Tag Archives: Hobart

“The Hat” by Sam Wilson

16 Oct

Posted by Theresa J. Beckhusen

Written by Zachary Lee

“The Hat” by Sam Wilson is a quirky travel story with that turns the ordinary to the unordinary. Wilson snags the reader and gently pulls them through. “The Hat” is the tale of an unnamed male protagonist on his flight back home, and ends up following his wife into a Pendleton wool shop, and he ends up finding his perfect hat.

As soon as the story started, I fell for the characters. I felt pity that they got too hungover to enjoy their vacations, I felt a bit of excitement when the flight was delayed, I felt a bit of adventure wandering into the Pendleton shop. Wilson writes characters that seem to be real actual people that he just watched and copied:

“I knew I couldn’t buy the shirts I’d envied because wool makes me itch, but I kept trying them on anyway, soaking up the saleswoman’s compliments and not looking too closely in the mirrors.”

Wilson also subtly threads in the idea of getting old, and how that affects how we see ourselves. He demonstrates this by having his protagonist constantly question how he compares to his counterparts, and struggle with the look of the sweaters. Combined with his attention to the microscopic details, this really adds another layer to the story. They emphasize the human element that the protagonist brings to the story, and explain a driving force behind the protagonist. In this passage we see the protagonist wrestling with age:

“There is nothing good about being prematurely bald. My head gets cold and wet in the winter, and sunburned in the summer. Plus, it makes me look older and more staid than I actually am.”

And with the passage below we see where the microscopic details come into play:

“She was a young flight attendant wearing a navy blue skirt and white blazer. Her hair was pulled into a wet ponytail, and her lipstick was brighter than I imagined could look good on a person.”

With that being said, I felt the protagonist’s wife, Sherri-Anne, was a flat, 2D character. At times I forgot she was in the story. Her character just seemed to be a way to get the protagonist in the shop, and not something to help drive character development, or add anything to the story. It was a bit disappointing to see that, but Wilson’s writing made up for it ten-fold.

Overall, “The Hat” is an interesting read helped by Wilson’s amazing characters, and his ability to play with details. I believe that Wilson’s career as a writer is on the up and up. This story is something that readers will be talking about for some time.

Zachary Lee is a Vouched Books Indy intern and senior Creative Writing student at the University of Indianapolis. He hopes to attend an MFA program after graduation. He can be reached on Twitter @_Zach_Lee.

“Horrible Things Happen” by Adam Lefton

15 Oct

Posted by Theresa J. Beckhusen

Written by Zachary Lee

Adam Lefton’s short story “Horrible Things Happen” is a wonderfully dark but difficult read. There is no issue with plot or character, not even an issue with the word choice. What makes this a difficult read is Lefton’s head-on approach to what it means to suffer, and the effects that come from suffering. The first thing that strikes the reader is the size of the story. The story itself barely fills two paragraphs, but sends shivers down the readers’ spine by breaking down walls. Once those walls are down, Lefton turns what we know about suffering upside down with the precision of a surgeon. Lefton’s writing style is quick and to the point, and refuses to let go of readers until the very end.

The main plot of the story is rather straightforward. There’s a fascination with turning suffering into fame and teaching suffering to teenagers. The theme of the story is dissected to the most basic building blocks, and then built into a beautiful nightmare. Throughout the story Lefton talks about issues with funding with collegiate studies, the religious idea that we are born suffering, and what happens to those who see and understand their suffering. I particularly love the way he plays with the idea that the Midwest is a vacuum of suffering, and then juxtaposes that with the irony that most of the graduates move to the heavily influential coastal areas.

One of the major things I enjoyed about reading “Horrible Things Happen” is Lefton’s ability to bypass any defense the reader has and attacks their emotional core directly at the source. As seen with:

“For these students, the horrible things that happened to them were too obvious to miss, too visceral. They’d cried or wanted to cry or taught themselves not to cry at some point in their lives.”

Near the end of the piece, Lefton challenges the idea that through suffering we grow, by writing: “Only the rare and talented pupil arrives on campus cognizant of his or her suffering.” By the end of the story Lefton has the reader on the edge of their seat and throws in the most powerful sentence in the entire story: “The feeling has been described as close to a nightmare.”

