Literary Magazines Every Emerging Writer Should Read

Especially the uninspired, which unless you’re going through a writing streak (lucky you!), is most of us. Poets & Writers! Tin House! AGNI! Why should you care these magazines exist? Do you even care? I didn’t, once. But having since been liberated from sub-rock living, I’ve had the chance to read one clear and moving story after another, discover new writers, and learn about my own writing.

In general, writers who read books have a leg up on those who do not. Those reading-writers who read outside of one genre; the leg raises even higher. And those who read literary magazines; both legs fly in the air.  

I’ve mentioned before the value of reading work other writers are creating (and in turn, what publishers are currently reading) is priceless. Literary magazines are a world where short stories, poetry, and essays from emerging and experienced writers come together without judgement and create a mix of beautiful voices. The sweetest part? A lot of magazines regularly accept unsolicited submissions, so writers who may never have had the opportunity to be seen end up getting published.

Just like the blogosphere, literary magazines create community, discussion, and information exchange. Keeping this in mind, I compiled a list of magazines every emerging writer should read, love, hug, enjoy, feel a strange sense of jealousy towards, and learn the craft from. Although I refer to the print versions of these magazines most of these have the option to read online, making infinite entertainment and knowledge just a thumb tap away.

Tin House. Published four times a year.

For the writer seeking clear voice and quirky plots.

Tin House features short stories, essays, poetry, author interviews, book reviews, and a Lost and Found section that focuses on under appreciated books of the past. Publisher Win McCormack writes of the magazines creation, that he “wanted to create a literary magazine for the many passionate readers who are not necessarily literary academics or publishing professionals.” and he succeeded ten-fold. Tin House stays true to this by ensuring at least one undiscovered writer and poet is presented in each issue.

Poets & Writers. Published bimonthly.

For the writer seeking information on the ins and outs of the ‘industry’.

Contest deadlines, author interviews, stories, discussion articles on what’s new in the writing world, the information, tips from authors, support, and community P&W provides is endless. Their work is rooted in fostering “the professional development of poets and writers,  to promote communication throughout the literary community, and to help create an environment in which literature can be appreciated by the widest possible public.” They have a huge online presence where all of this information is much easier to funnel down and return to in this format, outlining the steps you could make towards turning your fun writing habit into a career.

Boulevard. Published three times a year.

For the writer interested in contemporary literature, arts, and culture.

Boulevard magazine publishes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and although names like John Updike are present in a long list of authors who have published work in this magazine,  Boulevard likes to see “less experienced or unpublished writers with exceptional promise.” Poetry and short story contests are held often, so it is easy to discover new authors with varied experience levels and backgrounds.

One story. Published eighteen times a year.

For writers looking for the great story.

One Story features one short story per issue, good enough to stand alone in a magazine. This means there is a lot of due diligence behind finding that story, and what is chosen is always top quality writing with clear voice, and a story that has never been told before. I especially recommend this for writers in a rut. Reading just one story and studying it, rather than reading one short after the other, can be a good technique for particular writers to learn.

AGNI. Published twice a year.

For the writer searching for meaning in stories.

Created by once aspiring writer, Askold Melnyczuk, AGNI aims to showcase a new generation of writers and visual artists, and is known for publishing well known writers at the start of their careers. Publications see “writers and artists hold a mirror up to nature, mankind, the world; they courageously reflect their age, for better or worse; and their work provokes perceptions and thoughts that help us understand and respond to our age.” AGNI pushes emerging writers to give context and meaning to their own work, and ask themselves “why?” rather than writing just for the sake of it.

Granta. Published four times a year.

For the writer with wanderlust.

Granta is so old they have published work from Sylvia Plath, but don’t let that scare you emerging writers away (after all, Plath was once considered ‘emerging’ at some point too, right? Right?!). Every issue has a particular theme and it’s great to see how each writer tackles the challenge. Focused in essays, photojournalism, contemporary realist fiction, and showcasing the best voices from around the world; the UK, US, Norway, Brazil, Japan, Spain, to name a few. Granta shows emerging writers a global perspective when it comes to storytelling and observing the world around us. 

All of these magazines are just the very limited few emerging writers should consider buying/downloading and giving a long read, whether you’re trying to learn about writing, the industry, or just find new and interesting voices. Let me know in the comments what magazines you would add to this list! Are you already addicted to any of these publications? Do you remember any particular literary magazines that helped you develop as a writer?

