The Architect of Flowers by William Lychack. From the publisher's blurb, here's a summary of this short-story collection:
A small town policeman brings himself to shoot a family’s injured dog; an old woman secretly trains a crow to steal for her; a young boy at his father’s wake finds the man lying in flowers as if in a bath; a hybridizer’s wife discovers the perfect lie to bring her family magically together again....Set in dying mill towns of New England, in timeless fishing villages by the sea, in great dreamlike cemeteries north of Greenpoint, each of these stories tries to necessitate the accidents that befall us, to build something durable from the worries and joys we carry, our lives so often prefigured by the losses and betrayals that we strive so hard to untangle, to make sense of and ultimately redeem. A middle-aged couple tries to salvage the deer they have accidentally killed; a pregnant woman brings home a box full of chicks to raise in the yard; from ghostwriter to ghost runners to ghosts in a chapel, these stories center on relationships—husbands and wives, fathers and sons—and bring to life the honest work and quiet grace involved in making-do.I've been meaning to read Lychack's first book--the novel The Wasp Eater--but (shamefully) never found the time; and this morning, I intended to come here and just give you a quick idea of what to expect in The Architect of Flowers....but then I read the first paragraph of the first story, and then the second paragraph, the third, and soon I'd been hypnotized into reading "Stolpestad" in its entirety. Wow. The story about the small-town cop who mercy-shoots a family's injured dog is incredibly potent in the way it's told. It's one of those rare pieces of fiction that pins you to your seat and doesn't let up until the final period (and even then you'll probably sit there for a few minutes, panting weakly).
In a duffel in the trunk of the cruiser is an automatic—an M9—and you swap your service revolver for this Beretta of yours. No discharge, no paperwork, nothing official to report, the boy staying with his mother as you cross the yard to the brush and tall weeds in back, grasshoppers spurting up and away from you, dog smaller when you find her, as if she’s melting, lying there, grass tamped in that same nest around her, animal as smooth as suede. A nudge with the toe of your shoe and she doesn’t move—you standing over her with this hope that she’s already dead—that shrill of insects in the heat and grass as you nudge her again.Yes, Lychack employs the second-person P.O.V. ("you"), which is sometimes a distracting contrivance, but here it completely melts away in the face of the superb details he uses to tell the simple story of a man who shoots a dog, goes to a bar to unwind, then returns home to find the dog's owner confronting him on his front lawn. I guaran-damn-tee you won't be able to stop reading once you've made it past the third paragraph.
But don't just take my word for it, you can read the whole story HERE at Lychack's website.
Based on the strength of "Stolpestad" alone, I can't wait to dive all the way into the rest of The Architect of Flowers.
If you'd like a chance at winning a copy of Lychack's debut short-story collection, all you have to do is answer this question:
According to the Backstory of The Architect of Flowers at his website, for whom did Lychack say he wrote these stories?
Email your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org
Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. One entry per person, please. Please e-mail me the answer, rather than posting it in the comments section. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until the contest closes at midnight on April 21--at which time I'll draw the winning name. I'll announce the lucky reader on April 22.