Archive for June, 2009

devilcoverfinalIn his impressive debut collection, Kyle Minor displays his range for writing various styles of compelling narratives.  Comprised of six short and long stories, In the Devil’s Territory explores themes of family, religion, gender, sexuality, regret, shame, fear, identity, aging, and mortality—among others.  These themes work like threads, connecting the very different and unique stories that make up this collection.

“A Day Meant to Do Less”—selected as a Best American Mystery Stories 2008—acts as one of the load bearing supports of this book, nearly reaching novella length.  Franny, an elderly woman, is haunted by a childhood secret of physical and sexual assault from her older cousin.  This episode redefines her understanding of fear, which leads to strained relationships within her immediate family.  Unable to care for herself or properly communicate with anyone, Franny must rely on her only son to bathe her, even though she no longer recognizes him.

In, “The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl Party,” a man’s pregnant wife is dying, and he gains perspective on the situation after balking at one of her simple requests.  For a brief moment, their family finds a smidge of joy in a dire time.

Confused by his own sexuality, a pastor attempts to live his life in denial until he is reacquainted with his past in “A Love Story.” And in, “The Navy Man,” a married businesswoman looks for lust on her business trip, only to find love for the first time.

“goodbye Hills, hello night” tells the story of a shamed and regretful young man who recounts the events that led up to his incarceration.  And in the title story, a young woman, fleeing communist East Germany, is unable to help all of her family members get beyond the wall.  She brings the remaining members to America and becomes a schoolteacher.  A man, living in the shadow of his successful brother, tries to make a better life for his son.  Social and cultural survival, along with fear, brings these people together.  Misunderstanding causes them to take harsh and regrettable action against each other.

Of the many things I enjoy from these stories, the narrators—how they each have a way with words that’s different from one another—jump out to me.  How they tell their stories sticks with me:

She did not know what he meant to do, but she had been admiring his new brown belt with its metal buckle the shape of Kentucky, and she thought if they really were going to play house, he might just whip her like a daddy would a mommy, and if he did it with that brown belt he might forget to take off that metal buckle, and wouldn’t it hurt to get beat about the buttocks and back by Kentucky.

Minor makes strong and meaningful connections in these stories, and he avoids being heavy-handed when drawing parallels from one part to another.  The reason being—for me, at least—is that these stories are so engaging that I’m not worried about what literary tricks Minor might be performing.  It’s not to say these stories are conventional or straightforward.  They work on multiple levels, and they ask questions of the reader.  But what they do best is blend intriguing narrative with great character insight:

Baseball was all he had.  Everyone tends to dwell on that.  They think it’s so terrible that he lost out on baseball, and they don’t see what’s more terrible, which is none of the rest of us ever thought we had anything to lose out on at all.

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6a00d83451afaf69e201156ff9fc40970cFrom Dzanc Books, The Collagist is a new monthly online literary journal.  The first issue will be available on August 15, 2009.  I can’t wait to read it.

According to the site, “The Collagist is immediately open for submissions in all categories.  As you might assume, we suggest you read the books Dzanc and its imprints publish to get a flavor of what writing gets us most excited.  Submission guidelines can be found at www.thecollagist.com/submissions.html.”

The site also includes an overview of what you should expect to see each month.  Short fiction, poetry, nonfiction, book reviews, and novel excerpts–they’re going to cover it all.  This is another site you’ll need to bookmark and continually revisit.

Each week, I feature a young and/or emerging writer by posting a review of his or her most recent work.  To further showcase the writer’s work, I include an interview or a link to an interview a day or two after the review post.   I’m going to start posting short bios and links to sample work by the featured writer in order to up the wattage on the spotlight.

Kyle MinorThis Thursday, I’ll be reviewing Kyle Minor‘s first collection of short stories, In the Devil’s Territory.  From the book jacket: “Kyle Minor’s work has appeared widely in magazines and anthologies, among them Best American Mystery Stories 2008, The Southern Review, The Gettysburg Review, Surreal South, and Twentsomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers: The Best New Voices of 2006.  His work has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. [He] is also co-editor, with Okla Elliot, of The Other Chekhov.”