Writing & the Social Media Circus

Modern Keyboard With Colored Social Network Buttons.
Photo: Rival IQ Insights

I’ve been trying to decide whether having a social media account is very useful for a writer in my situation; one who’s growing and wants to publish work eventually. When I decided to start blogging about books and writing I had no idea how much social media would be a part of that, until I was asked time after time whether I had some type of social media account. The answer was (and still is) no, except for one attempt at an Instagram account that turned into a much needed forum for me to watch cat videos on while at work. I’ve never kept up my personal social media account so dread the idea of having to create and maintain an account just to promote, network, and link back to my posts, especially when that’s exactly what I avoid seeing in my feed. There’s the worry of when to start a social media account, what to post, when to post it, and all the ‘likes’ and commenting that needs to be done in between. It takes a lot of energy, almost as much as maintaining a blog.

I may not be able to shirk off joining Facebook or Twitter or Google+ forever since there are clearly many positives to having a presence on social media, like connecting with a large audience around the globe quickly, without shelling out a penny, being able to promote your work (again, for free), and linking up with other writers without having to leave home (the writer’s life is one of self inflicted perpetual alone time). But along with the positives come a few negatives, like the shortening attention spans of tl;dr readers looking for a quick bathroom stall read, the extinction of paperback books, and 140 character limits that all have contributed to changing the way writers are expected to write. You could see this shortening and need to read things very quickly as a reason to get creative. A lot of writers are amazing at creating short, hilarious, and useful twitter posts, which is a lot harder than it looks, but I’m not one of them. A foothold in social media seems imperative for success if you’re planning on publishing, and most writers have multiple forums to express themselves on, but I think I will be waiting a little longer before joining the social media circus.

Do you struggle with getting into social media to promote your work? How long did you wait before starting a social media account? Is it possible to keep up with your social media account without going insane?


Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

everythinginevertoldyouLydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

If you have heard anything about Celeste Ng’s (that’s pronounces “ing” her twitter and website will have you know!) debut novel Everything I Never Told You this first line is probably it. It’s plastered all over synopsis’ and reviews because Creative Writing 101 tells us the first line of a story is what will attract (or distract) a reader. Seeing Celeste Ng obviously had a good understanding of this I knew I was in for a good time. I picked up a copy from my mum’s bookshelf and quickly read a few paragraphs before pocketing it. My mum now supervises my visits to her study, with good reason.

Everything I Never Told You is about the Lees, a mixed Chinese and Caucasian family living in Ohio in the 1970s. When sixteen year old Lydia Lee disappears and is found drowned a day later, her parents Marilyn and James, older brother Nath, and younger sister Hannah go through the motions as an investigation starts and the events leading up to Lydia’s death are picked through with a fine tooth comb, forcing them to question how well they really knew Lydia. It’s not long before we find that Lydia was an integral part of the family which, without her, starts to fall apart at the seams like a cheap dress coat. The plot goes back and forth in time, through Marilyn and James’ early relationship and marriage, Lydia’s dealings with her school mates and few friends, all revealing secrets long the way. Perspective is switched from one family member to another which adds a closeness to each of their stories, including Lydia. At first this reads like a mystery or thriller but as the story unravels a majority of the focus falls firmly on each family member’s memory of Lydia and what they believe were the events leading to her death, rather than how she died or who is responsible.

As the title suggests, this novel focuses on things left unsaid and the repercussions that linger because of it, which was the main reason I was pulled through the book. I was curious who would find out about someone else’s dirty business, curious who would be left in the dark, curious about what was being left unsaid to us readers. Celeste Ng puts together poetic sentences and knows how to paint a scene with her words, making this book an easy and enjoyable read for me for the most part. But, there is a lot of hand holding through plot assumed too difficult for readers to figure out for themselves, which is unnecessary since those moments were very predictable. There were times I knew I was supposed to think Oh, no way! but would just think Knew it. and want to move on to the next juicy thing happening. This book is very “juicy”. Lots of drama and chaos on the surface, but little meat or real substance when in the thick of it. 

