Just Kids by Patti Smith (1/26/2010)
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson (3/2/2010)
So Much for That by Lionel Shriver (3/9/2010)
Ignatz by Monica Youn (3/9/2010)
Lighthead by Terrance Hayes (3/30/2010)
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (4/6/2010)
Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey (4/20/2010)
I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita (6/1/2010)
The Eternal City by Kathleen Graber (7/21/2010)
Swan: Poems and Prose Poems by Mary Oliver (9/14/2010)
The Silent Season of a Hero by Gay Talese (9/28/2010)
Life by Keith Richards (10/26/2010)
Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick (11/1/2010)
Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane (11/2/2010)
Saul Bellows: Letters by Saul Bellows and Benjamin Taylor (11/4/2010)
The Petting Zoo by Jim Carroll (11/4/2010)
Selected Stories by William Trevor (11/4/2010)
Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer (11/8/2010)
The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard by J.G. Ballard and Martin Amis (11/8/2010)
Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King (11/9/2010)
Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon (11/15/2010)
The New Yorker Stories by Ann Beattie (11/16/2010)
Decoded by Jay-Z (11/16/2010)
Best European Fiction 2011 by Aleksandar Hemon, Colum McCann (11/22/2010)
An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin (11/23/2010)
20 Under 40: Stories from the New Yorker by Deborah Triesman (11/23/2010)
One with Others: [a little book of her days] by C.D. Wright (11/23/2010)
Best Spiritual Writing 2011 by Philip Zaleski and Billy Collins (11/30/2010)
By the Numbers by James Richardson (11/30/2010)
While Mortals Sleep: Unpublished Short Fiction by Kurt Vonnegut (1/25/2010)

Oh, people are always whining about being labeled a Southern writer or a sci-fi writer or a writer of women’s fiction. We love to categorize, and one of the categories I’m associated with is the “Neo-Masculinist” movement. I’m not sure what that means—though if people want to read me that way, fine. I’m not intentionally trying to explore maleness, and I know anything I say on the subject is going to come across as bullshitty intellectualism. I’m just trying to write good stories, and the place those stories come happens to be hairy and sweaty and snarled with barbed wire. When you get down to it, I’d rather move peoples’ hearts than their heads.

To read the interview in its entirety, click here.

In his short stories, Ben Percy writes characters who work blue collar jobs and live in working class towns.  The male characters do manly things—fishing, hunting, and other outdoorsmen activities—and respond to conflict like men are suppose to—by drinking beer or fighting.  But they’re never one-dimensional.  They have sensitive sides, they question their fathers—not necessarily in the open—and they doubt their own mentalities.  In order to adapt to this sort of predetermined idea of masculinity, they partake in acts of savagery or, depending on the opponent—say, an Alpha male, like one of their fathers—they react by submitting.  These testosterone-fueled occurrences mask the character’s underlying issues.

Percy continues to write about the male dynamic in his debut novel, The Wilding.  Set in and around Bend, Oregon, the novel weaves together the stories of three primary characters—including a fourth near the end—as personal and geographic landscapes continue to evolve in the new millennium.  This change, of course, is met with resistance from humans and from nature.

One of the focal characters—Brian, a locksmith who has returned from Iraq wounded both physically and emotionally—literally wears a mask and suit made from animal pelts in an attempt to feel powerful and invisible.  Because when he’s not wearing it—when he’s out at a bar in Portland with his war buddies, for example—he’s unable to “process friendship or love or any human desire except for want and not-want.”

He puts on this suit to stalk the only woman who can make him feel human—Karen, an athletic suburban mother who tries to distract herself from the malaise of an unhappy marriage by running long distances.  While Brian’s storyline is secondary in this novel, his struggle to readjust to civilian life, trying to forget the savagery of war, helps fully develop the book’s major theme of how little separates man from beast.  And his connection to Karen acts as a direct link to the primary story.

Which belongs to Justin—Karen’s husband—an English teacher who embarks on a hunting trip with his father, Paul, and son, Graham, on the eve of a major rezoning development in the forest where they’ve always camped.  While in woods, the three encounter problems that put a hamper on the trip, causing tensions to rise between them instead of them being allowed to enjoy each other’s company and the landscape surrounding them.

