Suspend Your Disbelief

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Essays |

Oh My! What Is That?: Strange Objects (Part I: Joy Williams’s “Congress”)

“The aim of literature,” Baskerville replied grandly, “is the creation of a strange object covered with fur which breaks your heart.” —Donald Barthelme On the wide sill near the table in our foyer where I write (and eat meals and do art projects with my daughter and anything else that requires a flat surface), an abstract structure sits below the window. The base is a roughly cut rectangle of foam board, that light yet rigid backbone of middle…


Interviews |

Writing as Bricklaying: An Interview with Miriam Polli

Most writers are encouraged by late-in-life publication stories. We’re heartened by the fact that Carol Shields was fifty-eight when she published her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Stone Diaries; that Frank McCourt was sixty-four when Angela’s Ashes came out; and that Belva Plain published her first novel when she was a sixty-three-year-old widow. Even better, Plain then proceeded to publish twenty-one novels that made the New York Times…


Reviews |

The Flying Troutmans, by Miriam Toews

The tension of Miriam Toews’ latest novel, The Flying Troutmans (Oct. 2008, Counterpoint), can be summed up by a single question: “What do you think the chances are of everything being OK?” A strung-out young stranger says these words to Hattie Troutman, the narrator of this dark, zany road-trip novel. Twenty-eight-year-old Hattie must answer this question numerous times on a quest to find her brother-in-law, Cherkis, that takes her from…


Reviews |

All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews

When Elfrieda Von Riesen was a teenaged misfit growing up in the tiny Mennonite community of East Village, Manitoba, she came upon a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge that seemed as though it had been written expressly for her: I too a sister had, an only sister She loved me dearly, and I doted on her! To her I poured forth all my puny sorrows. And that’s exactly what Elfrieda has done. Her sister Yolandi, six years her junior, and the…


Interviews |

The Trickster Answers So Many Questions: An Interview with Rosalie Morales Kearns

Rosalie Morales Kearns’ first book of stories, Virgins and Tricksters (Aqueous Books, 2012), begins with a perfect narrative hook: somewhere down the line gentle Elihu Wingate will try to throw one of his colleagues off a cliff. The reason? Read on. But before we ever get to that scuffle, a gaggle of Virgin Mary statues settle into Elihu’s home and eventually present him with a list of requests for their proper worship. Throughout Kearns’…


Reviews |

Dysfunction by Annam Manthiram

“Marriage imprisoned the mind,” muses a character in Annam Manthiram’s short story collection Dysfunction. For most of Manthiram’s characters, marriage is a condition of shared chronic misery. Obsessed with marriage or relationships, the unattached aren’t any happier—a college student stalks her ex-boyfriend; a middle-aged woman endures forty-plus bride-viewings (visits from potential grooms to decide whether she’s acceptable), and never gets…


Essays |

Oh My! What Is That?: Strange Objects (Part II: Yoko Ogawa’s “Sewing for the Heart”)

Editor’s Note: This is Part II of Elizabeth Mayer’s essay on strange objects in fiction. Read Part I first for an introduction to the topic and an in-depth reading of Joy Williams’s “Congress.” 1. A bag is patience; a bag is profound discretion. Yoko Ogawa’s “Sewing for the Heart” is told from the first-person perspective of the main character—an unnamed bag maker who lives in a small apartment over his shop with only his pet…


Interviews |

An Interview with James Magruder

James Magruder was one of the first people I met when I moved to Baltimore in 2008–it was at a writerly gathering at a pizza joint in Station North. He is whip smart, like award-winning-translations-of-French-comedies smart. It’s a quality that might be dangerous in someone capable of arrogance, but Jim is as kind and self-deprecating as he is bright. Even while he’s devoting himself to his husband, Steve, and to his MFA students and…


Contributors |

Gabriel Urza

…Gabriel Urza is the author of All That Followed, a novel about a politically-charged act of violence that echoes through a small Spanish town. He received his MFA from the Ohio State University. He is currently a Miriam Shearing Fellow at the Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and teaches creative writing in the MFA program at Portland State University.  …


Shop Talk |

Book of the Week: The Flight of Gemma Hardy, by Margot Livesey

This week’s feature is Margot Livesey’s new novel, The Flight of Gemma Hardy, which was published last week by HarperCollins. Livesey is the author of six previous novels: Homework (1990), Criminals (1996), The Missing World (2000), Eva Moves the Furniture (2001), Banishing Verona (2004), and The House on Fortune Street (2008). Her first book, Learning by Heart, was a collection of short fiction published by Penguin in 1986. Her…




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