Everything I Never Told You pushed me to ask myself some questions: 1. Can a character be too unlikeable? Yes. 2. When is a character too unlikeable? When I stop caring what happens to him/her. I could not stand Marilyn and James, prime examples of parents who project their fears and shortcomings onto their children (if you’ve seen Trophy Kids on Netflix, ‘nough said). While Lydia is alive they neglect their two other children, Hannah and Nath. Marilyn seems to forget Hannah even exists as she sets the dinner table for four instead of five, and can usually be found helping Lydia with homework or in a daze thinking about her lost dreams of becoming a ‘woman doctor’. A dream long gone after marriage and three kids. When Lydia dies her parents go from neglectful, selfish, and oblivious to emotionally and physically abusing to their two remaining children.

When is a character too unlikeable? When they have literally no redeeming features. The kids are pretty shitty people too, but through no fault of their own.

Relationships and family dynamics are exaggerated to the point that whenever Marilyn talks to Lydia it is always about getting good grades and becoming a doctor. James only sits Lydia down to remind her how great it is to have friends, even boyfriends, and be popular. I know what Celeste Ng is trying to drive home, but it is overstated and at every opportunity. With Marilyn being Caucasian and James being Chinese American in 1970s Ohio race is discussed endlessly throughout the book. A nice perspective to write on, but again was exaggerated at every opportunity. James is self conscious about being one of few Asian people in Ohio. His teaching assistant (also Chinese, go figure) is surprised to see a family photo with him and his gasp white wife (and actually says this). Lydia is James’ favorite child because she looks the whitest.

And there is no way to make that sentence sound any less ridiculous.

James would love to take a wet wash rag to his skin and magically wash away his Asianess and cannot stand the sight of Nath because he’s a spitting image of him in complexion, appearance, and timid personality. He often yells at or hits Nath whenever a little too much of his younger self shows through Nath’s actions or speech.

His not getting a promotion is because he is not white. He has no friends because he is not white. He feels like an outcast in his own family because he is not white.

This is the point their relationships and dialogue became uninteresting and unbelievable and I stopped wondering what happened to Lydia since she was better off dead anyway.

I have never read a story where I ended feeling so conflicted about the framework and the author’s writing. Although I closed the book feeling slightly pleased by the ending I knew I was supposed to be weighed down by the revelations that came to light, but they were lost on me since I had stopped caring. I kept on reading for Celeste Ng’s fluid style and beautiful sentences. And the juicy bits.

What books have you read that left you feeling conflicted? Do you enjoy reading about unlikable characters? When do you think an author can make their character too obnoxious?

Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

oscarwaoImagine my surprise when I was settling in for a read of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao to find Spanish words with no translations, a lack of distinct speech marks, and half a page worth of footnotes… historical footnotes about Rafael Trujillo’s dictatorship from page 2. I panicked, thought This isn’t what I signed up for. If I’d been a lesser person (which most times I am) I would have put the book aside for another day (never), but what I’ve learned from my recent turns in different genres/authors is that the weird usually are the most rewarding – and this story definitely lived up to this.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was written by Junot Diaz and originally published in The New York Times as a short story before 300 or so additional pages of plot were written for the full length novel. The De Leon family is cursed with extreme bad luck (fuku) that follows them from Santo Domingo to the US and back again with Oscar at the helm of the story. He’s an overweight ghetto nerd who dreams of becoming the next “Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien” and loves hard where love avoid him like the plague. A 23 year old sci fi loving virgin who “could tell you the difference between a Veritech fighter and a Zentraedi walker”, mama’s boy, and permanent resident of the friendzone. Oscar’s personal fuku is that he desperately wants to find love but has the social skills and physique of a potato. An unknown narrator is relentless in exposing Oscar’s shortcomings one awkward encounter, friendzoning, and barely stifled laugh after another.

“Perhaps if like me he’d been able to hide his otakuness maybe shit would have been easier for him, but he couldn’t. Dude wore his nerdiness like a Jedi wore his light saber or a Lensman her lens. Couldn’t have passed for Normal if he wanted to.”

The unknown narrator, an obvious ladies man as he goes on to tell us how much he loves jumping from one pussy to another, is (if we can go back to high school literature for a moment) Oscar’s foil. He excels where Oscar fails; he’s better looking, funnier, a better writer, no doubt he’s has slept with more women than Oscar ever will. And even though some of this can read like useless kissing and telling, it all builds upon Oscar’s image as the A-Typical Dominican Male, and when the narrator finally reveals himself the reader is left thinking That’s who’s left to tell Oscar’s story? Just another layer of salt in Oscar’s wounds.

