Confections, Cosmetics and Entertainments: On John Warner’s “A Tough Day for the Army.”

toughdayThat master of the short story, Anton Chekhov, once noted that a writer was not “a confectioner, a cosmetic dealer, or an entertainer,” but rather, Chekhov said, the writer was somebody who had “a contract with his conscience and his sense of duty.” One wonders perhaps what Chekhov would have made of a writer who at once wanted to sell you cosmetics, but also undermined the idea of wearing make-up at all. Although John Warner’s short story collection, A Tough Day for the Army, is brimming with metaphorical confections and cosmetics and entertainments, never, either, is he without a strong obligation to write his conscience.

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“The Thing Speaks For Itself” in Anomaly Lit.

anomalylit2The new issue of Anomaly Lit, featuring my story “The Thing Speaks For Itself,” just came out, and it looks fantastic. “Thing Speaks” is an older story that I reworked a bit before submitting to Anomaly, reworking some sections that had previously never quite felt right. It’s a bleak little piece, but from the tenor of the other pieces in this edition of Anomaly it seems to fit right in.

The editors at Anomaly also asked me to participate in a podcast and talk a bit about the story and my style. I hadn’t done anything like that before, so it was the source of much hand wringing, but I was eventually able to answer a couple questions in (I hope) a coherent fashion.

Thanks for the editors (Lorcán, Roseanna, Oliver and Joseph) for accepting the piece and allowing it to be in such a great journal. (The photography really is fantastic.)

You can read the story online here.

Issue Six of Sediments Literary Arts Journal.

Issue Six of Sediments Literary Arts Journal, containing my story “The Flower Car,” is now available online. I’m very happy with how this issue turned out—great looking magazine and a great home for my story.

“The Flower Car” will be featured on the Sediments home page later this month. I’ll try to update this post when that goes live.

Meanwhile, two other stories have recently been accepted for publication, which is very exciting. Look for “Sunsets in Sunny Gardens” in I-70 Review come later this year, while the other story is (by request of the editors) still a secret…

Of the books I read that were published in 2015, these are my favorites.

This has become a yearly tradition—joining the chorus of book lists to toss in my thoughts on the great books published this past year that I was able to read this past year. In 2014 I enjoyed Amy Bloom’s Lucky Us, among others, and the year before it was The Infatuations by Javier Marías that topped my list. For more explanation about the long title, see this post.

This year, I reviewed ten books, including two really great ones (1 and 3), which are highlighted below.

  1. Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff. Most of my thoughts about this great marriage novel of our time I put into my review. In short: sentence-by-sentence it was the best new fiction of 2015 I read. It’s not perfect, but I didn’t read anything better in 2015.
  2. God Help the Child, Toni Morrison. I swallowed Morrison’s latest in two sittings, maybe. Examining the way children can be abused, this book broadens a bit of the thematic scope after A Mercy and Home, and instead takes place in the present day. Although it hasn’t seemed to generate the same attention her last two books did, reading it made me fall in love with T-Mo all over again.
  3. Missoula, Jon Krakauer. Easily the best new nonfiction book I read in 2015, although The English and Their History and Sapiens, which are both currently on my nightstand, have been compelling so far. Krakauer wrote an advocacy book here, and even if you don’t agree completely with his perspective or his portrayals, it is difficult to argue with his facts and the call to take campus rape—and rape prosecution in general—much more seriously.

Books that weren’t published in 2015, but which I loved: How to Be Both, Ali Smith; Being Mortal, Atul Gawande; Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel; My Struggle, Vol. 2: A Man in Love, Karl Ove Knausgaard. (These four would probably be tied for my overall 2015 favorites.)

Pulp Literature: Issue 9 Out Now.

Issue 9 of Pulp Literature, featuring a story by yours truly, is currently available for download and purchase. I’m elated to have the story see the light of day in such an excellent publication—and Cover-9-smallwith such great illustrations, to boot! I’m also excited to read several of the other stories, as well.

Here’s just  small bit from the beginning of the story, if you are interested:

Ruth is floating. Through the observational porthole of the Inter- national Orbiting Space Station, she watches the Shackleton — a ship almost as big as the station itself — draw silently closer. On the window a thin caul of condensation has developed. She wipes it away to get a better look. Docking is a sort of breathless process, fraught with the potential for a myriad things to go wrong. In this case it is all the more difficult as ships like the Shackleton are, technically, never supposed to dock at the IOSS. Ruth’s pulse quickens.

You can buy it here.

My review of “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Days.”

twomonths-rushdieMy review of Salman Rushdie’s latest novel is online at the Lincoln Journal-Star and in today’s (Sunday’s) paper. It starts:

In all that has been written about him, no one has accused Salman Rushdie of lacking imagination. The author of the Booker Prize-winning “Midnight’s Children,” one of the past century’s great novels, as well as “The Satanic Verses,” the novel that brought a fatwa upon him, Rushdie has showed immense creative power.

Over a little less than 300 pages, his new novel, “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights,” continues his impressive and inspired record, bursting with stories, anecdotes, ideas, outlandish characters, clever and bawdy jokes, verve and wit.

I quite liked the novel, although some parts were more impressive than others—but the parts that were good were really, really good.

Franzen on Turkle.

This review by Jonathan Franzen of Sherry Turkle’s new book is worth reading and re-reading for so many things. Here’s just a snippet:

[Turkle’s] new book, “Reclaiming Conversation,” extends her critique, with less ­emphasis on robots and more on the dissatisfaction with technology reported by her recent interview subjects. She takes their dissatisfaction as a hopeful sign, and her book is straightforwardly a call to arms: Our rapturous submission to digital technology has led to an atrophying of human capacities like empathy and self-­reflection, and the time has come to reassert ourselves, behave like adults and put technology in its place.

And this, too:

The likably idealized selves that they’ve created with social media leave their real selves all the more isolated. They communicate incessantly but are afraid of face-to-face conversations; they worry, often nostalgically, that they’re missing out on something fundamental.

My review of “Purity.”

purityMy review of Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel, Purity, is now online at the Lincoln Journal-Star. An excerpt:

There are many brilliant bits of this novel, and Franzen remains one of the country’s most gifted writers. His psychological acuity may be unmatched, at least among living American writers, and he deserves credit for squarely taking on the political — often territory even brave writers avoid. Because he is on his own level, his books demand a keener, and even more critical, eye. “Purity” thus feels more like a retreat into his older work, the great but less compelling books “The Twenty-Seventh City” and “Strong Motion.” In the giant shadow of his last two tomes, perhaps, “Purity” has a harder time shining much of a light.