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TheAccidentalArtThief_medTitleThe Accidental Art Thief

Genre: General fiction/Literary

Author: Joan Schweighardt

Websitewww.joanschweighardt.com

Publisher: Twilight Times Books

Find The Accidental Thief on Amazon 

Set in New Mexico, this is the story of 45-year old Kathryn (aka Zinc), a deeply sensitive yet socially awkward woman who’s lived all of her existence without making her own decisions, and whose life suddenly forces her to take charge, face her fears, and grow as a human being.

For the past 25 years Zinc has cared for an old art collector and lived in a casita under the protection of his estate. She writes poetry and her only possessions are her two dogs. Life is monotone and safe for Zinc, whose idyllic environment is perfect for hiding from the world. But things abruptly change when the old man suffers a tragic fall and dies. His nasty daughter Marge takes charge, and gives Zinc only two weeks to gather what little she has and find another place to live. Overnight, Zinc is forced to face her fears and the world she’s been hiding from for so many years—or tries to, anyway.

Her first decision—stealing one of the old man’s paintings—unravels a series of unusual events that forces Zinc to interact with other people—a clairvoyant, her auto-mechanic brother, and a poet whom she ends up meeting in Antigua and falling in love with, among others. She even gets a job at the Chamber of Commerce. But Zinc isn’t the only one struggling through life and facing her demons, and so do the other characters in the book. Eventually, Zinc must make things right and return the painting, but not before going through a series of unusual turns.

The Accidental Art Thief is a well-written literary novel with complex, skillfully developed characters—ordinary people moving through life like ghosts, it seems at times. Their emotions are what makes this novel compelling. Themes of love, friendship, self-growth, and emotional survival interlace in this sometimes darkly humorous story. Elements of magical realism further deepen the tale, adding a light touch of the paranormal to the plot. Fans of Alice Hoffman, Sue Monk Kid, and J.K. Rowling (The Casual Vacancy) will surely enjoy Schweighardt’s The Accidental Thief.

My review originally appeared in Blogcritics. 

I was given a review copy by the author in exchange for an honest review. 

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joan Joan Schweighardt is a former indie publisher who now works as a freelance writer, ghostwriter, and editor. The Accidental Art Thief is her fifth novel.

Connect with Joan on the web:

Website / Twitter / Facebook

Find The Accidental Art Thief on Amazon.

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, The Accidental Art Thief. What was your inspiration for it? 

A: A long time ago a friend and I were thinking of starting a literary magazine. Back in those days email programs were not sophisticated enough to figure out who you were addressing based on the first few letters you typed into the “to” box. You had to write the whole email address out each time. When I went to respond to my friend about her ideas for our magazine, I accidentally messed up her email address and my message went to a man in New Orleans. He wrote back to alert me to my mistake but admitted he’d read the email, and since he was a writer too, he thought he might be able to contribute to the magazine. We never did get the magazine off the ground, but the man and I became good friends. While the unintended recipient of the rogue email in my book is not nearly as forthcoming as my friend was, his response has life-changing consequences for my protagonist.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist. 

A: My protagonist’s name is Kathryn, but her family and friends have always called her Zinc. She suffered some major losses in her early twenties, and as a result she retreated from what most would call “the real world” and took a job as a caretaker for an old man on a ranch in New Mexico. The beginning of the first chapter of the book finds her very satisfied with the reclusive life she created for herself all those years ago. But by the end of the chapter, that will all come to an end.

Q: What was your creative process like during the writing of this book and how long did it take you to complete it? Did you face any bumps along the way? 

A:  The Accidental Art Thief is my fifth novel. With all the others I knew where I was headed when I started writing and always had some kind of a loose outline. This novel was different. At the same time I was writing it I was also writing a memoir. The memoir was kind of exhausting to work on, so I needed a relief project for those times when I had to put the memoir aside. Accordingly, I never bothered trying to figure out where I was going with Art Thief ahead a time, and I did not have an outline. It was an exercise in creativity, you might say. At the end of each chapter I tried to surprise myself. This does not mean The Accidental Art Thief is a frivolous novel without any depth. It’s a breezy read, but it has depth too. Think Alice Hoffman, or Sue Monk Kidd. The novel features moments of serendipity and maybe even magic, but it also asks a lot of questions about human nature and the way we treat one another.

Q: How do you keep your narrative exciting throughout the creation of a novel? 

A: Because I worked without a net on this one, I had the freedom to get very creative. At the end of each chapter I said to myself, What is the most surprising thing I can think of to happen next? And then I explored that possiblity.

