January 30, 2020: “Light Streaming From a Horse’s Ass” by Anne Elliott

Hello, Story366!

Okay, Sickpocalypse has come full circle, finding its way to me today. Last night, I was pretty wiped out while writing my post on Virginia Pye. What I found out later was that this unusual exhaustion was just the start of something wicked a-brewing. By the time I woke up this morning at six to get the oldest boy off to school, I was full-blown Bleh. The Karen was up in Jefferson City, interviewing the governor or something, so I was in charge of the other boy, too. I went back to bed, got up with him at the last possible second, and ushered him off for his daily public education. Then I slept a lot. Got sick a lot. Wandered to my office and didn’t accomplish much. The boys got picked up and are home. Right now, I have a fever and the chills. Karen is back and just ordered a pizza because her rewards expire today so a pizza is on its way. I haven’t eaten in over a day and can’t imagine eating any Pizza Hut now. We’ll see what happens when it gets here.

I really want to put some thoughts down about Kobe Bryant and the Cubs, as people spoke to me, at length, about each topic today. I just sort of sat there. The important thing is, I’ll either A) get to it, or B) the moment has passed and I won’t. Thus is the beast that is Story366.

Like last night, the highlight of my day was stretching out on the couch and reading from my book of the day. Today I chose Anne Elliott‘s collection, The Artstars, out last year from Blue Light Books as winner of their Blue Light Books Prize.

Seems like before in my life, when I was sick, reading would put me right to sleep. Honestly, when I opened Elliott’s book and saw the first story, “Light Streaming From a Horse’s Ass,” was twenty-seven pages long—with tiny type, to boot—I fully suspected that I wouldn’t make it through, that someone from my family would find me out out, the book on the floor and a cat or two sleeping on my person. As it turns out, “Light Streaming From a Horse’s Ass” captivated me from the start and I ate that story right up, then moved on to more. This first piece paints a memorable image right away, a taxidermied horse lying in the bed of a pickup truck in a parking lot on the line between Brooklyn and Queens. The narrator spies it on the way up to her photography studio, which is actually her apartment—it’s a commercial building and she’s not supposed to be living there. She’s not the only one pulling this charade, however, as the building is littered with starving artists, including another photographer and a trapeze troupe. Elliott swarms her story with details, making entry into this world more and more appealing with every page.

Our protagonist (in second person by the way), Maddie, is 25 and trying to make a go of it as an artist. To make rent—which she doesn’t make—she take headhots, three hundred bucks a pop, which keeps her alive, living without power (and therefore heat), eating rice with sugar in it to keep her calories up. The other artists in the building—that photographer, Fritz, and the trapezers—seem to be making a better go of it than she is, so she bums food off of them, as well as film and paper and booze. One recent client, a Buick-chinned actor named Paul, has given her a fifty-dollar advance, just so she can print out his headshots. He also gives her the fruitcake and cheese-and-sausages his family sent him for Christmas, Maddie’s stomach growling throughout their shoot.

Oh, and that horse? The guy who had it in his truck turned out to be a set designer and needed to get rid of it, the horse having seen better days. Maddie adopts the horse, takes it up to her office/home, and sets it up by the window. Here we get the titular moment, Maddie first peering inside a hole where the tail used to be—think of that image—then later admiring the light pour out that same hole, captivated by its odd beauty.

Because Elliott’s a good writer, she gets all of these interesting people in the same place, the most interesting of the settings: the trapeze artists’ apartment. Paul—whom Maddie has dubbed Dudley because of his resemblence to Dudley Do-Right—arrives with booze and more food, mostly to see one headshot that Maddie is particularly fond of. Maddie, in fact, thinks this is the photo, the one she’s been waiting for since coming to New York. She is sure Paul/Dudley will get work because of it. Maddie’s so sure, so convincing, I pictured Dudley landing a Law & Order episode the very next day.

(I just ate some pizza.)

Eventually, all these oddballs in an odd space, juiced by good booze, create chaos, gorgeously rendered chaos Maddie doesn’t want any part of. She’s stoked by the Paul photo, just when she thought about giving up for good and becoming a CPA. How she just wants to take pictures, create art. Paul/Dudley follows her up to her place and assists in the makeshift darkroom, and from there … that’s all I’m going to reveal here. What I’ll say is that Maddie’s moment of inspiration, this glimpse at her own potential, motivates her to the story’s end, producing more great images, from both Maddie and Elliott.

Other stories in Artstars focus on artists as well. The next piece in the book, “Three Lessons in Firesurfing,” focuses on another artist conclave, this a group of graduate students at a Midwestern art school. Our hero here is Sara, focusing on a textiles, just trying to prove she belongs The next piece, “Aquaria,” features an artist’s statement and some captions by one of the secondary characters in “Three Lessons in Firesurfing,” a sculptor who works exclusively in the medium of her own used tampons. Artstars is about art stars, or at least people trying to be, and Elliott seems to nail that feeling of community and desperation way better than anything in, say, Rent (I like that musical, but God, those people are terrible fucking artists). The fact Elliott has worked as a sculptor, costume stitcher, and bookmaker (according to her bio) doesn’t surprise me at all. My bet is, she’s lived this life.

“Light Streaming From a Horse’s Ass” read more like three pages than twenty-seven, as I enjoyed embroiling myself in these artists’ lves. The fact Anne Elliott has worked as a sculptor, costume stitcher, and book artist (according to her bio) doesn’t surprise me at all. My bet is, she’s lived this life. Or she’s great at faking it.



January 29, 2020: “Shelf Life of Happiness” by Virginia Pye

Hey there, Story366!

Late again?! It’s nearly ten p.m. when I’m composing the start of this post, and really, I don’t know where my days go. I guess I do, as I taught, had a meeting, held office hours (two students came!), worked on Moon City Press books, argued with someone about bar codes, and half-oversaw a Cub Scout meeting. I also got the boys off to school, ushered the Karen off to an overnight assignment in Jefferson City, some kind of statewide event she has to cover first thing in the morning. Still some signs of the Sickpocalypse here, too, forcing one of the boys home not ten minutes after the first bell rang. All in all, it feels like I’ve been up for three days. I can hear my bed, blanket, and pillows calling to me. They are soft and warm, they are saying, and want to share their spoils with me now.

I kind of want to write about Kobe Bryant’s death a little here. Or the Kris Bryant decision. Both have been hot-button sports topics this week and have been on my mind more than sports usually are. But like I said, I feel like I’ve been up for three days, so I’ll save those discussions for another day.

