Patrick Lawler's novel is about resonance, echoes, and naming; about hiding inside of names; about standing completely still; and about the fractalization of family. Connect the dots. Connect the secret

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Patrick Lawler, Rescuers Of Skydivers Search Among The Clouds, Fiction Collective 2, 2012.
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Winner of the 2013 CNY Book Award for Fiction.
When you step inside Patrick Lawler’s Rescuers of Skydivers Search Among the Clouds, you will find yourself hovering in the clouds, among a family and a town, and in the world of one of fiction’s most inventive writers. 
Patrick Lawler’s novel is about resonance, echoes, and naming; about hiding inside of names; about standing completely still; and about the fractalization of family. Connect the dots. Connect the secrets. Mother. Father. Sisters. Brother. Every character wears a variety of masks, and every place is also someplace else. 
Rescuers of Skydivers Search Among the Clouds is a reconfiguring of narrative―how stories exist inside stories, how place exists inside self, how self exists inside others, and how parachutists exist inside clouds.

Rescuers of Skydivers Search Among the Clouds has the one-two punch of an evocative title and a beautiful cover of a rowboat pulling people from a hot air balloon's water landing. It's a cover sure to draw the eye of anyone, like me, intrigued by the out-of-the-ordinary and the not-quite-predictable, though these days both of those seem to have become marketing categories rather than descriptions. Nonetheless, the cover is worth a few sentences of admiration.
The novel inside is composed of brief sections that range in length from a sentence to a few pages, each one titled in bold and containing the narrator's memories of an undisclosed time from childhood. The memories are composed of brief summaries of events, snippets of dialogue, and lists of book titles and the wording on signs. The place is never specified but has the familiarity of a suburb or small town, where the mayor and the neighbors are as important as the mother, father, and siblings who reappear in every section. That familiarity, though, is leavened by absurd and fantastical events that are balanced between the literal and metaphorical. On the first page, the mayor is dissatisfied with the street names, so they change between the names of assassinated presidents, types of berries, and emotions. A few paragraphs later, the narrator says, "It was impossible to tell whether we lived in the sky or lived in the earth." The connection between this and the street names or the description of the father's employment as a beekeeper follows a kind of dream logic -- it resonates without being fully explained.
"That was the year when," the narrator says, pinning time down with events, though as the phrase is repeated over and over, time slips free of its context. Yet the sections are not entirely atemporal. Story arcs are formed, though primarily from the changing relationships between the narrator and various characters rather than through events. For example, the narrator's love interest tells him "Whatever" when he first confesses his love to her and is referred to throughout by modifications of "whatever" that seem to indicate changes in how she treats him: "Meanwhile Girl," "Therefore Girl," "Since Girl," and so on. Other characters appear and disappear and appear again at various places in the text, including the narrator's brother, grandmother, and father. Though loosely tied to specific events, these disappearances are firmly rooted in emotion. "After my grandfather died, my grandmother became a window," the narrator says, evoking loss, death, and love all together.
The feeling of atemporality comes in part from these memories dancing across time rather than settling into it. Memories are presented in summary -- "That was the year we dreamed in lists" -- as often as they are presented as events -- "In school we studied how to change the world, but I didn't do that well on the exam" -- and even the events exist for no more than a sentence or a paragraph. They blow away in a puff of laughter or sadness, only to return pages later.
Rescuers of Skydivers Search Among the Clouds is about nostalgia, but it also plays with a sense that the calm appearance of the past -- the nuclear family, the suburb or small town, the carefree childhood -- masks chaos. The novel begins with an epigraph from Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas." Le Guin's short story describes Omelas as a fantastically happy place, not without nuance and subtlety, but nevertheless happy in way we can't quite understand. Their processions and festivals are described, as are the people, including the line that appears at the beginning of Rescuers of Skydivers: "A child of nine or ten sits at the edge of the crowd, alone, playing on a wooden flute." This line is part of the impossible happiness of the place, but immediately after comes the foundation of Omelas's happiness: a child, kept wretched and alone in the basement of one of the buildings. The child in the basement and the child playing the flute are set up as necessary opposites of each other. The happiness of the flute-playing child is dependent on the misery of the child in the basement.
The narrator, too, plays a flute and is surrounded by both control and chaos. Apocalypse hovers around the corner, but so does the sense that "Something joyful sat above us." Images and experiences fracture and then repeat, exhausting the reader with repetition at first and then building momentum. Lines contain double meanings, moving easily between jokes and regret. And the skydivers might never come down. - Sessily Watt

