Praise for Exes
“Powerful. . . . Exes , among other things, is an amazing feat of plotting and engineering, an elaborate puzzle of a book that brings to mind Alan Ayckbourn's Norman Conquests for the intricacy of its carefully calibrated interlocking connections. . . . [A] heartbreaking novel about the devastations of severed attachments.” NPR
“The immersive and accomplished debut novel by Winter is haunted as much by the city of Providence, R.I., as it is by the suicide of Eli, brother of Clay Blackall, one of several narrators in this novel in fragments who each provide insight into why Eli might have ended his life. Providence serves as the backdrop for Clay’s doomed search for answers, and the novel is peppered with local lore that subtly intersects Clay and Eli’s family history. Both an appreciation and evisceration of Providence and its residents, the novel straddles the line between humor and tragedy in each of its disparate parts.... brilliantly unique and incisive.” Publishers Weekly
“There is so much blunt beauty in Max Winter’s Exes , so much confidence in the prose and the pacing, that it is easy to miss the bomb he slips into each story until it detonates, taking with it any careful distance you’ve tried to maintain.” —Mira Jacob, author of The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing
"This novel is a hot-heeled tango dance of desperation and humor, fight and grace. Max Winter is a heart-stopper and a showstopper of a writer. Stop everything and read Exes." —Ramona Ausubel, author of Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty and A Guide to Being Born
"I got a parking ticket, missed a dentist appointment, burned my oatmeal and lost count of the times my coffee went coldsuch is the spell of Max Winter’s wildly inventive, flat-out fearless debut EXES and its cast of big-hearted fuckups in 1990s Providence, Rhode Island, whose doggedness is matched only by their inability to learn from failure and their powerlessness to change the fact that the game is rigged. Ferocious, gritty, hilarious, and near-impossible to put down, EXES will make you laugh and break your heart at the same time." —Matt Sumell, Making Nice
“Americans are puerile—all you think about is fucking and yet have just one word for it.” America, language, puerility, these are at the heart of Max Winter’s Exes, its cast of young Americans and their teachers, and the “teachings” of their callow culture. Fast Times At Ridgemont High indeed. Where are they now? These characters bivouac in abandoned malls and dormant factories, live “on the wrong side of hope.” They aren’t “much older than babysitters, but every bit as between things.” These are lives lived as though asterisks at the bottom of a page, except they are the page in Winter’s ingenious literary construct. The bounty here is the compound eye these characters create from what they perceive and call for the bullshit it is. They live amid the detritus, and our reward as readers is hypocrisy detected and undone, a gun held to the head of America, “there to shoot her every minute of her life.” —Michelle Latiolais, Even Now , Widow , She
A man processes his brother's death by annotating the memories of the quirky people who knew him.Clay, the lead narrator of Winter's debut novel, has spent five years contemplating the death of his brother, Eli, who crashed his car into a house in Providence, Rhode Island. His contemplation process is a little contrived, though: he's reading through and annotating documents by "exes, friends, and neighbors" in Eli's circle. But the scheme does allow Winter to display his skill at writing in a variety of voices and reveals how relationships among people coalesce and divide. Some characters are hard-luck cases, like Vince, who pretends to be actor Judge Reinhold to pick up women in bars, or Rob, a habitué of Providence's heroin subculture. Other characters are broader and brighter, like Alix, who had conflicted feelings about dating Eli when he was her high school teacher ("it immediately felt like I had vomited my heart"), or Hank, a widower consumed by a young boy he suddenly finds himself caring for along with the geese he's trying to run off his lawn. Clay footnotes every document with rebuttals or tidbits of local lore, and his comments help give the novel an interconnected feel, a kind of Winesburg, Ohio with more drugs and bad blood. ("Providence is small; avoiding one another isn't easy," Alix says.) But the novel is also hobbled by its structural complexity, creating a series of overlapping voices that dampens the core story of Eli's fate and Clay's reckoning with it. Clay's footnotes often have footnotes, and his matryoshka dolls of commentary about family properties and former neighborhood IHOPs often feel like stifling digressions. Winter is a writer with talent and wit to burn, though it's often undermined by this story's knotty structure.