Tag Archives: fiction

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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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.”

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