Midwestern Gothic: Issue 18 Editor’s Commentary

Midwestern Gothic: Issue 18 (Summer 2015)

Another summer, another issue of Midwestern Gothic! It’s amazing that no matter how long we do this, there’s always wrenches and new wrinkles that get thrown into the process. This issue will always stand out to me (I hope, if it happens again I’ll probably get committed to an asylum) as the one we lost. In the midst of copyediting, my hard drive fried and my multiple layers of redundancy backups failed, sending most of the work spent laying out the galley and making copyediting changes into the ether. I gave myself a half hour to feel bad for myself and ate some fast food that made me feel even worse, and then got right back at it.

The positive that came out of that experience was that I was able to get reacquainted with the stories and poems inside. There’s something about laying out a galley and designing how the words appear on the page that’s very tactile, almost like you can feel the work taking shape. And it reinforced why I enjoyed one of my favorite pieces in the issue, “Gen-Mods,” by Brian Pals. When I tell people about Midwestern Gothic, one of my usual lines is that we’re more than corn and cows. Well, this story is all about corn. Specifically, a group of men rogueing corn for Monsanto. That’s probably why I liked it so much, that it took the stereotypes about the Midwest and corn and showed how tradition has evolved into modern reality.

Even though big farming has evolved into numbers and chemicals, there are still men walking the fields, tending to the crops in very different ways than years ago. And the dynamics of this manual labor, overseer and worker, take on a different tone. It’s a nuanced piece takes place in the midst of a prominent debate (GMOs, Bee Extinction, etc.) without an agenda. In other words, it reflects life in the Midwest, good, bad, and ugly. Which is exactly what we’re looking for. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s possible, walking corn, to sweat yourself dirty and all the way back around to clean again. Everything flushes out, and by the end of a hundred-degree day in the field, that wet wash sliding out of your hatband doesn’t even have the taste of salt to it anymore. Pure water.

You could maybe go a day without showering, but what Honzo never seemed to get was you had to change clothes. One season he wore the same T-shirt¬, 1998 Stanley Cup, Detroit Red Wings, for a solid week of work. I doubt he really smelled much worse after than he did before, though. Honzo was just naturally ripe. Maybe he had more in his system to sweat out than the rest of us.

Whatever Honzo’s aroma was, his phone call meant money. Not easy money, or even especially big money for what you had to do to get it, but roguing cornfields for a couple, three weeks of a summer could help pay down a lot of debt. For me, it was legal fees.

Honzo would contract acres from one of the seed companies—Pioneer, Monsanto,
AgriGold—and call the crew together. Me and Dennis, maybe another guy or two. We’d walk the fields, miles back and forth, with spades sharpened up to chop rogues or volunteers, types of corn that deviated. It’s primitive work of the hand and foot, a job that usually gets started around mid-July, the hottest slice of summer. The last time I worked with Honzo, though, it got hot in May, even hotter over a rainless June, and the call came a good two weeks early.

“Ready to rogue corn, Shcotty?” Missing teeth up front, Honzo had to kind of side-lisp any word with a hissing sound in it. He had a growl in his voice, too, like a dopey cartoon dog who cursed a lot. “Monsanto’s got acres, and they need that shit walked like now. $16 corn, some of it.”

The pay was by the acre, scaled to how hard the work was. A $16-per-acre field meant tough walking and a big-enough check, if you could work long hours with a small crew.

Buy a copy of Midwestern Gothic: Summer 2015 – Issue 18 for the rest of the story, and many others inspired by the Midwest.

Exigencies: A Neo Noir Anthology from Dark House Press

Exigencies: A Neo Noir Anthology

If The New Black, Dark House Press’s first title, was the best of what was already out in the dark wild of the neo noir landscape, then their latest anthology, Exigencies, thrusts new progeny into the abyss with new twists on the genre.

Richard Thomas, the editor-in-chief is attempting to stake out a nuanced space in the oft over simplified horror genre. Most casual readers and non-fans may not think there are sub-genres to horror, likely associating their stereotypes about the genre to the limited experiences they may have with authors (Poe, Lovecraft, etc.) or even film. But they’d do themselves a favor by sampling this anthology, which applies a tone and aesthetic across straight horror, sci-fi, contemporary lit, and even fantasy. The space Thomas carves out is in feel, the “I’ll know it when I see it,” aesthetic, making this the perfect entry point into the new black for casual fans. Find something you like, then dig deeper.

