After some months off, TLR Recommends: Book Reviews are back. We plan on running reviews once a month, alternating fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. First up, fiction. A novel, a collection, and an anthology of flash, reviewed by Fiction Editor Joe Ponepinto.
If you have a book you’d like to see reviewed (we prefer books with upcoming publish dates or published in the last six months), please see our query guidelines.
The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong
Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, 2015
Paperback, 310 pages
As tempting as it is to call this tale of a young man’s travails Sulliver’s Travels, we’ll let the obvious joke slide. Misadventures has enough humor of its own in Cheuk’s imaginative story about the once and future scion of the Pong family. Sulliver thought that by marrying a Danish woman and moving to Copenhagen that he’d escape the generational ineptitude of his lineage, which has been screwing things up from great-great grandfather Millmore down to dad, Saul Pong, corrupt mayor of his hometown of Bordirtoun (the Pongs were never very good at spelling). But Saul needs Sulliver to front a shady development deal, shows up unannounced in Denmark, and tricks his son into returning to the states with a story about his mother’s poor health. Once back in Texas, the rawness of local politics confronts the younger Pong’s penchant for honesty and fairness, and soon enough father and son are pitted against each other for control of the town. The stories of Sulliver’s ancestors, and how they came to, survived, and ultimately thrived in America are neatly woven into a vivid, and never disappointing narrative. -JP
Leland Cheuk’s story, “A Letter from Your Dinosaur,” was published in issue 1 of TLR.
ELJ Editions, 2015
Paperback, 184 pages
No matter how old or supposedly mature we get, most of us still spend significant time trying to make some sense of our childhoods. Nobody’s Looking may not have the answer, but it makes looking well worth the effort. Miller’s eighteen stories approach a boy’s growing up from a variety of angles, mostly though, from friendships and alliances, as well as enemies and survival. Miller never states it, but these stories invoke memories of suburbia in the 1960s and ’70s (as one who grew up in that decade the allusions are clear). Each tale brings back an aspect of the way things were then: less complicated of course, but also less cluttered—you were who you were, not an extension of your devices, or a better-managed version of your parents. It was a time, then, of more tactile experience, a time when growing up meant exploration, the opportunity to try and fail, and to learn from those failures. Without saying so, Miller creates a grand reminiscence of that time for those of us who experienced it. For those who didn’t, though, this book may be more valuable, offering insight into a past that longs not to be forgotten. -JP
The Best Small Fictions 2015
Guest Editor Robert Olen Butler
Series Editor Tara Masih
Queen’s Ferry Press, 2015
Paperback, 158 pages
Despite the popularity of flash fiction in current literature, there are relatively few books anthologizing the best of the genre. Queen’s Ferry Press, an independent publisher in Texas, has stepped in to fill that void. Guest judge Robert Olen Butler has curated an intriguing selection of stories—all under 1,000 words—from writers well known and unknown. That is perhaps the best feature of this varied anthology, that Butler and Series Editor Tara Masih recognized the importance of representing writers and publications based on the excellence of their work, more so than the strength of their reputations. The proof of this lies in the fact that the final judging was blind.
So a story like Stuart Dybek’s “Inland Sea,” just happens to follow “Not About Liz,” by Catherine Moore (which appeared in TLR’s premiere issue). This is no small satisfaction for the editors of the “less established” literary journals represented here; perhaps great writing is not restricted to that top-tier. The anthology includes traditional flash (which is still a bit oxymoronic), prose poetry, iStory, fictional haibun (a combination of prose and haiku), and even Twitter fiction (140 characters).
Almost all the entries in BSF2015 are of excellent quality, but there are some standouts in this reviewer’s eyes: “Wimbeldon,” by Seth Brady Tucker, “Object,” by Naomi Telushkin, “Last Exit Before Toll,” by James Keegan, “This Kind of Life Keeps Breaking,” by Maureen Seaton. -JP
Joe Ponepinto knows Tara Masih through occasional emails, but they have never met in person.