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From the Anglo-American woman who makes a spectacle of herself trying to be Cuban in Miami to the estranged son leading his father on a hostile hike in New Mexico, Valeri's characters carry a heavy load of desire and anger. Proud, loud, and hungry for whatever comes next, each person desperately searches for an understanding that lessens his or her burden. The saints here are pure only in their anger, desperation, and desire to be loved, holy only in their quest to keep going. These stories grow through subtle shifts—the bad becomes not so bad, the worst livable. It is the saintly moments of unexpected understanding that shape the collection: one gigolo's lover picks up another at a bus stop and they agree on his worthlessness, the love-worn man reminds the newly divorced woman of her physical power, the estranged son shelters his father from an unexpected storm. Valeri navigates the reader through the bones and scars of those who ache with wanting something else and become a little older and a little wiser for it. The Kind of Things Saints Do is a collection of human imperfections and missed connections that grows into a kaleidoscope of aspiration and hope.
Safe as Houses, the debut story collection of Marie-Helene Bertino, proves that not all homes are shelters. The titular story revolves around an aging English professor who, mourning the loss of his wife, robs other people's homes of their sentimental knick-knacks. In "Free Ham," a young dropout wins a ham after her house burns down and refuses to accept it. “Has my ham done anything wrong?” she asks when the grocery store manager demands that she claim it. In "Carry Me Home, Sisters of Saint Joseph," a failed commercial writer moves into the basement of a convent and inadvertently discovers the secrets of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. A girl, hoping to talk her brother out of enlisting in the army, brings Bob Dylan home for Thanksgiving dinner in the quiet, dreamy "North Of." In “The Idea of Marcel,” Emily, a conservative, elegant girl, has dinner with the idea of her ex-boyfriend, Marcel. In a night filled with baffling coincidences, including Marcel having dinner with his idea of Emily, she wonders why we tend to be more in love with ideas than with reality. In and out of the rooms of these gritty, whimsical stories roam troubled, funny people struggling to reconcile their circumstances to some kind of American Ideal and failing, over and over. The stories of Safe as Houses are magical and original and help answer such universal and existential questions as: How far will we go to stay loyal to our friends? Can we love a man even though he is inches shorter than our ideal? Why doesn’t Bob Dylan ever have his own smokes? And are there patron saints for everything, even lost socks and bad movies? All homes are not shelters. But then again, some are. Welcome to the home of Marie-Helene Bertino.
Set mainly in the small towns of Alabama, the stories in Her Kind of Want ache with the relentless longing of the poor, struggling, usually discarded southern women who tell us their lives—lives that seem to revolve around men whose only presence is their absence. Bebe, Luna, Melly, Little Hula, Dena. These are just a few of the women we meet in Jennifer Davis's award-winning collection. Women who married too fast, had children too young, and drink too much. Yet beneath their unpolished exteriors, these women are flesh and blood, and their wants and needs are as severe and deep as any. Davis's characters relate their stories in voices as complex and raw as their southern environment. Each tale may sound slightly familiar—an unwanted pregnancy, a fast car flying down a country road—but Davis moves beyond the familiar stories of the rural South to expose the gaps that connect these women, creating startlingly real and vibrant characters. Although often bleak and sometimes disturbing, Her Kind of Want is a celebration of southern people, their perseverance, their spirit, and their determination to make the ugly beautiful.
This powerful debut collection, set in the light-filled deserts of Nevada and Arizona, introduces a darkly inventive new voice. Like an early Richard Ford, Don Waters writes with skill, empathy, and an edgy wit of worlds not often celebrated in contemporary literature. In Desert Gothic, Waters unleashes a wild and gritty cast and points them down paths of reckoning, where the characters earn the grace of their hard-won wisdom. Set in bars, mortuaries, nursing homes, truck stops, and the “poverty motels that encircled downtown’s casino corridor,” Waters’s ten stories are full of misfit transients like Julian, a crematorium worker who decorates abandoned urns to create a “lush underground island,” and the instant Mormon missionary Eli, a hapless divorcé who “always likes people better when they’re a little broken.” Limo drivers, ultra-marathoners, vagabonds, and a distraught novelist-to-be populate the pages of these gritty stories.
