Favorite New Fiction
from Small and Micro Publishers

Friends/enemies

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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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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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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Beautiful Garbage

Beautiful Garbage

In this unflinching and perceptive début novel, Jill Di Donato describes one young sculptor’s struggle to rise above the din of the 1980s art world and to discover her true voice. In the process, she finds herself confronting past wrongs—both those she committed and those committed against her.

Though Beautiful Garbage makes for a good summer read, it’s not a light one—and to my mind that’s only a good thing. This novel won’t let you off the hook easily, intellectually or emotionally.

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