Readers of Patrick Lawler’s first novel, Rescuers of Skydivers Search Among the Clouds, can look forward to a treat—but only if they can divest themselves of the current (and, to my mind, lamentable) divide between poetry and fiction. This is certainly not the first attempt by an author to bridge this gap—one fine example of a writer working in this vein can be found in Anne Germanacos’s In the Time of the Girls, (reviewed in Blackbird v10n2)—fiction which uses a loose verse format and poetic structure to create startlingly arresting story images. In spite of examples such as this, however, readership and authorship for poetry versus fiction have certainly become more divided during the twentieth century, and do not seem to be moving closer in the twenty-first; therefore Lawler’s masterful way of simply ignoring the constraints of either, while incorporating the best of both, is all the more welcome. Lawler takes the blending of poetry and fiction to a new level in his work, an achievement for which he has won Fiction Collective Two’s Ronald Sukenick/American Book Review Innovative Fiction Prize.
Those who have a traditional notion of the novel may at first find the structure confusing. Lawler titles his chapters with sentences that could serve (and sometimes do) as the beginning of the actual text (the first is entitled, “My Mother Walked Down Joy Boulevard. My Father Was A Beekeeper.”), which itself defies linear structure by going to and from particular themes, mixing references to people and places, so that the reader gets an almost collage-like impression of the sentences and even words, as if the author wrote a very loose description of people and events, and then cut them up and rearranged them to create new and sometimes startlingly lovely combinations. The narrator opens the book with a seeming-explanation of the name of the chapter, which also works as an introduction to the place:
That year the mayor decided to name the streets after presidents who had been assassinated. He was never satisfied. According to him a town’s character was written across it in the names of its roads. Once the streets were named after berries, so we walked down Choke Cherry Lane or Elderberry Road or Raspberry Way. These names gave us places to live our lives. Girls could be lusted after on Strawberry Street. Boys could smoke cigarettes, watching clouds of hair from the corners of dark red/blue intersections. The mailman would lug his bloated bag down Boysenberry. . . . The mayor made a conscious effort to select the edible berries though some poisoned ones slipped in—which led him to go with the assassinated president idea.
This opening, though it appears arbitrary and fanciful, actually does a thorough job of depicting the kind of place we’re to inhabit throughout the book—a small town where families and civil servants live their typical lives, made extraordinary through Lawler’s fantastical invention.
In the second paragraph of the first chapter, we’re introduced to the narrator’s family:
When I was born they named the streets after emotions: my mother walked down Joy Boulevard. My father was a beekeeper. Almost robotic among the bees with his smokepot and his bee clothes, almost feminine with his netted face. I spent my childhood with bee stings. My mother was a hagiologist studying saints. My sisters would spend afternoons digging for relics in the backyard. The bees were ambassadors from an ordered and enchanted world. They were scholars obsessed with an ideal, always returning to the same roundish, yellow perfection of their lives. Flying alchemists. . . . It was impossible to tell whether we lived in the sky or lived in the earth.
In these opening paragraphs, possibly the most linear of the entire book, Lawler mostly connects ideas one after the other, rather than scrambled and reordered; yet because of the images that he has chosen, we get a strong sense of the wonder of childhood, and the magic that surrounds young families in their everyday settings.
This opening also contains the beginning of one of Lawler’s favorite tricks—to open sentences with the same phrase repeatedly, always adding a new phrase to complete it, so that “It was impossible to tell whether we lived in the sky or lived in the earth” after the description of the bees, becomes “It was impossible to tell whether we lived in the story or lived in the words,” after “One day I wrote a poem and my mother sprinkled holy water over everything”; and then, “It was impossible to tell whether we lived in the filled or lived in the empty” following “Years later my father became a bee sipping from an aluminum flower. . . . I called the family together for the Magic show. I didn’t have a veil big enough.” This new convention of Lawler’s gives the impression of a child’s-eye view, a narrator young enough to want to explain the workings of his family and life, but not old enough to understand that he can’t make a new rule every time he opens his mouth. The reader comes away with a new kind of understanding—of course you can make a new rule about families every time you discuss them; their true nature, Lawler seems to be saying, shifts sneakily every time you look.
The mood of the chapters progresses from the uncomplicated happiness of a young family (“My mother always felt something really good would happen. . . . Mostly we ate honey”) to something more complex (“Part of the problem was we couldn’t distinguish between a dream and an egg. That was the year we kept losing things”), as Lawler develops a new convention—the repetition of particular iconic symbols, paired with various ways to interpret them:
“Words hurt,” said my Grandmother.
“Words hate us,” said my brother.
Standing in front of my Grandmother’s bookcase, I felt the vibrations and hunger. Each book nudged its way into the next book—one book being eaten by another.
“Words collect in the corner of the mouth,” said my older sister.
That was the year there was an accident in the library, and we were thankful we lived next to a mirror factory. . . . A man who was in the library accident was buried under classics. When they tried to rescue him they started drilling down through the books and lowering mirrors to see if there was any breathing. . . . In the library they tried to yank the man out from under the words, but it was futile.
Here Lawler’s repeated interpretations use the literal child’s-view perspective to explore the way books and words affect us—in the world that Lawler creates, they have the power to cause physical damage. In contrast to the seriousness of the literal situation here, Lawler also uses this youngster’s point of view for sly humor quite often—we know that there is a double meaning, which often creates a delightful inside joke between author and reader.
The images to which Lawler chooses to return seem to be chosen by a child, trying to make sense of his immediate surroundings—birds, the sky, the neighbors, what he learns in school, the various (and telling) occupations of the father, the moods and preoccupations of the mother, what the TV said, what he ate, the relationship between the house and the cellar; but Lawler takes these commonplace observations and makes them both remarkable and somehow truthful:
For school we had to make a list of things we were afraid of. My list included:
The TV said: Look at the pretty. The TV said: There are no consequences.
The TV said: Worry. . . . That was the year our neighbors gave their children away. Garage sales everywhere were filled with doll clothes and broken appliances and stone clocks with garnet gears. . . . If you looked deeply into the cellar you could see a crater where the heart of the world had been taken . . .  In school I learned there would be transition stories—stories between the old stories and the new stories. . . . I had forgotten how to read.
When Lawler strings together these seemingly arbitrary associations—learning about fear in school, conflicting messages from the media, neighbors’ strange goings-on, and the fear of the cellar—in his looks-random-but-really-very-purposeful way, he forms a new atmosphere, a tone that we somehow recognize from our own childhood, and maybe adulthood, too.
These images and many more reoccur throughout the short, fragmented chapters, and the various combinations they form indicate the growth, struggles, and tragedies, small and large, that the novel’s family undergoes. Gradually, plot emerges, and the themes begin to grow up along with the narrator: “The Since girl talked to me after class. Gravity had already memorized her body, and I ran out of things to say. I could feel a hook inside my heart.” And, “That was the year I listened to my parents having sex. . . . Sadness followed my father home. That was the year I saw a woman lying on a grave—crying. . . . That was the year I kept hearing my mother say no.” And, in a chapter called “At School I Write a Story Called ‘Genitalia,’” “That year the boys in school tried to look up the skirt of the However Girl.”
Lawler does well to contrast these relatively lighthearted images about sex with the darker, more adult side of the same theme:
After our father left, my mother kept putting up warnings around the house.
If you ever get thrown in the trunk of a car, kick out the back tail lights and stick your arm out the hole and start waving.
After my father left, I heard one of my aunts say to my mother, “That’s just the way men are. If he’s not thinking about yours, then he’s thinking about somebody else’s.”
That was the year the household went through considerable amounts of Kleenex. . . .
My uncle said,
“I’ll tell you how to treat a woman.”
“What about our aunt?” my brother and I asked.
“She’s a wife,” he said.
“I think it has something to do with flowers,” said the Latin teacher.
Lawler’s seemingly artless way of arranging the less and more sinister problems associated with sex side by side with each other not only sets up another, and darker, inside joke for the reader to understand and appreciate, but also allows the reader to see how sex, as well as other difficult family issues, can be both delightful and terrible, and to feel the power of each iteration.
When we read traditional fiction, we can easily see the difficulty in ordering details of plot, development of character, the continuation and deepening of themes, and making it all interesting. In Lawler’s novel, his ability to make the arrangement of the sentences appear to be happenstance, while at the same time coaxing poetic meaning out of their order, makes Rescuers of Skydivers Search Among the Clouds particularly distinctive. His technique of skillful experimentation with the ways apparently unrelated phrases and ideas can be connected yields a new and oddly truthful meaning for each; the reader feels the emotions of the characters and understands how they suffer, and why it’s important.
Patrick Lawler has published of three collections of poetry: Feeding the Fear of the Earth; A Drowning Man is Never Tall Enough; and (reading a burning book). All three have been praised as groundbreaking for the fearlessness of the subject matter and the unlikely gatherings of characters. In Rescuers of Skydivers Search Among the Clouds, Lawler has taken his unbounded sense of what can be done with words and ideas a step farther; in creatively and successfully combining the conventions of both poetry and fiction in one book, and having the temerity to call it a novel, Lawler accomplishes another step towards what should be happening throughout the literary world—the undoing of genres. - MICHAUX DEMPSTER

Not long ago I saw a photo collection: Two brothers who took one picture every year in the same month, the same pose. They did this for decades, their entire lives distilled in these portraits. In 1994 they wear matching sweaters. In 2001 they look unkempt. Each photograph asks the onlooker to imagine what happened between each set of images–why did he lose weight, why wasn’t he smiling more. The positioning grows expected, even stale: older brother here, younger brother here, chair, table, lamp. Except, as we grow closer to the now, we see the paint has started to chip on the wall, and the lampshade was replaced, and somewhere, somehow, two young boys grew into men.
The framework remains unchanged, the details shift in the smallest of ways. But the overall effect creates nostalgia for suggested things, unseen things, palpable just beneath the surface.
It’s a difficult thing to accomplish, and it’s what Patrick Lawler’s first novel, Rescuers of Skydivers Search Among the Clouds, spends its pages exploring: The spaces between and underneath. The economy of storytelling. The onus on the viewer to participate in unpacking questions, and meanings, and movements.
Composed in a series of tightly wrought chapters–some a mere three sentences long–the story follows a young narrator and his family, in a small, anonymous town, with small, anonymous descriptors. They seem to both live in and hover over the landscape. The important things are named and renamed, redefined as they change–or as the narrator’s perspective on them changes. Those named things become the notable landmarks of the novel, their evolution or transformation or renaming emblematic of the narrator’s own journey and perspective on those around him.
Lawler says it explicitly: “Our stories repeat themselves endlessly around us–ultimately revising who we are every time.”
It feels at once like reading the same chapter over and over again with certain words replaced, but this heightens the effect of those changed words and phrases. The same photograph, with things just a little older, a little changed. We begin in “the year they named the streets after the elements,” moves into “the year my parents began speaking in a strange language” and “the year we practiced for emergencies.” By the end, the repeated frameworks have become as nostalgic as old photos — in them, we see the history of all the shifts the narrator and the reader have together experienced. And in the rare deviations, we see the narrator looking beyond, departing: “‘This is where we are,’ he said, but his mouth was filled with uncertainty.”
The reader is forced to consider her own story in patterns and revisions, in names and malleable perspectives. I consider my own: The year that smelled of pool water and talcum powder. The year our neighbor’s daughter asked Santa for a penis. The year I drove in circles hoping to get lost, and failing. How best to crystallize time and experience in ways that approximate truth.
Rescuers of Skydivers Search Among the Clouds is a poet’s fiction, but it’s an artist’s fiction too—because the brevity and economy of language makes the act of reading this novel something beyond reading, because the entire work seems to meditate on how we live in words, how we cohabitate with them in our daily routines and use them as mile-markers for landscapes past. How eventually, we become symbols of the lives we live, and how the uncertainty of detail grants us room to explore. - Jennifer Dane Clements

Patrick Lawler, The Meaning of If, Four Way, 2014.