Some of my favorite stories were “Cat Calls” by Rebecca Jones-Howe, which practically oozed sex from the page, but carried a latent undercurrent of threat and malice. The dread running under Letita Trent’s story, “Wilderness” was masterful and made me wish she’d extended the short into a full length work. (Maybe she has, be right back to go check.) The visceral violence of “Monster Season” by Joshua Blair actually made me put the book down for a moment and go grab a palate cleanser of something happy. And “Single Lens Reflection” had a certain poignancy to it that takes the expectation you’ve been given in the stories before and spins the genre on its head again.

Thomas says, “…in that pulsing abyss, that endless yawning void, there is a tiny light shining.” In some stories, it’s a glimmer of hope. In others, it’s the siren call, a trick to get you to break upon the rocks. In all the stories in Exigencies, it brings you in closer, calling out to the darkest things inside you.

Buy Exigencies Now

Upcoming Events and Appearances

June is going to be a busy month for me, as I’m speaking on several panels and attending some great literary events. I’d love to see you if you can make it to any of these!

Printer’s Row Lit Fest 2015
When: Saturday-Sunday, June 6-7
Where: Book Fort: Tent D, Quadrant 1
Additional details

Printer’s Row Lit Fest – After Party
When: Saturday, June 6 @ 7 PM
Where: Beauty Bar Chicago
Additional details

North American Review‘s Bicentennial Conference
When: Friday, June 12 @ 4:15 PM
Where: Bartlett Hall 2055, University of Northern Iowa, W 23rd St, Cedar Falls, IA 50614
Panel name: Many Americas: Discussions on Regional Writing’s Universal Importance
Who’s involved: Eric Boyd, Jared Yates Sexton, Sarah Shotland, and me, of course!
Additional details

Poets & Writers Panel: Chicago Agents and Editors
When: Saturday, June 20 @ 11 AM
Where: Instituto Cervantes, 31 W. Ohio Street, Chicago, IL
Who’s involved: Curbside Splendor, TriQuarterly, Poetry Magazine, and I’ll be repping Midwestern Gothic.
Additional details

Midwestern Gothic: Issue 17 Editor’s Commentary

Midwestern Gothic Summer 2014 Issue 16
The Spring Issue of Midwestern Gothic marks our entry into Year 4 of the journal, since we launched issue 1 in spring of 2011, this particular time of year serves as an anniversary of sorts and a marker of how far we’ve come. When folks ask at bookfairs if we’re new, I typically tell them that we’re not old, but not new either. I’m not sure when I’ll stop thinking of ourselves as a new entry to the lit scene, but it’s probably fast approaching.

It’s also interesting to me how different trends emerge as we put an issue together, and the trend that stood out to me this time around was how much short, short fiction we got. In a way, this almost feels like a flash fiction issue in that we received and selected more compact, powerful pieces of narrative than usual. One of my favorites from the issue was “Psychiatrist” by Corey Mertes, a short fiction about a strained relationship including a titular drinking game, which culminates in a pointed question designed to reveal a marital affair. The story examines the lead up to this moment from which there’s no going back and the fallout afterword in a way that perfectly captures the tension, second guessing, and “no going back” moments associated with decisions that come to define people. Here’s an excerpt:

She asks more questions. Rob replenishes drinks after everyone changes places for the third time. Allie thinks: Sometimes they tell the truth, other times they lie; sometimes they get up and move, and sometimes they don’t. Once in a while someone says “Psychiatrist,” but just as often they remain silent. She notices Suzanne can’t stop eating snack food and wonders if it is part of the game.

They change places after a lie, she notes, but not always—they move after the truth sometimes too. Where do they move to? Damn it! She hasn’t paid any attention to that. Now she’s really confused.

“Don’t be such a prude, Allie,” Greg says, after they’d been playing the game for half an hour. “Open it up a little.”

