Tom Williams

Archive for June, 2012|Monthly archive page

A Plague of Dreamers

In Uncategorized on June 28, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Steve Stern, author of the collection of three novellas, A Plague of Dreamers, autographed my copy thusly:

Translated: “To Tom. I wrote this. So sue me. Best, Steve.”

The greatest inscription I own and indicative of Mr. Stern’s self-effacing charm and wit.

This book is a treausure. To find three novellas by one writer in a single collection is one thing, but to find each one better than the next and filled with a unique blend of Isaac Singer and Garcia Marquez, along with language so fine and so full of verve and vigor? And to have it all set mostly in one of my favorite American cities, Memphis, Tennessee, in the Pinch? My only complaint is that I didn’t read it until I was in my thirties.

(Side note here for anyone who doubts the efficacy of a good creative writing program. Steve Stern graduated with his MFA from the University of Arkansas; he attended the program alongside some of the following: Jack Butler, Barry Hannah, Lee K. Abbott, Lewis Nordan, Steve Yarbrough, John Dufresne, Ellen Gilchrist. Need I say more?)

(Side note two for anyone who doubts the value of teaching as a profession for a writer: Steven Millhauser–to whom this book is dedicated–and Steve Stern have been longtime colleagues at Skidmore College–you think a little cross-pollination didn’t happen between these two mighty minds?)

These three novellas–“Zelik Rifkin and the Tree of Dreams”; “Hyman the Magnificent”; “The Annals of the Kabakoffs” (my favorite)–all transpire in the same Memphis neighborhood, The Pinch, with recurring monuments and passersby showing up in all three. To some, the contrast of Jewish characters in Elvis’s hometown (and Rufus Thomas’s and Booker T’s and Alex Chilton’s) might alone seem magical enough, but the levity of Stern’s plots is anchored in his minaturist’s evocation of reality. The Pinch is still there in Memphis, just leave Beale and Midtown for North Main, past the Pyramid, but it’s no longer what it was during the time of these stories. On the page, though, this place is bustling, riotous, alive. Thanks, Steve, for that.

But the magic only starts there with the setting. I have long wondered whether the Steves (Millhauser and Stern) were working simultaneously on “Eisenheim the Illusionist” and “Hyman the Magnificent” at or around the same time, though Stern’s Hyman is more about collosssal failures than successes. I have also long wondered why there is no film version of “Zelik Rifkin” and “Annals,” as each offers a director both compelling story, complex character, and fever dream fantasy (Hey, Tim Burton) that could scorch the screen.

I love all three of these novellas but the one that doesn’t cease to astonish is “Annals,” a novella that stretches the form about as far as it can go by inerpolating the stories of the black sheep son, Isaac (wonderfully nicknamed Itchy), the purportedly departed Moses (mortally undone by ill timed and audible flatulence), and the immigrant Yankel. Combine Itchy’s exploration of the Delta as a carny (“zigzagging back and forth across the river, making stops at Stringtown, Dumas, Tallulah, Bewelcome”), Moses upstanding and down and dirty lives, with Yankel’s transportation of Eastern Europe to North Main Memphis, and some deft juggling of chronology, and you have what I think is the most astonishing kind of work. “Make it new,” hell. Steve Stern makes it here. Just plain invents a genre practically.

Listen:

Not long after the fiasco of his half sister’s wedding, Itchy Kabakoff began to remember his grandfather’s stories. They came back to him at odd moments following his father’s leap from the Harahan Bridge, by which route the City of Fun had left town that very dawn. It was still dark out, a plum purple sky in the west, as the carnival convoy crossed over the river to Arkansas. But the bridge–Itchy’d seen it all from the cab of the truck he rode in–was lurid with spinning red lights, a circle of squad cars having surrounded a bottle green Continental.

As a Steve Stern fan, I”m in excellent company, as I know Dan Wickett and Corey Mesler are Stern fans, too–two of his biggest and most devoted.

But I  could quote whole pages, this book is so good.  The writing is so sharp, cinematic, lush, each sentence brimming with story. It’s a book you could just open up at random and you’d read from that page until the end, it’s so beguiling.

Coming up soon, as we end this novella month–titles I can’t believe I’ve overlooked, and three more novellas without which celebration of the novella just wouldn’t be complete.

10 MORE NOVELLAS

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2012 at 7:42 pm

Cataclysm Baby, Matt Bell.