TheAccidentalArtThief_medQ: Do you experience anxiety before sitting down to write? If yes, how do you handle it?

A: I don’t experience anxiety because I write (and edit) for a living as well as for my own pleasure. Every day I look at my schedule and write whatever I am being paid to write. I’ve been doing that for a long time. I put two kids through college doing that. So, when I have some time off and I can work on my own projects, my good habits fall into place—mostly.

Q: What is your writing schedule like and how do you balance it with your other work and family time?

A: I sit at my desk from eight to about two or three each day. When I finish my client work, I work on my own stuff. I don’t work on anything after three or on weekends.

Q: How do you define success? 

A: I’m going to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau and say success is being able to advance confidently in the direction of my dreams, endeavoring to live the life I always imagined.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers whose spouses or partners don’t support their dreams of becoming an author?

A: It’s a two-way street. We all aspire to do something. The writing partner might aspire to pen a best seller, but the other partner might aspire to be on stage with a microphone, or stand at a podium lecturing about quantum physics. We all have to give one another the space needed so we can all be our best selves.

Q: George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” 

A: A lot of the early 20th century writers were trying to say something important about society, about oppression and poor working conditions, etc., so yes, in that sense, writers had to tell two stories, one that would be entertaining and one that would be political and move people to action. That can be exhausting. In some sense that is what I tried to do in The Accidental Art Thief. I wanted my story to be a fun, funny story about a bunch of quirky people whose lives collide like steel balls in a pinball machine. But there are serious issues too. I hope I’ve been successful in raising certain issues and that the issues raised never get in the way of the story. Hard to do. Hats off to Orwell.

Q:  Anything else you’d like to tell my readers? 

A: Please consider buying my book and posting a review on Amazon. I can’t promise you will like it, but I think you will, and I know you will be surprised at times. I was!

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April Snow Business Card final

April Snow, book 2 in the smashingly successful Dana McGarry series by talented author Lynn Steward, is now available for pre-order!

Pre-order the Kindle or print edition from Amazon.

While you’re there, be sure to check book 1 in the series, A Very Good Life.

The print edition of April Snow will be available for pre-order next week. Stay tuned!

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Dana McGarry, newly separated from her cheating husband is laser-focused on her new job as a buyer at B. Altman, a leading New York City department store of the 1970s.  But to achieve success, she must free herself from more than a bad marriage. She must prove to overly-protective family and friends that she can make it on her own and shake up the old guard at the store when her bold new ideas hit a brick wall. No stranger to innovation and risk, Dana is determined to stand her ground. She moves out of her comfort zone and into the arms of a dynamic businessman who suggests a daring fashion move that will advance her career. Her dreams within reach, Dana’s world is shattered in a New York minute when a life is threatened, a secret is revealed, and her heart is broken.

Steward captures the nuances of 70s life in New York City and provides the perfect backdrop for an independent woman determined to make her mark.  April Snow, the second volume in the Dana McGarry series, is a story that transcends any period.

Official release: May 22nd 

About Lynn Steward

Lynn Steward Head Shot

Lynn Steward is a successful business woman who spent many years in New York City’s fashion industry in marketing and merchandising, including the development of the first women’s department at a famous men’s clothing store. Through extensive research, and an intimate knowledge of the period, Steward created the characters and stories for a series of five authentic and heartwarming novels about New York in the seventies. April Snow is volume two in the Dana McGarry Series. A Very Good Life was published in March 2014.

Connect with Lynn Steward on the Web:

Website / Twitter / Facebook / Pinterest

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PelicanBaymedForMayra

An old undersea cemetery, a secret love, mystery and intrigue await you in PELICAN BAY. Jesse Giles Christiansen has written a well-crafted story of suspense that will keep you turning pages!

Part suspense novel, part literary mystery, Pelican Bay is an original story set in a small, forlorn beach town in South Carolina.

The tale begins with our young protagonist, Ethan Hodges, discovering a sunken cemetery just off the beach that could very well be four centuries old. Compelled to find answers, he begins to ask questions to an old, quirky fisherman named Captain Shelby, a man thought crazy by the town. However, it soon becomes clear that the old grandfatherly figure wants the past to remain buried, and he doesn’t waste time in making that clear to Ethan.

Of course, Ethan doesn’t listen, in spite of the fact that “the old man guards that spot like a great secret — a secret perhaps he’d kill to protect.”

Morgan Olinsworth, a beautiful girl Ethan has loved ever since he can remember, joins in the investigation, and soon the young couple begin to unearth secrets, secrets that are better left hidden under the sea…

Then, Captain Shelby is suspected of murder and disappears, and it isn’t long before unsettling discoveries are made, discoveries that shock Pelican Bay.

The South Carolina coast comes to life in this well-written, well-crafted story by Jesse Giles Christiansen. I was engrossed from the start by the sense of mystery, as well as by the magical, eerie sound of the sea. Ethan and Morgan are sympathetic characters and I loved the eccentric wisdom and quirkiness of Captain Shelby. The author did an excellent job with the old fisherman’s mannerisms and use of dialect.

The tone and atmosphere gave me a haunting feeling about old secrets better left untouched. If you’re looking for a different mystery, give this one a try. Recommended.

Find out more on Amazon.

Visit the author’s website.

Read my interview with the author.

My review was originally published in Blogcritics. This review was provided in exchange for a review copy provided by the author.

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Leland studied Creative Writing and Ethnic Studies at San FranciscoStateUniversity where he discovered the enormous possibilities of poetry, experimentation, and critical theory. He eventually earned an MFA in Writing from ColumbiaUniversity on a merit fellowship. He has published fiction in Open City, Fence, Dark Sky Magazine, Drunken Boat, and Monkey Bicycle, among other literary journals. He is also the project director for an upcoming literary event series, Phantasmagoria: Language and Technology of Suffering, for which he received fiscal sponsorship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

About the book:

Is Epstein a despicable man?

He’s certainly trying desperately at something. When his wife disappears he’s frantic to talk to his daughter. But what can he tell her? There must be a reason and he’s all but sure about the gruesome answer. Can he protect Sylvia from the truth, from her terrible lineage and, ultimately, from himself?

Off-beat and sordid, The Blood Poetry is a twisted, yet honest look at our desire to connect with others and the ways in which we are often stymied by our own efforts to get closer. Epstein is a curious mix of monster and romantic struggling to maintain a shred of dignity in his dingy, beat down world.

Interview 

What was your inspiration for The Blood Poetry?

The title of my novel, The Blood Poetry, came to me quite a while after I finished several drafts.  I plucked the title from a line in the novel where an evangelical preacher of a church led by conjoined-twins who date back to the Civil War, refers to his sermon as “blood poetry.”  That seemed very fitting to me as a title.  The novel literally and symbolically revolves around “blood”—as nutrients for the undead characters; the blood of explicit and implicit violence; and, perhaps most importantly, blood as the central metaphor for “family and lineage” which, for the main character, is the source of his suffering.  Also, as a fiction writer and reader, I’m very drawn to voice and adroit uses of language—not simply lyricism, but the odd ways one can craft language to demonstrate a character’s state of mind; the manipulation of cadence and tempo to convey tension rather than relying on plot; and, when it comes down to it, I like reading other writers who invent bizarre ways of narrating because it feels like I’m being invited into a really strange and, maybe, dangerous place.

Tell us something about your hero and/or heroine that my readers won’t be able to resist.

I don’t think there are any true heroes in my book.  The protagonist ultimately transforms into an “anti-hero.”  He’s our narrator, our vehicle into the novel’s world, and the character with whom a reader may feel very conflicted empathizing.  I hope he’s more complicated than simply being despicable—he is, in fact, empathetic, too; pretty funny, vulnerable, and victimized; and really does have a sincere interest in the wellbeing of his daughter, Sylvia.  The question is: Can he overcome all the uglier elements of his personality?

Is there a villain or villainess in your story? Tell us about him/her.

Although I just described Epstein as an anti-hero, the villain that he reveals to us as the epitome of evil is Professor Applebaum—his mother’s boyfriend during Epstein’s childhood.  Professor Applebaum—as a bloodsucker and stand-in for forces which terrify us most as children—transforms Epstein’s mother into “a monster.”  He observes—and is complicit—in the suffering that Applebaum imposes on victims.  Although our main character was a child during that time, the fact that he was complicit in the pain of other people devastates him.  Epstein is not, at his core, an evil man.

Who is your favorite character in the book and why?

I think my favorite character in the book is the daughter, Sylvia.  As the writer, I was able to develop a lot of empathy for her; plus, in the beginning, she’s very rambunctious and rebellious, morphs into someone who is more introspective, but still has a lot of verve.  Sections which involved her were a lot of fun to write because I allowed myself the freedom of messing with the language, as well as mimicking her internal voice.  She seems to be the smartest, most empathetic, and most humane character in the novel.

What is your favorite scene in the book? Why?

I’m not totally sure, but I’ve always liked the opening.  It begins immediately with Epstein sprinting toward Sylvia’s school—the set-up is tense, and I hope the language reflects that.

What do you love most about being an author?

I really, really like making things up—characters, worlds, and voices.  And it’s always exhilarating to affect people who appreciate dark fiction in a meaningful, impactful way.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell my readers?

Thanks for still finding wonder in the world of words.

Author’s twitter: @lpitttsgonzalez

Author’s facebook: www.facebook.com/TheBloodPoetry

Link to excerpt: www.goodreads.com/book/show/15727062-the-blood-poetry

Link to purchase page: www.amazon.com/gp/product/1935738259

Link to book trailer: http://www.youtube.com/user/TheBloodPoetry2012

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A teacher, writer and psychotherapist, Mathias B. Freese is the author of two books, The i Tetralogy and Down to a Sunless Sea. His fiction has appeared on numerous prestigious publications. His short story, "Herbie," was listed in The Best American Short Stories of 1974 along with the works of I.B. Singer, Joyce Carol Oates and Norman Mailer. Readers may read my review of Down to a Sunless Sea on my blog, The Dark Phantom Review. In this insightful, fascinating interview, Freese talks about his writing and the force behind it.

It's nice to have you here today, Mathias. Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?

Teacher, writer and psychotherapist, I have written for forty years. Struggled for years to shed being a teacher and to regain my humanity, I have succeeded. Underestimated my self and my intelligence — benign neglect by parents and all that sob story — I have worked real hard on deconditioning myself – read Krishnamurti – so that, combined with being a therapist, has helped me to see. I am a stranger in a strange land. I thrive in that wintry landscape.

When did you decide you wanted to become an author?

I suppose there are those who do that. I bumped into writing by my first effort, a poem, published in the high school yearbook, gutted by an English teacher who grossly misread it. Editors! What I suggest to people who ask about writing is that they purchase Mazola oil, go into the woods, and self-anoint themselves. It works.

Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?

I read because I was an introspective child, an observer. Early books were romantic such as Harold Lamb’s take on Robin Hood and Jewish Legends. The books mottled my mind, romanticized me, a la Don Quixote, a false reading of the real world. I read junk, good junk and superior junk. The key to this interview, dear reader, is to realize, as you do, if over 40, that we are the last to know ourselves. And the aggravating thing is, if we meet a good person or a gifted shrink, that others may grasp ourselves better than we do. And what is to be made of that?

Tell us a bit about Down to a Sunless Sea. 

In my middle age, frustrated, depressed, I wrote to understand who I was. I am an autodidact with all the defects of that. Stories were more therapy for my self than fodder for the reader. I never was really concerned about the reader. That has helped me serendipitously to this day. It is my assumption, given credence over the years, that I write for me, not you, in the expectation that you will pick up on it. And people do. In short, I made a pact with myself. I’d publish my book of short stories if all of them were published, as a testament to my craft. It took more than twenty years for that to happen, although not all stories were published. I’m constructed in this way, for the long haul, impatient in the present, patient for the years to come, although I now near my end, boo hoo.

The stories in Down to a Sunless Sea deal with the “deviant and damaged,” well, not exactly. They are epiphanies.I write about a cousin who had cerebral palsy and died driving a cab because he couldn’t handle the wheel with skill; about my daughter who had CFIDS; a macabre story about Juan Peron who had his hands cut off in his crypt –yummy – in fact, a story appeared in the Times about that and I was intrigued. And bingo! In 1974 Martha Foley listed me in The Best American Short Stories of 1974 for “Herbie.” I was listed with I.B. Singer, Joyce Carol Oates and dear Norman Mailer. I only recognized Mailer. I was so new at it.