“You just have to admire all the possibilities,” says one character in Patrick Lawler’s short story collection, The Meaning of If—a sentence that encapsulates the myriad of “if’s” explored in these pages. At times surreal and yet so realistic, we hear each “muffled whisper,” we see each “muddy photograph,” we know each “secret life,” as if it were our own. These are familial stories of transition and transformation—both mental and physical—that consider the question “What if?”

“Patrick Lawler is a word magician–he waves a wand and the ordinary glows and vibrates. Up his sleeve you’ll find Borges and Kafka. From his top hat he pulls out Nabokov and Marquez. But the Lawler show is completely his own: prepare to be dazzled as this master storyteller conjures up pain, joy, awe, and yearning so intensely, they feel like new experiences. With their unique poetic inventiveness, the stories of Patrick Lawler's The Meaning of If announce a new force in American short fiction.”- David Lloyd

“Patrick Lawler’s great gift as a storyteller is his utterly convincing vision of the absurd. With magician’s glee, these stories expose the vanities of small town America and the pathos of family life. The Meaning of If is a wild carnival ride; look, listen, and prepare to be exhilarated.”- Megan Staffel

From “When the Trees Speak”:There is no way I could handle the cutting, the dragging, the stacking. And to suggest my sister would be involved is certainly absurd. She’s got more on her mind. And why would I arrange the logs in a self-incriminating way? I personally feel that would be ridiculous. Why would I leave my name at the scene of the crime–if that’s what you want to call it? None of it makes much sense, but especially that part.
Should I speak louder or anything? I mean, is this thing on? I don’t want to have to do this again. OK, I guess this is my statement. That’s it, right? First, let me say I didn’t do it. And second, I don’t know who did. That should be the end of it–but I know how people talk, so I just want to set the record straight. Though you should know this: I wouldn’t be upset if the person never got caught. Nothing against you, Ike. I mean, I know you got a job to do–protecting people and like that. But I got my job, too. Not as important in some ways, but in some other ways it’s more important. Helping to put a roof over people’s heads is nothing to look down at.

Patrick Lawler, Feeding the Fear of the Earth, Many Mountains Moving Press2006.

FEEDING THE FEAR OF THE EARTH is an outrageously original collection," Susan Terris writes of the Many Mountains Moving Poetry Book Contest winner. "Reaching across time and space and cultures and genders, Patrick Lawler gathers characters as diverse as Christopher Smart, Ed McMahon, and Rosa Parks. Ecological and ethereal, political and historical, philosophical and physical, this astonishing book is a place where anyone who has walked the earth can rub up against anyone else" - Linda Tomol

 Underground (Notes Toward an Autobiography)

Patrick Lawler, Underground (Notes Toward an Autobiography), Many Mountains Moving Press, 2011.
"Patrick Lawler's new book UNDERGROUND (NOTES TOWARD AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY) is a unique and fascinating volume: part interview, part poetry, part elegy for his father, part examination of how a son with this particular father became a writer and a poet. You will be in awe at how Lawler, a boy who spent seven years living with his family in a cellar with no books—just a magic word box—transformed himself and came to terms with his father's idiosynchrasies as well as his own. 'At One of my Father's Funerals, I was Humphrey Bogart' is a knockout piece! Read this, read it all. Find out how Lawler discovers that an ending 'blossoms into multiple beginnings.'"—Susan Terris
Underground was published by a small press called Many Mountain Moving Press, which seems to be the one-man operation of Jeffrey Ethan Lee. Unexpectedly, I found myself quite affected by the book, which is, indeed, a sort of memoir, or more precisely, the account of a father rendered by a son. Unexpectedly, since generally I am quite suspicious of any rendering of world or word into binaries, such as dark/light; interior/exterior; above/beneath; shadow/sun, etc. For some reason, I accepted such tropes in the context of this book, a fact that I am still mulling over. Underground is structured as an alternation between an interview with the author by Paul B. Roth that appeared in Bitter Oleander in 2009 and selections of Lawler's poetry (these seem to date from the 1990s to the present). Although Underground is already a hybrid-genre text (poems, interview, a few photos, bio of father, bio of author), strangely enough, I felt myself wanting it to go even further in that direction. I found the alternation between interview sections and poems a bit too predictable.

When the author chose the title Underground, he was not using a metaphor. For, as he states at the beginning of the interview with Paul Roth: "As a child I lived in a cellar for seven years. We had intended to live in a house like everyone else, but my father broke his back and only the cellar was finished." (5) The cellar (the beneath) and the father (broken) are the two primary concerns or motifs of the book.
There's much language in Underground that I found appealing & evocative. The following is but a sample:
"but my destiny was to be a root."
"I'd take out/ the thin insides of pens for veins."
"I leave the rivers running all night."
"I watched things die around my father's hands."

"The ashtray crisscrossed with songlines" - P. Koneazny

(reading a burning book)
Patrick Lawler, (reading a burning book), BASFAL Books, 1994.
This, Patrick Lawler's second book-length collection, is his follow-up to the critically praised A Drowning Man Is Never Tall Enough, and affirmation that he is truly one of the up and coming poets of his generation. Restricted by nothing, he lives on the edge without hesitation or fear. He is a poet for our time.

 How lovely, to find poetry where I should never have thought to find anything of the kind. Imagine a book with a tarnished title, further soiled by the parenthesis in which it appears. Imagine, in the same vein, that this book is issued by a publisher with the unlucky designation Basfal Books. Now you have what I had when I first laid eyes on (reading a burning book), words already weary unto death with their preening in the lower case. But then one has oneself a look inside at what Mr. Patrick Lawler has wrought -- and sees, blasing back, very life, burning and burning, the mind prudently, but never anxiously, watchful in the shade. Thank God, thank God -- here is a poet. - Gordon Lish
Leaving "the mystery intact in every clue," Lawler's first book exposes, shocks and stirs us. - Newsday
In the case of Patrick Lawler, however, verbal brilliance is put in the service of deep philosophic probing...- Booklist
[A Drowning Man Is Never Tall Enough] is the genuine thing, not imitative but full of its own humilities and hubris, as all great literature is. The book is a wonder. - Bin Ramke
I'm given all sorts of pleasure by such immediate poems as "The Front," such skills as inform "Is (Is Not)," such structural accomplishments as "Stone Music," and -- clearly -- the progressions of the whole final section. - Philip Booth

A Drowning Man Is Never Tall Enough (The Contemporary Poetry Series)Patrick Lawler, A Drowning Man Is Never Tall Enough, University of Georgia Press, 1990.
Patrick Lawler moves into the slender lines of shattered glass, the spaces between lyric and narrative, between metamorphosis and mutation. From the artful surface of a Russian novel, rich with symbolism and white bears, to a survivor's unwillingness to immerse himself in life or leave it, the poems in A Drowning Man Is Never Tall Enough hunger for a language beyond the solid, for the fragmentation that makes a scene complete.

