The Secret Goldfish: Stories by David Means

This inventive collection of stories, The Secret Goldfish (Fourth Estate, 224 pages), revolves around the off-kilter — either something happens that cannot be explained or the characters are bewildered about how they came to be where they are. In the title story, a goldfish survives for nine years despite the odds in a murky, nearly airless tank while a marriage disintegrates. “Blown From the Bridge” tells of the last moments a young man shares with his lover before she and her car are blown off the Mackinac bridge, her fate sealed by a mysterious dedication to her father. The main character of “Lightning Man” cannot escape a lifetime of lightning strikes, but he continues anyway through his ruined and Continue reading

Garner by Kirstin Allio

In the opening pages of Kirstin Allio’s debut novel, Garner (Coffee House Press, 232 pages ), young Frances Giddens is found by the town’s postman drowned in Blood Brook. It is 1925, and the town of Garner, New Hampshire is struggling financially. The postman, Willard Heald, is obviously troubled by Frances’s death even as he labors over his handwritten history of the town. His wife watches him with suspicion, for she suspects him of having harbored a crush on the spirited teenager. The summer boarders staying at the Giddens family’s house remain silent, as do those who lift her body out of the stream. No one dares utter the questions lurking in the reader’s mind: Did Frances kill herself or was she murdered? And why? Continue reading

My Dream of You by Nuala O’Faolain

Nuala O’Faolain’s My Dream of You (Penguin, 464 pages) is a coming-of-middle-age tale about Irish women across decades looking for “something to love.” While the novel is overtly about passion, it also explores the meaning of coming home and leaving it, of familial ties, of friendship, and, most poignantly, of growing older. Fiftyish Kathleen de Burca finds herself bereft and alone when her best friend Jimmy dies, and she begins to question the choices she has made. A persistent memory of a former lover and his “gift” to her of court documents prompt her to quit her job as a travel writer and to research the scandalous affair between a Continue reading