Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Books Received: Susan Tekulve and R.T. Smith

I teach with some very distinguished colleagues at the Converse College Low-Residency MFA program, and I’m pleased to mention two new collections of short stories that will prove my point.

Savage Pilgrims
By Susan Tekulve

Published by Serving House Books

From the publisher: “Fired from his sales job, a middle-aged Ohio man becomes a full-time Civil War re-enactor. A faithless Peace Corps volunteer stationed in Poland leads a group of elderly Catholic women on a pilgrimage to the shrine of a Black Madonna. After learning of her husband's ocular disease, a wife takes him on an urgent quest to Scotland to see the sights she believes he will miss after he is blind. Regardless of their circumstances, these characters all wrestle with the complex disappointments and hopes that keep them searching for savage truths about themselves and others as they take off-kilter paths toward healing, love, grace and solace.”

I found these linked stories to be the perfect book to dip into before bedtime, filling my mind with their rich prose and the familiar exoticism of the Midwest. I was transported absolutely—into a troubled family, into the mystifying world of teenage girls—and farther afield—to Poland, to Scotland, learning about the Black Madonna and falcons. I admire the vision, skill, and intelligence in these stories, and the only drawback to this book is that I longed for more (98 pages, with five stories and five poems; I definitely wanted to keep reading).

Excerpt from “The Worst Thing I’ll Ever Do to You,” my favorite story:
Although I’d given birth three days before, my mother wanted to tell me about her stillborn children.

“It felt like someone had tied my insides together with a rope,” she said. “Then they tied the other end to a horse and slapped the horse on the rear.”

“I can’t listen to this right now,” I said.

Buy the book on Amazon.com.
Read Susan Tekulve’s guest blog piece about travel writing.
Learn more about Susan Tekulve.
Read Wash Day, Susan’s web chapbook of fiction, here.


I’ve not yet had the chance to delve into The Calaboose Epistles by R.T. Smith, but I’m looking forward to the opportunity. I’ve read and admired Rod’s beautiful poetry (here’s a stunning poem that recently appeared on Poetry Daily), and so I know these stories will be equally powerful.

The Calaboose Epistles
By R.T. Smith
Published by Iris Press

From the publisher: “Set in the southern Appalachians, R. T. Smith’s third collection of stories also inhabits that allegorical realm where the patterns of human travail are dramatized and played out endlessly. Whether incarcerated in penal institutions or imprisoned by their own obsessions and transgressions, the bear hunters, cockfighters, con artists, ginseng diggers and school teachers of these inventive narratives demonstrate that tragedy, comedy and travesty are seldom as distinct as we want to believe.”

Excerpt from “Wishing”:
You were not safe anywhere: Della Moxley Medlock knew it to be so. The weather channel said it was ninety degrees up in New York City that minute, a quarter past midnight. Old folks were in danger of heat stroke, infants fevered in their cribs. Japan had floods and typhoons, while in Colorado, record-breaking wildfires raged. Locally, the corn silk was all a nasty brown and the cobs were ugly nubbins. The yard flowers leaned over, thirsty, even with the gleety dishwater splashed across them daily, and neither the leftover drips and dribbles of Coke nor the beer dregs thrown out on the brittle lawn perked it up. Above the air conditioner’s straining breath, the cicadas jittered like sleigh bells, and the half moon beyond the double-glazed pan was red as a tomato.

Buy the book on Amazon.com.
Learn more about R.T. Smith here.

“Necessary” disclosure per the FTC overlords: I received these books as gifts, but only because the authors ignored my entreaties to let me buy a copy. I would happily spend my own money on these books.


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.