I did a short review on GoodReads of Matt’s latest, and besides, so many people have already said wiser things about it than me. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13271003-cataclysm-baby

“Bibliophilia”, Michael Griffith

Up there among the funniest and most erudite writers I know.

My Bright Midnight, Josh Russell

Short novel? Novella? Just goddamned good writing? I reviewed this for The Collagist. http://www.dzancbooks.org/the-collagist/2010/11/14/my-bright-midnight-by-josh-russell-lsu.html

The War of the Crazies, John Oliver Hodges.

Unlike anything you will read. Another amazing offering from Main Street Rag.

That Night, Alice McDermott

Fascinating and focused–made into a movie too.

Enchanted Night, Stephen Millhauser

Nobody but me knows how much I have stolen from this spellbinder.

Sula, Toni Morrison

My favorite of Chloe’s work: last line like no other

House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros

Should be old news by now but still as fresh on the page as I recalled the first time I read it.

Seize the Day, Saul Bellow

Wasn’t thinking about this book when I wrote The Mimic’s Own Voice as a model in terms of style or voice, but was thinking, If you’re writing a novella, this sonofabitch might be the yardstick by which its measured.

The Bear, William Faulkner

Like I should say anythign about this one.

 

Triangle Offense Day

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Why Triangle offense? Because there will be triple posts.

Okay, I erred in promoting my latest blog post. I said the next writer would be the author of three novellas in one collection, when I should have said two. (My next selection will be, however, about a trio of novellas–so there.)

But, as is evident from the title of this post, I’m talking about Francine Prose, and the book in question is Guided Tours of Hell, which collects the title novella and its companion, “Three Pigs in Five Days.”

I remember meeting Ms. Prose once, at the University of Houston, and being wowed by her physical presence–she looked like a writer: angular, black clad, great hair. Of course, I hadn’t read a word by her then and spent some serious time wondering if she’d been born with that last name or if it was of her own devising. (Back then, I had a hard time saying what prose was, anyway.) The book that sent me to her was Blue Angel–a book worthy of its own post–and another that has offered me no end of pleasure is her collection of stories, A Peacable Kingdom. In everything of hers that I’ve read (and what’s worth noting is that I’m not a completist: I read deeply and with great fascination a few books by everybody), she has that singular ability to be funny, frank, moving and grave without ever seeming to vary in her, ahem, prose style. What I’m saying is that her writing seems effortless, as if she never stalls in her composition, just waits for the next right word to form itself on her pages.  Naturally, this makes me think Prose is a constant reviser who worries over each sentence. Whatever way she gets black on white, I always read her with a busy highlighter, hoping for occasions on which to steal her insights and elegant syntax.

I’ll start with “Three Pigs in Five Days.” What sets this apart for me is that Prose manages to  exploit the novella form’s capacity for rendering a contemporary scene vividly and richly (her mid- 90’s Paris is as splendid as the city itself) while balancing that with a stunningly evoked historicity. Sure, Paris often allows one to do that, but in Prose’s hands, and with her American central character, the magazine writer Nina, one senses that this is Prose’s Paris, not just your guidebook variety, not your I-visited-for-a-week-and-was-totally-blown-away variety.

And let’s not forget the sexual/romantic interplay on display. If there’s a funnier writer about the species’ inability to maintain and sustain relationships, I don’t know. Her Nina is neither total victim nor totally in control. You’re repelled by Prose’s Leo on one page, understanding Nina’s devotion to him on the next.

This passage, as Holden Caulfield, my favorite literary critic, would say, just kills me:

Everywhere on the planet, people were agglomerating in gummy alliances based on sex or nationality, ethnic origin, history, or religion, some of it more or less violent and about us versus them. It was naive to imagine a world without combination and exclusion occurring constantly, unstoppably, on the lowest biological level, a world of humans running about, pretending to be complex organisms but really no more than gametes swimming toward fertilization, toward that moment, that shattering pop between the sperm and the egg that signals all the others to just keep on swimming by . . . .

I’m losing my mind, thought Nina.

