As I was thinking about themes that might connect the nine disparate and gripping novel openings featured in this issue, two immediately stood out: the perceptiveness of outsiders and the power of friendship. And, as soon as I had thought of these, I realized how often one finds them together, both in these openings and in life.
In her Appalachian thriller, DIAMOND CITY, Marianna Boncek portrays the strength of familial and community bonds within two sets of outsiders: the Diamonds are outcasts from the unforgiving community that surrounds them, living in a remote mountain settlement, but police officers must enter this close-knit world, turning into outsiders themselves, to investigate a murder. Similarly, B. B. Garin’s opening, which by chance also includes the word “city” in its title, portrays the clash of conflicting communities: CHEMICAL CITY brings to life a vivid alternate world, grim and metallic, in which music and dancing have been outlawed, and in which Cinnamon Tye, a secret dancer, finds both support and danger among her fugitive companions in the Backlot Ballet. The narrator of Andrea Caswell’s exciting historical adventure, ESCAPE FROM PROVIDENCE, also finds his life imperiled by tyrannical authorities. In his case, however, those authorities are the press-gangs of early-nineteenth-century England, who forced young men into service in the ruthless Royal Navy.
These three openings all strikingly portray the violence of ostracization, exile, and unjust laws. But there are several openings in this issue that portray quieter forms of isolation. THIS WILL END, by Lila Mae Flavin, is narrated by a young woman struggling to come to grips with her attraction to women, while also striving for confidence and agency in her relationship with a domineering boyfriend. The narrator of Stephanie Smith’s STILL ICE is an aging transgender man both seeking and resisting connection in his Martha’s Vineyard community. Caught between his high-powered job in the tech world and the still-painful familial rifts caused by his decision decades earlier to transition, he finds himself torn between the past and the future.
Megan Vorm, in BONES IN THE SAGE, tackles the long-term effects of another form of familial conflict: her novel opens with a woman trapped in a cave during an Idaho blizzard in the 1920s. Feverish and hungry, the woman thinks back on her strong bond with her mother, a prairie doctor like herself, and on the deep wounds that her abusive father inflicted on both women. THE SHEDS, by Gill Mather, also opens with a woman taking shelter, after going on the run from past traumas, but in this opening an unexpected friendship—with the owner of the shed she has chosen to sleep in—pushes the story in a surprising direction, underscoring the possibilities but also the pitfalls of human connection.
As the alphabet would have it, this issue closes with two openings about male friendship. THE iCON, by Ross West, is a satirical take on the muddle of politics, media, and corruption in America today. In it, a bored lawyer befriends a charming con man, taking part in the ingenious frauds for the sheer thrill of it and finding new zest in his admiration for the other man’s nerve. In JULES AND MATTHEW, by Carl Wooton, two older men enjoy a deep bond on fishing trips in the swamps and marshes of southern Louisiana. But Jules, a mortician, must come to terms with his own loss when Matthew dies, leaving Jules and his wife to remember the many calamities that affected both men.
As always, the openings in this issue of Embark offer something for everyone. Whether you are hoping for comedy or tragedy, fantasy or mystery, introspection or adventure, these openings will provide all that and more. Enjoy!
— Ursula DeYoung, Founding Editor
** NOTE **
The tenth novel opening initially included in this issue was a semi-autobiographical piece written by a Kurdish author originally from Iran. However, some of her family-members still living in Iran are now in danger because of the current political situation there, and for their safety we have removed her opening from our site. We hope to be able to repost it safely at a later time.
Table of Contents
DIAMOND CITY – Marianna Boncek
ESCAPE FROM PROVIDENCE – Andrea Caswell
THIS WILL END – Lila Mae Flavin
CHEMICAL CITY – B. B. Garin
THE SHEDS – Gill Mather
STILL ICE – Stephanie Smith
BONES IN THE SAGE – Megan Vorm
THE iCON – Ross West
JULES AND MATTHEW – Carl Wooton