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Sandra Thompson takes us inside the lives of women struggling to find their places among lovers, husbands and ex-husbands, mothers, and children in relationships where old rules do not apply and new rules have not yet been set.
Thompson’s characters live in a world where dreams often supersede reality and things are not as they seem. Her style is sophisticated and subtle, and we experience her stories almost by osmosis. They stay with us afterwards to question their own realities.
Harriette Simpson Arnow is an American treasure. Of the twenty-five stories in this collection, fifteen were previously unpublished. Until now, the short fiction of Arnow has remained relatively obscure despite the literary acclaim given to her novels The Dollmaker and Hunter’s Horn. These stories, written early in her career for the most part, reveal an artistic vision and narrative skill and serve as harbingers for her later work. They echo her interest in both agrarian and urban communities, the sharpening of her social conscience, and her commitment to creating credible and complex characters. This collection is organized against the backdrop of her life, from Kentucky in the 1920s to Ohio and Kentucky in the 1930s and to Michigan in the 1940s. As Arnow fans read these early gems, they will be led from gravel roads to city pavement and open layers of Arnow’s development as a novelist to expose the full range of her contributions to American literature.
In 1938, Esquire purchased "The Hunters," which was eventually published as "The Two Hunters," a chilling story of a seventeen-year- old boy’s confrontation with a deputy sheriff. At the time, Esquire did not accept submissions from women, and its editors had no idea that writer H. L. Simpson was not a man. Years later, she admitted in an interview, "it worried me a little, that big lie, but I thought if they wanted a story, let them have it." Esquire paid her $125 for this story. The contributor’s notes at the back of the magazine include a photo of "H.L.Simpson," actually a photo of one of her brothers-in-law. It was her little joke on a publisher that discriminated against women....
—from the Introduction
Comanche Sundown is the story of Quanah Parker and a freed slave named Bose Ikard. Quanah and Bose try to kill each other in a brutal fight on horseback in West Texas. But over time, through the chaos of war they forge a friendship. They change from violent unformed youths into men of courage and decency. In 2011, Comanche Sundown won the Jesse H. Jones Award for fiction from the TIL.
Comfort and Mirth offers a rare glimpse into the capital city of Texas during the years of World War I, the formation of the Texas suffrage movement, the prohibition, and the first round of controversies over the Jim Crow Laws. It traces the growth of Austin from a frontier town to a cosmopolitan southwestern city including such events as the arrival of the first motorcars to the dusty streets Congress Avenue, the opening of the Hancock Opera House, the formation of Elizabet Ney’s sculpture museum in Hyde Park, and the construction, flooding, and reconstruction of the great dam to form the Texas Hill Country lake system. Set early in the twentieth century, this novel traces a young woman’s journey of self-discovery and struggle for self-empowerment. Camille Abernathy leaves her home and widowed mother in Seattle to move to Austin with her worldly new husband who has accepted a position as Professor of Philosophy at the University of Texas. As she devotes herself to the tasks required to create a home of ease and elegance for her husband and her children, she is drawn into a whirling social circle of professors’ wives and introduced to the world of urban opulence and hypocrisy. Through the letters she writes to her mother, Camille learns to unravel the complexities of her new life by trusting in her natural instincts and relying on her greatest innate strengths—depth of philosophical and spiritual wisdom.
Stories from Haiti
Marilène Phipps-Kettlewell’s award-winning stories transport you to Haiti—to a lush, lyrical, flamboyant, and spirit-filled Haiti where palm trees shine wet with moonlight and the sky paints a yellow screen over your head and the ocean sparkles with thousands of golden eyes—and keep you there forever. Her singular characters mysteriously address the deeper meanings of human existence. They also dream of escape, whether from themselves, from family, from Vodou, from financial and cultural difficulties and the politicians that create them, or from the country itself, but Haiti will forever remain part of their souls and part of the thoughts of her readers.
Some characters do achieve escape through the mind or through sea voyage—escape found by surrendering to spectacular fantasies and madness and love, bargaining with God, joining the boat people. Marie-Ange Saint-Jacques’s mother sacrifices everything to ensure her daughter’s survival on a perilous boat trip, Angelina waits to fly away to Nou Yòk, Vivi creates her own circus with dozens of rescued dogs, Gustave dies a martyr to his faith. Throughout, the “I” who moves in and out of these dream-filled stories embraces the heavenly mysteries found in “the room where all things lost are stored with grace.”
We begin our journey to Haiti with images of a little girl in a pink bedroom reading by candlelight a book about the life of Saint Bernadette, surrounded by the bewitching scents, sounds, and textures of a Caribbean night. Each story stands by itself, but some characters can be followed from one story to another through the transformations they undergo as a result of their life experiences. In this way, the collection can be read as one story, the story of a family trapped in a personal and cultural drama and the story of the people with whom the family interacts, themselves burdened by the need to survive within Haiti’s rigorously class-determined society and blessed by their relationship to the company of heaven in which they live and for which they are destined.
The eleven stories in Kellie Wells's debut collection cover a wide range of eccentric characters--from a young girl experiencing her friend's strange demise to a set of opposite-sex conjoined twins. Forced to deal with the debilitating confines of the physical world--usually manifest in some kind of deformity or affliction, from compression scars to mysterious blue skin--Wells's characters struggle to transcend their existential disappointments and find some way and someone to love.