Brilliance in poetry isn't always to be coveted; sometimes a poet is so blinded by the gorgeous phrase that meaning seems irrelevant—a feeling the reader rarely shares. In the case of Patrick Lawler, however, verbal brilliance is put in the service of deep philosophic probing: the question is 'how to distinguish / evil from benign absurdity' in a world where the 'dark dream names' of wars are brought to us nightly in 'talking light.' The poet, struck with the loss of moral certainty, finds even language slips away from what it tries to pin down... This fine first book should appeal to readers who share Lawler's concern for the moral and the real. - Booklist

I've heard a few of Lawler's public reads, and I browsed through an interview he once had, and I was impressed. Then I got lucky. I had him as a professor at college in a creative writing and poetry class, and I got a chance to speak with the mysterious man. I expected this genius to arrive in a suit; prim and proper with his hair slicked back, holding an attitude of superiority. I was in for a rude awakening. He dressed casually, acted casually, and I thought he was instead an average Joe who lucked out with a book or two. Wrong again. He walked into class and treated every person there as if we had all been old friends, and we held strange conversations of how to paint sculptures, and how a single word can say so much in a poem. He blew us all out of the water with his casualty and spunk. Patrick Lawler is a genius, as a teacher AND as a writer, but mostly as a person. After he revealed a bit of his life to class, I couldn't help but to be intrigued. I asked to have an interview with him, and now I realize there is a method to the madness. I understand now why he is who he is, and how he created such masterful pieces. After growing up in a cellar, and having an alcoholic father who broke his back and wore a strange brace was a perfect inspiration for Lawler's poetry. His life is far from boring. Lawler is a strange man that chooses to hide behind the scenes of a small college hoping to go by unnoticed, but he deserves to be put high on a pedestal and be praised for his work, and this set of poetry he has created in A Drowning Man is Never Tall Enough is just a small bite out of the life and times of the hidden genius that is Patrick Lawler. Thank you for everything Professor Lawler. - Eden J. Gideon
The Zeno Question by Patrick Lawler

story Maps (2014)

Patrick Lawler has four poetry collections: A Drowning Man is Never Tall Enough, reading a burning book, Feeding the Fear of the Earth, and Underground (Notes Toward an Autobiography). He teaches at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and is Writer-in-Residence at LeMoyne College.

Sarah Blackman - In the town, to truly see, one had to decipher the logic by which the thing had been hidden. In the forest, like on the pages of her book, what was there was laid open in the moment of its working. Nothing was hidden, only unobserved.

Image result for Sarah Blackman hex
Sarah Blackman, Hex, Fiction Collective 2, 2016.
read it at Google Books
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The debut novel by Sarah Blackman (award-winning author of Mother Box and Other TalesHex explores the ways one woman uses language and stories to rebuild her own shattered sense of self.
Alice is a motherless child, born to a motherless child, and raised with neither care nor grace. Her response to this multiple abandonment is a lifelong obsession with her best friend Ingrid, or Thingy, as Alice calls her, and a sort of fantastic narcissism wherein she figures herself as the nexus of a supernatural world she understands through a blend of mountain lore, indigenous Cherokee legend, and the dangerous idiom of the fairy-tale girl who enters the forest despite being warned.
The novel is written in blended parts and is crafted as an address to Thingy’s daughter, Ingrid the Second, who is now in Alice’s care. Alice attempts to tell Ingrid the story of her life: her friendship with Thingy; her troubled relationships with her father, a small-town sexual troubadour; her stepmother, a hard-minded business woman who treats all interactions as commerce; her marriage to her husband Jacob, a silent figure of tremendous will; and her growing suspicion that Ingrid is another girl-child around whom disaster accumulates. Simultaneously, Alice tells the child the kind of bedtime stories she herself has used to make sense of her world. For Alice, and thus in Hex, the line between fantasy and reality is nonexistent, the mountain is older than its geology, and the world a limbo in which everything that has ever happened is coming around again. 
Hex is a novel about violence—the violence of the fist, of the womb, of the story. It is also a novel about language and how we use it to build a world when the one we find around us is irretrievably broken.

"Hex is playful and self-reflective, mixing contemporary culture with folklore... An unabashedly fantastical tale, Hex is a pleasure."—Foreword Reviews

"Sarah Addison Allen for sophisticates, with touches of Louise Erdrich and Alice Hoffman." —Library Journal

"Sarah Blackman's power is so intimate, so precise. Hex is an enchantment, a suspension between the vital heat of the body and the cold structure of story, its deliberate telling. Hex is a map to the realm of the most contemporary fiction—its keen sense of genre, its investigation of the fable, the tale, the ancient needed weirding of narrative. Blackman is a writer I will be reading for decades, a writer who will keep teaching me what it is to read."—Hillary Plum

"Hex is a tessellation of diamond-cut tales, a cruelly perfect work of narrative geometry that somehow beats with a human heart. Sarah Blackman animates the crystal lattice of this book, gives it dragon wings and a beetle shell and the unblinking eyes of a motherless girl who sees through flint and clay to the world beneath the world. Hex is a great and terrible gift."—Joanna Ruocco

"Once there were two girls and one of them was me,” writes Sarah Blackman in her debut novel, Hex. By turns fabulous and factual, Hex spirals through a dazzling cycle of interconnected fairy-tale tropes centered on the girlhood of Alice Luttrell.Alice is not exactly a princess, but she finds magic everywhere. This isn’t the whimsy of a child, however. Alice encounters snake queens, oracles, and talking animals. She accepts these creatures without turning a hair. The mountains around Alice’s tiny coal-mining town are packed with witches and dwarves—less frightening than adulthood. “We grew up,” Alice says. “Time can’t really be stopped; only paused, vibrating along its edges like a bee trapped in a glass jar.”
“The moon is a ball that was thrown up against the sky a long time ago,” Alice is told; maybe it was, she thinks, and maybe not. She proves to be a perfectly precocious narrator, eager to sniff out the tiny tales attached to each person, place, and thing that crosses her path. She travels through the unmarked map of her life, trying to make sense of the changes happening inside her and around her that grow as high and prickly as a bramble hedge. Blackman notes Alice’s discoveries, carefully gilding the filigree of a world that is both imaginary and immediate.
Hex is playful and self-reflective, mixing contemporary culture with folklore, with shades of Snow White, Rapunzel, and the Snow Queen coming sometimes in a single sentence. Elsewhere, the Frog Prince butts up against Alice In Wonderland, and a miasma of images delight and distract. Though its dense symbolism can be disorienting, the novel’s literary craft is mostly strong and engaging, and the its quirkiness will appeal to fans of Karen Russell, Aimee Bender, and Jeffrey Eugenides.
An unabashedly fantastical tale, Hex is a pleasure. - Claire Foster       
Image result for Sarah Blackman hex
Sarah Blackman, Mother Box and Other Tales, Fiction Collective 2, 2013.                   
excerpt (Conjunctions)

The eleven stories and one novella of Mother Box, and Other Tales bring together everyday reality and something that is dramatically not in compelling narratives of new possibilities.
In language that is both barb and bauble, bitter and unbearably sweet, Sarah Blackman spins the threads of stories where everything is probable and nothing is constant. The stories in Mother Box, and Other Tales occur in an in-between world of outlandish possibility that has become irrefutable reality: a woman gives birth to seven babies and realizes at one of their weddings that they were foxes all along; a girl with irritating social quirks has been raised literally by cardboard boxes; a young woman throws a dinner party only to have her elaborate dessert upstaged by one of the guests who, as it turns out, is the moon. Love between mothers and children is a puzzling thrum that sounds at the very edge of hearing; a muted pulse that, nevertheless, beats and beats and beats.
In these tales, the prosaic details of everyday life—a half-eaten sandwich, an unopened pack of letters on a table—take on fevered significance as the characters blunder into revelations that occlude even as they unfold.

