Favorite New Fiction
from Small and Micro Publishers

Falling in or out of love

Carry the Sky

Carry the Sky

Back in December, in a post about grieving during the holidays, I mentioned some new works of fiction (all from small presses) that deal in some way with loss. I am pleased to finally be writing about one of them, Kate Gray’s profound and poetic début novel, Carry the Sky.

The novel alternates between the stories of two young teachers at St. Timothy’s, a fictional Delaware boarding school established “for farm boys to learn Chaucer, to learn rowing, to learn ways of tending corn.” One of the teachers is Taylor Alta, who at the beginning of the book, in the fall of 1983, is just starting her job as an instructor of English and geography and as coach of the girls’ rowing team. The other is Jack Song, a more seasoned (and, consequently, more disaffected) teacher who nevertheless remains committed to sharing his passion for physics with St. Tim’s students.

Uniting the stories of Taylor and Song is sorrow over the deaths of loved ones: Song has recently lost his sister, Kim, to a blood disease; Taylor’s wounds are fresher: almost as soon as she arrives at St. Timothy’s she learns that a fellow rower from college—her first and greatest love, Sarah—has drowned in the Schuylkill River while coaching rowers at a Philadelphia boarding school. Gray’s writing about grieving is powerful not only because of the beauty of her language but also because of the intensely physical nature of it. As Taylor takes up her coaching duties at St. Tim’s, every part of her surroundings seems haunted by Sarah:

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The Seven Stages of Anger and Other Stories

The Seven Stages of Anger and Other Stories

The complications of romantic partnerships are often explored in fiction, but rarely with the depth and insight that Wendy J. Fox brings to her début story collection, The Seven Stages of Anger, winner of the first Press 53 Award for Short Fiction.

Through several stories, and through the perspectives of multiple characters, Fox suggests that happenstance, circumstance, and inertia—as unromantic as they may be—can play a much larger role in how relationships form, sustain themselves, or die than we may like to think. As for destiny and fate, for the most part, they are the stuff of fairytales.

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American 419 and Other Stories

American 419 and Other Stories

In American 419 and Other Stories, journalist and novelist Adetokunbo Abiola takes us on an honest, unsanitized tour of modern Nigeria, one that is by turns tragic and darkly comic and in every sense thought-provoking.

Several stories in the collection focus on deep-seated corruption in the country, manifesting in everything from financial scams to medical quackery. At the center of the title story, “American 419,” is advance fee fraud, commonly practiced through scam e-mails. (The 419 refers to the article of the Nigerian Criminal Code that concerns this crime.) In this story, Boston businessman Fred Taylor has lost one hundred thousand dollars to such fraud, but Taylor thinks he might recoup his losses by helping a Nigerian politician transfer money to America in exchange for a cut of the funds.

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Inside Madeleine

Inside Madeleine

A patient in a ward of anorexics envies “the protruding bones of someone who is that much closer to not being here at all.”

A psychology major finds that her job at a halfway house is replacing her idealism with frustration and disgust.

A nineteen-year-old becomes sexually and emotionally addicted to a rock drummer who, in response, scorns her “sheer lack of pride.”

These are just a few of the situations explored in Paula Bomer’s new story collection, Inside Madeleine, which shines a light into the most uncomfortable corners of the young female characters’ lives, under circumstances when these women are most vulnerable, uncertain, and prone to making mistakes. The stories are raw and sometimes cringe-inducing. But it’s likely that for any woman who has reached the point of looking back on her teens and twenties, aspects of these tales will feel unsettlingly familiar, or spark the occasional “but for the grace of god” reaction.

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The Fiery Alphabet

The Fiery Alphabet

“When I think of all I tried to create in this world, your mind is the one unqualified success.”

 For Daniela Messo, math prodigy and heroine of The Fiery Alphabet, Diane Lefer’s sweeping and illuminating new historical novel, these words are a fond memory of a father’s admiration. But they are also a kind of warning, for Daniela and her father live in eighteenth-century Rome, where female intellectuals confront suspicion and far worse threats from religious authorities and society at large.

 The novel movingly describes Daniela’s efforts to persist and occasionally thrive in the face of such threats, and to shrewdly rebel against the limits they impose on her. It also allows readers to share Daniela’s journey, both intellectual and literal, toward a greater understanding of herself and of the larger world. Along the way she discovers that while her active mind puts her in danger, it can also be a saving grace.

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A Bug Collection

A Bug Collection

A mayfly, newly aware that her lifespan is but a day, quotes Dylan Thomas to her also-dying love: “Do not go gently into that good night.”

A firefly, with something “a little off in his bioluminescence,” is all but sidelined during his companions’ spectacular nighttime light shows.

A ladybug, despite his powers to charm, is justifiably suspected of serial-killing fellow beetles.

Love and mortality, aspiration and disappointment, evil and the sometimes-futile attempts to overcome it: In her dazzling new book A Bug Collection, Melody Mansfield takes universal concerns like these and boils them down into concentrated, microcosmic packages—several stories, two poems, and one play. Though written from bugs’ points of view, all of the works offer insightful glimpses into the lights and darks of living in this world.

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