There are the run-ins with a local who’s upset about the impending destruction of the area.  He takes it out on them—with good reason, since Paul is heading the new rezoning project—by sabotaging their trip any way he can.  Paul’s health is in a state of decline, and out of stubbornness he refuses to leave the woods without scoring one final buck. But the most vital external conflict is that a rare grizzly is roaming these woods.  Reports of the bear attacking people have already surfaced, and because they don’t have the modern conveniences that will be available to the area once development commences—like cell phone signals—their family hunting trip turns into a feat of survival.

What makes the bear so significant is its association to the strain in Justin’s relationship with his dad.  The novel opens with a recounting of his most damaging childhood memory: at the age of twelve, his father ordered him to kill a wounded bear found in the ten acres of woods surrounding their home.  This anecdote becomes a metaphor, one that Karen’s quick to point out, for the relationship between father and son.  Justin has a tendency to do whatever his father tells him, even when reason and better judgment would suggest otherwise.

And now, on this hunting trip, Paul is trying to make a man out of Graham the same way he tried to with Justin.  Which Karen had expressed disapproval of prior to them leaving, since she finds Paul’s old school habits to be reckless.  She fears for Graham’s safety, and rightfully so, seeing as she recently miscarried hers and Justin’s daughter, adding to the strain of an already fragile marriage.  Justin wants to please her and to regain a sense of the union they once had, but on this trip after Graham tags his first deer, something grabs a hold of him:

Justin feels gripped by a reckless idea.  The darkness of the woods and the thrill of the hunt and the wildness of his father have torn away some protective seal inside him; he cannot control himself.  For a moment, just a moment, he forgets about his mortgage payment, his shaggy lawn, his Subaru and the groaning noise it makes when he turns left, his desk and the pile of ungraded papers waiting on it.  All of that has gone someplace else, replaced by an urge, a wildness.

The Wilding blends compelling storylines with emotionally significant themes, creating a richly layered novel that makes a reader care about its characters.  Percy’s able to seamlessly weave together the multiple narratives in powerful, yet elegant, prose without making the story seem contrived, forced, or overwritten.  If you’re looking for a solid book that follows the lives of the middle class—the blue-collar workers and the underpaid academics—working out real problems, then look no further; this is your book.

Graywolf Press
September 28, 2010
$23.00

Photo by Jennifer May

From the book jacket:

Benjamin Percy is the author of [the short story collections] The Language of Elk and Refresh, Refresh.  His honors include the Plimpton Prize, a Pushcart Prize, a Whiting Writers’ Award, and inclusion in Best American Short Stories.  His fiction and nonfiction have been published by Esquire, Men’s Journal, the Paris Review, and Orion.  He teaches in the MFA program in creative writing and environment at Iowa State University.

The Wilding is Percy’s first novel.  To read his story, “Somebody is Going to have to Pay for This,” published in the Barcelona Review, click here.

In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut (4/1/2010)
PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2010 Ed. by Laura Furman (4/20/2010)
Talking to Girls About Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield (7/15/2010)
The Art of Description by Mark Doty (7/20/2010)
The Art of Recklessness by Dean Young (7/20/2010)
Quiet as They Come by Angie Chau (8/17/2010)
New Stories from the South 2010 Ed. by Amy Hempel (8/17/2010)
Ape House by Sara Gruen (9/7/2010)
Best American Poetry 2010 Ed. by Amy Gerstler and David Lehman (9/14/2010)
Best American Crime Reporting 2010 Ed. by Otto Penzler and Thomas H. Cook (9/14/2010)
Best American Science Writing 2010 Ed. by Jerome Groopman and Jesse Cohen (9/14/2010)
Best American Short Stories 2010 Ed. by Richard Russo and Heidi Pitlor (9/28/2010)
Best American Nonrequired Reading 2010 Ed. by Dave Eggers and David Sedaris (9/28/2010)
Best American Sports Writing 2010 Ed. by Peter Gammons and Glenn Stout (9/28/2010)
Best American Science and Nature Writing 2010 Ed. by Freeman Dyson and Tim Folger (9/28/2010)
Best American Mystery Stories 2010 Ed. by Lee Child and Otto Penzler (9/28/2010)
Best American Essays 2010 Ed. by Christopher Hitchens and Robert Atwan (9/28/2010)
Best American Travel Writing 2010 Ed. by Bill Buford and Jason Wilson (9/28/2010)
Best American Comics 2010 Ed. by Neil Gaiman, Jessica Abel, and Matt Madden (9/28/2010)
Bound by Antonya Nelson (9/28/2010)
The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson (10/12/2010)
Our Kind of Traitor by John le Carré (10/12/2010)
Djibouti by Elmore Leonard (10/12/2010)
I Found This Funny Ed. by Judd Apatow (11/1/2010)
Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie (11/16/2010)
Long, Last, Happy by Barry Hannah (12/1/2010)
Best American Magazine Writing 2010 Ed. by The American Society of Magazine Editors (12/7/2010)