(photo by Miriam Berkley)

To read a few of Kyle Minor’s stories online, click the following titles:

“The Navy Man” (may take a minute to load)
“Ill Nature”
“Two Rubber Bands”

When I was an undergrad at Southern Illinois University, Brady Udall was one of my writing professors.  In workshop, he wasn’t afraid to tell you what he thought of your story.  In that sense, he was tough; but I felt his style of teaching got through to me.  Regardless of how he said it, what he had to say about story telling was dead on.  So while I was still in undergrad, I decided to read his first novel, The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint.  It’s a story about a boy whose head gets crushed by a mail truck.  The book traces Edgar’s life from hospital, to reservation orphanage, to foster home.  Throughout, Edgar’s determined to find the man who ran over his head in order to tell the man that he survived, that he’s okay.  It’s a fantastic story that’s beautifully written.  I highly recommend it.

My senior year at SIU, I had a workshop with Brady.  He told us about a new book he was working on, The Lonely Polygamist–though I’m not sure if he had mentioned the title.  He just said that the book was about a man with four wives and twenty-something children.  I liked his first book so much that after graduation, I began this mild obsession with checking Google and Amazon to see when the book was set to be released.  The searches led me to the title of the book, and I had found several tidbits–articles,interviews, reading promos, etc.–that hinted at future release dates.  Based on the information I had gathered, this book was supposed to be released at least 80 times from the beginning of 2008 to the end of 2009.  But the internet is a mile wide and an inch deep, so I should have been a little more cautious when reading these sites.

Now, I don’t do these searches every day.  I’m not that big of a creep.  But every once in a while when I’m looking to waste time on the net, I might type in a name or a title (Barry Hannah, too).  And since it had been a month or two since the last time I checked on this particular book, I decided to do a search today.  And I found this article from the Boise Weekly.  There’s still no set release date; however, it does mention a late 2009, early 2010 publication.  The reason it has taken so long seems to be a result of the book’s page length–over 700.  Looking forward to tackle that one.  I’ll be keeping an eye on this and will post a publication date here once that information is available.

brady_webTo read samples of Brady Udall’s work, click the following links:

“Otis is Resurrected”
“A Story”

Fakers: Hoaxers, Con Artists, Counterfeiters, and Other Great Pretenders by Paul Maliszewski (1/5)
We Agreed to Meet Just Here by Scott Blackwood (2/2)
Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme by Tracy Daugherty (2/3)
Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor by Brad Gooch (2/25)
Cheever: A Life by Blake Bailey (3/10)
Sag Harbor: A Novel by Colson Whitehead (4/28)
Studs Terkel’s Working: A Graphic Adaptation by Harvey Pekar and Paul Buhle (5/1)
Netherland by Joseph O’Neill (5/7 – paperback)
The Great Perhaps by Joe Meno (5/11)
Ugly Man: Stories by Dennis Cooper (5/26)
My Father’s Tears and Other Stories by John Updike (6/2)
The Wild Marsh: Four Seasons at Home in Montana by Rick Bass (7/1)
Harmony by Dean Bakopoulos (7/19)
Peace by Richard Bausch (8/1)
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami (8/11 – paperback)
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore (9/8)
The Humbling by Philip Roth (11/2)
Lt: A Memoir by Mary Karr (11/3)
The Original of Laura by Vladimir Nabokov (11/3)
Prayer and Parable (short stories) by Paul Maliszewski (Fence Books – date TBD)

FakersIt’s only a matter of time before a scam is revealed.  And in recent years, stories revealing the discovery of fraudulent behavior have made some of the biggest headlines, dominating page space in print and online articles, in addition to consuming airtime on news broadcasts.  There was the MySpace Mom who posed as a teenage boy on the social networking site, in an attempt to monitor what a thirteen-year-old girl was saying about her daughter.  Three men from California preserved a gorilla suit in their freezer, claiming it was Bigfoot.  And late last year, Bernie Madoff was arrested and charged for running the largest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history.  The media searched for reasons why these people trick scammed both their neighbors and the public.  Power, vengeance, fame, money.  What compels people to deceive others?

