Favorite New Fiction
from Small and Micro Publishers

Searching for redemption

Kingdom of Women

Kingdom of Women

Because of his wealth and power, a serial rapist repeatedly escapes the consequences of his actions. A man beats his wife severely but is somehow found not to have committed a crime. A young man admits—without remorse—to killing a woman he’d been having sex with, and gets a light sentence and an early release from prison. “She was a slut,” the logic goes.

Such situations figure all too often into the news, and sometimes, they are part of our personal histories. But imagine a world in which groups of vigilante women make sure that the men who commit such crimes face real consequences—usually, fatal ones. Rosalie Morales Kearns does just that in her masterful and thought-provoking new novel, Kingdom of Women, set in a not-too-distant future that flows chillingly and logically from our less-than-just present.

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Skating on the Vertical

Skating on the Vertical

Many of the tales in Jan English Leary’s profound, heartfelt story collection, Skating on the Vertical, center on characters who have reached pivotal points in their lives and are trying to figure out next steps, and also themselves. Leary gives the complexity of such turning points its due, immersing us in the soul-searching, self-doubt, and mistakes that are natural—sometimes inevitable—during times of change, difficulty, or discovery.

Because all the stories in Skating on the Vertical are so powerful and resonant, it was hard for me to choose which ones to focus on in this review. To my mind, there wasn’t an off story in the book. So here, I’ll focus on a few stories that give a sense of the range and depth of this fine collection.

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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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Little Raw Souls: Stories

Little Raw Souls: Stories

Good short stories drop us into the middle of situations we can’t help but find riveting, no matter how strange or uncomfortable they may be. Steven Schwartz’s latest collection, Little Raw Souls, is full of such stories. And what makes them especially compelling is the diversity of situations and characters they explore. Here’s just a sampling: a retiree is rooked by a hippie couple who take shelter on his land, a teenager finds that his dreams of becoming a Marine conflict with his dying mother’s wishes, a man reunites with a cousin (and former crush) who has undergone a sex change, a high school teacher holds his class hostage while contemplating suicide.

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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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Apology

Apology

In its most potent forms, guilt can have a lasting and powerful hold on us, sometimes altering the course of our lives. Apology, Jon Pineda’s début novel, offers a heartfelt study of these effects, and of what is gained and lost when painful truths are kept secret.

At the beginning of the novel, nine-year-old Teagan Serafino suffers a brain injury when her brother’s friend Mario Guzman dares her to jump over a pit at a construction site. As Teagan makes the jump, Mario throws a football at her, causing her to fall into the pit. Mario runs from the scene of the accident, leaving his Uncle Exequiel, nicknamed Shoe, to discover Teagan when he shows up for work at the site. When Shoe finds the football, labeled with Mario’s name, by Teagan, he removes it and makes an anonymous call about the incident to the construction company.

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