Moreover, this novella, as well as its companion, “Guided Tours of Hell,” bravely confronts an issue often avoided–the Holocaust. Not nearly as much in “Three Pigs,” but to some extent, while in “Guided Tours,” the action literally takes us into the death camp, led there by both the central character, Landau, and his antagonist, Jiri, “that terrible poet and memoirist,” according to Landau, “whose only claim to fame is that he survived two years in the camp, where he somehow conducted a love affair with Kafka’s sister, Ottla.” Landau, too, is a writer, a dramatist who secured an invite to the first annual Kafka Conference based on his play, To Kafka from Felice. If all Prose did was invent this situation, I’d be amazed but too she keeps us guessing with whether Jiri–who cheerfully leads the tour through the camp where he once suffered daily: is he a fraud or the real thing. Landau wants him to be a fraud, of course, if for no other reason than to endorse his world view over Jiri’s, but Prose also maneuvers the question back to Landau: how genuine is he? As an artist? As a Jew? As a world citizen of a century of horrors?

I can’t end this post without saying something about third person. What’s remarkable about it is that one could see either of these novellas told in first person, especially given how intimate the language is when it touches upon individual insight. Yet Prose is up to something wise in both novellas: each central character has a blind spot. It’s so close to themselves that they can’t see it, even though they are ninety percent right on the money in their characterizations of themselves and others. But every so often Prose pivots her narrator away from the character’s vision and presents us what’s what:

Then Landau has–well, forces–a vision: sekeletons in mirrors, hollow-eyed male bags of bones reflected in rows of dark glass. Another phony metaphor: In fact they weren’t skeletons, not the prisoners here, who were kept above starving weight, again for the Red Cross inspectors.

I love that “well, forces,” to undercut Landau’s vision, followed by the judgment: “Another phony metaphor.” This is why third person, in the end, is always, for me, the superior POV choice. One gets all the intimacy of first and can just draw back a little to get the clarity and context of third.

And is there another writer who better uses the colon and the dash than Francine Prose?

Next up today: A list of novellas I should write on but am too busy–well, lazy–to include in these last few Novella Month days.

One novella for sure, the other, maybe?

In Uncategorized on June 25, 2012 at 7:54 pm

As promised, I’ve got two novellas on the docket today. Or one novella and a long story, I don’t know. One’s by a teacher who became a friend, the other’s by a friend who happens to be a teacher.

I shouldn’t stall so much.

I remember when Lee K. Abbott was writing what became the title centerpiece of this collection of fiction, Living After Midnight. I like to think I was humming the Judas Priest song of the same name one day in my fiction workshop in the solitary but immeasurably influential class I took with him and he stopped me, cocked his head and smiled in his Abbottonian way and said, “What song is that, bud?” But that’s another fiction. I do recall once Lee asked us for names of drugs that people used nowadays and when I read the book, I could tell that he’d listened to us-all fifteen would be writers who listened to everything he said as if it emanated from a prophet as grim as John Brown and grand as the Great Poobah himself (crude Abbott parody, sorry).

What excited me greatly about the novella was that Lee was moving pretty fulltime into exploring Northern Ohio–Cleveland and its suburbs, in particular. He claims now the terrain is foreign to him, what with its trees and lack of gritty sand blowing into your eyes, but for that period, that place, he absolutely nailed it. Living After Midnight travels after Reed and H-man, two buddies brought together in a college class (“Gephart’s Intro to Comp Lit, a M-W-F lecture as notorious for the old fart’s life-is-hell worldview as for its twenty-pound reading list”), estranged but brought back together in the Mistake by the Lake for a debauched series of nights ripping off convenience stores–which Cleveland had, back then, and still does likely, no shortage of. That bare summary doesn’t begin to get to the heart of the matter, for what Abbott is, if I may be so bold, doing in this novella is using the simple buddy story to get at both the thrill and danger of letting oneself be persuaded to do that which one knows is wrong. I can recall Lee talking about how much he hated workshop stories which simply endorsed the current way of thinking, the stories that didn’t agitate a little, take both characters and readers down streets that ordinarily would be avoided. H-man, on the one hand, is just a petty thief with a lot of bluster and talk, while Reed is the one with the real job, the near-misses at respectability, yet he’s the one who gets drawn deeper into this incredibly well rendered world: whether it’s the Dairy Mart or the Things-U-Need, Abbott not only populates his convenience stores with the requisite late night workers, he stocks his shelves with the Twinkies and Kotex that make these forlorn venues that much more forlorn.

