End of I.
Stephen Dixon (McSweeney's)
The follow-up to 2002's excellent I., Dixon's latest novel covers territory that will be familiar to his loyal readers. As the titles of the books imply, much of the material seems autobiographical—a writer of fiction teaches at a university, tends to his sick wife, and frets about his children and his perceived shortcomings as a husband and father. Dixon hammers lively prose from the minutiae of everyday life and no triviality seems to escape his gaze. When coupled with a penchant for tweaking the novel's form—one chapter, for instance, ends with the protagonist inserting paper into his typewriter, and the next chapter begins with a dozen false starts as he writes and rewrites the opening sentence—the results transcend his subject matter to get at the heart of something deeply personal and achingly universal. For all his stylistic gyrations, Dixon never dances around the humanity at the core of his writing. Instead, he embraces it fully, and we're fortunate that he continues to share it with the rest of us.
Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore!(Eight-Stone Press)
As far as local zines go, this one is at or near the top of the heap. In each installment, editor William Tandy collects engaging vignettes and observations about life in Baltimore, along with a smattering of poetry and interviews with local artists. This issue includes a photo essay of a crab-cake eating championship, "Bawlmer Haiku," a chat with a pair of local filmmakers, and some wry writing by Tandy himself. Available at hip outlets like Atomic Books, Smile, Hon is also shelved at the Catonsville Public Library as part of that library's zine collection.
A Fright of Ghosts
Helen Chappell (Tidewater)
Eastern Shore writer Helen Chappell possesses a wicked sense of humor and a keen understanding of what makes Shore folks tick. It's a winning combination, one that infuses much of her writing, including this latest installment of her Sam & Hollis mystery series. The principals in this kitschy tale are Hollis, a jaded reporter, and Sam, a ghost who regularly visits him. They try to determine who among the residents of Shellpile—a sly allusion to the author's last name—killed waterman Sluggo Fotney. It's a good, quick read, one that gains momentum as Chappell gets deeper into the story and the characters she revisits.