Overall, this story left me numb and left me questioning what it means to suffer. This story was a wonderful rollercoaster ride that every reader should struggle with.

Zachary Lee is a Vouched Books Indy intern and senior Creative Writing student at the University of Indianapolis. He hopes to attend an MFA program after graduation. He can be reached on Twitter @_Zach_Lee.

(One of the) Best Things I’ve Read in the Past Year

25 Jan

The moment I loved best in Michelle Orange’s Sicily Papers (published by Short Flight/Long Drive Books, a division of Hobart) was this:

But I’m terribly nostalgic. Been that way since I could pronounce it. Always afraid of time passing, hating change. I tell this story a lot but I remember feeling like my world was ending when my dad changed our kitchen garbage bag under the sink from a paper bag that sat on the floor of the cupboard to one of these new-fangled plastic jobs that screwed into the inside of the door. I was inconsolable, I begged him not to do it. I felt it was the end of an era. Everything was before and after for me. I was four years old.

I can’t be the only person out there who absolutely identifies with Orange’s expression of loss, of terror of the unknown and new and different. When my parents painted our kitchen cabinets white (over a color I can only describe as rotten avocado), I was totally thrown off. I was also four or five. What’s so perfect about Orange’s above passage is the specificity of the moment, the tiny thing that completely upset her.

This relatable specificity runs throughout the pages of this compact volume chronicling a month in Italy (it’s made to look like a passport! gold stamping and everything!). Orange’s wry humor makes me want to sit down with her over a cup of coffee and laugh. She writes in real time, so we learn about the bros that sit near her on her flight—one of them is looking forward to “hott” Swedish girls—and her terror of an “ancient white spider” in her skirt while she’s resting near some ruins. She sounds like that friend you have that’s crazy enough to always be fun but stable enough to be able to listen and give some kind of meaningful advice.

She’s also not afraid to confess her fears and shortcomings or to express her displeasure or bouts of dislike for B, the person to whom she’s addressing all of the letters in The Sicily Papers. We don’t learn too much about B. We assume that Orange and B are together, in some sense of the word, since she talks about missing B, wishes B were with her in certain moments, chastises B for not writing her more. But it’s apparent she’s in love to some degree. She plans to surprise B in New York at the end of her trip in Italy. My stomach turns a bit when I read this. There’s just something about not seeing B’s replies. There’s something about what we don’t read, even in Orange’s letters. It’s what’s left unsaid. Orange is meticulous in describing lava formations (she uses the word credenza!), the faces of young Italian boys, and the awkward configuration of her first apartment’s shower (too many windows for construction workers to peep through). The letters are firmly not love letters to B. There is no pining for B’s presence. Orange writes that every year she has extended her stay in Italy, attempting to retain the peace and relaxation the vacation gives her Italy is her love affair. She expresses distaste for the 9-to-5 grind and yearns for the sunny carefree-ness of Italy. Of course, she has a vacationer’s view, even though she sticks to small towns and shuns hotels in favor of apartments. She improves her Italian and practices her French. She chats with locals and suns on beaches. She doodles to B while taking a break from tours of ruins and catacombs. It’s no wonder she prefers this life to Toronto.

Yet she’s restless. Orange never stays in one town for very long before she’s picking up and moving on. She gives herself no chance to settle, to nest, to make more lasting connections with those around her. Is this what she savors? She writes to B that she loves traveling by train—“Something about being trapped in motion.”—and her later ferry ride enchants her. She glories in moveable stasis, where all she has to do is go with the flow. Her love of this type of travel, the limbo it puts her in, loops right back to her fear of change when she was younger, her current fears of change. While she’s on a train or ferry, things remain relatively the same. When she disembarks, that’s when she’ll need to engage with the wider world.

The Sicily Papers captures Orange in her 20-something limbo. She yearns for her group of friends from when she was 20: “I miss those people, that group of friends I had. That was the happiest time in my life. That’s the last time I remember feeling that I had a network of people around me I really liked and trusted.” After college and without grad school, it can be difficult to recreate that network of friendship and trust and love and support. Orange isn’t necessarily desperate for this company, but her touch of melancholy pervades the book and pulls a cloud or two over the brilliant Italian sun.

