The haunting stories in Shacochis’s second collection combine comic wit and carnal certainty with an aura of history. Each of the eight tales here feature outrageously original characters who, through Shacochis’s ability to inhabit a spectacular range of voices, become eerily familiar. Two elderly sisters share a phantom lover; a Virginia patriarch, haunted by ghosts of Confederate soldiers, is buried with their bones; a family celebrates the Fourth of July in the shadow of the father’s Alzheimer’s syndrome; and a musician’s thunderous love turns him into a cannibal.
From renaissance England to Cape Hatteras to the Caribbean islands, readers will find themselves submerged in exquisitely crafted fictions “charged with wit and style . . . intelligent, engaging, and richly realized.” (The New York Times Book Review).
“Shacochis is a master of voices. . . . In The Next New World he roams about through history and across the globe, tethering his wit to a sense of political conscience. . . . Sometimes more is more.” —The Miami Herald
“If we are in the golden age of the short story, Bob Shacochis is one of the writers who got us here.” —Providence Journal
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About the Author
If we are in the golden age of the short story, Bob Shacochis is one of the writers who got us here.” Providence Journal
Shacochis’s stories are immensely beguiling, peopled with memorable characters conveyed in kock-your-socks-off prose. To enter this . . . collection is to be led into a mansion of the storyteller’s art.” Newsday
These stories are filled with compassion, sweet and vivid moments, wry, dark humor . . . verse and voice.” San Francisco Chronicle
Shacochis’s assets as a writerhis quick reportorial eye, his ear for contemporary speech, his instinctive sympathy for tough, inarticulate lives . . . Mr. Shacochis locates a colony of dreamers reluctant to barter their hopes. Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
A remarkable storyteller . . . From such daring and craft comes prose capable of both fantastic revelation and familiar observations.” People
Shacochis is an inventive storyteller, sensitive to the land and to the past . . . He plays the full range of language.” Milwaukee Journal
Shacochis seduces his readers into the alien territories he has made his own.” Detroit News
Rich and sensual, intensely imagined stories . . . by a writer who can both enchant and teach.” Houston Chronicle
Shacochis is a master of voices. . . . In The Next New World he roams about through history and across the globe, tethering his wit to a sense of political conscience. . . . Sometimes more is more.” Miami Herlad
Shacochis’s writing shines.” Baltimore Sun
There is an up-to-the-minute wildness about this writer. . . . He has the ability to sketch a character in a line . . . and his sentences are a marvelous, rare combination of clarity and richness.” L.A. Daily News
Shacochis juxtaposes the comic with the poignant, the beautiful with the grotesque, serenity with sudden violence. . . . Some writers strive for years to develop an individual voice, a style they can call their own. Shacochis is already the swashbuckling master of many voices, all of them compelling.” Orlando Sentinel
Each story in this collection is well-written; each commands its own new world.” Washington Post
Bob Shacochis writes literature with a capital L.’” Winston-Salem Journal
Bob Shacochis has been true to his title and set out for new territory. . . . The Next New World is an altogether illuminating book.” Cleveland Plain Dealer
The best stories in The Next New World are not cluttered with experimentalism and are so fine they will undoubtedly be anthologized for decades.” Dallas Morning News
Shacochis is one of the very best writers of short ficitionand since this is the Golden Age of the American short story, that is saying a lot.” Minneapolis Star&Tribune
These are stories to give us strength. . . . Shacochis is an old-fashioned storyteller, with a mimic’s ear for dialogue and accent.” Philadelphia Inquirer
Read an Excerpt
LES FEMMES CREOLES: A FAIRY TALE
The two old Miss Parkers lived in bed, for the Negroes had taken away all their clothes: they were nearly starved. This happened in 1923, a year before the occupation, which was meant to set everything right, ended. They lay together in an upper-story room at Derby Hill, in the ornate mahogany bed of their parents, its headboard decorated with ormolu. On the same prickly feather mattress too where they had been born, six years apart, in the estate house built by their father in another century, those days when musicians came from New Orleans to play in the ballroom on Boxing Day, the servants were rewarded with hams, and their mother wore dresses that were heavy to carry, absurdly unsuitable to the climate, and took a year or more to arrive from seamstresses in London.
Out any of the three banks of windows in the room where the sisters now reigned, the unpeaceful contours and eruptions of land daily grew more wild across the once-industrious plantation. They spent hours in a state of enraptured emptiness, watching shadows parade off the hills and stall in the destitute fields of guinea grass, muster along the horizon of mangrove to drown in the sea once filled with ships waiting to load coffee, syrup, and cotton.
