Oliver’s Travels (May 2021, Regal House Publishing): Ollie Tucker, a recent college graduate and student of philosophy, is obsessed with truth and the source of knowledge, questioning the validity of everything he hears from his parents, his girlfriend, and even the voices inside his head. In pursuit of life’s deeper meaning, he invents an alter ego, Oliver, who lives the adventurous and exotic existence Ollie cannot. But Ollie has another problem—a repressed memory that haunts him. Something involving his Uncle Scotty happened when he was young that threatens to derail his life and his relationships. But the memory is a blur. And what he thinks he does remember he knows is unreliable. The uncertainty is paralyzing. What is the truth? What has his subconscious fabricated? When he learns that his uncle, long-presumed dead, is alive and well, Ollie realizes that to move on with his life he must confront him. Determined to find Scotty and solve the mystery, the trail takes him around the globe. First stop, Singapore! With wry humor and finely wrought prose, Oliver’s Travels is a shimmering coming-of-age story that explores enduring questions: What do we know? How do we know it?
House of the Ancients and Other Stories (May 2020, Press 53): Nobody’s perfect, but some of us—mostly men—are blinded by our hubris and baser urges. Judgment is impeded. Mistakes are made. The stories in this collection, many of them set outside the U.S., explore some of the consequences of these common failings.
The Shaman of Turtle Valley (May 2019, Braddock Avenue Books): The Alexanders have farmed the land in Turtle Valley for generations, and their family and its history is tied to this mountainous region of Virginia in ways few others can claim. When Gulf War veteran, Aiken Alexander, brings home a young and pregnant South Korean bride, he hopes at long last to claim his own place in that complicated history—coming out from behind the shadow of his tragically killed older brother and taking up a new place in his father’s affections. However, things do not go according to plan. While he loves his young son, his wife, Soon-hee, can’t—or won’t—adjust to life in America. Her behavior growing stranger and stranger to Aiken’s eyes every day until the marriage reaches a breaking point.
When Soon-hee disappears with their son, Aiken’s life and dreams truly fall apart—he loses his job, is compelled to return to the family home, and falls prey to all his worst impulses. It is at this low point that Aiken’s story becomes interwoven with a dubious Alexander family history, one that pitted brother against brother and now cousin against cousin, in a perfect storm of violence and dysfunction.
Drawing on Korean beliefs in spirits and shamanism, how Aiken solves these problems—both corporeal and spiritual—is at the center of this dynamic and beautifully written debut novel.
What the Zhang Boys Know (2012, Press 53): A novel in stories set in a condominium building on the edge of Chinatown in Washington, D.C., these stories present the struggle of Zhang Feng-qi, originally from Shanghai, to find a new mother for his sons following the death of his American wife. Along the way, the stories spotlight Zhang’s neighbors as they seek to fill gaps in their own lives. Among them: the young bookseller whose illness renders her barren; the young lawyer trying to cope with a failed marriage; the obsessive painter haunted by the image of a face; the middle-aged woman forced to sell her possessions in order to survive; the sculptor, overwhelmed by longing for the son he didn’t know he had. And then there are the Zhang boys, who firmly believe that their mother is coming back. What is it that they know?
In an Uncharted Country (2009, Press 53) showcases award-winning stories about ordinary men and women in and around Rugglesville, Virginia, as they struggle to find places and identities in their families and the community. They experience natural disasters, a sun-worshipping cult, Vietnam flashbacks, kidnapping, addiction, and loss. The book’s opening story, “Flood, 1978,” follows Hank, who comes to understand his father’s deep sense of grief over the death of his wife. Later, in “Hand-painted Angel,” Hank’s sons see the family spinning apart as their father ages and family secrets are disclosed. In “The Clattering of Bones,” Walt mourns the collapse of his marriage after the loss of a child, but in the collection’s title story he recognizes his emotional need for family. The concluding story, “Red Peony,” unifies the collection, as many of the characters from other stories come together for a tumultuous
Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet (Press 53): This three-volume anthology series from Press 53, edited by Clifford Garstang, includes stories by dozens of writers set in countries around the world. Each volume includes twenty stories by twenty writers: Volume I, published in 2014 (“It’s a Dangerous World”); Volume II, published in 2016 (“It’s a Mysterious World”); and Volume III, published in 2018 (“It’s an Adventurous World”).