What was Mine


Ann Beattie - 1991
    Here are disconnected marriages and uneasy reunions, nostalgic reminiscences and sudden epiphanies--a remarkable and moving collage of contemporary lives.

Fires of Our Choosing


Eugene Cross - 2012
    His is a voice combining humor and pathos with an edginess creating fresh new stories that are being published in great literary journals regularly.A boy acts out at the death of his father and abandonment by his brother through a savage playground beating; a young man confronts his own troubled history when asked to hire on his girlfriend's strung-out brother in an attempt to keep him out of prison; a teenage babysitter works through a scorching-hot summer afternoon that will prove to alter her life forever; a grieving widower finds comfort in the unlikeliest of places, a recently-built casino; an itinerant farm worker visits the same former lover in South Dakota year after year while following the Harvest north; two friends search for excuses and fail to claim responsibility for their own decisions after one loses his father, and the other's house burns to the ground; and a taxidermist falls in love with the ex-wife of his high school bully and tries to convince her to marry him despite her son who seems to share his father's bullying mentality."A brilliant, sometimes heartbreaking debut by this gifted young writer and Columbia writing teacher. Cross captures the angst and tenderness of the young men and women growing up in the rust belt with little hope and less luck. The moments of grace and redemption shine through. I loved every story." —Linda Bubon, Women & Children First Bookstore"There are countless moments like this in Fires of Our Choosing, lines that appear true from the moment they’ve been written and hang in the back of the mind for days afterwards... With Fires of Our Choosing, Cross climbs boldly into the ring with the greats, if only to deliver a decisive knockout punch." —Urban Waite, Fiction Writers Review"Cross offers no apologies for his characters: their poor choices, their lack of moral fortitude, their betrayals of each other and the poverty of their surroundings and, often, themselves; he leaves these things alone. They are who they are, and if dignity has been denied them by the rest of us, including us story-tellers, it is restored by this collection. That he has undertaken to serve as their raconteur should place Cross on the radar of all the big prizes that gift those blessed with talent, compassion and fearlessness, particularly during this present moment in our history." —Ru Freeman, Huffington PostEugene Cross was born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania and received an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. His stories have appeared in Narrative Magazine (which named him one of "20 Best New Writers" and his story "Harvester's" a "Top Five Story of 2009-2010"), American Short Fiction, Story Quarterly, TriQuarterly, and Callalloo among other publications. His work was also listed among the 2010 Best American Short Stories' 100 Distinguished Stories. He is the recipient of scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and the Chautauqua Writers' Festival, and the winner of the 2009 Dzanc Prize for Excellence in Literary Fiction and Community Service. He currently lives in Chicago where he teaches in the Fiction Department at Columbia College Chicago.

Equal Love


Peter Ho Davies - 2000
    Nothing much happens. The husband, Sam, plays with a toddler, the wife, Laura, argues with her sister. But Davies uses the short-story writer's most hackneyed milieu--the holiday get-together--to tell a thoroughly fresh tale about class. A family can encompass both good and bad luck, as the author telegraphs neatly in this quick interchange: Later, as the wine moves round the table, Nick starts up on the market. How they should all get in on it. How there's easy money to be made. "It's our middle-class duty, all right," Phil says, laughing, but Suzy says she's not middle-class. She's a waitress, she says, looking around the table. Derek's a mechanic. He nods. How's that middle-class? "While your Uncle Phil is digesting that foot in his mouth..." Marilyn starts, and Laura tries to help by adding that being middle-class isn't just about income. This is a story preoccupied with how people love each other, and also with money--two subjects that bump up against each other a lot in real life but seldom in the workshoppy kind of fiction Davies specializes in. Davies (The Ugliest House in the World) has been celebrated, anthologized, presented with the O. Henry Award, and he certainly does the thing he does--the production of ambiguous feeling in the reader--very, very well. Many of his characters are academics, but they could just as well be butchers or yardmen; they do plain old human stuff--consider having affairs, fight with their parents, raise their kids. In fact, his second collection comes off as almost anti-intellectual, so devoid is it of literary game-playing. The only foray into formal play, "How to Be an Expatriate," derives directly from Lorrie Moore's stories in the imperative voice in her 1985 collection, Self-Help. But Davies eschews her bitter wit in favor of remorsefulness: "Look at old photos. Reread letters. Wish you'd kept a diary. Think, you chose this. You're an expatriate, not an exile. It's what you always wanted." Here is a writer who takes feelings seriously, whose risks are emotional and never formal. --Claire Dederer

Babe in Paradise: Fiction


Marisa Silver - 2001
    Marisa Silver's singular voice makes us care deeply about their everyday desperations and hard-won hopes.