“These lucid stories hearken to the spiritual and cerebral fiction of Katherine Mansfield and Joy Williams.  They breathtakingly face what comes next in the world—whether terrible snout or beautiful child—hallucinating what is entirely real.”—Kate Bernheimer

“Sarah Blackman is a wizard at rendering the odd intricacies of the domestic sphere. Her insights are stunning, her eye is keen, and her sentences are unbudgeably right. An excellent debut.”—Noy Holland
The subtitle of Sarah Blackman’s Mother Box: and Other Tales—evoking as it does Arabian nights, anthropomorphic animals, and high seas adventures—promises that the twelve pieces collected therein will present something out of the ordinary. And, from the first page of the collection, it is clear that these tales will fulfill that promise: “Of course, she was the sort of person who had a lot of secrets. Her secrets were how she understood it was herself and not, say, a peanut or a broken-bottomed chair.” As that quote hints, however, these adventures will take place in unfamiliar internal spaces, rather than in dark woods or distant lands.
The word “tale” is related to the word “tell,” and was preferred—over the more widely used “story” or the Borgesian “fiction”—by Edgar Allan Poe and E. T. A. Hoffmann, among others. “Tale” is Anglo-Saxon, and thus pagan, while both “story” and “fiction” are Latinate, reaching English along with Christianity. In English, there will always be that hint of barbarianism to the tale: whether it is a fairy tale or a tale of “the grotesque and arabesque,” as Poe’s were, the reader (or the listener) is, for the length of the telling, returned to the pagan world. One has only to think of the difference between Yule—with its log, goat, and boar—and Christmas—with its virgin birth—to understand that the pagan has a different connection to nature than does the Christian.
The “girl” of “A White Hat on His Head, Two Wooden Legs” sees this difference in the meeting of the forest, where she was born, and the town, where she now lives:
In the town, the layers of the observable world were stacked neatly atop each other. In the forest, they had been fanned in mossy overlap. In the town, to truly see, one had to decipher the logic by which the thing had been hidden. In the forest, like on the pages of her book, what was there was laid open in the moment of its working. Nothing was hidden, only unobserved. The forest didn’t care how it was apprehended, is what the girl finally concluded. The town hummed with the constant invention of its self.
It is tempting to think of this dichotomizing as a reinventing of the Hobbesian “noble savage,” or, more simply, as an argument against the artifice necessary to civilizing the human animal, but in context it is more sinister, as befits a tale. One of the things hidden by the logic of the town is the fact that this girl violently and repeatedly beats “the boy,” a behavior born in the forest, and that same logic dictates that she become a school-teacher, caring for small children by day and reducing her partner to a bloody mess by night. These are not fables, parables, or allegories, and these characters are not closer to nature for having a different relationship to it: Nothing here is so simple. The “mossy overlap” of Mother Box‘s forest is just as fraught as the neatly stacked layers of its towns.
That Blackman can “decipher the logic by which the thing had been hidden” is one of the most satisfying aspects of these tales, especially because the thing that has been hidden in Mother Box lies at the heart of what it means to be human. The body’s relationship to the idea of the self is often neglected by our philosophy, and this is where Blackman’s choice of subject—mothers—seems shrewdest, because that relationship is most evident when the body undergoes rapid change.
Everywhere in Mother Box there are bodies changing, bodies changed. The pregnant protagonist of “Listen,” for instance, comes to view her body as some kind of terrible golem: “She felt as if she was wearing herself—her wrist like a bracelet, her collarbone molded on her chest like a band of sculpted silver and somewhere beneath the jeweled pendant of her heart,” and “imagines her body going on and on without her . . . and she left alone in her dark room, incidental.” If the Cartesian soul exists for this character, it clearly isn’t worth exalting. She—all that makes her herself—is only “incidental” to her body, at best a byproduct of it, like the smells it gives off. In contrast, the narrator of “A White Hat on His Head, Two Wooden Legs” tells us: “As she was wild, her own body had never been a conveyance for her. She was her body and so incapable of imagining an alternative to what she had just done or what it was she might do next.” No dualism there. But this same character, so tied to her body, will have left it behind and become a bird by the end of the story. Which might seem like a fairy tale ending—a wild girl returned to the wild after living an artificially circumscribed life in the town—but if she is her body, she can’t be herself without it. Instead of feeling a sense of closure and resolution we feel uneasy with this ending, as with many of the endings in Mother Box. If Blackman’s characters are not becoming part of the nature that surrounds them (“A White Hat on His Head, Two Wooden Legs”), they are romancing it (“A Category of Glamour”), being overtaken by it (“Many Things, Including This”), running away from it (“Listen”), or being raised by it (“Mother Box”), all physical, even sensual, responses to that most fundamental of questions: What am I?
But I’m in danger, I think, of distorting one of the things I like best about this collection: these twelve tales are not cerebrations on these or any other topics, they are tales, attuned both to the sounds they make and to the attention they demand. It is a triumph when a sentiment as banal as “One must travel around and pick things up and put them down again” nevertheless sounds profound; or when a sentiment as bizarre as “She would be a body and next, who knew?, a house” seems undeniable and even inevitable. This can only be a result of Blackman’s carefully measured prose. And when it comes to storytelling and the enrapture of her audience, Blackman again excels. Consider, for instance, the eerie “Many Things, Including This,” or “Conversation,” or “The Dinner Party,” all tales that kept this reader turning pages, eager to dispel the dread that hangs over them and to find out what happens next.
Descartes’s division of the human into soul and body is seductive as an idea precisely because it replicates some essential aspect of the brain’s workings. Thought is removed from the world: a pang is appreciably different from a calculation, so, clearly, we think, one must come from one place, and the other from another. Our minds are all internal and integral, unknowable and inscrutable, while our bodies, like the natural world, can be observed and dissected. Thus, most investigations of the self start (and end) with this Cartesian soul—the body is not the same order of mystery as the mind for such thinkers, and so it simply doesn’t enter into their equations. But Mother Box starts its investigations from the other pole, reminding us that our bodies are also the sites where what we consider ourselves—whatever that might be—meets what we must consider not ourselves, whether we call that “the world” or “Nature” or something else. As one of Blackman’s characters puts it, “What keeps me in?” The answer is consonant with the definition of self. Yet things get much more complicated when we consider motherhood, the creation of new selves—there, as nowhere else, the line between self and other blurs. That Blackman chooses to investigate this through the form of the tale is only fitting: where the word “story” is derived from a Greek word meaning “knowing, erudition”—very clearly a cerebral product—”tale,” coming from “tell,” requires a body. If the body is changed, the story may remain the same, but the tale will renew itself. In the tales of Mother Box, the body is shown to be as worthy a conundrum as the mind or the soul. - Gabriel Blackwell

