My review is now live at The Nervous Breakdown. But don’t let the title fool you, Vampire Conditions by Brian Allen Carr is not about teeth, and bats and the homesteads of pale night fliers. These stories will drain you, emotionally, and leave you spent, but alive. In a good way.
Winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction, Little Sinners and Other Stories by Karen Brown is fantastic collection of stories. I’m calling it “suburban noir” because Karen focuses on the dark events that happen in these otherwise idyllic settings. I first heard of Karen when she had a story, “Galatea” in the Best American Short Stories anthology back in 2008. I later reached out to her for a story that I ran in the short-lived Colored Chalk ezine. And I’ll be including some of her work in an upcoming anthology with Black Lawrence Press. Check out my full review of Little Sinners over at The Nervous Breakdown.
I’ve been a fan of Paul Tremblay for a couple years now. It started with a story here, a story there, and then I picked up some of his crime/mystery work. But I don’t think I really became a serious fan until I absorbed his powerful writing in the collection, In the Mean Time. It blew me away. Ever since, I’ve been a diehard fan. He’s a gifted author, but also an editor, and very supportive of other authors as well. This title, Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye (ChiZine Publications) is a satirical look at a dystopian society where Farm and City dominate the landscape. The powerful element of satire is truth, and hidden behind the humor is a dark, layered and touching story. Check out the full review for more information.
If you are looking for a unique voice, then you’ve found it. Jac Jemc has a poet’s heart, and she brings that POV to her longer fiction. My Only Wife (Dzanc Books) is a haunting, touching and ultimately unsettling novel. I loved it. For the full review, head over to The Nervous Breakdown. Also, Dzanc Books is one of the best independent publishers out there. I’ve linked this book to Amazon, but you can also purchase directly from Dzanc. Be sure to check out some of their other titles, and their imprints, Starcherone, Other Voices, and Black Lawrence Press (where I’ll be editing an anthology out in 2014).
I can’t remember the last time I read such a compelling work of fiction. I’ve been a long time fan of Matt Bell, but Cataclysm Baby (Mudluscious Press) may be some of his best work to date. Maybe it’s the fact that these stories were scattered far and wide across the literary landscape, and now that they are all contained in this one collection, they are larger than the sum of its parts. All I can say is that these depictions of life in the post-apocalypse are dark, touching, and haunting. Do yourself a favor and pick this up today. Read the full review at The Nervous Breakdown for all of the details.
In addition, Matt is one of the nicest guys out there in the literary world, doing great work at Dzanc Books, one of my favorite independent presses, one of the best, as well as running The Collagist. So, some extra reasons to support his writing.
My review of Wild (Knopf) by Cheryl Strayed is now live at The Nervous Breakdown. This is a fantastic memoir, one that takes out into the wilderness, so that we can hear the song and pain that emanates from her broken heart. A mother that dies too soon, a life that is falling apart, and one hell of a long trail to hike. The old Boy Scout in me loved the outdoors, and the poet that lives in a little chamber of my chest sat with her observations and listened to them hum.
I remember the first time I heard Amelia read, at Blake Butler’s Scorch Atlas release party here in Chicago. It was the first time I’d met her, or Blake, or Zach Dodson, Sam Pink, lots of people. She read one of my favorite stories of hers, ever, “Go For It and Raise Hell.” And that was when I became a fan. I ended up reading with her and Blake, Lindsay Hunter and Aaron Burch the following night, if memory serves me correctly. Lots of talent, really set the bar pretty high. I think Amelia read her snippets of threats that next night, that or another Quickies! a year or so later, but either way, those threats really stayed with me—upsetting, but funny, dark and yet with a hint of love at the center. Much of that applies to THREATS. Head on over for the full review. It’s a great book.
In this collection of stories, William Walsh has put together a unique collage of perspectives set in Ampersand, Mass (Keyhole Press). These tales run the gamut from fantastical and bizarre to sweet and touching to heartbreaking and morose. It’s a wild ride, so buckle up.
If you’re a fan of Charles Bukowski (and who isn’t) then you’ll probably like this seedy, depressing and ultimately touching and redeeming novel, Damascus (Two Dollar Radio), by Joshua Mohr. I had the pleasure of reading with Josh a few months ago in Chicago as part of The Nervous Breakdown reading series run by Gina Frangello. In addition to Josh and myself, we were lucky to have Kate Zambreno (Green Girl) as well. Josh is almost the exact opposite of his writing—kind, soft spoken, and generous, even when tatted up and reading dark passages from his novel. He has several other titles with TDR as well, so be sure to check out his other work too.