“How” a short story by Roxane Gay from “The New Black” anthology

Week 23 of Deal Me In 2015 brought me the four of hearts and with it this story by author Roxane Gay, who just happens to currently reside in Indiana, teaching at Purdue University. Last year – almost exactly a year ago – I read her story “North Country” for Deal Me In 2015, and earlier this year I also read her novel An Untamed State but never blogged about it. My roster of stories I’m reading in 2015 (with links to any posts I’ve written about them) may be found here if you’re interested.

“How” is the story of Hanna, a twin whose grown-up (at 27 years old) life has become populated with “usurpers.” She lives with a house full of them. Her unemployed husband, sister, brother in law and her father – a laid-off miner who never found work again and lives a drinking existence.

The story has an uncommon structure, but it was one I was able to rapidly fall into step with. Each titled section is an explanation of how certain components of Hanna’s life came to pass: (e.g. “How Hanna met and married Peter”, “How Red… Got his reputation”, “How these things came to pass,” etc.) Hanna, the only one in her household who works, holds down two jobs and has little time to herself, but takes that time that she does have to pose as a student at a local college, notching encounters with male students in a kind of diverting masquerade. She also explores a relationship with a lifelong friend, Laura, with whom she is plotting to escape her unfair life.

A quotation near the end of the story gives your pretty good idea of the type of existence Hanna has led:

The Twins stood before their father, their mother, their husbands. They stood in the house where they had grown up filled with broken people and broken things.”

So… it’s not a very cheery story (and I’m sure it’s not intended to be), but I enjoyed the style and the way Hanna interacted with the other characters, especially her twin sister, Anna (Of course her name is Anna!).

This is the third story I’ve read from The New Black, a “Neo-Noir” collection of stories. Both the others were excellent, one of them – Benjamin Percy’s “Dial Tone”   – being another Deal Me In 2015 pick. I learned of this anthology some time ago from Paula Cappa’s excellent blog.

What about you? Have you read anything by Roxane Gay? She may be best known for her essay collection “Bad Feminist,” which is on my list but hasn’t bubbled to the top yet. What are some of your favorite short story anthologies? (I’m always looking for stories for future years’ DMI rosters…) 🙂

Below : Author Roxane Gay

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Top Ten Tuesday – 10 Favorite “New to Me” Authors of 2014

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme sponsored by The Broke and the Bookish blog. Pay them a visit, or check out everybody’s lists at the home post for this week.

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Top Ten New to me Authors in 2014:

This is one of my favorite topics of the year. One of the best benefits of participating in the book blogging community is learning of new authors from your fellow bloggers. I’m happy to say that my reading the past five years has been greatly enriched by the addition of many authors who I only learned of through my fellow book bloggers. I heartily thank you all, and today I’ll share some of my favorite new-to-me authors of the year. The following are in a rough ascending order with my favorite being number 1…

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  1. Katherine Vaz – I’ve been reading through her collection of short stories, “Fado and Other Stories” this year and have just been blown away. I’ve posted about a couple of her stories, “Undressing the Vanity Dolls” and “Fado” if you’d like to hear more about her.
  2. Ernesto Sabato – His book, “The Tunnel,” was recommended to me by a co-worker. It was great! I even recommended it for the book club at Indy Reads Books when they were looking for a ‘short’ book before reading a longer one (I think the longer one was Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections” – HE didn’t make this list) and they liked it too.
  3. Ralph Ellison – One of those “I’m embarrassed that I’ve never read” books for me has always been Ellison’s “Invisible Man.” Fortunately, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library book club read it for Banned Books Month in September. Very deep and often brilliant.
  4. Jess Walter – Wow. His collection of short stories “We Live in Water” blew me away a couple months ago. It looks like another local book discussion group will also be reading his novel Beautiful Ruins next year, which I’m looking forward to. Top that off with an Indy visit by this author for “Vonnegut Fest” in November, and he’s certainly become one of my favorite new-to-me authors.
  5. Ben Winters – I read a couple short stories of his, then his Edgar Award-winning novel “The Last Policeman” as preparation for a launch party for the final book in that same trilogy. Met him in person at that event and have subsequently read another great short story of his (“Between the Lines”) in the hot-off-the-presses anthology of local writers, “Indy Writes Books”
  6. Roxane Gay – Her story “North Country” has been one of my favorites from my 2014 Deal Me In short story project. I read a couple others by her since – and have one on my radar for next year – and was looking forward to a scheduled visit of hers to the local Vonnegut Library, but it was unfortunately cancelled due to health reasons.
  7. Leonid AndreevHis story “Lazarus” may be my favorite short story read of the year. I had never even heard of this author before I made “stories by Russian writers” a suit in my annual Deal Me In challenge
  8. Ken Liu – I enjoyed his sci-fi flavored story “What I Assume You Shall Assume” in the “Weird Western” anthology “Dead Man’s Hand” which I completed recently. He’s an author I definitely want to explore further. I need to write a blog post about that anthology too. It was a lot of fun. 🙂
  9. Martin Amis – I just finished reading his book, “Time’s Arrow” and hope to write a blog post about it soon. Very enjoyable fresh narrative perspective – a novel written in reverse time. Now that’s ambitious.
  10. Salman Rushdie – I’d never read him until I read the exceptional short story “Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella Consummate their Relationship” earlier this year. Of course I knew of him because of the infamous “fatwah” from back in the day, but this is the first I’ve read of him. I received some recommendations from others for subsequent reading which I hope to follow up on..

