Small Presses, Big Pleasures

While there are exceptions, it’s rare that short story collections are published by the large presses. Thank goodness for small presses, without which readers would not have the vast pleasure of short story collections such as the ones I’ll mention here.

Here are three small press story collections I’ve read in the last year that I particularly admire: For Sale by Owner by Kelcey Parker, This is Not Your City by Caitlin Horrocks, and In the Time of the Girls by Anne Germanacos. Yes, they all happen to be by women and, for the most part, they all happen to be about women’s lives.

Meg Wolitzer’s recent essay “The Second Shelf” in the New York Times questions why works written by women about women receive far less literary attention than those written by men. When women write about women’s lives, their works are labeled Women’s Fiction whereas when Jeffrey Eugenides and Jonathan Franzen write about women’s lives, their works are literary and are thus validated reading for both men and women.

Furthermore, she writes: Yet if a woman writes something short these days, particularly if it’s about a woman, it risks being considered minor.

These story collections, like so much other work by women, are anything but minor when it comes to illuminating the complexities of women’s lives and minds not just in the stories themselves, but in the forms and language the authors use to construct them. Male and female readers looking for smart, sophisticated writing will find it in these story collections.

For Sale by Owner by Kelcey Parker, published by Kore Press

(One of the Kore editors is Shannon Cain whose own story collection The Necessity of Certain Behaviors, which won the Drue Heinz Award, is on my To-Read list.)

The book jacket describes the stories in For Sale by Owner as “tales of twisted domesticity.” Indeed, they are playful and devastating at once in their baring of the longings and dreams of women who wonder how they came to inhabit a particular role or situation.

Parker’s stories are little gems—stories boiled down to their intelligent, bitingly funny, and thoroughly inventive essence. Parker’s word play is nimbly executed, the humor never gratuitous or forced. For an incisive review of For Sale by Owner, read Gemma Alexander’s appraisal over on Culture Mob.

This is Not Your City by Caitlin Horrocks, published by Sarabande Books

This widely praised collection elicited a “wow” from me after each story. Horrocks has terrific range when it comes to characters, structure, setting, and tone, each realized with sureness and clarity. Robin Romm, in her review in The New York Times, calls the collection “impressively sharp.”

If I were to choose a favorite story in this collection, it might be “The Lion Gate” in which a woman, longing for motherhood, befriends an American youth while on vacation alone in a small Greek town. Or it might be “Embodied” about a woman who, reincarnated into her 127th life, recognizes in her infant son the reincarnation of the mother who harmed her in a previous life. Or it might be any one of the stories in this book which Brock Clarke calls “impossible to forget.”

In the Time of the Girls by Anne Germanacos, published by BOA Editions

Form and language are turned inside out in these stories inspired by myth, religion, history, the exotic and the mundane, the remoteness of family and the intimacy of strangers.

Story is condensed to small, rich delicacies—a single sentence quivers with meaning:

My husband’s shoes are so noisy they should be jailed.

A paragraph is a story in itself:

We have entirely peaceful hours by the fire, sitting opposite one another reading. A peace that wells up into moments of love so strong you can only shy away from them.

Germanacos’ work is poetic, stark, and stunning in the emotions evoked about relationships, death, and the everyday. An excellent and thorough review of In the Time of the Girls by Michaux Dempster is on the Blackbird website.