Christopher Hitchens

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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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The Monkey Look

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F.X. Toole, who died in 2002, was the boxing trainer and author of the novel Pound for Pound and the award-winning story collection Rope Burns: Stories from the Corner (2000), from which the story “Million $$$ Baby” was later adapted into the Oscar-winning film of the same name. ZYZZYVA’s Spring 1999 issue marked Toole’s first time in print with the story “The Monkey Look,” which later would be published in Rope Burns.

“The Monkey Look” follows the life of a seasoned L.A. cutman, whose job it is to treat the bleeding and swelling suffered by boxers during a bout. Told in wonderfully engaging prose, it is a revealing, humorous, and entertaining story about the grim realities of the professional boxing world and the not always upstanding fighters, promoters, and trainers who people it.

The following is “The Monkey Look” in its entirety.

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Víctor Comes Back

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Tomás González, according to translator Joel Streicker, has “been called the best-kept secret of Colombian literature, although the word has been getting out the past couple of years. He’s a generation younger than García Márquez and a generation older than the current crop of young or youngish writers (e.g., Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Ricardo Silva Romero, Pilar Quintana).”
González’s story “Victor Comes Back,” which was translated by Streicker (who won a 2011 PEN American Center Translation Grant) and appears in ZYZZYVA’s Fall 2012 issue, is characterized by “a profound sense of loss and dislocation.”
“There is an air of menace beneath—and, at times, in the midst of—his narratives,” says Streicker, “that somehow seems animated by the more overt threats to ordinary people’s lives and livelihoods that, sadly, Colombians have lived with for so much of their history.”
Streicker will be reading from his translation of “Victor Comes Back” as part of ZYZZYVA’s Fall release event at City Lights Bookstore at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 30. The following is an excerpt from the story.

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Get In And Toss the Gun in Back

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Mauro Gallardo is a writer and ukulelist living in Monterrey, Mexico, and recently completed his first novel, I Liked You Better When You Were A Junkie.

In Gallardo’s short story in ZYZZYVA’s Spring 2012 issue, “Get In and Toss the Gun in Back,” translated by ZYZZVA Managing Editor Oscar Villalon, we encounter a narrator who relies on good humor and quick thinking to deal with the mayhem that has come to define his city. (Monterrey is Mexico’s third largest city and one of the hardest hit by the ongoing drug war.) Coming back from a disastrous date, he diverts a carjacking into something like a joyride. Funny and surprising, Gallardo’s story could be viewed as one young man’s way of staying human amid a wretched situation.

The following is an excerpt from his story.

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In a Way That Satiates

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The writing on Mexico’s drug war in ZYZZYVA’s Spring 2012 issue featured some harrowing pieces of reportage by young authors and journalists Diego Enrique Osorno and Marcela Turati. (You can read their pieces in full here and here.) But it also featured impressive pieces of fiction, such as this short story by the internationally-acclaimed Mexican author Daniel Sada (1953-2011).

Translated by Katherine Silver, “In a Way That Satiates” tells of a narco-party that goes sideways when three heads are discovered in an ice chest otherwise full of beer. It’s a striking piece of fiction, both funny (“At first the drinks were cola sodas: Coca and Pepsi, each according to his preference, but then they brought out the Fantas, Mirindas, and Orange Crushes. Not a lot of diversity, one might say.”) and sinister (“Female wake-weeping that waned with time, it had to; especially because the mental always ends up defeating the sentimental. That’s the way of the world.”).

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Creatures in the Desert: ‘A Million Heavens’ by John Brandon

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Probably the most enjoyable theme through all of John Brandon’s novels is his fascination with people in solitude, because it allows Brandon to linger on often-bizarre penchants and lifestyles. In Arkansas we saw the partnership of Swin Ruiz and Kyle Ribb, two young guys whose utter weirdness in personality lands them in the drug running business. In Citrus County, he focused on the dark longings of his characters, which they ponder on long walks through the forest, or during detention in an undecorated middle-school classroom. In his new novel, A Million Heavens (McSweeney’s; 272 pages), Brandon maintains his interest in […]

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Final Letter from a Crossing Guard

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Patrick McGinty, who was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is a graduate assistant in the MFA program at Portland State University. His story “Final Letter from a Crossing Guard,” published in ZYZZYVA’s Winter ’11 issue, marks his first time in print.

