Front Porch Books is a monthly assessment of books--mainly advance review copies (aka "uncorrected proofs" and "galleys")--I've received from publishers, but also sprinkled with packages from Book Mooch and other sources. Because my dear friends, Mr. FedEx and Mr. UPS, deliver them with a doorbell-and-dash method of deposit, I call them my Front Porch Books. Note: most of these books won't be released for another 2-6 months; I'm just here to pique your interest and stock your wish lists. To see a larger version of the book covers, click on the thumbnails.
This special edition of Front Porch Books features a crop of new arrivals from one of my favorite small presses: Dzanc Books. I've written before about the background of the Michigan publisher and its beginnings. To my discredit, I haven't read as many titles on its backlist as I should, but founder Dan Wickett has tried to remedy that by sending a couple of large boxes my way. It was like Christmas in July when I brought the boxes off the front porch, opened them, and found these wonderful gifts inside. These are just the tip of the Dzanc iceberg; I encourage you to visit the publisher's website and discover the latest lit-fic treats.
(I should also mention Dzanc Books is offering an unbeatable deal on e-books: join the eBook Club and get eleven books for $50. The Club delivers a new eBook in DRM-free MOBI, ePub, and PDF formats to its members on the first day of every month, with each selection coming from Dzanc and all of its imprints.)
Pacazo by Roy Kesey: Kesey's collection of short stories, All Over, was the first Dzanc Book book I ever read--in fact, it was the first book to roll off the Dzanc presses--and it put my radar on full Red Alert: here was a new publisher who took the business of good fiction very seriously. (My review of All Over for January Magazine can be found here.) It's a mantle Dzanc has worn proudly in the years since. Unlike All Over, Pacazo is a big, bricky chunk of a book. Even just sitting here on my desk, it shouts "Epic!" Indeed, the scope of the novel seems broad, but (like all great epics) focused on one heroic protagonist. Jacket Copy: "Roy Kesey's riveting debut novel tells the story of John Segovia, an American historian who teaches English at a small university in Piura, on the desert coast of Peru. The narrative moves between John's obsessive search for his wife's killer and his attempts to build a new life for himself and his infant daughter. The storms of El Niño--three months of savage rains, insect plagues and collapsed bridges--and the ghosts of history that stalk the sands of the Sechura Desert give this novel the sweep of an epic tale. Throughout, Pacazo explores and celebrates the many ways in which we construct the stories we tell of ourselves and those we love." Blurb-worthiness: "Roy Kesey used to be the best-kept secret in American literature, but with Pacazo the secret is out. In this debut novel Kesey strides up alongside Graham Greene, melding intrigue, religion, and exotica into a story as edifying as it is entertaining. Ultimately, though, Kesey's greatest achievement lies in his ability to illuminate all that is grand and horrible in love." (Ron Currie Jr., author of Everything Matters!: A Novel)
Dreams of Molly by Jonathan Baumbach: Baumbach, the father of filmmaker Noah Baumbach, has been "a staple of the literary scene for over forty years" (according to the Jacket Copy) and the back-cover blurbs from writers Michael Cunningham, Russell Banks and Robert Coover certainly attest to his influence. Cunningham (author of The Hours) testifies: "Jonathan Baumbach has been a hero of mine since I started writing. I was then, and remain today, avid for novelists who push the limits of the novel's form without sacrificing its traditional human juices. Baumbach is just such a writer." Starting with its wonderful cover design of an out-of-focus face, Dreams of Molly seems to be one of those books which make you float on a cloud of words. Dreamy, cosmic, richly-worded. Here are the Opening Lines:
It was not the same. It was all the same. I was in Italy sitting at my desk in a luxuriant Villa writing the story of my invented life. I was in bed in Brooklyn dreaming I was in Italy at the Villa Mondare, which was a made-up place in any event, writing the first sentence of a fictional memoir. My wife, who was no longer my wife, who had left me years ago for greener pastures, was in the bathroom dyeing her hair (back to its original dirty blond) so that I would remember with regret what she looked like when I let her get away. I kept asking her if she was done to which she would say, "Any minute now," but hours passed without her emergence. After awhile, my impatience dissipated. I reinvested my concentration on the first sentence of my new book, a sentence so important in the scheme of things, it produced near-unbearable anxiety just to be in its presence, a sentence that, if it were doing its job, which was to segue between the distant past and the relatively near past, would probably need to resist conclusion indefinitely. I heard the toilet flush in a secretive manner as if evidence were being destroyed. "Is everything all right in there?" I asked. "I'll be out before you know it," she said.
A Heaven of Others by Joshua Cohen: Published under Dzanc Books' imprint Starcherone Books, Cohen's novel has a most unusual plot. Unusual, and intriguing. Jacket Copy: "At age 23, before he had begun his contemporary landmark novel, Witz [an 800-page telling of the life of the last Jew], Joshua Cohen composed this novel of a 10 year-old Israeli boy exploded by an equally young Palestinian suicide bomber, who arrives in a heaven no one in his tradition has prepared him for. A Heaven of Others stands at the crossroads of a conflicted city, Jerusalem, and word-play that both celebrates and dismantles tradition." Blurb-worthiness: "Reading A Heaven of Others... there was that same kind of shock one gets when entering certain works of Faulkner or Woolf or Joyce, where you simultaneously are thrilled and a little intimidated by the surface, but it doesn’t take you long to fall into it, since the text is teaching you how to read the text. It’s been so long since I’ve discovered a book like that." (Kyle Minor, The Rumpus)
Asunder: Stories by Robert Lopez: Jacket Copy: "The unforgettable stories in Robert Lopez's Asunder vary in length and style, but all of them devastate, all constantly cross the boundaries between poetry and prose. Here we have characters who are uncertain of themselves, of the people surrounding them. Here people are in trouble and need help. The compressed lyricism of these stories seems driven by the silence of what is not said, what lies beneath the lines and between them. As in his novels Part of the World and Kamby Bolongo Mean River, this elliptical tension of the language gives way to moments of grace and savage humor, leaving the reader startled, as though the world were a complete surprise." You can tell a lot about a story by looking at its first lines, the gunpowder to the narrative's rocket lift-off. That's why, leafing through Asunder, I can already sense Lopez' short-short stories (some no longer than a paragraph on a single page) are the kind which prod and provoke the brain. Most of them start in the middle of conflict, at the uncomfortable off-kilter edge of odd image against odd image--like a rhinoceros eating a popsicle. A sampling:
A man with a geographic tongue is in the corner. ("Geographic Tongue")
The closest thing to tumbleweed in New York City are the people.
I say this out loud to the woman next to me because I think she is from Arizona. ("Everyone Out of the Pool")
This Deborah talks out of the left side of her mouth, as if she's trying to keep what she says secret from her own right ear. ("Scar")
I am out the window today. ("Bricks")
I am disappointed in you, she says.
I am a disappointment, he says.
You should know better, she says.
I am trying, he says. ("Your Epidermis is Showing")
So, what's in Dzanc's future? They continue to crank out exciting, illuminating fiction, stories which cast off convention and bring readers along on the authors' visionary trips into language. A few of the titles I'm looking forward to in the next six months include A Tendency to Be Gone by Pamela Ryder, The Art of Coughing by Josip Novakovich, and Fires of Our Choosing by Eugene Cross. Looking farther into the crystal ball, I see Dzanc will publish George Singleton's next collection of short stories. The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades.