novi_sadFor many years, there’s been a handful of books that, at least for me, exemplify what post-apocalyptic fiction should be and what it can achieve in terms of serving as mirrors for human nature when faced with Armageddon: Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon, Blindness by José Saramago, and Alas Babylon by Pat Frank. Now Jeff Jackson, author of the dark, critically acclaimed Mira Corpora, has joined this elite group with Novi Sad, a depressive, gloomy narrative that is as profound and smart as any of the aforementioned classics but somehow manages to deliver the same punch in less than 100 pages.

elyb_7Bob Boland is surrounded. Yuppies everywhere. Goddamned professional women with their blunt cuts and power suits, their wimpy men, pale faced and narrow shouldered, their PhDs, MDs and JDs on proud display in their book-lined studies.

The neighborhood has always been full of snobs — half of it belongs to Harvard, the other half to Harvard professors, grads, and wannabes, the type who donate buildings and gymnasiums, who endow symphony chairs in perpetuity — but there used to be room for the little people, who deliver the mail, plow the driveways, clean the teeth, fix the burners. Now the new rich are crowding them out, throwing around so much money that the neighborhood is barely recognizable. Slate roofs, copper drains, specimen trees, heated driveways — nothing is too good for them. If there’s a beautiful front yard, they put up a fence. If there’s a fence, they tear it down and put in a hedge. Blacktop becomes lawn; lawn becomes groundcover; groundcover becomes brick. And God forbid the house should peel. Bingo! An army of painters descends, airlifted from the latest Third World country in collapse, sanding, scraping, hanging like bats under the eaves, risking their lives to try out matching trim colors.

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Not to have this be an all-out puff piece, but let me try and describe two types of virtuosity I like. Maybe it’s because I spent all summer watching basketball. Dunks and jumpers. Crossovers. If you hate sports, bear with me. But for instance, a jump shot. A technique to it, there’s a purity you can appreciate. That buzzer-beater, last second of the game, or even just pulling up in traffic, as they say, soaking wet; smartly, coolly executed, or from the couch, surrounded by snacks, even watching the pros do it, the effect is weirdly triumphant, gratifying.

Here’s the other type. Because, to get that jumper to go, to have that moment, there’s hours and hours you’ve got to spend, hundreds of thousand of hours, more than shooting, also dreaming, thinking about jumpshots. Let me go ahead and say Jane Liddle’s debut is about murder, not basketball. In that sense, Murder is about nuance. In that we’re all going to die. Right? Sooner or later. And we’re all capable of killing, probably. Consider it that way, and a story, any story is actually, truly, only the details. Fifty-eight murders. Some tragic, some frightening. A funny one or two. Each only a couple of pages. Some like poems. Some, tightly plotted, 3-act short stories. The murder in there about “the Saint,” that was disturbing in a way I can’t exactly explain.

China_Final_2_BleedsOriginally published in 1937, And China Has Hands, the final published novel of literary gadfly and political radical H.T. Tsiang (author of The Hanging on Union Square), takes place in a 1930s New York defined as much by chance encounters as by economic inequalities and corruption. Tsiang shows us the world of 1930s New York through the eyes of Wan-Lee Wong, a newly arrived, nearly penniless, Chinese immigrant everyman who falls in love with Pearl Chang, a biracial Chinese and African American woman who wanders into his life.

And China Has Hands editor and Tsiang scholar Floyd Cheung writes in his Afterword: “H. T. Tsiang, like his characters, sometimes seems like a man living at the wrong historical moment. He wrote about the double-consciousness of the Asian-American experience before the category of Asian-American was invented. He depicted a half-Black, half-Chinese character before the rise of multiracial consciousness or mixed-race studies. He performed the role of a trickster critic during a time when audiences wanted a native informant. He railed against Chiang Kai-Shek at the very moment that Chiang was being named Time Magazine’s “person of the year.” In addition, he endured Chinese exclusion, the Great Depression, World War II, and the McCarthy era. In short, Tsiang sailed against the wind and tides during his time in the U.S.”

finalcoverTess hung up the phone and fought against an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. She wasn’t willing to accept her inability to help, to do something. She had pulled it off four years ago, the last time Ellie was sick. She’d done the research and found just the right medical team to blow away the odds and usher Ellie into remission. But that same team had now told her friend, her dearest friend, that she would be lucky to get another six months—nothing much they could do. And in her desperation, Ellie had already decided that flying off to Ecuador to work with shamans, or medicine people, or whatever they were called might be her only chance at survival. How had she failed her friend so completely?

