For this, the fifth issue of Embark, I’d like to try something new in my Introduction—to give a hint about each of the ten novel openings featured here, a brief description of what intrigued and impressed me about each one.
By chance, many of the openings in this issue first captivated me with their settings, though their characters and stories are just as engaging. I was immediately drawn into the vivid world of Sara Rivera’s science-fiction/fantasy novel BLINDSAND, which takes place in the desert country of Ris-Klyda, where skilled sand-divers harvest energy from mysterious, roiling sandpits. And I loved the bright colors and humidity of Meagan Lucas’s South Carolina setting—the deceptive beauty of sunsets seen from sultry dunes—in her novel SONG BIRDS AND STRAY DOGS, about a young woman navigating an unplanned pregnancy. Kathleen Tyler, in PEACE RIVER, offers a portrait of another Southern state, Florida, as it was in the early nineteenth century, when white men were still violently pushing their way into Native American territory and white women struggled to find freedom within a cramped domestic sphere. Another novel eloquently capturing a bygone era is ANGELA’S PIN by Carolyn Belcher, whose narrator describes life as a middle-class young girl in England in 1950, when post-war rationing was still in place and children were always expected to mind their manners.
For those who prefer more modern settings, Janet Garber, with wit and an admirably sharp eye for details, offers the story of an American woman, newly married to a Frenchman, trying to create a meaningful life for herself in a very foreign country in THE PARIS NOVEL. Maury Zeff, in his Chandler-esque thriller OFF MAHATMA GANDHI ROAD, sets the scene vibrantly in Bangalore, India’s ever-growing version of Silicon Valley, and examines the complicated interweaving of eastern and western cultures. Similarly exploring a particular style, Claire Ibarra plays with the Latin American tradition of magical realism in FRAGILE SAINTS, in which an American professor visits her family in Peru and becomes involved in the mysteries of silk-making.
While I was initially riveted by Jenny Ferguson’s description of a children’s sheep-riding contest at a rodeo in THE INTERSECTION[S], I soon became even more fascinated by her main character, a deaf Indigenous girl who must overcome the deep-seated prejudice against Indigenous people in western Canada. Steve Cushman’s characters, in his quiet drama WHAT HAPPENS NEXT, are equally engaging; I was delighted by the relationship and unexpected quirks of his father-and-son pair, as they learn how to cooperate with each other after the father breaks his ankle. Coincidentally, Sean Conway offers another insightful portrayal of the father-son relationship in LAND’S END, opening with a grisly and unforgettable incident that irrevocably ties his young protagonist to his wayward father.
All of these openings are unusual, striking, and rich with detail. They stood out from the many submissions we received, and I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did!
— Ursula DeYoung, Founding Editor
Table of Contents
ANGELA’S PIN – Carolyn Belcher
LAND’S END – Sean Conway
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT – Steve Cushman
THE INTERSECTION[S] – Jenny Ferguson
THE PARIS NOVEL – Janet Garber
FRAGILE SAINTS – Claire Ibarra
SONG BIRDS AND STRAY DOGS – Meagan Lucas
BLINDSAND – Sara Rivera
PEACE RIVER – Kathleen Tyler
OFF MAHATMA GANDHI ROAD – Maury Zeff