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imagesI can’t write this review without disclosing that After Visiting Friends is my story. Or so it felt, as I read. Like Hainey, I am a member of what he calls the DFC, the Dead Father’s Club. Hainey was six when his father died at age 36 in Chicago. I was seven when my father died at 32 in Detroit. A veil of silence hung over the details throughout Hainey’s childhood. And mine.

This is the second installation in a series of “reverse interviews,” wherein the author asks the questions about his own book, and one reader answers.

JENSEN BEACH: The other night my wife and I were reading before bed and she turned to me before she shut out her light and said it had been weird to read my book because she’d lived with the stories in it for so long and it felt strange to see them all mixed up like they were. At first I didn’t really understand what she meant. She told me there little bits in many of the stories that she recognized—things we’d experienced together, stories we’d been told by other people, things I’d said to our kids or to her—and that it had been interesting to see the ways I’d gone about taking that all apart and putting it back together again to fit the fictions in the book.

donnybrook

If your best chance of securing a future is to fight in a “Donnybrook,” a three day fighting match where ponying up $1,000 gets you in, and your chances of getting out in one piece are slim, then maybe you need to reconsider the path you have chosen. Frank Bill’s gritty, violent, and grim debut novel, Donnybrook (FSG Originals) is not for the faint of heart, as the body count is high, and the actions desperate and brutal. But buried in the bruised flesh are the stories of Jarhead, a desperate fighter, Angus, a drug dealer, and Fu, a martial arts enforcer—men with a strange sense of honor that lurks beneath their questionable actions, doing what they have to do in order to survive, to protect their own, and to please their employers. Meth cookers and dealers, drunks and addicts, whores and hustlers, they all scrounge for a meager existence, one that inevitably leads them to the Donnybrook.

portugueseThe first release from the exciting new collaborative-poetry series of Tin House and Octopus books, Brandon Shimoda’s Portuguese has its origins in a racial slur. As Shimoda explains in the epilogue: “The bus is driving itself. Floating. Out the windows the trees are thick green, with passing revelations of yellow and brown. The fourth grader makes one final attempt, though his enthusiasm, at this point, feels forced: Portugueeese. He brings his pointer fingers to the sides of his eyes, pulls the skin to make his eyes disappear, and says it once more.”

Crapalachia by Scott McClanahanScott McClanahan’s Crapalachia (Two Dollar Radio, March 2013), a memoir of growing up in West Virginia, is a brilliant, unnerving, beautiful curse of a book that will both haunt and charmingly engage readers for years and years and years. A compelling, compressed personal history that weaves together threads of heart-breaking and brutal truths with characters evolved into hyperboles of themselves, Crapalachia taunts the line between memoir and fiction, teasing us with the inability to know which is which. Too, like McClanahan’s earlier story collections, the anecdotes and tales that wend upward to form Crapalachia are full of gravel and grit and wit and wonder, stories as rugged and rusty as McClanahan’s upbringing.

Dear B.C.,

The Aversive Clause is out from Black Lawrence Press. Terrific. You think you can just waltz on up, dump seventeen weird-ass stories on us in 175 pages, get our hackles up and our issues raised, then depart on a note like “Evitative”? Well, fine. You’ve done it. And it is fucking great.

9781555976361_p0_v1_s260x420Short story collections are often titled after one of the collected stories.  Jessica Francis Kane’s new collection “THIS CLOSE,” following her 2010 novel, The Reportdoesn’t share a title with any of the stories within, but it nicely delineates the theme the stories are organized around: relationships with unclear boundaries.  The characters in these stories struggle to determine the right amount of closeness, asking: Is this too close or not close enough?

JP newMathematician, co-founder of OULIPO, author of the lyrics of “Si tu t’imagines” (a lovely song made famous back in the day by Juliet Greco: voilà:), formerly associated with André Breton and the Surrealists, reader, general secretary and eventual director of l’Encyclopédie de la Pléiade at the prestigious house of Gallimard, and all-around genius Raymond Queneau, published the first ninety-nine Exercices de Style in 1947, later augmented by twenty-five further exercises by Queneau himself. For this edition, les exercices have been expanded yet again with additions by Jesse Ball, Blake Butler, Amelia Gray, Shane Jones, Jonathan Lethem, Ben Marcus, Harry Mathews, Lynne Tillman, Frederic Tuten, and Enrique Vila-Matas.

