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.”
It was an inspired idea. The anthology is as thoughtfully curated as the events at Papercuts, allowing readers in Jamaica Plain and far beyond to connect with writers who may very well be new to them, and who provide fresh and memorable visions of worlds real and imagined.
Because I read mostly fiction, the mainstay of Small Press Picks, I’ll be focusing on the anthology’s short stories. Although I enjoyed all of the stories, I wanted to point out a few that I found especially captivating.
- “Interviews with the Dead” by Zachary Klein. The gist: Norman Mailer returns from the grave to grant an interview to the author. What struck me especially: On these pages, Mailer seems utterly resurrected—in body, soul, and language. Though he makes a lot of his toughness, just as he did in life, he’s not spared from Klein’s challenging questions. My favorite lines: “I turned and there [Mailer] was, fists clenched, barrel chest and curly-haired head leading the charge. I wondered if I was going to be punched, but Mr. Mailer just invaded my space standing nose to nose.”
- “Growing Things” by Paul Tremblay. The gist: In a post-apocalyptic world, two housebound sisters find that there is no escaping a deadly invasion of giant “growing things.” What struck me especially: I love how the author made such a fantastical threat feel so chillingly and physically real. My favorite line: “A breeze bullies into their home, along with a buzz-saw sound of wavering leaves.”
- “FORest-9176” by J. M. Taylor. The gist: At a troubled time in his life, a man (Ed) rents a room from a woman who isn’t what she seems to be, in a house that isn’t what it seems to be. What struck me especially: I have a weakness for why-oh-why-did-I-dispense-with-my-nightlight stories, and like “Growing Things,” this story delivers bone-chilling thrills and unexpected twists. It reminded me very much of a Twilight Zone episode. My favorite lines: “Ed once heard that radio waves and old TV broadcasts went on forever into space. That somewhere out in the universe, some beings might be watching I Love Lucy. Did the same thing happen to phone calls?”
- “The Words Honey and Moon” by Jennifer Tseng. The gist: We accompany Woo and Camille on their cross-country honeymoon drive, during which they are still discovering each other and figuring out who they are as a couple. What struck me especially: In this story and in her poetic novel Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness, Tseng writes beautifully about the tenderness and complications of new love. (I had the pleasure of reviewing this novel in an earlier posting.) My favorite lines: “Of all her many girlish and alien traits, he found her eyebrows to be the most exquisite. Made of the same persimmon color as her hair, the brows were orderly, as if their maker had measured and cut and counted each feathery piece by hand, assembled the arcs, and then trimmed and combed them with a mechanical device.”
- “The Dinner Party” by Catie Disabato. The gist: The neglected, unappreciated gourmet-cook partner of a rising academic exacts culinary revenge. What struck me especially: I love the vivid, descriptive writing about food and the way that food is woven into the story of the couple, of how they came together then drifted apart. My favorite lines: “Chicken liver pâté is almost as artless as microwaving sad canned soup. And yet my guests fawn and fawn over me as if chicken liver pâté was unimaginable. ‘You’re eating chicken flavored butter,’ I want to tell them every time, and instead I demure and absorb the praise. The truth is, it is always worthwhile to absorb praise. It shores up your coffers for battles yet to come.”
- “Slip” by Robin McLean. The gist: As a woman watches over her hospitalized husband, we get glimpses into the origins, strength, struggles, and beauty of their forty-nine year marriage. What struck me especially: I love the inventive writing about time and its passage. My favorite lines: “Mac read the obits out loud across the room at Dorothy sitting in the chair. A nurse stared in his ears with a tiny flashlight. The fish swam in circles on the sill. Mac snoozed. The neighbors came, his brother came, the man who fixed their car. Night came. The car horns argued in the street below among the parade detritus. The flag in the middle of the circle drive whipped in the March wind. In like a lion, out like a lamb.”
I hope that, at some point, there will be another volume of The Papercuts Anthology. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to paying more visits to Papercuts and to listening to the podcast of authors the store has featured. If you would like to check out the podcast yourself, visit http://www.papercutsjp.com/audio-broadcast.
Would My Pick be Your Pick?If you're interested in ________, the answer may be "Yes":
▪ Anthologies like The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Essays, and The Best American Poetry
▪ Readings at your own local bookstore(s)
▪ Supporting independent bookstores