Tag Archives: fiction

The Disquiet of a Marriage Amid the Apocalypse: ‘California’ by Edan Lepucki

It can be argued that the post-apocalyptic science fiction novel was invented in California. Although there had been such end-of-days precursors as Mary Shelley’s The Last Man or E.M. Forster’s story “The Machine Stops” (and even the novel The Scarlet Plague by Oakland’s own Jack London), it was Earth Abides, published in 1949 by University of California English professor George R. Stewart, that established many of the tropes associated with doomsday novels, ranging from Stephen King’s The Stand to The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Stewart’s novel follows geography grad student Isherwood “Ish” Williams after he recovers from a snakebite-induced coma in the …Continue reading

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

From ‘Strange Attraction’: ‘Tracking the Family Beast’ by Po Bronson

With our 30th anniversary approaching in 2015, we would like to occasionally look back on here at some of the incredible work ZYZZYVA has published over the decades—work that announced itself as special even from the journal’s start.

Many of those select stories, poems, essays, and dramas appear in the anthology Strange Attraction: The Best Ten Years of ZYZZYVA (338 pages; $20), which you can order here. Edited by founding editor Howard Junker, the book contains a rich collection of pieces published between in ZYZZYVA between 1985 and 1994, and features writers such as Sherman Alexie, Tess Gallagher, Dennis Cooper, Karen Karbo, Octavio Solis, Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Brenda Hillman, Robert Hass, Kate Braverman, Jane Hirshfield, and many, many more.

Among those stories is “Tracking the Family Beast,” written by a then little known writer named Po Bronson. Published in Issue No. 31 (Fall 1992), the story marked Bronson’s first fiction appearance in print. At the time Bronson was an MFA candidate at San Francisco State University, but he has since become known as a best-selling author and journalist and one of the founders of the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. The following is an excerpt from “The Tracking the Family Beast,” which is set in San Francisco and details a young man’s crack-up. “I’m not who I thought I was,” says the narrator, at one point. “I didn’t think I could do this sort of thing.”

Continue reading

Posted in Archive | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Restless in the Wilds of Eastern Idaho: David Kranes’s ‘The Legend’s Daughter’

From rainbow trout jumping in the Salmon River to watering holes on the edge of McCall Lake, each of the ten stories in author and playwright David Kranes’s The Legend’s Daughter (Torrey House Press, 172 pages) transports the reader to the wilderness of Eastern Idaho. While Kranes renders a common setting in each story, the collection is not simply a detailed portrait of Idaho, but an examination of the lives of restless people seeking to escape from their lives and find peace. In “The Man Who Might Have Been My Father,” a fifth-grader and his mother strike out on a …Continue reading

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking ‘to Be Without Trying to Be’: ‘The Complete Stories of James Purdy’

After a big-top production of Othello performed in a dilapidated, almost apocalyptic Chicago, Bruno Korsawski poses a strange question to his uneasy companion: “I wonder which one of us is more scared of the other.” Bruno’s inquiry reflects a mood that runs through much of The Complete Stories of James Purdy (Liveright/Norton; 724 pages)— that of universal paranoia, distrust, and fear, coupled with an intense sense of personal interdependence. Purdy (1914-2009) was admired by a wide range of authors and readers for his transgressive and often hilarious fictions, and produced an immense body of work that includes plays, poetry, novels, …Continue reading

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Life Span

Molly Giles is a novelist and short-story writer. Her books include the novel “Iron Shoes” and “Creek Walk and Other Stories.” She has been awarded the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and taught at San Francisco State University. A former professor at the University of Arkansas, Giles has recently retired and moved back to the Bay Area.

Her story in the Spring/Summer issue of ZYZZYVA, “Life Span,” could be looked at as a work of homecoming. It’s a meditation on a life rooted in Northern California, one in which the Golden Gate Bridge looms large in the narrator’s memory, becoming a steady presence throughout the many changes detailed in the story. The following is an excerpt.

Continue reading

Posted in Latest Issue | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Chinese Barracks

A native of Davis, California, Rebecca Rukeyser is a creative writing instructor at the University of Iowa. But before landing in Iowa City, Rukeyser had lived and worked in Istanbul, in Kawasaki, Japan, and in Ulsan, South Korea, and Santa Cruz, California.

Her story in ZYZZYVA’s Spring/Summer issue, “The Chinese Barracks,” tells the tale of a group of young people slogging through the salmon cannery season in Alaska. The work is dangerous, not least because of the sleep deprivation suffered by the men and women working the cannery floor. “The Chinese Barracks” marks Rukeyser’s first story in print. The following is an excerpt.

