When I was nineteen and trying my hand at novel-writing for the first time, I found myself struggling with a story that alternated between two protagonists, a mother and a daughter. After reading my newest batch of pages, a beloved mentor observed that only the daughter was coming to life on the page. “There has to be more to this other woman than her role as a mother,” she said. I realize now that she was speaking from her own recent, still-raw experiences. “Try going back in time with the mother character,” she said. “Write a scene where she’s twenty, before she has a child, and see what she does. When you become a mother, your old self doesn’t disappear. All the parts of you that were there before are still there.”
“If I’m going to tell you the story of how I lost two people who were closer than blood to me, I have to begin here in Dennett, Texas, during the summer between the sophomore and junior years of my life. This story begins as it ends, with me, Cirilo Izquierdo, waiting for what all of us spend our whole lives waiting for: not to be alone anymore.” — Throw: A Novel, by Rubén Degollado
If I offer you the words contemplative novel, you may not immediately picture—for example—someone getting stabbed in the leg with a pencil. You may not picture a tangle of high schoolers fighting and flirting, fueling rumors and throwing shade and roaming lowrider car shows.
I like stories that leave me feeling I’ve encountered a living creature, or eaten a spicy meal, or sat stunned in a light-drenched temple. When a book feels like that, I want to offer a chili-studded forkful, or make urgent gestures: Feral pigs that way!
In the case of Valparaiso, Round the Horn, the debut short story collection by Madeline ffitch—which does, in fact, include feral pigs, along with myriad other wild creatures—I would hand it to you green and dripping, like a poultice of macerated plants, as an antidote to ennui.
My family eats a Long Island diner breakfast every Saturday morning. We say hi to our neighbor, Lucille, who waits tables; our toddler jabs at the jukebox as my husband orders the Hungry Man; we try to ignore the flat-screen on the wall, which is unfailingly tuned to Fox News. Luckily, there’s good eavesdropping to be done. What we overhear from nearby tables usually beats Sarah Palin stumping for the flat tax.
Beverly Gologorsky knew what she was about when she chose a diner as the center of her new novel, Stop Here. I’d wager there’s a diner at every exit on the Long Island Expressway, and they’re rich with fictional possibility. More than other restaurants, somehow, diners feel like places to talk politics, hash out family conflicts, make business plans, cement friendships—and Gologorsky serves up all of these in her novel Stop Here.
We see the first one in Bellport, eight o’clock at night, and we don’t know what it is. We’re driving along a two-lane highway on the south shore when we come upon it: a caravan of cars idling in the shoulder, taillights scarlet in the dark. “Should I be driving in that lane?” my husband says. Seeing no construction signs, we drive on. We pass a mile of cars. Then we see the gas station at the head of the line. It’s been three days since Sandy hit.