Favorite New Fiction
from Small and Micro Publishers

Family stories/family issues

Gifted and Talented

Gifted and Talented

Who among you remembers those golden days when a middling high school student—a kid with respectable grades but with ACT scores in the toilet, with daydreaming making up a solid sixty percent of her extracurricular activities—could get accepted into the only university she applied to? One offering affordable, in-state tuition?

“If you can make it through high school and still fog a mirror, Bob’s your uncle.”

I can’t recall who shared that observation about the admissions process, but I can tell you that the listener, the middling high school student, was me. I can also tell you that in the decades since I heard those words, I’ve reflected many times on how lucky I was—not just to have gotten into college but to have done so without having to toil through the emotionally fraught college-prep boot camp that the K-through-12 years have become for many students. Years in which—for far too many youngsters—daydreaming is seen as a weakness at best, as a character flaw at worst.

In her insightful, moving, and incredibly funny new novel, Gifted and Talented, Julia Watts takes us into the heart of what can be the most unsparing of educational boot camps: classes for gifted students—in this case, an honors class at a fictional magnet school, Fairmont Elementary, in Knoxville, Tennessee. At the center of the novel are Crispin, newly enrolled in Fairmont and its third-grade gifted class, and Crispin’s parents, Rachel and Ethan.

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How I Kiss Her Turning Head

How I Kiss Her Turning Head

The stories in Jennifer Woodworth’s strangely beautiful How I Kiss Her Turning Head examine the most primal aspects of mother-child bonds, bonds that can surpass love and approach obsession, yet, within the small, warm worlds of their origins, feel natural and necessary.

Throughout the book, Woodworth takes us to the physical and emotional heart of such connections, with vivid descriptions like this one, from “Stork Scissors & Baby Toes,” in which the narrator finds the scissors of the title too indelicate for her newborn’s toes:

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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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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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