Sarah Blackman's Mother Box and Other Tales, a collection of twelve short stories (one of them is billed as a novella) featuring an enigmatic cast of daughters, mothers, girls, women, spouses, and lovers, moves in and out of the familiar and never lets the reader get too comfortable. Her animalistic characters raise animals, sometimes turn out to be animals; they inhabit landscapes from corporate offices to suburban gardens to fairytale forests; they occasionally have names like Sylvia and Penny but often are just introduced to the reader as "the girl" or "the boy," nameless pronouns that nevertheless take on intensely passionate and perverse desires. The title along with the cover, which depicts a hen's head atop a topless female torso circumscribed by a box, set up an expectation for surreal fairy tales; and indeed, elements of myth and folklore thread through the stories, mixing with the prosaic to set scenes we're almost too afraid to admit we recognize.
The reader might be afraid, but Blackman isn't. Her characters are unapologetic; her imagery is aggressive but just avoids being too florid. I would be remiss if I didn't dwell on the sensual prose of Mother Box and Other Tales. Because some of the stories in this collection are sketches no more than a few pages long and with amorphous plotlines, they are carried primarily by the sound and rhythm of Blackman's sentences, which, as a poet, she arranges meticulously. And the effect is jolting, delightful: Blackman knows where and when to lay on thick the descriptive paint. Take, for instance, her treatment of the shadows cast by two women, Dannie and Sylvia, and Dannie's babies, during an afternoon stroll:
The wind flattened against them in a huge, coughing pant and it seemed to Sylvia as if their shadows danced around them. Her shadow and Dannie's shadow, the babies' hydra shadow craning out of their stroller and Steven's cast before him, so close now it pressed into their own. It was as if the light of the day were a bulb swinging loose from the sky, knocking around crazily, shining onto all sides of them at once.
Or take this saturated description of a repainted house in the story "A Category of Glamour":
In the morning it had been a chalky antacid kind of blue that faded into the blue morning shadows and was peeling in places to show its elemental brick. Blue with black shutters. Now, the house was a creamy peach with bright green shutters. It looked like the lovebird Penny had often admired in the pet store window in town... Penny thought there was something about the lovebird's peachy head and bright green mask that made it look like a baby, a poor baby all dressed up by some mother who had purchased too many cute hats.
The paragraph is cluttered with adjectives. It wanders. It is unapologetically gaudy. But in context -- the story follows a widow who lives with her mostly-grown son Max and develops a relationship with a shadowy man who visits her garden -- it manages to hold strange poignancy, especially for mothers who have smothered their children and children who have been smothered by their mothers.
The book is also filled with violent descriptions of sex. Blackman holds nothing back as she drives her female characters again and again into bad or undesirable situations, be it falling in and out of love, ambivalent pregnancies, fights with lovers, grave illnesses, upended dinner parties. In "A White Hat on His Head, Two Wooden Legs," a "wild girl" and a "tame boy" meet in fairytale fashion and make a life and grow old together in not-so-fairytale fashion:
...[T]he girl picked up the boy's stick and beat him about the head and torso. She cracked bloody knots in his shoulders, split open his eyebrow, burst his mouth like a plum... He said, "I love you," and she said, "Don't talk." In this fashion, they knew each other.
In "Listen," sex similarly turns savage: "She scoured him. She used her nails, her teeth... All over his body she left great welts, thready scratches beading with blood as if he had come through a forest of nettles." These stories, read in one sitting, can be a little trying; it's hard not to see redundancies.
Plenty of other nonsexual absurdities happen throughout the book as well, but it is the glimpses we get of domestic discord or mental instability that most of all dig deep into real insecurities, that recall uncomfortably real circumstances. In "The Cherry Tree," for instance, a woman clinically examines the landscape as a male colleague propositions and then assaults her:
That afternoon she stood in a reticulated lozenge of light in her office window and counted all the buds on the cherry tree. One hundred and sixty-two... [Anthony] put his hands on her hips to steady himself and worked harder, hurting her, really digging in. Behind them, on the other side of the two-way mirror, the children were being led in some sort of song... The children's laughter sounded spiny to her -- brittle, harsh with edges -- but perhaps it was only this way because of the quality of the light which today was even more than usually resplendent, falling as it did over her breasts and then beyond them, paying attention to all the details.
I wonder how many women have counted buds on a cherry tree, or turned their minds to something else just as mundane, in the above situation. I'm afraid to know. But Blackman boldly dwells on the moment.
Similarly, in "The Silent Woman," the longest and most fully-realized story in Blackman's collection, Mary recalls the period following childbirth with an eerie detachment that would make any new mother squirm. The fly she had accidentally swallowed and which was now flourishing in her chest cavity, and not her newborn, occupied her thoughts:
The baby, though intricate in its parts, was not absorbing. Rather, it absorbed and seemed perfectly content to hang at her breast grunting and rooting around with its puckered, puffy lips. The fly, on the other hand, was unique and her relationship with it required a sort of undivided attention to the experience she could not afford if she were to continue with her extant duties of the home.
In some ways, Mother Box and Other Tales is a weird book that demands too much patience from the reader -- sons turn out to be foxes, one-upping dinner guests turn out to be moons, mothers turn out to be cardboard boxes. It is best where it teeters on the edge of painful realities, blurring real people and places, blending with reader's own memories and histories. - Shan Wang

Sarah Blackman’s debut story collection Mother Box, and Other Tales is the winner of the FC2’s Roland Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize. When a book comes tagged with the label of “innovative fiction,” it can generally go in two directions: its prose will be inventive or its narratives will be wild. Blackman chooses to write clear, clean prose that makes the fabulist elements of the plot feel all the more strange. She catalogues ordinary details and then drops the moon, literally, into a dinner party. The overall effect of this style leaves the reader bewildered and grasping for more of the everyday details that once felt out of place but now are the only thing connecting the text to our world.
            It’s a double edged sword. Occasionally, the stories meander and turn back on themselves in a way that is delightful. A synthesis emerges between the reader and the characters in the stories. Each is trying to make sense of the world and doing everything he or she can to hold onto their sanity. At other times, the stories fall flat and the ambiguity overtakes any sense of meaning as in the title story when the communal point of view discovers the genealogy of the main character involves cardboard boxes. All in all, this is a collection that continually challenges the reader to meet Blackman halfway. At its best, the reader is given enough guidance and is able to scale the mountain. When this happens, the view is breathtaking. In the more uneven stories, the reader ends up in the same situation as the protagonist in “Many Things, Including This”: lost in the fog and struggling for answers.
   The stories in this collection vary in length from the almost-novella “The Silent Woman” to flash-fiction style pieces such as “The Cherry Tree.” Most of the stories are around ten pages long, and it is at this length where the balance between satisfied curiosity and pleasant ambiguity reaches an equilibrium.
   The two stars of this collection are “A White Hat on His Head, Two Wooden Legs” and “A Beautiful Girl, A Well Loved One.” Both of these stories lay a solid foundation of fairy tale before the characters are forced to move into a contemporary world. The juxtaposition between the fantastic and the common results in a tale that is richer than either could be on its own. A girl grows up in a cottage in the woods with her mother and grandmother before she eventually grows up and takes on a high-powered business position. Where Blackman is at her best is when she is able to use language to retain the familiar plot elements of fairy tale in a present-day setting. After the girl moves out of the cottage in the woods, she is unable to shake her fairy tale upbringing. In one of the many lovingly-detailed lists throughout the books, the narrator asks what a girl needs. Snuck in between mundane items such as bras and cigarettes are “razors for shaving the fur that grows in her creases” (136). Even when the world of the Brothers Grimm is abandoned, its effects reverberate through the characters until the end of their stories.             
  Blackman has an eye for detail and is able to turn the mundane into the significant. Her stories are ambitious, and with everything that takes risks, it occasionally doesn’t pay off. However, when it does, it reminds the reader why he or she turned to fiction in the first place. There is power in these stories, and when they are well-told, they lodge in the reader’s brain and fill their dreams with boxes, soldiers, balls of string, and babies. It’s the kind of thing that make stories worth reading.
- Jacob Euteneuer

story Large Black Landscape (The Georgia Review 2016)

George Choundas - A fiercely independent woman puts the man who loves her to unconscionable tests, never guessing that arson, suicide, and canine obesity will yield a magical kind of happiness

Image result for George Choundas The Making Sense of Things,

George Choundas, The Making Sense of Things, FC2, 2018.

Winner of FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize
A grand tour of the edges of our lives, where glory and significance riot against the logic of living and the pall of tragedy.
The Making Sense of Things is a collection of twelve stories that pulse with memory, magic, and myth—all our favorite ways of trying to make sense of things.
Readers are treated to vivid and unforgettable characters. A fiercely independent woman puts the man who loves her to unconscionable tests, never guessing that arson, suicide, and canine obesity will yield a magical kind of happiness. A honeymooner in Venice, addled by fever and second thoughts, commits by dumb error a double murder. A brisk lawyer founders when a car wreck claims his son and ex-wife, then discovers that the desperation of grief is a kind of hope.

Read a story from The Making Sense of Things, "How Hector Vanquished the Greeks", at Harvard Review Online.
"The Wonder of Light Rail" in Punchnel's. 
"The Old Hok Wisdom" in the Kenyon Review.
 And two essays: "Dead Now" in Boulevard, and "My Muse Is Gaffay" in Passages North's "Writers on Writing."

The royals of Sastrán announce aloud not only what they want at any given moment, but also what they don’t want. “I will not wear a scratchy cloak against my back. Or my neck.” “I cannot own a painting concerned with regret.” “I do not pine to attend a wedding where the officiant resembles too closely the groom.” They like to proclaim a non-desire out of thin air, elaborating on it apropos of nothing. They mention it regardless of the subject at hand, and notwithstanding the lack of apparent reason to speak or think of it at all. This confirms for everybody in earshot, and for themselves, their weight in the world. Clearly: if the slightest, strayest notion that feathers the backs of their skulls has a significance worthy of utterance, then their real concerns must move the very planet.

