Favorite New Fiction
from Small and Micro Publishers

Settling scores

Nanjing Never Cries

Nanjing Never Cries

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.

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The Mesmerist’s Daughter

The Mesmerist’s Daughter

The Mesmerist’s Daughter, a dark, poetic novella by Heidi James, was my perfect companion one recent gloomy afternoon, transfixing me from its first lines:

My mother was a wolf. That was the first secret I kept for her. At night she would jimmy open my door with her muzzle and swagger into my bedroom, her blunt claws clicking like tarts’ heels on the floor, her panting rigid and dependable. Her thick, wiry pelt was heavy and smothering as coal gas.

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Death Comes for the Deconstructionist

Death Comes for the Deconstructionist

Daniel Taylor’s forthcoming novel, Death Comes to the Deconstructionist, is an engrossing and satisfying whodunit. But the central character and sleuth, Jon Mote, finds himself uncovering and confronting secrets every bit as dark as the murder case he’s been asked to help solve, and the stories of those confrontations are just as captivating.

The novel opens after the murder of Richard Pratt, chair of a local university’s English Department and a bright, though dimming, star in the academic universe. Years before, Pratt was also Jon’s doctoral advisor, and his criticism of his protégé’s dissertation-in-progress (“theoretically naïve” is just one of Pratt’s disparaging descriptions of the work) helped nudge Jon toward an early exit from graduate school.

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Interview with Pamela DiFrancesco, author of The Devils That Have Come to Stay

Interview with Pamela DiFrancesco, author of The Devils That Have Come to Stay

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.

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Justice, Inc.

Justice, Inc.

After slamming a brick-weighted, $2,000 Gucci handbag into the skull of her boyfriend, a young woman, Emily, observes: “Technically, the law says you’re supposed to wait until they try to eat your brains before you take a whack at them, but what’s the point? Once the magic is gone, get them before they get you—that’s what I say.”

Emily’s world—in which a sexually transmitted virus is turning men into zombies—is just one of darkly comic dystopias that Dale Bridges brings to life in his new story collection, Justice, Inc. Some of the others: a post-apocalyptic megastore that both protects and imprisons its employees; a world in which death has been all but “cured,” making suicide a means of population control; and, in the title story, a corporation that aims to satisfy the desire for justice by staging public executions of cloned top criminals, like Osama bin Laden.

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The Fiery Alphabet

The Fiery Alphabet

“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.

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