Nothing like finding a wonderful book to read to set your mind at ease, and that’s just what I’ve done tonight with Virginia Pye‘s 2018 collection, Shelf Life of Happiness, another title from Press 53. Pye is the author of a couple of previous novels, someone I’ve admired for a while now, so it was good to sit down and read her work, a few stories in a row, to see what it is she does.

The first story in the book, “Best Man,” is probably my favorite, set in the eighties about a guy serving as best man in his best friend’s wedding—just as the groom’s about to die from AIDS. It’s a touching story, and a couple of times, when I thought it figured out, Pye took it in another direction, ending with something much better than I was imagining. I then read “Crying in Italian,” about a complex mom on vacation in Rome with her family. She’s at a point where she’s wondering if she really wants to be a mom, if this is the life she should have chosen, all this before a tense moment really tests her meddle. Both good stories, both placing their respective protagonists in interesting, life-challenging predicaments, both disarming me with fresh possibilities for how such stories can be told.

The title story, “Shelf Life of Happiness,” is about an aspiring writer named Nathan who is kissed by a coworker and longtime friend, just as the two are going to meet their respective spouses for a double date. Gloria, the kisser, is a rising editor at the publishing house where they work—she’s gotten Nathan a gig as a proofreader—and the daughter of a big-time, super-famous author dad (he’s compared to Hemingway quite a bit, so much so they were drinking buddies back in Key West). Nathan did not invite the kiss from Gloria, much less return it, but over dinner, their spouses uanaware, Nathan is flustered as can be. Nathan’s whole life kind of passes before his eyes as they eat, wondering what Gloria was up to, continues to be up to, playing footsie under the table and flashing him longing stares. Gloria goes so far as to announce her marriage to Bill must be over because their lives are so boring, all while her toes are digging into Nathan’s thigh. Is it the booze talking? Is she kidding? Nathan, meanwhile, just wants to make it through dinner without his wife, Melissa, figuring out what’s going on.

Nathan has to deal with what’s happened with Gloria. She, as said rising editor and daughter of her father, and famous in her own right, so much so that she can write articles about her cat and get them published in The New York Times. Nathan owes his job to her, and by proxy, her dad, who got her hired at his firm. Nathan had chances with Gloria in college, but for some reason, that just wasn’t in the cards, Gloria designating him as a friend. After the kiss and the shenanigans at the restaurant, Nathan genuinely doesn’t know if he wants to have an affair with Gloria or if he wants to avoid her at all costs.

Gloria doesn’t give up, pursuing him as if they’re still in college. She calls Nathan in the middle of the night, requests rendezvous, not seeming to care if she ruins Nathan’s marriage to Melissa in the process. Melissa even suggests he go to her, to help out his old friend as much as he can—the fact Melissa cannot even phathom Nathan as a romantic partner for Gloria is another blow to Nathan’s identity. Eventually, Nathan has to confront Gloria, and he does, leading once again to a surprising turn from Pye, me unable to see what was coming, her sleight of hand a precise, honed instrument.

(Note: I just discovered the plural of rendezvous is rendezvous.)

Like the narrators in “Best Man” and “Crying in Italian,” Nathan is faced with a life-altering decision, then fumbles through the story, trying to figure out his path. Virginia Pye is adept at this approach, skillfully building tension, keeping her readers guessing, putting clear, unique characters to good use. I enjoyed reading from Shelf Life of Happiness, always happy to see people in uncomfortable situations, to see a good writer make them squirm.




January 28, 2020: “The Violet Hour” by Elizabeth Geoghegan

Good evening to you, Story366!

Getting to my post late again today, despite my best intentions, reading last night before bed, hoping to get ahead, but no dice. I was rather productive all day, though, holing up in my office. Moon City Press has a couple of titles coming out at AWP in March—a new story collection and an issue of Moon City Review—and we’re still putting those together. They’re mostly laid out and ready for final production, which makes me beam with pride and happiness. Not quite there yet—these have to be perfect, after all—but we should have them ready for you when you visit our table.

On the homefront, it was Taco Tuesday, so we made tacos. To note, I’ve never commemorated Taco Tuesday with tacos before (at least not on purpose), but I got it in my head this afternoon that I wanted tacos so damn it, I was making tacos. I went to the store, and by the time I got the boys in the car, we were all chanting, “Taco Tuesday! Taco Tuesday!” the entire way home. We jumped right in and made the tacos when we got there, doing little dances as the meat browned and I sliced the vegetables. I plated the tacos and we sat down to eat. As soon as we all took a bite, the younger boy announced, “Dad, I just remembered: I don’t like tacos.”

Somehow, that escaped him as we chanted and danced and cooked. But he’s right: He doesn’t really like tacos. Realize, he’s the only person on this planet who doesn’t like tacos. If you were looking for that odd person, I found him. He lives with me and the Karen and his brother and is wandering around the house, still hungry, two tacos on a plate on the counter.

For today’s post, I read from Elizabeth Geoghegan‘s 2019 collection eightball, out from Santa Fe Writers Project. My friend Wendy J. Fox sent me this book, said I would like it, so I gave it a whirl. Turned out, Wendy was right. Geoghegan has a way with characters, with their obsessions, so I enjoyed delving into four of her tales for tonight.

The title piece in eightball is actually a novella, and had I gotten to this sooner, I probably would have read that, probably would have written my post on it. No dice. Aside from “The Violet Hour,” which I’ll get to in a bit, I read three other stories in the book, “Tree Boy,” “Cricket Boy,” and “Dog Boy,” which are not only similarly titled, but are similar in other ways, too. All three feature a first-person female narrator who has a boyfriend—nicknamed after something he likes/does—who she’s either in love with, is sleeping with, is tortured by or is … well, it’s all three, for all three stories. I wondered, as I went along, if the narrator in these stories could be the same person, if eightball was a diary of sorts, a log of one woman’s relationships; since none of the characters are named, it seemed kind of possible. Thinking about it, though, each of the narrators has a slightly different life and a different set of supporting characters, and handles her boy in a vaguely unique way. So, maybe this is the same woman, but I don’t want to assume so.

All the same could be said for Violet in “The Violet Hour,” only Violet has a name (meaning, of course, it could just be unnamed Violet in the other stories, too). Violet’s boy isn’t named _______ Boy, but Billy. Billy lives on a futon under a tree, doesn’t believe in consumerism or electronics, and goes off on great worldy adventures, sometimes as a professional photographer, sometimes just because. He and Violet start seeing each other, and before long, he asks Violet to join him on a six-month trek of the Silk Road.

