Favorite New Fiction
from Small and Micro Publishers

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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Hawaiian Tales

Hawaiian Tales

Too often, recreational travel, even to the most interesting and exotic places, has the feeling of skimming across surfaces. As we move from notable site to notable site, we are sometimes dazzled. More often, though, we are dazzle-proofed by preformed expectations (think Walker Percy’s “The Loss of the Creature”).

Our outsiderdom also keeps us at a distance. As we observe the locals and even other tourists, we may get the sense that intriguing stories are being played out all around us, but with rare exceptions, we are never immersed in them.

The great gift of Lee A. Jacobus’s new story collection, Hawaiian Tales: The Girl with Heavenly Eyes, is how deeply and richly it immerses us in the predicaments of its characters, from Hawaiian natives to tourists, and in the psychological and physical landscapes of their lives. Reading it, I truly felt transported.

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Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness

Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness

It’s rare for my attention to linger on the cover of a book I’m about to read, but it certainly did when I picked up Jennifer Tseng’s poetic, richly imagined début novel Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness. The cover features an overhead shot of a pale woman in a fuschia dress lying, arms outstretched, on a rippling blue-green sea. Though this might be the sea of happiness, the image suggests a more complicated truth. Underlying the tranquility and sensuality of the scene is a sense of isolation, even peril—seemingly contradictory threads that this novel, like its cover, weaves together deftly and powerfully.

The Mayumi of the title is a forty-something librarian who inhabits a tourist-attracting island off the coast of New England (think Martha’s Vineyard) with her beloved five-year-old daughter and her not-so-beloved husband. Though kind and decent, he no longer interests Mayumi erotically or otherwise. They share little more than affection for their daughter and a ramshackle house, where they sleep in separate beds.

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Swarm to Glory

Swarm to Glory

Last fall, after posting “Women: please send me your fiction,”  I received a number of excellent books by women authors and their publishers. A dear friend and fellow writer who’d seen the post handed me Garnett Kilberg Cohen’s collection Swarm to Glory, and I am deeply grateful that she did. The book contains those rare kinds of stories that pulled me completely out of myself and into the lives of the characters—seemingly everyday lives in which, in the words of my friend, complexities and dangers lurk under the surface.

The stories in the collection are united by a concern with endings, which range from the deaths of loved ones to the withering of romantic relationships. In an interview with Newcity Lit, Cohen said, “In the face of such endings, my characters often must decide whether they will be ruled by these endings, or whether, in spite of the ephemeral nature of all things, they will ‘swarm to glory.’”

In the title story, the central character, Ellen, finds glory through nature—in this case, through a swarm of bees that has settled into a tree at the foster home where she has been living since her mother became seriously ill. Ellen is living a life of alienation, not only because she is apart from her mother but also because she is the only Jew in the foster home, which causes her to be disparaged by certain members of the community, especially by congregants of the Christian mega-church she’s now compelled to attend. When Ellen observes the cluster of bees, that sense of alienation lifts, and she reconnects to her mother, who “loved nature and educational activities.”

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