One of the fiction-writing super powers I admire most is the ability to inhabit a wide range of characters and worlds, and to write about each of them with great empathy and understanding. In her story collection This Far Isn’t Far Enough, Lynn Sloan shows a special gift in this regard. She immerses us in the lives of everyone from a deceived and disillusioned widow, to an anxious soldier pulled into a possibly criminal scheme, to a worried mother of an aspiring prizefighter. As Sloan explores the inner and outer and conflicts that these characters face, she does so with deep feeling and insight.
Favorite New Fiction
from Small and Micro Publishers
Falling in or out of love
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.
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.”
“I never thought I’d be the kind of person who could say things like, ‘Yes, I’ve spent a little time in jail,’ or, ‘If you count second cousins then, yeah, I’ve had sex with a relative.’ I also never thought I’d be married and divorced enough times for it to be financially sensible to invest in a courthouse parking permit. But, there you go.”
So observes Rachel Bennett, early in the witty, wickedly funny novel in which she stars: Leaving Is My Colour, by Amy Burns. As soon becomes clear, divorce and jail—the consequence of feeding a drug addiction—are far from Rachel’s only problems. The root of many of them is her deeply dysfunctional family: her well-meaning but mostly absent father; her selfish, judgmental mother; and her older sister, Julie, a bottomless source of disparagement and hostility.
Benjamin Disraeli once commented, “Change is inevitable. Change is constant.” Some advice that may be implied in that: “Adapt or fail”—a recommendation that can feel survival-of-the-fittest cruel, especially when the changes in question threaten to render you irrelevant, at best.
Changes of a threatening variety definitely conspire against Bob Boland, the protagonist of Louie Cronin’s funny, perceptive, and–dare I say–hopeful début novel, Everyone Loves You Back. A stubborn (and cranky) yet pragmatic rebel, Bob charts an entertaining course between thumbing his nose at these changes and adapting to them, so much as he is willing to do so, on his own terms. For that reason I consider him, and this novel, an inspiration, especially in these dark political times.