A synchronized swimming coach pops pills during practice, a bagpiper cold-cocks a hawk, and an orphan puts her fist through a window, discovering in the engine noise of a jet passing overhead, the perfect witness to her inner pain. In this debut collection from prizewinning short story writer Malinda McCollum, people adrift in the American Midwest struggle to find their way in the world, with few signposts for guidance. Set largely in Des Moines, Iowa, over the expanse of several decades, these twelve stories explore the surprising places where our outsized longings may lead us. In prose as lean and unflinching as an Iowa winter, these stories offer confrontation and consolation in equal measure.
About the Author
Malinda McCollum, a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, the Plimpton Prize for Fiction, and a Stegner Fellowship in Creative Writing. Her short stories have appeared in the Paris Review, McSweeney's, and Epoch, among other publications. McCollum currently teaches writing at the College of Charleston.
Table of Contents
He Ain't Jesus 1
The Fifth Wall 21
Think Straight 48
Us, Crazy 70
Wonderland of Rocks 87
Your Big Sister 119
House of Troubles 123
Three Days Dirty
Good Monks 148
Smart Life 168
The Surprising Place 191
What People are Saying About This
Malinda McCollum does sinister like no one since Robert Stone. Her stories are... populated with hopeless and hapless characters who are both compelling and surprisingly loveable. The Surprising Place will leave you stunned.
Malinda McCollum's The Surprising Place -- a debut collection of vibrant and incendiary short stories -- is the book I have most longed to read. Malinda McCollum is the rightful, wakeful heir to Denis Johnson's Mid-Western Fever Dream. Her searing stories sweep over the hallowed heartland and take us deep inside the Unitarian meth labs, the bankrupted banks, the gutted starter homes that make the middle of America a great wonderland of middle-class misadventure. The Surprising Place is a daring and harrowing triumph that establishes Malinda McCollum as one of our finest short story writers. I am in awe of her talent and grace.
The Surprising Place is hands-down the most arresting and incisive story collection I've read in years. Malinda McCollum's characters fascinate, charm, and confound as they stride clear-eyed into self-destruction, seeking grace or something like it in a midwest littered with frustrated ambitions and bad decisions. Her ability to lay bare the inner worlds of these wounded people empathetically and unsentimentally is astonishing, and she writes with precision, power, and deadpan ferocity. Sentences crackle and bash; every line of dialogue is a shiv. Fiercely original, wise, funny, and deeply unsettling -- short stories don't get any better than this.
Oracular in vision, harrowing by nature, these gripping stories survey the bleak status of the American heartland: scoured by drugs, hollowed of hope, yet somehow still brimming with humanity. To read a single page of The Surprising Place is to be forever caught in the Hawk's beak of her work. Engrossing and enthralling, these are stories that make you crack the spine.
Malinda McCollum's linked short stories work like small bombs in the consciousness. She understands American optimism enough to turn it on its head, creating scenes with darkness enough to make Eudora Welty and Flannery O'Connor proud. Her understanding of the anti-heroine burns across a landscape McCollum knows well. Come prepared. You may find stories such as 'The Fifth Wall' as unforgettable as any by Denis Johnson or Christine Schutt. While the degradation arrives quick and dirty, its question lingers: How much can the pursuit of happiness vacate a person?
Malinda McCollum's stories are brilliantly cut from the hardest stuff, each one a perfect sharp-edged prism flashing insight from its depths.With an unflinching eye toward her characters' fractured lives, she teases out their vulnerability and their humanity, linking them irrevocably to us all.I have the wildest admiration for this writer, whose debut collection announces her as a storyteller of the first order.Everyone must read this daring and inimitable book.