Everyone is laughing and having a good time except her. She tries to play along, to act the good hostess despite everything. Rule 6: Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. She asks Kristina when she lost her virginity, Andrew how many men he’s slept with. His response—fewer than fifty—evokes a selfcongratulatory chuckle from Travis, to his left, “Psychiatrist,” and then howls of laughter as everyone changes places again. Allie’s frustration escalates with each round. Why doesn’t Rob sense her alienation and come to her aid?

Buy a copy of Midwestern Gothic: Spring 2015 – Issue 17
for the rest of the story, and many others inspired by the Midwest.

Mariposa Grove – Solo Hiking in Yosemite and the Range of Light

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
-Henry David Thoreau

Read about my other two days in Yosemite – Pohono Trail and Cloud’s Rest

Day 3 – Mariposa Grove

My last day in Yosemite was my “easy” day, I drove to the southern end of the park and hopped on a shuttle bus into Mariposa Grove, an area with massive, ancient sequoia trees. There are two sections here, the lower and upper grove, and you can see nearly everything there is to see with only 4 or 5 miles of light hiking with moderate elevation gains.

I found most of the impressive trees to reside in the upper grove. The lower grove has a toppled sequoia, Grizzly Giant (the largest in the park by volume), and a photo op in a “tunnel tree,” one that’s was hollowed out to allow for the passage of cars and wagons. Now, you can only walk through them, which is fine, as treading near the roots of the trees can damage them.


In the upper grove, you’ll find the towering giants with the sheer bulk that’ll stop you in your tracks. Even though they look impressive in pictures, it’s impossible to appreciate the scale and majesty of these giants unless you come upon them in person. I spent several hours in the park wandering from tree to tree, stopping multiple times to read and enjoy the quiet.

Mariposa Grove - Yosemite

Another thing you’ll notice about the grove is the smell. If I could bottle up that aroma of pine and sun-kissed wood and bring it home, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

It was here that I encountered the most dangerous thing I’d come across in Yosemite. A pine cone. As I walked down the trail in the upper grove, I heard a long whistling sound and a thunk as one of the giant cones that hang from the trees hit the trail twenty feet in front of me. It was larger than my 32 oz. water bottle and weighed more than it full. I remembered how the bus driver on the ride of to Glacier Point had said that lumberjacks called these pine cones widow makers, and now I could see why.

Pinecone in Mariposa Grove - Yosemite

And with that, my trip to Yosemite was ended. I came away with an even greater appreciation for the national park system. When the park was founded, a stone company wanted to mine the limestone from El Captian to build homes. Without the protection of this national park, that awe inspiring sight would have been taken from millions. Back in the early 1900s, when they talked of preserving these lands for future generations, they were talking about me and everyone else in that park. And this American icon has led to the preservation of countless other natural wonders across the globe.

Read about my other two days in Yosemite – Pohono Trail and Cloud’s Rest

Sunset at Yosemite

Trails - Yosemite

Telescope Tree - Yosemite

Cloud’s Rest – Solo Hiking in Yosemite and the Range of Light

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
-Henry David Thoreau

Read about my other two days in Yosemite – Pohono Trail and Mariposa Grove

Day 2 – Cloud’s Rest

The hike to the summit of Cloud’s Rest is a 14.2 mile round trip trail that starts at Tenaya Lake, rises approximately 3K feet in elevation and ends with an incredible view from the back of the valley, sitting 5K feet above the valley floor. It’s a great hike with a little less traffic and offers you a different perspective on Half Dome and El Capitan.

Even though I’d done 23ish miles the day before, I still felt pretty good and set out in the morning in good spirits. The first mile of the trail is very calm – a serene mountain lake, sandy footpaths and mostly flat ground.

Tenaya Lake - Yosemite

The second mile is one of the most brutal sections of trail I’ve ever been on. You’re hit with a little over 1K in elevation change in less than a mile as you pick your way over rocks and rocky outcroppings. I was climbing this section along with several other groups, and all of us were stopping often, panting, heaving and wondering when it’d even out. It feels like the final stretch of a summit, but with none of the joy of reaching one.

Immediately following this, you plunge downward for a couple hundred feet and begin to question why you’re doing this. Luckily, the trail is much more moderate here in the middle section. You even pass by a quiet, pristine mountain pool and wind among giant boulders.