Violet has her reservations. Firstly, Billy lives on a futon under a tree, contributing to his blatant problem with conviction, let alone commitment. Next, Billy’s dated just about every hippy-loving lady in town, ladies who have formed sort of a PTSD support group. These women hang out with each other like old girlfriends, not women spurned by the same long-haired bohunk. Violet spies them around town and tries to avoid them, but as it turns out, they’re charming, welcoming her to the group, even though she’s Billy’s current squeeze. She’s just up to bat and they’re already in the locker room.

Violet decides she will not be Billy’s next ex and agrees to the Silk Road trip, thinking this will bond him to her longterm. She takes leave from her job, rents out her apartment, and buys a ticket to meet Billy in Bangkok. Billy’s gone ahead, to Jakarta maybe, or is it Shanghai, and will meet her there. Violet has to prepare herself for six months of hostels—hostels on a good night. She starts off by flying first-class to Thailand and booking a few nights in a five-star hotel, one last gasp of luxury before a half year of roughing it. She emails Billy to tell him where she’s at, knowing he might be mad because she’s splurged. She makes up for it by cutting herself off from social media during her trip, practicing what will be her life.

It’s not hard to guess, or giving away too much, that Billy doesn’t show up at the hotel. Violet, off email, didn’t see his urgent messages in time to not leave. Billy informs her  that he’s A) found someone else, and B) stuck in the middle of tsunami, one that’s devasting whole countries, killing tons of people. Violent is suddenly awash with conflicting emotions: She’s sad, furious, embarrassed, and most of all, concerned about Billy’s safety (though she secretly wishes death on his new girlfriend). The rest of the story goes off in a variety of interesting directions, Geoghegan avoiding any tropes. Violet doesn’t feel sorry for herself, nor does she go off on some Eat, Pray, Love self-healing adventure. I felt for Violet by the end of her story, but more so, felt like I knew her. I wanted to pick her up and give her a ride home (in my boatplanecar, I guess).

The stories in eightball are unabashedly about women dealing with men, men that they involve themselves with despite knowing better. In that way, they’re not unreliable narrators, but women willing to take chances, willing to sow the benefits of what they, as older versions of themselves, will refer to as mistakes. These women—strong figures in their own right—confess their sins with these men, fully in on the joke, laughing at it, wearing it like a badge. What doesn’t kill them makes for a good story, for a good collection.


January 27, 2020: “Blood Rites” by Daisy Johnson

Happy Monday, Story366!

Not to beat a dead horse here, but Pukefest ’20 continues at the household: The Karen and the older boy now have what the younger boy had on Friday. In fact, I woke at three a.m. to Karen hopping out of bed, where she literally ran into the older boy in the hall, both of them jockeying for the bathroom. I was mostly asleep, but I think I heard a cartoon noise when they collided, something like Splat! or Blam! Nothing really funny about it, though, as it’s a miserable day for each of them. I think I’ll rename Pukefest ’20 “Sickpocalyse.’ It’s the Sickpocalypse, Story366. Keep a bucket within arm’s reach.

Considering how ill she feels today, I feel bad to exclaim my current dislike for Karen, which solely at the hand of this:


These are books authors have sent her to review on Poem366, her poetry equivalent of this project. This is one day’s haul for her. Karen is, how do I say, more popular (i.e., likable) than I am, so as soon as she put the call, the books started pouring in. In the past few weeks, she’s received a couple hundred books. I, in comparison, in the past four years, have received two dozen books directly from generous authors, hoping I’d feature their collection. I’ve faired much better by writing indie and university presses, petitioning all the collections in their catalogue. Several presses have replied and have given me the bulk of my subject material. Now Karen’s started doing that, too—the big package in that stack is from Tupelo Press—another way in which she will supersede me. Great.

For today’s post, I read from Daisy Johnson‘s lauded and excellent debut collection, Fen, out from Graywolf Press in 2017, though originally out in Johnson’s native England from Jonathan Cape a year earlier. A former student of mine, Shane, was tauting this book to me, so I picked it up … then didn’t do a post for a while and never read it. Since then, Johnson went on to publish a novel, Everything Under, which was shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize. It was about time I caught up.

I read the first five stories in Fen, liking every one. Johnson has a minimal, deliberate style, moving through stories at a quick pace, but always making sure to strike a scene with a stark image, a terse line of dialogue, or a sudden cut and time jump that puts a scene into perspective. The opening story, “Starver,” is about girl whose friend is starving herself to death. Another, “A Bruise the Shape and Size of a Door Handle,” is about a young girl (there’s a lot of these) who meets another young girl at a movie, then strikes up a passionate affair in her father’s attic. Another, “How to Lose It,” is about two generations of young girls and their stories of lost virginity. None of these stories end up being as simple as I’ve just described them, but I think you can infer the general theme cutting through this book.

Today, however, I’m writing about “Blood Rites,” which is again about … well, this one seems to be more about young women, young women who move to England from Paris. They move into a house and try to adjust, finding ways to feed themselves—literally; at one point, the mice suddenly … disappear.

Eventually, the women—Greta, Arabella, and the narrator—get a taste for the English countryside—and the men who inhabit it. The women take turns dolling themselves up and sojourning into town, luring drunk men from the pub back to the house. After a little chitchat, the women descend upon their prey, cook him up in a stew, and that’s that. And that’s as far as I’ll go in describing this story’s plot.

Did I mention all of these stories take place in the fen? I didn’t know what a fen was, and halfway through the second story, I called out to Karen, “What’s a fen?” and Karen replied, “A swamp.” The land, the swamp, the setting in general, is always present in these stories, characters sacrificing themselves to the fen, the fen swallowing characters up, that kind of thing. The women in “Blood Rites” don’t simply crave a local delicacy—something about the land, the fen, calls to them, wants them to consume it. I wouldn’t say the fen is alive, but it’s certainly a character, a constant consideration. Setting, for Johnson, isn’t merely a place to have characters interact.

I also want to note that SmokeLong Quarterly published a delicious story by a writer named Alise Miller today, a story I picked as this week’s weekly guest editor. The story is entitled “Happiness is Homemade,” and as soon as I read “Blood Rites,” just an hour or so after rereading Miller’s story, I knew it had to be fate. The stories’ commonality can’t be mere a coincidence.

