Margaret Malone’s writing has appeared in The Missouri Review, Propeller Quarterly, Coal City Review, Swink, Nailed, latimes.com, and elsewhere. The recipient of fellowships from the Oregon Arts Commission and Literary Arts, two Regional Arts & Culture Council Project Grants, and residencies at the Sitka Center and Soapstone, she lives in Portland, Oregon, where she co-hosts the artist and literary gathering SHARE. Her debut story collection, People Like You, was released earlier this week from Atelier 26 Books. Here’s an excerpt. Learn more on her website.
These days I read almost exclusively in bed at night. Before I had kids I read all the time, on the bus, at lunch, before I’d write, whenever I could. But with two small kids, my time right now is almost never my own, so I read in little bursts before I pass out, the book usually smacking me in the face as it falls from my hands, reminding me to turn off the light and go to sleep.
The book I’m in deep with right now is Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Small Backs of Children. Lidia writes like most people dream – both visceral and elusive, full of beautiful impressionistic detail that is also painfully honest: the one thing you would never tell anybody is the exact place that Lidia starts writing. It’s jaw dropping.
Also in the stack is the story collection Dark Lies The Island by Kevin Barry. Somehow Kevin Barry eluded me my whole writing life until a few months ago when I read his story “Wifey Redux” from this book. He instantaneously became a writer hero of mine. His writing is dark and wrong and funny as hell and then all of a sudden by the end of the story you realize he’s this breath-stopping storyteller on top of all that. Truly a master of the craft.
Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs! by Sandra Boynton. Not a joke. This really is on my nightstand. It’s there because my kids love reading as much as I do and their books are absolutely everywhere. This kind of mess seems to me like a good problem to have. By the way, the book is hilarious. Highly recommended.
Next up is The Residue Years by Mitchell S. Jackson. The novel is often summarized as being a story about growing up black in Portland, Oregon, “America’s whitest city.” But what it also is is a song to mothers and sons and that weird, impossible love that’s shared despite constantly letting each other down. Mitchell writes like a bebop drummer drums on a solo, and he somehow manages to make heartbreak feel like beauty. So you understand what I’m talking about, here’s one of his knockout sentences: “Whatever plans Mom has this time, grand or small, starry-eyed or dull, my plans will be under her plans holding them up.”
Emperor of the Air by Ethan Canin. I read this book of stories maybe eight months ago but it stayed on my nightstand nonetheless. During an editing meeting with my publisher, Atelier26, Mark Allen Cunningham mentioned Canin and this book in particular. He said he assumed he was an influence on me. I’d never heard of him. I went right out and bought the book and freaked out at the beginning, middle and end of every story. My poor husband had to hear me say over and over, “Oh my god. You can’t believe how good this book is.” I recently said in an interview that I wanted to be him when I grew up, and I wasn’t kidding. The stories in this book are little nuggets of perfection.
The penultimate in the stack is Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey. This book won Late Night Library’s Debut-litzer Prize in Fiction this year. It’s about a woman who walks away from her life and flees, without notice, to New Zealand. I haven’t read it yet. Here’s why: as soon as I held the book in my hands I opened it up and read the first lines. I always do this with a new book. It’s habit. The opening was so captivating and so totally and completely my favorite kind of writing I had to shut the book immediately and put it right down. I can’t read this one until I have the time to sit down and read the whole damn thing in a day or two. It’s one of those books. I know I will disappear into it and I want to give it its due. Here’s a line of hers: “I would laugh. He would laugh. Inside our laughing we weren’t really laughing.” God I wish I wrote that line.
The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum is the last one in the pile. In my other writing life, I write essays and memoir and for the life of me I can’t seem to write non-fiction that’s funny. My stories have way more levity than my memoir writing, and so I’m always excited and curious and jealous when I find someone who can write a great essay while also making you laugh your ass off. She’s hilarious, but it’s more than that—- the way she writes, it’s like she’s not afraid to tell you the worst thing about herself, and when she does that, it makes you maybe not so afraid of your own worst things. The funny is in the awful truth.