“Reading George Choundas is a bit like watching an archer casually shoot an arrow, hit the bullseye, then draw a second, finer arrow from his quiver and split the first arrow in half. One gets the sense he could do it forever, firing arrow after arrow into the exact center of the heart of the matter. This collection is staggering and brilliant and might have made me a better writer but definitely made me a better person.”—Charles Yu

“You want to read this book because you have never before read a book like this one. Inventive, humorous, dark, yes, but also continually outstripping our responses. Choundas may be a genius or someone with something up his sleeve, or both. What’s important is that he gives us twelve fabulous and brilliant stories. The sentences run almost amok on purpose. These stories will open your eyes even wider.”—Kelly Cherry

“These stories are wildly touching, funny in really funny ways, but also flights of mind, image, fantasy, and language telling us that reality is as malleable as love and as changeable as a fire in a forest.”—G.K. Wuori

George Choundas has fiction and nonfiction in over forty-five publications including Southern Review, Harvard Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Subtropics. His stories have been selected for inclusion in The Best Small Fictions 2015 and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He is winner of the New Millennium Award for Fiction, a former FBI agent, and half Greek/half Cuban. His interests include films with scarabs.

John Eidswick - The peaceful life of 17th century New England Puritan farmer Adam Green is ripped apart when he finds a television set in the woods

John Eidswick, The Language of Bears, Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2017. 
free preview

The peaceful life of 17th century New England Puritan farmer Adam Green is ripped apart when he finds a television set in the woods. His discovery enables evil madman animal-skinner and proto-industrialist Obadiah Broke to have Adam arrested for witchcraft and steal the magical black water (oil, that is) seeping onto Adam’s farm. A hairsbreadth escape from the pillory enables the young farmer to discover the incredible truth behind the strange, Edenic land he lives in. Now it is up to Adam, a hunted fugitive, to find a way to defeat the monstrous forces threatening his home and the rest of the world. There is no hope unless he can learn…the language of bears.

The Language of Bears tells the connected stories of siblings Adam Green, a good-hearted but slightly paranoid young corn farmer and his rebellious 7-year-old sister Daisy Green. They live in a mysterious land called Arcadia, which seems like the bucolic and tranquil pre-industrial New England inhabited by the first Puritans settlers in the 1700s. Some qualities of Arcadia suggest not all is as it seems: a tree that grows giant apples, monstrous twenty-foot tall bears, an absolute lack of disease and crime.
Life for Adam and Daisy is torn asunder when Adam finds a mysterious box in the woods (the reader recognizes it as a television set) with a talking, disembodied head inside. The head tells him, inexlicably, “dry your beans.” Adam runs screaming from the forest to get help, but the television has vanished when he brings others to look at it. Through a series of heartbreaking (but sometimes darkly funny) occurances, the discovery of the TV leads to Adam’s arrest and death sentence for witchcraft. While Adam’s troubles are unfolding, precocious Daisy Green, absolutely intolerant of injustice and bullshit from grownups, becomes furious with the adults in her life who won’t tell her what is going on with her brother. She also grows steadily more incensed at being constantly told that, because she is a girl, she must act “ladylike.” She runs away with her best friend and gets into a harrowing adventure in the caves under Arcadia, where she makes a shocking discovery.
All of these events appear connected to the machinations of child-abusing, mega-wealthy pig rancher Obadiah Broke, who has become horribly deformed and mentally unstable because of an accident caused by making an experimental tanning fluid by mixing apple juice with pig brains.
The accusations of witchcraft against Adam cause a schism in the community. Some of the citizens side with insecure mayor William Gladford in arguing against Adam’s guilt and against the unscientific notion of witchcraft altogether, and some follow dour Puritan reverend Calvin Branch, the community’s spiritual leader, who sees Adam’s vision of the television as a sign of an impending apocalypse and a justification to conspire with Obadiah Broke to overthrow Mayor Gladford and bring back the ancient, viciously draconian Sabbatical Laws (whose legal punishments include flogging and burning at the stake) and make Arcadia great again.
A lot of other beguiling elements abide in the book. A caged goddess, talking animals, etc.
Not exactly airport fiction.
I’m probably being excessively optimistic, but I’ll go out on a limb here and say that, despite its unconventional nature, my novel potentially could be enjoyed by readers ranging from ordinary folks who like an old-fashioned-adventure-with-a-moral story (think lovers of the Little House on the Prairie books) to a very different kind of reader, fans of authors of experimental novels, like David Foster Wallace (I’m thinking of Infinite Jest in particular). Or perhaps more appropriately, a comic modernist novel like Catch-22. Come to think of it, an accurate elevator pitch for my novel would be:
Little House on the Prairie meets Catch-22. 

"In Eidswick's debut novel, Adam Green lives in Arcadia, an evolved, peaceful version of Puritan New England, which has somehow sprouted in an alternate reality. Disease-free and socialistic, it is a realm filled with fantastic and symbolic emblems, such as pumpkin-sized apples, magic bread, 20-foot-long bears, talking pigs, lots of redheads, and cooperative mice. Green's troubles begin when he finds a television (a box with a head in it that speaks to him) in the woods. Combined with his family history, this discovery leads to a charge of witchcraft against him. The accusation is championed by Obadiah Broke, the richest man in town, and the Rev. Calvin Mathers Cotton Makepeace Branch, a fire-and-brimstone preacher who believes sin has taken over and that pillories should be reinstated. Broke, who was disfigured and driven mad by an accident with tanning chemicals seven years earlier, is actually behind the TV incident. He seems to know a great deal about life in the other reality, including the value of oil, which he believes lies under Green's land. The book is a smart, literate, odd, and skillfully written tour de force filled with biblical, mythical, and cultural allusions. Peopled with a cast of wonderfully quirky characters, the plot takes a number of surprising and singular twists while referencing everything from Greek mythology and King Arthur to A.A. Milne's gloomy donkey, Eeyore. In addition, Eidswick displays a brilliant command of dialogue, and his prose is poetic and filled with striking imagery: "The night sky was spotted with clouds, luminous bruises spread over the stars." Strange, funny, and poignant, the story deftly wields this eccentric parable to examine a variety of philosophical, religious, and existential questions, such as the dichotomy between deeming the world as evil and worthy of punishment versus viewing life as a demonstration of God's goodness. Witty, serious, and original, this stunning tale should attract anyone who delights in an intellectually stimulating read." - Kirkus Reviews
"THE LANGUAGE OF BEARS is that rare thing: a fantasy that introduces an entirely unique world that also reads as fully real. The novel takes place in a town called Arcadia, nestled in a peaceful valley but surrounded by woods filled with dangerous wild animals. The town's inhabitants are descended from a group of early Puritan settlers who journeyed to the valley through the Forbidden Forest and now live a simple, isolated existence and follow a slightly more relaxed version of their ancestor's moral code. The mix of historical and fantastical detail creates an uncanny mood that keeps you turning pages as the novel invites you to uncover its many mysteries. 
 "THE LANGUAGE OF BEARS succeeds in part because of Eidswick's prose. He writes with a slightly old-fashioned cadence and vocabulary that match the small town world of farmers and shopkeepers he's created. One character, for example, is "perched on the splintery riding board of his old cart, his small body wobbling with the pocks of the trail." The detail of his descriptions turn Arcadia into a place you can see, hear, and feel along with the characters; the unique voice of his prose gives you the impression you are reading about it specifically as these characters would tell it.
The other reason the novel works so well is that the characters themselves are so memorable. Eidswick assembles a large cast, from self-doubting, world-shy Adam to Daisy, to his fearlessly questioning younger sister, to Reverend Calvin Branch, desperate to return the town to the piousness his father inspired, to Wandabella Shrenker, the gossipy shopkeeper with a penchant for designing garish dresses and cooking mice into biscuits. Eidswick gives us glimpses into the heads of most of his characters, making the town feel truly alive with fully realized human beings. Even characters who do bad things are given a chance to explain themselves through internal monologue so that his imagined world comes across as complex and vivid as our own.
The combination of world-building, character development, and expert plotting makes for a compelling yarn, but THE LANGUAGE OF BEARS is also more than that. It's a novel with something to say. By drawing on Puritan America for inspiration, Eidswick is able to examine both the harmful legacies the United States has inherited from that past, as well as the things of value it has cast aside. Even though it's set in an imagined town isolated in time and space, THE LANGUAGE OF BEARS is full of lessons for the present day. After reading BOOK ONE: THE POLYPS OF CHRIST, you'll anxiously await whatever intrigue and wisdom Eidswick has planned for BOOK TWO."  -IndieReader 
"It hits almost every single one of my wants when it comes to a fiction book and then some." - MI Book Reviews
"This book is like reading a fairy tale after consuming a box of magic mushrooms...the surprise hit of the year. I loved it!" - Two Bald Mages
"The Language of Bears is delightfully original and satisfyingly unpredictable: highly recommended reading not for those who look for superficial action, but for readers who delight in finding an original voice that excels in alternative history and unique perspectives." - D. Donovan