But this is as bad ass as a book can get while at the same time being loaded with quintessential Abbott humor: Reed and Hoffman are both great jabberers, their conversations as equally filthy as philosophical. And if there is a better ending, I don’t know it. I mentioned in another post that Roy Kesey wasn’t someone you’d want to read when you had doubts about your talents; Lee Abbott’s hard to read without his voice infecting yours. Don’t just ask me. Ask Bruce Machart, ask Kyle Minor, Matt Batt: that charming New Mexican, Lee K for Kittredge Abbott, born like John McCain in the Panama Canal Zone, will just insinuate his voice into yours. So be forewarned.

True story: In Little Rock, Arkansas, not too long ago, I was drinking beer with my friend Logan Oliver and Dan Chaon. Logan asked Dan what was a great story of the past few years and Dan said, without prompting, ignorant of the fact that Cary Holladay–the author of “Merry-Go-Sorry”–was my friend, that it was “Merry-Go-Sorry.” Without question. I should let the blog end right here. Direct quote from Dan Chaon.

But the question is: Is Cary’s masterful telling of a series event like those surrounding Mr. Echols and the rest of the West Memphis Three a story that’s long? A short novel? A novella? I’m going to err on the side of convenience and say, “It’s a novella,” in part because of what she’s able to do in these pages, which number thirty three  in my copy of The Palace of Wasted Footsteps, but also because of the broad canvas she displays here. Were I more industrious, I’d count all the characters who appear, or how many times the point of view moves from objective third to a limited third so close to the characters it feels like first. Rather, I’ll suggest you find out for yourself.

Meanwhile I’ll say that what haunts me about “Merry Go Sorry” is that while reading it you know Holladay is not going to make startling claims about who really did it, is not even going to provide us the who or the dunnit, is not going to provide any of the answers that we ordinarily require. Instead, in this swirling and incandescent prose portrait of a community ripped asunder and mended poorly, she keeps circling around the idea of truth, about reality, about what we need to know to keep moving on, and in these efforts she makes a compelling statement about existence as one can without falling into soapbox preaching. Listen to this:

You can drive the back roads of Arkansas for a hundred years, past Indian mounds, past swamps where turtles cling to logs and slip underwater when your car rumbles by. You can pass through towns so small they have no sidewalks, where the autumn leaves scuttle through unpaved streets; inside the old shotgun houses that used to be sharecroppers’ cabins, people love and fight and worry about money and children. Getting on toward dusk, you pass a barred owl perched on a sign, a black -striped sign that indicates a small bridge over a creek. The owl’s broad face swivels around to follow your car, its gaze so fierce you back up to look at it again: it doesn’t scare. It will hunt into twilight, hunt the mice in the grass and the flocks of blackbirds that whirl like a spray of pepper above fields of cotton and beans.

And it’s this kind of writing, along with this kind of brilliance, that would bust a story in half and be too lustrous for the novel’s need to get people in and out of rooms. But with a novella like “Merry-Go-Sorry,” you can expect such music on every page.

Plus, Cary Holladay is among the sweetest people you will ever meet. She and her husband, John Bensko, are like me and my wife, Carmen Endington, a pixie/giant couple. And she came to my wedding in Reyno, Arkansas. And she is sweet. And she is an incredible writer with, I understand, a new story collection coming out soon. READ HER!

Tomorrow: a list of novellas I should also blog about but don’t have time, and an aptly named writer’s collection of three stunners.

Two for one: Graham and Tanzer

In Uncategorized on June 23, 2012 at 2:05 am

Hey, I can hear you saying, you’re only discussing novellas by your friends!

Yeah, that’s kind of true, but it’s not my fault that Thomas Mann doesn’t have Facebook or that Joe Conrad doesn’t answer my texts.

But these two novellas are not only by friends, they’re published by Main Street Rag Publishing Company, my publisher. And about that I’d like to say that no one who reads Ben Tanzer’s My Father’s House, Barry Graham’s Nothing or Next to Nothing and my slim volume (my book is the shortest, but I’m the tallest of us three) would think that MSR had a limited notion of what the novella as a form should be or what its optimal subject is. These are as three different novellas as you could find.

