In 1973, small was beautiful. This year, small is hot. The National Book Award recently went to a novel published by the tiny McPherson & Company, Jaimy Gordon's Lord of Misrule, and one of the four runners-up, was from Coffeehouse Press. Earlier this year, the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction went to Tinkers, by Paul Harding, from Bellevue Literary Press. We took a look at three other recent small-press titles that have been getting some love. The trio has little in common except the noncorporate nature of their publishers, but maybe that's just the point.
Set in the 1990s in the Pacific Northwest, The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich contains the hallucinatory, disjointed, plotless, yet bizarrely charming ravings of a young refugee from foster care who now belongs to a pack of teenage hobo vampires that rove convenience stores and supermarkets high on Robitussin and mop buckets of coffee. These feral, trashed-out bloodsuckers have nothing to do with the Twilight crowd, devoid as they are of sex appeal or commercial potential. Though the nameless narrator is supposedly searching for her missing foster sister, Kim, that quest loses steam. But some readers will stay with her for aperçus like this: "Truckers are mustachioed weirdos. They sleep in tiny apartments wedged between their big-ass engine and whatever they've got hitched back there. ... The foster-care industry directly feeds into the trucker industry. They're basically grooming personnel to occupy these positions over the course of many generations. I don't need to mention that the foster-care industry sustains the trucking economy with Roadside Slut Camps to quell workplace dissatisfaction." Warning: There's no explanation of the cryptic title anywhere in the book: Is "orange" being used as an adjective or a noun? Are "eats" and "creeps" nouns or verbs?
The Cannibal of Guadalajara by David Winner is a quirky comedy of manners set in New York and Mexico. Its central character is Margaret, a realistically drawn, sympathetic over-50 divorcee, whom we first encounter feeling ungainly and out of place at a singles bar in the Meatpacking District. To her surprise, a dark and handsome young man appears to woo her, bringing her martinis and returning to her apartment. She and Dante begin seeing each other, though he soon reveals himself to be ridiculously stubborn and deeply damaged by the childhood experiences that give the book its title. By then, however, Margaret has fallen in love with his charming upper-class Mexican immigrant family in Brooklyn, in whose elegant home they dine every Friday night. Meanwhile, her ex-husband, Alfred, reappears, first via e-mail dispatches from his world travels, then on her doorstep. A road trip and a platonic, quasi-familial ménage à trois ensue. Warning: The book is marred by a hideous cover and poor copy editing, though at times the typos add to the humor, as when a character's "huge breasts overflow unappealingly from her glittery brazier."