Friday, May 20, 2011

Short Story Month Giveaway: In This Light by Melanie Rae Thon

This week, I'm celebrating short stories with giveaways and thoughts about short fiction by participating authors.  Join me each day as I pay tribute to National Short Story Month, a movement which has snowballed since the first efforts by Larry Dark and Dan Wickett to give overdue national attention to short stories.  For details on how to enter today's contest, scroll to the bottom of this post.  For more bloggers participating in Short Story Month giveaways, be sure to visit this page at Fiction Writers Review.

Today's book is In This Light by Melanie Rae Thon, brought to you by the consistently-stellar Graywolf PressIn This Light gathers some of the greatest hits of Thon's previous collections, plus three new stories.  Here's the Jacket Copy:
In This Light shimmers with grace as a drunk young woman hits a Native American man on a desolate Montana road, a grieving slave murders the white child she nurses and loves, and two throwaway kids dance in the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree in a stranger’s house.  Thon’s searing prose reveals that the radiant heat inside us all is the hope and hunger for love.
In a review of the collection, High Country News had this to say about the stories:
Thon slips into the skins of her flawed, long-suffering characters with astonishing ease and authenticity. Her characters are hungry, and for more than just food. Two runaway kids break into a house one night and gorge themselves. One says, "You don't know how it hurt us to eat this way, our shriveled stomachs stretching; you don't know why we couldn't stop." Her people are loners, addicts, outcasts, misfits stuck in too-small towns and reservations. They lose fingers to frostbite and steal coats that are too thin. In one story, Thon describes a horde of runaway children who haunt the woods outside of Kalispell, Mont., as being glued together "from broken sleds and headless dolls and bits of fur and scraps of plastic. Their bones were splintered wood. Their hearts were chicken hearts. Their little hands were rubber."
At Matt Bell's blog (which, by the way, you should be reading on a daily basis--especially this month as Bell and guest reviewers analyze specific stories from print journals), Nina Schuyler digs deeper into one story from Thon's new book:
When free association is a key style technique in a story, it opens up immense possibilities, including surprise and a collage of interesting imagery. In "Tu B'Shvat," you find a beautiful young girl who drowns in the community pool, the narrator's dead mother, the holocaust, the narrator's piano-playing daughter, relatives who died in the camps, a dead deer, her father who died in the shower of her childhood home and the beautiful young girl's missionary brother living in Hermosillo. David Shields writes in Reality Hunger, "It's not the story. It's just this breathtaking world—that's the point" and that perfectly describes "Tu B'Shvat."

About the Author:  Melanie Rae Thon is the author of the novels Sweet Hearts, Meteors in August, and Iona Moon, and the story collections First, Body and Girls in the Grass.  Her work has been included in Best American Short Stories (1995, 1996), three Pushcart Prize Anthologies (2003, 2006, 2008), and O. Henry Prize Stories (2006).  She is a recipient of a Whiting Writer's Award (1997), two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1992 and 2008), a Writer's Residency from the Lannan Foundation (2005), and a fellowship from the Tanner Humanities Center (2009).  Originally from Montana, Thon now lives in Salt Lake City, where she teaches in the Creative Writing and Environmental Humanities programs at the University of Utah.

Five Reasons to Tell a Story in 2011

Last Sunday, the beautiful woman on TV, the soldier home from Iraq with shrapnel still deep in her brain, said doctors gave her one chance in a hundred to wake, one in a thousand to do more than bob and babble.  And here she was, radiantly amazed, smiling sweetly.

Somebody had to be the one, she said.  Why couldn't I do it?

In a tent, in a field hospital outside Baghdad, Jodee Beddia's surgeon cut a piece of bone from her skull so her swelling brain wouldn’t kill her.  Sewed it inside my abdomen, she said.  To keep the bone alive.  So nobody would lose it.  Jodee Beddia flew home in a coma.

Now the bone is back in her head—she's stapled and sutured.  Pain, yes, always.  Like light, she says, cutting through me.  She traces a line from between her eyes, up over the crown, through both temples.  She smiles.  It's only pain, a friend if you call it that, not so bad to be awake, alive today to feel it.

The chickadee comes to the feeder.  Even now, so close to twilight!  Less than half an ounce of feather and hollow bone, ten drops of blood, heart smaller than a fingernail—yet she survives all night, every night, all winter.

One bright day last fall, thirteen-year-old Rosanna Rios arrived at the hospital in time to give her heart and lungs—liver, spleen, pancreas, kidneys.  In time to surrender her perfectly clear corneas and twenty-six inches of unscarred skin to save the lives, restore the sight, heal the burns of seven others.

Why should a sixty-nine-year-old man receive the heart of a child?

Rescuers find one bruised baby in a field of tall grass, alive and unafraid after a tornado, this one of nine hundred lifted up and set down, everything destroyed around her.

The tanager swoops tree to tree, gold and orange, black-winged, silent.  Frogs chirp at dusk, and swallows dive, catching insects.  Everything loves life: bird, child, fish, mosquito—you hear the fluttery whoosh of your own heart:

Let your body rise.
Let the wind blow through you.

You will die.  But not tonight.  Tonight the whole world is here alive inside you, everything you've loved and lost: the white horse haloed in morning light; your child; your father; violet pansies blooming under snow, the ones you found in your mother's garden.

The thrush hidden in the woods holds one shimmering note so bright and clear you think the bird will shatter—and then it does shatter: into a heart-sparking ripple of song that splits down your bones and bursts from your body.

You speak now because you too are shattered, because the heart breaks, and breaks open.  The people whose stories you hear, the miraculous beings you encounter, have fallen inside, and now, before you die, you hope to learn to love them.  Imagining their lives is the path you walk to do this.

*     *     *

If you'd like a chance at winning a copy of In This Light, send an email to with "Melanie Rae Thon" in the subject line.  Please include your mailing address in the body of the email.  This contest is only open to residents of the U.S. and Canada (sorry, we can't ship to addresses with P.O. boxes).  One entry per person per book (yes, you can enter the drawings for each book during Short Story Week, but each entry must be sent separately).  The contest remains open until May 31, at which time I'll draw the winners of each day's giveaway.


  1. Thanks for sharing this, David. That's a beautiful essay that taps right into the heart of a writer. I've only recently begun reading Rae Thon's work, and I'm in love. Going to enter that giveaway right now!

    ~ Marissa

  2. On Saturday, June 4, 2011, Melanie Rae Thon read an expanded version of "Reasons" at the Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago. I hadn't seen it here before, and found it very powerful, moving and inspiring.

    Thon is one of my favorite fiction writers and it always surprises me that she isn't better known. Few writers are able to break your heart and break it open as well as she does.