Tag Archives: short stories

Burn It All Down: ‘Days of Awe’ by A.M. Homes

A.M. Homes first made her mark on the literary scene with 1990’s The Safety of Objects, a dark and dynamic collection that established her as one of our foremost chroniclers of suburban dysfunction. Even more astonishing was the fact that Homes wrote most of the stories while still in graduate school. A movie adaptation followed in 2001, but its tacked-on ending––featuring the book’s assortment of characters all grinning warmly for the camera at a backyard barbecue–-felt disingenuous. Homes’s stories are rarely the kind where troubles can be resolved with group therapy sessions or summer cookouts; her method is much closer …Continue reading

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Breaking the Cycle: ‘Fight No More: Stories’ by Lydia Millet

In “Libertines,” the opening story of Lydia Millet’s Fight No More: Stories (211 pages; W. W. Norton), the reader is introduced to a paranoid real estate agent, who becomes convinced that a prospective buyer is an African dictator. At one point, this supposed dictator (who is, in fact, a musician) randomly attempts to commit suicide by falling into the property’s pool. So yes—it’s an intriguing, albeit slightly discombobulating start for Millet’s first story collection since Love in Infant Monkeys, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize This sense of the bizarre and frequently surreal pervades the entire book: in …Continue reading

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This Shifting Web: ‘Stream System and ‘Border Districts’ by Gerald Murnane

“The writers of the present century have lost respect for the invisible,” says one of the narrators of Stream System: The Collected Short Fiction of Gerald Murnane (560 pages; FSG). “They have tried to describe what they had better have left unreported.” Perhaps we are fortunate, then, that Gerald Murnane has not lost this connection, for his writing is unlike anything being published today. It could be the way Murnane works his prose, filling it with repetitions and pulling out commas so the syntax shines like glass; or it could be something about all these nameless men and boys walking …Continue reading

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Born Under a Bad Sign: ‘Black Sheep Boy’ by Martin Pousson

Author and poet Martin Pousson’s Black Sheep Boy (182 pages; Rare Bird Books ), winner of the 2017 PEN Center USA Award for Fiction, and re-issued in paperback last month, is an unforgettable novel with prose that reads as both brutally honest and hypnotic. The story centers around our narrator, Boo, as he struggles with growing up gay in Acadiana, the bayou lands of Louisiana. Told over the course of sixteen linked stories, the book covers a wide span of time, from the “wild-hearted” boy’s birth to his freshman year of college, and centers around the qualities that make him …Continue reading

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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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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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‘Bank Repos for Sale,’ 2015 Best American Short Stories & Best American Nonrequired Reading Notable, Issue No. 101

Elena Mauli Shapiro’s story “Bank Repos for Sale,” which appeared in Issue No. 101, accounts for two of the eleven Notables earned by our contributors from the Best American series this year—having been recognized by both Best American Short Stories and Best American Nonrequired Reading. It is a darkly comic story set in an America that, as its title suggest, couldn’t care less about a skyrocketing stock market or the newest app.

Shapiro is the author of two novels, “In the Red” and “13 rue Therese” (both published by Little, Brown). This is her second story published by ZYZZYVA. Her story “Commuting” was published in Issue No. 94. The following is an excerpt from “Bank Repos for Sale.”

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‘Hold On’: 2015 Best American Short Stories Notable, Issue No. 100

Scott O’Connor’s “Hold On” is the third work of fiction from our Issue No. 100 to be named a Notable in the 2015 Best American Short Stories anthology. It is a story that movingly probes a fear specific to anybody living near a fault zone (which, in the U.S., means anybody living anywhere on the West Coast): namely, having to endure what an earthquake can wreak.

Scott O’Connor is the author of the novels “Half World” (Simon & Schuster) and “Untouchable” (Tyrus Books), winner of a Barnes & Noble Discover Award, and the novella “Among Wolves.” He lives in Los Angeles. The following is an excerpt from “Hold On.”

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‘Mendocino Fire’: 2015 Best American Short Stories Notable, Issue No. 100

Since 2011, when ZYZZYVA underwent a redesign, a beefed up web site, and a change in masthead, work appearing in the journal has been attracting wide recognition. For its issues appearing in 2011 through 2014, ZYZZYVA has received twenty Notables from the Best American series, as well as inclusions in the Best American Short Stories, Best American Essays, Best American Poets, and Best Nonrequired Reading anthologies; the journal has also received two Pushcart Prizes and four Pushcart Special Mentions in that time.

This month, when the Best American anthologies are in stores, we’d like to excerpt the many stories and essays from 2014 that received Notables from that prestigious series. We’re starting with a story by Elizabeth Tallent, “Mendocino Fire,” from our celebrated 100th issue. The story of the peripatetic life of a young female tree-sitter, raised, and arguably forsaken, in the wilds of the forests of Northern California, it delves into the haunting ache of abandonment and an intense yearning for connection. (It’s also the title story of Tallent’s new collection, published by Harper this month.) Of Elizabeth Tallent’s work, Richard Ford has said, “Her ear is perfect; her gaze searing and unmistakable.” We think you’ll agree.

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Internet Terror: ‘Four New Messages’ by Joshua Cohen

In his new collection of stories, Four New Messages (Graywolf, 208 pages), Joshua Cohen portrays lives that are predicated on and destroyed by the Internet’s world of screens and static. Portaging an understanding of his generation’s ethos (the author is 31), Cohen fleshes out young characters struggling with an increasingly electronic lifestyle. Cohen’s stories, which range from about 30 to 70 pages in length, take some time to get into, but settling into them is something to be relished. His sentences, spare of commas and loaded with improvised structure and vocabulary, have a frenetic yet hypnotic quality. Through layers of …Continue reading

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