An oft-repeated criticism of small towns is that too many residents have an unsavory and insatiable interest in the lives of their neighbors, an interest that no amount of acreage—geographical, emotional, or social—can discourage. One of the many strengths of Jodi Paloni’s début story collection, They Could Live with Themselves, is how it acknowledges a corollary truth: the impossibility of fully understanding the experiences or realities of others—sometimes, even those with whom we share a roof. By immersing us in the lives of residents of one fictional community, Paloni honors, with great compassion and insight, both private realities and the ways in which individuals do—or don’t—connect with others.
Favorite New Fiction
from Small and Micro Publishers
Tim O’Brien has said that fiction is for “getting at the truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.” To me, this observation speaks to the strengths of the best historical novels: unlike textbook accounts, such novels convey the consequences and significance of historical events more memorably than mere facts ever could. They do so by connecting readers, emotionally, to characters who are at the center of these events.
In his début novel, Nanjing Never Cries, Hong Zheng builds these connections affectingly, immersing readers in the experiences of those who suffered during the Nanjing (Nanking) Massacre, in which hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians were raped, tortured, and killed by Japanese soldiers who invaded the city in December 1937, as part the Sino-Japanese War.
Coming to terms with the fact that one is in a satisfactory but unrewarding, and perhaps loveless, marriage is as common a predicament in literature as it is in reality. But what if a dissatisfied spouse were to take a solo vacation thousands of miles away from her husband and child, to a country with an unfamiliar language and culture—and to become so deeply drawn into the possibilities there, of a new life and new loves, that she can’t bring herself to return home? In her début novel The Pull of It, Wendy J. Fox takes us through just such a journey, one that results in both new challenges and personal discovery.
I have the great fortune of living within walking distance of a wonderful independent bookstore, Papercuts J.P., in the Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain. As Kate Layte, owner and manager of Papercuts, described the store’s founding to the Guardian, “There wasn’t a dedicated independent bookstore in my neighborhood and instead of just wishing someone else would do it, I took matters into my own hands, asked for help, and made it happen.”
Something else that Kate (and Papercuts’ media and events coordinator, Katie Eelman) made happen was The Papercuts Anthology, an engaging collection of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction by authors who took part in events at the store over the course of its first year. As Kate writes in the introduction to the collection, the anthology was created to make “something tangible” out of these events—“[s]omething that lasts longer than a night and sticks around afterward.”
“What if the end of man is not caused by some cataclysmic event, but by the nature of humans themselves?” This is the central question posed by Age of Blight, a dark yet captivating collection of speculative short stories by Kristine Ong Muslim. The stories’ answers to this question are as varied as they are troubling and, at times, they are disturbingly plausible.
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.