Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Suburban Swindle

Just finished reading this one the other day. Good stuff. Jackie Corley is a very talented writer with a powerful voice. She has a real knack for capturing the angst and confusion that accompanies early adulthood. Reading this book took me right back to my early twenties - I could almost taste the cheap vodka again. She has a way of dragging you headfirst into her scenes and making you rub up against her characters, even when you really don't want to. Some of them are downright repulsive but, then, I like it that way sometimes.

Now I'm reading Affluenza by David LaBounty. I won a free copy through PANK and David was super speedy about putting it in the mail for me. He signed it too. I'm not very far in yet, but already enjoying it.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Weary Motel

This book, by Mark Spencer, is one of the best books I've read all year. Mark Spencer is a realist, who gives us characters weighed down by their pasts, by their personal failings, by their bad choices, by their surroundings. These are people who spy on their boyfriends, respond to chain letters, cheat, drink too much, neglect their children, and otherwise live up to the "trailer-trash" stereotype in every possible way. Spencer cracks open their bleak little lives - gives us such a deep, intimate look at them that we can't help feeling their pain and, after a while, starting to root for them.

The novel largely revolves around Dill and Jo Rene, siblings and survivors of a childhood marked by TV dinners and a father who disappeared repeatedly to indulge his fetish for crippled women. Adults now, Dill and Jo Rene are still stuck in grim Adams County – a place of sordid poverty and bleak prospects. Dill owns the Weary Motel, a place frequented most commonly for its hourly rate. Jo Rene cleans the rooms. Her young daughter, Kari, has been missing for five months, kidnapped by her father, and this Jo Rene can never forget for more than an hour. Spencer brings this suffering woman to life so vividly that you can almost hear her crying in the next room. Like her brother Dill, she is a tangled confusion of good qualities and bad; perhaps the word that sums her up best is human.

The surprising thing about this book is that there is humor in it. Dark humor, but humor nonetheless. This, for me, provided a needed counterpoint to the often poignant scenes that sometimes made me think about having a cry. Spencer pulls it off flawlessly and it actually gives the book a richness that I think might be missing otherwise. The characters and plot lines are quirky enough to keep things from descending into unremitting gloom.

The ending is satisfying and, though I won't give it away, I will say that Spencer avoids cleaning things up too tidily. It's a realistic ending and, as such, in keeping with the rest of the book.

This is a good book, a memorable book, a book that is by turns funny and bitterly sad, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

PANK September 2009

The (online) September issue of PANK magazine is out, boasting a stellar new design and some truly memorable fiction. My favorite is Bridges, by Jennifer Andrews. It's a haunting look at the relationship between one woman and her alcoholic sister and will definitely stay in your thoughts for a while.

If you hurry over to the PANK blog, you still have a chance to win a copy of the novel Affluenza, by David LaBounty. Read Roxane Gay's excellent review and then be the first to post a comment.

Nothing makes me as smiley as a free book . . . . .

Monday, September 14, 2009

decomP September 2009

There's a great piece of flash in the September issue of decomP: Hunger, by Michelle Reale.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Winter of Different Directions

I just finished reading this collection of twenty short stories, by Steven McDermott. There's a little bit of everything in this book. The characters run the gamut from a homeless landscaper trying to pretend he's still in business to a self-made millionaire watching his empire crumble. There's a drunk pro-golfer, a carpenter obsessed with single malts, and a software developer who can't debug his code. Best of all, there's a guy who was paralyzed in a crowd-surfing accident and returns to the mosh pit in his wheelchair. Now that's originality. I think Enter Wheelchair Man is the best story in the book and it's certainly the one that stayed with me longest.

Overall, this is a good collection and worth a read, especially if you like dark protagonists.

If anyone would like to read this book, but is held back by the pinch of the economy, let me know and I'll put my copy in the mail for you in a couple of weeks (after my husband finishes reading it). If you own a book on my To-Read list and would like to trade, that would be good too - shoot me an email or comment here. To see my To-Read list, scroll down and look in the sidebar.

Obviously, I can only oblige the first person who responds, but I'll be doing similar book giveaways in the future, so check back soon if you miss this one.

Winter of Different Directions can be purchased from Amazon.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Shock Is What Kills You

I have another story published online now: The Shock Is What Kills You in the Clapboard House fall issue.

When I lived in Memphis, Tennessee, I would take holiday dinners to a small group of homeless men who lived under an overpass in an industrial area. I was quite scared to be there so I never stayed long, but what I saw made a lasting impression on me. Henry, the homeless man in The Shock Is What Kills You, appeared in my mind as a result of those experiences.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Writer's Bloc #3

Lots of interesting things and risks taken in the new issue of Writer's Bloc. My favorite piece is The Storm In The Park, by Rosanne Griffeth. This is a flash in five acts, swirling around a group of strangers whose lives are faintly interconnected. The details are stunning, and the characters spring to life and elbow you as they rush by.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Random Excellent Story #1

Every so often, as I go clicking around in ezine archives, I run across an amazing story that was published a long time ago. Or, better yet, I find something incredible posted on a writer's blog. Some of these stories melt me into a puddle, or leave me gaping at my laptop, wishing I could have come up with something so good. I've decided that when I have one of these lucky moments, I'm going to start posting links to the stories right here.

Kicking things off, I have this gem: Alabama, by Murray Dunlap. It starts:

Heather was born in Alabama. So was I. This is something I like to say. In Alabama, shrimp and oysters taste a little like champagne and the crab trap haul is fifteen pounds, pulled up hand over hand, the rope stained brown and slick with algae. Blue crabs snap three-inch claws in the air. I know how to reach around from behind and scoop them up without getting pinched. I know how to pick the white meat from the shell and throw out the dirty gills. They call them Dead Man’s Fingers. Heather and I know these things. We were born here. I’m going to ask Heather to marry me, and I’ve got a ring in my pocket to prove it.

Who wouldn't keep reading??!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Room Seventeen Published

My short story, Room Seventeen, was published today in the new issue of Writer's Bloc. Issue #3 looks like it will provide plenty of good reading, with 15 short stories, tons of poetry and some nice photography to look at as well. I haven't had time to read through all of it yet, but will post later about my favorites.