“Jonathan!” She yelled from her chair.

yancy-4-2Can we talk about something other than fetal surgery?

Oh. Okay. Facial reconstruction?

 

On second thought, forget it. Fetal surgery it is.

I don’t mean to be obsessed, but if I were a character, it would be one those formative backstories.

 

See, look at that. Even during an interview you’re starting with backstory.

You can begin at the beginning, or you can work your way back there.

patricide-frontcover600I imagine that many things will be said about D. Foy’s highly anticipated novel, Patricide, over the next few months. There will be much hushed and head-shaking praise levied, not only at the arresting way in which it’s told but also about the subject matter—surviving an unsurvivable childhood.

And yet while this is very much the story of one man’s colossal, cyclonic attempt to remake himself from the shards of an annihilating boyhood, I think that it is much more than that. It seems to me that the true subject of this narrative, is the collision of dreams. The lengths to which parents and children break and remake each other and themselves on this contested terrain, this no man’s land of lovesick, homesick, heartsick dreams.

2016-02-02-vanessa-hua-deceit-and-other-possibilities-book-cover-design-04aPerhaps you’ve heard of me?

Maybe you’ve listened to a song by the Jump Boys, a group I fronted, which had three gold records that launched countless jingles for a remarkable array of consumer products. Or on television, as the host of a reality show where contestants dared to eat horse cock sandwiches and cling to helicopters zooming over a tropical bay. On billboards, hawking heavy gold watches, cask-aged cognac, or alligator leather shoes, my shirt unbuttoned to reveal six-pack abs.

I didn’t think so.

In America, most likely the only reference you’ve seen of me would be a blurb, news of the weird, along the lines of “those funny Asians, at it again.” Video-game pets, robot butlers, used schoolgirl panties sold in vending machines, and the sex scandal involving Kingsway Lee, the Hong Kong star whose compromising photos were stolen off his laptop, played out in the tabloids, and posted on the web.

Thousands of shots from my cell phone, scoring with scores of women: the actress wife of my former bandmate; the Canto-pop star and lover of a reputed mobster; and the daughter of a shipping magnate with ties to Beijing and the Red Army.

I’ve been forced to flee to the safest place I could think of, where no one would recognize me: my hometown.

summer-she-was-under-water-front-only-for-screenSam’s parents leave early the next morning to float down to the marina and fill up the newly repaired motorboat with gas. From the screened porch Sam and Eve drink coffee after their breakfast and watch the older Pinskis take their positions on board. Sam’s father turns on the motor and fiddles with the choke, a cigarette limp and unlit in his mouth. Pat and Karl Pinski seem to operate from some unspoken code, one in which the past is never mentioned, one’s current desires are never articulated, and allusions to the future are always vague but predictable. The only reason Sam can think of as to why someone would want to live in a minefield after a war is that they’d know where all the remaining mines are buried.

Barrett, Igoni (Victor Ehikhamenor)Just like Sean Carswell’s self-interview, I, too, asked my wife, Femke van Zeijl, who is a journalist as well as being the only person who knows why I dread dreaming of toilet bowls, to ask me questions as if she didn’t already know the answers. And then I rewrote her transcription.

 

First of all: why aren’t you interviewing yourself?

Because I know what questions to ask myself that I find impossible to answer—the kind of questions we keep asking until the day we stumble off this mortal coil. And so, in my head, this self-interview had grown into an existential issue that would require an entire novel to answer. I consider the publicity-oriented parts of writing as disparate from the creative process. The public appearances, the press interviews, etcetera, are all part of the writer’s job, yes, but interviewing myself is too close to the creative process. Thus I figured I would turn to my in-house journalist, since she knows nearly everything there is to know about me. That’s the closest I could come to a self-interview. Besides, journalists enjoy meeting deadlines, while I almost unfailingly miss mine.

