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michaelhartford

michaelhartford

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Shelter Half
Carol Bly
The Bee-Loud Glade
Steve Himmer

Driving the Heart and Other Stories

Driving the Heart and Other Stories - Jason Brown The thirteen stories in Jason Brown’s Driving the Heart are about driving on, regardless of obstacles and, to a great extent, without a focus on the ultimate destination. These are largely grim tales, full of brain tumors, car wrecks, and lives wasted by booze and drugs, but they are not hopeless tales; they are peopled with characters who drive on, even while others around them are coming to a stop.Full review

Sworn to Silence

Sworn to Silence - Linda Castillo Readers of serial killer thrillers won’t be much surprised by the plot of Sworn to Silence. The murders are gruesome, the town’s dark side is exposed, and there’s even the requisite profiling flim-flam. But the writing is of a far higher caliber than is typical of the genre–Castillo is not one to commit clunkers–and the main characters, particularly Kate, are compelling and well-rounded. Though the climax feels a little rushed and depends on some very lucky timing, the story is satisfying and compelling.Full review

Cecil and Jordan in New York: Stories

Cecil and Jordan in New York - Gabrielle Bell Gabrielle Bell’s Cecil and Jordan in New York pulls together several stories told in comic book format that are held together by themes of social awkwardness, nostalgia, and the search for personal meaning in an all-too-meaningless world. Their settings range from the mundane to the fantastical, with the two often bleeding into each other: an independent filmmaker’s girlfriend turns into a chair, an unlikely meeting with a Latin American novelist causes worlds to collide uncomfortably, a woman who falls upward travels fugue-like through bizarre and disjointed adventures.full review

Why the Devil Chose New England for His Work

Why the Devil Chose New England for His Work: Stories - Jason Brown The eleven stories of Jason Brown's collection Why the Devil Chose New England for His Work are linked by their setting in the fictional Maine town of Vaughn, and by their interest in young people navigating treacherous waters (both literally and figuratively). Though presented mostly in the realistic voice of contemporary short fiction (echoes of Carver and Dubus are clear), the stories also evoke earlier works of American short fiction.Full review

The Great Perhaps: A Novel

The Great Perhaps - Joe Meno Joe Meno’s The Great Perhaps is an inventive, startling novel that is equally comic and affecting. It tells the story of Jonathan Casper’s family in dissolution: his daughters Thisbe and Amelia in their struggles with adolescent sex and politics and ambition; his wife Madeline equally troubled by her research into the social behavior of pigeons and her marriage to a neurotic and unhappy man; his father Henry’s haunting by his memories of a World War II interment camp and his work designing war planes; and Jonathan’s own deep unhappiness with life and the thwarting of his dream of unlocking the secrets of evolution through the study of prehistoric giant squids. Meno weaves together squids, clouds, pigeons, airplanes, and radio dramas in subtle and fascinating ways; though his characters are realistic and squarely set in their middle-class Chicago neighborhood, he leaves open the door to the unknowable and the impossible.Full review

Tunneling to the Center of the Earth

Tunneling to the Center of the Earth: Stories - Kevin Wilson Kevin Wilson’s collection Tunneling to the Center of the Earth is full of strange wonders: a grandmother-for-hire, a trio of recent college graduates who spend the summer and fall digging tunnels, a doomed Southern family doing battle by way of paper cranes, a museum of obsessive collections, spontaneous human combustion. The stories are playful, inventive, and glib.Perhaps a bit too glib.full review

The Dance Hall at Spring Hill: Short Stories by Duke Klassen (MVP)

The Dance Hall at Spring Hill: Short Stories by Duke Klassen - Duke Klassen, Gary Eller The German Catholics of Spring Hill are the near neighbors of Bill Holm’s Icelandic Lutherans. Like those Icelanders, they’ve wrestled a living from the harsh prairie of western Minnesota, and in the process have become as hard and cold, at least on the outside, as the stones and ice of their landscape. There’s little room for sentimentality on the prairie: kittens are drowned, dogs are run over, mothers are buried, houses are burned. Klassen’s stories are stark and unadorned, only rarely taking lyrical flight; life and death on the prairie is a matter of fact affair.Full review