Daisy Johnson delves deep into the complex lives of her young female characters in the outstanding collection  Fen. These women are rebels, iconoclasts, and outcasts, bucking whatever system they find themselves not fitting into. At the same time, they form an  uneasy symbiosis with the titular fen, eerily connecting them to this place, far more than any of the other people—except each other—they’ve encountered. Top-of-the-line stories here, off-beat and surprising, bellicose and surreal. Huge recommendation.


January 26, 2020: “Mr. Chaos” by Angélica Gorodischer, Translated by Amalia Gladhart

Greetings, Story366!

Yesterday was an odd day for the family, a Saturday we chose not to do anything. The Karen and I simultaneously decided to place zero expectations on the day, for us to each do our own thing, to accomplish what we chose to, but on our own schedules. Since we don’t get to spend a lot of time with our boys during the week, we usually go out of our way to have a family activity on the weekends, to get out of the house, force a situation where we have to interact, have an experience. Talk to each other. Yesterday, however, we said no, that we would just do our own thing, see what would happen.

It was the best day. I slept in, read a book, wrote my post, watched part of a basketball game, and hung out with the younger boy. Karen spent a couple of hours at a coffee shop with the older one, did some shopping, and had a great span of reading and writing. We did all the pukey laundry from Pukefest ’20 (see yesterday’s post), and then some. We went out for groceries. All in all, a fantastic day.

I realize I’m regaling you with stories of an average, ordinary day, which I really don’t want to do here: Hey, nothing happened. Here’s a few hundred words about it! The point I’m trying to make is, Karen and I aren’t the kind of people who do that kind of thing: nothing. Almost every minute of every day is accounted for, then we plan for every minute of every tomorrow. We don’t have free days, and usually we can’t, because of some sort of work or Scouting or sports activity. For us to take a day and not face the pressure of a schedule is quite an event for us.

And we’re doing it again today. Yep, two free days in a row.

The only question is, will we shoot for a third?!

No, probably not. We might get fired from our jobs.

But two in a row!

Like yesterday, this morning I read from a book of translated work, as I had a couple and decided to make it All-Translation Weekend! Happy All-Translation Weekend, Story366! Up today is Angélic Gorodischer‘s novel-in-stories, Trafalgar, translated from the Spanish by Amalia Gladhart and released in the States by Small Beer Press in 2013 (it’s a 1979 book, originally).  Gorodischer is a pretty big deal in her native Argentinia, earning all kinds of national decorations, made popular here in America after Ursula K. Le Guin discovered one of her books. Le Guin is one of Gorodischer’s great influences—according to the press materials and by just reading the stories—along with a score of other writers like de Balzac and Cervantes and Borges (writers mentioned throughout the stories by name). I was glad to meet this new writer, for Gladhart to bring her to my attention.

Again alredy, I’m doing a collection of linked pieces, this time a novel-in-stories, the eighth such book already this year. And again, like with Peg Alford Pursell the other day, I feel more comfortable talking about the project as whole than I do any one particular story (which I’ll do anyway, in a bit). So here goes.

Trafalgar is about an Argentine importer/exporter named Trafalgar Medrano, a character around his hometown of Rosario (also Gorodischer’s hometown). Aside from being a rich guy who seems to know everyone, Trafalgar likes to tell anyone who will listen elaborate stories of his trade, of his import/export missions. He does so in cafés, at dinner parties, in gardens, and other locales. He loves to get started on these stories, which are always vast and detailed and filled with tangents, but will also play coy, pretend like he’s lost interest in the story, at least until someone gives him more coffee—Trafalgar can put away heroic amounts of coffee. The stories then continue, until their end, sometimes hours having past since the tales began.

Here’s the thing: Trafalgar isn’t an importer/exporter on Earth—he does his business around the galaxy. He often starts his stories with something like, “Hey, have you ever gotten the chance to visit the planet Veroboar?” To note, the answer is always No, because these places don’t really exist to anyone else but Trafalgar: This is, in most regards, a realistic world. Trafalgar, however, openly boasts about visiting these galactic destinations, sort of like someone’s rich friend might brag about visiting the Riviera or Tokyo, knowing full well that their audience hasn’t been to these places and frankly can’t afford to. Yet, his audience humors him—the stories, told from their points of view, often questions Trafalgar’s legitimacy, ableit briefly—letting him speak. Trafalgar goes on and on, drinks a lot of coffee. Those listening to him take on the role of asking questions, of giving him cues, things to the jist of  “You don’t say?” or “Tell me more!”

After reading four stories from the collection, that’s pretty much what I think happens in every story. There’s a two-page metafictional note at the start of the book, asking the reader to read the stories in order, that there’s a method for the madness, but after taking in the first three, I skipped ahead, anyway, to “Mr. Chaos,” just to see where all of this was headed. “Mr. Chaos,” I discovered, is another story where Trafalgar tells someone a story about one of his trading trips. So, IMHO: This feels like a sequence of related stories, using the same setting and characters, but doesn’t feel so much like a novel to me. So far, the story isn’t progressing and Trafalgar isn’t changing. Perhaps the overall story has something to do with a woman named Josefina, but I can’t be sure, as she’s only mentioned in the stories I read (though she’s mentioned consistently).

In any case, “Mr. Chaos” is set in a garden, Trafalgar again speaking with friend, this one a woman, this one with whom he has a playful relationship, her calling him names, egging him on, acknowledging the fact that he’s kind of a ridiculous figure. This sparks Trafalgar a bit more, but also makes him more mischievious—in “Mr. Chaos,” Trafalgar withholds the story a bit longer, needs a bit more prodding, to get to its end.

“Mr. Chaos,” or Trafalgar’s story within, is set on Aleiçarga, a planet where Trafalgar insists nothing interesting has happened to him. He keeps insisting that sometimes, his trips are just boring, with nothing to tell. His host keeps at him, wanting to hear about his signature run-ins with the local authorities, about the beautiful princess he’s bedded, how he cleverly traded some simple Earth item, such as a light bulb, to both make his escape and secure a small fortune. Our narrator/host keeps feeding him coffee, making Trafalgar stay, keep telling his story.

Trafalgar does drag his host along with mentions of a “crazy guy,” which has caught her interest, and every time he tries to end the story, she gives him coffee and asks, “What about the crazy guy?” Eventually, because Trafalgar likes telling these stories far more than anyone likes listening to them, to play with and ultimately entertain his audience, he relents: The crazy guy, whom he dubs “Mr. Chaos,” turns out to be ….

