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Foresights

Sure Aim at the Heart

short stories

It enters your world by stealth, and before your lunch break is over, that innocent-looking short story you picked up to keep you company while you ate has changed your life. Maybe for the better—did it take your mind off the merger that might cost you your job?—maybe it’s haunted you with a strange sense of unease that makes you a wary watcher of your once-comfortable world, or perhaps it’s transported you to exotic lands, or exotic states of mind. Great short stories—intense, fast-­moving and pointed directly at the places where you feel most deeply—can do that. And that’s why we love them.

Good People

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Robert Lopez
Bellevue Literary Press
Softcover $16.95 (192pp)
978-1-942658-02-3

A dizzying, disturbing tour of what might be going on in the minds of “good people,” Robert Lopez’s collection of twenty previously published stories breaks open his characters’ delusional, self-justified personas to reveal an inner landscape that’s dark, obsessive, amoral, and often sadistic. Whether the absurdities of human life have driven them to their dark ruminations, or the haze of their own unhappiness has made life appear hopeless and bleak, a glimpse into his protagonists’ mental landscapes offers a warning that, at the core of each human life, there is a dark place filled with suffering.

Over all hangs a sense of dread, as if what will happen next is sure to justify one’s neurosis. Though he says we may one day board a train just to see “what a new life might be like on the windy side of the old one,” a character warns, “Be careful who you look at on the subway. They might want money or to kill you.”

In the worlds Lopez creates, even the most mundane of activities holds the threat of imagined, or very real, destruction, and it comes as no surprise for one character to beg, “Always, please, take very special care.”

Brooklyn-based Robert Lopez teaches fiction writing at the New School, Pratt Institute, Columbia University, and the Solstice MFA Program at Pine Manor College. He is the widely published author of two novels and a story collection, Asunder. Those who enjoy dark humor with a dose of sado-masochistic sexual fantasy will take pleasure in his spare prose and ability to spear a thought on first strike.

The Female Complaint: Tales of Unruly Women

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Rosalie Morales Kearns, editor
Shade Mountain Press
Softcover $24.95 (329pp)
978-0-9913555-5-6

Historically, women’s outspokenness has been dismissed as mere complaining, writes editor, author, and founder of Shade Mountain Press, Rosalie Morales Kearns, as she sets the stage for the thirty-six stories by women writers included in The Female Complaint. Although most would no longer call being born female an “unfortunate malady,” the literary landscape, and the condescending attitude toward women and women’s writing has not changed much—the ratio of men to women in literary publishing is still skewed male. “In many book review venues,” Kearns writes, “75 percent or more of the titles reviewed are by men.” She founded her publishing company to make sure that the voices of gifted women writers were heard, and, with this anthology, she has succeeded admirably. Gathered into sections entitled Resistance, Solidarity, Entanglements, Mother Figures and Transformation, the stories show women as change makers who stand up, together or alone, for their beliefs and for those they love. Whether enduring, escaping, or challenging situations that would confine them, the female characters, ranging from housewives to scientists to care-givers, artists, and high-school students, navigate the rough terrain they must traverse with courage, brutal honesty, and a good dose of humor. Compelling and unafraid, these exquisite stories express women’s power.

The Peace Process: A Novella and Stories

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Bruce Jay Friedman
Open Road Media
Softcover $16.99 (252pp)
978-1-5040-1173-0

In each of us, there is a place that lies somewhere between pleasure and pain, and that’s the spot Bruce Jay Friedman aims for—his pithy, funny, dark tales show just how far astray a life can go as his quirky male protagonists find themselves in absurd situations created by their own disturbed and disturbing views of the world.

New York-based Friedman, whose screenplay for Splash (1984) received an Academy Award nomination, is a gifted short-story writer, novelist, playwright, memoirist, screenwriter, and the pioneer of dark Jewish humor in literature. He is at his best in this collection that features the story of a former filmmaker, now a lowly location scout on his first trip to Israel, who winds up engineering a young Israeli Arab’s escape to New York, only to see him land both a dream movie deal and the sexy, Yiddish-speaking woman whose affections he’d hoped to win for himself. In another tale, a writer silenced by the horrors of Nazi Germany is inspired to take up his pen again by an unlikely fan: Joseph Goebbels. Still another finely-crafted story tells of an academic from Detroit with “a distant wife, a rudderless daughter, shrinking income, and crumbling knees” who visits New York to take in an off-Broadway play and finds a stand in for his three deceased psychiatrists in an actor who plays the part to perfection on stage.

A master of his craft, Friedman takes aim at the foibles and frailties of the human male with penetrating wit to reveal the absurdity at the heart of life.

Off Somewhere

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Z.Z. Boone
Whitepoint Press
Softcover $18.00 (227pp)
978-0-9898971-7-4

Z. Z. Boone’s debut story collection takes a clear-eyed look at everyday folks seeking an undefined “something else” that they can only find by going “off somewhere” other than where they are. With his mind ravaged by Alzheimer’s disease, a man relives an illicit relationship, frightening his dedicated caregiver wife and grown son; a reluctant bride-to-be runs off somewhere over the Canadian border in search of some of “the best doughnuts you’ve ever eaten,” with her passport-less male friend hidden in the trunk of her car; a man storms out of his house after an argument and finds himself locked out of his home and his family’s life until he sees something that makes him believe his daughter is in danger. In each story, the human need for love, recognition, and self-respect leads the protagonists to some extreme, and often very odd, acts and behaviors—yet Boone’s skill is such that we come to believe, with them, that their acts not only make sense but are almost inevitable.

