On Tuesday, Aqueous Books released From Here, Jen Michalski’s second short story collection and fourth book. The founding editor of the literary quarterly jmww and a long-time Baltimore resident, Michalski’s fiction has found homes in more than 80 publications.
Looking at the early reviews and the stories from the new collection that have appeared online, one gets a sense of Michalski’s territory: neighborhoods with worn and tattered fences, where yards and lives overlap and spill onto one another, where rules are broken and categories are hard to define. For instance, “Neighbors,” which is over at PANK and features a man who has given birth to twins and is pregnant with another child.
In Michalski’s “The Queen of Swords,” available at storySouth, a teenage girl develops a curious relationship with an older neighbor woman, Vanessa Falkenstein, after she witnesses Vanessa smashing an armload of plates in her backyard, and then agrees to sit as a model for Vanessa as she sketches. As time passes, the teenager decides to open her own business inspired by her time with Vanessa. She explains:
… People come in and pay money, and there’s all sorts of things they can break, you know? Plates, glasses, televisions, ceramics. They break stuff for like ten minutes, get it out of their system, and then they leave. They don’t even have to clean it up. I have this theory, you see, that we’d break more stuff if we could, kind of as a release, but we worry about all this broken stuff we have to clean up. But we can just walk away from it all. No responsibilities.
On Wednesday, Foxhead Books released the short story collection Good People, the sixth book for The Millions’s staff writer Nick Ripatrazone. A New Jersey native, many of Ripatrazone’s stories explore the social dynamics of Catholic life, and much of the book takes place along the East Coast. It’s hard to talk Catholicism and short fiction without thinking of Flannery O’Connor, especially if the collection in question falls just one word shy of one of her better-known stories, “Good Country People.”
Nick Ripatrazone’s “Advent” offers a great example of how powerful [dialogue] can be when done well. All too often, dialogue is asked to do the heavy lifting in a story, establishing background information and setting up major plot points in rushed and unnatural ways. In contrast, Ripatrazone’s sharply drawn exchanges manage to effortlessly impart a sense of each character’s values and motivations while still retaining a natural feel.
In addition to his fiction and poetry accomplishments, Ripatrazone has taught English for a decade, and recently published some of his advice on the craft called “55 Thoughts for English Teachers.” Give it a gander if you’re feeling stuck in your lesson planning or are looking for some must-reads or just want to feel hopeful about what can happen in our classrooms these days.