“What if the end of man is not caused by some cataclysmic event, but by the nature of humans themselves?” This is the central question posed by Age of Blight, a dark yet captivating collection of speculative short stories by Kristine Ong Muslim. The stories’ answers to this question are as varied as they are troubling and, at times, they are disturbingly plausible.
Favorite New Fiction
from Small and Micro Publishers
If you’ve read more than a few of my postings on Small Press Picks, you might have noticed that I’m a big fan of the short story, and I’m always eager to check out new collections from small/indie publishers. Recently, I read Margaret Malone’s début story collection, People Like You, and I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed this hilarious, wonderfully strange, and occasionally heartbreaking book.
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.
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:
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.
“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.”
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.
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: