If the Sky Falls

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If the Sky Falls is the debut short-story collection from award-winning fiction writer Nicholas Montemarano. These eleven stories show why Jayne Anne Phillips has called Montemarano "an American stylist capable of redeeming our darkest dreams."

Redemption in these intense and sometimes violent stories is found in the lyrical prose, in the act of storytelling itself. A young man tries to rescue his sister from her abusive lover, and in the process must revisit his own family's ...

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If the Sky Falls: Stories

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If the Sky Falls is the debut short-story collection from award-winning fiction writer Nicholas Montemarano. These eleven stories show why Jayne Anne Phillips has called Montemarano "an American stylist capable of redeeming our darkest dreams."

Redemption in these intense and sometimes violent stories is found in the lyrical prose, in the act of storytelling itself. A young man tries to rescue his sister from her abusive lover, and in the process must revisit his own family's violent history ("Note to Future Self"); a home healthcare worker pops pills and takes two men with cerebral palsy to a strip club ("The Usual Human Disabilities"); a man has a breakdown years after witnessing a brutal murder and doing nothing to help the victim ("The Other Man"). In "The November Fifteen," a man is taken from his home and tortured, though he has no idea why; when he returns home he finds a different kind of torture awaiting him.

Two of the stories — "Shift" and the Pushcart Prize—winning "The Worst Degree of Unforgivable" — are stylistic tours de force. But style in this collection is always at the service of story. Montemarano's fiction maintains that rare balance between traditional storytelling and experimentation: his work is innovative without being flashy, sincere without being sentimental. In an age of hype, If the Sky Falls truly is the real thing — an original and important achievement in the short-story form.

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Editorial Reviews

Gregory Cowles
Montemarano's remarkable stories are united by their dyspeptic outlook and not much else: this collection, his first, includes straightforward narratives and metafictional experiments, a surreal fantasy about grief, an acerbic parable of torture and the commercialization of 9/11, and one audacious 11-page sentence that hilariously (but grimly) details the tyranny of an obsessive-compulsive mother who demands that her children clean house just so. If there's a theme, it might be that damaged people have no business taking care of others, or even interacting with them. On the other hand, it might be that everybody is damaged beyond repair.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Montemarano plays with the purpose and effect of storytelling in his dark, powerful debut collection (after A Fine Place) even as he crafts believably troubled psyches. The unreliable narrators of these 11 first-person stories are haunted by memories of violence and cruelty they can neither forget nor make sense of; only occasionally do they find redemption and tenderness in unexpected ways. In "To Fall Apart,'' a man revisits his sister's childhood disappearance, "the story I have revised so many times that it is now more memory than imagination,'' fantasizing a different, happier ending for her. Stories serve this man as anodynes, albeit temporary ones, allowing him some form of dignity and hope. In "The Usual Human Disabilities,'' a caretaker for two imperious cerebral palsy sufferers cracks under the pressure of his thankless work and abuses his charges in a warped effort to treat them extra-special. "The November 15" is a deeply disturbing account of a man broken by arbitrary torture. The stylistically playful if not so readable piece, "The Worst Degree of Unforgivable,'' details obsessive-compulsive behavior and barely suppressed rage via an 11-page-long single sentence. Montemarano handles brutality and abjection with ambiguity and subtlety while taking assured metafictional leaps. Agent, Jill Grinberg. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Having abandoned fiction in the 1990s, the publisher has chosen to reverse course, starting with this first collection from Montemarano. Atmospheric, episodic, and occasionally tinged with forboding, the stories here don't always follow a full arc but have slice-of-life intensity. Essential wherever short stories are popular. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Death, disabilities and dysfunction, dryly described, fill 11 stories of unrelenting unhappiness. Testing the limits of well-meaning readers who want to give good writers a fair chance, Montemarano, whose 2001 novel A Fine Place was rooted in the racial conflicts of Bensonhurst, offers a succession of bleakly linked stories in which people go, for the most part, from bad to worse. The opening story presents an impatient and incompetent mother who carries out a threat to leave her young, innocently disobedient daughter in the park, where she is taken away forever by a probable pedophilic murderer. The narrator is the little girl's brother, who was doomed to live with the wretched mother and an ineffective father into permanently scarred adulthood. There is a brace of stories narrated by a young man working, in the first, as attendant to a severely disabled couple and, in the second, as attendant to the surviving husband who blames him for the death of his wife. Unable to speak, the wife could communicate solely by animal-like noises and raised eyelids. Unable to feed herself, she was in constant danger of choking, which, in fact, at the opening of the second story, she has done. The cerebral palsy-afflicted husband, disagreeable in the extreme, can speak enough to berate the narrator at every turn. When the widower invites an equally handicapped chum over to watch a Yankees game, he directs the visitor to give his own flunky the afternoon off. The overworked attendant decides to take both gents off to Yankee Stadium, but the drunken trip (the guys in the wheelchair down many beers) gets side-routed to a lap-dance parlor where disaster predictably ensues. A later story features a dog thrownto its death from a window prior to even greater tragedy. The writing is all quite smooth, but one may be reminded of those weird German kindertotenlieder, lovely songs about childhood death. Not a speck of warmth.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807131220
  • Publisher: Louisiana State University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/2005
  • Series: Yellow Shoe Fiction Ser.
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Nicholas Montemarano is the author of the novel A Fine Place. His stories have appeared in Esquire, Zoetrope, DoubleTake, The Pushcart Prize 2003, and many other publications, and have been cited as Distinguished Stories of the year in The Best American Short Stories for 2001 and 2002. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the Edward Albee Foundation. He teaches at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

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Table of Contents

To fall apart 1
Note to future self 21
The worst degree of unforgivable 41
Shift 53
The usual human disabilities 83
The other man 105
The November fifteen 119
The beginning of grief 141
Man throws dog out window 161
Story 181
If the sky falls, hold up your hands 193
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2005

    contemporary fiction's newest and brightest star

    I've been reading Montemarano since his stories began appearing in Esquire, DoubleTake, and the Pushcart prize series. He has earned 'A Fine Place' in the annals of today's literature. Not only is he a masterful prose stylist, up there with Tim O'Brien, Toni Morrison, Don DeLillo, and Alice Munro, just to name a few, his stories will take you where contemporary writers seldom dare to go: the shadow areas of the human heart. This book will shock you out of the doldrums of the always-redemptive, numbingly- amusing, land-of-happy-endings mainstream publishing with their heartbreakingly honest portraits. There is nothing bleak about writing this rich. NM is a writer who does not protect his characters (or the reader), yet cares deeply about both. Each story shows an abiding respect for and fascination with both those who suffer and those who inflict suffering, a timely subject. He is the only writer working today willing to go to the dark side without exploiting his subject matter. A must-read for anyone interested in those who are pushing the limits.

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