A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me


David Gates - 2015
    And every one of them carries a full supply of the human condition: parents in assisted-living—or assisted-dying—facilities, too many or too few people in their families and marriages, the ties that bind a sometimes messy knot, age an implacable foe, impulses pulling them away from comfort into distraction or catastrophe. Terrifyingly self-aware, they refuse to go gently—even when they’re going nowhere fast, in settings that range across the metropolitan and suburban Northeast to the countryside of upstate New York and New England. Relentlessly inventive, alternately hilarious and tragic, always moving, this book proves yet again that Gates is one of our most talented, witty and emotionally intelligent writers.

Well


Matthew McIntosh - 2003
    Set primarily among the working-class of a Seattle suburb called Federal Way, this highly original novel-told in the form of interlinked short stories- extols the lives of a large cast of characters lost in various modes of darkness and despair. Whether struggling to come together or desperately alone, they grapple with dark compulsions and heart-rending afflictions. As if trapped at the bottom of a well, they search for relief, for a vehicle into the light they know is up and outside.They search in sex, in drugs and violence, and in visions of Apocalypse and Creation, dreams of angels and killers and local sports championships. Compact, finely wrought, powerfully charged, Well ultimately rises toward the light, in a finale which echoes with the exhilarating human capacity for hope. The result is a mesmerizing tour de force that will establish Matthew McIntosh as a bold and progressive new voice of American fiction.Stories:BURLESQUESnapshots of various troubled couples on the day that the Seattle SuperSonics lose their chance at advancing to the NBA finals. Len and Adda are fighting- Len is in love with Adda (she is "the girl he wanted") but she is torn, and is leaving the next day to spend a week with her fiancée to make sure that breaking up with him is the right thing. Len becomes jealously enraged when he finds out Adda and her fiancée will be sleeping in the same bed, begging her not to touch the man.Nate and Sammie are also fighting: Sammie insists that a certain girl who is trying to convert Nate stop calling their house. Nate gets tired of Sammie's hysteria and beats her, only to become terrified at what he has done.A first person narrator recalls his rather pathetic adventures with prostitutes in Thailand, where he made big money at an English language newspaper and lived like a king. He brought a woman over who now resents him for it, and they have a staid marriage while he continues to dream over prostitutes.Raymond and his wife are at the SuperSonics game and get in a fight when Ray's wife sees he is ogling cheerleaders through his binoculars. He misses it when the team loses at the buzzer.The SuperSonics janitor comes home to his wife, who is pregnant. He masturbates as he recalls the time he slipped out to watch a burlesque show at the strip joint across the street.MODERN COLOR / MODERN LOVEII. Shelly is a Korean 16-year-old boarding school student who likes having sex with strangers in bars and doing crystal meth. She falls a sleep and crashes her car through a fence, causing her mother to cry and call her "A Real American Whore" when she picks her up in prison. She meets an older man who takes her in but finally gets sick of giving her money to drink and sends her home. When her mother isn't home, she goes to the nearest bar.III. A phone sex patron can't make up his mind what he wants his fantasy to be and the story concludes: "Do you realize what this is costing?"IV. The story of Davin, a warehouse worker, and Sarah, who are in a band together. Davin is loving and committed to Sarah but Sarah doesn't see a future with him. She gets pregnant and they grow distant. One day Davin gets in a fight with a co-worker and is paralyzed on his left side after being hit in the skull. Sarah takes care of him in the hospital, but when he returns home he begins drinking. One night he picks the 2-year-old up while drunk and Sarah becomes hysterical when the child begins crying. He beats Sarah and is issued a restraining order. Sarah moves out and eventually begins dating a construction worker she does not really love.CHICKENA group of guys gets into a game of chicken with a car containing a guy and a bunch of girls. When the guys cut the girls off suddenly, the driver of the latter car approaches the guys in an insane rage and finally hits the driver in the nose.Santos and his young partner work at a hotel-they go to Denny's when they should be training an Ethiopian who messes up on his first day. The guys get fired for this and Santos, humiliated, tells the young partner about the time he made a buzzer shot in a college basketball game only to have the game-winning points taken away from him by the refs.A kid drops some pills at the bus station and gets stuck on the Greyhound listening to a vet recount his experience in Guam, where he dug a whole to save himself from gunfire.VITALITYSPACEMAN: Charlie is a lonely gay bartender who has started to feel old and fat. Although he loves bartending and meeting people, etc., he loses his job because he has kept drinking on the job after repeated warnings. He laments that he has never been in love. On the night he loses his job he goes home to try to clean his filthy house but ends up vomiting into the toilet, longing for company.DAMAGE: A young man enters a peep bbbbbbooth with his friends and is struck by his ugly reflection as he looks at the beautiful dancer. When his friends begin teasing the dancer by sticking their tongue out, the bouncers approach them and a brawl ensues. The young man "pounds the Living Holy Fuck" out of the bouncers.ACHE:A man begins experience atrocious cyclical spells of pain, incoherence, and anxiety after he dives into a swimming pool one day and hits his head on the bottom. His parents take him to all variety of specialists who prescribe drugs, etc. and eventually he becomes dependent on them, and a drunk. He moves to London to get away from it all and meets a girl who wants to marry him but eventually assaults her in a fit of hysteria. He moves back home and lives a quiet life. When the pain is gone, he discovers that he misses it.THEY ALL WAIT FOR YOU:A man finds out that he will die of cancer and spends his day at the Trolley bar, getting hammered and thinking about the pointlessness of it all.ONE MOREA man walks into a pharmacy with a fake prescription. The pharmacist dials 911 but before the police come he shoots himself.GUNMANThe gruesome last days of two gunmen-one who killed his family before racing through the city on a killing spree as he fled from the cops, the other a man who shot a city bus driver- are recreated in a frank, reportorial manner.FISHBOYThe narrator, a somewhat pathetic naïf whose father wrecked the home by cheating on his catatonic mother, develops a crush on a girl who works at a fish restaurant. He goes on a date with her but is rejected when he attempts to grope her at her front door. Gradually he becomes obsessed with her, writing her love letters and visiting her even though she doesn't want to see him again. After he threatens to jump off her roof, her father tries to set him straight, eventually punching him in the face. He is offered admission at a fisheries school in Nebraska and goes there to get away from Seattle, but finds it isn't what he bargained for, and becomes bored. He lies by the highway and in a somewhat magical-realism passage two guys stop their car and begin taking his body apart until he has turned into a fish, gasping for air on the highwayside. It starts to rain and he finds himself "there, somewhere, in-between."GRACEA Jesus-loving woman develops a mysterious degenerative illness and is forced to spend the rest of her days in a home, putting up a front of hope but knowing that she is on her way out.LOOKING OUT FOR YOUR OWNThe narrator remembers his first love, a girl without a mother and an abusive father. It is an innocent relationship-the narrator is plagued by sexual hang-ups and the girl cries after intercourse. When the narrator accidentally gets her pregnant, the girl's father storm into his house and almost chokes him to death. Thinking about his mentally retarded brother that his parents institutionalized and about the beatings his girlfriend has taken from her father, the narrator breaks up with the girl because he feels guilty that he can't take care of his own.

