Magnificent Mistakes by Eric Bosse
Bosse's debut collection alternates between traditional short stories and shorter works of flash fiction, setting up a hard-hitting series of one-two combinations. Writing in the realist mode, he puts his characters in situations where they're forced to confront their flaws; the degree to which they're willing to accept that these shortcoming make them who they are determines their capacity to find what they're searching for. Make no mistake, these are high-stakes fictions, but what I find most admirable is the way Bosse finishes: He really knows how to stick the ending. I felt each story's finality all the way down to my bones.
Quote: “We rode those last twenty miles down the pass, chuckling and cursing, as the old man's lungs filled with blood.”
Wild Life by Kathy Fish
The most slender of the books assembled here—each story in Fish's “collection of undomesticated flash fictions” is fewer than 600 words—Wild Life has teeth. Although you can read it from cover to cover in a few hours, there's nothing slight about these slim fictions. These stories are culled from real life, making them all the more harrowing.
Quote: “They discovered the baby in the grass, under the frantic cotton sheets. The clothesline spun and creaked throwing light, then shadow on his face, his wee head smooth and curved as a doorknob.”
Tund by Thor Garcia
I don't think I read a stranger collection of short stories all year than Tund. Its author is a bit of a mystery. He's from Long Beach but has lived in Prague since the mid-'90s. This makes for a peculiar worldview, which probably should be expected from someone with a name like Thor Garcia.
Quote: “We idled languid, fragrant afternoons in hilly, statue-studded parks; munched flaky pastry at umbrella-shrouded pavilions along the river; stared in mute wonder at elaborate iron lamp posts and exquisite carved wooden door panels; floated across expansive sun-dashed cobblestone mezzanines, fawned over fabulously fusty friezes, frontispieces and fandulas; and roamed a seemingly endless cavalcade of crumbling castles, moss-drenched cemeteries, monstrous vaulted churches, time-encrusted bridges, dusty, decaying monasteries, graceful galleries… Yes, it was Europe—EasteEurope, to be exact, in the time following what were popularly called revolutions.”
Museum of the Weird by Amelia Gray
(Fiction Collective 2)
Gray's follow-up to her short fiction debut, AM/PM, couldn't be more different—24 stories that demonstrate a wide range of strange. From the tale of two men who live in a gravel pit to women who write long rambling letters to their homeowners association, Gray's stories cozy up to the unusual and get comfortable, offering up unsettlingly intimate portraits of people whose lives have gone irreparably awry.
Quote: “I want to get so close to God that God has to file a restraining order.”
Volt by Alan Heathcock
This linked collection of stories opens with a mini-epic that's like a mashup of James Dickey and William Faulkner and doesn't let up from there. Wild landscapes ravaged by wilder men, many of whom never dreamt they had it in them.
Quote: “The buck deer was strung up with chains from the rafters, was draped in a red gown. They'd painted its hooves red and tied a bouquet to one, stapled a blond wig and a big white hat to its skull. Beside it sat Tim Eddy Jenkins, bound to a chair with silver tape. His nostrils trailed blood, the old squeeze box between his hands.”
Ampersand, Mass. by William Walsh
Like James Joyce's Dubliners and Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, Walsh uses place as an organizing principle, but his work is wholly original. Populated by dog-track bettors, shady doctors and all manner of smalltime crooks and con artists, Ampersand is a great place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.
Quote: “Decoder promises only three things to women: hard, fast, and long. Decoder can't do tender. Decoder can't do warm. Years ago, with his wife, when he was first convincing her to forsake her Catholic faith to satisfy his carnal pleasure, Decoder was able to do giddy because that seemed to do the trick for her. But giddy was a long time ago.”
Jim Ruland blogs at vermin.blogs.com and you can find him on Twitter @JimVermin.