Junot Diaz is brilliant at selling you one thing and giving you a healthy amount of ‘other’ in terms of plot and subplot. The story is supposed to be about Oscar’s wondrous life and the first fifty pages break down his character with interesting detail but afterwards the reader is pulled through over a hundred pages that (at first) seem to have nothing to do with Oscar. Again, I thought, I didn’t sign up for this! but continued through it for multiple reasons; 1. Junot Diaz’s writing style is hilarious. 2. There was a good amount of sci fi jargon. This pleases me. 3. Curiosity would not let me put the book down until the narrator revealed himself to me. 4. I was still having fun learning about the different ways the fuku had it’s way with each family member; Oscar’s rebellious sister Lola, their embittered mother Beli, and her father Abelard – the first to feel the full force of the fuku, losing his reputation and livelihood during Trujillo’s dictatorship.

This is where Diaz may have lost some readers, but it is impossible to appreciate Oscar’s story without learning about the events that happened before and around him. To understand the nuances of Beli and Lola’s turbulent and often violent relationship we first need to learn how similar the two are. We need to know about Beli’s gruesome childhood, her lost loves, her brush with death because of her third and final lover simply named the Gangster. To understand how Beli’s path was set in stone we first need to learn about her father’s life, status, and circumstances that led to the fuku first touching the family. Only then does Oscar’s wondrous life make sense, and the dovetailing that comes later makes all of this worth it.

The main negative I found in this book echo a lot of what Roxane Gay had to say about the book in Bad Feminist. Junot Diaz, like Oscar, is originally from the Dominican Republic and moved to Jersey, they are both writers and fans of science fiction. He clearly writes what he knows, and although this works really well for the most part there were times I found it jarring. The image of the Average Dominican Male that shows throughout the story is obsessed with breasts, women, and other women – whether this is a huge exaggeration or not does not bother me as much as how tedious this became the more I saw it throughout the plot. Beli is head over heels with her Gangster but he barely looks up from her breasts when they are in each other’s company. Lola is in love with a man who seems physically incapable of not sleeping with other women. Even Oscar’s close calls to relationships come down to whether he is finally going to get laid or not.

Despite that drawback Diaz has a way of adding layer upon layer to his characters until you root for them, care about the choices they make, care whether they live or die. These characters are palpable, despicable, understandable, and grow more life with every line that details their actions and motivations behind them.  For the less patient reader this could have been tedious or seen as a bloated version of the original short story, but if you’re willing hear the family’s story before going on to Oscar’s brief and wondrous life you’ll find the journey is worth the ride.

Review: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

all-the-light-we-cannot-see-9781476746586_hrPrior to joining this book club as a way to broaden my genre horizons I had avoided the historical fiction section of any bookstore like the plague. But for some reason I was intrigued when I heard we would be reading All The Light We Cannot See, a story about Marie Laure, a blind Parisian girl, and Werner, a German orphan boy, whose polar opposite lives eventually collide during Nazi occupied France. The potential for a romance and star crossed lovers situation were the first thoughts that came to mind after reading the synopsis, and I held onto this hope when I found out the book was five hundred and thirty two pages long, and even when Amazon would only sell hardback copies for $17… I decided I was in it for the long haul.

So after coddling this five pound book for a month and a half between Los Angeles, London, and Paris, floundering between liking it and not, I finally finished and marked another occasion where I don’t understand the popularity behind a book.

The language Anthony Doerr uses is no doubt beautiful and imagery particularly during Marie-Laure’s chapters make you feel as if you are fingering your way through Saint-Malo and the halls of her uncle’s creaky home, but the constant person, time, and location changes frequently put me off. At one point the story would be with a young Marie-Laure on one of her many walks with her cryptic father, and a few pages later the plot would be catapulted years into the future with a teenage Werner in military academy. These changes flip between Werner and Marie Laure every chapter so it is easy to decipher which character will be the focus, but being thrown into a random time and place every few pages frequently took me out of the story.

My main issue with this book is that I lost interest in it. The story was not lacking in interesting characters or page turning moments, but when I got halfway through (and realized that was only page 270!) reading the book turned from something to pass the time, to a chore. Rather than look forward to finding out more of the plot I counted the pages until I would be finished. And I looked forward to meeting with the girls in my book club to hear whether I was the only person who could not appreciate literature, or whether they too, had no idea why this book had such a huge following.

