Tag Archives: fiction

Between the Grotesque and the Real: ‘Her Body and Other Parties’ by Carmen Maria Machado

Her Body and Other Parties (Graywolf; 241 pages) by Carmen Maria Machado, which was recently shortlisted for the National Book Award, lives up to the critical acclaim it has accrued. This collection of stories utilizes elements of gothic, speculative, and horror fiction to examine life in a female body and its relationship to sex, food, disease, and the supernatural. Following horror tradition, objects carry great significance here. The first story, “The Husband Stitch,” was inspired by Alvin Schwartz’s children’s horror story “The Green Ribbon,” in which a woman relies on a green choker to keep her head attached to the …Continue reading

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A Teenage Ecosystem: ‘All the Dirty Parts’ by Daniel Handler

With his new novel, All the Dirty Parts (144 pages; Bloomsbury USA), Daniel Handler once again displays a preternatural understanding of teenagers (or an exceptionally detailed memory of his own youthful experience). Handler’s book is the first to make me remember what it was like to be seventeen years-old – in a good way – which is a testament to how honestly the book captures the frantic energy and sexual drive of that time, as well as the pain and confusion which can trail close behind. Handler, who appears in ZYZZYVA No. 76 and No. 100, and is already a …Continue reading

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L.A. Story: ‘Cake Time’ by Siel Ju

In 1985, Lorrie Moore announced her arrival on the literary scene with “How to be the Other Woman,” the provocative opening salvo that began her first story collection, Self-Help; she has since gone on to become one of the most revered voices in literary fiction. For writer Siel Ju (who appeared in ZYZZYVA No. 81) to start her novel-in-stories Cake Time (192 pages; Red Hen Press) with the similarly titled, and similarly told-in-second-person story “How Not to Have an Abortion” is a bold move, to say the least. Yet Siel Ju’s voice rings clear as her own, thanks in part …Continue reading

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Family in the Wild: ‘A Loving, Faithful Animal’ by Josephine Rowe

After the recent death of a beloved family pet, I was looking forward to reading something sweet and poignant. A Loving, Faithful Animal (Catapult; 176 pages) by Josephine Rowe promptly disabused me of any such hope. The titular loving, faithful animal is ripped to shreds in the first few pages. Rowe’s book, set in a small town in Australia, radiates with a sense of danger, but not in the expected ways; it’s not concerned with being wickedly subversive or delivering an emotional sucker-punch. It’s a family story, narrated in several parts by five family members. The premise is simple: an …Continue reading

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Last Man in the West: ‘A Texas Trilogy’ by Larry McMurtry

I once talked to Larry McMurtry on the telephone. I was doing a piece for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, pegged to Terms of Endearment, on why his works were so compulsively suitable for adaptation to the big (and little) screen – this was after Hud and The Last Picture Show, but before Lonesome Dove or Brokeback Mountain. I was getting nowhere trying to reach him, until a friend tipped me off that he was staying at the Beverly Wilshire with his son, on a stopover before a skiing trip. When I got connected to McMurtry’s room, and explained what …Continue reading

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‘The Story of a True Artist’: ZYZZYVA No. 105, Winter Issue

The Story of a True ArtistCongratulations to Dominica Phetteplace for her recent win of a 2017 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award. Her writing has been published in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, PANK, and the Los Angeles Review. Phetteplace is also a winner of a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from I-Park, the Deming Fund, and the MacDowell Colony. She lives in Berkeley, California.

The following is an excerpt from her short story “The Story of a True Artist,” which you can read in its entirety by purchasing a copy of ZYZZYVA No. 105.

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Piercing the Darkness: ‘The Age of Perpetual Light’ by Josh Weil

Josh Weil’s first collection of stories, The Age of Perpetual Light (272 pages; Grove Press), spans the course of history to examine the miseries and ambitions of humanity, tracing the mysteries of light and darkness that have long confounded and mesmerized us. Beginning with the tale of a Jewish Russian soldier, who deserts to America where he peddles Edison Lamps and falls broodingly in love with an Amish woman, Weil’s themes reveal themselves. We see the invention of electricity and man’s emerging dominance over light as a magnificent, almost magical trick. But at the same time, as the collection’s stories about the …Continue reading

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The Loves We Leave Behind: ‘Pages for Her’ by Sylvia Brownrigg

It’s not easy to write a love story devoid of the usual clichés such as the “meet cute” or unrealistically idealized physical descriptions, but author Sylvia Brownrigg does just that in her new novel, Pages for Her (373 pages; Counterpoint). The book is a sequel to 2001’s critically acclaimed Pages for You, in which the young and timid Flannery Jensen falls for her confident and much older professor, Anne Arden. Told in three parts, Pages for Her offers readers the chance to return to Flannery and Anne’s ardent, but lost, connection twenty years after their separation. While the time jump …Continue reading

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‘Good With Boys’ by Kristen Iskandrian: ZYZZYVA No. 109, Spring/Summer Issue

Good with Boys Kristen IskandrianKristen Iskandrian’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Tin House, PANK, Gulf Coast, Ploughshares, and other publications. Her debut novel, Motherest is out now from Twelve/Hachette. Look for Kristen Iskandrian’s book tour in a town near you.

The following is an excerpt from her short story “Good With Boys.” In the piece, middle schooler Jill is on a determined quest to win the affections of her oblivious crush Esau – while on a parent-chaperoned trip to the local museum. You can the story in its entirety by purchasing a copy of 109 here.

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In a Lonely Place, a Teen Boy Searches for Solace: ‘Montpelier Parade’ by Karl Geary

Karl Geary’s first novel, Montpelier Parade (217 pages; Catapult), presents us with the fraught experience of first love, told in beautifully doleful prose that sometimes exhibits Salinger-esque sparseness. Referring to his protagonist, Sonny, as “you,” Geary draws the reader into a hypnotic and haunting intimacy. The directness of the second-person point of view demands both Sonny and the reader are left weary by the cloudy Dublin skies and by the “howl of feeling.” It’s a delicate work that treats its subject with great sensitivity, ensuring we experience that same tenderness of feeling that Sonny does, and hear the words on …Continue reading

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Door of the Soul: ‘The Accomplished Guest’ by Ann Beattie

Ann Beattie’s career began, auspiciously, 40 years ago with the joint publication of her first novel, Chilly Scenes of Winter, and Distortions, a short story collection. It was an almost unheard of debut for a writer whose career had previously consisted largely of short stories in The New Yorker and a few other publications. But she immediately captured critical attention with her pitch-perfect depiction of the lives of her contemporaries, shellshocked by political changes, struggling with the problems of dysfunctional relationships and trying to find a way to make sense of the senseless. It didn’t hurt that she was also …Continue reading

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The Ties that Bind: ‘Knots’ by Gunnhild Øyehaug

An umbilical cord that cannot be cut –– even after death –– turns out to be less of an impediment than one might think in Knots (176 pages; FSG), Gunnhild Øyehaug’s eccentric collection of short stories. Emotional and mental knots are as binding and problematic as physical ones in these surreal and memorable stories, translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson. Øyehaug’s stories run brief as they oscillate between the bizarre and the everyday. In the opening story “Nice and Mild,” a man suffering from anxiety ventures to IKEA to buy curtains for his son, while in “Grandma is Sleeping,” a woman refuses to let in …Continue reading

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