Favorite New Fiction
from Small and Micro Publishers

Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu

Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu

Motherly praise and motherly criticism. For many women, these can be among the most gratifying and most wounding things in the world, and they have the power to shape the recipients’ lives—for good or ill—far into the future.

In Not a Self-Help Book, a novel that is both harrowing and incredibly funny, Yi Shun Lai explores the effects of an especially harsh and judgmental mother on the long-suffering heroine, Marty Wu.

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Short Story Shout-Out: Round 2

Short Story Shout-Out: Round 2

As a huge fan of short fiction, I initiated Short Story Shout-Out a couple of months ago. Here’s a recap of my reason for doing so:

Given the wealth of literary journals publishing new stories every day, why limit myself to anthologies and collections? Why not say a few words every now and then about individual (recently published) stories that I have found especially moving, funny, thought-provoking, or wonderfully strange?

In my first Short Story Shout-Out, I focused on two new literary journals (The Offing and Pear Drop) that are publishing remarkable works of short fiction. This time around, I’m focusing on stories from just one new publication, Mud City Journal, which describes itself as “an online literary journal promoting the ideals and vision of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) Low Residency MFA Program.” The stories discussed below are from the Mud City Journal’s recently published second issue, and I highly recommend each one of them.

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Sister Maple Syrup Eyes

Sister Maple Syrup Eyes

“There is more than one victim for every rape,” Ian Brennan writes in the Preface to his novella Sister Maple Syrup Eyes, which explores, in language as searing as it is poetic, the effects of sexual assault not only on the immediate victim but also on her partner.

The book is rooted in Brennan’s personal experience. When he was twenty-one, his first love was beaten and raped by a family friend, an incident that “destabilized the entire trajectory of my young life, reshaping everything since and, retroactively, all which came before.”

Sister Maple Syrup Eyes follows much the same painful trajectory from the point of view of a young man, Kristian. The novella begins when Kristian’s girlfriend, Dawn, reaches him by phone while he is on a business trip and tells him that she’s been raped. Recalling that moment, Kristian thinks, “[I]t took minutes to react, the first in a long chain of small reactions that would unfold slowly over time. It would be many years before I could fully comprehend what she’d said.”

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Short Story Shout-Out

Short Story Shout-Out

I’m a huge fan of short stories, and it’s been a great pleasure to review multi-author anthologies, as well as collections by such writers as Lee A. Jacobus, Garnett Kilberg Cohen, Jennifer Woodworth, Dale Bridges, Wendy J. Fox, Adetokunbo Abiola, Paula Bomer, Melody Mansfield, Steven Schwartz, and Jessica Francis Kane.

But recently something occurred to me: given the wealth of literary journals publishing new stories every day, why limit myself to anthologies and collections? Why not say a few words every now and then about individual (recently published) stories that I have found especially moving, funny, thought-provoking, or wonderfully strange? So this will be the first of what I hope will be somewhat regular posts about just those kinds of stories. The pieces discussed in this post come from two fairly new journals: The Offing and Pear Drop.

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The Mesmerist’s Daughter

The Mesmerist’s Daughter

The Mesmerist’s Daughter, a dark, poetic novella by Heidi James, was my perfect companion one recent gloomy afternoon, transfixing me from its first lines:

My mother was a wolf. That was the first secret I kept for her. At night she would jimmy open my door with her muzzle and swagger into my bedroom, her blunt claws clicking like tarts’ heels on the floor, her panting rigid and dependable. Her thick, wiry pelt was heavy and smothering as coal gas.

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Death Comes for the Deconstructionist

Death Comes for the Deconstructionist

Daniel Taylor’s forthcoming novel, Death Comes to the Deconstructionist, is an engrossing and satisfying whodunit. But the central character and sleuth, Jon Mote, finds himself uncovering and confronting secrets every bit as dark as the murder case he’s been asked to help solve, and the stories of those confrontations are just as captivating.

The novel opens after the murder of Richard Pratt, chair of a local university’s English Department and a bright, though dimming, star in the academic universe. Years before, Pratt was also Jon’s doctoral advisor, and his criticism of his protégé’s dissertation-in-progress (“theoretically naïve” is just one of Pratt’s disparaging descriptions of the work) helped nudge Jon toward an early exit from graduate school.

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The Female Complaint: Tales of Unruly Women

The Female Complaint: Tales of Unruly Women

As a supporter of any initiative that aims to get more works by women writers published and reviewed, I was delighted when Shade Mountain Press came onto the literary scene in 2014.

To quote from its website, “Shade Mountain is committed to publishing literature by women, especially women of color, women with disabilities, women from working-class backgrounds, and lesbian/bisexual/queer women. We publish work that’s politically engaged, challenges the status quo, tells the stories that usually go unheard.”

With this post, I want to highly recommend the press’s latest publication, The Female Complaint: Tales of Unruly Women. This page-turner of a story collection artfully blends the light and the dark, the bitter and the sweet, with a delightful infusion of the strange and surreal.

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