I was now anointed as a writer. Curiously, the story is continually misread; perhaps I was too subtle. It is the mother in the story who is the real shark, killer and manipulator. Many readers omit her toxicity in their reviews. The i Tetralogy, a historical fiction, on the Holocaust is forever my most significant work and it has garnered remarkable reviews around the world. It is a sleeper and it is contaminated, for I take no prisoners and many of us are into denial about the Holocaust itself. In Down to a Sunless Sea, the story about Juan Peron has a parallel theme about Jews in Argentina, again overlooked in reviews; and “Alabaster” is a story about a Holocaust survivor, an unsweetened, non- sanitized look, I hope. Unconsciously I was writing about the Jewish experience, all preparation for my Tetralogy novel later on in life.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of –consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

To write an outline is to maim my efforts. I write intuitively, from the gut, with passion. I write and write, knowing that it is in revision that I prune the pear tree. What is most emblematic of how I work is in the effort to write about Nazis in the Tetralogy. I sunk into my self. I dwelt east of Eden. I learned that the species is by default a murderous one. So, it came to pass that I wrote Nazi poetry; I pushed myself, I considered that and I did it. I count so very much on the unconscious that it is my belief that all conscious writing is like the penmanship teacher in primary school holding your hand to help you make that cursive letter “p.”

What will the reader learn after reading your book?

We really don’t learn much from books except other people’s smarts. Again, I do not write for you. I write for me and for my understanding. I write without expectations of any readership, but I have a world of expectations for myself. What type of writer are you – the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes? I make no such distinctions. I am. I do not write a certain amount of words each day, having heard that conditional piece of advice for years. Who said so? Why? Did Tolstoy learn that when he took his MFA in Leningrad? I don’t read necessarily to deconstruct the artifice of a novelist. Read Hemingway too much and you’ll end up as a declarative sentence, noun and verb forever glued together. Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along? I leave anality for the last. I channel my unconscious, let it flow and then I cut back as necessary. I believe that I am a dugout on the vast Amazon River. I go with it.

Do you have any favorite authors or books?

I have read a great deal of Krishnamurti. His message is in my own work – the awakening of intelligence. However, Nikos Kazantzakis has always moved me, The Last Temptation of Christ, St. Francis and Report to Greco probably the greatest confessional since St. Augustine. He wrote a sequel in two volumes, in verse, to the Odyssey and by all accounts equaled Homer. I read him because when he writes about grapes I can taste the dew on their skins.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Marguerite Young, author, said that we should put the kitchen sink into our writings. To wit, in “Mortise and Tenon,” in the short story collection, I give information about Gustav Klimt, citing a few paintings that the characters see in the museum. It enriches the story, I believe.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

As you have gathered, I go my own way – should I go your way? Publishers fled from the The i Tetralogy. I don’t need someone else — it does help, I am human — to tell me this book is masterful; they ran away because of resistance and denial. America’s great contribution to the world besides Dick Cheney is marketing. I self-publish, draw inspiration from Thoreau, who only published 75 copies of Walden. When you die and I die, does it really matter who published us, except that our efforts are published – the rest is vanity.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

It is www.mathiasbfreese.com. Under "Pages" I have short essays or “factions,” published and unpublished, so you can get a sense of my interests – an essay for PMA discussing that the artist is never poor, to wit. I have links to reviews and interviews with me, especially David Herrle (www.subtletea.com), who does a terrific job. Parenthetically, Herrle did a 25 page literary analysis of The I Tetralogy which reflects as much upon his brilliance as it does upon my book. He was the first to state that the Tetralogy was a major literary effort, perhaps a work of art as well. The blog contains short essays as I go along in life and an ongoing memoir.

Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

I am into rewriting Sojourner, a historical fiction about a Chinese who ventures to California during the Gold Rush. It is a philosophical quest that he is on. I wrote it about the age of 40, revealing my existential discontent, a need to find purpose and intention in this world. All the while I taught, I wrote, and I went back to school to become a psychotherapist which again was a latent need to understand my self. I practiced as a therapist and felt purposeful. The other book is Gruffworld; the first chapter,“Covenant,” is on my website, published in a major magazine. It combines the analytic insights I metabolized as a writer and therapist and reflects my readings of Krishnamurti, especially dealing with the awakening of intelligence. It takes place in an apocalyptic world as a creature comes into self-awareness.

In your collection, you use various writing styles for the different stories. Was this a conscious decision? It also offers readers a dark glimpse into the troubled mind of the characters. What’s in the mind of the author?

I’d like to answer both questions in one amalgam. I always write in order to make sense of my life and situation, and “making sense” is both the writer’s goal and his ultimate folly After four decades I can say that I have made some headway in my craft, but existentially it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. I write to “soothe” myself and the terror of existence itself. We face two questions: life and death, and they are fierce deities, insatiable, terrific adversaries, I must add. To make sense is to give order, to be rational. “I did this because of that.” Oh, yeah.

