Tag Archives: fiction

Queen of the Liminal: ‘Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine’ by Diane Williams

Diane Williams has remained on the edge of American experimental short fiction for the last twenty years. Known for her compact, oblique stories and her extraordinary use of non sequiturs, Williams has written seven books of stories and was an editor at StoryQuarterly before starting the NOON literary annual. She has been lauded by authors Jonathan Franzen, Sam Lipsyte, and Lydia Davis. And her latest book of remarkably potent short fiction, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine (136 pages; McSweeney’s), not only keeps her on the forefront of the form, but also redefines its parameters. In an interview with HTMLGiant.com, Williams …Continue reading

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‘Chumship’ by Kristopher Jansma: ZYZZYVA No. 105, Winter 2015

Kristopher Jansma’s first novel, “The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards” (Viking), was the winner of the 2014 Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award and a finalist for the Prix de l’Inapperçu, as well as a Barnes & Noble Discover Pick and an ABA “Indie Next” Choice. His work has appeared in Electric Literature, the New York Times, the Believer, The Millions, and other publications. His novel “Why We Came to the City” will be published by Viking in February. His story “Chumship” appears in the Winter issue.

“Chumship” lays out the friendship between two boys, Clark and the narrator, through high school and into college. The narrator is in thrall of droll Clark, who has an innate gift for spinning fictions, including a plan for hatching an imaginary girlfriend as a ploy for getting an actual one. Funny yet tender, Jansma’s story makes the most of its theme about the lies we tell others and ourselves. The following is an excerpt.

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‘Paddle to Canada’ by Heather Monley: ZYZZYVA No. 105, Winter 2015

Heather Monley’s fiction has appeared in Crazyhorse and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and her story “Town of Birds” won the annual Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest. Her story “Paddle to Canada” appears in our Winter issue.

Though under 2,000 words, “Paddle to Canada” is a rich and nuanced telling of a family’s breaking apart, and how we wonder if our happy memories from the past were truly that, and how me carry the weight of experience. The following is Monley’s story in full.

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‘The Snake That Always Bites My Ass’ by Paul Madonna: ZYZZYVA No. 105

Paul Madonna writes and draws the weekly series “All Over Coffee” and is the author of “All Over Coffee” (City Lights Books) and “Everything Is Its Own Reward” (City Lights Books). His work has been published internationally in numerous books and magazines, exhibited in galleries and museums, including the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco and the Oakland Museum of California, and he is a contributing editor to ZYZZYVA. His story “The Snake That Always Bites My Ass” appears in the Winter issue.

Though known as an artist, Madonna also writes fiction, such as his story “Hero,” which was published in ZYZZYVA No. 100. “The Snake That Always Bites My Ass,” which is also accompanied by Madonna’s art work in the Winter issue, is set in Thailand among ex-pats. The following is an excerpt from it.

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‘The Cave’ by Austin Smith: ZYZZYVA No. 105, Winter 2015

Austin Smith, who lives in San Francisco, is a Jones Lecturer at Stanford and the author of four poetry collections, including “Almanac,” which was published by the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets. His poems and fiction have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Threepenny Review, and in ZYZZYVA Issues No. 83 and No. 100. His story “The Cave” appears in the Winter issue.

Relating the arrival of a new kid to a small farming community in Illinois, “The Cave” centers around its young narrator going to the boy’s house for dinner one evening. But around that event, which leads to them exploring a cave at night, is an examination of a child’s rural life, one not immune from the hardships true for children everywhere, including the menace of bullies. In the following excerpt, our narrator talks about the red-headed twin sisters who, for whatever reason, decide one day while getting on the school bus to single him out for their cruelty. The following is an excerpt from “The Cave.”

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The Wistful Battle to Be Better: ‘Bream Gives Me Hiccups’ by Jesse Eisenberg

If Jesse Eisenberg’s first fiction collection were made up of simple extended bits, in which Eisenberg takes an initial premise and wittily wrings it for every drop of comedic juice possible, the book would still be an entertaining read. What makes Bream Gives Me Hiccups (Grove; 256 pages) more than that, however, is the dissection of social anxiety underlying each piece. Through a myriad of perspectives—from a precocious, broken-homed nine-year-old boy and an obnoxious college freshman with self-projection issues to Carmelo Anthony after an irritating run-in with a fan—Eisenberg relates a collective understanding of how difficult it is to both …Continue reading

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A Fevered Vision in the South Seas: ‘Imperium’ by Christian Kracht

In the early twentieth century, a young German named August Engelhardt sailed to Kabakon, a small island in the German territories of the South Pacific. His goal was to establish an outpost from where he could promulgate his ideas, chief among them the belief that the proper way to live, spiritually and practically, was to be naked, to worship the sun, and to eat nothing but coconuts. From Kabakon he managed to disseminate frugivorist and utopian literature to Europe, and to entice to the island numerous followers, some of whose travel he funded. By the end of his life, though, …Continue reading

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ZYZZYVA Interview Series: Vauhini Vara

Welcome to the newest feature on our website: the ZYZZYVA Video Series—featuring short readings and interviews with ZYZZYVA’s many contributors. We kick off our series with Vauhini Vara, whose story “We Were Here” appears in ZYZZYVA No. 101. Vara, whose fiction has been honored with an O’Henry Award, is also an award-winning journalist. Having worked at the Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade, she now covers technology and business for the NewYorker.com, where she was previously the business editor. Managing Editor Oscar Villalon talked with Vara about “We Were Here,” as well as about her career as a journalist. …Continue reading

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Grassfire

When I moved to California last year, water was far from my mind. Naturally, upon my arrival I was shocked by the severity of the drought, the messy status of water rights, and the endless bickering over an element that I considered a common occurrence, as well as a natural right. For Californians, however, these environmental threats are nothing new. Beyond the political scope, environmental issues, at their core, reveal the moral grappling of humankind, and yet a surprisingly few number of authors take on the subject.

In light of the current drought, John van der Zee’s “Grassfire,” which appeared thirty years ago in the first issue of ZYZZYVA, remains morally pertinent. The story, detailing a man’s struggle to put out a small wildfire, illuminates the essential crux of California’s environmental issues, which, thirty years later, are just as controversial. A wildfire presents a moral dilemma; though, with its rapid and unpredictable expansion, it ultimately contradicts the old adage that what is one person’s problem is not another’s. “Grassland” begins with gallantry before crumbling again into conflict.

Van der Zee’s prose is evocative and succinct. The wildfire is just as animated as the characters, animal-like, morphing into the irrepressible fears of our protagonist, inserting itself into the politically divided landscape. And though fire poses the greatest immediate peril in this story, the threat of drought looms ominously at its side. The descriptions of the burnt landscape and dry faucets, when read today, resemble the unheeded forewarnings of a prophet. — Sarah Cooolidge

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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

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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.”

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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

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