Author Archives: Fiction Advocate




If you hate killing trees or you’ve been too (ahem) thrifty to buy the paperback, then take a deep breath, shake out your index finger so it’s really loose and limber, and click on the button below. You’ll get the EPUB, MOBI, and PDF versions for a special price of $0.99.

The Black Cat is a terribly original novel about old families, expensive California wines, superstitions, obscure European wars, vengeance, and more wine. It’s like if Edgar Allan Poe tried to describe the plot of East of Eden while he was sloshed.

You can read excerpts here and here.

“J.M. Geever writes with an erudition, wit, and mystery reminiscent of The Crying of Lot 49 and the historical soul of Arc d’X. With The Black Cat, he perfectly captures the essence of California’s place in both the idealization and disintegration of the American dream.”

– Matthew Gallaway, author of The Metropolis Case

You are going to love The Black Cat. For only $0.99.

- Fiction Advocate


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Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky by David Connerley Nahm

Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky

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Long-form ghost stories are rare, probably because they’re difficult to pull off. You have to keep the tension ramped up. You have to work within a story archetype, but surprise your readers and keep them on their toes. You have to write in such a way that not only do the characters have no idea what’s going to happen, but neither does your audience. In short, you need a lot up your sleeve.

Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky moves in tightening circles, spinning closer and closer to a rabbit hole of a drain. We follow Leah Shepherd, who has returned to her semi-fictional hometown of Crow Station, Kentucky after a stint in graduate school and a broken-off engagement. Her job as a social worker with a tiny nonprofit feeds bits of surreal, small-town humor into the text: a woman asks for a felony charge to be dismissed because it’s her birthday; a dead dog is found on the side of the road and becomes the all-encompassing conversation topic for a day. Throughout the novel, Leah is reminded of her little brother Jacob who went missing when they were children, and behind every plot advancement is the lurking knowledge that something bad is going to happen.

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Death by Chocolate

Excerpted from Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer by Matthew Gavin Frank. Copyright © 2014 by Matthew Gavin Frank. With permission of the publisher, Liveright Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.


As Harvey stepped closer to the scene, he saw now that the fishermen’s raincoats were uniformly orange—and not yellow—and, as they surrounded the fallen beast like so many scattered searchlights, the smell of it, this close, shifted to something so deeply marine it smelled dark—mineshaft-dark; the rotting corpses of countless failed canaries, the ones who got lost in the pitch; and something of burning tires. In this, Harvey surely began to feel faint, the cool of the rain trickling to the inside of his coat, the drops running along the lines of his body, into his armpits, over his ribcage, commingling with the anxious sweat there. He exhaled and, given the temperature, saw his breath escape him, tumble into the air toward the giant squid, graying massive on dry land, and disappear. He began to have trouble determining exactly what he was seeing—what was, and what wasn’t.

The giant squid

is an umbrella classification that may encompass up to eight species.

has ten arms.

is prey to sperm whales, who house in their heads both spermaceti (a white waxy substance of uncertain biological function that humans have extracted and used in making candles, ointments, and -cosmetics) and the biggest brain of any animal.

is the semimissing link between vertebrates and invertebrates as, according to Harvey, “the glassy internal pen . . . ​and the calcareous internal ‘bone’ . . . ​are held to foreshadow the spinal column of the higher animals.”

’s tentacles are adorned with subspherical suction cups, each of which can be five centimeters in diameter, possess a sharp serrated lining, and are responsible for the ring-shaped scars that are commonly found on the heads of sperm whales.

’s tentacles are grouped around the beast’s “beak,” which resembles that of a parrot, but is way, way bigger.

’s suckers are typically described as “campanulate,” meaning of a flower, meaning bell-shaped, meaning like a campanula, the bloom which lent its name to Rapunzel, the bloom from which white latex is extracted to make the gloves worn by scientists when they dissect things like the giant squid.

’s blood loses its ability to carry oxygen in warmer waters, resulting in suffocation.

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The Nyugat Generation

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The 7 Greatest Hungarian Novelists of the 20th Century

I imagine that sometimes, in his restless wandering, the mercurial Spirit of literature lingers a little longer in certain places, gracing them with strange intensity that finds flesh in language. This otherworldly urgency can inspire a whole generation of writers. It is as if this task, at this moment, in this particular place, is too much for a single human being to shoulder.

I feel this way about the work of the so-called Nyugat generation of writers and poets that came of age around the turn of the 20th century in Budapest. They were named after the Nyugat (Hungarian for “west” or “Occident”), a progressive literary magazine established in 1908, which published new prose and poetry and provided soil for literary careers to sprout and mature. Most of these writers are still practically unknown outside of Hungary.

Hungarian, completely unrelated to the Indo-European languages of Europe, with its larger-than-life reputation of being impossible to conquer (I disagree), and with only about 13 million speakers around the world, certainly contributes to the isolation of the prose and poetry that came into the world in its skin. Reading John Lukacs’ Budapest 1900 (Grove Press, 1988), I was glad to see that many more authors and works have been translated into English in the last twenty-five years. Today’s English speaking reader no longer has an excuse for his ignorance of Zsigmond Moricz, Gyula Krúdy, Dezső Kosztolányi, Frigyes Karinthy, Antal Szerb, Milán Füst and Sándor Márai (among many others).

The work of these seven authors is well represented in English. The writers knew each other, and, to a certain extent, I read their work as if eavesdropping on a nocturnal conversation about life, love, death, dreams, and alter egos.

