‘Householders’ by Kate Cayley: Of Misfits & Runaways

by Peter Schlachte

In a 2013 interview, Canadian writer and theatre director Kate Cayley noted the influence of Wendell Berry’s poetry on her writing, describing him as “a voice crying in the wilderness.” It’s an apt description of Berry’s work, suffused as it is with a sense of the bucolic and the simple in the face of the anthropocene and capitalism. Yet, in a very different sense, it’s also an apt description of Cayley’s stories in Householders (224; Biblioasis), her most recent story collection. Even surrounded by others, Cayley’s characters in Householders are often alone—misfits, runaways, forsaking the ties of friends and family, […]

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‘Afterparties’ by Anthony Veasna So: Born from Incongruence

by Peter Schlachte

The stories in Anthony Veasna So’s debut collection, Afterparties (272 pages; Ecco), are stories of humor and wit, of loud-mouths and bad-mouthers, of queer kids and chain-smoking monks and parties and sex, sometimes all squashed together in a few whirlwind pages. They are also stories of genocide and diaspora, of making ends meet and meeting ends. It’s a tight line to walk—the balance of the sometimes tragic with the often comical—but for So, who died in 2020 at the age of 28, it seemed second nature. “I think humor is a particularly important tool in immigrant literature and stories, or […]

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‘In the Event of Contact’ by Ethel Rohan: The Law of Life

by Oriana Christ

People are shaped by people. In In the Event of Contact (180 pages; Dzanc Books), San Francisco author Ethel Rohan cements this broad maxim into a specific and learned law of life via the host of complicated characters she creates in her fourteen stories. Each character navigates distinct anguishes, from irreparable guilt to insatiable longing to persistent disappointment, linked only by a home country of Ireland and the theme of human connection. The first story in the collection, after which the book is titled, introduces this theme in its most literal sense via Ruth, a character with a debilitating phobia […]

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‘First Person Singular’ by Haruki Murakami: More than Meets the ‘I’

by Colton Alstatt

Superstar author Haruki Murakami has published twenty-three books (in English) since beginning his career as a novelist in 1978. In his strictly upward trajectory, full of merits and awards, he has not had much space for rumination. However, in his new story collection, First Person Singular (256 pages; Knopf), he channels 72 years of writing prowess into a series of mystery-dipped stories about youth, memory, and identity. Each begins with a distinct memory, an arresting one. “A dimly lit hallway in a high school, a beautiful girl, the hem of her skirt swirling, [holding] With the Beatles.” The speaker tunnels […]

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‘Land of Big Numbers’ by Te-Ping Chen: Mirror to the Nation

by Kyubin Kim

To the rest of the world, China often looks like a monolithic, vast “land of big numbers,” where its people are eclipsed by the country’s monstrous economic influence and the Communist Party. But in her first story collection, Land of Big Numbers (255 pages; Mariner Books), journalist and fiction writer Te-Ping Chen gives breath and form to those who may be overlooked. Written during Chen’s time as a China correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Land of Big Numbers is a literary simulacrum of modern China and the agency of its people. Here, each fictional story holds a mirror to […]

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‘Rabbit Island’ by Elvira Navarro: Masterful and Strange

by Lily Nilipour

In “Strychnine,” the second story of Elvira Navarro’s collection, Rabbit Island (164 pages; Two Lines Press; translated by Christina MacSweeney), an unnamed narrator wanders an unnamed city while struggling to write a story—her story. The only thing she can decide on is a style: “She wants to enter this aura of serene iciness she has just imagined, which is also the tone she wants for her text.” But the narrator’s project becomes hindered by the growth of a strange protrusion from her right ear–a paw with toes that have small mouths. The paw hangs painfully from her earlobe, garnering sideways […]

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‘The Ice Cream Man and Other Stories’ by Sam Pink: Conveying the Toil

by Zack Ravas

Literature is full of characters who experience reversals of fortune or claw their way to the top; Sam Pink does not write about those people. His latest collection, The Ice Cream Man and Other Stories (268 pages; Soft Skull), is comprised of stories about the individuals who wash the dishes at your favorite restaurant, set the plates at your wedding, and yes, drive the ice cream truck through your neighborhood. In Pink’s writing style, words cascade down the page as he creates a line break after every sentence. The ample white space means it’s never long before the reader is […]

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‘Suicide Woods’ by Benjamin Percy: A Horror that’s Close to Home

by Zack Ravas

Benjamin Percy is a writer who understands that, in the twenty-first century, the scariest thing to many readers is not the supernatural or threats from beyond the grave, but something altogether closer to home: real estate. His latest release, Suicide Woods (192 pages; Graywolf Press), collects a variety of stories culled from the last decade of Percy’s career. The book covers a number of subjects and genres, including the uncanny, from “The Dummy’s” tale of a wrestling practice dummy that may or may not be imbued with life, to the titular story’s account of a group of depressed individuals who […]

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‘Home Remedies’ by Xuan Juliana Wang: Perfect Worlds

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“Family,” “Love,” and “Time and Space” comprise the three sections of Xuan Juliana Wang’s first story collection, Home Remedies (204 pages; Hogarth). These categories describe this book better than much else could: Wang conjures an incredibly wide range of characters and plotlines, all tied together through notions of familial bonds, love, and temporality. There are no broad strokes or homogenizing glances in Wang’s work. These stories, concerned with Chinese young people and their engagements with culture, curiosity, and identity are complicated and specific, personal and detailed, messy and absurd. Each story Wang creates is so perfectly and wholly its own […]

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‘Diary of a Murderer’ by Young-ha Kim: Offbeat and Darkly Rewarding

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With a title like Diary of a Murderer (200 pages; Mariner; translated by Krys Lee), the latest English release of Young-ha Kim’s work might attract some strange looks while you’re holding it on the subway. But it’s a feeling more adventurous readers will be used to by now, and this story collection boasts precisely the kind of offbeat and darkly rewarding fiction that should appeal to such readers. An award-winning author in his native Korea, Young-ha Kim has already seen several of his novels translated into English, though Diary of a Murderer is his first story collection to be published […]

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‘Floyd Harbor’ by Joel Mowdy: Harbor Lights, Suburban Sights, and Mean Streets

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The inhabitants of Joel Mowdy’s Long Island spend their days and nights far from the affluent Hamptons, let alone Fitzgerald’s East Egg. Floyd Harbor (256 pages; Catapult Press), Mowdy’s debut collection of twelve interlinked stories, pays pitiless homage to youths trapped in dead-end jobs, killing time with video games and petty crime, blotting out the boredom with cheap liquor and designer drugs. Oh yeah, it’s not really a “harbor,’’ as the narrator of a story titled “Stacked Mattresses’’ explains. “There were all kinds of cars in the diner parking lot. From this vantage point, I also had a view of […]

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‘Instructions for a Funeral’ by David Means: A Location of Deeper Grace

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David Means’ latest collection, Instructions for a Funeral (208 pages; FSG), further secures his position as a standout writer of short fiction. Featuring Means’ customary idiosyncratic style, with sentences that span halfway down the page—or more—the book’s prose takes you on a trek, one that demands complete attention from the reader, but repays that attention. Through his dense, carefully crafted sentences, Means transports us through time and place, interweaving action with his characters’ inner ruminations and flashbacks, and in the process touching on the most tender and enigmatic parts of existence. In a section titled “Confessions,” the author discusses what […]

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