But Italy is that privileged space that lets her decompress and write and wander and eat fruit and admire Italian style (especially how leather jacket-clad teenage boys greet each other with cheek kisses). She, for the most part, eschews technology and e-mail in favor of old-fashioned, molasses-slow letter-writing. Everything was before and after for her, but Orange has found a way to escape that terrifying dichotomy: she travels to Italy so she can put time on hold and live in the in-between.

Best Thing I’ve Read Today: “In first grade” by Andrew J. Khaled Madigan

26 Jul

Over at Hobart Andrew J. Khaled Madigan has five poems, all of which are scrappy and deadpan and thoughtful, but this particular one is a total slam dunk. (I couldn’t help but read it aloud on the porch, accompanied by the comic-ugly whining of goats.)  It recounts said first grade kids making a booklet about their dads to show to the class, and how the narrator decides to portray his father. A chunk:

There was a flag
on either side of him
and one of those executive

pens sets front and center.
On the next page
I drew a picture

of my dad holding
a rifle and another guy
with bullet holes

all over his body. Since
he was Vietnamese
I made him wear one

of those triangular hats
with the chin strap.

The ending stanza is flawless.  Head on over to Hobart to check it out.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: An Assessment of Fast Food Hamburgers in the Southeastern United States by Joseph R. Worthen

4 Jul


In my nearly quarter-century of existing as an American, specifically a Midwesterner (and Hoosier if you wanna get technical), I have eaten maybe, possibly five McDonald’s hamburgers.  Maybe. (What an un-American thing to confess on our nation’s birthday, I know.)  And no more than ten fast food burgers period.  Even this is probably an overestimation, as I have no recollection of eating a fast food burger in the past decade–in fact, I have exactly two somewhat hazy memories of eating them ever.  Red meat makes me nervous, and breaded chicken is my downfall.

This is one of several reasons that, when reading the first of four installments of Joseph R. Worthen’s “An Assessment of Fast Food Hamburgers in the Southeastern United States” in Hobart, I could not help grinning like an idiot all over my insides and outsides.  Now, thanks to Worthen, I can be intimately familiar with the all-American experience of consuming a fast food hamburger without spending the requisite money or feeling like a pile of vomit.  (At one time I could beat just about anyone at the gallon challenge but alas, now I’m a gastrointestinal wuss.)

Worthen’s observations are deadpan and hilariously, pitifully honest; nothing and no one, not even himself, is spared the “scientific” lens of his scrutiny:

I unwrapped my tiny hamburger. It smelled like McDonald’s, a warm salty smell, like the breath of a healthy German Shepherd. The bun was smooth, immaculate, and pliant. It held my caress like memory foam. The burger consisted of a thin strip of meat, mustard and ketchup, two tangy pickles and some chopped up shit that was probably onions (speculation). I took my first bite. I didn’t taste hamburger or meat. I tasted the wonderful flavor of salt. I experienced a sudden clarity. The McCafe was not a restaurant at all but a shrine where people of all races and creeds could go to worship sodium and check their email.

Despite these facts, my mood was extremely good. Respectable, attractive people surrounded me. They all looked so sharp and professional that I even started to consider my own career choices. I found the inner fortitude to consider night classes in computers, medicine, or business. My work ethic surged. I believed in McDonald’s. I believed in myself. I experienced pride, ambition and the bittersweet arrival of a partial erection.

Worthen’s documenting of his own oft-conflicting physical and psychological reactions to his experience are tragicomic and totally familiar, providing the–I’m so sorry for this–meat of his “assessments.” The “celebrated Worthen Burger Index (or WBI)” by which every burger is judged provides further interest, especially in Wildcard Points, in which any number of factors (partial erections, for one) can contribute or subtract from the burger’s overall numerical value.  Also, the worded interpretations of said scores are a treat–seven out of fifteen earns a “VERY NARROWLY BELOW AVERAGE” title.

The first installment weighed the merits of burgers from McDonald’s and Sonic; Hardees, Wendy’s, Burger King, Cook Out and Five Guys will be scored in the next three installments. I can’t wait to see how the next five fare, and will stick to chicken fingers in the meantime.