Live Nude Books: The stories in If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home often begin with humorous, quirky premises that help undercut their more serious, weighty themes and subject matter.  I’m wondering if you could you talk a little about your approach to writing short fiction.

What triggers the creation of your stories: premise or theme?

John Jodzio: For creation, it’s almost always premise.  After I find one that’s entertaining to me, I’m usually able to sort of determine what the main themes of the story are/might be and then begin to explore those within whatever world I’ve thought up.

LNB: Because such strange occurrences happen on the surfaces of these stories, they’re really fun to read.  Which story did you enjoy writing the most?

JJ: Probably “Flight Path.”  That story started when I took some of my more interesting characters in my non-working stories hostage and smashed them together into one confined space.  It took me a couple of years to figure everything out, but I really like what ended up occurring.

LNB: This collection contains a mix of short stories and flash fiction pieces.  Is form an element of craft you enjoy experimenting with?

JJ: I think I’m ultimately a traditionalist.  Even within those flash pieces, I think I am writing them as short stories — pretty structured with a beginning/middle/end.  Lately I’ve really been re-reading a lot of Barthelme and so things may get more experimental form-wise.

LNB: What’s the best advice on writing you’ve ever received?

JJ: Persevere.

LNB: What are you working on next?

JJ: I’m kicking around some pages for something that I’m hoping will become a novel.  It’s going to be set in Florida and there will be a lot of snakes and some old people (mostly astronauts).  That’s all I can say at this point, not because I don’t want to give anything away, just because I really don’t know any more than that right now.

LNB: What have you recently read that you’re recommending to friends and other readers?

JJ: I really loved Daddy’s by Lindsey Hunter and Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin.  Also, if you haven’t picked up House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni, now is the time.

These days there are so many options with which to occupy one’s leisure time—what with the speed and ease of internet access, the availability of hundreds upon hundreds of TV channels, and the realistic graphics of video games—digital distractions, among others, make sitting still and reading more difficult now than ever before.

John Jodzio’s stories, however, could be the cure for the reader with ADHD. Often they’re only a few pages in length, and they never fail to hook the reader from line one:

“There are some things you should not do in the rich town up the mountain from yours and one of those is sticking your dick in their mail slots or dog doors…”

So begins the title story of Jodzio’s debut collection, If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home. After the death of their little league coach, two brothers redirect their anger and grief toward the residents of the neighboring town, whose little league team had recently defeated theirs for the sixteenth time in a row. They exact their revenge by urinating on and through the front doors of their enemies’ houses, until one day, when they’re caught in the act, they find that the people in this wealthy part of town have much greater concerns than winning little league baseball games.

What begins as almost a quirky anecdote quickly develops into a layered story that delves into themes of social class, family dynamic, and mental health. Which turns out to be Jodzio’s biggest strength as a writer: having the ability to blend humor with heart. He uses humor to undercut subject matter that could easily be overdramatized in the hands of a lesser writer, the same way his characters often try to distract themselves and others from more pressing issues.

In “The Egg,” a young man named Scott shows his need for attention and discipline by acting unruly. In response to this behavior, his father avoids confronting his son by going on “business trips” and stepping on a footswitch that makes his office phone ring any time Scott tries to talk to him. When things get especially bad, his father redirects his anger at his employees by firing them.

