Monday, January 4, 2010

Laura van den Berg

Laura van den Berg's fiction has or will soon appear in One Story, Boston Review, Epoch, The Literary Review, American Short Fiction, StoryQuarterly, Best American Nonrequired Reading 2008, Best New American Voices 2010, and The Pushcart Prize XXIV: Best of the Small Presses, among other publications. The winner of the Dzanc Prize, Laura's first collection of stories, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, was published by Dzanc Books in October 2009 and was a Holiday Pick for the Barnes & Noble "Discover Great New Writers" Program.

Recently I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I’d been hearing great things about Madras Press — they publish individually bound short stories and novellas and distribute the proceeds to a charitable organization chosen by the author — and so when I stumbled upon one of their mini-books, Bobcat by Rebecca Lee, I decided to check it out. Bobcat is rooted in domestic realism, a mode of writing I sometimes find tedious, but the conflicts in Lee’s story are so precisely rendered and so deliciously layered that it completely transcends its thematic genre. The setting for Bobcat is a dinner party, hosted by the narrator, who is pregnant and has failed to make a proper terrine for the party, and her writer-husband, who is publishing his first novel. The guests — Lizbet, Frances, the husband’s too-close-for-comfort editor, the Donner-Nilsons, and Susan, who has written a book about a near fatal encounter with a Bobcat — inject a wonderful sense of texture and personality into the story, but, most importantly, each of them represents an alternate way of being, a path that the narrator could — in a different life, perhaps — have taken. Along the way, the narrator tries to grasp why she has come to find married life so confounding, in one passage recalling the way her husband cried inexplicably on their honeymoon in Ireland: “I had asked him why, and when he didn’t answer, I hadn’t ever asked him again, a fact that it turns out I was mistakenly proud of. I felt like I was respecting the mystery of another person, maybe, and that this harsh landscape was the first place to learn my first lesson in marriage, an austere little lesson. And yet County Clanagh haunted our marriage a little, mostly because it was sad for reasons I couldn’t comprehend and felt I should disturb.” Rebecca Lee is the author of a novel, The City is a Rising Tide, which I have now added to my “to read” list, along with Madras’ Press other three titles — stories by Aimee Bender, Trinie Dalton, and Sumanth Prabhaker. May both Lee and Madras continue to find the readership they deserve.
Visit Laura van den Berg's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue