Favorite New Fiction
from Small and Micro Publishers

Coping with trauma or loss

The Butterfly Lady: A Novel

The Butterfly Lady: A Novel

Like some of the best music, The Butterfly Lady, Danny M. Hoey, Jr.’s début novel, is a study in unfulfilled desires, which have the power to haunt us as nothing else can. And like a musician who plays from his heart, Hoey brings to life the pull of such desires, and the hazards that lie on the paths to their fulfillment.

The novel opens with the murder of its central character, Gabriel Smith—a cross-dresser self-named the Butterfly Lady–in Cleveland in July 1983. As spectators watch morgue workers remove Gabriel’s body from the murder scene, “[t]hey were comforted with the understanding that there would be no investigation, no questions asked. No. It was a black man in a dress. Dead. Long ago dead to a world that turned off its light to him years before they stood, with slight satisfaction, and watched his body rolled out.”

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Let the Dark Flower Blossom

Let the Dark Flower Blossom

Reading Norah Labiner’s latest novel, Let the Dark Flower Blossom, reminded me of watching “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”: the multiple-episode BBC series released in 1979 (not the greatly condensed remake that hit theaters in 2011). A certain amount of disorientation is built into the experience: mysteries are wrapped in mysteries, and the paths to resolutions (to the extent resolutions exist) are rarely clear or trustworthy. Yet with both the TV series and the novel I was driven forward by the mysteries’ peculiar unravelings and, in the latter case, by the haunting beauty of Labiner’s writing.

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Little Raw Souls: Stories

Little Raw Souls: Stories

Good short stories drop us into the middle of situations we can’t help but find riveting, no matter how strange or uncomfortable they may be. Steven Schwartz’s latest collection, Little Raw Souls, is full of such stories. And what makes them especially compelling is the diversity of situations and characters they explore. Here’s just a sampling: a retiree is rooked by a hippie couple who take shelter on his land, a teenager finds that his dreams of becoming a Marine conflict with his dying mother’s wishes, a man reunites with a cousin (and former crush) who has undergone a sex change, a high school teacher holds his class hostage while contemplating suicide.

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This Close: Stories

This Close: Stories

However closely marriage, parenthood, or circumstance may connect people, divides are perhaps inevitable. The nature and consequences of these divides are central to This Close, Jessica Francis Kane’s layered, complex, and sometimes heartrending new story collection.

In “American Lawn” and “The Essentials of Acceleration,” Kane explores divisions between neighbors in a university town. A major source of resentment in both stories is Janeen, a young mother who, with her husband, Ryan, is fixing up an old bungalow and its long neglected grounds

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Body and Bread

Body and Bread

Like every person, every family contains contradictions, oppositions. Think of the generally quiet, sober couple who produce a jokester or chatterbox. Or the child who in church looks past her brothers’ and sisters’ bowed heads, searching for fellow doubters. Such contradictions may develop into deep conflicts or become a source of wonder, even pride. Either way, they can be a powerful force; that’s just one truth examined in Nan Cuba’s sweeping, carefully observed début novel, Body and Bread.

At the heart of the novel is the relationship between Sarah Pelton and her brother Sam, whose suicide, in his mid-twenties, changes the course of Sarah’s life. Through flashbacks, we see Sarah and Sam coming of age in the fictional town of Nugent, Texas, in the late fifties to early seventies. Unlike the other Peltons, they seem driven to make a break from family expectations and traditions. The family patriarch, Owen, is a man who, in Sam’s words, has a “rulebook in his head. …

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Beautiful Garbage

Beautiful Garbage

In this unflinching and perceptive début novel, Jill Di Donato describes one young sculptor’s struggle to rise above the din of the 1980s art world and to discover her true voice. In the process, she finds herself confronting past wrongs—both those she committed and those committed against her.

Though Beautiful Garbage makes for a good summer read, it’s not a light one—and to my mind that’s only a good thing. This novel won’t let you off the hook easily, intellectually or emotionally.

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