Boone had his first successes as a playwright but came back to fiction, his first love, after forty years. Since then, his work has appeared in many literary magazines, and his story “The Buddy System” was one of the Notables in The Best American Nonrequired Reading, 2014.

The Billion Dollar Dream: Stories

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Robert Day
BkMk Press
Softcover $15.95 (198pp)
978-1-943491-01-8

Robert Day’s third collection of stories offers treasures, surprises, and provocative points of view as his characters—some of them unsavory sorts—dig deep into the reality of their lives to reveal truths that can be startling in their clarity. In the story that gives rise to the book’s title, a man puts himself to sleep at night by fantasizing that a mysterious source has given him a billion dollars—with increasingly more stringent conditions attached until he believes that his very life hangs in the balance. In another tale, a couple is burdened with the care of four birds, gifts of the wife’s mother, but even more burdensome is the routine of a life marked chiefly by restraint. In still another, a simple High Plains gravedigger takes pleasure and pride in hand-digging graves by the light of the moon, with the “love of his life” at his side.

Day, whose work has garnered multiple prestigious awards and fellowships, has taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop, the University of Kansas, and the Université Bordeaux Montaine. He is past president of Associated Writing Programs, the founder and director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House, and founder and publisher of the Literary House Press at Washington College, where he is an adjunct professor of English literature. In this, his newest work, Day gives an unflinching look at how life is lived on the other side of the tracks as his well-drawn characters confront crossroads moments that compel them to make decisions that catapult them out of their familiar reality into something entirely different.

The Balloon Containing the Water Containing the Narrative Begins Leaking

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Rich Ives
What Books Press
Softcover $15.00 (153pp)
978-0-9962276-0-5

Innovative writer Rich Ives has filled this, his newest book, with small, often tiny stories not unlike fables or dreams. Surreal happenings are recorded in spare prose that creates mental images akin to a Dalí painting: a man stares at a camera set up on a tripod in the street, waiting, not noticing that the camera is not facing him and that there is no one there to trigger the shutter; a photographer moves a photo of a dead man into the light and photographs it while sounds of a neighbor pounding a nail into the wall and the rumbling of a refrigerator pierce the silence; a man declares that he has nothing to live for, and another responds, “Don’t be maudlin. You have just as much to live for now as you’ve ever had.” “That’s the problem,” the first man replies. “Now I know how little it’s always been.”

Stunningly multisensory and intense, Ives’ introspective and intimate portraits of moments or days in the lives of offbeat, eccentric people are written in strong, lucid prose that infuses everything, even the landscape, with emotion. “This land feeds its gradual loss into the cold bright water,” he writes in “Near Torshavn, Faröe Islands.” “Summer leaves as though it were one of us, awash with emotion. The long darkness waits, despair holding off the coast in quiet boats.”

Ives, also an artist and musician, has had his work published in eleven different countries and has received several prestigious grants and awards for his work in poetry, fiction, editing, publishing, translation, and photography.

Night in Erg Chebbi and Other Stories

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Edward Hamlin
University of Iowa Press
Softcover $17.00 (161pp)
978-1-60938-383-1

Edward Hamlin masterfully plays the full spectrum of literary elements and devices to create globe-spanning fictional worlds bursting with color and life in this collection, winner of an Iowa Short Fiction Award. In exotic Erg Chebbi, an American couple, stalked by memory and menace, find themselves alone amidst huge, hulking dunes. Entwined in saving love in the impenetrable Moroccan night, they find a semblance of peace as the sky above explodes with stars in “a celestial firestorm as suffocating as it is beautiful.” An acclaimed photojournalist who had survived war-zone shootings, nearly dying in filthy backwater clinics, and who had lived a “rootless and lonely existence” for the sake of her work finds herself going incurably blind. She despairs until she finds peace in a new understanding of the physics of light. The young daughter of an IRA assassin flees to Haiti, then to the Brazilian rainforest where, pregnant and under threat, she is confronted with a decision upon which her survival depends. A backwoods American couple has made peace with the condition of their mentally deficient son who needs to run all the time by keeping him on on a long lead for his own safety, but finds their way of life destroyed by a visit from child services.

Beautiful, terrifying, and compassionate, Hamlin’s stories take a multisensory approach—the sound of a skull cracking on tile, the feel of wind that comes in “broad, slapping gusts,” or the anguish of knowing one will never again see the Milky Way—to bring both the natural landscape and the terrain of the human heart to life with power and passion.

Bonds of Love and Blood: Short Stories

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Marylee MacDonald
Summertime Publications Inc
Softcover $16.99 (225pp)
978-1-940333-08-3

Marylee MacDonald’s wide-ranging short-story collection finds its settings in foreign lands and distant places around the world, from a beggar’s apartment building in a maze-like neighborhood on the outskirts of Prague, where a distraught mother is seeking her runaway son; to a murky hotel pool in Vera Cruz, Mexico, where an abusive father and husband inflicts his tyranny on his wife and daughter; to the wintry, wind-scoured plains of Maine, where a farm woman and her hired man learn the limits of their independence and the comfort of their need for each other. But the physical distances, though masterfully handled by the award-winning and much-published former carpenter and building writer and editor, take a back seat to her exploration of the even more difficult terrain that is the distance between human hearts. Exploring topics of personal authenticity, the need for solitude in which to grow, and the painful and confusing clash between diverse personalities and cultures, MacDonald applies insight, power, and delicacy to create characters between whom the psychic space virtually sizzles.

Kristine Morris

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