I recently grumbled on Twitter (again) about lists of “books to be excited about” not reflecting the books I’m excited about, and Michele Filgate gently but correctly called me on it, replying, “ I would like to see a list of most-anticipated small press books. You’re the man for the job!” To which I replied, “I think I’m mostly qualified to list ‘books that tap into my obsessions and will be stocked in my remote cabin.’” Which it turned out Michele was also interested in seeing, and so…
A list of books that tap into my obsessions and will be stocked in my remote cabin
or, somewhat more accurately,
A few recent and forthcoming smaller press books of fiction I hope people will read and talk about with me, which is not to claim these are better or more important than any others, big press or small, just that they reflect my taste and what I prefer to read over the many higher profile books by which I am often left scratching my head
David Rose, Vault: An Anti-Novel (Salt Publishing, March 2011)
This came out months ago, so it’s not the book itself I’m eagerly anticipating but rather people talking about it to the degree it deserves. It’s the story of a semi-pro cyclist and World War I sniper, recounting his racing career, a romance, his acts of courage and heroism… yet it’s also a second story, as those chapters about his exploits are intercut by the cyclist/sniper himself talking back to the novelist supposedly telling his story and pointing out how it has gone wrong. That probably sounds gimmicky, like a kind of metafiction that seems old-fashioned by now, but Vault is anything but because it’s so concrete in its scenes and details, so natural in its characterizations and voice, that it delivers emotional and intellectual wallops in equal measure while keeping the reader off guard in a way I always enjoy.
Carlos Gamerro, The Islands (And Other Stories, May 2012)
Argentinian Carlos Gamerro was unknown to me when I ordered this based on its description and on the quality of previous And Other Stories books. Narrator Felipe Félix is a hacker and a veteran of the Falklands war, hired to do some work for the wealthy and powerful Fausto Tamerlán. Despite being a big, complex novel with many moving parts, The Islands creates an almost claustrophobic, paranoid sense of how deeply everything in its vision of Buenos Aires is still seen through the lens of that failed conflict even a decade later in 1992. It grapples with video games and folklore and violence and art as ways of creating and altering national myths, and it manages to sustain a tightly controlled intellectual tension akin to many of the compact, concise novels I most admire but across a story that is political and historical without being boringly literal or reductively insistent on the triumph and redemption of the individual life (ie, politics and violence and the making of history are the story, not just an exciting backdrop for clichés as they too often become in less daring fiction). It’s as much a novel-of-ideas as it is a thriller as it is a war story, but mostly The Islands is entirely, insistently itself.
Jim Krusoe, Parsifal (Tin House, July 2012)
I don’t know any more about this than the publisher’s description, but I don’t care. Krusoe is one of my favorite American writers, with a deadpan, tight, absurd style I really enjoy (I like the novels of Grant Bailie and Sara Levine for the same reason, in part). How could you not rush to read a book described like this:
There’s a war going on between the earth and the sky, but that doesn’t stop Parsifal, a humble fountain-pen repairman, from revisiting the forest where he was raised by his mom, a woman with a taste for Victoria’s Secret lingerie. On his journey, Parsifal, a wise fool if there ever was one, encounters several librarians, a therapist, numerous blind people, and Misty, a beautiful woman who may well be under the influence of recreational drugs.
Amber Sparks, May We Shed These Human Bodies (Curbside Splendor, September 2012)
I haven’t read this as a book yet, but I’ve read most of the stories it contains because Amber Sparks is one of my favorite writers of short fiction and I hope this collection will get the attention it deserves. The elements of these stories — feral children and babies nailed together from boards and mothers made of leaves and sticks — have a dreamlike strangeness familiar in the world online and small press fiction, but what makes Sparks’ stories stand out is how those elements are explored through science and history and questions that reach beyond the domestic sphere such techniques more often seem to be used to engage (which is not a dig on the domestic!). It’s something her work has in common with another excellent recent collection, Tim Horvath’s Understories.
Robert Kloss, The Alligators of Abraham (Mud Luscious Press, November 2012)
I’ve talked this book up a lot, not because Robert Kloss is a friend (full disclosure there!) but because it’s honestly one of the most impressive, original, and provocative American novels I’ve read in a long time. It’s the story of Lincoln, and the taking of the West, and buffalo hunting, but it’s also a brutally honest depiction of how families and nations (and literatures) alike are built upon half-truths and deliberate distortions, and how violently we’ll defend and distort those when it suits our needs. It’s written in a one-of-a-kind voice that is dense and stark at once, blurred with blood and dust yet window-clear, creating a perfect synthesis of style and content. And it’s all of that without being the least bit didactic or forced, as it surely would be if I tried to take on such things.
Jamie Iredell, The Lake (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2013)
The Lake has a lot in common with Alligators of Abraham, in some ways, or at least I like some of the same things about them: Iredell’s novel, too, is a reconstruction of frontier history in a style that is concrete and mythic at once and keeps the reader asking what is a “symbol” and what is “real” until such questions lose any meaning as the novel carves a clean space for itself. Details of California’s development are both recognizable and hallucinatory, challenging the reader to interrogate every surface, taking nothing on face value. This is exactly the kind of innovative wilderness novel I’ve been waiting for (and grumbling about not being to find, and wishing I might someday write…), one that doesn’t reduce the outdoors to a backdrop for reassuring human stories, but instead folds together geology and biology and history and a deep sense of time, bringing an experimental approach to a kind of story too often written in a stale binary of man v. nature.