If your characters go on a road trip, do you have to take one, too? When Mary Miller wrote The Last Days of California about a family driving from Alabama to California to meet the rapture, she hadn’t even been to the desert herself. To ensure it was accurate, though, she mapped important destinations on the route. “For Western Louisiana, I thought, ‘Is there actually a Waffle House within forty miles of this border?’ because I wanted it to be accurate. So I had maps, and I was tracking mileage,” she told Down & Out.
“A story works when there’s momentum, life behind the words,” Mary Miller told Matthew Salesses at The Rumpus. She needs that momentum for her new novel, The Last Days of California, about a family driving to California for the rapture. Also, Amy Butcher wrote about her favorite Millerisms at Hobart.
Looking back at my reading list for 2013, two books stood above all the other new books I’ve had the chance to read: The first is Susan Steinberg’s extraordinary third collection, Spectacle, which I’ve been obsessed with since it came out in January — and really, since ever before. One of the book’s stories appeared in American Short Fiction several years ago and that introduction to Steinberg set up some high expectations that were met then exceeded by the collection. In a year of great story collections, this is the one that stands apart for me. Smart and funny and brutally moving, it’s the most aggressive short story collection I’ve read in a long time, one that forces emotional participation and moral complicity on its readers.
The second book is Rachel Kushner’s second novel, The Flamethrowers, which absolutely thrilled me as both a reader and a writer. Extraordinarily ambitious and well-shaped, I found it one of the biggest reading experiences I’d had all year, the kind of enlarged experience that seems rarer and rarer in contemporary novels. My admiration for The Flamethrowers also sent me back to Kushner’s Telex from Cuba, which I hadn’t read before but which now seems like a formal and stylistic prototype for The Flamethrowers, in addition to being an excellent novel on its own. I hope Kushner keeps pushing her form and her style forward so powerfully between books — I can’t wait to read her next novel to see where she takes us next.
Some books published in years past that were an important part of my 2013: Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta. Kind One by Laird Hunt. Speedboat by Renata Adler. The Complete Tales trilogy by Kate Bernheimer. Light Years by James Salter. Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck.
Some books I loved in 2013 but that won’t be released until 2014: The Last Days of California by Mary Miller. Preparing the Ghost by Matthew Gavin Frank. Praying Drunk by Kyle Minor. Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer.
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