Susan Woodring - The unexpected shifts in the narrative, each time bringing on another kind of magic: a teacher slowly turns blue, two girls in a cornfield find a bottomless hole, a principal ready to retire not to another city but another life

Susan Woodring, We Hate to Lose You, Mr. Lowsly, The Cupboard, 2013.

Read an excerpt.

Winner of The Cupboard’s 2013 Contest. A story of disappearance, reincarnation, and living at the brink of a void, We Hate to Lose You, Mr. Lowsly is about how lives blossom and fade. —Woodring’s world feels familiar only in its traumas and disappointments. Contest judge Kevin Wilson calls We Hate to Lose You, Mr. Lowsly “a story with a high degree-of-difficulty. The unexpected shifts in the narrative, each time bringing on another kind of magic, could easily have overwhelmed the sensitive and complicated work being done, but, in the hands of this writer, it pushes the story instead into a more wonderful and thrilling place. The ending, as perfect as it is strange, really blew me away.”

Susan Woodring, Goliath, St. Martin’s Press, 2012.

Goliath, Chapter One

When Percy Harding, Goliath’s most important citizen, is discovered dead by the railroad tracks outside town one perfect autumn afternoon, no one can quite believe it’s really happened. Percy, the president of the town’s world-renowned furniture company, had seemed invincible. Only Rosamond Rogers, Percy’s secretary, may have had a glimpse of how and why this great man has fallen, and that glimpse tugs at her, urges her to find out more.
 Percy isn’t the first person to leave Rosamond: everybody seems to, from her husband, Hatley, who walked out on her years ago; to her complicated daughter Agnes, whose girlhood bedroom was papered with maps of the places she wanted to escape to. The town itself is Rosamond’s anchor, but it is beginning to quiver with the possibility of change. The high school girls are writing suicide poetry. The town’s young, lumbering sidewalk preacher is courting Rosamond’s daughter. A troubled teenaged boy plans to burn Main Street to the ground. And the furniture factory itself—the very soul of Goliath—threatens to close.
 In the wake of the town’s undoing, Rosamond seeks to reunite the grief-shaken community. Goliath, a story of loss and love, of forgiveness and letting go, is a lyrical swoon of a novel by an exceptionally talented newcomer.

When a Goliath-like man from a small town dies under unexpected, mysterious circumstances, his life, death, and legacy leave the town alternating between grief and despair, hope and innovation. Leading-citizen Percy Harding stuns the southern townsfolk of Goliath when his body is discovered by the train tracks as an apparent suicide. A collection of fully drawn characters spin through their emotions in different ways, inviting speculation about the town’s history and the complicated relationships among its citizens. Percy’s longtime secretary, Rosamond Rogers, takes his death harder than most, having been closer to him than just about anyone in town. Her determination to ferret out the truth about everything while simultaneously hiding from it propels the gently meandering plot, as past and present collide with sometimes unpleasant yet always revealing results. Ultimately a novel about a town that takes on a life of its own, Woodring’s latest is melodious, deliberate, surprising, and full of those essential little moments that make up entire lifetimes. Readers who enjoy sinking into the layered details of small-town life should enjoy this rich portrait.— Julie Trevelyan
Read this book for the factory-closing experience, for its unforgettable characters, or just to get to know the writing of Susan Woodring, who, with this book, joins the ranks of North Carolina’s best writers. - D.G. Martin
Like a contemporary Winesburg, Ohio, Susan Woodring’s GOLIATH brings small town life beautifully, achingly alive. Sprinkled with marching bands, baseball, and parades, and a cast of southern characters who will charm the pants off you, GOLIATH is a memorable novel, written in a memorable new voice. - Ann Hood
GOLIATH is a beautiful and quietly moving story of love, grief, forgiveness and redemption — heady themes handled here with a big heart and a deft hand. In prose exquisitely clear and with details that will make your heart ache, Susan Woodring has written a meaningful portrait of small town life, and what it means to move through grief toward love.Bret Lott

Woodring's writing is so clear and moving that the reader often feels, as she says of about one of her characters, as if 'the world had been sucked clear of true sound.' This beautiful portrait of a place and its people, rendered so quietly and intimately, shuts out the world outside its pages as you read. Only the best novels can make you forget yourself as reader. GOLIATH is the kind of book you don't want to put down or to end. - Brad Watson

GOLIATH is a careful, contemplative study of the rhythms of collective grief. Woodring's sense of the constraints and hard-earned pleasures of home rings as true and pure as a train whistle in the night.
- Michael Parker