Selections: OTHER KINDS by Dylan Nice

18 Feb

other kinds dylan niceOther Kinds
Dylan Nice
120 pgs

“My people were loggers and truck drivers–people who didn’t trust success as much as struggle. My father wore flannel and drank beer from tall, white cans. He spoke with a slowness that suggested hardship.”

* * *

“Young girls in young outfits. The curve of something I couldn’t know. I got off the bus and went to the basement and watched television. I watched the other kinds of people in the world until I forgot about myself.”

* * *

“Lily looked at you hard when she laughed. She came to the plains from an eastern city to see the size of the weather, the long breaths of wind, the way you could see the rain well before you rode into it. The place I was from was just as empty but not as flat. It took me years to get used to having nothing on the horizon, nothing farther in the distance to mark time.”

* * *

“The road back into town wound steeply through the woods. She drove the car too fast, gunning the accelerator, slamming the brakes. She had no understanding of the mechanics at play and I said nothing about the panic I felt. My father once told me that wet leaves can be like ice. Up ahead, a maple had shed its leaves thickly over a curve, and when her wheels hit, they kicked out. I hit my head, and the dash collapsed on my shin. She woke up to smoke that turned out to be her air bag’s dust. Mine didn’t go off.

She pulled at my shirt and screamed when the bloodied part of my face slumped toward her. I heard it from a great distance.”

A Little Bit of Hobart…Daily

15 Oct

Hobart, that rad rad print journal, has tossed more zoom into their online doings. About a month ago, they switched to daily content, some of that same old goodness like fiction and interviews, with new woot-worthy stuff like poetry, food and drink reviews, and movie reviews. A month into this thing, I’m really stoked about how it has expanded, where it is heading. Maybe you will be too?!

My favorite stuff so far:

Three Words I Learned From Video Games by Devan Goldstein
from “Sentry”

The important thing is that Pete, the kid who gave me the game, pronounced robots like the name “Robitz” might be pronounced, if it were a name, and I just hated him for it, and we weren’t friends after that as far as I know.

Two Poems by Ben Clark and Colin Winnette
from “witness”

I only think to ask you about dying because I saw the reflected light
as something else. I can tell you would say to carve this new strange light into trains
crossing slow and close enough to shake the dead dusty moths
on the ledge of my window.

An Advanced Amateur Reviews Pabst Blue Ribbon-A Beer Fit For Human Beings by Mike Bezemek

A massive plaster moon rotates above the rooftop bar, casting a milky glow over my fellow patrons. One by one their orders are placed. A vanilla bean porter with toasted nut highlights. A zwickel-style lager. A Cascade dry-hopped American pale ale. A cleanly malted and sharply hopped Czech-inspired pilsner. A cloudy hefeweizen with a hint of coriander and a tangerine wedge. When it’s my turn, however, I settle into my stool, look the bartender dead in the eyes, and ask for a good ol’ cool-my-throat, warm-my-insides, and thicken-my-wallet Pabst Blue Ribbon. Soon it flows smooth as a gentle breeze over my tongue, and, in this most idyllic of moments, I realize that after much deliberation and fifteen years of field testing, I am ready to officially and heartily recommend Pabst Blue Ribbon as perfectly fit for human consumption.

So, there you go, to check it out! Enjoy the wonderful updates (DAILY) Hobart is now offering.

P.S. Vouched Books superstarter Christopher has a Bourbon column at Hobart now as well. Just so you know, pal!

The Southern Summer Comfort Tour

8 May

Some of our favorite women (and dude) here at Vouched are piling into a van this summer and trekking from Austin, TX over to Atlanta, GA in what is sure to be some insanity that leaves all your wife beaters and panty hose running with sweat and mud and tears. Here are some details from their Kickstarter:

The Southern Summer Comfort Tour is an exciting literary event consisting of authors Chloe Caldwell, Elizabeth Ellen, Mary Miller, Brandi Wells and Donora Hillard, all crammed into a rental van touring the hot southern states like a good old fashioned rock band. Our new books have been released on indie presses such as Future Tense Books, Short Flight/Long Drive Books, and Tiny Hardcore Press.

We are: Five women authors hailing from New York, Michigan, Mississippi, and Alabama and we’ll be meeting up in Austin, Texas to start our travels. From there, we will be reading from ours books at bookstores and bars in Austin, Houston, New Orleans, Oxford, Tuscaloosa and Atlanta. There will be special guest appearances along the way by people like Kevin Sampsell, Jess Stoner, and others.