Like Trafalgar himself, I’ll tease you here, not give too much away. It’s fun, though, in the way all of these stories tend to be.

In the end, I enjoyed reading these stories within stories, watching Trafalgar’s friends react to his wild tales, to his sociological reports. Trafalgar is quite the character, a ladies man, an adventurer, a scholar (he’s constantly reading the classics and bringing them to other worlds), and a local character, the kind everyone knows, everyone accepts, everyone wants to be around. Angélica Gorodischer has created a memorable figure in Trafalgar, a reading experience (thanks in no small part to Amalia Gladhart’s beautiful translation) I’ll remember.


January 25, 2020: “The Thaw” by Ólafur Gunnarsson, Translated by Ólafur Gunnarsson & Steven Meyers

Happy Saturday, Story366!

So, picking up where I left off yesterday with my son’s first basketball practice …

Almost as soon as I posted yesterday, I got a message from the Karen that our boy got sick at practice and has to go home. As in, he threw up all over the basketball court. Three times. Karen originally thought he might have been faking, just not liking basketball, but as soon as she posed that question, he ralphed. Then he ralphed two more times as she tried to clean the first ralphing up. She got him home and he continued to throw up, over the course of the evening and into the morning. I slept with him on the couch—no need to get barf on a mattress—and he threw up two more times in the middle of the night. He seems okay now, but yeah, what was inside is now outside.

Aside from the sadness of seeing our little buddy all sick and miserable for ten hours, him being sick robbed him of his first game today—no way we were going back there at nine this morning and risking another on-court heaving. This also denied us of what I was getting at yesterday, watching ten first-graders who have no idea how to play basketball play basketball. Fear not: He has a few more games, with all of one weekly practice in-between each; I’m sure the chaos will endure until next time.

Aside from washing a few loads of vomit-soaked blankets, sheets, and clothes, I got to read from Ólarur Gunnarsson‘s collection The Thaw, released in English in the States in 2014 by New American Press (originally debuting in 2011 in Gunnarsson’s native Iceland by Forlagið bókabúð). The book is translated by Gunnarsson himself, along with Steven Meyers (most of it, including all of the stories I read for today) and David McDuff (one story). I have done fewer than a handful of translated books on this blog—Gao Xingjian comes to mind—and I know none of them have been from the Icelandic. So, some new territory.

Today I’ll focus on the title story from the collection, “The Thaw,” as it’s my favorite from the quartet I read. “The Thaw” is about a set of Icelandic brothers, Stagnar and Jonas, who work as handymen in Iceland in the aftermath of World War II, after the British and American GIs have left—appartently, there was a pretty large base and airfield there. Iceland was on the side of the Allies, so it’s not like Reykjavik was occupied, yet there’s a strong anti-American feeling across the countryside. I’ll get into that in more detail in a bit.

The brothers are building a house for a rich importer when Jonas, the protagonist of the story, digs up an old skull while trenching out lines for toilet pipes. He shows his brother, who immediately tells him to hush up about the skull, warning that their job might be shut down if an archaeological team is called in. Jonas, who has lived his life bullied by his older brother, concedes. Any Viking treasures that might be unearthed will remain earthed.

Jonas and Stagnar reside in their childhood home, left to them when their parents died. Jonas lives a lonely life, and the night of the skull discovery, reacts to his brother’s teasing by heading out to find female companionship, which Stagnar doesn’t believe him capable of finding. Joke’s on Stagnar, as Jonas heads to a local pub and is comfronted a by a pretty lady who wants to chat and dance. The woman has a son, which she’s up front about, but Jonas likes kids. His wheels are already turning: He’s not only found companionship for the evening, but a wife and son. In your face, Stagnar!

Jonas and the woman, Hilda, are soon accosted by an old acquaintance of Jonas, who is drunk and crying on Jonas’ shoulder. When Jonas asks him to leave, that he’s with a lady, the man mocks him for consorting with a whore: Hilda’s son is the product of an affair with an American soldier, long gone. We soon find out that the hatred of the Americans is especially focused on the women who bedded them, who are stuck with their bastards, bringing shame to themselves and the the entire village. Jonas heroically disposes of the lout and he and Hilda go to her apartment and have sex. Jonas’ plan is working so far, better than he could have dreamed.

When Jonas brings Hilda and her son, Harald, home to meet Stagnar, the tyrannical older brother is even more cruel than the drunk at the pub. He openly mocks Hilda in front of her son, calling her a whore, which displeases Jonas. Jonas actually stands up to his older brother, for the first time in his life, impressing Hilda enough that she and Harald move in. Hilda sleeps with Jonas in his room while Harald sleeps on the couch. It’s tight, but Harald is happy, perhaps as happy as he’s ever been.

The situation detiorates as Stagnar starts to hit on Hilda, which Hilda reports to Jonas. Jonas tries to handle the situation, but the situation becomes only moderately better. Hilda threatens to leave, the prospect of which crushes Jonas, who has grown as fond of Harald as he has of Hilda; Harald has even taken to calling him “Papa.”

What comes next is a pretty stellar resolution to this story, one I won’t go into here. It involves the mass deconstruction of the Americans’ military base and equipment, as well as us finding out how far Jonas can be pushed before losing it. The story, which could have ended in so many ways, ends as satisfyingly as I could have hoped, laced with metaphor and drama. It’s a great story.

Other stories in The Thaw address the issue of post-war Iceland and its feelings about America. And we were on their side! It’s easy to think of countries in Southeast Asia, South America, and the Middle East disliking the U.S. for interering in their affairs, but I would not have figured Iceland to be in that mix.

Gunnarsson writes about other themes, too, many of them involving familial drama. The opener, “Alien,” is about a father and daughter who just watched Alien together, which I liked because I have been rewatching the Alien films this week. Good timing.

Ólafur Gunnarsson tackles national pride and other issues in his collection, The Thaw. Gunnarsson has authored quite a few books in his native country and language, is a notable figure there—he’s even got a blurb from Iceland’s president (from 1980-1996) on the back cover! That’s the nice thing about translations, how they introduce you to writers you wouldn’t have read otherwise. Perhaps I’ll keep an eye out for more.





January 24, 2020: “A Girl Goes Into the Forest” by Peg Alford Pursell

Good Friday to you, Story366! Glad to be at the start of the weekend.

Today my youngest son has his first-ever basketball practice. The Karen is on her way there with him now, practice starting in about twenty minutes. Tomorrow, he has his first-ever game.