In a small town it’s normal for everyone to get in your business—for the community to know about the women that run around, the men that abuse, the spoiled kids with their sense of entitlement, and the loners who belong to nobody. Set in Roma, Kentucky, The Next Time You See Me (Touchstone Books) by Holly Godard Jones is a literary thriller that links a variety of perspectives into a complicated web of deceit and lies that replace hope and peace with bittersweet longings for what might have been. But buried in there is a lesson about perseverance, a glimmer of optimism, and the eternal complications that are the duality of man. This is the mirror that Holly Goddard Jones holds up, as we bear witness to these defining moments of destruction, as well as revelation.

978-0-9836932-6-0-Stupid-Children-cover-low-Emergency-Press-214x300The first thing I did after finishing Lenore Zion’s Stupid Children was get in the shower, and the second thing I did was cry.  Like Zion’s first book, the collection My Dead Pets Are Interesting (published by TNB Books), Stupid Children is atypical in nearly every sense, but these eccentricities work in its favor, and work only because Zion is such a capable writer, rendering Stupid Children with a refreshing brutality, in both subject matter and also in her merciless scrutiny of the novel’s diverse cast of characters. Though brief, the book demands time and attention, triggering far more thought than its 150-page count will lead any reader to expect. I laughed to the point of pain on multiple occasions, and to get the tears out, which before Stupid Children, and Lenore Zion, I hadn’t thought possible.

imagesAmity Gaige’s third novel deals with a singular character the reader cares about not because he is likeable, but because Gaige depicts him in a clear-eyed, non-judgmental, ultimately believable way.

Schroder is written as a long letter or apologia by the title character to his estranged wife, an attempt to explain why he failed to return their daughter Meadow following the brief scheduled visit that is part of their custody agreement, and instead was gone for almost a week.

“What follows,” the book’s first sentence says, “is a record of where Meadow and I have been since our disappearance.”

In order for a collection of short stories to work, the reader must be pulled into the narratives and settings as quickly and thoroughly as possible. In Vampire Conditions, a slim volume of grotesque stories by Brian Allen Carr, the immersion and compassion is palpable from each opening sentence. We are past the tipping point, along for the ride, and the destinations are always unexpected. These are cautionary tales bound with bruised human flesh, taut and cracking from the tension.

Now our unraveling for evenings and the columns of the replicating bell, a cord of child milk rising in pink glisten for the city lamp and making every person see themselves before themselves with tubes removed, the index of the body bopped with big sheathes of silver foiling, catching words where there were words, though there were very few…”

I panicked at the opening pages of Sky Saw (Tyrant Books / Dec. 2012), which are filled with this dense, complicated language, fearing Blake Butler would hold me hostage for the novel’s duration in a swamp of unclarified narrative, a poetic mire that, while beautiful in its bruising, wouldn’t lead me forward through a story. But then Sky Saw opened like the mold-blooms of his previous works, and there was a narrative to wrap my eyes around, and the book held me captive in a completely different way.

There is something equally freeing and unsettling about the wide-open desert—the horizon stretching out forever is both unattainable and inspiring. In Battleborn, a collection of stories by Claire Vaye Watkins, we get to explore all aspects of Nevada, from the sad allure of a brothel to nights out in Vegas that can only lead to trouble, told in an honest and yet lyrical voice. We bear witness to those moments in time beyond which there is no return. And what comes after this tipping point—that is our salvation.

Despite its predictably wonderful prose, Woes of the True Policeman will appear to those who haven’t read Bolaño’s masterwork 2666, little more than a mandala of elusive meaning, full of tenuous circularity; for those who have, Woes will seem almost an appendage or afterthought, a series of auxiliary meditations for that huge novel, and thus well worth reading. Characters we’ve encountered in the earlier book make an appearance here, including exiled Chilean professor Amalfitano, whom we last encountered in Santa Teresa, hub of the murderous universe, the dead-end of logic and the heart of darkness, scene of a seemingly endless series of murders of young girls, their bodies unearthed on an almost daily basis, living with his daughter Rosa.