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Released in early 2012 from Tyrant Books–the brainchild that brought us Brian Evenson’s Baby Leg, Eugene Marten’s Firework, and Michael Kimball’s Us–Atticus Lish’s Life Is with People is a sketchbook drawn through a poetic gloryhole. It is a violent, raging, and brutal book, yet also houses subtle moments of massive and quiet weight. But what is Life Is with People? In a recent posting on Vice, Tyrant kingpin Giancarlo DiTrapano described it this way:

When you enter the world of Paul Tremblay most anything can happen, and usually does. His recent collection, In The Mean Time (ChiZine Publications) defies expectations, the cover art a soft purple hue all filled with glittery type. It shows the faces of two sweet girls, which at first glance (pay attention, readers, the show starts here) could be two sisters sitting very close together, twins maybe. But no, it’s a two-headed girl, the first of many things that are not what then seem to be, the first of many times where Tremblay takes you by the hand and whispers sweet nothings in your ear, all the while the world falling apart around you, infrastructures crumbling, supplies running out, strange diseases wiping out the populace. But beyond all of that is the emotion, the humanity of what it must be like to exist in such end days, and it is here that he ratchets up the stories to more than just post-apocalyptic terror, dwelling in the individuals and families that are struggling to survive, to connect, to have a normal conversation, a memory that doesn’t send it all fracturing into shards of a former existence. It’s here between the floors where there’s no light, and yet, a sprinkling of hope.

Dislodged from family and self-knowledge and knowledge of your origins you become free in the most sinister way. Some call it having a restless soul. That’s a phrase usually reserved for ghosts, which is pretty apt. I believe that my eyes filter out things that are true. For better or worse, for good or merciless, I can’t help but go through life with a selective view. My body does it without conscious thought or decision. It’s a problem only if you make it one.”—page 5

Matt Bell sees potential that the rest of us don’t. He refuses to limit himself to established literary conventions, instead reaching beyond the expected tropes-suicide in the family, the mental weight brought on by a mysterious murder, short-lived love-to reassess for more powerful, and wholly more interesting, possibilities. Bell’s suicide story addresses the implied self-reflection by centering around a blueprint-obsessed son of the deceased, literally giving form to the boy’s hope of a rebuilt family (“A Certain Number of Bedrooms, A Certain Number of Baths”). Bell’s mysterious murder story isn’t a whodunit, but more of a who-woundn’t-have-dunit and tricks the reader into sympathizing with the assumed murderer (“Dredge”). His short-lived love story is romantic only in its endearing hopelessness, following an orally obsessed bar patron from the bar stool to the toilet stall, bar-fly one-night-stand in hand (“Mantoeda”). Yet despite Bell’s renaissance approach to story types, he has crafted a thematically cohesive and structurally invincible collection with How They Were Found.

Once Stephen Graham Jones has you, once you’re invested, and want to see what’s going to happen next, that’s when he elevates his game. He’s one of those rare authors (like Brian Evenson, William Gay and Cormac McCarthy) that can write, and publish, and exist in two worlds: the land of genre fiction, with the horrific, the fantastic; and also the high towers of the academic, the language and focus raised to a literary intelligence, the lyrical voice an evolution, the poetic unfurling of the land and emotion beyond the typical read. Jones can publish in the dark recesses of Cemetery Dance and Asimov’s just as easily as the literary landscape of Black Warrior Review and Southeast Review, or the contemporary hotbeds of Juked and Hobart.

 

Cover art for The Physics of Imaginary Objects by Tina May Hall

As it often is with new voices, it all starts with a dull buzz, and the sense of serendipity. Something allows the title or the subject matter or the quality of the prose to break through the daily clutter, the onslaught of suggestions and advertising, to sit with you, to hold your hand and not let go. That is the case with this powerful collection of fiction, The Physics of Imaginary Objects by Tina May Hall. For me, it started with early adopters, people like Dan Wickett at Dzanc Books and the Emerging Writers Network, and Roxane Gay at PANK. By the time I saw the cover, and tracked down a story online to get a taste of the voice, I was nearly sold. After reading “When Praying to a Saint, Include Something Up Her Alley” at her website (originally published in Black Warrior Review) I was in. All in. So very much invested. And a little bit scared.

JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER.

Considering my ever-detouring approach to reading, I think it’s appropriate that March for me began with Umberto Eco’s Six Walks in the Fictional Woods, a series of transcribed lectures conflating the telling and writing of stories with Jorge Luis Borges’s metaphor of the woods as a garden of forking paths, or, as Eco puts it:

Woods are a metaphor for the narrative text, not only for the text of fairy tales but for any narrative text. There are woods like Dublin, where instead of Little Red Riding Hood one can meet Molly Bloom….Even when there are no well-trodden paths in a wood, everyone can trace his or her own path, deciding to go to the left or to the right of a certain tree and making a choice at every tree encountered.