Outside the south row of windows grew an immense gnip tree, laden with fruit. Birds would flock in it, over-crowding the branches, and make quite a disharmonious racket at the crack of dawn, and Mary Elizabeth — M.E., or Emmy since birth — who was afraid of birds, would throw the last of her costume jewelry to chase off grackles that landed on the sill. Margaret Gloriana prayed for the birds to cock their iridescent heads at her sister, to have the pleasure of seeing the hoard of cheap necklaces and embarrassing rings pitched out the window. Fare-thee-well to that whore's brooch, she would cheer — to herself, of course, since she didn't want to hurt Emmy's feelings. So much wretched tin and sixpenny glass. There went that awful tiara, the tarnished pendants, the gilt-painted earrings — how they made Margaret Gloriana's hands tremble for the few real objects they had replaced, the treasures they had been forced to sell one by one to the Syrian in his vile shop, inhaling his turpentine odor.
Yesterday, or perhaps the day before — the sisters were not at all interested in counting — Mary Elizabeth had stood in one of the south windows, her wizened body visible like a stick drawing underneath her muslin nightgown, and leaned out to pick a cluster of gnips for breakfast.
"Sir, sir," Margaret Gloriana had heard her sister calling matter-of-factly to someone below. Emmy had seen a barefoot old black man dodging behind the base of the tree. He was wearing dress pants, a white shirt that was too big, a black necktie that was too short, and a bowler hat with crescents cut through the dusty dome to keep his head from heating up. What's more, he had been sketching a vévé in the dirt with his walking stick.
"Sir," Emmy said, waving. "Behind the tree. I saw you." She implored him to gather her bird ammunition and toss it back into the room.
Margaret Gloriana sprang out of bed, forgetting both her age and her nakedness. Throughout her life she had preferred to sleep with nothing on against the cool linens, and so when all was lost she was left without even a nightshirt to cover herself. "Who could you be talking to?" she wondered out loud, wrapping herself in the single sheet they shared. Everyone they knew was dead or gone away. Everyone they didn't know was unkind. She came up behind her sister, who was flapping like a scarecrow, went to the next window over, and squinted her sharp blue eyes at the figure below, who had stepped halfway out from behind the gnip tree to marvel at them.
"Who are you?" she demanded to be told, and then decided since she was speaking to a man out in the yard, it was more practical to use outside language. "What you want, jack-o, snoopin' about? Who give you permission to draw vévé in we dirt?"
With a jolted expression, the man below looked at the two crones, from the ethereal Mary Elizabeth to the shroud-bound Margaret Gloriana, the long white braid of her hair dangling over the sill like a hangman's rope. One spirit beckoned him forward, one scolded him like a fierce archangel — the windows of temptation and retribution. In the excitement, Margaret Gloriana forgot that she wore no clothes; she opened her hands to brace herself and the sheet slipped to the floor. The old man's eyes enlarged even with the brim of his hat, his knees had dog-shake, he took a nervous step backward to learn if this was what they were waiting for to kill him, and then he scuttered off into the bush, convinced he had seen twin harpies, a very ungodly apparition.
"White people ain' need no wanga magic," Margaret Gloriana shouted as he fled. "No carabee spells." He was the first soul to come poke around since the last family of servants had disappeared one rainy midnight, hauling what remained in the house, and the first man to have a good square wake-up-Maggie-it's-Christmas-morning look at her body, such as it was, since her days of childhood. Well, she felt giddily unashamed about it, and now that she was shouting, she had the impulse to shout more, to shout something scandalously satisfying.
"Backra bubbies on sale today!"
She felt the blood rising in her mossy cheeks, fermentation in her delicate stomach. She tried again, exhilarated by the advance she had willingly made toward shandyism and disgrace. She craned out the window, her emaciated backside thrust toward Emmy, her breasts like a mauga dog's swinging in the air.
"A fart fill your sail, you Guinee rouge!" she cried out, making a bony fist, and collapsed back into the room, alarmed at how extraordinarily good it felt to raise her voice, to say something nasty and speak in the rough island dialect she had heard all her life.
"Margaret Gloriana!" Emmy, blushing and tittering, had stooped for the sheet. She spread her arms, opened like linen wings to receive her sister. They promenaded side by side back to the bed. "Where are your principles! You sound like a filibustier!"
"Oh, get on," Margaret said, unconcerned. She propped herself with their one pillow, pulled out her braid, set it on her chest, and began to unwind it. It was her favorite, most gratifying act, brushing the length of her pale brittle hair, blowing the broken strands off her fingertips to the floor. She had a desire for a glass of ginger wine, or sherry, which she had never tasted.
"I sound just like Father, that's who."