After the Holocaust, all is farce. The species is shattered. And if I make sense, at all, it is only for me. The surprise of all my writing is that I don’t take it too seriously. I kiss no ass. I am compelled to write but the folly is in feeling that it does good. It all is in my patrimony, given to my children. I don’t care about readers per se other than the fun it provides when reviewed well or a gracious comment proffered about the book. I am greedy about life while I have it, not greedy about my books, except as an extension of whom I am and that gets awfully murky.

Short stories were written to express emotional states, and often the style was not a conscious choice. I was learning, I’m self taught, I was experimenting. I never went for a MFA (Argh!). I never took a course except one which I quickly left, the lecturer needed to be adored. I was rejected so many times that I developed a defense: arrogance, which, inn effect, said – your loss! Obviously I have been proven right. Even that haughty feeling doesn’t last.

Thank you for your insightful, thoughtful answers, Mathias.

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Dark and poignant, Down to a Sunless Sea is a short story anthology that takes us inside the minds of various disturbed, lost souls. Freese is not afraid to show us the harsh reality and emptiness of the characters’ mediocre, dysfunctional lives, and he does it with insight and his unique sense of literary style.

My favorite stories were “Little Errands,” “Herbie,” and “Juan Peron’s Hands.”

In “Little Errands,” an obsessed man is tormented because he can’t remember if he mailed two letters, or if the letters were properly placed in the mailbox.

I mailed the two letters, one is a parking ticket, the other partial payment for new carpeting. Or so I thought. I’m not sure that I mailed them, although I did close the slot and opened it again to check. The letters were not there, or so I thought. I was in a rush. I opened and close the tray again. The letters were gone. When I returned to my car, I felt sure that I had mailed them. I think I mailed them. I was unsure and uncertain. I’m sure the letters didn’t fall outside the mailbox.

And so it goes on for a number of paragraphs. Readers will learn what it’s like to be inside a troubled mind.

In “Herbie,” a young boy tries to stand up to his abusive father. This is a heart-wrenching glimpse into psychological and physical abuse that almost brought tears to my eyes. In this segment, Herbie snaps after his father tells him, yet again, “You’re a shit.”

Herbie felt his heart beat against his chest as if it had been thrown against a stoop. He imagined himself a circus geek, like Tyrone Power in the movie Nightmare Alley, ripping apart live pigeons, chomping upon their plump bodies as reddened sparkles of feathers stuck out like stars from his bloodied mouth. Herbie stalked out of his bedroom with an add gait, having lost one slipper. He chased his father into the kitchen like a geek on the spoor of a half-devoured pigeon. He spied his father, bent over, his hands wiping the back seams of his shoes with a dishrag, his body looking now like that of a small animal, perhaps a bird.

Herbie lunged at his father’s throat with both hands and as he was pushed off he slid down to his father’s leg, grabbed it, and gnashed his teeth into his thigh and bit down as hard as he could. Having a rubbery consistency, the flesh made a strange appeal and he opened his mouth wider in order to effect a deeper and wider bite, and in the process his father smashed the shoe brush down upon his head repeatedly as if beating a snake to death.

“Juan Peron’s Hands” is nothing short of macabre. The narrator breaks into the crypt of the famous politician and, with a machete, cuts off the corpse’s hands, wraps them in foil, and puts each one inside a trouser pocket. Later on, at home, he places them on the kitchen table.

Placing both hands before me, I uncurled the gnarled fingers, so that each hand was like the hand of Jesus, our savior, in church, frozen in stained glass. I grabbed each hand individually with my own, an intense and prolonged grasp, my eyes closed, my arm and living fingers intertwined with Peron’s steely cold, and papery digits, once magically unavailable. And I was in control—of myself, as, at last. I was complete, in possession. I had regained me.

These are not traditional stories with a beginning, middle, and end; instead, they are keen snapshots of the characters—their troubled psyches, their trapped lives; yet we as readers are still able to form a complete picture of the characters. In this sense, the collection is a fine example of character studies. The author worked as a clinical social worker and a psychotherapist for twenty-five years, and this becomes evident when you read his work. Another aspect of the book which stands out is that it is versatile, in the sense that the fifteen stories are written in different styles: lyrical, journalistic, satiric, and morbid.

Down to a Sunless Sea offers a sad, if not cynical, dark view of humanity, so if you’re looking for a collection of light, upbeat tales, this isn’t the book for you. Also, in spite of being a short little book, I found it quite profound and in fact had to read some of the stories twice to grasp their full meaning. Because of this, I would say this is also a demanding read.

If you enjoy serious literary fiction that is insightful, emotionally touching, and intellectually challenging, I recommend you give this book a try.

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