Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday Freebie: Shambles and On the Outskirts of Normal by Debra Monroe

Congratulations to Andrew Beck, winner of last week's Friday Freebie: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow.

This week's book giveaway is doubly-good, thanks to newly-launched independent press Engine Books.  They've generously donated two books by Debra Monroe, the novel Shambles and the memoir On the Outskirts of Normal, to one lucky winner.  While both books are by the same author, they are quite different in tone.  As Monroe mentioned to me in an email, "(Shambles) is a dark book--it's about a kind of poverty I've personally never known, and the attendant violence and straitened options....But the next book (On the Outskirts of Normal) is very different, finally.  It's not only a memoir, but it is quite simply more tender.  It's about learning to love my daughter, and how terrifying love feels, because once you love someone deeply you have more to lose."

I've read the opening pages of both books and I can testify that, as diverse as they are, Shambles and On the Outskirts of Normal are written in a no-frills, clear-as-gin style which gets right to the heart of the matter in just a few sentences.  I can't wait until my reading calendar clears enough space so I can sit down and enjoy both of Monroe's books.  In the meantime, you have the opportunity to get the jump on me by entering the Friday Freebie.  Here are the jacket-copy descriptions from the publisher's website:

On the Outskirts of Normal
As this memoir begins, Debra Monroe, mired in debt, and on the verge of a second divorce, pulls up in front of a tumbledown cabin a few miles outside a tiny town in Texas. Its isolation—miles from her teaching job in a neighboring city—feels right. A few years later, she files papers to adopt a child. Meanwhile, she doubles the size of her house, building the add-on from scratch, working alongside carpenters, plumbers and electricians, none of whom seems to have worked for a woman before. Monroe ponders her future as a single mother, but she's skeptical about the traditional family too. Her mother, who's been out of contact for seventeen years, has just resurfaced, sad, adrift. Monroe's alcoholic father phones intermittently, late at night. Then Monroe's daughter, Marie, arrives. "This feels like marriage," Monroe thinks, "only permanent." At home—under the gaze of a small town where even a mother with a career is rare, let alone a white mother who's adopted the only black baby in town—Monroe and her daughter become the objects of steady speculation. The townspeople see this motherhood as curious, revolutionary, but Monroe sees it as a sacred responsibility.  Praise: "Having driven across the country to see her brand-new adopted granddaughter, Debra Monroe's mother says the first thing that comes into her head.  'I knew she'd be black, but not this black.'  There are many possible reactions to this, but Monroe simply says, 'Mom, there's a blank in the baby book called "Grandma's First Words."'  The sly, dry humor of this—the offering of the second chance, the reminder that everything, even the mistakes, will be written down—tells you everything you need to know about Monroe's approach to life, and memoir. Monroe's generosity of spirit and excellent word choice never fail her." (Marion Winik, author of First Comes Love)

In a landscape dominated by refinery smoke and rumors, Delia Arco spends her workdays counseling teenagers as outcast as she once was, and her nights caring for the baby daughter she loves fiercely. Searching furiously for the mother in herself, she struggles to understand her own mother's seedy life and puzzling disappearance. When an intern whose life story is the stuff of true-crime books insinuates herself into Delia's life, Delia wonders who to let in and who to keep out, who to help and who to let slide. Then one night her world cracks open. In this haunting, suspenseful novel, Debra Monroe asks: What happens when a family seems to blow apart? How can survivors ride out the grisly aftermath once an essential piece of happiness has been removed?  Praise: "Delia Arco is the sort of woman you welcome into your life—sister, neighbor, mentor, force of nature—because she embodies a contemporary version of the American Dream: tolerance, compassion, humor, and forgiveness. This book might move mountains." (Antonya Nelson, author of Bound)

I should also mention that Engine Books is offering a special reduced price on Monroe's books (as well as pre-orders for Patricia Henley's Other Heartbreaks) through the end of July: $12 for each book, plus free shipping.  So, if you don't win the Friday Freebie, I urge you to visit Engine Books and support this new, blossoming press with a couple of mouse clicks.

If you'd like the chance to win a copy of both Shambles and On the Outskirts of Normal, all you have to do is answer this question:

Which of Monroe's books won the prestigious Flannery O'Connor for Short Fiction in 1990?  (The answer can be found at Monroe's website)

Email your answer to

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 midnight on July 14--at which time I'll draw the winning name.   I'll announce the lucky reader on July 15.


  1. These books sound fascinating just when I think I'm making progress on my TBR pile!

  2. Just finished Outskirts. It's a terrific, honest, important book.