And there’s nothing more hilarious than this.

Why, you ask, is this so funny? Our son, to our knowledge, doesn’t know how to play basketball. He is in first grade and hasn’t played much at all. He’s not been a big watcher, either, though he’s caught a few minutes of Illinois games with me this year. There’s no way, however, he has any idea how basketball is actually played, none of the rules and certainly none of the skills. We’ve gone out to a playground a couple of times to shoot around, and in short, he’s too small to get the ball up and over the hoop. If he hefts it with all his might, he can hit the underside of the rim, or even launch it straight up in the air. It’s frustrating to play the game when it’s physically impossible to execute the most basic task. I’ve filed this sport away for later, when he can score. Dribbling hasn’t come up. Neither has passing. I don’t even want to think about defense.

The oldest boy played one season of soccer in kindergarten. Soccer is popular with kids that age because it’s easy. You run at the ball and kick it toward the goal, a big clusterfuck of legs and screams, the ball squirting out of the pack every once in a while. There’s isn’t a lot of skill involved. They don’t even have goalies.

What’s tomorrow going to look like? Karen and I giggle with anticipation. Maybe they won’t be required to dribble? Maybe the nets are lower? Maybe the other kids are just better, have played more than my kid has?

Really, I can’t wait. I am going to support my son, encourage him to play his best, congratulate him at the end.

I also can’t wait to see the chaos. Anything short of the gym burning down will be a disappointment.

For today’s post, I read from Peg Alford Pursell‘s excellent collection, A Girl Goes Into the Forest, out last year from Dzanc Books (who put out Elephants in Our Bedroom a decade or so ago, to be up front about that). I’ve seen Pursell’s work around for a while, but as always, it’s nice to get a large dose, to gauge things one after another. It’s kind of why short story collections exist.

A Girl Goes Into the Forest is yet another collection of linked stories, the sixth (I think) I’ve done already this year. I don’t think this collection is as linked as some of the others I’ve covered recently, as the characters aren’t as clear-cut the same people from story to story. Most often, no one is named, so it’s hard to even say for sure. I do think it’s linked, however, because of the prevalent theme, firstly, but also because of how the book is set up. The collection is cut in to nine parts, all of them consisting of around eight stories, and each part has a title. These titles include long sentences like “How Far She Has Come in the Wide World Since She Started Out in Her Naked Feet” and “He Tried to Say His Prayers But All He Could Remember Was His Multiplication Tables.” These titles offer slight indication to what the enclosed stories are about, but because Pursell is often highly metaphorical, it’s not like the stories in these sections are all about barefoot babies and kids reciting their times tables.

Thematically, the stories seem to most be about the relationships between mothers and daughters. Early on, in particular, I read a lot of stories about a mother letting her daughter go, letting her become a woman, leave the house, enter the world. Enter the forest. Even though many of the stories are shorts—some just a few sentences long—Pursell does progress through different stages in each part, through different types of relationships. Some seem keen to stay with the mother-daughter theme, the terror a mother has when her child enters the unknown for the first time. Other times, stories are about ancillary connections and themes, topics like uncles and flowers and birds.

And sex. And death. And love.

Pursell covers a lot of ground in this book.

Because the stories are so varied and they do cover a lot of ground, I like talking about the book, the project, in general. I have to pick one, though, because this is Story366 and that’s what I do. I’m choosing the title story, “A Girl Goes Into the Forest,” as it sets the tone for the whole book, for Pursell’s metaphor. In fact, it’s kind of an epigraph for the collection, falling before Part One, a preamble. And it’s less than a page long.

“A Girl Goes Into the Forest,” the story, starts with the girl already in the forest. She’s there with a man and seems to have just arrived. She is hopeful, like she’s entered a new phase of her life instead of dark woods—which is of course Pursell’s prevailing metaphor. The girl is trying to get comfortable with this man, in this place, getting used to the pines, to the smells, to the feeling of everything on her skin. The man puts his jacket down so she can rest easy. Trees and branches and roots surround her, phalluses abound. She does not know what will happen, but she’s game, there for the ride. She’s ….

Like I said, this story doesn’t even take up a whole page, but it does establish this theme of the forest being the future, some dark and dangerous unknown. The girl has to trust herself, but knows she might fail. She doesn’t shy away.

I don’t want to oversimplify this book by pushing this metaphor too much. The stories do cover a lot of ground, and whether they’re on point with this theme or stray, Pursell writes with lyric beauty of a poet and the descriptive powers of a painter. The stories all boast a lush pattern of imagery. Individually, they also seem distinct, perhaps the same author telling each story, but not necessarily all at once, or sticking to a script. Sometimes  the stories are straightforward, sometimes didactic. Pursell employs repetition and rhyme, listing and scene. There’s over seventy stories here and Pursell’s bag of tricks is deep and well prepared.

This has been an unconventional Story366 post, for sure, seeing as how I’ve barely written about any one story. I’ve seen a few books like that this year, reading a lot of shorts and even more of these linked collections; I’ve enjoyed relaying the sense of the project as much as any work in particular. I want to stress, though, how gorgeous and inspiring A Girl Goes Into the Forest is to me, how impressed I am by Peg Alford Pursell’s collection. This is a truly wonderful book, part Lydia Davis, part Aimee Bender, part Joyce Carol Oates, but something truly original at the same time. Highly, highly recommend.


January 23, 2020: “The Delicate Architecture of Our Galaxy” by Quintan Ana Wikswo

Good day to you, Story366!

In yesterday’s post, I spoke of how I had to strive for a better day today, using my time more wisely, i.e., not just napping and snacking away my precious time alone. I mostly did a good job, getting to my office and completing a thousand or so mini-Moon City Press tasks over the course of the afternoon. The Karen‘s birthday cake is gone now, so that’s no longer calling me from the fridge like the beautiful siren it was. I told my GA that I’d be in to get a task done by twelve-thirty; I walked in at twelve-fifty. I call that a victory.

Tonight I had the pleasure of attending a reading here on the MSU campus, one for a couple of colleagues, Lanette Cadle and Mara W. Cohen-Ioannides. Neither of them is officially on the creative writing faculty here at MSU, but each has published at least one creative book, so it was their time to shine. Lanette in particular is promoting a new poetry collection, The Tethered Ground, which is pretty excellent. Always nice to see people succeed, especially people you know and like.