Majka, Sara (Chris Ward)Is there anything you wished you could have talked about the book?

I kept waiting for someone to notice the dots–to ask why, online, a lot of times the dots on my book are yellow but on the actual physical book they’re orange. Also, the author photo, I thought someone might ask about the background, because it has striking green and white stripes. I wanted to be able to say that it was at a park in Philadelphia, that my friend, Chris Ward, was taking pictures of me in nature, with trees, and then I saw the striped shed and asked about it. I figured he would say that it was a bad idea but he also liked the idea.

9781101981207.City Baker's GuideThe night I lit the Emerson Club on fire had been perfect for making meringue. I had been worrying about the humidity all week, but that night dry, cool air drifted in through an open window. It was the 150th anniversary of the club, and Jameson Whitaker, the club’s president, had requested pistachio baked Alaska for the occasion. Since he asked while he was still lying on top of me, under the Italian linen sheets of bedroom 8, I agreed to it—even though I was fairly certain that baked Alaska would not have been on the menu in 1873. But Jamie was a sucker for a spectacle, and his favorite thing on earth was pistachio ice cream, which his wife wouldn’t let him eat at home.

ThisIsNotTheEnd(James has recently learned that he is, for lack of a better term, the Antichrist, and a group of men in Cadillac Escalades just tried to abduct him, though he managed to evade them and sprint home.)

James ran inside the house and spun on his heel, slamming the front door with two hands and all his weight. He flipped the knob lock, jammed home the dead bolt, and ran up to his room. He shoved that door shut and locked it as well. Hands up, barely breathing, James backed away as if they were right behind him, as if the door could burst open any second and the blond man would come rushing in. His hands shook, and his breath felt ragged in his throat.

Help.

51KRen5JVcL._SX331_BO1204203200_-275x413Flash

Faunsdale, Alabama 1838

 

The knockin’s always there behind the wall in Momma’s room. I call it Momma’s music. My sister Hazel calls it Momma’s tired tune, a shrill note sucked and blown from a stiff reed.

Hazel’s the closest thing I got to a good daddy so she never beat me for misbehaving, never leaves me long, and never tries to touch me the wrong way. She keeps me safe in this world, keeps me safe from the knockin.

We sit in the back of our dark two-room shack, huddled under a blanket together. She’s trying to drown out Momma’s song with her hand cupped over my ear, fogging it up with her whispering, telling me we gon’ play a game called, “Let’s see who can fall asleep the fastest.” But after ten minutes of trying, even the late of midnight cain’t shake my eyelids free so now me and Hazel gon’ play a new game. It’s called “Who can be the quietest the longest.”

Summer_10_14_redHat_BrokenLine.indd“It was in the first place, after the strangest fashion, a sense of the extraordinary way in which the most benign conditions of light and air, of sky and sea, the most beautiful English summer conceivable, mixed themselves with all the violence of action and passion. . . . Never were desperate doings so blandly lighted up as by the two unforgettable months that I was to spend so much of in looking over from the old rampart of a little high-perched Sussex town at the bright blue streak of the Channel.”  — Henry James, “Within the Rim”

The town of Rye rose from the flat marshes like an island, its tumbled pyramid of red-tiled roofs glowing in the slanting evening light. The high Sussex bluffs were a massive, unbroken line of shadow from east to west, the fields breathed out the heat of the day, and the sea was a sheet of hammered pewter. Standing at the tall French windows, Hugh Grange held his breath in a vain attempt to suspend the moment in time as he used to do when he was a little boy, in this same, slightly shabby drawing room, and the lighting of the lamps had been the signal for his aunt to send him to bed. He smiled now to think of how long and late those summer evenings had run and how he had always complained bitterly until he was allowed to stay up well beyond bedtime. Small boys, he now knew, were inveterate fraudsters and begged, pleaded, and cajoled for added rights and treats with innocent eyes and black hearts.