The married couple in “Shoo-Shoo,” discovers they won’t be able to have children and leave the issue alone, in terms of talking about it with each other. Instead, the wife takes her anger out on their downstairs neighbors who like to play music loudly and whom the cops refuse to quiet.

Two stories where Jodzio really shines with the theme of refusing to accept reality are “Homecoming”—where a young woman accompanies her mother on a weekend trip, centered around a college football game, and looks down on her mom for being promiscuous, not fully realizing the consequences of her own affair with a married man—and “The Deadsitter”—the story of a 13 year-old boy who has had it with his job, dressing up as and pretending to be Vincent, her neighbor’s dead son, so she can believe he’s still alive.

Jodzio pushes the bounds of reality and the fantastical in his work because his characters, often times, are either out of touch with or refuse to accept their own realities. They’d rather answer the phone, knowing full well it’s a prank and not word on the whereabouts of a lost dog or a prospective job offer, because their delusions have created a sense of false hope.

These stories are quick—there are 21 of them within 171 pages—and take little time to read. As bizarre and funny as they are on the surface, they always seem to knock you over with that little something that seems to be missing in a lot of contemporary short fiction: substance. Which means you can fly through them for entertainment, and revisit each one to absorb their depth and complexity. I can say, without a doubt, that you will not have a chance to get bored reading this collection.

Replacement Press
March 15, 2010
$12.95

Photo by Tiffany Bolk

From the Writer’s website:

John Jodzio is a winner of the Loft-McKnight Fellowship. His stories have appeared in One Story, Opium, The Florida Review and Rake Magazine and a number of other places, both print and online. He’s won a Minnesota Magazine fiction prize and both the Opium 500 Word Memoir competition and Opium Fiction Prize.  His short story collection “If You Lived Here, You’d Already Be Home” was recently published by Replacement Press.

To read Jodzio’s most recent published story, “There Was No Yoko,” click here.

Recent and Forthcoming Releases

Posted: September 18, 2010 in New Releases 2010

My Hollywood by Mona Simpson (8/3/2010)
You Lost Me There by Rosecrans Baldwin (8/12/2010)
Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership by Lewis Hyde (8/17/2010)
I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman (8/17/2010)
The Sonderberg Case by Elie Wiesel (8/24/2010)
The Insufferable Gaucho by Roberto Bolaño (8/31/2010)
C by Tom McCarthy (9/7/2010)
The Lady Matador’s Hotel by Cristina Garcia (9/7/2010)
Healer by Carol Cassella (9/7/2010)
The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass (9/7/2010)
Room by Emma Donoghue (9/13/2010)
Nashville Chrome by Rick Bass (9/14/2010)
Human Chain by Seamus Heaney (9/14/2010)
Sourland by Joyce Carol Oates (9/14/2010)
Salvation City by Sigrid Nunez (9/16/2010)
All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost by Lan Samantha Chang (9/27/2010)
By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham (9/28/2010)
Great House by Nicole Krauss (10/5/2010)
Sunset Park by Paul Auster (11/9/2010)

Brad Watson’s story,”Vacuum,” appears in Granta 109.  The literary magazine interviewed Watson about the story and his craft choices.  Here’s a snipet of that conversation:

GRANTACan you explain why you chose to leave all the family members in the story unnamed? What did this provide you with as the writer, and/or what do you think it provides us with as readers? For all the anonymity this tactic might produce, the story feels almost wincingly intimate.

WATSON: I’m not sure. I wrote the first paragraph, with that image of the vacuuming and the anger, quickly, in longhand in my notebook. After a long time of wanting to write a story from that image, this paragraph suddenly came out. It may have seemed right to say ‘the mother’ and ‘the boys’ because that was so strongly the picture I had in mind: in black-and-white, initially from a diffuse or omniscient perspective. It’s possible that I instinctively entered the story with a somewhat archetypal sense of its sources. Given that the impulse seems to have been largely emotional, this possibly makes sense. It seemed natural, also, to give names to the supporting characters, as if (as you suggest) naming them removes them some elemental distance from the central emotional content or development in the story.

To read the entire interview, click here.