After all this it turned out I had to work so could not go to the discussion, but the general consensus was-’…I didn’t finish it/I didn’t like it,except for one girl who fell in love with the story.

I think it is best that I go back to avoiding the historical fiction section of my book store and venture into romance next time I feel like trying something new.


An Afternoon at the Diner


Maggie slipped a knife and fork into her designer handbag hoping no one had noticed. Something to remember this day by. She always thought this when she took something that was not hers. At a coffee shop she would take magazines. At the hair salon she would steal shampoo, conditioner, maybe a hair curler if she was feeling brave. Sometimes she would go to donation yoga just to take money out of the box. Little thefts had grown big since she could remember. She looked up from a pictured diner menu and saw a miserable waitress charge towards her.

“What did you put in your bag there?” her breath smelled like she had not eaten in hours.

Maggie was calm. She had been called out from time to time when someone saw her taking something, but her looks – the blond curls, put together outfits and demeanor, made people doubt what they had seen.

“Nothing,” she pulled a pair of tweezers from her bag “just doing some maintenance.”

“Uh huh, maintenance. Well buy something or get the hell out, I can’t maintain a business if people just come in and sit here.”

“I’m waiting for my father.”

Les came into the diner backwards holding a box with “DO NOT THROW AWAY” scrawled on the side. He held it high on his chest and could barely see over it. Maggie only knew it was him from his tired talking shoes.

“Maggie!” he yelled from the door and stumbled over. He threw the box down on the floor and opened his arms wide for a hug. Maggie did not get up so he did a weird self hug and sat down.

He turned to the waitress “Hey Betty, get us some menus will ya?”

Betty pulled her mouth into a fake smile and revealed a snaggletooth painted purple with lipstick before walking away.

Maggie looked at her dad closely for the first time. Grooves lined his face and she wondered when he had gotten so old. His shirt was two sizes too small and he had used his name tag in an attempt to hide a toothpaste stain. A grown man that wore his hair long with the ends girlishly tucked in. Somewhere in those years he had started dying it a schoolboy blond. He caught her staring at his hair.

“I know,” he licked his fingers and patted down “I get a lot of shit, but your mom likes it so, y’know.” He shuffled in his chair, pulled his tiny shirt down over his belly. “She says sorry she couldn’t make it.”

Maggie scoffed internally with her lips tightened – Right. Sorry. Her father looked around, trying to find something to talk about. “Nice place, huh?”

He had chosen the diner and knowing he would insist on paying, despite having to take a bus ride in to do so, Maggie agreed to meet him there. A layer of grease sat on the pleather booths, she could feel her calves sticking to them. She had placed her handbag on top of an unfolded napkin on top of the table and it jingled with cutlery. The menu, some crayons, and the salt and pepper shaker were stuffed inside too. A party of diner souvenirs. The table was littered with splotches of gravy or ranch dressing or sour cream from the previous patrons. Betty brought them stale bread and glasses of mostly ice water. Her few grey hairs were spiked with too much gel that dripped on the table when she leaned over to put more cutlery down.

“Is that my stuff?” Maggie nudged the box by her foot and could see it was full of junk, clothes, pictures, books. She sipped the water and even the cup had a greasy film to it. She took three splendas and mixed them in with a straw. Les smiled “C’mon Magpie, let’s at least eat first. Want me to get you one of those sundaes you like?” He was already waving the hunchback waitress back over. “What was it? Chocolate? Vanilla?”

Maggie never liked vanilla or chocolate ice cream or sundaes, but her younger sister Alice had. Every Friday when they were young Les would take his two girls out for ice cream sundaes completely forgetting one of his daughter’s had no interest in them. Alice would leave full, her face smeared with sprinkles and Les would puzzle over why Maggie had barely eaten half – Ha, since when don’t you like sundaes? Maggie wanted to remind him but the dinosaur of a waitress had already trudged over, much nicer than last time. “Whaddya want, love?”

“Chocolate’s fine.”

Les ordered a beer and yelled “Not all froth like last time!” throwing the old waitress a wink.

He turned back to Maggie, leaned forward and rubbed his hands together as if he was preparing to hear some gossip,

“So Magpie, what’s new, how’s Los Angeles?”

“I’ve told you before, I live in Miami.”

