Top Stories: For Spring/Summer, 12 New Collections from Writers To Watch

Bradford, Arthur. Turtleface and Beyond. Farrar. 2015. 208p. ISBN 9780374278069. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780374712846. STORIES

turtleface4715O. Henry Award–winning Bradford follows up his well-received debut collection, Dogwalker, with a new collection that’s a little less wacky but still lives up to the title’s “beyond.” Offbeat but aching, the title story concerns the consequences for a group of friends when one of them showily jumps off a steep cliff into a river and injures both himself and the turtle with which he collides. Other stories concern a wedding briefly disrupted by a snake bite and a man dating a woman who’s lost an arm. VERDICT Easily flowing stories; not for nothing is Bradford an Emmy-nominated filmmaker.

Gray, Amelia. Gutshot. FSG Originals. Apr. 2015. 224p. ISBN 9780374175443. pap. $14; ebk. ISBN 9780374712570. STORIES

Gray won the Ronald Sukenick/American Book Review Innovative Fiction Prize for a previous collection, Museum of the Weird, which is certainly appropriate. Her stories, though starting out simply and told in polished, straightforward language, immediately turn edgy, disturbing, and even downright weird. Two men imprison a young woman they’ve hired in a large industrial vent, for instance, while townsfolk cleaning a graveyard end up attacking a gravestone. VERDICT Great for readers who like fiction that straddles the literary/horror divide (or simply the literary/way-out-there divide).

Haroutunian, Nicole. Speed Dreaming. Little A: Amazon. 2015. 154p. ISBN 9781612184968. pap. $14.95. STORIES

Haroutunian’s first collection concerns young women struggling with jobs, relationships, and the strains of growing up, and while this is not Girls—the characters are more thoughtful and less preeningly decadent—it should appeal to fans of that show. A young woman who creates masks comes to realize that for her current boyfriend, in rehab after an accident, she’s an artistic phase he’s just passed; in “Youse,” winner of the Center for Fiction’s 2013 Short Story Contest, two high school girls trying to break out are seriously frightened by a man in an SUV. VERDICT Engaging and readable.

Harper, Jordan. Love and Other Wounds. Ecco: Harpercollins. Jul. 2015. 176p. ISBN 9780062394385. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9780062394392. STORIES

Raw, gritty, and unsettling, the stories in Harper’s debut loveandotherwounds4715collection feature tough lives lived mostly on the edge, from John, running through bullets and high-desert wildfire from his own freshly dug grave; to Mark, cut down in a firefight with the cops after robbing a gas station; to Palmer, determined to save Lucy, severely injured in a dog-fighting ring. VERDICT As he runs, John’s mouth “felt full of hot pennies,” and every story here is a hot penny worth much more. For fans of Cormac McCarthy, Daniel Woodrell, and Bruce Machart.

Keene, John. Counternarratives. New Directions. May 2015. 320p. ISBN 9780811224345. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780811224352. STORIES

Keene (Annotations) studied history and American literature at Harvard, and it shows. In clear, detailed language that recalls historical studies or newspaper stories, only stronger and brighter, he offers “counternarratives” focusing primarily on the Americas and the consequences of slavery. “An Outtake” considers the fate of a charismatic slave on the run during the Revolutionary era; “Rivers” details a freed Jim’s encounter with the adult Huck and a nasty Tom Sawyer. VERDICT The occasional piece gets heavy-handed, but these are mostly concise, arresting stories that will attract smart readers.

Mitchell, Emily. Viral. Norton. Jun. 2015. 224p. ISBN 9780393350531. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393245370. STORIES

viral4715Sometimes offbeat, sometimes lightly searing, but mostly both, the stories in this first collection from Mitchell (The Last Summer of the World) capture acute social discomforts in the contemporary world. A cashier is given instructions on how to smile, an elderly woman leaves her husband because of his long-ago affair, and visitors to America are warned about culture shock (e.g., Vermonters supposedly shoo away chimney witches in the fall). VERDICT Unsettling, absurdist takes on the recognizable; for most readers.

