Recent Work By Sharon Harrigan

It was All Saints’ Day. A perfect time to visit our local legend, Thomas Jefferson.

People talk about Jefferson in Charlottesville, anchored by the university he founded, as if he were alive. “Jefferson would want us to build the road around the park, not through it.” “Jefferson would not let high-rises obscure the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.” Instead of “What would Jesus do?” people ask, “What would Jefferson do?”

You just published a book called Playing with Dynamite: A Memoir. Why did you decide to write a book about yourself? Did you do jail time or recover from addiction or walk on the moon or something?

First of all, I never intended to write memoir. Like many writers, I started with autobiographical fiction. I wrote a novel about a teenage girl growing up in Detroit who embarks on a quest to find out who her father was and how he died. It’s remarkable how many memoirists say they started by writing their story as fiction, but it didn’t work, so they finally had to tell the whole truth. That’s what happened with me.

Jack Driscoll is one of the most respected short story writers working today. He is not the most famous, but he is widely admired, especially among writers, as a craftsman whose work serves as a model for other writers to follow. The appeal is clear—his enormous compassion for his flawed characters; his gift for shining the spotlight on the kind of people and places that are so often overlooked both in literature and life; and his distinctive voice, which nimbly tightropes between high and low, vernacular and lyrical,  comic and wise. His characters say things like “Christ on a bike” and “piss in one hand and wish in another and see which one fills first.” But their insights and vocabulary can also fly to great heights. “The idea of a million pilgrims desperate to put a knee down in this nothing town suddenly adjacent to God and heaven confounds even the dreamer in me,” says one of the book’s precociously eloquent adolescents.

image2343sBefore the Boston Marathon bombers were identified, my friend Genevieve said a prayer: “Please don’t let them be Muslims.” She is married to a Muslim man from Morocco. When they lived in America shortly after the World Trade Center bombing in 2001, he was routinely pulled aside by security officers because he “looked like a terrorist.” Now they live in Paris, and they hope that the recent shootings at the offices of Charlie Hebdo won’t cause another wave of anti-Muslim hysteria.

I hope so, too. But I know how easy it is to imagine the worst in people, once the idea that they’re dangerous is planted in our heads. It can happen to any of us. It happened to me.

9781612481364-1I met Lori Horvitz several years ago at an artists’ residency, where she was writing this book, then tentatively called “Dating My Mother.” She read the title piece, about her recent break-up with a woman whose eccentric restaurant behavior rivaled that of Lori’s mother, who once responded to a bug in a bowl of soup by saying, “It’s pepper. Just eat it.” The piece was sad, not only because it was about a failed romantic relationship but because the mother in the title died young, when Lori was in her early twenties. I was moved by Lori’s struggle on the page to disentangle herself from a dysfunctional way of paying homage to her mother by unconsciously choosing to date women who resembled her.

all the light we cannot seeAnthony Doerr’s sentences are as perfect and precise as the crystals and seashells he writes about. Open his new novel to any page, pull out any sentence, and you’ll find his lyrical perfect pitch. “That first peach slithers down his throat like rapture. A sunrise in his mouth” he says about his protagonist. We could say the same thing about Doerr’s prose.

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Evil Abe was the nickname I gave to the man on the screen who squeezed the cherry-red tip of his black beard until it sharpened into a downward point. In his stovetop hat and long black jacket, he looked like a cross between Satan and Lincoln. The other three contestants clenched their inked-up biceps and stared into the camera. Only one of them would win the $10,000 prize for cutting the face of a dead baby into a stranger’s skin. The theme of today’s show was “in memoriam,” and the challenge was to ink portraits of lost loved ones. Babies as floating heads or sleeping dolls with eyes closed and flowered headbands. This is reality TV in America. This is reality. This is TV. This is America.

This didn’t use to be me.

