Found Life Poems, Stories, Comics, a Play, and an Interview by Linor Goralik

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…the wife comes home and the cat smells like someone else’s perfume.

The thing about this collection is the style is different from the norm. There are snippets of thoughts and conversations, and they’re heavy, so much that a sentence standing alone packs a punch and condenses an entire story but it can also be the problem for some readers. You feel a bit all over the place, like your stuck in a big city with a thousand voices coming at you. It can be dizzying and yet Linor Goralik has a keen eye for life and people’s many emotions. Her micro-prose is solid but I truly wonder how much more I would prefer a full length novel by this author. This line ticked me, “and Mashenka woke up (“Oh look, Mashenka’s hatched!).”   

Some of the sentences simply set a scene in your head. “An eight year old deaf girl chatting to herself , using all ten fingers, on the steps of an escalator.” It’s talking pictures and scenes, and it’s moving fast. The reader is just an eye in the crowd, left to wonder about the strangers and stolen moments. “A cheap thirty-year old barrette in the elegant grey chignon of an expensively dressed lady.” Observations, and the thought ‘there is a story there.’  Just as we pass strangers wherever we go, tourists or not, all those strangers whose stories we will never know, it leads to a hunger, a curiosity of lives going on outside ourselves.

I liked it, but I’m the type of reader that wants more involvement. There is a distance I never bridged because everything flashes by. Dissecting the writing though, it certainly takes talent to move through so many souls, characters. There are great lines, and the writing really is beautiful but I think I have a hard time with this style personally. The author is said to be one of the first Russian writers that built her name through the internet, I find that interesting. It is a moody, light, heavy, cynical, hopeful, sad and humorous collection. It’s scattered humanity, in a sense.

There may be people out there that like the fast whip of many mini stories,  it’s just too much for me. I know I repeat myself, but I wonder if she could tell a strong story and stick with just a few characters.  I sometimes felt like there is  a loss of focus. I’m curious what other readers will come away with. I want more solid stories in my reading, particularly about Russia.

Publication Date: November 28, 2017

Columbia University Press

 

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To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts: Stories by Caitlin Hamilton Summie

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Some things cannot last; some things last too long.

I wish this collection lasted longer, because the stories in this collection are some of the most beautifully written I’ve ever read. Not every author has the gift of reaching into human beings, pulling out all the parts that make us whole and then creating characters that you swear are real. These are flawed beings, struggling with different memories, fighting fears, curious, questioning, broken, dying and every emotion is raw, genuine. Every thought and feeling is intrinsically characteristic of human behavior. They have misplaced anger, are sometimes selfish, lonely, some are broken having only a ghost of a memory of their loved one, others are furious with their family and the many ways they’ve failed them. There have been accidents that altered the course of lives, one wheelchair bound and determined to run from the noise of it all, in the middle of nature not kind to wheelchairs. Another is dying in bed, cared for by his adult granddaughter in the story Fish Eyes In Moonlight, a title I absolutely adore. “My mind was the same, my soul was the same soul, but my body was a body I did not know.” I felt I was dying with him, slowly crawling to a final farewell, as this thing will one day happen to us all, the curling in, dissipating and yet the mind still violently alive, not quite ready to go and yet too tired to cling. He, for a while, becomes the child they wanted, in a strange sad way. It was a tender story, powerful.

In Geographies of the Heart, two sisters experience the withering away of their loved one  that puts a strain on their bond. As Sarah fumes, Glennie inexplicable absents herself and all she can see is her fury merged with grief. All the ‘should have beens’, all the expectation Sarah feels, but the things waiting to be said on her tongue have their hooks in the past. One wonders just what really bothers Sarah about Glennie’s abandonment. The angrier she gets, understanding dawns.

The first story, Tags is about children whose fathers are lost to war one way or another. From the moment I tucked into the book, I was catching my breath and aching. Jimmy has his dad’s dog tags and a habit of rubbing them back and forth. “That’s how I remember those days; Jimmy and me sitting on the curb, tired of marbles, tired of tin, him with that sound of his father, and me with nothing of mine but his name.”  There went my heart, this author plays with your emotions, because it seems so real. Because, I know, somewhere it is real for someone.

This is a collection that will reel you in.On the surface, it doesn’t seem as if anything enormous is happening, but it’s the quiet moments that murdered me. It’s the characters confronting their pain, struggles, hopes that had me enraptured. For a while, I lived in the emotional state of these characters, I think we all do at some point, if we’re alive to the crawl and claw of life. Each story moved me for different reasons, in many short story collections not every story resonates with me, but in To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts, they all did. I truly hope that Caitlin Hamilton Summie is already working on something new, because she has made a fan of me! Read it- beautiful!