The last section of trail gets tough again, as you’d expect with the final stretch of any summit. After climbing above the tree line, it turns into a ridge hike, with a 5K foot bare rock drop down one side and 1.5K drop back into the forest on the other. I wouldn’t call it precarious by any means, the path is fairly broad, even and it’s not hard to get footing. But with those drops it’s easy for your mind to play tricks on you.

Clouds Rest - Yosemite

When you arrive at the summit, there are 360 degree breathtaking views. From here, you can continue on to Half Dome or turn back as I did. That brutal section isn’t any easier on the way down, and the cool waters of Tenaya Lake felt amazing on the battered soles of my feet.

Read about my other two days in Yosemite – Pohono Trail and Mariposa Grove

Tenaya Lake - Yosemite

Clouds Rest - Yosemite

Writing Process? Is There Such a Thing?

So a long time ago in a galaxy far away I was nominated by Midwestern Gothic contributor and all-around good guy, Lee Krecklow, for the Writing Process Blog Tour. The actual tour was probably over a long time ago and I am venturing into irrelevancy, which should give you a clue as to my answer to his call – what’s your writing process? How do you work? And away we go!

What are you working on?
What am I not working on? That may be a better question. Recently I quit my high-powered (middle management) advertising executive (middle management) job in lieu of striking out on my own as a consultant. This is also a busy time of year for Midwestern Gothic, with the Voices of the Middlewest Festival, AWP, a new book, new issues, and a few other surprises all in full gear. Plus I’ve got a family, plus I’m finding time to edit and work on a few short stories. Needless to say, my dance card is pretty full.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?
When it comes to writing and reading for pleasure, my genres are fantasy and sci-fi. I love being transported and experiencing metaphors and imagery that I’m not familiar with. Plus, I’ve always had a soft spot for space exploration and swords and sorcery. Usually, in my work, I try to make the story approachable – in that it’s not about the science or the world building, but the people and relationships within it. I tend to like to tell stories that are small as opposed to the big, sweeping epics as well. If I went back in time and created Middle Earth, my version would be more like The Children of Hurin as opposed to The Fellowship of the Ring.

Why do you write what you do?
Again, I’m going to go hard fantasy here and quote George R.R. Martin. “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” That same logic applies to writing, for me. It gives me a chance to experience and live something that I never would have otherwise.

How does your writing process work?
I’m typically a planner, in that once I get the seed of an idea, I like to rough a few things in before I draft. It’s helpful for me to write a one-sentence pitch for the story, something that gets my juices flowing, and, as a reader, would make me interested in reading. Then I rough in the characters, who they are, what they desire, and how they might conflict with those around them. Then I rough out the plot in scenes as a way to keep me focused on what’s next. If I’m writing a short story, I’ll usually plot the whole thing. If it’s a novel, I’ll usually work a chapter ahead. I find that way helps me discover the book as I draft vs. feeling boxed in to a predetermined plan that might not work. After that, I’ll typically edit in 4-5 passes, starting with broad, content issues and narrowing into things like dialog tags, filler words, etc.

And there you go! In the spirit of keeping this going, I’m nominating another person I’d like to hear from.

Michelle Webster-Hein has published work in River Teeth, Midwestern Gothic and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among other places. She holds an MFA in Fiction and Creative Nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. She also works as a co-editor of River Teeth’s “Beautiful Things” series, which grew from an essay of hers by the same title. Her essay “Counting Apples” was listed as “notable” in Best American Essays of 2014. She lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan with her husband and children.

Pohono Trail – Solo Hiking in Yosemite and the Range of Light

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
-Henry David Thoreau

Read about my other two days in Yosemite – Cloud’s Rest and Mariposa Grove

Pohono Trail - El Capitan

Last Labor Day, I took a much needed solo expedition to Yosemite, a national park that’s long been on my bucket list. 2014 came with the level of stress at work that leaves you feeling strangled and trapped, so much so that I decided to embark on a drastic career change (which only created a new, different level of angst.) This trip came at the perfect time, it was exactly what I needed to reset, unplug, and regain perspective.

As a procrastinator, I waited too long to plan my trip – two months out and on a holiday weekend, all the back country passes were taken, so I made my basecamp at Yosemite West, a KOA campground in Mariposa. It was far less expensive than staying in the valley and only forty-five minutes via car to the trailheads I wanted to explore. And an unexpected bonus was getting to witness the sunset over Half Dome and Cloud’s Rest every morning as I drove in.