For today’s post, I read from Quintan Ana Wikswo‘s collection, The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far, out in 2015 from Coffee House Press. I picked this book up some time last year because it looked interesting—it has photographs strewn throughout—and am glad to have gotten to it today.

The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far has photos strewn throughout—I just said that—and delving into the collection has revealed some pertinent information. Firstly, Wikswo is a visual artist and took all the photos herself. Next, the photos vary, many of them nature shots, though not all, with very few human subjects mixed in. Sometimes photos take up half a page, with text above or below, and sometimes, a photo takes up an entire page. Once in a while, between section breaks in the stories, a photo will take up an entire two-page spread. The photos are vivid and oblique at the same time, often double-exposed, inlaying one image over another. All of the photos were taken at historic war sites in the Baltic, in New York, and in California. Most interesting of all is that Wikswo used old, mostly broken cameras, eighty to a hundred years old, needing quite a bit of manipulating to take a single, producable image. No photo is doctored or enhanced by modern technology, either. In the end, the effect is stunning, the grainy, timeless photos beautiful, mired with color and context.

Whew! I’ve never described anything like this in Story366 before—this is the first book that includes photos. A whole different kind of description, visual art. I hope I’ve done a good job.

Anyway, between these photos, Wikswo of course includes short stories. Her stories, like her photos, are unconventional, told in poetic vignettes, bookended by the photos (or vice versa). The stories, composed of these prose poems, are often heavily metaphorical and surreal, sometimes reading like fairy tales, other times like fables or legends. There is loss, there is longing, and there is hope. The battle sites have inspired these stories, as have Wikswo’s own ancestors and history. The narratives aren’t exactly Freytag, but that’s just another element that makes this book what it is, truly original.

“The Delicate Architecture of Our Galaxy” really stands out from all the stories I read. Maybe because the images are consistently in line with the narration, one controlling metaphor carried throughout the story. The narrator’s mother lives inside a mason jar. And maybe it’s not so much a metaphor as a construct of magical realism (which is, of course, metaphorical by definition), as the mom actually lives inside a jar. This isn’t some 1960s Disney movie explanation, either, a tiny, shrunken woman kept inside a jar like a Lillaputian. Mom here isn’t in human form at all, instead a gelatinous jam, a substance instead of a woman. She’s in the jar to keep her from slipping between the cracks and disappearing. Our narrator unscrews the jar to let her mom breathe, though she has no idea if this is even necessary.

So, Mom is a jar of jelly. The story goes on to explain the history of mother and daughter (wait, is the narrator a woman or am I merely assuming this?), several of those prose poem/vignettes comprising the story’s text. After a few pages of introductory info, Wikswo cuts the story into four parts, each one describing the mom, in the jar, at each of the four equinoxes. For each equinox, Wikswo writes several prose poems—or perhaps microfictions—little anecdote about the mom, living as a mass in a jar. We get the story of where the jar came from (a boy once gave her pickled watermelon, which she emptied into a field), how she likes to swim with minnows, and how the narrator and mom liked to smuggle black licorice into movies. Holistically, we see a broad canvas, depicting the relationship between the two, sometimes very real—like the licorice story—or sometimes more surreal, like the narrator augering through the ice of a frozen pond to pour her mother inside. It’s a complex relationship (understatement understood and intentional). “The Delicate Architecture of Our Galaxy” illustrates what a person remembers, what’s held onto, the lengths we go to to save and cherish it forever.

The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us This Far is, needless to say, unlike anything I’ve covered in this blog so far. The array of interesting approaches—from the photos to the form to the style to the war themes—make this the most unusual and ambitious collection of stories I’ve ever read. Credit to Quintan Ana Wikswo and her unique vision, as I truly enjoyed unpuzzling this wonderful book, enjoying all the ways it could stimulate my senses, teaching me new ways to tell a story.





January 22, 2020: “Welcome, Anybody” by Jen McConnell

Good evening, Story366!

Today was a normal day for the first time in a while, no travel, no funerals, no birthdays, no holiday weekend. Just a normal day, back at work, teaching class for the first time since the first day of classes. A department meeting sidetracked me from what I’d wanted to do this afternoon—like write this post—but for the most part, today was the first regular day of the semester. About time. I need the routine.

Once the boys are off to school and the Karen is off to work, I’ll have a choice to make every day this semester. I don’t teach or have office hours until later in the afternoon, so I can either A) get right to my office, where I can focus my energies on a variety of tasks; or B) sort of try to do that around my house, which almost definitely will lead to a nap and quite a bit of snacking. Today, option B won in a landslide. Between ten a.m. and two p.m., I did a little bit of work, bookended by a couple of naps, paired with a shockingly large lunch.

Tomorrow, I need to do better.

One thing I did accomplish today was read from Jen McConnell‘s 2012 collection, Welcome, Anybody, out from Press 53. I’ve known Jen and her work for a while, so I’m not really sure why it’s taken me so long to get to her book. But the magic that is Story366 mends all  wounds, meaning I spent a nice long while on my couch, taking in her stories.

It was an enjoyable time, too, as McConnell is good at what she does. I read a handful of stories from the book, starting with the lead piece, “Debris,” about a bar waitress who has a creepy regular die during her shift. “The Safest Place in the World” came next and is about an accident-prone pregnant couple trying to make it through their last trimester. I then skipped ahead to “Supergirl”—because I’m a nerd—about a woman who takes her Halloween costume a little too seriously. I also read “A Divorced Man’s Guide to the First Year,” which is exactly what it sounds like. I ended with the title story, “Welcome, Anybody,” which I’ll write about today.

“Welcome, Anybody” is about Jim, a guy who at the start of the story has lost his job. It’s a  too-typical scenario of a middle-aged guy just getting pushed out because the company is realigning, going younger and cheaper. Jim heads home, though surprisingly, not all that bothered by what’s happened. He has a nice severence, some savings, and is looking forward to starting again. He’s especially excited to be home early so he can attend his son Daniel’s high school baseball game, which he hasn’t been able to do all season.

Jim’s wife, Nancy, is quite as excited—not so easy for a middle-aged guy to get a new career—and makes Jim pick up the Reverend for the game. The Reverend is Jim’s dad; he and Jim don’t get along. Turns out, the Reverend is a reverend (go figure) and sometime around high school, Jim stopped going to church. Jim played ball then, too, the same school as Daniel, and basically gave up his faith to focus more on getting a scholarship, maybe even drafted. Neither happened, father and son grew apart, and then all of sudden, it’s thirty years later and Jim is unemployed and driving his dad to the same field he went to instead of church.

