Category: Fiction

Recommended reading

Picture of books on shelf
Photo credit: Morguefile

The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane

This haunting, gorgeous novel revolves around two plot lines. Elderly Ruth hears a tiger sneaking into her home at night. Then a mysterious woman shows up to help Ruth around the house, supposedly sent by the government. The novel’s realism is subtly undermined by Ruth’s fantasies, memories, and personality quirks. As Ruth tries to uncover the truth about the tiger and the government helper, the novel becomes surprisingly suspenseful, while still lavishing attention to language and setting. This is such a stunning book, it’s hard to believe it’s McFarlane’s first.

Nine Inches by Tom Perrotta

As a person of small town origin, I loved seeing the suburban milieu treated as a serious subject in this story collection. Perrotta’s examination of suburban life is simultaneously entertaining and arresting. Especially of note were the title story (a masterclass in the perfect last sentence) and “Senior Season.” “Senior Season” dealt with the life of a high school football player who suffers from a concussion. The subject might seem ripe for satire or cliché, but Perrotta treated it with gravity and generosity.

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

The more I read this book (this was my fourth or fifth read), the more I’m impressed by its perfect plot construction. A rich dinosaur enthusiast hires some scientists to figure out how to clone dinosaurs. He plans to create an island zoo/amusement park that will feature several extinct species.  Experts are brought in to assess the park’s safety for the public, and things go horribly awry. Readers of “literary” fiction might be tempted dismiss this novel as a simple thriller, but it’s so much more than that. Although the plot involves a cool sci-fi concept, it is mainly driven by individual characters’ personality traits and ambitions (in other words, what you’re taught to write in every fiction class: character-driven plot). Also impressive is Crichton’s world-building. A lesser writer might have just had some generic dinosaurs and left it at that. Crichton imagines several different dinosaur species in great detail, describing not only their appearance, but also their behaviors and movements. These traits, in turn, affect parts of the plot, in such a strong way that the dinosaurs almost function as characters.

How to be Both by Ali Smith

This novel has two sections, each with an unusual narrator. The first is a grammar-obsessed sixteen-year-old whose mother has passed away. The second is a fourteenth-century artist. The writing style is original and surprising, almost experimental in sections. Yet Smith’s playful style doesn’t detract from the emotional content of the novel, as sometimes happens in books that focus a lot of attention on language. The jacket copy compared Smith to Woolf, which is sort of a lofty comparison. But after I finished the novel, I felt that Smith had lived up to it.

Recommended reading: The Privileges by Jonathan Dee

Picture of book coverThis novel examines the ambitions of Adam and Cynthia Morey, who ascend from the middle class into the realm of the wealthy–thanks, in no small part, to Adam’s adventures in insider trading.  The Moreys are narcissistic, shallow, and materialistic, but somehow compelling in their shameless grand devotion to vice. Yet the characters never become caricatures.  Despite all their flaws, the Moreys remain loyal to each other as a family.  Adam and Cynthia both have opportunities to cheat on each other, but choose not to.  Cynthia is a caring mother, not only to her own children but also to her daughter’s troubled best friend.   (I found these to be surprisingly touching developments; dysfunction is in vogue as a literary subject, and it was nice to read about a fictional family that actually stays together.)  The Privileges is at once entertaining, unsettling, and beautifully written, making for an enjoyable and memorable read.

New Fiction: Peanut Butter

I have new fiction today up at Tower Journal.

There were four ways to kill someone with peanut butter.  Beth had listed them herself.  So it was practically her own fault, Anna reasoned, that the last way was so easy.

Gym was the best time, when she had easy access to Beth’s lunchbox. In the midst of the dodgeball melee, Anna frowned, rubbed her stomach, and muttered to the male gym teacher about a certain time of month, earning a blush and unlimited bathroom rights. On her way to the lockers, she paused to watch Beth run from a boy who slung ruthless dodgeballs at the weak. Beth escaped him, but she wouldn’t escape this.

Read the rest of the story over at Tower Journal’s Spring/Summer 2015 issue.

“The Grechtzoar” Available in Potomac Review Issue 55

woods

My new short story, “The Grechtzoar,” is now available in Potomac Review Issue 55, Fall 2014.

Here’s a short excerpt:

“We’ll need weapons,” Carl said.  They stood in Jimmy’s garage, surrounded by bags of potting soil and gardening tools.  Carl hefted a small shovel.  “Think you can handle this?”

Jimmy nodded and took it, lifting it nervously to see if he could swing it against an attacker.  Though only half his height, it was heavy, with a thick, sharp blade.

“I’ll take these,” Carl said.  He picked up a pair of long garden shears.  “Okay, here’s the plan.”  He opened his backpack to show Jimmy the contents: a folded blue tarp, a package of raw beef, and rope.  “We’ll follow its tracks into the woods.  When we find its lair, we’ll climb a tree nearby.  I’ll toss the beef, and when it’s eating, I’ll throw the tarp down on it.  Then we’ll tie it up.”

Jimmy kept hoping his mom would call them in for lunch, or that his cell phone would ring and he’d have to answer it.

“What if it attacks us?” he asked.

“It it attacks one of us, the other can fight it off.”  Carl pretended to snap his garden shears at a vicious beast.  “Take that!  And that!”  He laughed.

Jimmy imagined what they would look like to a monster sneaking up from behind: two vulnerable backs, laughably armed in the wrong direction.  Short twelve-year-old legs that couldn’t run fast enough, no matter how hard they tried….

You can read the rest of the story by purchasing the issue here.

Thanks to everyone at Potomac Review for creating such a beautiful issue, and thanks for reading!

The Beech Tree

Beech

My story “The Beech Tree” has been published in Literary Orphans Issue 13: Blondie (April 2014).

Read some of the story below:

Until I stood before her casket, Grandma was the only person I could not imagine dead. She’d looked as aged as ever when I saw her days before, a husk of raisin wrinkles, already so wizened it seemed time could do nothing else.  I thought she could live for centuries.  But now she lay still in her woolen dress; her lucent eyes were closed.  Her hands were leathered and grey, like the bark of an ancient beech.

The room was dim, the air thick with the scent of white chrysanthemums.  Mark stood behind me.  He was always watching for signs of slippage.  I leaned back against him, his body warm with concern.  I could feel right through him, through membrane and muscle, to dry, stiff bones beneath.  His skin felt like an apple peel: too soft to stop the flesh from bruising and falling away.

Continue reading at Literary Orphans.