Life-changing epiphanies and visions shake residents to their core in a small town with a large name. Susan Woodring's “Goliath” (St. Martin's Press, $24.99) plumbs the aftermath of serious deeds while positing that simplicity has deep roots. There are no simple lives.
A troubled teen sees the dark light after finding the town's leading citizen dead on the railroad tracks. Intended as a private exit, the suicide triggers far-ranging consequences in a town where fine furniture has been made for 100 years.
While residents reel with morbid conjecture, high school girls write and distribute suicide poetry, disenfranchised souls align their angst for collective destruction, and the dead man's lover spirals into insane coping mechanisms. Lost and found show up to make their claims on other lost and found. A once successful business fails as the town collapses inward out.
Woodring is a benevolent creator who bestows her characters with believable dimension, dialogue and motivation. “Goliath” presents a minuscule picture of how each is joined by unseen filaments that warm or inflame.
Free will is the thing. Some use it for ill while others try to restore the town's ailing soul. Various means are tried. A baseball field and teams are revived after years without. A parade cranks up after years of going parade-less. An invitation is sent to an aging movie star who once lived there.
More lasting redemption is available when a spirit-filled preacher from their midst proclaims a gospel so pure and compelling that many hear and believe. The prophet saves a few and wins one for himself.
Biblical themes abound as “Goliath” faces slings and stones and its inevitable fall. Yet the terrible wake resurrects something new for whosoever will. Between the extremes of spirit/nonspirit responses, many not-so-ordinary lives come to positive terms with their mortality.
Woodring proves the best subjects for writers are death and love. She melds them deftly, almost magically, with word pictures that are simply astounding and must be read again and again. — Mary McReynolds

When Percy Harding, the head of the furniture factory that sustains Goliath, N.C., is found dead, an apparent suicide, the little town is launched into uncertainty. Woodring (Springtime on Mars) explores the effects of the man’s death on his secretary, Rosamond Rogers; on Vincent Bailey, the 14-year-old who discovered his body; and on the townspeople who grapple in other ways as the factory closes and the burg begins to die. Although the dramatic start is engaging (the first sentence ends with Vincent’s discovery of Percy’s body), all the characters are defined solely by this supposedly transformative tragedy, making the upheavals hard to believe. Harding as emotional soul and economic center of the town strains credulity, and characters gesture theatrically as opposed to living convincingly. When a grieving Rosamond becomes obsessed with putting on a townwide parade, the sense of portentous artificiality grows even stronger. Woodring does effectively convey the sense of a washed-up, dying place, and there are moments of insight, but overall her second novel assumes an air of quiet importance without earning it. - Publishers Weekly

Susan Woodring, Springtime on Mars, Press 53, 2008.

Bees swarm. A president is assassinated. A young mother is electrocuted in her own basement. A space shuttle vanishes. One couple is struck by sudden wealth, another by lightning. An older woman obsesses over a bag boy at the local supermarket. People everywhere watch the sky for signs of intelligent life on Mars and covert Russian space missions. The television era begins, and the Vietnam War ends. Ranging from the 1950' to present time, the stories of Springtime on Mars feature characters who grapple with the human extremes of despair and hope, holding faith in both God and science, and in the love and courage of those around them.

The stories in Susan Woodring's debut collection SPRINGTIME ON MARS are full of wit and charm and establish Woodring as a writer full of great promise. One to watch. - Elissa Schappell

Most contemporary short fiction is thin and weak like bad soup, and it leaves you starving. Then here comes Susan Woodring, with this great feast of a book! She tears the roof off of traditional domestic fiction and shows us everything that lives inside the walls of those proper houses. If there's a better book of short stories published this year, I'll eat it for breakfast and be glad of the chance to do so. -
Pinckney Benedict

In these deceptively commonplace stories of husbands and wives, parents and children, neighbors and friends, Susan Woodring strips away the veneer of normalcy to show the startling mysteriousness of everyday American life. Springtime on Mars is hard to put down and even harder to forget. - Luke Whisnant

Amid a miasma of competent new short fictions either about the usual things or so rigorous in their objective to be nonobjective art that they are about that, Woodring crafts stories resolute enough to depose neat connotative meaning with a heuristic indeterminacy inherent in her love and respect for characters in transition from one uncertainty to the next. Often, from smack in the middle of the settled lives of families, they enter through one kind of knowledge or another into revealed vulnerability. It’s enough for them only to find their ways around the lack of discernable meaning in the events of their lives, and in that accomplishment we might find a particularly contemporary sense of their heroism and our own.
These stories refresh us with what is important about the art of fiction writing. They are inspirational in the sense that they give readers reason to keep reading and writers reason to keep writing. - William Ryan


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