Continue reading

Posted in Latest Issue | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Clear as Cake

Lori Ostlund is the San Francisco author of the story collection The Bigness of the World (University of Georgia Press), which was awarded the California Book Award for First Fiction, the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award, and the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction.

As she points out in her bio, Ostlund “took a rather circuitous route to becoming a writer. I did not do an MFA program, though my intention was always to be a writer.” Her story, though, in ZYZZYVA’s Spring/Summer issue is set in an evening writing class at a Minnesota college. At a recent reading of “Clear as Cake” at Vesuvio, Ostlund had the crowd shaking with laughter. The story, we think you’ll find, is not only hilarious, but wise, too. The following is an excerpt.

Continue reading

Posted in Latest Issue | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Girl’s Honesty Sees Her Through Adults’ Lunacy: Lenore Zion’s ‘Stupid Children’

There’s a lot of good writing out there—an amazing amount, really, considering the ongoing moaning and groaning going on about the “death of literacy’’ and other current cultural shibboleths—but not that much that is truly original, free of clearly demarcated literary influences, antecedents and referents. A thousand Eggers, David Foster Wallaces, let alone Kerouac and Salinger imitators, bloom from every Brooklyn basement and suburban redoubt. All the more remarkable, then, when someone finds a way to make it new, speaking her own truths against the powers of the past. Which makes Los Angeles author Lenore Zion’s first novel, Stupid Children …Continue reading

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christopher Hitchens

Vanessa Veselka is the author of the novel Zazen, which won the 2012 PEN/Bingham prize for fiction. Her work has appeared in Tin House, the Atlantic, Bust, Bitch, and other publications. And according to her bio, Veselka, who lives in Portland, Ore., has been at various times a teenage runaway, an expatriate, a union organizer, and a student of paleontology.

Her story “Christopher Hitchens” appears in ZYZZYVA’s 2012 Winter issue. Both funny and chilling, it tells of a young mother desperately looking to lose all her beliefs with the help of Lyle, an expert in such things who has a face like Eric Clapton’s. (“You’d never recognize him without context,” says the narrator.)

“Christopher Hitchens” is the second of three connected stories. The first, “Just Before Elena,” ran in Tin House No. 53. The third story is slated to run in SWINK.

The following is an excerpt from “Christopher Hitchens.”

Continue reading

Posted in Archive, Back Issue Excerpts | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Humanity Bewildered in the Remotest of Places: Erica Olsen’s ‘Recapture’

Erica Olsen’s story collection, Recapture (Torrey House Press, 161 pages), presents the American West as a cabinet of curiosities, containing the artifacts, animals, and lonely people abandoned along man’s quest for the coast. These sixteen diverse tales (one of which, “Reverse Archaeology,” originally appeared in ZYZZYVA) emerge from the geography of America’s remaining vacancies, where the civilized go to escape the mess of civilization. Olsen, acting as chief archeologist, presides over these sparsely populated landscapes. With each story, we gain access to unknown physical and emotional territory.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Monkey Look

F.X. Toole, who died in 2002, was the boxing trainer and author of the novel Pound for Pound and the award-winning story collection Rope Burns: Stories from the Corner (2000), from which the story “Million $$$ Baby” was later adapted into the Oscar-winning film of the same name. ZYZZYVA’s Spring 1999 issue marked Toole’s first time in print with the story “The Monkey Look,” which later would be published in Rope Burns.

“The Monkey Look” follows the life of a seasoned L.A. cutman, whose job it is to treat the bleeding and swelling suffered by boxers during a bout. Told in wonderfully engaging prose, it is a revealing, humorous, and entertaining story about the grim realities of the professional boxing world and the not always upstanding fighters, promoters, and trainers who people it.

The following is “The Monkey Look” in its entirety.

Continue reading

Posted in Archive | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Real Joan

Janet Sarbanes, currently chair of the MFA writing program at Cal Arts, published her first story in the Fall 1999 issue of ZYZZYVA. “The Real Joan” follows graduate student Fiona on a quest to resume her Joan of Arc-themed dissertation amid a Los Angeles full of eerie spinsters and abandoned dogs. This is a world, Fiona thinks, that has “clutched at me with its long yellow nails and refused to let go.”

Precise and zanily brilliant, Sarbanes illustrates the emptiness of a young woman obsessed. The following is her story in its entirety.

Continue reading

Posted in Archive | Tagged , , | Leave a comment