Session Drummer

by Tommy Orange

I’m on a train and it’s Saturday so I don’t have to work, but when I’m not working Saturday I’m usually working. I mean it’s work only because I get paid and need the money, but it’s playing drums—like a drum set in a studio. I’m a sometimes session drummer working mainly at this studio in West Oakland where people know me as a good enough drummer to call when they need a good enough drummer for a usually mediocre album project. What I do for a living, as they say, is to wash windows. I wash building windows no […]

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‘Carpe Diem’ by Lucia Berlin, ZYZZYVA No. 1, Spring Issue

by Zack Ravas

Lucia Berlin was an American short story writer, who developed a small, devoted following, but did not reach a mass audience during her lifetime. She rose to sudden literary fame eleven years after her death, in August 2015, with FSG’s publication of a volume of selected stories, A Manual for Cleaning Women. ZYZZYVA published a number of Berlin’s stories during the Eighties and Nineties, and her work can be found in Issues 1, 4, 18, and 31. Below is her story “Carpe Diem” in its entirety from ZYZZYVA Issue 1. Most of the time I feel all right about getting old. Some things give me a pang, like […]

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‘Mama’ by Emma Copley Eisenberg, ZYZZYVA No. 113, Fall Issue

by Zack Ravas

Emma Copley Eisenberg’s work has appeared in Granta, Virginia Quarterly Review, American Short Fiction, and other publications. Her first book, The Third Rainbow Girl, will be published by Hachette Books in 2020. Her short story “Mama” appears in ZYZZYVA No. 113. You can read an excerpt from the beginning of the story below:  My daughter’s new girlfriend is big. Big mouth, big breast, a tuft of hair so curly it looks permed. My daughter Beth has one girlfriend already, the pint-sized Tomboy who drops by every Easter and Christmas. Mark my words, says Donna from black-belt class, looking over my […]

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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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The Huge Potential of Small Gestures: ‘The Redemption of Galen Pike’ by Carys Davies

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In Australian author Carys Davies’ latest story collection, The Redemption of Galen Pike (176 pages; Biblioasis), Davies’s deadpan voice and morbid sense of humor lend a surreal twist to otherwise ordinary interactions and relationships. Each of these stories in the collection, which won the 2015 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, features unlikely encounters between people with seemingly little in common, encounters which ultimately lead to unexpected self-discovery or empathy. The title story perhaps illustrates this best. As it opens, a woman who regularly visits inmates to offer solace is assigned a prisoner whose violent crime she finds particularly despicable. Her […]

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The Human Creature, Closely Observed: ‘Large Animals’ by Jess Arndt

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Jess Arndt’s Large Animals (131 pages; Catapult) traps its characters in self-constructed cages and puts them on display, presenting a bevy of cultural concerns about identity, sex, and the human body. Ranging from the 19th century to contemporary San Francisco and New York, the twelve stories in Arndt’s first book prove startling in their variety and verisimilitude, and challenge our notions of gender and the binary divides that too often fail to define us. In “Beside Myself,” we witness the austere life of a woman attempting to impregnate her wife by using her brother’s sperm. Here, as in many of […]

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The Inexhaustible Power of Fairy Tale: Q&A with ‘A Moral Tale’ Author Josh Emmons

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The past is never past in Josh Emmons’ new story collection, A Moral Tale and Other Moral Tales (184 pages; Dzanc Books). In each of these stories (of which the title one appeared in ZYZZYVA No. 102), the reader can feel the lingering effect of humanity’s fabricated history – the assemblage of folktales, parables, and lore that have helped shape our collective consciousness over time, from Noah and his Ark (“Haley”) to Aesop’s talking animals (“Arise”). The narrator of one piece claims, “What came next hardly warrants retelling, so familiar is the story…” but nothing could be further from the […]

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ZYZZYVA Interview Series: Edie Meidav

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Edie Meidav is the author of the novels The Far Field, Crawl Space, and Lola, California (all published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux), and of the story collection Kingdom of the Young (Sarabande), which is her newest book. She is recipient of a Lannan Fellowship, a Howard Fellowship, the Kafka Prize for Best Fiction by an American Woman, the Bard Fiction Prize and other citations, and her essays were published in ZYZZYVA Issues No. 95 and 100. When Meidav came to the Bay Area earlier this month, ZYZZYVA Managing Editor Oscar Villalon talked to her about Kingdom of the Young […]

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Fearless Ballet: Q&A with Deb Olin Unferth

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Wickedly funny and utterly relatable in its depiction of human plights and personal tragedies, Wait Till You See Me Dance (200 pages; Graywolf Press) marks the return of Deb Olin Unferth to the world of short stories. From the banal life of an adjunct professor harboring an unrequited love in the titular story to a man held prisoner by his phobia in “Fear of Trees” (published in ZYZZYVA No. 108 along with three other pieces), each story within the collection is imbued with Unferth’s wit and dark humor, capturing the spectrum of human drama with a tinge of believable absurdity. […]

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A Wide-Ranging, Dazzling Debut: ‘Swimmer Among the Stars’ by Kanishk Tharoor

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Swimmer Among the Stars, (256 pages; Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), Kanishk Tharoor’s first collection of stories, centers on concepts of language, conquest, and our ever-changing position on this planet. Born in Singapore and raised in Geneva, Tharoor touches on the imagined personalities of several countries and cultures— ruminating on the complex ways in which strangers cooperate and learn from one another, even on the brink of warfare. Often focusing on the strong polarities, and in turn, similarities of differing cultures, Tharoor is meticulous in illustrating the realistic yet otherworldly on both a microcosmic and macrocosmic level. Setting his thirteen stories […]

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Stories We Tell When We Won’t See What’s in Front of Us: Q&A with Emily Fridlund

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Dark, haunting, and arresting, History of Wolves (279 pages; Grove/Atlantic) announces Emily Fridlund as a literary voice to watch. The book’s story opens as an isolated, woodland community in northern Minnesota confronts a scandal involving a predatory high school teacher. The sullen and introspective narrator, fourteen-year-old Linda, watches the tumult unfold from a distance, as she does most things in life. That is, until the self-sufficient ninth-grader gets drawn into the lives of the young Gardner family who move in across the lake. Linda takes to the Gardners’ precocious four-year-old, Paul, but begins to notice peculiarities about the child, like […]

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Bumbling Along, But Full of Heart: ‘Wait Till You See Me Dance’ by Deb Olin Unferth

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Wait Till You See Me Dance (Graywolf Press, 186 pages) marks Deb Olin Unferth’s second collection of stories, following Minor Robberies (2007). The author of the novel Vacation and the memoir Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the Sandinistas, Unferth displays a smart and snappy application of the short-short form in this volume of 39 stories—29 of which are fewer than three pages long (and four of which appeared in ZYZZYVA No. 108). Wait Till You See Me Dance is filled with concise, meaningful sentiments that both entertain and engage the reader in commentary surrounding […]

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