Favorite New Fiction
from Small and Micro Publishers

Family stories/family issues

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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Interview with Ron MacLean, author of Headlong

Interview with Ron MacLean, author of Headlong

Ron MacLean’s Headlong (published earlier this month by Last Light Studio) did for me what the best novels do: It pulled me wholly into its world while I was reading it and burned like a steady flame in the back of my mind whenever I wasn’t.

Headlong tells the story of Nick Young, who returns to his hometown, Boston, after his difficult and distant father suffers a stroke. The life Nick has left behind, in LA, is nothing he seems eager to return to. Though still in love with his ex-wife, an actress whose career he helped manage, Nick sees that she is well on her way to a new and happy life without him. He is at loose ends not only in his personal life but in his work life; having walked away from a promising career as a reporter, Nick has no idea what he’ll do next.

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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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