If you’ve read more than a few of my postings on Small Press Picks, you might have noticed that I’m a big fan of the short story, and I’m always eager to check out new collections from small/indie publishers. Recently, I read Margaret Malone’s début story collection, People Like You, and I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed this hilarious, wonderfully strange, and occasionally heartbreaking book.
Favorite New Fiction
from Small and Micro Publishers
Making a journey or quest
In her starkly beautiful, poetic novel The Devils That Have Come to Stay (to be published by Medallion Press in February), Pamela DiFrancesco takes us into a dark and violent world that only gets darker with each turn of the pages. The novel brings us to California in the midst of the Gold Rush, and into the life of a saloon keeper whose wife has taken leave of him to care for her desperately ill mother in a town to the north.
Early in the novel, the saloon keeper (also the narrator) crosses paths with a Me-Wuk Indian, who’d vanished from the bar after stealing gold from another customer. When the narrator discovers the Indian scattering this gold, leaving a trail of white feathers, the Indian explains that he is only returning to the earth what has been “stolen” from it. “Perhaps if I can make it back to where the gold came from,” he explains, “my bag will empty, and the last feather will fall.” The place he has come from is close to where the narrator’s wife is caring for her mother, so the narrator decides to set off with the Indian. In the interest of not giving too much away, all I’ll say is that their journey is dark indeed, bringing the two men (and readers) in contact with the large-scale slaughter and the environmental, and spiritual, degradation that marked whites’ settlement of the West.
In the best of times, in the best of personal circumstances, looking for work is a pain in the ass. But in a sagging economy, and especially for job hunters who are running on financial and spiritual fumes, this task can bring on an existential crisis.
Jarrod Shanahan’s darkly hilarious illustrated novella, It’s a Tough Economy, portrays just such a crisis.
“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.
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.
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.