I’ve written at length about My Father’s House before but would add here that one of the elements that you will not be able to shake from reading this book is voice: One occasionally sees some complaints from readers that the book is too much in the head of its narrator, that one is not able to glimpse objectively the goings on as witnessed by others. But that would be, I’m sure, an entirely different book. What seems Tanzer’s aim is to strip down grief to its essentials. And one of the things that carries us through the loss of a parent is the fact that we want to talk. We want to talk about everything but grief at first, as if chatter will diminish the likelihood that the loved one will die. Then we want to talk to our loved one, but we never have the right words or the right opportunity. (As I’ve said before, the truest moment in this book of true moments is when the father tells his son, “Y-y-you have always been a good son.”) And then, when it’s all over, we want to talk more. To others who’ve been through this. To make sure we’re not the only ones this happened to. It’s not for nothing that this book ends with the narrator “tak[ing] off my running shoes and . . . start[ing] to write.” For it seems as though that what the book chronicles is all the mess that occurs and accumulates and one tries to run from but that in the end must be dealt with in order to move on. And of course, it’s Ben Tanzer: so it’s funny in all the right places, kinda sexy in a wrong, wrong, wrong kind of way, and replete with references to the Knicks of Pat Ewing.

Which reminds me, Ben? What are these numbers? 25, 10, 7?”

Hakeem’s points, boards, and assists in Game 7.

That was mean.

And speaking of mean, there is Nothing or Next to Nothing. Not mean in a bad way, but mean as in “mean streets” or “mean existence.” or just plain mean, as in the central character, Derek Kehoe, who could not be better drawn than the way he is by Mr. Graham here. I have never felt, when reading a book, so inside a character’s world. Derek sees real squalor (orphaned, growing up among thugs, cheats, dealers, and all the rest) yet can’t quite envision a cleaner, safer place for himself. There is a sister, Daisy, that he might be trying to find. There is survival, there is fast food, there are quick fucks, but nothing adds up.

You’d think that such a subject would keep the writing from being little more than  objective cataloguing of life’s indignities, yet Barry Graham, “the poet laureate of the taco truck,” as Ben T calls him, is so capable of a kind of rough poetry that never sounds affected and always renders the world authentically.

Check this out:

 

I needed a drink. There was a water fountain underneath a square cement gazebo but it didn’t work. A few feet away there was a rusty manual water pump coming out of the ground. I cranked the handle up and down a few times and water came out. It was the best water I ever drank.

I love such moments in a book like Barry’s, as they give both me as reader relief from the squalor and also promise, just maybe, that things might work out for Derek. Of course, this is a novella with Nothing in the title twice, so don’t expect a happy ending.

I don’t like the world of this novella, but I know that it’s not affected or contrived, that there are a lot more people who live like Derek Kehoe than Tom Williams, and that Barry Graham is in his own way attempting to celebrate that which needs celebrating, damn that which needs damning, and try to present the reader with the thought that maybe in the next world, Derek will get things right.

And all of this in the tidy sum of 102 pages.

Plus, Ben and Barry and I read together in my new hometown bookstore, Coffeetree Books, and on that night and ever since I have felt such a connection to these dudes that when I call them “brother” (and if you know me you know I don’t say “brother” much) I mean it.

I’ll be back on Monday with two more novellas. Tune in to see which ones!

Another novella you should know

In Uncategorized on June 21, 2012 at 7:41 pm

If the name Jessica Treat is not familiar to you, you’re probably not going to come to my blog anyway. But if it is only familiar and you haven’t read anything by this most cunning and crafty deviser of fictions–and all around swell Canadian-American writer–then what better way to introduce yourself to her work than through her incredible novella, “Honda,” which appears in the collection of sterling short-shorts, frantic forms and unclassifiably good narratives (goddamn, is “His Sweater” one of the best stories I know), Not a Chance.

What “Honda” has is one of the best unreliable narrators I know. Not the usual Poe-like scoundrels who should know what they’re doing is wrong, but a young woman whose innocence might be too pure, whose accidents seem evidence more of a fate guiding her toward calamity rather than willed wrongs. Treat manages to evoke our sympathy with her narrator while keeping us cringing at every misstep: and boy are there a lot of them. She drives home in the wrong car, smokes a “cigarette of a 1972 vintage,” mistakes people for a hated former teacher. And yet there is something charming about all these miscalculations, and the character’s made even more unique through her incredibly acute observations. My favorite:

Still, it is my philosophy that there is a finite number of individuals. If you look at people, really study faces, you begin to see how similar everyone looks to each other.

Did I mention Treat’s poetically nimble treatment of language, too?

Moreover, what I think Treat has uncovered with reliability in fiction is that one’s first person narrator has to believe everything she says is true. We, the creators of the narrator, might be the biggest liars in the world, but our narrators have to believe every word they say, else the reader is left cold.

