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
Dealing with neighborhood conflicts
One of my reviewing regrets of late is my delay in highly recommending Thomas H. McNeely’s powerful and moving coming-of-age novel Ghost Horse (winner of the Gival Press Novel Award).
The setting is mid-seventies Houston, and the central character is Buddy Turner, who at the start of the novel is leaving Queen of Peace, a largely Latino school in one part of the city, for an all-white school in another. The schools seem worlds apart given the racial divide between them, and in the city at large. We sense this divide from the very beginning of the novel, when Buddy and his good friend Alex Torres make their way from Buddy’s last day at Queen of Peace to Alex’s home.
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.”
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.
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