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…”How old were you the first time?”

“The first time I shot someone? Nineteen.”

Leksi nodded and opened his mouth, but forgot what he had meant to say. Finally, he asked, “Who were we fighting back then?”

Nikolai laughed. “How old do you think I am, Aleksandr?”


Nikolai smiled broadly, flashing his crooked teeth. “Twenty-four.” He pressed the poker’s tip against the base of Leksi’s skull. “Here’s where the bullet goes.”

From “The Devil Comes to Orekhovo” as included in When the Nines Roll Over

I can be a literary snob when I have to be. I’ll admit that critically praised contemporary fiction is never something I go out of my way to jump on. You’d sooner catch me reading a forgotten receipt than something sitting on a grocery store book shelf. Why? I just feel that a lot of great writing goes unnoticed, and it’s my job as an active member of the literary community to give the lesser-knowns a run when I can.… Read the rest

Were you ever drinking one night and thought, “I would like to kill myself, but I just don’t have a good reason. I wish my daughter would get hit by a car or I was a ground troop in The Iraqi War so people would say after I did it, ‘He had his reasons.”

From “Civilization” as included in The Condemned

Keep Going. When you land in a passage about a pregnant woman snorting cocaine and eating pussy, keep going. When you get halfway through a scene involving load blowing and load swallowing, keep going. Beauty exists at the end. And it is the rare beauty that informs everything prior.

Noah Cicero has a way of bringing the most seemingly asinine and gratuitous scenes in toThe Condemned cover sharp focus with just a single paragraph or sentence. Take for instance the story “Gratuitous Kink The Immaculate Cherry Popping,” in which a long list of the protagonist’s sexual exploits is capped with the passage: “In most meaningless sex acts only one of the people has the motivation for a good time.… Read the rest

He came close enough to her to see the webbed stresses on the surface of her eye spreading out from the minute white pocks of crushed glass. He wondered how it felt for her to have the roughness of the glass scratching against the insides of her eyelid, damaging it.

From “Eye” as included in Altmann’s Tongue

If you haven’t read anything by Brian Evenson then you haven’t seen the true capabilities of modern literature. Every line in Altmann’s Tongue simultaneously provokes, disgusts, and intrigues. And though much of the story collection might seem hard to comprehend at first a reader feels assured that Evenson leads a worthy journey. Do I know what the words “atumescence” or “transubstantiation” mean? I could venture a guess, but complete understanding is not what one seeks when reading Evenson. It’s about the journey, the path, and also about sucking a false eyeball out of a girl’s head (read “Eye”).… Read the rest

I am eight times as old as this child, he thought. Do I know eight times as much? No. Not nearly.

From Peter Rock’s Carnival Wolves

Think of Carnival Wolves as a reverse picaresque novel divided into short stories. Where a traditional picaresque novel might follow a single character as he/she is affected by various

Carnival Wolves cover

other characters, Carnival Wolves examines how a single character affects those various other characters. Simple, right?


Each section describes a unique setting, one in which the protagonist is suspiciously absent. But as the action evolves into a complete story, the protagonists shows up in some , natural way, if even for a single sentence. It is merely his presence that strings this novel together. At times I thought that maybe the publisher tacked on the “A Novel” tag just to sell more copies – as the novel reads more like a short story collection. Oh, well.… Read the rest

Acres of grass were blow to italics

From “Repeater” as included in Toxicology

I’ve never been a fan of the futuristic, cyber-puck, apocalyptic, neo-noir—and however many other tags you want to tack on there—genre. My reason: I just plain had more important things I wanted to read. Simple. But those damn recommendations…


Aylett can twist a sentence like nobody I’ve ever read. Mark my words: he will be famous one day for the phrases he can craft. In fact, he recently self-published a book made up entirely of quotes from his thirteen novels (though Toxicology is a short story collection,Toxicology cover he’s got a few from it in there as well). So maybe I’m jumping on the wagon a bit late.


You’ll love Aylett for his language, his conceptual brilliance and his satisfying structure (predictable, though, once you get to know his style). Throughout nearly every story in this collection the reader follows this mental pattern:

1.… Read the rest

Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from the home…

From Albert Camus’s The Stranger (translation)

Short novel. Simple premise. A man gets arrested and persecuted for essentially not grieving his mother’s death the “proper” way. Sure there is more it, but this is the main idea.


This novel taught me so much about seeing the world through multiple perspectives. It’s one thing to know the centric tendencies of people. It is quite another to realize that you are most likely participating in those tendencies. Think about how many people out there would, in the event of a mother’s death, shift blame to the son when he shows no real emotion or concern for the death. The narrator in The Stranger actually goes on a dateThe Stranger cover with a woman he met the day following the death.

But Camus handles the subject beautifully. Aside from the murder of an Arab (which would have been no more than a misdemeanor during the setting’s time in France) the narrator is an all around good, innocent man.… Read the rest

…the world is just as concrete, ornery, vile and sublimely wonderful as before, only now I better understand my relation to it and it to me.

From Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man

My undergrad professor, Amy Sage Webb, mentioned this book in class one day and seemed genuinely appalled to discover that no one had read the book, and very few of us had ever heard of it. Her words exactly: “This is one of the great dystopian novels. You guys are turds.” Okay, the last part she didn’t say, but if you were there you would have seen that she really wanted to Invisible Man cover say it.

But the part about Invisible Man being one of the great dystopian novels; not only did she say that, but she was absolutely correct. At times it reads like a picaresque journey from the south to the north shortly after the abolishment of slavery. At times it reads like semi-satire on early American hiring ethics.… Read the rest