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Tag: eugene cross

The Arsonists

by Treehouse Editors

Caleb Andrew Ward

Review of Fires of Our Choosing: Stories by Eugene Cross
Dzanc Books
April 2012

Eugene Cross’ collection of twelve short stories is rightly named Fires of our Choosing for fiery images that burn into the reader’s mind with each story. In this collection Cross sets his sights on blue-collar America, with several pieces set in his hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania. “The Brother” tells the story of a young business owner whose girlfriend’s brother starts working for him in order to keep himself out of prison. “I knew what it was like to look at the people around you and mistake their fear for envy, their pity for admiration,” says the business owner in reference to his new employee and his off-putting behavior. Luke, the brother, arrives high, and spends his days smoking cigarettes and watching our protagonist do the majority of work. His lack of dialogue is made up for with his accented actions, most notably in the climactic ending, which involves a home invasion.

In “Rosaleen, If You Know What I Mean,” a young boy, Marty Hanson, deals with the loss of his father, his brother leaving home, and the repercussions of a brutal assault he commits on a fellow student. Following the beating, Marty ends up in a group therapy session for violent young people. One exercise the group undergoes is a trust fall in which Marty internally battles with the ability to trust anyone, even the cute girl in therapy with him. Soon Marty finds himself at the home of the student he viciously beat, and finds his victim to be just as confused with the world as he is.

Cross has the ability to change point of view from story to story fluidly. Each phrase of dialogue sounds so natural you begin to believe you have spoken these very words years ago. But despite the fluidity of execution, Fires of Our Choosing brings on the dark realization that much of life is chaotic.

In the title story, the college dropout narrator starts with, “When Lenny’s house burned to the ground all I kept thinking was that it was just one more piece of bad luck in a life that had been full of it.” Lenny is a fine example of Cross’ archetypal character. Besides being solitary and relatively uneducated, Lenny brings about his own ruin, but much of the story revolves around him taking revenge out on an innocent bystander. Cross’ characters tend to be established agents of their own chaos.

While the author has perfected the formula for destruction, beneath it there is a bit of hope. His characters end up in quagmires of their own making, but there is a glimmer of optimism underlying the bedrock. With this being Cross’ debut collection, I am greatly anticipating what’s to come.

5 Things You Should Read (Cross)

by a contributor

Eugene Cross

  1. Anything by Lewis “Buddy” Nordan – Nordan recently succumbed to complications from pneumonia and while he was known primarily as a Southern writer, we’ve all lost a great one here. His best known novel is Wolf Whistle based on the lynching of Emmett Till. It’s a heartbreaking, beautiful, profound book. But you can’t go wrong by Nordan. Pick up his memoir, Boy With Loaded Gun, or his novel, Lightning Song, or his selected stories, Sugar Among the Freaks. I was lucky enough to have Buddy as a teacher, and his books take up quite a bit of space on my bookshelf. Going back to them is a pleasure every time.
  2. Behold Faith or Spooky Action at a Distance by Tom Noyes – Both are quiet, witty, beautiful collections. Like another of my favorite short story writers, Kevin Moffett, the stories benefit from subsequent reads. You’ll find something new every time. They’re simply that well crafted.
  3. Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich – One of the books that made me want to be a writer. Reading it for the first time was like having the gates opened upon some beautiful world. You couldn’t go back to certain types of books after that. Erdrich’s words made it impossible not to know when you weren’t in the presence of the real thing.
  4. Stop-Time by Frank Conroy – Brilliantly paced, intelligent, and groundbreaking. Changed the way memoir was written though few get close to being this good.
  5. Given Ground by Ann Pancake – Winner of the Bakeless Book Prize in 2000. Once you enter these beautiful stories set in Appalachia you’ll see why.

Eugene Cross is the author of Fires of Our Choosing.

5 New Small Press Books I Can’t Wait to Read

by Treehouse Editors

Johannes Lichtman

Spring is shaping up to be an awesome season for small press books. Here are five (or, four, plus one big press book) that I’m dying to crack open.

(In order of release date)

  1. Amsterdam Stories by Nescio (NYRB Classics). I’m always excited for the chance to say “I read a foreign book!” It happens pretty rarely, because I’m lazy, but when the author is an early twentieth century Dutch businessman who wrote prose under a pseudonym that means “I don’t know” in Latin, well, then I’m game.
  2. Fires of Our Choosing by Eugene Cross (Dzanc). I’ve been pretty pumped about this one ever since Cross published “Rosaleen, If You Know What I Mean” in American Short Fiction. Like much of Cross’ fiction, it’s a brutal and surprising story that unfolds naturally, without the artificial first sentence hook that is the hallmark of so much contemporary short fiction. Add in the fact that the collection comes from Dzanc—the awesome home of The Collagist—and there’s a great chance of this book kicking ass.
  3. When All the World Is Old by John Rybicki (Lookout). I see the phrase “will break your heart” on the cover of too many books that only end up breaking my heart from the knowledge that I wasted 16 bucks. But trust me—this book will break your heart in the best possible way. Rybicki writes about his dying wife scrawling love notes to him on the shower door; after she died, the fog from his breath would make them reappear.
  4. Cataclysm Baby by Matt Bell (Mud Luscious). I first heard of Bell’s novella through word of mouth—as is so often the case with this champion of the indie world—and I thought the book was called, “Cataclysm, Baby.” The comma might have changed the meaning from intriguingly ominous book title to kickass song lyric, but, alas, it was not be. Regardless, Kyle Minor called this crazy-original book: “An apocalyptic abecedarium that is one part baby name registry, one part S. Thompson’s Index of Folk-Motifs, one part Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.” So what more do you need?
  5. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (Ecco). This book isn’t from a small press, but if you’ve read Ben Fountain’s first collection, Brief Encounters with Che Guevara—a set of exquisite novels hidden in the shells of short stories—you’ll know why I wanted to break the rules for it. I heard Fountain read an excerpt from a draft of the novel two and a half years ago, and I still remember his description of the beached whaleness of Texas Stadium.