donnybrook

If your best chance of securing a future is to fight in a “Donnybrook,” a three day fighting match where ponying up $1,000 gets you in, and your chances of getting out in one piece are slim, then maybe you need to reconsider the path you have chosen. Frank Bill’s gritty, violent, and grim debut novel, Donnybrook (FSG Originals) is not for the faint of heart, as the body count is high, and the actions desperate and brutal. But buried in the bruised flesh are the stories of Jarhead, a desperate fighter, Angus, a drug dealer, and Fu, a martial arts enforcer—men with a strange sense of honor that lurks beneath their questionable actions, doing what they have to do in order to survive, to protect their own, and to please their employers. Meth cookers and dealers, drunks and addicts, whores and hustlers, they all scrounge for a meager existence, one that inevitably leads them to the Donnybrook.

In this slim volume of very short stories, Cut Through The Bone (Dark Sky Books) Ethel Rohan presents a series of confrontations, putting us in the middle of those awkward little moments: when your mother stands in the living room her face scarred and disfigured, eyeballs floating in their sockets, rimmed with blood; when the divorce papers are dropped on the table, your husband’s fingernails black with dirt, yellow raincoat wrapped tight around his frame; that moment of violence when you lash out at your only child, your wife gone, this the only flesh left to scream at, to hold, to hug and understand. This is not one long discourse, one epic tale that unfurls your heart, deboning you, leaving you dismembered. No, this is death by a thousand cuts, tiny slices that you hardly notice, here and there a thin ribbon of blood, a bite, a nip, hardly a sting at all, until suddenly this community of intruders has riddled your skin with wounds, a pool of blood gathered at your ankles, death revealed in your pale, translucent skin.

 

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.

A closer look at what you should be reading

When the fabulous Gina Frangello approached me to write a monthly column about books that cross my desk, my first thought was, “There are so many books, how will I decide what gets mentioned?”What I’ve realized is I have no formula for that except to say, if it’s unique in style or voice, I keep reading. Cover art is often alluring when I decide to pick up a book but ultimately, what matters most are the words on the page, how they fit together. Do they tell me a story or evoke emotion? If the answer is yes, I turn the pages. I think of writer in the same way I do an architect.A writer is in charge of building something beautiful and making it their own with style and imagination. Whether they place the words on the pageso they sound and feel good to say out loud or create a text that’s visually interesting to read or develop multi-faceted characters that feel as if they could be you or someone you know—all of these things make writing fascinating and help to build amazing stories. It’s what really happens between the pen and paper, or rather the fingers and the keyboard that count. What I do know is there are far more books than there are hours in the day for me to read every single one that’s sent to me; however I’ll try to keep you abreast of the best in my TBR pile. So, here’s some of what I’ve recently read. I hope that it resonates with you, dear reader, in some way.

Over at Elegant Variation, Mark Sarvas speaks from his recent experience reading for first-novel contests, to point out all the things you should consider if you’re interested in avoiding the most common pitfalls of the debut novel.

The issues he cites, to be fair, do indeed seem to be problems common among novels in general–let alone first novels. But for my taste, too much of it seems indicative of a “golden mean” mentality that would seek to keep the writer more mindful of what he shouldn’t be doing, than what he should.