The pleasures of literary fiction are many but there is so much of it that I find myself looking for a certain kind of writing. Ideally, the tone of the work would be in the tragi-comic range with enough originality of character and conflict to suggest it is grounded in real life, yet also enough lightness and irony to keep it buoyant and moving along. Like the writing process itself, the reader often finds himself diverted from the customary path to a much more uncertain and problematical one. Some of my favorite fiction somehow manages the trick of allowing sadness to inhabit the same space with a kind of low key humor. Occasionally there may be a magical or supernatural element. So likewise in my stories, a guy unwittingly drops a torrid love note in the church collection basket;   (more…)

Novel Excerpt

Harraway’s Call

The trouble with Nova probably began much earlier but Christmas was a disaster last year, our first that had  really gone awry. The subtle winter charms of Shorewood were still there; the conical holiday lights on the lampposts, the edge of the world sense of deserted beaches, the tapering spires of the chapels, the asymmetrical swirl of slanted and winding avenues. A few parks and a cemetery relieved the compression of dwellings just enough to lend the village a hint of the bucolic. Nova liked the University town aura, even if it was thousands of miles from where she was born. Perhaps my refusal to take a trip she wanted, for a dozen unconvincing reasons, (more…)

Featured Short Story Excerpts

All The Places To Hide

As they zoom along, bundles of hay lie scattered in the adjacent field, as if forming some message that can only be seen from the air. Dev likes the itinerant feeling of winding through the postage stamp hamlets, absorbing their slow rhythms and passages. Occasionally he sees a row of smoldering fires, with so much drifting smoke it obscures whole blocks off the main drag, a detail he remembers from all those years he came up here with his father. There is so much that is indistinct, faint remnants of when everyone was still there but this stretch of road seems to draw him somehow nearer to the past.

“Any withdrawal symptoms yet?” Dev says, only glancing over, lest he miss the turn.

“So far so good,” Jilly says, stretching languorously like a cat. “As long as somebody doesn’t shoot at us.” She shuts her eyes and curls herself into the contour of the bucket seat, trying to catch the angle of light. Her knees are tucked up her burgundy sweater so that to follow the rippled seam of her jeans is as stirring as the bank and plunge of a roller coaster.

“People don’t even use locks up here,” Dev says, rehashing one of his standard arguments for life in the country. “It’s safer than a police station in Chicago.”

Jilly is a city girl–dance clubs, avant-garde theater, cappuccino every morning–and Dev has had to gently cajole her for weeks to make the trip. He can’t escape the notion that they’re moving more and more toward some tricky romantic fault line, the cracks of which have already begun to appear. It doesn’t help that the radio stations keeps announcing strange territory with their gospel invocations and livestock reports, then fading under a hail of static. It doesn’t seem auspicious when a “V” of geese heads in the opposite direction and threatens to lose its pattern before aligning again.

They veer onto the short, narrow clay road when he spots the Kingfisher’s Resort sign, behind which cottages are arranged in a cluster, a sort of compound. High-backed wooden chairs painted green overlook the water, next to T-shaped pier, stacked kindling and a ring of stones for a fire. Thye hear the light slap of a retracted screen door from one of the far units and two small boys, seemingly propelled, are charging undeterred up a steep slope, as if a great deal is at stake. Even thirty yards away, there is also the hollow pop of waves against the log posts at the shoreline, and the clank of rigging flung against a mast. Dev has not been up here for seven years since his father died and he gets the peculiar feeling the old man will suddenly emerge, after one of his long walks, out of the woods.



Trouble with the Magi

…The night after the delivery truck backed up to the garage with the sleek machine, Laney announced that she was planning to attend an equinox gathering for the weekend. I thought we had agreed to take the kids to the aquarium and some intemperate remarks were exchanged. In the back of my mind, a suspicion  (…read more)

Casual Impostor

Though he didn’t usually keep count, over the past couple years, Blake was sure he had been mistaken for someone else at least six times. Throughout his adult life, this had happened and lately the phenomenon seemed to have accelerated. It occurred in train stations, supermarkets, baseball stadiums, anyplace where hoards of people converged, where  (…read more)

A Stranger In Transit

Oh, how I miss that announcement on the Northwestern, the sweet litany of stations stretching north along the shoreline. The list now  seemed like the line-up for a great and vanished baseball team or a chant of Hindu deities:  Clybourn, Ravenswood, Rogers Park, Davis Street, Wilmette, Indian Hill, Winnetka, Glencoe, Hubbard Woods, Braeside, Lake Forest,  (…read more)

Satellite View

From our kitchen alcove, I could see Mariel Crane kneeling in her garden and even humming some tune, the name of which seemed just over the borderline of memory and would probably remain there. The Cranes’ three dogs (two Irish setters and a collie) were not with her. Perhaps they would be too much of  (…read more)

From Tom's Blog

February 1, 2017

The case for tragicomedy in literary fiction

A favorite contemporary writer of mine whose work is entertainingly shot through with humor is Jacob Appel.  He is as consistently funny as he is prolific, having had scores of stories published, some of which are collected in “The Magic Laundry,” “Scouting for the Reaper” and Einstein’s Beach House.” He also has two excellent novels  (…read more)

About The Author

THOMAS BENZ graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Notre Dame. He recently won the 2017 Serena McDonald Kennedy Award for a short story collection called “Home and Castle.” The book is to be published by Snake Nation Press in the fall. In the last several years, he has had fifteen stories  (…read more)