Storyville: The Top Ten Things I Read in 2014
This list is kind of unconventional. Sure, there are novels on here, books you can run out and buy. There are a few short stories here as well—online and otherwise. But there is also some fiction you can’t get yet, and even a foreword makes the list. I hope these ten items give you some voices to read now, to look for in the near future, and to track down in a year or so. Anticipation, right?
'Bird Box' (ECCO) by Josh Malerman
Rarely does a book come along that captures my attention like Bird Box, by Josh Malerman. I cannot remember the last time I was so enthralled, so captivated, so consumed by a book. I read it in one sitting over Thanksgiving. This is the story of what happens when creatures appear on Earth, so horrible that merely looking at them will drive you instantly and violently insane. It reminded me a bit of I Am Legend, with its bleak tone and sense of isolation. There were times that I was literally sweating, unable to put the book down, but so terrified by what was happening that I couldn’t look away. And this is Josh's debut novel. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
“The children sleep under chicken wire draped in black cloth down the hall.”
'Spent' (Rare Bird Books) by Antonia Crane
Maybe you caught Antonia Crane on Lisa Ling’s show, This is Life. Or maybe you read her story, “Sunshine for Adrienne,” in The New Black (Dark House Press) which I edited earlier this year. Or maybe you ran across her writing in Black Clock. This memoir is a powerful book, the story of one woman dealing with her life choices—to strip for money, to deal with her family, to evolve into something more—a writer and teacher, perhaps. There are moments that are both sexy and surreal, heartbreaking and inspiring, but she never flinches in telling her truths, never shies away from moments that reveal the humanity and imperfections in us all.
“It was Christmas night, and Kara and I had a client at the Four Season in Beverly Hills…”
“When I Make Love to the Bug Man” by Laura Benedict (PANK)
One of my favorite magazines is PANK. What a wide range of compelling and provocative fiction. Recently, I ran across Laura’s story while selecting fiction for an upcoming anthology. I've known Laura for years, her husband being Pinckney Benedict, the circles we travel often overlapping. We even shared a spine, for the first Noir at the Bar anthology. Her voice is one of reason, even domestic, but also dark and surreal. When she weaves a tale like this one, it pulls you into the web that has been cast, lulling you into a sense of complacency, before the wheels fall off, and the urge to run, to disappear takes over. An unsettling, sensual, and disturbing story that has stayed with me all year, and continues to unhinge me.
“Bug Man, Bug Man, who came to save me from the spiders.”
'Exigencies' (Dark House Press) foreword by Chuck Wendig
When you put together an anthology like Exigencies, reading over 300 stories in order to find 20 or so, it’s a draining, exciting, moving, and daunting task. When you then pass that collection of fiction off to an author as talented, unique and dynamic as Chuck Wendig, you sit by the computer and wait for the words, “I have to pass.” Or maybe, “I don’t think I have time after all.” I knew the anthology was something special, but that didn’t mean Chuck would feel the same way. What I got back from him was vindication, entertainment (he always makes me laugh) and a great way to kick off the second anthology at Dark House Press.
“These writers have spat the poison on the window. Take a look. Lick the glass.”
'The Wasp Factory' (Simon & Schuster) by Ian Banks
Written in 1984, The Wasp Factory is not a new book, but it’s one that’s been on my to-read list for a very long time. It’s a haunting story, one set on a Scottish island, filled with violence and sadism. There are scenes in here that I can’t erase from my mind no matter how hard I try. There are revelations that will disturb, and moments of vengeance that are riddled with mystery, ritual and obsession. I don’t like to flirt with madness, it feels too often like it might want to stay, but there are moments in this book that rocked me to my core. It’s a thin volume, and can be read in one sitting, which may or may not be the best way to digest it. Be strong, be unafraid, and be prepared.
"I had been making the rounds of the Sacrifice Poles the day we heard my brother had escaped. I already knew something was going to happen; the Factory told me."
'Sharp Objects' (Random House) by Gillian Flynn
Hard to believe, but I think I like this book better than Gone Girl. When our protagonist goes back to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls, we see that she is still rather damaged herself, her body covered in scars and cuts, her family so very dysfunctional. She is there as a reporter for a small Chicago newspaper, but gets pulled into the murders in unconventional ways. There are twists and turns, as is to be expected, but the ending is hard to see coming. If you liked either of her other books, be sure to pick this one up. Tense, unnerving, and oddly alluring, it’s a hypnotic story, a rollercoaster ride for sure.
“My sweater was new, stinging red and ugly.”
'Scratch' (Dark House Press) by Steve Himmer
Yes, I know, another book that you can’t read yet, another title from Dark House Press. BUT…but…I feel like I have to share this secret with you, to let you know what’s coming. This novel is about a rural legend, Scratch, and a man who lives alone, succumbing to the woods around him, luring others into the darkness, leading to tragic results. This lyrical, poetic, and captivating novel is a book that will grab you from the first page and never let go. I fell into it and couldn’t get out, and I’m very excited to bring it to you in early 2016. It was one of the most exciting books I read all year, so I had to put it on this list.
"We’ll wear the shapes of coyotes, to slide more easily under the scrub and travel closer to the ground.”
I was invited to be a guest judge over at Smokelong Quarterly, earlier this year, and of the dozens and dozens of submissions I read, this was the one I chose as the winner, for that week. What I like most about this story is the hypnotic voice, the singsong way it unfurls in one, long, extended sentence. It is sweet, heartbreaking, violent, and touching—everything I look for in a story. When you read a ton of submissions, often what you’re looking for is a voice that stands out in the crowd—that breaks conventions, and keeps your attention, all while fondling your heart. For flash fiction, it packed in a lot of story in a very short space.
“…I sucked the blood off my fingers and slept in your barn that night, you say it's alright for me to sleep there, your parents don't mind, I watch the spiders hang down from the barn roof…”
'Come Closer' (Soho Press) by Sara Gran
I wish Sara would write more books like this one. Come Closer is one of my all-time favorite books, and I re-read it this year while doing research for The Breaker. It is a novel that really upsets me; it makes me very uncomfortable, in many different ways. I don’t like mirrors (just ask Caleb, Nik and Axel) and I don’t like demons, especially when presented in a casual, atypical manner. Much like Blair Witch, this book will either scare the hell out of you, or do nothing at all. The way it changes from annoyance, to danger, to possession, to futility is heartbreaking. The permanence of it all is just crushing.
“That evening I was telling my husband, Ed, about the little mystery at work when we heard the tapping for the first time.”
“Thorn-Tongue” by Sarah Read
Have you ever written a story and thought THIS IS BRILLIANT and then sent it out into the world only to have it get rejected by 10, 20, 50 publications? And then you start to question everything—your instincts, your talent, the world around you? I have. I had the privilege of reading Sarah’s story as it was being developed. And after it was done, I thought to myself, “This is really special. She’s breaking out, this will get her some attention.” But so far, it hasn’t found a home. I’ve seen her send it out, and I’ve heard about the rejections, and I keep telling her to be patient, to send it higher, more places, because an editor is going to snatch it right up. Could be me, if it bounces around too long. Lyrical, dark, and layered in mythology, it’s a mystical fairy tale that lives in contemporary times. I love it. And I hope you’ll get to read it soon, too.
“Yellow eyes dripped honey at her through the darkness.”
What about you guys? Read anything amazing this year?
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