Pierce, Thomas. Hall of Small Mammals. Riverhead. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9781594632525. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698144927. STORIES

Pierce, whose stories have appeared in The New Yorker and the Atlantic, offers a particularly satisfying first collection, with each story not just a glimpse but a fully developed idea often ending on a somewhat puzzled tone—appropriately, as life doesn’t always easily resolve. A woman cares for the miniature mammoth her feckless TV scientist son has helped clone; a man tries to help his son emerge from his shell by taking him to the cultish Grasshoppers Camp, with uncertain results. VERDICT Quirky but real; for all readers.

Ruiz-Camacho, Antonio. Barefoot Dogs. Scribner. 2015. 160p. ISBN 9781476784960. $23; ebk. ISBN 9781476784984. STORIES

Although it’s not immediately apparent, this debut collection features linked stories about a wealthy Mexican family whose members scatter abroad after the kidnapping of patriarch José Victoriano Arteaga. Each story lands like a punch, from the opening tale about young people crossing invisible boundaries in Mexico City to Arteaga’s son wandering the sizzling streets of Madrid with his dog, Zurbarán, in search of his father. VERDICT Energetic and colloquially written, this engaging collection shows what it’s like to live in a world that isn’t quite yours.

Tarry, Chris. How To Carry Bigfoot Home. Red Hen. 2015. 144p. ISBN 9781597093019. pap. $14.95. STORIES

Busy New York–based musician Tarry is a four-time winner of the Juno Award, Canada’s equivalent of the Grammy, which might explain why these sometimes painfully funny stories are pitch perfect. In the opening piece, “Here Be Dragons,” two medieval bumblers pretending to be dragon slayers return home and fail miserably at fatherhood; “Nennorluk Goes Down Deep” poignantly depicts an alcoholic jack-of-no-trades who very nearly redeems himself while participating in the hunt for a sea monster. VERDICT Wonderfully conceived and delivered bits of rigorous whimsy.

Uppal, Priscila. Cover Before Striking. Dundurn. 2015. 232p. ISBN 9781459729520. pap. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781459729544. STORIES

coverbeforestriking4715“With all the warnings, no one seems to be listening,” says the narrator in Uppal’s incendiary title story, a Gloria Vanderbilt Short Fiction Prize winner that parallels one woman’s pyromania with her quest for sex. Matchbooks are homey if dangerous little things, and throughout the author locates danger in homey little settings; in “Recipes for Dirty Laundry,” family tensions are evoked by instructions for removing rust or wine stains. VERDICT Prolific poet Uppal, whose memoir Projection was short-listed for the Governor General’s Award, effectively captures our off-kilter moments in language both lyric and accessible.

Vaquera-Vásquez, Santiago. One Day I’ll Tell You the Things I’ve Seen. Univ. of New Mexico. 2015. 136p. ISBN 9780826355737. pap. $18.95. STORIES

Assistant professor of Hispanic Southwest studies at the University of New Mexico, Vaquera-Vásquez offers his first creative work to be published in English. His stories address cultural and personal dislocation, with the first story, “Over There on the Other Side,” delivering the stress of border crossings and “Homeboys” deftly portraying “just another bright kid with too many possibilities who opted for nothing.” VERDICT Concise, emotionally acute stories for those interested in reading beyond their borders.

Vargas, Cyn. On the Way. Curbside Splendor. Apr. 2015. 188p. ISBN 9781940430478. pap. $14.95. STORIES

In her debut collection, Vargas invests her characters with heart while ably articulating their missed connections. An American girl cannot accept her mother’s disappearance while they are visiting relatives in Guatemala; a young woman assaulted by her father after her parents’ divorce cannot forgive her mother for failing to intervene; a diffident DMV employee cannot speak out when he falls for a young woman taking a driving test. VERDICT Moving and accomplished.

Barbara Hoffert is Editor, Prepub Alert, LJ

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Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.