Man and Wife


Katie Chase - 2016
    The girls and women in these stories come up against the rules and roles that give shape to their worlds. As marriages are arranged over tea, blood feuds simmer beneath football games, and the ruins of a city burn, they struggle between holding on to their families and seeking out new ways to live and love.These stories ask, as our hands slip from the long line of tradition and we become refugees from home, what, if anything, is lost. And how is it that what we thought we’d let go keeps finding its way back?PRAISE FOR MAN AND WIFE:“Katie Chase’s stories have a rhythm, a form, and a mesmerism all their own.” —Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Brief History of the Dead“Toggling between the comic and the horrific, these brilliant stories rearrange the familiar into something more nuanced, fraught, and mysterious.” —Edan Lepucki, author of California“With sharp, confident consideration of what it takes to survive in the world as a woman, Man and Wife introduces an important new literary voice.” —Danielle Evans, author of Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self“These slyly subversive stories tweak suburban reality in a manner reminiscent of ‘The Lottery’ or The Stepford Wives. Katie Chase’s narrators sound like the girl-next-door. . . if you lived next door to a parallel universe.” —Peter Ho Davies, author of The Welsh Girl“Captivating, haunting, and eerily smart. Every story in this collection gave me chills. Katie Chase is one of a kind.” —Jennifer DuBois, author of Cartwheel

Bang Crunch


Neil Smith - 2007
    A woman mourning the loss of her husband finds solace in talking to his ashes, entombed in a curling stone. The title story zeroes in on a girl with Fred Hoyle syndrome, whose age expands and contracts like the universe. The members of a support group for people with benign tumors begin to suspect that their meekness has caused their medical woes.Bang Crunch creates an extraordinary world inhabited by all-too-human characters, and heralds the arrival of a literary talent with an unfailing, exacting concern for the profundities of our lives.

Do Not Deny Me


Jean Thompson - 2009
     • Award-winning storyteller gaining popularity: Jean Thompson’s short fiction has been honored by the National endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation; Who Do You Love: Stories was a National Book Award finalist for fiction and was promoted by David Sedaris during his own lecture tour; and Throw Like a Girl: Stories was a New York Times Notable Book and a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year. The collection is also in its sixth printing, as Thompson’s longstanding critical acclaim crosses over into a popular following. Do Not Deny Me is perfectly positioned to gain an even wider audience. • Do Not Deny Me: Here is a title that demands—and commands—attention in and of itself. Yet Thompson’s latest collection is no literary dare, delivering as it does twelve dazzling new stories that together offer, with wit, humor, and razor-sharp perception, a fictional primer on how Americans live day to day. In Thompson’s writing, The New York Times Book Review has noted, “some of the biggest satisfactions happen line by line, thanks to Thompson’s effortless ability to tip her prose into the universal.” Thompson succeeds as “one of our most astute diagnosticians of contemporary experience” (The Boston Globe).