“Ha!” he forced his mouth open wide to laugh revealing few pearly teeth. Maggie counted ten, maybe twelve. “Since when?”

“Since always.”

“Ah, well y’know you’re old man, I’ve never been good remembering things.”

Maggie could not recall the last time her dad had remembered something she had told him. He constantly forgot her birthday, calling her just before midnight to redeem himself – Daddy just gets so busy sometimes, you understand. She did not understand. Les worked part time at a movie theater so he was hardly busy. Him and his much younger co workers spent the day drinking butter from behind the confectionery stand and sometimes he would be found drunk and passed out in the back of the screenings. Maggie had gone down to pick him up twice before it got too embarrassing.

The box almost fell apart as she lifted it on the table and rifled through finding her treasure of stolen items throughout high school and college in Georgia. Stuffed inside was a plush bathrobe she could not remember owning, some children’s toys, and endless books stamped with “Property of Kennesaw Library”

“Is that all of it?”

“Yup.” Les burped his beer loudly. “I don’t know why you want all this shit for anyway.”

In amongst the box of stolen odds and ends was something she did not recognize. She turned it this way and that. It was damp, soft with fur. She smelled it and it was sour like bad salami. Maggie tried to place it. Was it some board eraser she had swiped from her teacher’s class? Maybe a shoe insert from the summer she worked down at Shoe Bargain, before getting fired. She flipped it upside down and spotted two sharp yellow points. Two very sharp, very yellow teeth. It was a dead rat.

“What the hell, there’s a rat in here!” her eyes blinked rapidly at Les, she threw the thing on the table.

“Ha,” that toothless laugh again “is that what that is? I didn’t know, it was in the garage by your things and I just threw it in.”

“You just threw in a dead rat?!” Maggie was scratching her skin dirty from touching the rat.

He draw his neck back and looked at her, “Ugh, well, fuck. Come on, why do you care what’s in your box of stolen crap?”

Maggie sat back, shocked. How long had he known about it? Did her mom know? Did Alice?

“All this stuff is mine.” she made no effort to sound like she even believed herself.

Les wiped his face slowly with his palm, “You were always coming home with random stuff. Shoes we never bought you. Half eaten sandwiches we hadn’t made you.”

“I have money.” She pulled out her wallet, it was stuffed with hundred dollar bills she had borrowed just for today. “I don’t need to steal.”

Les slammed his beer down, the froth spilling over the edges.

“You act like you’re so high and goddamn mighty with your designer clothes, living in LA or wherever the fuck. Don’t give a shit about us, d’ya?”

He swung his arms out hitting her bag. It flew through the air before landing heavy and spilling all of it’s contents out. The whole diner turned to the sound of metal hitting the ground. The cutlery, salt and pepper shakers, crayons, all of it was on the floor.

“What is wrong with you Maggie?” he hissed, “you’re still doing this?”

She was on her hands and knees keeping her eyes to the dull linoleum floors, quickly stuffing everything into her bag as if some tampons had fallen out.

Drive To My Choice

Danny did not want to get into his car. He was not sure why he had agreed to. Maybe he felt bad, or just wanted to feel that way. Maybe he had too many Coronas. Probably both. The reassuring feeling of doing the right thing was quickly replaced with a strong urge to do the opposite. Last night he went as far as eating a questionable turkey sandwich in hopes that he would wake up with a horrible stomach ache. The cheese had fluff on it’s edges. It smelled like mildew and tasted like hell. He woke up the next morning feeling queasy, but fine nonetheless.  243 Colorado Blvd. Only 2 miles away from his house but he circled the address for 20 minutes.

“Do you want to go around again?” he said. Renee had been silent the entire time.

One more go around the block and then she’ll go in, Danny thought. Musty air came from the air filter and sweat spilled behind Danny’s ear. The quiet was more suffocating than this summer day. He turned on the radio hoping some 70s hits would lighten the mood.

“I don’t want to listen to music.” Renee clicked the radio off. The air conditioner clunked. A cough.

“Are you okay?”

“Is that a fucking joke?”

Okay, no more talking, Danny thought. He was way too hot but did not open a window.

A Hawaiian girl danced on the dashboard. Her grass skirt swayed with the car. A smile was plastered to her face. Three months ago parked in an alley behind Sizzlers Renee’s smooth hips had swung the same way.

Danny rounded the corner and the sign for My Choice Medical Center came into view again. Not fully stopping he pulled up beside it. Through glass doors he saw women sitting in the reception, most of them alone. One couple in the room sat apart with their noses in different magazines. A woman with red hair was called up next and everyone watched as she walked to the back and the door closed behind her. The yellow toothed receptionist smiled too big for the occasion.

Rebecca did not look in. Danny wondered whether she knew this was her cue to get out of the car. Another cough. Another go around the block.

She had called him last Friday. The noise from the bar made it so he could only hear a few phrases; “long time”, “do something” and “pregnant”. The weight of it blew through him and slowed everything to static. He debated with pretending not to hear her. Maybe she meant another Danny she had met at Sizzler. Maybe there was another Danny walking around with a hula girl on his dashboard. He hung up.

They rounded the block again. Danny passed a liquor store for the tenth time. He wondered why a liquor store would be so close to an abortion clinic, but decided not to ask Renee. Maybe he could get her something while she was inside.

“Pull over.”

The words were hoarse. Renee grabbed her purse, closed the door, and went inside the building.

The car ride back was silent. Renee was whiter than usual and threw up twice before they stopped at her house. She carried a six pack of Corona on her lap, one was missing. Danny breathed a heavy sigh and took another swig from the bottle.

“Let’s not make too big of a deal out of this.”

Renee got out.

The car kicked back to life and smoke rose from the tires. She watched the car pull away. The radio clicked on and 70s hits boomed through the neighborhood. She sipped beer before hurling it long. A trail of shattered glass went from her house to the Sizzlers down the street.

Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

theroadLet me start this off by admitting I went into this book as a skeptic. A nonbeliever of Cormac McCarthy’s literary prowess. Never mind his book-movie deals, video games, and prizes, perhaps his style just wasn’t for me, I thought, and it was about time I begin my life on the outskirts of society.

The first book I picked up of his was multi-award winning Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West. Course. Violent. The odd decapitation and writhing in the entrails of the enemy. Yea… So, before committing to a kindle sample of The Road I knew two things about Cormac McCarthy:

  1. Amazon book suggestion seriously wanted him in my life.
  2. I had only made it a third of the way through the other book of his I read and it was a horrid struggle.

Blood Meridian judges me from my bookshelf, story half told, gathering dust between a Cajun style cookbook and a No Fear Shakespeare book. The shame.

leaf graphic

A polar opposite, The Road, was a pleasant surprise for me. Riddled with themes of dystopia and a touch of horror, the plot surrounds two characters simply called ‘the man’ and ‘the boy’ as they make their way through a post-apocalyptic world covered in a thick toxic ash. The man remembers life before this time but his son is too young to remember the former world which often draws a divide between the pair. In this new reality no one can be trusted, life is hellish, cannibalism is commonplace, and the few who remain trek an endless road to what they hope is salvation. The plot focuses primarily on the relationship and dynamic between father and son, with the man trying to shield the boy from a world of chaos only to realize not every bloated corpse or ‘bad guy’ they encounter on the road to nowhere can be avoided. And at this point, why shield the child from what is essentially his life?

As exciting as the majority of the book is I felt an occasional lull between events, probably because of some repetitive dialogue, no apostrophes, and no identification of who is speaking.

So when are you going to talk to me again?

Im talking now.

Are you sure?




Who is speaking?! The son. No, the man? Why would you do this?

I rely on “…. said” more than I realized, it’s a crutch. Not being told exactly who is speaking takes some getting used to, but after the initial urge to add punctuation where needed subsides the story soon picks up into another character defining moment for the boy or a critical event in the relationship.

To kill or not to kill scenarios are a plenty and defeated moments where they just stop and ask; what are we carrying on for? Why?

Well thought out and beautiful metaphors propel The Road into my successful random reads and proves second time’s the charm in this case. McCarthy utilizes the sometimes double-edged sword of flashbacks to perfection, revealing where the seldom mentioned mother stands in the darkness of this new place and an additional layer of empathy towards the characters. Too. Damn. Good. To be honest, initially I found myself siding with the dad, wishing his naive son would keep quiet and appreciate all that was being done for him. But soon I jumped ship and took on the child’s perspective. Simply a scared young boy looking for the good in a derelict wasteland he calls home, hoping he can find one with intentions as pure as his.

All the emotions!


Can I call you Cormac?

Please forgive me, I was a fool.

A damn fool.