We need your help for car and gas money, not to mention breakfast tacos and lots of liquids.

I wish I could embed the video because it’s absolutely hilarious and amazing, but Kickstarter is kind of dumb and architected their video embeds so that a vast majority of bloggers can’t actually embed their videos into their posts.

So, I hope you’ll hop over to their Kickstarter, watch the video, laugh, and considering contributing to the cause. And, if you’ll be in and/or around the following cities on the following dates, you should pop in and listen to these bitchin’ ladies share their bitchin’ words.

Here are our dates:

July 11th – Austin, TX – Domy Books, 7pm
July 12th – Houston, TX – Domy Books, 7pm
July 13th – New Orleans, LA
July 14th – Oxford, MS – Square Books, 6pm
July 16th – Tuscaloosa, AL
July 17th – Atlanta, GA – Beep Beep, 8pm

Rohan knows how to cut, how to kill.

1 Jun

I came this close to typing “SSM” at the beginning of the title for today’s post. But, Short Story Month is over, and today is June 1st, which gives way to another new and exciting development in my life: The Lit Pub.

The past few months, Molly Gaudry, Team TLP, and I have been hard at work getting this endeavor ready to launch. What is it? I’m glad you asked. We are something of a mashup of a Book of the Month club/publicity/online bookstore, focusing solely on indie/small press literature, so essentially a sister of Vouched. Each month, Molly, a guest publisher, and I all feature a favorite title of ours, and spin up some conversation and general enthusiasm about the book. For my inaugural month, I’ve chosen Ethel Rohan’s collection of flash fiction Cut Through the Bone, and it’d be rad if you’d like to follow along with my and other guest poster’s musing throughout June.

There’s been a lot said about Cut Through the Bone already here at Vouched, because it’s just that good. As I was rereading it this past week to reinvigorate myself for TLP’s launch today, this story “How to Kill” ripped at me, left a hole in my belly the size of an abortion.

The supposed gypsy had long, greasy hair, gold hoop earrings peeking from the dirty strands. Her gold arm bangles jingled while she dealt and lifted the cards. A mushroom smell off her breath, and earthy whiff off her skin. She accepted payment in Tequila Sunrises choked with cherries.

At first, she had waved-off the tarot cards for nonsense, but the hag’s grave voice held her mesmerized and dark, probing eyes sent shivers over her. When the woman claimed she could see a baby where there was no longer a baby, she felt snakes wrap around her body and cinch her chest.

Matt gestured with his fork at her coffee mug.

“I can’t eat breakfast, not since….” her voice trailed off.

He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, staining himself with tomato ketchup.

She continued: “Not since the morning sickness.”

He looked down at his plate.

Read the full story at Hobart.

And I hope you’ll follow along with The Lit Pub community’s conversation about the book!

SSM: “Withdraw” by Mesha Maren

25 May

I don’t have much time tonight. I have to be quick. Work today was nuts, little time to think or post. So here you go. The other day, Matt Bell posted an interesting snippet from an interview of Chris Bachelder regarding formal constraints in fiction: “I would still be happy to be formally inventive, but I’d just want to define invention so that it is broader than merely infusing narrative content into some non-narrative archaic form or pop-culture form. Formal invention can be more interesting and vital than merely formal borrowing.”

This story borrows a form from a dictionary definition, but I appreciate that it goes beyond the form to tell a good story, to find a good tone–goes beyond the merely clever. Sorry I can’t write more. Perhaps I can come back later tonight and put some more thoughts down, but for now, I’ll leave you with this:

with-draw \with-‘dro\ vb- withdrew; withdrawn; withdrawing- a: to remove from a place of deposit { I check the pockets of my husband’s blue jeans before placing them in the washer and withdraw a condom wrapper: a small crinkling cellophane square. The discovery settles heavy in my stomach. I smooth the packet out between my fingers. The corners of my mouth lift up as if to laugh. } b: to remove oneself from participation { Gary and I haven’t had sex for two years. Ever since my pregnancy he doesn’t seem interested, is always so tired. Each time I advance Gary withdraws. }

Read the full story at Hobart.