"Thank you, I don't need to be reminded," Emmy sniffed. "Still, it's very shocking to hear it from you."
"You will live your life," Margaret Gloriana sermonized, "and I will live mine."
Emmy slid down flat and wiggled her stiff toes, imagining she was a fish at the bottom of a mustard yellow lake, which was the color left in plaster patches on the walls of the room. She tried to remember her father ever saying anything nice or gallant or uplifting to anybody. He had once traded a young female servant for a sow, the price determined by matching the girl's weight against that of the pig's. Of course, the pig was worth more. She went through the ordeal of sitting back upright, weary from being at the bottom, the austere and lonely bottom, of a yellow lake.
"Do me now, Maggie dear," she said, touching the hawksbill shell of the brush which, with their enamel chamber pot and two cracked Worcester cups, was the extent of their common wealth.
"You have such pretty hair," Margaret Gloriana said, stroking her sister's silvery, ever-slackening curls.
"Oh, but it's not as pretty as yours." The two old Miss Parkers had been saying so to each other since the beginning of time.
* * *
After several hours of tying and untying two threads she had unraveled from the hem of the sheet, the younger sister, Mary Elizabeth, announced her momentous news.
"Don't be upset," she forewarned. "I have a lover."
"You do?" Margaret Gloriana, who had been staring at a blue beetle on the ceiling, sat straight up. "How can you?" Out of respect for her sister's sensitive circumstance, she looked merely doubtful, although her reaction could have been far more dramatic.
"Why, yes, I do," said Emmy, intransigent, feeling revitalized with confidence now that her secret was out in the open. "He has a gold tooth."
The present vacancy of life expanded out of focus. Margaret Gloriana folded her weightless hands and thought for a minute before she spoke again. "You have given yourself back to Christ Our Lord," she concluded, famous at Derby Hill for her uninspired good sense. "I thought you'd gotten over that ages ago. When they burned the church."
"I did," Emmy agreed. "What good is it to love someone if you can't even go to his house and have lovely conversations with his guests? I don't see the point."
Margaret Gloriana shifted restlessly, her shoulder blades scraping against the headboard, and made a second guess. "Is it Papa? Didn't he have a gold tooth?"
"He had eight or nine, I think." Emmy shrugged with her awkward matchstick arms. "No, it isn't him. How could it be? I always, always hated Papa. Why should I love him now that he's dead? What is there to love about the dead, except that they're not in your way? What strange ideas you have."
"Well then," Margaret Gloriana snapped. "Who is it, who can it be? There's nobody."
"He's coming." Emmy's eyes had an unsettling starry luster to them, entirely inappropriate for a woman her age. "You'll see."
Margaret Gloriana looked incredulous, wheezed — she couldn't help it. The sound created a brassy vibration in the hollow expanse of the room. Her sister was a ninny, always had been, anyone could see, disrupting their fragile serenity, threatening their sistership with youthful fantasies.
"And when he comes, what will you do with him, you old moth?"
As much as they had seen of life, they had not seen much of men. They were not beauties, but they were not without their feminine merits either. Even so, year after year, they were condemned never to be more to any man's life than their father's maiden daughters, and the island itself conspired with this destiny. Once, on the Queen's birthday, they had both danced the quadrille with a Captain Selcroft, ashore off one of the trading ships, but their father spoiled it by belligerently insisting he be told which one Selcroft intended to marry; and when the Captain balked, challenged him to an affair of honor; and when the Captain refused to raise a pistol on the grounds that the daughters, as fair as they may be, weren't ladies enough to die for — an opinion to which pere Parker brutally conceded — challenged him to a horserace, which Selcroft accepted, but finished the loser with a broken neck. Only a Napoleon was foolish enough to fetch away an island girl.
"When he comes, then I shall die ... and happily," Emmy confessed. She crossed her forearms over the washboard of her ribs as though she were practicing to be stuffed in a hole. "Not a day sooner."
But how unfair, thought Margaret Gloriana, who by virtue of being the elder felt she had every right to die first. Besides, Mary Elizabeth would appreciate the upper hand, late as it was to come to her, and who in the world would tend to her corpse and save her spirit from wandering about if not Emmy.
"What shall you die of, then?"
"Is it at all true what they say, that you can die of love?" Emmy whispered in ghostly repose, her hands clasped over her flaccid bosom. "That would be the least I could do for love, after all this time. Wouldn't you think?"
Margaret Gloriana groused for a bit, unimpressed. "You always want everything perfect," she said.
