Fiction Pick of the Week: "The Book of Joan [Excerpt]"
Transformed bodies on a transformed earth.
Transformed bodies on a transformed earth.
Robots arrive on earth; a politician's grotesque fate.
A former reality star's strength in the face of a Presidential candidate's comments.
Dead bodies and small town sexual identity.
Lessons for dating and dying.
A mysterious stone and the complexities of grief.
A shipwreck, a mythical creature.
A trip to the country turns into nightmare beset by mysterious creatures and body transformations.
"When we went over to look at the creature, it was mostly flattened. It looked like a crow, except the feathers had fallen off its back. Underneath, the flesh was scaly and pink. The exposed skin was split in half by a row of translucent spikes. The spikes were moving slightly, pointing first in this direction, then in that. The smell made me wrinkle my nose. It was an oddly sweet smell to find outdoors, like an open vat of lollipop flavoring."
A woman in an unhappy marriage stumbles toward change.
"Without turning the radio on, Hannah drove back into town and into the driveway of her house. She sat there in the car for a long while and ran through the drive with Tex over and over. She wanted to go back and stop herself from touching his leg. She wanted to go back and stop herself from driving there in the first place. She wanted to go back and stop the day from ever starting."
Scenes from an anger management facility.
"Mike began to curse his hands. Champion told him to calm down, that his hands were gentle, and that he was as likely brainwashed by this place as cured, something he would never admit sober. Champion suggested they try to escape; he was drunk enough, he thought, to just walk away."</blockquote.
In a series of diary entries, a woman explores her terrifying relationship with a vampiric count.
"The first thing I saw this way was me. I was in bed beside him, and began to drift into sleep. When my eyes closed I saw myself, dozing. My hair was silver and gold on the moonlit pillow and my mouth was smeared with his blood. I opened my eyes and he was leaning over me, studying me. I asked him what was the matter."
Two fictions about yearning, morphing, and instincts.
"The stewardess needed time to figure out what protocol she should follow or what precedent the man and his possessions had set. The man preferred not to wait and ran as fast as he could through the door to boarding, past passengers who had already gone through and formed a line inside the tube with the little windows, waiting like blood in a syringe, now followed at an animal’s pace by the little suitcase on legs, ridden like a horse by the passport with the long fingers, a sight that both fascinated and terrified and caused personnel, propelled by some odd sense of duty, to stand in the way of the trio and block their path, to protect the plane and its pilots and cabin crew from what they couldn’t define."</p>
A farm family is beset by body horrors, crows, and the appearance of a mysterious figure.
"I wish some flood would cover me and bring me peace and comfort. Every day I miss my mother. My heart seems to have been torn from my chest, just like my father’s. Sometimes I go up to her sewing room when Janna is busy with our father. I close the door so that Fig can’t follow, and I sit in the armchair that no one ever used, the one our mother draped swatches of calico over when she didn’t have anywhere else to put them. The room is full of Mother’s smell, lavender and starchy cloth, and the hyssop that flavored her tea. It has also retained her silence, the atmosphere of quiet contentment that she exuded when busy with her sewing. Her ancient Singer sewing machine seems to dominate the room, its black enamel and fussy gold lettering giving it an air of slightly pompous authority as it perches on the battered oak desk. The dressmaker’s dummy occupies one corner, iron hoops and wooden moulds in the shape of a lady’s torso, its head a shrunken knob. The window opens outward, and you can climb over the windowsill and step out onto the roof."
Romantic complications between a surgical coordinator and a brilliant transplant specialist.
"I hadn’t wanted Clara at first, at least no more than any other woman I’d casually slept with. Too bony, too neurotic. Too pale. But when she asked for a ride home from the dinner party where we met, I drove, intrigued at the prospect of UCSF’s top heart-transplant surgeon debasing herself with a med school dropout-turned-cellist."
Middle school and family unease; a mysterious neurological condition.
"I knew something bad was about to happen right before it did. My face heated. All the sound cut out, like a huge furry helmet had been dropped over my skull. The room, it didn’t look right. I’m trying to think how to explain it, but all I can come up with is that the colors separated, kind of fizzed around—the green and red marks on the dry-erase board hovered like insects, the purple of Mr. Franz’s tie pixilated. I had that greasy swirl in my stomach like when you’re about to fart and are still praying there’s a way it will be silent, like when you go to the bathroom after a science lab of intolerable closeness to your intolerably cute lab partner and see that yes, the tingle on your nose was actually a tumor-sized whitehead erupting."
A single father's life is complicated by his son's new friend: a severed hand.
"That decided it—we would walk away. Let some other dad deal with the fallout of their kid digging up evidence of, what? A murder, maybe? A ritual dismemberment? The Mob torturing some poor fool before sending him to sleep with the fishes in the East River? My mind reeled at the possibilities. Whatever the case, getting involved was the last thing we needed, especially with me battling Mo for custody. I could see the headline in The Post: LET’S GIVE THE BOY A HAND! Her lawyer would have a field day."