McConnell spends most of the rest of the story with Jim and the Reverend in the bleachers, bickering, trying to one-up each other with Daniel, who’s the starting pitcher for today’s game. Jim taught Daniel a lot but hasn’t been to any games, while the Reverend hasn’t missed one yet. Daniel’s day is up and down, but neither Jim nor his dad seem to notice: They’re too busy acting like children, bastardizing the purity that should be watching Daniel on the field.

The resolution of this story is real and true, the feeling I got at the end of all of McConnell’s stories. She has the uncanny skill of finding the extraordinary in the slightly above ordinary. Jim has lost his job, certainly a landmark day for him, but not all that uncommon in the grand scheme of twenty-first century fiction. Yet, McConnell makes the most of it, making the story work, surprising me and convincing me all at once. Same thing with that waitress in “Debris,” McConnell turning a memorable anecdote into a life-altering, existential moment. Ditto for the pregnant couple, for Supergirl, and the newly divorced dad. Sure, these are big days for all of them, finding themselves in these peculiar jams, but Jen McConnell knows exactly what she’s doing, how to proceed, making for memorable fiction. Welcome, Anybody is a testament to her talent, distinct and viable, honest and enduring.


January 21, 2020: “The Sea Beast Takes a Lover” by Michael Andreasen

Good day to you, Story366!

Today is the Karen‘s birthday, so pretty much all of my energy went into giving her the best birthday I could muster. Karen usually doesn’t ask for much, just wanting a bit of a special day. She isn’t too subtle about dropping hints, which I appreciate, what she’d like for dinner, what kind of cake she’s envisioning, something small she may want as a gift. Taking mental notes for the past week or so, I was able to pull off—with the help of the oldest boy—chicken enchiladas and a from-scratch Italian wedding cake. Plus, we kind of cleaned the house so it didn’t look all ass in the birthday pictures. We just about got it all done when Karen came home, right when I was frosting the cake. I had a plan of hiding the cake somewhere (still not sure where I’d hide a cake, two curious cats roaming), telling Karen I blew it, that we’d go out for ice cream or something, then Bam! Italian wedding cake. When she caught me with spatula in hand, there died the ruse.

In the end, Karen was pretty thrilled after a hard day at work—production day—to get the dinner she wanted and the cake she wanted, not really expecting either, not with what a cranky mess I was when she left this morning. I rose to the occasion and I’m glad. More importantly, I got the oldest boy in on everything, making sure to tell him how much this would mean to his mom today. It would have been easy to order something out, get a cake at the store, but since Karen hinted at enchiladas and pineapple coconut pecan cake, that’s what she got. I wanted him to know that special days are important, even for adults, especially when they lose their mom twelve days prior. Best of all, it sunk in, and not once did he ask when we’d be done or if he could quit and do something else. Proud of that boy.

Happy birthday, Karen!

Got to my reading late today, but still got to spend a solid hour with Michael Andreasen‘s 2018 collection, The Sea Beast Takes a Lover, brought to you by our friends at Dutton. Not sure what’s taken me so long to get to this book, one I’ve had for a while. I also remember it being well received when it came out, on a lot of year-end best-of lists. Cake eaten and sugar coma setting in, I turned on a lamp and got myself a-reading.

Whoah, boy, what a collection of stories! Andreasen’s been published in some of the best venues out there, is on this fancy imprint of Penguin, and has acquired a lot of accolades. After reading the first three stories in The Sea Beast Takes a Lover, it’s easy to see why. These stories are a force, slamming me right in the face with big concepts, irregular perspectives, and detailed, introspective narratives. Andreasen really hits the ground running with the excellent “Our Fathers at Sea,” an alternate-near-future-dystopia story where our old folks, when it’s their time, are shuffled into fancy crates, lifted by helicoptors, and dropped into the sea, where they sink to the next stages of their lives. The story follows a guy spending the last day with his father before shipping him off, the whole story presented as a stylized monologue, first person addressing second person. It’s a stunner. Next up was “Bodies in Space,” about a guy kidnapped by aliens while screwing a coworker, extramaritally, in the back of his car. The aliens then use the couple for research and display purposes, à la Billy Pilgrim and Montana Wildhack. Eventually he is set free, returning to a wife who, in search of his missing person, has uncovered his affair.

I’m writing about the third and title story, “The Sea Beast Takes a Lover,” because, well, it’s really fantastic, too. This story is set on a ship, a ship that has been taken by a sea beast, wrapped in its many giant tentacles. The sea beast isn’t interested in eating the sailors or simply destroying the vessel—it has amorous intentions, has embraced it romantically. This has gone on for weeks. The story is told by the last remaining officer (save the Admiral), an ensign who is more or less the straight man. He narrates the proceedings as rationally as possible, given the situation. The boat sinks several inches a day—the sea beast is tender, patient lover—despite constant bailing and pumping. Smaller tentacles wrap around the ship, randomly, the seamen never knowing when one will crawl up its pantleg, or worse, drag him off the bow and into the sea (there’s a particularly amusing scene where someone uses one to practice tying knots). Everyone carries an effigy of himself around as well, little facsimiles of themselves, working to make them as accurate as possible. The bosun is up in the crow’s nest with a sniper’s rifle, shooting at coconuts, yelling down to the closest man that he’d better not cross him, lest his head be like that coconut; this happens constantly in the background, unnerving the crap out of everyone, like that kid tossing firecrackers during the coke deal scene in Boogie Nights.

Oh, and the admiral has turned cannibal. He’s eaten several of his men.

This story may use en medias res as well as any story I’ve read. I can’t picture the story unfolding any other way, the boat already in the beast’s clutches when we start. This allows Andreasen to skip the origin story and just dive into the characters, like the bosun, the admiral, Toby (who’s cutting a porthole so everyone can see the beast’s eye), and Fujian woman, who stowed away in what might be the worst decision ever. Our ensign navigates us through it all, giving “The Sea Beast Takes a Lover” kind of a George Saunders feel, one of his early amusement park stories: an average guy trying to get by, the world coming undone around him, clowns on his left, jokers on his right. Everyone is obviously doomed, but nobody’s paying close enough attention to figure it out.

The Sea Beast Takes a Lover is an impressive debut by a writer who exudes talent, from each and every pore. My first mission today was to give Karen a good birthday. That accomplished, my next was to read and write about a good book. Michael Andreasen gave me that, and then some. Can’t recommend this one enough.