“The peaceful life of 17th century New England Puritan farmer Adam Green is ripped apart when he finds a television set in the woods. Horrifically deformed animal skinner Obadiah Broke, driven insane by an accident with tanning chemicals, becomes fixated on obtaining the malodorous black water seeping onto Adam’s property. A coup d’etat instigated by Obadiah leads to a death sentence for Adam for witchcraft. A hairsbreadth escape from the pillory enables the young farmer to discover the incredible truth behind the peculiar land he lives in. Now it is up to Adam, a hunted fugitive reviled by all, to find a way to defeat the monstrous forces threatening his home and the rest of the world. There is no hope unless he can learn…the language of bears.
The Language of Bears is a strange, comic literary fantasy in whose shocking outcome a river of oil, magic bread, a geyser of fire, giant apples, and talking pigs figure prominently.”
I got an ARC in return for an honest review from the author.
The author warned me that the book would be weird, but I dismissed that. I was in a weird mood and figured that nothing Eidswick could throw at me would get me out of the reading funk I have been in. I had no desire to read anything. I had to force myself to read this book, but within a few pages I was realizing that I was gifted something gorgeous. My mood shifted from dreading the idea of reading to actively seeking out time to read. This is a powerful book.
The writing of the book is unbelievably pretty, especially for a first book. The descriptions are perfect, there is a distinct voice, there are no grammatical errors that I noticed. There was a dialect to the characters that was consistent and believable.  The characters, even when they were evil, were not one dimensional. It has been so long since I read a good villain. One that had me so disgusted with their behavior, but so conflicted because of the reasons they became the way they were. George is not a character I will forget any time soon. He was complex and wonderful. He seemed pretty simple, but the longer the story goes on the more complex everyone gets. The epilogue makes everything even more complex, I won’t give it away, but it helped explain to me why George was the way he was.
There were such rich characters and history that Fannie Flagg was called to mind. Though Flagg would have to be drunk to come up with this story, she would have to lose all filter and allow her characters to go into a very dark place. This book had the gentle lull of a hometown novel, but then BAM witches. Now, I hate stories about witches, wizards, magic, all of that good stuff. I find them boring and predictable. This story was anything but boring and predictable. There was not a single point in the story that I wanted to put it down. I had to force myself to read slower, savor the book. Everything I love about Flagg is present in this book: the small town characters, the niceness of the main character that is nice to a fault usually, and the humor. Eidswick added in the bizarre and the dark. This book is exactly the book for me. It hits almost every single one of my wants when it comes to a fiction book and then some. Who knew I needed pig brains and apple juice to be happy?
I have exactly one bad thing to say about this book and author. One. Ready? There is only one book out. I want more. The plot and the characters were wrapped up beautifully, no loose ends. I just want to keep reading though. The beautiful words, the strange land, everything just felt so perfect. I can’t wait for more from Eidswick. -

When Adam Green stumbles across a mysterious box containing a talking head, he sets into motion a chain of events that will shake his world to its foundations.
Eidswick’s The Language of Bears follows young Adam Green, who lost his parents seven years previous when they decided to walk into the dangerous forest and never came out. Rational people said they must have been eaten by the gigantic bears that roam the forest. The more gullible claim they were witches and that they had been seen in company of said bears instead. When Adam comes barreling out of the forest one day, yelling about finding a talking head in a box, people think he’s succumbing to the same witchy affliction, especially because no box or talking head are to be found.
This sets gossip to flying and garners Adam an offer of buying his property by Obadiah Broke, so Adam needn’t live next to ghosts. Adam declines the offer, and the mayor sets to work trying to nip the witch talk in the bud. But when three people come up missing, and their bloody clothes are found next to Adam’s house, the townsfolk are ready to burn him at the stake. A coup by the Brokes puts Obadiah’s son, George, in the mayor’s seat. Once there, George reinstitutes the Sabbatical Laws and takes Adam into custody in order to execute him. But there’s more at play here than meets the eye. What secrets are the Brokes hiding, and why will they use any excuse at all to get Adam’s land?
This was a very interesting story. About 27% into it, my suspicions grew about the story’s reveal, with an eye to M Night Shyamalan’s The Village. Things didn’t play out quite the way I’d predicted, but pretty close. There is definitely a correlation here, be it intentional or unintentional, between Obadiah & Calvin with Rump and the US Republican party wanting to go back to archaic backwards thinking and between Gladford & Doc representing more progressive change (even with Obadiah’s hidden agenda). Obadiah/George’s goal to “make Arcadia great again” only reinforced the similarities. Double ugh, just because I so greatly dislike Rump. Also, Calvin’s group is the one disparaging of women, believing that “the Lord” gave the most “intelligence and power to the one with the most trouble keeping regular church attendance.” Triple ugh. The author clearly doesn’t support those ideas, seeming more in favor of rational thinking and useful progress.
I adored Daisy and Hildegard, more than any of the other characters. These two girls kick ass. They both really gain a measure of maturity and self-reliance, and I felt they were more dynamic and compelling characters than most of the others.
There were times when the story felt a bit convoluted. It’s a good story, but it can certainly use some clean up. It needs a good proofing/spellcheck. There are places where the gender of a character changes, or the name changes to a person not in the scene at all. There’s one place where a character enters a room and sits on the bed, then flounces onto the bed. There are times the characters use more modern words, like hombres, though they are recent descendants of the Puritans. A little polish, and this could be an excellent story. I look forward to seeing Eidswick grow as a writer. - 

It has been seven years since Adam Green lost his parents, who ventured into the forest and never came back. There has been a lot of speculation regarding what happened to them. But now, Adam takes the bold step to go into the forest, and what he discovers will change not only the course of his life but the entire town, for who could believe it when he says he found a box with a talking head.
The villagers almost take him for a lunatic, but strange things start happening, including an unusual offer to buy his house, the dead found close to his property and his subsequent incarceration. Can he prove his innocence and win the trust of the villagers, and can he get everyone to believe in his sanity again? But what is behind the strange happenings in the small town of Arcadia? These are questions that readers find themselves asking, captivated by the life of Adam Green, the intrigue and greed of people who will stop at nothing to rob a man of his property, and weird happenings in a town nestled close to a dangerous forest.
John Eidswick’s The Language of Bears is told in a strong and engrossing voice, and the reader can’t help but be seduced by the spell of the forest. The setting is masterfully crafted, leaving readers with powerful images of a city lost in a valley and surrounded by woodlands, a place where the bears roam and where nature heaves undisturbed. The author has imagined a story that explores the depth of human nature, of greed, and wild tales. He has a gift for character, and it is interesting to notice how he builds them through well-crafted and engaging dialogues and his powerful descriptions. This well-paced story is gripping, and it will surprise readers in many different ways—one of those stories that stand out in their originality, the plot points, and tone. It was an enjoyable read! - 

Oleg Woolf - Reminiscent of Bruno Schulz, a vivid, surreal evocation of a liminal world. The characters follow the trajectories of elementary particles, disappearing in one dimension only to reappear in another.”

Oleg Woolf, Bessarabian Stamps: Stories , Trans. by Boris Dralyuk, Phoneme Media, 2015. Reminiscent of Bruno Schulz’s Street of Crocod...