A touching, funny, and unflinching look at a dysfunctional family, Drinking Closer to Home (Harper Perennial) by Jessica Anya Blau is a history that many of us may have lived. Hippie parents, competition between siblings, and the growing pains that we all endured: these are the fond memories and nightmares of our youth. What do you do when your mother quits being a mother? When your father grows pot plants in the back yard? When your older sister turns into a cigarette smoking, hard drinking woman on the prowl? When your younger sister retreats into her shell, a beach bunny with hidden dreams? When you suspect your brilliant brother of being gay, a ghost lost in the shadow of his dominant sisters? These stories are told in a series of flashbacks from 1968 to the present while the family is gathered around the hospital bed of their mother as she recuperates from a heart attack. Their sordid tales of youth and adventure unfold at a rapid clip, as the present-day regrets and promises to change float about the sterile hospital room and the messy homestead as well. Louise the freewheeling mother; Buzzy the worrisome father; Anna the wild older sister; Portia the heartbroken younger sister; and Emery the shy brother, run us through the wringer, and in the process, endear themselves to us—holding up mirrors, and windows, and open hands, looking for forgiveness.

Heartbreaking stories grounded in a fractured reality, love and the strange things it makes us do, neighbors and the heavy weight of proximity, this is Sarah Court. A collection of connected, interlinking narratives, Sarah Court (ChiZine Publications) by Craig Davidson is set in a circle of houses, each neighbor with their own story to tell. Reminiscent of Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock, but set in the area around Niagara Falls, we get to see from several different perspectives how things unfold when there is death next door, the trickle down of sweat and violence from one family to the next, the way that love and lust intertwine young passions, families infecting each other. The residents:

“The haunted father of a washed-up stuntman. A disgraced surgeon and his son, a broken-down boxer. A father set on permanent self-destruct, and his daughter, a reluctant powerlifter. A fireworks-maker and his daughter. A very peculiar boy and his equally peculiar adopted family.

Chuck Palahniuk said something about writing that echoed in my head while reading the debut collection of dysfunctional short stories in Daddy’s (Featherproof) by Lindsay Hunter. I paraphrase, but it goes something like this: “Teach me something, make me laugh, and break my heart.” And that’s what Lindsay Hunter does in this gut-wrenching collection of short fiction, with a sprinkling of hot sex and familial violence on top.

What I discovered in my attempt to select books for this month’s column is that there are more books for me to read than I have time. So, I’ve decided this month’s focus would be about the “little press”. To me every independent press is a champion in its own right, but there were a couple presses in particular that stood out for me this month. While these two selections are only two among many worthy titles, I really felt like these were outstanding. I like books of all shapes, sizes, styles and (okay, sorry non-fiction, you . . . not so much) I try to be as well rounded as possible however; I do tend towards shorter books when in a pinch for time. I’ve come to learn though, shorter books are equal if not more time consuming than a novel or short-story because they are replete with thought-provoking sentences, images and often, complex paragraphs of poetry. A shorter text requires a bit more commitment from my brain. I cannot flip the pages as easily, partially because I want so much to savor the words and sentences, so I read slowly (that and I seem to have horrible reading comprehension or ADHD) and thus, a fifty page book takes me almost as long as if it were two hundred and fifty. What does all this mean? Quite simply put: Good writing is good writing regardless of length.