Henderson_Author PhotoArtis Henderson is the author of the debut memoir, Unremarried Widow, published by Simon & Schuster this January. The title comes from the official Army term for women like her, whose husbands died in combat. The term could also be applied to her mother, since Henderson lost her father in a civilian plane crash when she was only five. Part of what makes this book so layered and complex is its double story: how Henderson finally understands her mother’s grief by coping with her own. She chronicles two surprising love stories: between a seemingly mismatched husband and wife and between a fiercely attached mother and daughter.

red moon betterI can’t think of another book that is more timely and relevant to the world we live in at this precise moment—the post-September 11th, post-Boston Marathon bombing landscape of heightened xenophobia and security—than Red Moon. Like Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk and Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, Red Moon speaks to us right out of the headlines, the perpetual CNN and Fox News scroll that is the absurdly real backdrop of our lives.

imagesI can’t write this review without disclosing that After Visiting Friends is my story. Or so it felt, as I read. Like Hainey, I am a member of what he calls the DFC, the Dead Father’s Club. Hainey was six when his father died at age 36 in Chicago. I was seven when my father died at 32 in Detroit. A veil of silence hung over the details throughout Hainey’s childhood. And mine.

Clifford Garstang’s newest book, the novel-in-stories What the Zhang Boys Know (released this October by Press 53), is published by a small press, but it is making a big splash. Patrick Somerville says it is the Winesberg, Ohio of the 21st century, comparing it to the grand-daddy of all contemporary short story cycles. Katherine Weber likens it to Susan Minot’s Monkeys, Rand Cooper’s The Last Go, and David Schickler’s Kissing in Manhattan. John Casey calls it a “wonderful and haunting book.” For me, it’s a brilliantly affecting and authentic evocation of the grief, confusion, and magical thinking of childhood. It’s also a microcosm of America in a striving-to-become-gentrified building in our country’s capital.

Garstang is also the author of In an Uncharted Country (Press 53, 2009), the editor of Prime Number Magazine, and the author of the popular literary blog, Perpetual Folly. Garstang’s literary success—he has published two books and dozens of stories since he earned his MFA in 2003—shows that’s it’s never too late to become a serious writer. I met him for the first time when I had just moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, where he is a fixture of the vibrant literary community. He lives west of town, in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. We conducted this interview through e-mail, from Paris (where I am spending a sabbatical year) and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (where he was spending a residency).

We talked about his book’s hybrid form, how a book can represent the whole world, writing as a second career, why writers should blog . . . and pugs.

“I wouldn’t mind if my book were banned,” Kristen-Paige Madonia said, when asked about the possibility of her debut novel, Fingerprints of You, being pulled from the shelves. “That would mean it was having an impact. If books are seen as potentially dangerous, it shows they have the power to change lives.” Her editor has a reputation for publishing books that get banned, and one of her mentors, Judy Blume, is probably the most banned author in America. “As soon as you aren’t allowed to read something, you want to read it more, right?”

What’s the difference between New York City and Paris? “New York is fried, Paris is baked,” Baldwin tells us. When he leaves Brooklyn for a two-year stint in Paris, he hopes for more of a contrast than that. What he finds is that the world is smaller than even Disney could have imagined. “The Great French Dream didn’t sound much different than the Great American Dream, only with More Vacation Days.” Even the costumes are the same. “Hey, is it me,” he asks, “or did Parisians ditch berets for Yankees caps?” All the Parisian men he knows dress like him, in jeans. Shockingly, two-thirds of his ad agency colleagues lunch on McDonald’s (albeit in courses, with chicken nuggets serving as the entrée). Even the president at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy, is an American-style leader, all flash and bling.

You don’t have to read Jack Driscoll’s author’s blurb to know he’s a poet. Open The World of a Few Minutes Ago to any story—any sentence—and savor the rich language and rhythms, the words that sing on the page.

Driscoll is the author of four novels, four poetry books, and the short story collection he is probably best known for: Wanting Only To Be Heard. Best-selling author Brady Udall echoes the words of many writers I know when he says, “Jack Driscoll has long been one of this country’s best short story writers.” Despite Driscoll’s impressive critical acclaim–including the AWP Short Fiction Award, PEN/Nelson Algren Fiction Award, the Pushcart Editors’ Book Award, and multiple Pushcarts and Best American Short Story citations–he is not as famous as he should be.

Girlchild is narrated by Rory Dawn Hendrix, “feebleminded daughter of a feebleminded daughter.” She lives in the Calle de la Flores trailer park, in the “rum-and-semen-stained outskirts of Reno.” Rory’s father is long gone, and her mother’s good intentions are drowned in alcohol. Despite this bleak setting, Hassman’s daring debut novel is a joy to read. The rich and dense language, full of surprise, word play, and revelation, makes the book a sensual pleasure, every chapter a prose poem.