Okay, so those are ten of my favorite “New to Me” authors in 2014. Now I want to know who YOURS are… 🙂

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Deal Me In – Week 21 Wrap Up

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Below are links to five new DMI 2014 posts this week. I hope everyone is enjoying a nice long holiday weekend!

Dale read Graham Greene’s “Alas, Poor Maling” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/graham-greene-alas-poor-maling/

Returning Reader has a new favorite story of the year, Henriette Rose-Innes’s “Promenade” http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/short-story-18-promenade-henrietta-rose-innes/

Katherine read “Humpty-Dumpty was a Runner” by Janet Berliner http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/05/24/deal-me-in-week-21-humpty-dumpty-was-a-runner/ as an added bonus, she shares another video of a Penn & Teller “card” trick you won’t want to miss!

I posted about two stories this week: Roxane Gay’s North Country” https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/05/25/north-country-by-roxane-gay/ and George Saunders’ “Tenth of December” https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/05/25/george-saunders-tenth-of-december/

That’s it for this week. Until next time – happy reading!

North Country by Roxane Gay

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I drew the ten of hearts for week 20 of my Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge. I own North Country as part of the 2012 Edition of “The Best American Short Stories” series, several volumes of which have provided fodder for my Deal Me In challenges over the past few years. I don’t think it is currently available for reading online anywhere, but spending a few bucks on The Best American Short Stories of 2012 isn’t a bad idea. 🙂 In selecting stories from this collection to include in my Deal Me In roster, I made use of the Contributors’ Notes section of the book. Here’s what Roxane Gay said about her story:

“I moved to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to pursue a Ph.D. and realized I had moved into a different world, one where it was cold and snowy and where nothing made sense. Everyone kept asking me if I was from Detroit, and it was confusing and irritating because I had never been asked such a thing in my life. I’m from Nebraska. Finally, a few months into my tour of duty, which would last five years, I realized, oh, right, the only black people they know are from Detroit. Then it became a game to see who would ask the question, how often, and how I might answer it. My responses got creative. In my fourth year, I met a logger who would do strange things like take me into the woods and bring me dead deer. I started to realize there was a lot more complexity and beauty in the U.P. than I had realized, so I wrote a story about it – a love letter to the North Country.”

I liked the story a lot and felt the author did an excellent job of capturing the feelings of alone-ness and isolation she must have encountered in her own situation. I loved the opening lines of the story:

“I have moved to the edge of the world for two years. If I am not careful, I will fall.”

Nice imagery. I also enjoyed how the author details how the narrator adapts to her new world, letting her guard down ever so slowly and never quite all the way. How her past “traumas” effect her current behavior, and so on. A good story, and one that made me want to read more by this author.

I didn’t find the text of the story available online anywhere, but I did find a video of the author reading her work it’s about 25 minutes long and can be found at http://vimeo.com/53978525

(below: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The edge of the world?)

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