APS Classic

On “A Lucky Man” by Jamel Brinkley

APS Classic Victor LaValle July 15, 2016

These stories deal in large-scale deceit and betrayal, there are painful things at work in this fiction, but much like the scene I described above, Jamel Brinkley regularly finds ways to pierce through the dramatic and find the subtle and humane lurking within.


On “Yes” by Elizabeth Gaffney

APS Classic Sasha Saben Callaghan June 2, 2016

I began reading Elizabeth Gaffney’s short story with a wince of parental recognition. Pets are hell, and having to explain their traumatic demise to a small, tear-stained child usually leads to an existential crisis, followed by the dubious consolation of hunting down some equally doomed replacement.


On Colin Barrett’s “Stand Your Skin”

APS Classic Belinda McKeon March 31, 2015

Let’s start the morning and kill the day, says one of the teenage characters in Colin Barrett’s “Stand Your Skin.” The drink doesn’t help, thinks his central character, an anxious, life-ravaged young man nicknamed Bat, but it does help.

I wish it were otherwise, but if there are two lines that get more precisely at the grim reality of what life is like for large swathes of young people in present-day, recession-pulverized small-town Ireland, I’ve yet to read them. Bat spends his...


On Charles D’Ambrosio’s “The Dead Fish Museum”

APS Classic Leslie Jamison November 12, 2014

“The Dead Fish Museum” starts with a key that doesn’t work, presented to a motel clerk whose face is visible “through a circle in the slab of glass, cut like a hole in ice.” It’s a story full of people trapped—trapped by need or trauma or loneliness, trapped inside the stifling confines of a hastily erected porn set: “They’d boarded shut the windows and now, with fumes of fresh paint filling the warehouse, Ramage felt woozy.” Ramage is the guy who runs the carpentry crew. He...


On Dorthe Nors’s “Karate Chop”

APS Classic Daniel Woodrell October 22, 2014

To read a Dorthe Nors story is to enter a dream and become subject to its logic. Though her voice is subtly modulated, even cool, cerebral, you immediately feel pulled into a consciousness that is somehow off-kilter and quietly, darkly disturbed. Sometimes her characters seem merely odd, but somewhere along the way the merely is lost and the odd quality becomes stunningly human. Her wonderful collection, Karate Chop, is an exemplar of this compact artistry. You pass through her narrative,...

On Robyn Schiff’s “De La Rue’s Envelope Machine”

APS Classic Patricia Lockwood September 15, 2014

I'll read any poem about a machine. I honestly would read a poem about a toaster, or an ATM, or Rosie from The Jetsons. A poem about the first machine that folded envelopes? Why not just put a chocolate bonbon directly into my mouth; it is so completely my weakness. How does Robyn Schiff know me so well?

The first thing I do, of course, is look up what the hell any of this is—and I find the Wikipedia entry to be a stunning verbal innovation. Listen:

The "envelopes" produced by the Hill/De...

On Anne Carson’s “Ghost Q & A”

APS Classic Jillian Weise April 1, 2014

May we talk about poetry and magic? Or is it passé? I have a feeling it is passé. But still I hear poets say, “I don’t choose the form. The poem chooses the form,” or “The poem speaks to me.” They say these things flatly[...]


On Marilynne Robinson’s “You Need Not Doubt What I Say Because It Is Not True”

APS Classic Alexander Chee November 25, 2013

Do we need to make a case for fiction, you might ask. Especially if you write fiction, there may be no question, to you. But in my experience, for most of our fellow citizens, what we do is invisible, unimaginable. “I couldn’t do it,” so many people tell me. And if it is invisible and unimaginable, it is also, I’m afraid, indefensible.


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