Day 1 – Pohono Trail

The Pohono Trail is a 15-mile rim trail that hugs the south side of Yosemite Valley. If you want a sampling of everything hiking in Yosemite has to offer, this is it. This trail is not for the faint of heart – it’s 15 miles, about 3.5K in elevation change and unless you have two cars, you’ll probably have another six miles in the valley to get back where you started at Yosemite Lodge.

Getting up to the trailhead is easy – buy a one-way bus ticket from Yosemite Lodge to Glacier Point. This was the only guided experience I had in the park, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, the driver supplies you with plenty of inspirational and interesting stories about wildlife in the park, mountaineers climbing the many cliff faces, and the history of this incredible landscape, which is truly the birthplace of the national park idea. When I got off the bus, I had one of those soaring, awe-struck feelings in my gut.

Pohono Trail - Half Dome

Glacier Point sits 4,000 feet above the valley floor, and has stunning views of Half Dome. I spent about an hour wandering and gazing out over the hazy expanse as the sun rose. Several spot fires were burning in the distance. And I was treated to the heartbeat-skipping sight of a dad taking his ten-year-old out onto Hanging Rock, an tiny outcropping that dangles over the void. I couldn’t watch and started my hike.

Hanging Rock - Pohono Trail

The Pohono Trail winds past Sentinel Dome and continues on to Taft Point in its first section, which is well traveled and marked. This section is a popular day hike, and I don’t think I was ever more than a hundred yards from another person. Along the way you’ll find the Fissures and then Taft point, another dizzying overlook with nothing more than a metal bar between you and a yawning panorama of El Capitan and Half Dome. I found myself stopping multiple times to sit on the edge of the cliff to take in the air and the view.

Pohono Trail - Taft Point

Between Taft Point and Inspiration point, the trail turns into a bit of a slog. This 4- to 5-mile section veers away from the ridge and wanders through the woods. I was treated to moss covered trunks, sandy trails, and dry creek beds. It was here that I decided to change where I was planning on hiking on Day 2 and 3, the drought had strangled every single creek bed I crossed. There was no water to be had. I’d downed 32 oz. at Glacier Point and carried 64 oz. more, but I was planning on making it to the Bridalveil Falls viewing area restroom to replenish, since it didn’t seem I’d be able to filter any water.

Past Inspiration Point, the trail gets much rockier and takes a steep downward turn – the bulk of your elevation change can be found here. If you’re hiking the trail from Tunnel View up to Glacier Point, congratulations, you’re in much better shape than I am. Bonus insanity points if you try to do the 30-mile round trip in a day. Most times, I find going downhill harder on the body than uphill, especially when it’s steep.

As I stomped down this section of trail, I heard a noise behind me, and turned to catch a flash of brown fur. My immediate thought was “Shit. Mountain Lion. My wife and mom were right.” After the adrenaline surge faded, I realized it was only a deer. The thing regarded me as it walked down the path, and I slowly backed away to keep distance. As it kept coming, I veered off into the forest, thinking it merely wanted to use the trail. But the deer turned off the path and probably got within two arm’s reach. So I raised my walking stick, yelled, and almost fell over myself. If anyone had been watching, I’m sure they would have died laughing.

After the deer, I made it to the valley floor, out of water and with sore joints. I arrived at Bridalveil Falls only to discover no running water. It was near 5 p.m., and the shuttles (still 3 miles away) were stopping. I had 6 miles to the lodge. I drew a little inspiration from Cheryl Strayed in that moment and kept telling myself, “There’s only one option. Keep walking.”

Pohono Trail - Wild, Cheryl Strayed

The 6-miles from Tunnel View to Yosemite Lodge is unremarkable, under trees and steps from the road. When I got to the lodge, I monopolized the water fountain, refilled my bottles and headed home for the day.

