We happen upon, and into, these short story collections by an author we know, and have read, and enjoy, an author we admire and have not read and an author that is a known name to us courtesy of the internet, but whose writing we don't know much at all. We start to read. And we find ourselves immersed in pain, dislocation, fucked families and at times, both the fantastic and magical. We are reminded that there is so much writing waiting to be consumed and we keep wondering, how, if, when we can consume it all. We can't. But we will keep trying, because like the collections before us, there is so much good and interesting work out there and it all deserves a chance to be heard and found.
Among these collections, it is the Sequoia Nagamatsu we knew the least, hence it was the quite fantastical Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone that was the greatest surprise. Filled with Japanese folklore, Godzilla and pop culture, magical realism, weirdness, creatures not of this world, yet quite naturally inhabitating the world of Nagamatsu's writing, and heartbreak, it is a truly special collection of stories that hits a certain peak with "Headwater LLC," a story of childhood and loss that haunted us long after we closed the pages and set down the book.
If Matthew Fogary, who we know, even if we don't quite know him, is somewhat less fantastical in Maybe Mermaids & Robots Are Lonely, and maybe even less weird, though the story "Cardboard Graceland" might suggest evidence to the contrary, he certainly well knows loss and how we can watch ourselves losing our grip on the relationships that matter most, but still feel the tremendous frustation of knowing we have no control over any of it. The collection's greatest strength, however, just might be how current it feels, with its commentary on an America in decline, especially a Midwest that is deterioration and rust. All of which hits a certain sad, hopeful, off-kilter culmination in the novella "The Dead Dream of Being Undead."
We are certainly unabashed Sam Slaughter fans. His work is realism and saturated in drink, lost people who lose themselves in bars and bottles, drinking to forget, and to feel something, anything. Much like Nagamatsu and Fogarty, he speaks to underappreciated parts of the world in his new collection God In Neon. In his case, it is the south, and small towns, places where people die at the hands of their pet snakes, return traumatized from wars in foreign lands and watch their family priest do shots off of their stripper sister's breasts. It's all so bleak and wonderful, the latter sounding wrong to our ears, but right on the page, and it all lands particularly hard, and correct, in "Nine Shots of Rye," a Sam Shepherd blast of brothers, dead fathers and how everything feels like everything just might turn out okay, even when that can't possibly be so.
In the end, these authors who know loss and family, the weird and the sad, are now known to us, and we know that reading them is certain to change your life, just as they have ours, if only for a moment at that.