Ring Around the Equator, Pockets Full of Acres

by Chia-Chia Lin

Chia-Chia Lin is the author of the novel The Unpassing (FSG). Below is an excerpt from her short story “Ring Around the Equator, Pockets Full of Acres” from the Bay Area Issue, which you can purchase at the link. You can also apply to our Fiction Workshop with Chia-Chia Lin by submitting here. When Delepine first started running, the air shredded her lungs. Like inhaling powdered glass. After a run, she kept right on sweating and her face kept coloring, peaking at its maximum carmine hue when she was doing something embarrassingly low-impact, like sitting at her desk and rattling […]

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All the News That’s Fit to Be Normalized: Hilary Plum’s ‘Strawberry Fields’

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Strawberry Fields (Fence Books; 224 pages), the breathtaking new novel from Hilary Plum, and winner of the Fence Modern Prize in Prose, opens with what might be the common denominator in humanitarian crises around the world: a nameless American at a refugee camp in a nameless country. “The children’s suffering has been unimaginable,” the American begins—as if we did not already know this. But soon, one of the children is telling the gathered reporters and NGO representatives at the camp what he learned in school: the towns of his country, the names of its leaders, even the locations of rebel […]

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Interoffice Memorandum 1/15

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Date: ​January ​15​ To: All Quest Industries Employees From: Mid-Level Management Subj: Live Plant Policies in the Office A short note on office policy regarding potted plants and floral bouquets: a) If you enjoy the company of a potted plant on your desk, please water it as needed in order to keep it from becoming an unsightly and dispiriting brown heap of tendrils, leaves, stalks, stems, pistils, stamens, husks, pods, and/or roots. b) If you have received a bouquet and are keeping it at your desk, please do not, under any circumstances, balance it on the edge of your cubicle wall where it will inevitably be bumped and dislodged by a passing coworker and […]

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A Shared Madness: ‘The Grip of It’ by Jac Jemc

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The idea of the “haunted house” novel is at least as old as the Gothic genre itself, dating back to the late 18th century with The Castle of Otranto. But it wasn’t until Anne Rivers Siddons published her cult favorite The House Next Door in 1978 that readers learned a haunting, much like real estate, is all about location, location, location. While urbanites who migrated to the suburbs may have thought they were leaving behind the crime and blight of the inner cities for a more tranquil existence, the horror novels of the Seventies were there to teach readers that […]

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

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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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The Twisting Paths of Survival: ‘Wolf in White Van’ by John Darnielle

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Wolf in White Van (224 pages; Farrar, Straus & Giroux) marks a tremendous literary achievement by the artistically and lyrically inclined John Darnielle, guitarist and lead singer of the Mountain Goats. Darnielle is already praised for the writing in his songs, so his fans may not be surprised to see him succeed in his more literary pursuits. But the novel—given its complexity of craft, its deftness, and movement of prose—is not something to be taken for granted by anyone. In Wolf in White Van, we follow the life of Sean Phillips, who lives an isolated life due to an injury […]

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Writing the Novel as He Simultaneously Narrates It: Ben Lerner’s 10:04

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Ben Lerner’s new novel, 10:04 (244 page; Faber and Faber), is at once nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, a rumination on the relation of the three, a work flickering in the liminal spaces among these forms. It asks of its readers that they allow the traditional structure of the novel—including the presence of plot—to momentarily leave center stage and that they make room for a form perhaps more engaging, one that sings “existential crisis!” Lerner, who is first and foremost a poet, is a writer’s writer. His first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station, came out to great acclaim in 2011. He […]

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Normal Problems: ZYZZYVA No. 100

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Erika Recordon’s work first appeared in ZYZZYVA back in Issue No. 91 (Spring 2011), with the publication of two of her charmingly off-kilter yet genuinely serious stories, “Evolution” and “Our Brave Little Soldiers.” The elan that characterizes those short works is evident once again in her new (and much longer) story for our 100th issue, “Normal Problems.”

The tale—or perhaps even a fable?—of a woman trying to make her relationship work with a great guy who’s only fault is a long past as a serial killer (a literal “lady killer”), “Normal Problems” revels in dark humor. Incredibly, the story goes much deeper than this set up might lead one to believe is possible, freshly evoking the anxious rationalizations we make for wanting to stay with someone, for wanting to see what we so badly need to see.

 

The following is an excerpt from “Normal Problems,” which, of course, can be read in its entirety in Issue No. 100.

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From ‘Strange Attraction’: ‘Black Dress’ by Elizabeth Tallent

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Dipping into our anthology Strange Attraction: The Best of Ten Years of ZYZZYVA (338 pages; $20), we first excerpted for you Po Bronson’s story “Tracking the Family Beast.” We now offer an excerpt from Elizabeth Tallent’s story “Black Dress,” which originally appeared in ZYZZYVA Issue No. 25 (Spring 1991). (Most recently, Tallent’s story “Mendocino Fire” appears in our 100th issue.)

Tallent, who is a professor of English at Stanford and the author of several books, including the story collection Time of Children and the novel Museum Pieces, tells the story of Caro, a young pregnant woman getting ready to attend the funeral of her stepson’s teen girlfriend, who overdosed on pills. “She had taken the pills from their hiding place under her mother’s tissue-wrapped lingerie, snapped off the child-proof caps, and eaten them in handfuls. It can’t have been easy swallowing so many times; wouldn’t her body have been on the verge of refusing? Wouldn’t nausea have entered in? Ah, Caro thinks, and places her own nausea: with no sense of linear time, no conviction that things that have happened are irrevocably over, her own body is mimicking the girl’s nausea, the nausea she wishes the girl had felt. Caro’s pregnant body wants the girl to throw up. Caro’s secret sense, which she has not mentioned to her husband, is that death has alarmingly little respect for boundaries, that once tipped out it can spill through entire families. That she should stay away.”

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A House Well Furnished

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There’s an unexpected sweetness to “A House Well Furnished” (ZYZZYVA No. 95), Brian Boies first published story, which was named to the Notable List for Best American Non-Required Reading 2013. (Also named to that list were ZYZZYVA stories by Rob Ehle, Dawna Kemper, and Bruce McKay.)

Boies’s protagonist is a young woman, lost in life and in San Francisco’s Mission District, living in a motel with Mark, a male companion. Her life is colorless and bleak, but she finds beauty in small things—the cleanliness of Mark’s childhood home, the look of him in the morning, of herself in the mirror. She and Mark take a day trip to Richmond; she dreams that Richmond will be all fields and creek. But when she arrives, reality intrudes. She ends the day how she began it; she is lost again. What follows is an excerpt from “A House Well Furnished.”

(Boies’s story is also the latest work from Issue No. 95 to be honored by the Best American series of anthologies. You can get a copy of that much-acclaimed issue here.)

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A Physicist’s Methodical Dissection of an Indian Atrocity: Jaspreet Singh’s ‘Helium’

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Jaspreet Singh’s second novel, Helium (Bloomsbury; 290 pages), is an intricately layered, meditative journey through recent Indian history. Raj Kumar, a professor of rheology at Cornell, returns to India, his birthplace, to visit his father, who is recovering from an unnamed surgery. Our narrator, however, finds himself quickly sidetracked by the figures and places of his past, and the story turns accordingly backward—and inward. Raj visits his former university at the request of one-time colleagues, and eventually reunites with Nelly, the widowed wife of Professor Singh, an influential figure in Raj’s life, intellectual and otherwise. The memory and image of […]

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

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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 […]

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