They were without oil lamps or candles but it didn't matter. When the sun, only minutes from setting, dropped into the western windows in the late afternoon, the glare was a powerful soporific; it absorbed their reservoir of strength, disordered their thoughts, and put them almost instantly to sleep: the deepest, most forlorn, most uninhabited sleep they had ever experienced. They were also in the habit of waking hours later; simultaneously, like a pair of zombies, in the middle of the night. Then they would use the chamber pot and patter back to bed, nestled together but trying not to move, listening to the gunfire in the mountains while they waited for their wistfulness to turn to a second, more benevolent sleep. For years (they didn't know how many exactly) the island had been occupied by foreign troops (they didn't know whose, really) and a resistance movement had organized against the outsiders (they weren't actually sure why) but they did know that the men only fought after dark, which the sisters thought cowardly and of a fiendish design. Eventually they would close their eyes again, the translucent lids lowering shut, and enjoy separate but identical dreams: the vévé the old black man had scratched in the dirt under the gnip tree, a cross-hatched heart pierced by two swords. Now it was being inscribed by Captain Selcroft.
* * *
Not the following day but not long after, perhaps a day or perhaps two, Mary Elizabeth was kneeling on the sill of a south window, her insubstantial waist encircled by Margaret Gloriana while she stretched as far as she could — not very far because she was characteristically timid and her sister was making her do it anyway, so her heart wasn't in it — stretching to reach a second group of ripe gnips, the first and closest already eaten in weeks past. Birds dashed from branch to branch with dizzying speed, mocking her. She leaned a few more inches, then for no apparent reason and without warning, Emmy blasted the fresh morning air with one of her girlish screams. Margaret Gloriana hugged tighter — all their lives they had been lean healthy women, not weak (though Maggie was tall), and now they each weighed no more than a basket of sorrel blossoms. She tried to pull Emmy back in but couldn't; her sister spread herself out like a cobweb in the window, opening her knees and grabbing hold of the shutters and vines. "Are you falling?" Margaret Gloriana asked. "You don't seem to be."
Emmy quit resisting and floated in her sister's arms. Margaret Gloriana helped her down quickly from the sill, afraid she was being stung to death by jack spaniars or assaulted by the birds. Once she was on her feet again, Emmy, her face feverish, her jaw quivering, took one guilty glancing look at Margaret Gloriana and burst into tears. She gestured toward the south as if she were shooing mosquitoes.
"There's a man on horseback coming," she wailed miserably.
The older sister rushed to the window. "Where?" There was nothing much wrong with her sight, but she could see no man on horseback near or far.
"He's a white man," blubbered Emmy.
"Impossible," Margaret Gloriana clucked. "Inconceivable. You're making-believe again." She peered into the green-tangled distance where disciplined groves had once stood, as sweet to the eye as rose gardens. Nothing was out there anymore but a spiteful jungle re-creating itself. Not a chicken or peacock or guinea fowl, not a goat or black-bellied sheep, not an ox or cow, a donkey or a horse, and certainly not a backra man, which would be terribly disconcerting, for neither of them had seen or spoken to a white man in years, and they would sooner transform themselves into crapauds than prepare for a civilized visit. It was an indecent idea.
"Stop bawling," Margaret Gloriana said, leading her sister back to bed. "It's very tiresome to hear you go on like this. No one's coming." She cuddled her sister to her breast and rocked gently, as she had so many times in the past. Who would come this far into the abandoned countryside to gape at two old women with flesh like salt cod and not a stitch to wear? Who even knew they were alive, and why should anyone care, and if they cared, what business was it of theirs, she'd like to know.
"My lover," lamented Emmy, reading her sister's mind, a skill she had been explicitly forbidden to use long ago. "If only I had some violet water."
"Oh dear, let's not start up with that." Were they even alive? Maybe someone would come and tell them if they were one way or another.
"Or a gown. Or just a ribbon for my hair."
Not much was wrong with the old sisters' hearing either, and they were both startled by the muffled impish laugh of a whinny, still miles away on the serpentine path that traversed down palisades, dipped into ravines, wove through vaulted tunnels of ceiba trees, vanished across irrigation canals grown solid with lily pads — yet close enough to make their hearts flutter. Emmy felt her sister's long nails dig into her shoulders and she squirmed to the other side of the bed.
"I told you," Emmy despaired. "Dear God Almighty Jesus, what shall I wear?" She begged her sister to go back to the window to see how near the rider had come.
"No, I can't bear it." Margaret Gloriana rasped her disavowal of whatever might happen next. She began to shudder and pulled the sheet up to her chin. "I don't want to see a white man. You go."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Next New World"
Copyright © 1989 Bob Shacochis.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Les Femmes Creoles: A Fairy Tale,
Where Pelham Fell,
I Ate Her Heart,
Celebrations of the New World,