A young man's struggle with his mother and his physical traits.
"When it was my turn to hide, I dreaded the moment of being found. What I hated more was the thought of all my mother’s attention focused on me. My father was out the door, smoke between her fingers. I didn’t know him, my mother having removed any evidence of his existence, but I knew that I resembled him. Darkness was the only place that gave way to my imagination. I pictured his face, laughing at our state of incompleteness. Crouched in a laundry hamper and waiting for the game to end, I’d grow fearful, then angry. My mother was husbandless, and I was squatting in a basket. She was too pretty to work. There was nothing she could do, but there was nothing I could do. I thought about really being lost."
A tale of two sisters with bodies that produce feathers.
"Up ahead a diesel semi had stopped, idling, its emergency lights flashing red in the mist, and on the wet tar and on Gale. I looked at her chest. The feathers were still growing, like a cancer. They would be as long as she was, longer. They would strangle, drown her. She ran to the cab of the truck, the door swung open far above. I couldn’t see the driver’s face."
A giantess attends her normal-sized daughter's wedding.
"She had practiced the art of speaking with barely a sound until sometimes she could not even be sure that she would be audible to a human’s undersized ears. As she made her nomadic way across her land to that of the humans, she had spoken to herself in ever quieting tones; everything she would say to Freya when they met, everything she had longed to tell her baby through the long nights, the songs she would have sung to soothe a teething gum, the reasons for the way of the world and the whys and the hows, the way their parting had left a crack running through her, a fracture so fundamental that she knew she would one day simply fall into two pieces."
Two stories about a woman turned goat's attempts to communicate with others.
"She’s a few feet up and can’t see much further than she could from the ground. The goats aren’t anywhere in sight. She tries to wait, but it’s so warm and she’s so tired from her sandwich-making attempt. A few blinks, a nod, a couple upward jerks of the head and she’s asleep. The next morning she crawls down, eats breakfast, does her goat-business and crawls back up. Late afternoon the goats amble toward her. They don’t look at her. They stand around like they always do, not talking, but looking at one another and then the ground."
A homeless man's wanderings and moral quandaries.
"Aimless, his wandering. The recurring theme of his life. That he would never escape. The single aspect of a pointless existence. What had he accomplished? The food in the bag would sustain him for two days more, three. Would his body retain any of it? Could he eat it without tasting his own wretchedness, the abhorrence that churned now through his body? A turn and then another, then down a street, an alleyway to hunker down in, only to leave abruptly because of a passing shadow, a rustle of paper. He felt persecuted, scared, timid and small. He felt disgust. For himself, the life that had prodded him thus. It was a thing that welled inside of him, the pit of his stomach, like a ball of thorny vine that tore and snagged on his delicate insides. Hours had passed. But hadn’t it been but a moment’s time? For him, all had changed; he had crossed the river to foreign shores and the language was one he could not recognize. He could not go back, though he longed to, and tried to look to the other side, but it had disappeared. He walked."
A woman is sent on an ominous mission to collected a jugular vein.
"The hands are still clapping when I jump, when I take on the air, when I dive. My body slams into the dirt at the bottom of the hole, some of the jugulars beneath me, I can feel the softness of them, I pull the rest near me, bring their thick heavy softness near the heat of my body."
An act of terror at an art museum.
"When – with difficulty – I made my way into the centre of the space, or what seemed like the centre of the space, I saw that one door was obscured by rags of hanging debris, and I turned and began to work in the other direction. There, the lintel had fallen, dumping a pile of brick almost as tall as I was and leaving a smoky space at the top big enough to drive a car through. Laboriously I began to climb and scramble for it – over and around the chunks of concrete – but I had not got very far when I realised that I was going to have to go the other way. Faint traces of fire licked down the far walls of what had been the exhibition shop, spitting and sparkling in the dim, some of it well below the level where the floor should have been."
A horror/mystery story about heart removal, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Chinese food bags.
"It is not easy to remove a heart with a spoon from the chest of a man, nor is it clean. The spoon was purchased 48 hours earlier from the Bed, Bath & Beyond on 9th Street. The Nicole Miller Moments 5 pc Flatware Set was $24.99. The salad fork, dinner knife, dinner fork, and soup spoon were disposed of. Only the teaspoon remained.
A terminally ill young woman arrives in New York to spend her last months.
"Outside, the spring wind rippled the silk across Sabrina’s skin and as she tilted her face up, the sun drew freckles across her nose and cheeks. She felt lighter than she had in weeks. It had been a strange irony that even as she was losing weight, she’d felt leaden; it was the loss of energy, of course, but it was more than that, too. It was as if the knowledge inside her was quantifiable, which meant it was diminishable, too. She hadn’t wanted to hand pieces of her diagnosis to those she knew, those she loved—but what a relief to give a sliver of it away."