In the title story, Ivy and her best friend Duncan struggle to understand their mortality as Ivy learns of his potentially fatal internal scarring caused by a moped accident. As Ivy says, "Things can get so strange so fast," and they frequently do in Wells's stories. But Ivy and Duncan help each other escape their frightening, difficult world, if only momentarily, through imagination, good humor, and closeness.
"Godlight" addresses most specifically the questions that are evident in all the stories: Do you believe in God, and do you believe in reincarnation? Jonas, the Hyatt Regency Hotel's live-in light bulb replacement man, encounters two different characters--a child who lives in the hotel and a woman who claims that her identity has been altered for the Witness Protection Program--who ponder these questions. Meanwhile, Jonas is left wondering what has really become of his missing daughter, Emma.
The physical world is brought into question frequently in this collection, and in "My Guardian, Claire," we see what can happen when someone tries to transcend it--and succeeds. During a séance to reach the narrator's late mother, Claire reaches the spirit world and never truly returns. The narrator tries desperately to retrieve Claire through a hilarious trip to the Exotic Animal Drive-Thru Paradise.
Compression Scars is an eloquent and original collection that vibrantly captures the oddities of both the everyday and the out-of-this-world.
The Chicago Tribune has called Richard Burgin “among our finest artists of love at its most desperate,” a critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer dubbed him “one of America’s most distinctive storytellers . . . I can think of no one else of his generation who reports the contemporary war between the sexes with more devastating wit and accuracy.” Through an extraordinarily vivid and variegated set of characters, The Conference on Beautiful Moments, Burgin’s sixth collection of stories, continues his daringly dark yet often humorous exploration of these themes, as well as our mysterious quest for truth, success, and identity. In the gently satiric “Jonathan and Lillian,” a movie star throws a dinner party with very different meanings for her biographer, her butler and ex-lover, and herself. In “Cruise,” an aging straight man befriends a young gay man. Together they meet on their cruise ship’s deck to confess to each other “the worst thing they have ever done.” In the title story, a journalist sent to investigate a conference formerly devoted to discussing beauty in the arts discovers it has turned into something considerably more sinister. In The Conference on Beautiful Moments, Burgin writes with equal compassion and insight about the homeless and the wealthy, prostitutes and businessmen, an autistic child and an art forger. His characters are masterfully illuminated by their interior narratives, which burst sharply into conversations at once intimate and calculated.
In "Counting Mercedes-Benzes," Marshall is a directionless young man who believes he can escape his parents' Beverly Hills lifestyle by marrying for love. He fails to realize, however, that the woman he thinks he loves, his mother's Hispanic maid Geneveva, has little in common with the person he imagines her to be.
The title story concerns a corporate lawyer who was a radical at Berkeley in the sixties. By chance he runs into his lover from that time and discovers how far the two have traveled in the intervening years. In "Lost in Rancho Mirage," Denton is a young man who might "have been picking up garbage or digging ditches if his grandfather hadn't left his (Denton's) father a piece of real estate that turned out to be directly in the path of a freeway". He must come to terms with the fact that he can never fully possess his beautiful girlfriend: "The imaginary sunlight bathing Jill, he realized, was a microcosm of a world in which she would always be the center; he would always be standing a little off, in a shadow, where he belonged".
The need to overcome reality often becomes an obsession for these characters. In "Space and Light," an architect's realization that a former protege has surpassed him both financially and artistically prompts him to attempt something wholly original for the first time, a project that leads him down an inexorable path to madness, to a darkness from which there is literally no escape. In "The Girl Detective," Justine's disappointment over her first sexual experience is juxtaposed to her resentment at being born a girl. To her, being a girl means "always wanting to be something different, someone else, unable to accept the facts that some of her friends seemed to consider, amazingly, a stroke of the utmost fortune." In the aftermath of her surrender to passion on the grass of the municipal golf course, she indulges her childish fantasy of being a private eye--"not Nancy Drew but Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, Lew Archer, even the virulent, violent Mike Hammer."
Set mainly in California, these stories portray a world where dreams come into conflict with reality, where perception fills the space between truth and fiction, logic and emotion, fantasy and disaster.
Benjamin Wood's Fort Lafayette and Civil War America
Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin has often been cited for its galvanizing effect on anti-slavery opposition in the years before the American Civil War. Southern sympathizers in the North (known as Copperheads) never came close to producing anything that matched its influence. One of the more interesting attempts was Fort Lafayette; or, Love and Secession (1862). The novel -- which features liberal doses of love and lust, intrigue and violence, loyalty and death -- is by no means great literature. It does, however, lay claim to being the only pacifist novel of the Civil War. Wood hoped to persuade his readers of the moral wrong, the folly, and the dangers to republican government of the war in which the country was engaged. The novel underscores the deep connections between Americans on both sides of the sectional conflict, the pain of their severance, and the suffering brought about by war.
For this reissue, Menahem Blondheim has provided a detailed introduction to the novel, the politics of the era, and Wood's life and career. Two of Wood's Congressional speeches are also included.