After passion, what is left? A jewelry box, a locket, a silver button, the silences between these objects. Each of these items sings to one another and it is this chorus that unifies Kristina Marie Darling’s haunted and haunting collection, Melancholia (Ravenna Press). Containing definitions, prose poems, footnotes, and a noctuary (a night journal), the book seeks to define, contain, and understand the aftermath of a failed courtship. In the opening fragmentary epistle, Darling establishes this with a delicacy that is maintained throughout the procedures of definition that bind this book:

6a00d83451ce9f69e2017d42a16e57970c-250wiIs it self-indulgent to quote myself? Probably. But do I get credit for being self-aware enough to acknowledge that I recognize this? I pose these questions because my job today is to riff in a most biased fashion on Wheatyard, the debut novel by good friend Pete Anderson.

Which I will do now. Promise.

Debut novels are, by their nature, both self-indulgent and self-aware. Self-indulgent because who said that anyone has any right to assume anyone cares about anything writers have to say? And yet self-aware because without at least some level of self-awareness, all debut novels would tell the same story again and again–someone meets someone, someone leaves someone, someone’s family is fucked-up, someone finds redemption–but bring nothing new to the table. Or the Kindle if that’s your thing.

halfhappyShort stories can be as satisfying to read as longer fiction, but I usually prefer them one at a time. Collections, for me, can be difficult to get through. I have to really like a writer’s voice to stick with it through story after story where the characters, settings and themes will likely change but the voice, probably, will not. That consistency of voice – necessary, pleasurable in a novel—can be relentless in a collection.

James-Salter-All-That-Is-200x300Whether naturally born or G-force bred, fighter pilots embody a unique strain: their hell-bent defiance of physical laws kept in check by a meticulous respect for man-made machinery. After serving a dozen years in the Air Force – flying combat missions in the Korean War – James Salter applied that elevated mix of risk and control to definitive novels of erotic discovery and marital malaise. As the author now approaches ninety, his latest novel, All That Is, finds the former officer devoted to a trio of tasks: setting his affairs in order, offering loving remembrance, and demonstrating his intent to stand firm to the end.

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.


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.”