Significant as Medieval Texts, They’re Bawdy and Lively, Too: ‘The Fabliaux’

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Nathaniel E. Dubin’s collection of Old French comic tales in translation, The Fabliaux, is as deceptive as one of the fabliaux themselves. Published by Liveright, an imprint of Norton, in a sumptuous and hefty hardback (almost 1,000 pages long, including Dubin’s bibliography and explanatory notes), the elegantly designed front cover has the title gold-stamped and centered on a prominent black cross; even the couple demurely posed in a bed above the cross (taken from a medieval manuscript) have gold embossing wreathing their heads, lending them both a saintly air. All this lends The Fabliaux, as a physical object, a sense […]

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The Dark Denizens of a Debauched Rome: Niccolo Ammaniti’s ‘Let the Games Begin’

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Let the Games Begin (330 pages; Black Cat/Grove Press) by Italian author Niccolo Ammaniti (and translated by Kylee Doust), is an oversaturated, bordering-on-cartoonish romp founded on a larger-than-life premise. A two-bit Satanic cult based out of Rome, the Wilde Beasts of Abaddon, is desperate to enter the ranks of the truly Evil. Though the Wilde Beasts have multiple instances of viaduct graffiti and a botched orgy/human sacrifice under their belt, a rival cult has recently “disembowelled a fifty-eight-year-old nun…with a double-headed axe.” Thus, their leader, Mantos, a furniture salesman who styles himself the group’s “Charismatic Father,” decides they need to […]

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Mythical and Spiritual, Direct and Concrete: The Storytelling Prowess of Sjón

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Three novels from acclaimed Icelandic author Sjón are now available in the United States. Translated by Victoria Cribb, each book offers a vastly different story, beginning with simple and intense prose, which unfolds into a dense examination of a character’s thoughts. In The Blue Fox (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 128 pages), first published in 2004, Sjón offers two separate narratives. The first describes the initial hunt for a blue fox through the heavy snow of an Icelandic winter in 1883. Halting right before the hunter attempts to kill the fox, the story shifts to the days just preceding the hunt. […]

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Cardioplegia

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Dani Shapiro is the author of the bestselling memoirs Devotion and Slow Motion, and the author of five novels, the most recent being Black & White and Family History. (Her newest book, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life (Atlantic), comes out in October.)

“Cardioplegia” is her new story, published in the Spring/Summer issue of ZYZZYVA. The title refers to the deliberate arrest of the heart during an operation so that surgery may be performed upon the organ. In her story, it also refers to the thawing of her protagonist’s soul, a middle-aged man who “had been dying a little bit each year” … “had been feeling numb from the neck down, a head bobbling along on a set of insensate shoulders, all brains and no heart, just getting through day after day.” The story finds him reluctant at a mind-body retreat out West with his much younger (and new) love, recovering from a triple bypass and trying to make sense of it all. The following is an excerpt.

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The Question of Existence: Gary Amdahl’s ‘The Intimidator Still Lives in Our Hearts’

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The Intimidator Still Lives in Our Hearts (Artistically Declined Press, 295 pages), the new book from author Gary Amdahl (Visigoths, I Am Death), is a collection of stories that features a startling range of settings and characters (a writer, a bookstore employee, a philosopher, and a gambler, to name a handful). But each story is connected through the philosophical questions Amdahl’s dense, sweeping prose addresses, a trait of serious-mindedness not found in many modern story collections. Of the book’s nine stories, several feature a first-person narrator, including “Breezeway.” In that piece, the narrator reflects on the breezeway between the garage […]

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The Chinese Barracks

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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

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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 Refreshing Story Set in a Rundown Town: Michelle Tea’s ‘Mermaid in Chelsea Creek’

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In a post-Twilight, post-Hunger Games world, the Young Adult literary scene is fraught with sparkly neutered vampires, teens struggling against the shackles of their dystopian societies, and bland heroines who are somehow sucked into irritating love triangles. This new YA craze has even spawned a Paranormal Romance sub-section in the Young Adult shelves of Barnes and Noble, crammed tight with the types of book covers you cannot help but judge. There is hope, however, and it comes in the form of Michelle Tea’s newest protagonist, a thirteen-year-old, dirt-layered, scabbed-knee girl named Sophie Swankowski. In her first installment of a YA […]

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The Absurdity of War, the Absurdity of the Media: Robert Perisic’s ‘Our Man in Iraq’

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Originally published in Croatia in 2007, Our Man In Iraq (Black Balloon; 202 pages), Robert Perisic’s finely crafted and witty novel, is now the first of his books to be translated into English (with translator Will Firth). American readers should delight in discovering Perisic’s work, while lamenting this inexplicable delay. The novel opens in 2003. Toni has patched together a promising life: the Economics editor for PEG, an independent local newspaper, he lives in Zagreb with his beautiful girlfriend, Sanja, an actress who has just landed her first major stage role. Marriage seems to be on the horizon, and perhaps […]

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The Hairline Fractures of Relationships: Gregory Spatz’s ‘Half as Happy’

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Half as Happy (Engine Books, 186 pages), the new story collection from novelist Gregory Spatz (Inukshuk, Fiddler’s Dream, No One But Us), examines faltering relationships and the unhappy people struggling to hold them together. The collection’s eight stories are remarkably honest, driven by moments both funny and painful that uncover deep rifts in the lives of Spatz’s characters. In “No Kind of Music,” Patrick is drawn to the symphony after his wife leaves him for a younger, one-legged man. Most of the excitement remaining in Patrick’s life is centered on his eclectic neighbors, an elderly couple raising their rebellious daughter’s […]

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So Close to Each Other, Yet So Far Apart: Jessica Francis Kane’s ‘This Close’

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Jessica Francis Kane’s new story collection, This Close (Graywolf Press, 192 pages), is an interior examination of the closest of relationships. Kane reveals in these thirteen stories how easily conflict, jealousy, and pain can create distance between family, friends and neighbors. In “The Essentials of Acceleration,” Holly is the lonely woman on her block, sharing a house with an elderly father who leaves flowers on the porches of the neighbors. Her father easily befriends the people who live near him while Holly remains confused about her father’s affability. To Holly, being a neighbor does not necessitate friendship. “Let’s have laminated […]

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Cross Country Journey More Than a Road Trip: Grant Ginder’s ‘Driver’s Education’

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Grant Ginder’s recent novel, Driver’s Education (Simon and Schuster; 256 pages), is a lighthearted story about fathers, sons, and the spirit of adventure. But most of all, it’s a story about story itself. Ginder, author of the novel This Is How It Starts, conjures an exciting cross-country journey, and an even more exciting journey across the lives and memories of a family. Alastair McPhee is near the end of his life and lives with his son, Colin, in San Francisco. He asks his New Yorker grandson, Finn, for a final favor: Find Lucy, an old car that Alastair drove on […]

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