We asked MFA alumni publishing books this spring what they’re reading, and what they'd recommend. Here's Mark Jordan Manner on a debut collection of short fiction:
Right now I’m reading Cardinal and Other Stories by Alex Higley. I’d originally picked the book up because we share a publisher, and have exchanged a few emails back and forth, and I like the guy, personally; I bought his book the way you sometimes buy books written by people you sort of know. Very glad I did though ‘cause it’s the best debut collection I’ve read in some time. The stories are short, take an average of ten minutes to read, which is good, because I find myself going back, skimming over a lot of them a second time, with new appreciation for the details and lines of dialogue, see how they’ve so effectively added up in reaching an agreeable and affecting end.
So far I’ve read twelve of the book’s twenty stories and there hasn’t been a dud in the bunch. The writing is smooth line to line, each paragraph crafted with cleverness and care, and never once slips into any area of over-stylization or arty pretension. Higley’s presence, as writer, is not felt as you read his stories; it’s his characters, their thoughts, and unpredictable behaviours, that become all-absorbing.
A lot of Higley’s characters are married, or are in close proximity to some impending, or deteriorating, marriage. But to say these stories are about married couples, or the family unit, is inaccurate. The prose doesn’t so much explore bonds between people, but what certain bonds, based on either law, societal label, or blood relation, are supposed to mean. And then what happens when someone chooses, or can’t help, but reject such meaning. The result is often funny, and uncomfortable, moving, and new. I like.
Mark's debut novel, Most Perfect Things About People, was released on April 17 by Tailwinds Press. There will be a New York launch event hosted by Tailwinds on May 18th.