The Things We Lose, The Things We Leave Behind by Billy O’Callaghan

thingswelose What to say about Things we Lose (New Island Press, 228 pages) a book that stunned me, time and again. I might call Billy O’Callaghan a “writer’s writer,” if that term did not immediately consign a writer to obscurity. (In the USA, Richard Yates is often referred to as a “writer’s writer,” and until the movie Revolutionary Road, few people, apart from those who taught in MFA programs, knew his name.)

I would like to invent a new way to describe what I think Billy O’Callaghan will leave as his literary legacy. I would call him a “human’s human” (with a pen) or an “explorer’s explorer” of our dreams. I would call him a poet of the spirit. Or, maybe, to use a more prosaic analogy, he is a housekeeper who assiduously dusts the cluttered rooms we keep closed, even from our conscious minds. Continue reading

Stripped: A Collection of Anonymous Flash Fiction edited by Nicole Monaghan

The premise here is interesting: an anthology of flash fiction with the bylines removed so that the reader can’t know the identity of the author. According to Nicole Monaghan, editor of this collection, the purpose is to question a reader’s assumptions about gender.

As an experiment, Stripped: A Collection of Anonymous Flash Fiction (PS Books, 102 pages) recalls I.A. Richards’ Practical Criticism and his withholding authors’ identities from his Cambridge students in the 1920s in order to come to grips with their literary values. It was a step forward in reading awareness. We live in a very different world now, to put it mildly—gender was not on Richards’ radar—but some of the same questions of reception persist. Continue reading

Alien Autopsy: Stories by Pedro Ponce

Pedro Ponce offers eighteen very short stories in this slender volume (Cow Heavy Books, 55 pages). Within the brief space Ponce delegates for himself not much can happen, but these vignettes do manage to develop vigorous fabula-like themes. In each short piece, a subject is opened, then skillfully closed. Continue reading

Alien Autopsy: Stories By Pedro Ponce

Professor Pedro Ponce’s recent collection, Alien Autopsy (Cow Heavy Books, 55 pages) is a departure from his most previous work Superstitions of Apartment Life (Burnside Review Press, 2008), but the imaginative, elegant, if not sweetly written observations one finds time after time in Ponce’s work have not been sacrificed.  The newest collection treads more heavily into realism and more lightly into the magical-realism that often echoes in his short work. Continue reading

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