The Voting Booth After Dark: Despicable, Embarrassing, Repulsive by Vanessa Libertad Garcia

Vanessa Libertad Garcia’s first book, The Voting Booth After Dark: Despicable, Embarrassing, Repulsive (Fiat Libertad Co., 92 pages), is a slim volume  of 23 short pieces, some of them poems, many of them first-person or third-person vignettes that capture a few minutes or hours of a given character’s “despicable, embarrassing, or repulsive” life.

Gritty and unflinching, the tone of the book is one of desperation and starkness as each character depicted—Marta, a young, disenchanted lesbian; or Diaz Diaz, a gay fashion designer, for example—speaks to us of their heartbreak, alienation, and sometimes of suicidal plans. The personas that Garcia invokes are products of a society that is too fast-paced, too materialistic, and too shallow for twenty-somethings or thirty-somethings trying to find a meaningful niche in life, as they struggle simultaneously to pay bills, be successful in a career, find true love, or simply forge a connection to someone or something outside of themselves that can make their lives fulfilling. Welcome to the underbelly of Los Angeles. Continue reading

Stories II by Scott McClanahan

Scott McClanahan is an author gifted with stating intuition implicitly. A part of our work as writers is to make sense, to distill, to state it both beautifully and with clarity, and yet in McClanahan’s most recent collection Stories II (Six Gallery Press, 155 pages), not for a moment, does the writing feel put on, on purpose, pushed. However, in these 155 pages, we find ourselves bathed in truth, relating universally, unequivocally taken to these very specific and personal stories, stories written in a very distinct Southern/Appalacia dialect, at that. Continue reading

The Suburban Swindle by Jackie Corley

With The Suburban Swindle (So New Books, 99 pages) Jackie Corley delivers a collection of memoir-like stories about drunk, pissed-off, reckless, late-teen and twenty-something Jersey suburbanites fucking up relationships and getting the shit beat out of them. The narrative voice, sensibly consistent throughout the collection and rising to a kind of tortured literariness, wedges a space between author-narrator (who is destined to get the hell out of there) and subjects (who aren’t going anywhere). The narrator is an outsider-in-the-making, not quite not-one-of-them yet, but well on her way. Throughout this collection, the language is kicking violently against the box it finds itself in, rebelling like a young suburbanite, trying to find its meaning. It’s angry and frustrated: Continue reading

The Suburban Swindle by Jackie Corley

suburbanJackie Corley’s The Suburban Swindle (So New Publishing, 100 pages ) paints a specific place in a specific time with a specific aesthetic in a timeless style which transcends narrative mode and delivers a straight-served good story. Short works bound together through an ultimately honest, sometimes naïve narrator showcase Corley’s ability to communicate what it is to be a young, smart, bored person in the suburban life, which in its own way at times, reads as surprisingly feminist. Continue reading

Her Mouth Looked Like a Cat’s Bum By Matthew Ward

The twenty-one stories in Matthew Ward’s latest collection Her Mouth Looked Like a Cat’s Bum (World Audience, 164 pages) are idiosyncratic and challenging. Built primarily out of character studies from society’s outcasts, the stories traverse a nihilistic baseline, where societal norms end and disintegration begins. The opening story, “Bathrobes” is almost a novella at 38 pages, at least compared to the other stories in this book. Within the story is the line that forms the book’s title, and the sense of disapproval that the title conveys is one which clearly sets the tone for the book. The stories are intended to shock, cause the reader to disapprove, frown, but perhaps also see life from a slightly different perspective. The characters are homosexual, naked, playing cards with Continue reading

The Best Australian Stories 2006 edited by Robert Drewe

The Best Australian Stories 2006, edited by Robert Drewe (Black Inc, 380 pages). As an art form, the short story seems to be growing stronger. Writers still bemoan the difficulty in getting a short story collection published, but collections like Black Inc annual ‘best of’ series are a testament to the continuing demand for short fiction. The reasons why are obvious – a short story is fully contained, able to be read in a single sitting, and are often engaging, without needing the development time of a full-scale novel. Part of the reason why the Black, Inc collections are so successful is the careful editorial input. This is the sixth year that this series has been in production, and the process for finding stories is a fascinating one, involving scouting through publications of respected literary mags, and, from this year on, accepting submissions from any writer so inclined. For writers, it’s a terrific opportunity to showcase work, get your name out, and pick up loyal readers. For readers, it’s a really nice way to expose yourself to a range of Continue reading

Someone to Watch Over Me: Stories by Richard Bausch

In Someone to Watch Over Me (Harper Perennial, 224 pages), with stories about older men with younger women, a woman recovering from a dysfunctional relationship who hooks up with a horrible golfer who persuades himself he is good, a man with low self-esteem who stumbles out of a bar drunk one morning to save a busload of children, a man who wins the lottery only to face the final anomie of life as loss, Richard Bausch takes somewhat downtrodden and mundane middle-to-lower class characters and reveals them in their secret glory. He has a way of fully seizing an everyday situation and revealing to us its depths, sometimes switching character point of view within the same story. The stories have the opposite effect of Continue reading