A dark but humorous missive from a mother at the end of her rope, “Final Letter” does carry emotional heft, despite the narrator’s occupation, which could lend itself to easy ridicule but doesn’t here. The following is an excerpt from McGinty’s story.

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Bile

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Christine Lee Zilka‘s story, “Bile,” appeared in the Fall 2003 issue of ZYZZYVA. Written from the point of view of the youngest of two children living in Pasadena, the story examines the passing of bitterness from one generation to another, as a Korean father bred on battle forces his children to appreciate his harder life growing up through war. Zilka portrays through a first-generation American family how the culture of war —the “ancestral fear” that chases a new age — cannot be properly digested.

“Bile” is framed by the ritualistic tasting of a gall bladder, something the father procured from a trapped bear. The narrator witnesses her brother, Eugene, being forced to lick the bladder, saying, “I can only tell you the before and the after, because I did not watch them feed Eugene the bile.”

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Melinda, Doing Her Best

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Herbert Gold is the author of such novels as Birth of a Hero (1951), The Man Who Was Not With It (1956), and Fathers (1967), as well as of the nonfiction works Haiti: Best Nightmare on Earth (2001) and the memoir Still Alive! A Temporary Condition (2008).

“Melinda, Doing Her Best,” which appears in ZYZZYVA’s Winter 2011 issue, is a story set sometime in ’90s San Francisco, back when Moose’s was open in North Beach and when dot-com money was pouring into the city. That the title character is a computer programmer on the outs, then, is particularly striking. It’s tempting to read Melinda as a harbinger of the high tech good times gone sour. But the story is primarily a troubling depiction of a woman everybody wants something from, a person truly alone.

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Enter Harlow

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Karen Joy Fowler is the prize-winning author of many books, including the novels Sister Noon, Wit’s End, and the best-seller The Jane Austen Book Club. Her most recent book is the story collection What I Didn’t See (Small Beer Press).

“Enter Harlow,” her new fiction in ZYZZYVA‘s Winter issue, is further testament to what Michael Chabon has said about her work: “No contemporary writer creates characters more appealing, or examines them with greater acuity and forgiveness, than she does.” Set at UC Davis during the ’90s, the story, which comes from the opening pages of a novel-in-progress, follows a young woman “meandering” through her fourth year of school. “Enter Harlow” tells how that meandering is suddenly, spectacularly interrupted — in the school cafeteria. The following is an excerpt from the story.

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Get Lost

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Faith Gardner is a writer and musician living in Oakland. She plays guitar and sings in the bands Hooray for Everything and Dark Beach, and performs solo as Scarlett O’Hara. Her writing has appeared in PANK, Word Riot, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and many other places.

“Get Lost” appears in the Winter 2011 issue of ZYZZYVA. About a young woman who is suddenly without her best friend, who moved with her to San Francisco, Gardner’s story is appealingly downbeat, somewhat sinister, and surprisingly humorous as it follows a person gone adrift in an unfamiliar city and looking everywhere for her bearings. The following is an excerpt from the story.

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Princess

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San Francisco writer Malena Watrous first novel, If You Follow Me (HarperPerennial), was published last year. Her stories and essays have appeared in The Alaska Quarterly Review, The Believer, GlimmerTrain, The Massachussetts Review, Salon.com, StoryQuarterly, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere. She now works for Stanford as a head instructor in the Online Writer’s Workshop.

“Princess,” which appears in ZYZZYVA’s Fall issue, is a ruefully wise story about parenting — its joys, its limitations — couched in that most seemingly innocuous of events: a child’s birthday party. The following is an excerpt from Watrous’ story.

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