Read about my other two days in Yosemite – Cloud’s Rest and Mariposa Grove

Forest Fire - Pohono Trail

Pohono Trail - Trees

Pohono Trail - Fissures

Pohono Trail - Half Dome

Pohono Trail - Overlook

Pohono Trail - Yosemite Overlook

Midwestern Gothic: Issue 16 Editor’s Commentary

Midwestern Gothic Summer 2014 Issue 16
The Winter Issue of Midwestern Gothic is a little extra special this time around because it features the winners and finalists of our first ever Lake Prize, an annual awards for fiction and poetry that best represents the Midwest. It seeks to reward those who see the beauty of the region, whether that be quiet forests, gutted industrial wastelands, small towns or vibrant urban neighborhoods. The first time round, we got two stellar judges, Ander Monson and Mary Biddinger, and honestly, we couldn’t have been happier with the response we got to the contest.

While I loved all the Lake Prize entries, I wanted to highlight one of the other stellar pieces we published, “Longing” by Ben Tanzer. It’s a familiar scene to most folks, neighbors spending time together with their kids. But underneath that runs the protagonists desire for something different than what he’s got now. Is it freedom, is it the separateness that alcohol brings, or is it acting on the sexual tension he perceives between himself and the other husband? Longing, to me, is something core to a lot of the Midwestern experience – most folks have the responsibility and the integrity to hang on to something far longer than they should, even when what the desperately want and need is something else. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s what we, Lisa and I, do with them, Rita and Mark. Someone comes into a bottle of something new, different, on a work trip, or vacation, maybe from some random visitor from out of town, and we drink it until it’s gone, slowly for the most part, and civilized.

When the kids were younger we were more self-conscious about drinking until things got blurry or we couldn’t walk home easily. Back then there were diapers to change and bottles to heat-up.

Now we just let them run and run around Rita and Mark’s house, watching the same movies again and again, while we just drink and drink.

Tonight it’s whiskey.

I could tell you that I don’t have a problem with alcohol, but that’s what problem drinkers tend to say, and I am not a problem drinker.
They also tend to say that I only drink when I want to, that I can stop whenever I want, and that it doesn’t interfere with my life.

All of which I have definitely said, and all of which I mean.

Still, if you drink until things are blurry, and you cannot easily walk, and this despite the fact that your children are just steps away watching Despicable Me or chasing Guinea Pigs around the house, you might have a problem.

The real question I suppose is do I ever long for a drink, and the answer to that is yes, all the time. I can taste the alcohol hit my tongue even when it isn’t there, and feel the warmth burn the back of my throat.

So, do I long for that, that feeling of being both alive and dead all at once? Yes, endlessly.

Buy a copy of Midwestern Gothic : Winter 2015 – Issue 16 for the rest of the story, the Lake Prize winners and finalists, and many others inspired by the Midwest.

Fig, by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz

Fig, Sarah Elizabeth Schantz5 of 5 Stars

Bittersweet has never been as beautiful, heartbreaking, and provoking as it is in Sarah Elizabeth Schantz’s coming-of-age tale, Fig.

When Fig realizes Mama is sick, the deep love she bears for her mother becomes her burden as well. She takes on the fierce battle to help Mama reclaim her mind from a disease as constricting as barbed wire, schizophrenia. An insurmountable task for a six-year-old. Over the course of the novel, Fig makes daily sacrifices, ones she fully believes will make Mama whole again, but instead ends up losing herself in the process.

Schantz’s writing style can best be described as evocative, lovely and heartbreaking. She achieves clarity in communicating the raw emotion of her characters in a way that feels unrushed, yet there are no wasted breaths in Fig. Each word, sentence and paragraph reveals the unplumbed depths of the novel’s layers in a way that makes you want to gather the young Fig into your arms and say, “There, there. It’s going to be O.K.,” even though you can see no way out of the despair her family is trapped in.

While the book centers around characters with mental disease, I felt Schantz avoided making an overt, unearned commentary on mental illness, aside from that the people it affects are so much more than their condition. Schizophrenia and OCD manifest in Fig and her mother in good and in bad ways, and both are people that are worthy of compassion. Often, those who struggle with these types of conditions are ignored or broomed into the corners of society – Schantz shows us that these people are our mothers, our daughters, our fathers and sons. We should not relegate them to the edges.

The novel also explores the nuanced relationship between daughter and mother, girl and woman, self and other. It’s a rare debut from an author that bares the soul not only of the characters, but of the reader as well.

If you want to read and remember one book this year, make sure it’s Fig.

Order Fig Now