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On the Origin of Geoff

The Colour of Memory

FA review tag

In the course of his career, British author Geoff Dyer has written books on jazz, World War I memorial culture, photography, D.H. Lawrence (really a book on procrastination), travel, the Russian art film Stalker, and—most recently—life aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier U.S.S. George H.W. Bush. And that’s just his nonfiction; Dyer is also the author of four novels and numerous essays and reviews.

But until now, his first two novels, The Colour of Memory and The Search, have never been published in the United States. Graywolf Press (publisher of Dyer’s National Book Critics Circle Award-winning collection of occasional writings, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition) has taken advantage of the increasing acclaim for Dyer’s work and released the two earliest Dyer novels to an American audience for the first time.

Dyer’s first novel, The Colour of Memory, follows the life of a young man and his friends (based on the author and his own friends) who live on the dole in the Brixton section of London in the 1980s. Very little happens, plot-wise, in the course of the book. (Dyer’s novels tend to be light on plot.) A few romantic relationships start and end. But mostly the characters hang out, talk about movies and art, drink, do odd jobs, and go to parties.

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Excerpted from A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall by Will Chancellor. Copyright © 2014 by Will Chancellor.

A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall

Four days after his second surgery, in his undersize bed, Owen woke with resolve. He glanced to his clock, hoping for a single digit. A six, an eight, even 9:59 would do. One. The wrong single digit. But it explained the light. Thin winter blue through empty air, not even a dust mote dancing. Or possibly it was just because he needed his left eye to get the oblique angle. He slowly rotated his head, rolling into the thick of a radiating headache. He swallowed a painkiller and went outside for air.

All it took was a nudge of the aluminum frame to open the screen door, stained with salt-wind and hinge-sprung. The sharp dry squeak, a call to the gulls. An onshore breeze held the door closed after Owen passed through.

If he would be going anywhere, this sand would have to go with him.

Owen staggered down the cliff behind his house and over the shale, pooled by the low tide. He crabbed along the rocks until he found his familiar ledge. Leaving his sandals behind, he leapt to the wet sand.

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Remember Me


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Early in Katie Crouch’s ambitious and unnerving new novel, Abroad, her young Irish student narrator, Taz Deacon, takes us on a tour of an Etruscan archeological museum in Grifonia, Italy, where she encounters violent images of Iphigenia, stabbed as a sacrifice to Artemis. Taz wants to understand whythis happened and whythe disturbing images are so insistently reproduced and displayed. A smug and patronizing German dude in her tour group warns her: “You are too interested in this gory story…. It’s a sad, complicated story. Much too complicated for you.” You can’t handle the truth, girl, he sniffs. Abroad, like the myth of Iphigenia and the many familiar and unfamiliar stories it refracts, issimultaneously complicated and disarmingly simple. Like its setting, Grifonia, “there are layers here, thousands of years of life and death and secrets and untold history.” But don’t let Crouch or Taz or the German dude scare you. This is a can’t-look-away kind of book.

Many people will read Abroad because they remain interested in, and maybe even perversely turned on by, the sad and complicated story of Amanda Knox. Others will read Abroad because they have come to expect from Crouch’s earlier books that she will have trenchant, funny, useful answers to the question “What is it, really, that feeds a friendship between women?” Crouch herself has encouraged this kind of reading, notably in her February 2014 Salon article, “Amanda Knox, what really happened: Writing toward the actual story.” In Salon, Crouch says that, like Taz, she is most interested in the question of why: “Why was Meredith Kercher killed?” And Crouch describes Amanda Knox as “caught in a fiction other people want to read,” encouraging Knox to write her own story. Crouch says that she herself is “working on a novel loosely inspired by” Meredith Kercher and Amanda Knox. “Truly worthy fiction has empathy, even for the sinners,” she says.

Abroad is truly worthy fiction. It has empathy. It’s even inspired. It is not, however the “actual story” of Amanda Knox—at least not in the newspaper or tabloid sense, and it never pretends or wants to be. Crouch’s loyal readers will find serious attention paid to what this book calls “that empowerment thing. Staying in front of it,” even as the story acknowledges, achingly, that, “of course, you’re never in front of the heart”.
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The Circle Jerk

The Circle

I wish someone besides Dave Eggers had written The Circle, a book about an Internet company that takes over the world.

I wish Jonathan Franzen had given The Circle the convincing female characters that tend to feature in his work, instead of the flatness and predictability of protagonist Mae and her best friend Annie, an up-and-coming Circle luminatus who hires her best friend from college into an entry level “Customer Experience” job. Quick plot summary: without really much emotional turmoil, Mae succumbs to corporate logic that technology has all the answers and that privacy is unequivocally bad, and ultimately helps the Circle to worm its way into dominant control over human activity writ large. I wish DFW had provided his sharp, brutal insights into corporate stagnation and hollow, apostatic greed, coupled, perhaps, with Douglas Coupland’s humor and particular flair with Silicon Valley. More than anything, I wish Jesse Ball had leant his far, far subtler allegorical vision and tidy but tender character interactions, rather than Eggers’ brutish (if earnest) attempt to steer a conversation about the politics of technology.

I wish all these things because we really need a much more convincing, more clever version of The Circle to intervene in ethical discussions of what it means to be online, to build relationships with and to and through data and algorithms. The last week has seen a raging debate on social media, privacy, experiments and research. The recap: Facebook researchers designed a technological intervention into the news feed of 700,000 users, tweaking the feed for two weeks based on semantic analysis of emotions. Results of the study were written up in a top research journal, and have leant themselves to some fairly scary headlines about Facebook manipulating the emotions of users without their knowledge. The fallout has stretched across mainstream newsmedia and the techno-elite, provoking corporate apologies and much academic debate.

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