Additionally, what intrigues me further about “Honda” is that it seems like its a novella by accretion. Several of the stories can stand alone; they have stood alone in journals. Together, though, they are exquisite. But Treat’s assemblage of this novella points out to me the fluidity of the form, as it is both the baby novel, the long story, and the extended sequence of related scenes. Or all at once and not at all.

Anyway. Go find this book: it’s from my old friends at Fiction Collective Two and is, in a word, unforgettable.

Oh yeah, June is National Novella Month

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2012 at 3:14 pm

I should have been out in front of this. I mean, I actually had the pleasure of hosting Dan Wickett and Matt Bell at my house this April and still I, as usual, come in to the celebration well past the halfway mark. So in honor of this most supple of fictive forms, I’m going to try to provide some wit or insight from this day until the end of June.

But first, some self promotion:

Mr. Matty Byloos, whom I met for the first time this past March in Chicago, asked me for a flash fiction for his incredible online concern, smalldoggies, and I obliged. Thank you, Matty, and I hope one day to actually be in the sainted city of Portland, OR. Check my story out at your leisure, but be sure to engage fully with smalldoggies: it’s exactly what an online magazine should be: full and furious and funny and filthy and everything else you can imagine. http://www.smalldoggiesmagazine.com/fiction/flash/on-playing-for-the-first-time-the-replacements-i-will-dare-without-any-mistakes-russell-42-by-tom-williams/

Shelf Unbound, in its June issue, just listed The Mimic’s Own Voice as a “Summer Short”: “Ten novellas for literary lounging. http://www.pagegangster.com/p/kiWjB/ Douglas and I should be embarrassed by the company we’re keeping in this list.

Now, to a less self-centered section of this post: I intend to say something useful about novellas that have given me great joy over the next few days. I’ll start with an easy one: Roy Kesey’s Nothing in the World.

Frankly, I love this book. I’ll give you one extra-textual reason first: I knew Roy via emails before this came out, but its original publication (by Bullfight Media as the winner of its one and only novella contest) knocked me out so much, I wanted to do whatever I could to help Roy with its being let loose upon the world, so I started to teach it. Only trouble was, so few copies existed after Bullfight went belly up. Thankfully, Roy’s friend Jim Ruland had several copies, and so it was that my students sent checks to Jim and he sent copies to me and we were all happy. Now Roy’s my friend, Jim’s my friend, and my former students at Arkansas State are the richer for reading Roy. The small press world in a nutshell right there.

But to the book itself: I will not be saying anything that hasn’t been said already about Roy Kesey’s talents: that he is relentlessly original, hilarious, erudite, and not to be read when one is having a crisis about her or his own writing ability. Everything Roy writes pulses with a kind of energy that impels the reader  to finish, while the language itself begs to be experienced slowly, like a rare and long brewed liquor that is too potent to be consumed in one draught. And the world of Roy’s fiction is so unique, not only because he’s set his fictions in places faraway and familiar, but because he has an intellectual and no doubt spiritual vision of that world that makes one question one’s own sense(s) of place(s).

Nothing in the World tells the story of Josko, a young Croat who leaves his family and pastoral home for the initial days of the Serbo-Croatian War–a conflict I remembered from CNN but knew nothing of until I plunged into the wonderfully drawn horrors of this novella. It’s a slim book–80 pages in the Dzanc Books edition–easily read in one sitting, but unforgettable too. Equal parts objective accounts of the comedies and tragedies of war (Josko’s unit is given weapons that are a “relic from World War II”) and terrifying dreamscapes that startle so much because they could be true, the book is also haunted by three parables that offer brief counters to the ravages of Josko’s experiences of war; the parables suggest miracles, hope, optimism, and then are undercut by such ominous last lines as “Then the winter came.” The book’s title, an allusion to Frederic Manning’s World War I novel, Her Privates We (“Nothing in the world is as still as a dead man,” Manning writes), becomes all the more chilling as one follows along with Josko, through training, through his stay in and escape from an ethnic cleansing camp; to his nearly complete transformation from innocent to killer. One wonders, “Is there truly no thing in the world to save this fallen soul?”

Goddamn, just talking about his book makes me want to re-read it. And I’ve got two copies.

Go on and get two for yourself, reader, as you’ll no doubt dampen your first copy with tears.