Steal Across the Sky

Steal Across the Sky - Nancy Kress Nancy Kress’s novel Steal Across the Sky feels like two distinct books. The first is anthropological science fiction in the tradition of Ursula LeGuin: twenty-one “Witnesses” from Earth are sent by an alien race calling themselves “Atoners” to visit seven pairs of planets where humans were placed 10,000 years ago; some change has been made to half of each planet pair, and the Witnesses need to discover that change and what effect it has had on the culture and society that developed. The second is a thriller, a pair of chases that happen in the aftermath of the knowledge the Witnesses bring back.Full review

A Whaler's Dictionary

A Whaler's Dictionary - Dan Beachy-Quick If Moby-Dick is the Torah of the white whale (and perhaps of the American novel), then A Whaler’s Dictionary is its Talmud, or at least an interesting and playful chapter in the rich commentary around the seminal (pun on the sperm whale acknowledged and intended) work in the modern American canon.Full review here

Stoner (New York Review Books Classics)

Stoner - John Edward Williams John Williams sums up William Stoner’s public life in the first paragraph of “Stoner”: enrolled in the University of Missouri at Columbia in 1910, earned his doctorate in literature in 1918, taught at the same university until his death in 1956, memorialized with a donated medieval manuscript and now largely forgotten by his colleagues. It seems an inauspicious life out of which to make a novel, but there is a richness to Stoner’s private life that makes for a compelling, and haunting, story.Full review here.

Passionate Accurate Story(tr, R

Passionate Accurate Story(tr, R - Carol Bly What Bly brings to the writing-book shelf is a fierce sense of morality. Writing for Bly is not merely about expressing oneself, or even about creating literary art (though she has deep respect for art as a thing larger than ourselves); for Bly, writing is a moral act, and fiction must be built on strong ethical ground.Full review

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Forest of Hands and Teeth - Carrie Ryan What makes “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” so interesting is that it is as much about the roiling emotions of a young woman as it is about the horde of “Unconsecrated” zombies prowling the forest beyond the village’s protective fence. Mary lives in a severely constricted society, a village that has been cut off for generations from the outside world by the Unconsecrated; her options in life are to marry and help to rebuild the human race; live as a low-caste guest in her brother’s household; or join the Sisterhood, the mysterious religious organization that maintains the village culture and hides the history of the world before the Return.Full review here

The Quiet Hours: City Photographs

The Quiet Hours: City Photographs - Mike Melman The photographs capture city scenes in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth in the quiet hours just before dawn. Some of them are of places I know well: the railyard and grain elevators in my South Minneapolis neighborhood, the streets of Northeast Minneapolis, the bridges of St. Paul. Quite a few are interiors that I have never seen: the abandoned commandant’s quarters at Fort Snelling, the steam plant at the Ford factory, a violin shop with an array of instruments–violins, a cello, a lute–that seem to float in the air. These photographs remind me a little bit of many of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings: there are no people in the pictures, but there’s a very real sense of the people who populate these places. This is what our world looks like when we’re away.Full review here

Letters from the Country

Letters from the Country - Carol Bly Bly calls the bluff on many of Minnesota’s most cherished myths, particularly “Minnesota Nice.” She considers the Minnesotan tendency to avoid controversy and conflict a stultifying tendency, inimical to true civic life. She proposes intentionally conflict-laden events, where people with real, deep divisions are forced to interact about those topics. Her ideal of civic life is not a place where everyone gets along; it’s a vision of candor and conflict that leads people into creative solutions for common problems.Full review here

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives

Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives - David Eagleman In the afterlife, you will populate the dreams of the living, as others who have moved on to the next stage of death populate yours; you will meet old gods, bereft of their worshipers, reduced to a deathless, homeless nomadism; you will be a series of e-mail autoresponders and cron jobs, maintaining the web of human relationships long after the last human being has returned to dust.Full review here(Readers of The Brief History of the Dead are sure to enjoy this collection of thought experiments about the afterlife.)

The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel

The Collected Stories - Amy Hempel Amy Hempel’s stories are like nothing else in contemporary fiction. They are plotless, almost characterless, but rich in imagery and emotion, more in the mode of confessional poetry than fiction. The language is careful but chatty at the same time, and deceptive in its apparent honesty; the stories invite us in for an intimate talk, but push us away with undisclosed facts.Full review