Favorite New Fiction
from Small and Micro Publishers

Family stories/family issues

The Widow’s Guide to Edible Mushrooms

The Widow’s Guide to Edible Mushrooms

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.”

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Leaving Is My Colour

Leaving Is My Colour

“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.

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The Expense of a View

The Expense of a View

The central characters in The Expense of a View, Polly Buckingham’s dark and sometimes surreal story collection, face the kinds of suffering that many of us, if we aren’t experiencing them ourselves, would rather turn away from: grief over the loss of a loved one, drug addiction, domestic violence, parental abandonment, mental illness, poverty. Buckingham’s stories immersed me so deeply in these characters’ mental, physical, and emotional states that the barriers between their worlds and mine seemed to dissolve, giving me insights into experiences I might otherwise feel—or seek—distance from.

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Making Love While Levitating Three Feet in the Air

Making Love While Levitating Three Feet in the Air

Jeff Fearnside’s début story collection, Making Love While Levitating Three Feet in the Air, is rich in so many ways: in its deep explorations of diverse lives and experiences; in its immersion in place, which often becomes a character itself; in the subtle surprises of several tales—surprises that, retrospectively, feel completely earned and natural.

But one of my favorite aspects of the book is the way it explores the solo mission—certain characters’ efforts to find their way, largely alone, through difficult periods or situations in their lives.

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Everyone Loves You Back

Everyone Loves You Back

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.

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The Summer She Was Under Water

The Summer She Was Under Water

A creekside cabin in summertime: it seems like the setting for a peaceful family gathering, unless the family is the one that Jen Michalski brings together in her moving and deftly crafted novel The Summer She Was Under Water. Its members include a physically and emotionally abusive father who is struggling with mental illness; a kind yet conflict-averse mother who has tried to look past the years of damage her husband has done; and two adult children—a long-estranged sister and brother—who share memories of their father’s abuse and of a taboo bond they formed in the wake of it.

The gathering at the family’s cabin threatens to be uncomfortable at best, explosive at worst. But because Michalski gets to the heart of the characters and their conflicts with such care and feeling, she offers more than a strife-laden drama. Instead, her novel is a complex exploration of family dysfunction, one that holds out a measure of hope.

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