Christopher Irvin’s novel Ragged; or, The Loveliest Lies of All is a page tuner of a mystery/crime thriller, interwoven with a captivating story of family and community. The fact that all the characters are animals never distanced me from the drama; to the contrary, it provided a bracing reminder of the degree to which we’re driven by beastly instincts, which are never as far from the surface as we might wish to believe.
Favorite New Fiction
from Small and Micro Publishers
Because of his wealth and power, a serial rapist repeatedly escapes the consequences of his actions. A man beats his wife severely but is somehow found not to have committed a crime. A young man admits—without remorse—to killing a woman he’d been having sex with, and gets a light sentence and an early release from prison. “She was a slut,” the logic goes.
Such situations figure all too often into the news, and sometimes, they are part of our personal histories. But imagine a world in which groups of vigilante women make sure that the men who commit such crimes face real consequences—usually, fatal ones. Rosalie Morales Kearns does just that in her masterful and thought-provoking new novel, Kingdom of Women, set in a not-too-distant future that flows chillingly and logically from our less-than-just present.
Many of the tales in Jan English Leary’s profound, heartfelt story collection, Skating on the Vertical, center on characters who have reached pivotal points in their lives and are trying to figure out next steps, and also themselves. Leary gives the complexity of such turning points its due, immersing us in the soul-searching, self-doubt, and mistakes that are natural—sometimes inevitable—during times of change, difficulty, or discovery.
Because all the stories in Skating on the Vertical are so powerful and resonant, it was hard for me to choose which ones to focus on in this review. To my mind, there wasn’t an off story in the book. So here, I’ll focus on a few stories that give a sense of the range and depth of this fine collection.
KL Pereira’s captivating new collection of short fiction, A Dream Between Two Rivers, carries the subtitle “Stories of Liminality.” True to that description, many of the stories explore experiences of being on the verge—or at the edge—of a new identity, reality, or understanding. This makes for dynamic storytelling, as does the fact that the collection isn’t tied down by any one stylistic convention.
Many of the stories draw on elements of myths, folklore, or fairytales, and like those types of tales, they take us into strange, often dark situations that, however surreal, echo the emotional and psychological struggles of lived human experience.
May 1st, 1988. In Near Haven—Matthew Stephen Sirois’s provocative and deftly paced debut novel—it’s the date a comet is predicted to strike the Earth, ending civilization. In the face of what appears to be certain doom, society crumbles in advance of the comet—from helplessness and hopelessness, and from the violence they fuel.
But not everyone is hopeless, including the novel’s protagonist and conscience, Tom Beaumont, whose story begins about ten months before the comet’s expected arrival. A boat builder in the fictional seaside town of Near Haven, Maine, Tom is skeptical about assurances that the comet will strike, and about pretty much every other variety of received wisdom. His views isolate him from just about everyone other than his friend Neville “Nev” Bradford, who, with Tom, struggles to survive as social order dissolves.
A woman is delivered to love—and, later, to grief—by the powers of the moon and the sea; a father who can speak for the dead, and a son who can speak for animals, find that they can’t communicate with each other; Death, in his adolescence, moves reluctantly toward adulthood and his powers of annihilation.
These are just a few of the characters and situations that figure into Kellie Wells’s fabulist story collection God, the Moon, and Other Megafauna, winner of the Richard Sullivan Prize in Short Fiction. Although this book is slim, its stories are as detail-dense and strange as an enchanted forest, and they are nothing that can or should be rushed through.
There is much to praise about The Widow’s Guide to Edible Mushrooms, Chauna Craig’s début short story collection. But I was especially taken by the stories’ layered explorations of fraught relationships—and of relationships in transition, owing to divorce, death, or other circumstances.
In “This Is History,” the narrator reflects, retrospectively, on a time of transition in both her family and community. The story takes place at the site of a defunct Montana copper mine, where the narrator (then 12 years old), her parents, and brother have gathered with other locals to witness the destruction of the mine’s smokestack. For the narrator’s mother, whose father worked at the mine, the destruction is cause for sadness, even though the copper industry “left the land raped and polluted,” in the narrator’s eyes. As she observes, “My mother was susceptible to fantasies of golden pasts and golden futures that would erase the daily shin-banging and toe-stubbing of the present.”