’s the oddest of them all. While it is true there are similarities to the macabre stories of Shirley Jackson, I feel they have a taste of Joyce Carol Oates too. Mariana Enríquez’s characters aren’t pretty and if they once were, for some even a ‘fire’ has changed that. A strange house that children explore, mysterious dirty children, witches, a man obsessed with a murderer… from Adela’s House on the stories are dark- the first few stories are strange too, even when just writing about young intoxicated girls a bit jealous of their friend’s love for her boyfriend with the drunken spins in a van it comes off as quietly brutal, an unwanted husband in another. In Green Red Orange a young man suffers a different sort of disturbance, mental illness. It is heartbreaking, not just his shut in behavior but how it eats away at his loved ones. Will he come out of his room, is he still alive? The last sentence at the end says so very much, with so few words.

Things We Lost in the Fire, for which the collection is titled, made me smell  burning flesh. Immolation, horrific abuse, a strange feminism that overtakes burn victims,  there is twisted meaning in this story. My skin crawled thinking about it. This was a clever story, and the women are serious about the stand they decide to take, so to speak. These stories of Argentina start of a bit strange only to plunge the reader into creepy darkness. There is something off about every story, and I loved it. I look forward to a full novel by Mariana Enríquez, I find myself curious about her mind. How did she come up with such weird tales? This author is one to watch!

Publication Date: February 21, 2017

Crown Publishing, Hogarth