Available Now!

Published August 2017  Fomite

 

Pure Hollywood: And Other Stories by Christine Schutt

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But who could blame the girl Cecilia? Cecilia was a girl, and Jonathan was a restless, fully mended little boy. One minute he was in the bedroom watching tv, and the next, he was gone to the terrace.

I wasn’t always a fan of short stories, though having stumbled upon the brilliance of several writers, I am much more likely to pick them up and devour them now. Pure Hollywood is a well written collection but I really wanted to feel closer to the characters, which is strange considering I really enjoyed The Hedges, where it seems the reader is not meant to be that close to the young couple. It’s a strange experience for those of us with unusual names to find our name in a story, as the character Lolly shares mine. Lolly is miserable, exasperated with her sickly son Jonathan, bored by her beautiful surroundings, superior to the other vacationers (so it seems) and just one moment away from disaster. Maybe she has slipped away before, into sleep, into the distance, but this time she will be punished. The reader never dives too deeply in Lolly’s nind, yet it actually works in this story to have the cold distance, you feel just like the other vacationers trying to understand the young couple.

Where You Live, When You Need Me is so weird and short, I love it. Ella, a child care worker of unknown origins, during a time when mothers should be extra cautious of strangers around their children, appears as if from nowhere. But everyone wants her, so great with the kids. Why aren’t the mothers worried? Why is it the opposite reaction can be born in moments of danger? The last sentence in the story expresses such a beautiful defense for the carelessness of letting Ella in, which I won’t write here because it gives away the tale.

Some of the stories are short but hit me between the eyes, others I wasn’t really feeling but as a collection, the writing is solid. Schutt is one to watch,

Publication Date: March 18, 2018

Grove Atlantic, Grove Press

 

Milk Teeth: And Other Fairy Tales With Bite by Lizella Prescott

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Cinderella’s mental state is fixed somewhere between empty pain and smoldering rage. She holds two embers, one in each palm, and coaxes them to grow.

In Prescott’s collection of biting, dark fairy tales the reader never knows what darkness awaits. At 58 pages it’s a condensed escape into strange, dark tales. As the author plays with classic fairy tales, the characters are much more feral and the perfect blend of beautiful and dangerous. From a starving mermaid to a burning girl, these short tales are for the grown ups. Gretel sacrifices and the witches she meets are nothing like the witch trying to fatten children up in other versions. Maybe, just maybe some of the ‘evil’ women within conjure have their own rhyme and reason. They are short and not so sweet, easily read in one sitting. Just what are curses, really? What if you don’t want to be the giver of kisses, or would rather be eaten by bugs than be some man’s play-thing, king or not?

A mention has to be made about the cover too, it’s a beauty.

Available Now

Hungry Lizard Press

 

 

 

What Counts as Love by Marian Crotty

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Jenny was divorced with two kids. She had many theories about relationships, most of which came from the Oprah Network that she watched on small monitors at the dental office while she cleaned teeth. “I couldn’t tell you his love language, but I’d guess it’s not words of affirmation. Does he buy you gifts?” 

Love, all we think we know and all we guess at, the insecurities, regrets, longings. Love as friendships, physical love, broken love, rough love, love as a haven- Marian Crotty has written stories about love in all it’s faces, ugly, beautiful, tortured- you name it. “Crazy For You” was fantastic, girls on the verge of sexual awakening, the dawning of awareness of their effect on grown men (welcome or not), witness to the ugly truth of love before they’ve even scratched the surface of their sexuality, while spying on a beautiful neighbor’s sexual exploits. In “A New Life” the tragedy of loss consuming a woman, her husband’s seeming ease with getting over it, moving on. Love spent, broken, and bled dry- terrified of her marriage ending at any moment, instead moving to Abu Dhabi and discovering betrayal. Some characters are fledglings, others battered veterans of love leaving abuse, recovering from loss, but each are trying to find something solid to anchor them. Sometimes the reader will laugh at their characters, other times feel their crushing defeat. There are so many stories about love, not all of them happy and safe. Some take whatever they can get and others discard the garbage they never should have let in! An insightful collection!

Publication Date: October 15, 2017

University of Iowa Press

John Simmons Short Fiction Award

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