Perhaps you are suffering from a last minute Christmas panic. Here are three gifts for relatives who are fond of reading and writing, or whom you wish would become so.
1. Benjamin Percy’s Refresh, Refresh.
Someone on Amazon said that this collection of short stories proves that great writing is still happening today, and, three quarters of the way through, I have to agree. Percy’s stories are great fun to read—dark, tense, disturbing, with characters we might prefer to care about less. These Oregon men struggle to understand their own lives and those of the people around them, and their attempts to bring order to their world usually requires a violence that we understand at the same time as we flinch. The stories are also very well written. Percy is a master sentence crafter, an expert describer of all kinds of trades and crafts, and speaks with great authority as he takes the reader through a wrecking storm, a lava cave, a taxidermy lab.
Two favourites of mine include “The Caves of Oregon,” where a young couple whose relationship has been damaged by a recent miscarriage live over the mouth of a cave, a thick metal door in their house leading down into a network of unexplored tunnels, from which strange things sometimes emerge, and a second story, which I won’t name as not to risk hurting the reveals, where the reader begins by pitying and loving the protagonist, then fears and loathes him, and then finally hopes a mob will beat him to death with large blunt objects (or some equally unpleasant fate). Brilliant storytelling.
2. I am Genghis Cum, by Violet LeVoit.
This short story collection is even less suitable as a Christmas present. Violet is a colleague of mine in the Rutgers MFA, but I had never taken a class with her, and so had never encountered her work until she read at one of our student readings. She is an amazing performer, a strange heroic fire suddenly animating her face and eyes. Her stories are also stunning on the page, and explore all sorts of horrors of the body. The prose is fast and cruel, beating down all taboos. Fast food workers die in agony when their bodies start spontaneously mimicking the chemicals in the food they serve; one man wants to populate the universe by donating sperm to every bank in America, only to discover a rival; a woman sitting at a kitchen table one morning wonders about the dullness of her life–only she may have been murdered in an alley some years before. Clones have sex and babies are turned into… into… I can’t say it! Go read. Don’t eat anything while you do so.
3. Rory’s Story Cubes.
These story cubes are a lot of fun for writers and storytellers and children. They are nine dice with pictures on each face, and you roll the dice, then combine the nine faces into some sort of story.
So far I’ve used them to create both story prompts and character sketches. I roll the dice, reroll if I get a turtle yet again (I refuse to keep using turtles in my stories), and then try to open a story with what the dice show. I’ve also used them to imagine a character first, to flesh out a protagonist before imagining what kind of story she will face.