On the verge of maturity--where parents are distant or absent, friendships are often more accidental than deliberate, and restless angst is common--Anthony Varallo's adolescent protagonists dissect the world, and their place in it, with keen perception. This Day in History deftly collects their moments of discovery. “There's a feeling I get whenever I enter an unfamiliar house, as if a secret inventory has been handed to me, and I am made to understand that the sofa cushions are stained underneath, the coffee table nursing one gimp leg, the books along the bookcase stolen from summer rental, and the dining room table used only for Christmas and taxes,” the narrator confesses in the first of Varallo's twelve stories. Here, a birthday party for an unpopular classmate reveals an adult world both familiar and utterly strange. In subsequent stories a young girl longs to be a part of her best friend's family, only to discover the family is less than ideal; two sisters recall the childhood houses they grew up--and apart--in, places inseparable from each woman's notion of the other; and a mother and son set off on a bold and hopeless errand, their suburban neighborhood momentarily transformed into a stage.As these children stand on the brink of adulthood, unsure how to move forward, striving to make sense of the world around them, they often discover that the distance between themselves and others is no nearly so great as first imagined. Funny, sad, and hopeful, Varallo's stories make a gentle argument for connection and community and, in doing so, seek to extend our sympathy toward the world.
The stories in Merrill Feitell’s award-winning collection, Here Beneath Low-Flying Planes, examine the fleeting and unexpected moments of human connection, reminding us of the indelible impact we have on one another no matter how insignificant or anonymous we might feel under our huge, collective sky. Feitell’s characters deal with shifting dynamics in relationships—whether they be best friends, lovers, family, or even strangers—that consistently leave them torn between two places or commitments. In the title story, Janie has undergone a painful childbirth experience and her group of friends must pioneer new dynamics while she wonders how to bring her old self back. In “Bike New York!” amid thirty thousand cyclists, a man on the brink of marriage meets a young girl who, in a tiny Brooklyn bakery, affirms both who he has been and who he is going to be. On this short detour from normal life he comes to understand “the funny thing about finding your way in the world. There was a place laid out for you . . . and even as you stepped into it, happy for the chance to rest, you wondered how you ever ended up there.” Funny, big-hearted, and deft, Here Beneath Low-Flying Planes navigates the reader through the life that happens when you’re planning other things. It is a collection of experiences, roads not taken, and the intense and unforeseen sparks of connection we hope for.
The Thin Tear in the Fabric of Space gathers stories about coping with grief, trying to love people who have died, and—more broadly—leaving old versions of the self behind, sometimes by choice and sometimes out of necessity. In each of the nine stories, Douglas Trevor’s characters are forced to face uncomfortable realities. For Elena Gavrushnekov in the title story, that means admitting after the death of her beloved that she still longs for contact with other human bodies. For Peter in “Central Square,” it is realizing that, like his deceased father before him, he is drinking himself to death. Unable to confront his incapacitated mother and the memory of the plane crash that killed his father, Edwin Morris in “Saint Francis in Flint” is compelled to acknowledge that his saintly aspirations are not what they appear to be, while Sharon Mackaney in “The Surprising Weight of the Body's Organs” struggles with uncontrollable outbursts of rage in the wake of her young son’s death. In moments of great pain and loss, when self-expression seems impossible and terribly useless, the characters in these stories nonetheless discover the tenderness of others. In “The River,” the narrator finds that the friendship he has forged with a French girl with whom he can only just communicate has bred intense, almost intuitive compassion, while in “Fellowship of the Bereaved,” the disconsolate brother of the deceased sister who occupies the empty center of the story uncovers not only anger in his parents but also empathy and humor. As these characters persevere in their own lives, they do so mindful of, and humanized by, the experiences of having seen people they know and love slip unexpectedly into the thin tear in the fabric of space: that quiet chasm that so resolutely separates the living from the dead.

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