A Miracle of Catfish (Algonquin)
I was in the Annapolis Barnes and Noble when I learned that Larry Brown had died. Perusing the magazine racks, I caught sight of a "Remembering Larry Brown" headline on one of the literary journals. Brown had died of a heart attack at age 53. Tears ran down my cheeks as folks around me sipped frappuccinos and paged through the new issue of O. I never met Brown, but he'd touched me over the years with his novels and short stories. A top-tier Southern writer championed by the likes of our own Madison Smartt Bell, Brown wrote "fiction" that seemed to mock the very word. Sure, the characters and settings were products of a fertile imagination, but his gritty, dazzling, big-hearted books were shot through with great truths. Brown's characters were capable of intense self-reflection and a deep appreciation of the natural world around them, despite listing precariously toward self-destruction. Like in Brown's previous books, the misfits and rogues populating this unfinished novel are beset by disappointment, violence, poverty, and vices of various sorts. They angle for redemption that remains out of reach, in a Southern gothic narrative arcing toward a conclusion that never comes. Instead, Catfish—with the last half dozen chapters unwritten—ends abruptly, hinting at unfulfilled genius. Just like its author's life.
Edited by Charles W. Mitchell
Maryland Voices of the Civil War (Johns Hopkins)
A border state (at least nominally) loyal to the Union, Maryland's role in the Civil War was complex and thorny. Using excerpts from personal correspondence, journals, and newspapers from that period, Mitchell frames the issues (states' rights, slavery, secession) and the state's role in the conflict in both political and personal terms. There's plenty of bravado from the warriors, but Mitchell also does an excellent job including the voices of people who are simply snagged by the war. Rather than being caught up in the fervor of the war, these folks (including some women and children) are ensnared by it. And they make the account fuller, giving it more diversity and range.
Edited by William P. Tandy and Benn Ray
Criminally Yours (Eight-Stone)
A collaboration between the Smile, Hon, You're
in Baltimore! and The Mobtown Shank zines (the latter an e-zine), this tiny gem collects local crime stories submitted mainly by readers of both publications. The results are, by turns, harrowing and hilarious—slices of urban life that, most likely, never made the papers but made for a good tale on a barstool. My favorite involves a Hampden woman who sees a kid steal a Walkman from a car. She knew the kid and later called him and told him to "put it back." You'll have to read the zine to find out what happens, but like a number of these stories, it speaks to the small town feeling that still exists in parts of the city.