Features / Five in Bloom

FIVE IN BLOOM: The Spring Collection

by Juhi Singhal Karan

Stories and scriveners of all forms are blooming this spring. We feature five of them this month—from novels to poems to an award-winning YA book—and hope that there is something for everyone here!

Marlin Barton’s Pasture Art

Marlin Barton’s Pasture Art is a collection of “[l]iterate, deftly constructed stories of backwoods Alabama.” The stories are “original” even while they pay “quiet homage” to the conventions of Southern fiction, as Kirkus Reviews put it. Barton, who grew up in “a little community called Forkland, which lies in the fork of . . . two rivers,” hopes that the two fictional rivers that meander through the stories in Pasture Art “come across as living things” for “they move, they have depth, they have a history that’s older than the people who live along their banks.” The collection features both a novella and a one-page story. In Barton’s words, he ends a story “when it feels right” even though “that’s a hard thing to know for certain.” He goes on to say “[s]tories should not tie up too neatly. . . . The best stories work more by suggestion. They end up giving you a sense of how the character’s life might be changed by what’s just happened to them.”

Mary Jo Bang’s The Last Two Seconds

Mary Jo Bang’s latest collection of poems, The Last Two Seconds, “a cultural interrogation of disaster and time,” harkens back to her description of herself as more of a “pragmatist than a romantic.” In her publisher’s words, the book “captures the difficulties inherent in being human in the twenty-first century, when we set our watches by nuclear disasters, species collapse, pollution, mounting inequalities, warring nations, and our own mortality.” Bang, whom we’ve featured here on Bloom, was a “Jill of All Trades” before her circuitous route led her to being a published poet at the age of 50. The collection may be, in the words of Publishers Weekly, her “harshest collection yet” and may not “provide much comfort,” but the “[g]orgeous phrasing and imaginative leaps,” as The Washington Post put it, “make[s] the ride worthwhile.”

Kevin Brooks’s The Bunker Diary

Kevin Brooks’s The Bunker Diary has to be one of the most controversial winners of the CILIP Carnegie Medal in recent times. The book, which has been released in U.S. this spring, is a “fragmented, occasionally incoherent diary of 16-year-old Linus Weems, [who is] trapped with five strangers in an underground bunker.” The book’s lack of a happy ending and the bleak subjects it deals with has been banded as “nihilistic” on one end and “full of hope” on the other. It took Brooks ten years to get the book published because he refused to “rewrite it—tone it down, change the ending, explain a lot of unexplained things.” According to him, “The Bunker Diary is a book about dark and disturbing subjects—it has to contain dark and disturbing things.” He disagrees “that [the book] lacks redemption.” In his own words while the book “doesn’t have a happy ending . . . within the story there is genuine kindness and love and protection, and if that is not a positive look at how humans can behave in a desperate situation, I don’t know what is.”

Mary Costello’s Academy Street

Mary Costello’s debut novel, Academy Street, traces the trajectory of her protagonist from the age of 7 into her 60s and “in offering us [a] seemingly unremarkable life, give[s] us [an] extraordinarily compelling narrative.Sonya Chung noted Costello’s ability to imbue her stories with “the sense that ordinary lives are filled with extraordinary desire and disenchantment” when we featured Costello here on Bloom. The story of the woman who, in the words of J.M. Coetzee, “would otherwise have faded into oblivion” were it not for Costello’s “extraordinary devotion” was inspired by a short story (“You Fill Up My Senses”) in Costello’s previous book, The China Factory. In Costello’s words, “I dread starting [a story]. I prevaricate for ages because I’m afraid of spoiling it. I accumulate a lot of notes in the months—sometimes years—before I start a story. . . . I usually know the . . . plot, insofar as there is one. The character is the main thing—I have to have a strong sense of a character and the small particulars of his or her life.”

Claire Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days

Claire Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days has been called “a grown-up thriller of a fairytale,” and “disarmingly dark, if indisputably beautiful.” It has also been compared to Emma Donoghue’s Room. (And yes, the title is inspired by the Iron & Wine album of the same name). The story, which has “no reliable narrators, only storytellers,” is told by a teenaged girl who escapes after nine years with her survivalist father who has told her that the rest of the world no longer exists. Fuller, who started writing only after she turned 40, writes a lot of flash fiction. In her own words, “Trying to tell a story in just 100 words, with character, tension, and a beginning and an end is tough. Each word has to earn its place, and work really hard. . . . I’m a big fan of not saying everything . . . It’s like drawing, which I also do a lot of. When you’re drawing a face you don’t have to put in all the features and join up all the lines; the viewer’s mind will do that for you. It’s the same with reading: it’s often as much about what isn’t said as what is.”

Bloom Post End

Homepage picture courtesy dchan316 via deviantart

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