Paul Maliszewski’s insightful first book, Fakers: Hoaxers, Con Artists, Counterfeiters, and Other Great Pretenders, concentrates on cases of fraud in the worlds of art and media.  Part memoir, part investigative report, Maliszewski explores the reasons fakers do what they do, and why people tend to believe them.  The book opens with a confessional essay titled, “I, Faker.”  While working as a staff writer for the Business Journal of Central New York, Maliszewski felt the stories he covered lacked depth and insight.  The real stories were lost behind facts and figures.  He couldn’t tap into a creative outlet on the job, so he adopted several personas and began writing satirical letters to the editor of this publication.  Right away the reader is aware of his stake in answering the whys of fakery.  This personal investment drives Maliszewski on a thorough quest to make connections to and draw distinctions from other pretenders.

Fakers looks at such recent well-known writers/hoaxers as Stephen Glass, James Frey, and Margaret B. Jones.  The book covers the widely distributed email about the world’s largest man-eating bear and the origins of the Con Man.  It also includes hoaxes that might be lesser known to the general public.  In 1835, the New York Sun ran a series of stories, proclaiming there was life on the moon.  In 2002, the New York Times Magazine fired Michael Finkel for creating a composite character from multiple personal accounts, then passing this character off as a real person.  And in 2004, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Michael Chabon, delivered a speech that contained fictional elements, but presented it as nonfiction.

While the stories profiled contain clear arguments as to why people fake, Maliszewski explores all angles of his subjects to get a better understanding of the people involved.  He shows compassion toward fakers whose intentions weren’t malicious and, at times, comes to their defense.  Passionate about the art of great fakery, Maliszewski wants to make clear the distinction between satire and scam.  He does go after individuals who intentionally twist the truth and soil real people’s reputations for the sake of a good story.

But the underlying message seems to be one of hope.  That’s why Maliszewski wants to separate the satirists from the scammers.  All fakery isn’t created to harm others.  When carried out successfully, satire contains a message behind the hoax.  It’s about pointing out absurdities and revealing truths.  People can miss the emotional truth of a story when they discover that on the surface, it’s not 100% empirically true.  Why do people buy into these hoaxes?  Maliszewski presents several answers for this question.  One being that good writing makes a story more believable—the fakery goes unnoticed when the narrative seems flawless.  But most hoaxes are short lived.  Eventually the faker is exposed.  And what causes uproar in a lot of these cases is another reason why people initially buy into the hoax.  They want to believe the stories are true.  Social issues surrounding a hoax can make people suspend their disbelief or blind them to the possibility that the story could be fabricated.

Maliszewski writes these essays with smooth prose and structures them in a way that creates the kind of dramatic tension found in any good story.  These profiles are both informative and entertaining.  Blending research and interviews with his desire to find answers, Maliszewski avoids dry reporting.  His in-depth analysis of each case, the attention he pays to them, makes the reader want him to succeed on this comprehensive journey.

For an interview with Paul Maliszewski, click here.695.books.x480.opener

2008
The End of the Straight and Narrow (stories) by David McGlynn (10/2008)
In the Devil’s Territory (stories) by Kyle Minor (11/2008)
Forgetting English (stories) by Midge Raymond (11/2008)

2009
A Conservationist Manifesto (essays) by Scott Russell Sanders (2/27)
Drift and Swerve: Stories by Samuel Ligon (3/1)
Long Fall (novel) by Walter Mosley (3/24)
Unaccustomed Earth: Stories by Jhumpa Lahiri (4/7 – paperback)
Nobody Move: A Novel by Denis Johnson (4/28)
Road Dogs: A Novel by Elmore Leonard (5/12)

Forthcoming
The Thing Around Your Neck (stories) by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (6/10)
Chronic City (novel) by Jonathan Lethem (10/13)