Livability: Stories


Jon Raymond - 2008
    Two old friends attempt to rediscover their lost bond on a trip to remote mountain hot springs. Two teenagers, trapped in a mall after hours, push each other to new levels of honesty and sexual misconduct.In Jon Raymond's deft, nuanced stories, these and other characters experience the deep longings and sudden insights of life in a modern, middle-sized city—a world of rapidly changing neighborhoods, rising financial pressures, and chance encounters shaped by far-distant forces. Whether kids or carpenters, artists or drifters, all have arrived at a crossroads, seeking what they need to survive and finding what, if necessary, they are willing to live without. With poetic detail and a humane spirit, Livability draws a somber, wryly observed portrait of America now.

Dangerous pleasures: a decade of stories


Patrick Gale - 1997
    The subjects are wide-ranging and various -- curious childhood loyalties, long-hidden memories, newly discovered joys, startling secrets, dislocated relationships, overwhelming, thrilling passions. In prose which is vivid and fresh, Patrick Gale explores the subtle boundaries that shift between the fantastic and shockingly real. With characteristic insight and wit and with consummate ease, he draws the reader into lives both familiar and strange, revealing a world that shines with possibilities and will never fail to delight.

Night Train: New and Selected Stories


Thom Jones - 2018
    This scorching collection from award-winning author Thom Jones features his best new short fiction alongside a selection of outstanding stories from three previous books. Jones's stories are full of high-octane, prose-drunk entertainment. His characters are grifters and drifters, rogues and ne'er-do-wells, would-be do-gooders whose human frailties usually get the better of them. Some are lovable, others are not, but each has an indelible and irresistible voice. They include Vietnam soldiers, amateur boxers, devoted doctors, strung-out advertising writers, pill poppers and veterans of the psych ward, and an unforgettable adolescent DJ radio host, among others. The stories here are excursions into a unique world that veers between abject desperation and fleeting transcendence. Perhaps no other writer in recent memory could encapsulate in such short spaces the profound and the devastating, the poignant and the hallucinatory, with such an exquisite balance of darkness and light. Jones's fiction reveals again and again the resilience and grace of characters who refuse to succumb. In stories that can at once delight us with their wicked humor and sting us with their affecting pathos, Night Train perfectly captures the essence of this iconic American master, showcasing in a single collection the breadth of power of his inimitable fiction.

Town and Country: New Irish Short Stories


Kevin Barry - 2013
    Edited by award winning novelist and short story writer Kevin Barry, this volume will once again mix established names with previously unpublished authors, and will seek to offer fresh renditions to the Irish story - new angles, new approaches, new modes of attack.Published in 2011, New Irish Short Stories, edited by Joseph O'Connor, has sold over 10,000 copies to date and featured Kevin Barry's 'Beer Trip to Llandudno' - winner of the 2012 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Prize - as well as stories by William Trevor, Dermot Bolger and Roddy Doyle which went on to be Afternoon Readings on BBC Radio 4.

Easy in the Islands


Bob Shacochis - 1985
    An entire island bureaucracy casually confounds the attempts of Tillman, a hotel owner, in his attempt to get his dead mother out of the freezer and into a real grave; stymied, he resorts to a highly unusual form of burial. Two poor islanders stumble into a high-class dance party one night and find themselves caught up in a violent encounter that just might escalate into revolution. And a young woman sails off into the romantic tropics with the man of her dreams, only to learn the hard way - as Eve did - that paradise is just another place to leave behind.Winner of the National Book Award for first fiction, Easy in the Islands is a “stunning” (Washington Post) collection of stories by one of America’s foremost contemporary fiction writers. Infused with the rhythms and the beat of the Caribbean, these vivid tales of paradise sought and paradise lost are as lush, steamy, and invigorating as the islands themselves.From fishing fleets in remote atolls too small to appear on any map and reggae bars on islands narrow enough to walk across in an hour, to the sprawling barrios and yacht filled marinas of Miami, Bob Shacochis charts a course across a Caribbean that no one who has ever been there on vacation will recognize.

The Half-Mammals of Dixie


George Singleton - 2002
    As the author says of his characters, "They're regular people just trying to get by." Among them: a boy whose reputation is ruined when he appears in a head-lice documentary; a lovelorn father who woos his third-grader's teacher with creative show-and-tells; and a former pharmaceuticals salesman who waits for the word of God to tell him what to paint on next the "primitive" canvases he sells for big bucks to an art dealer.