It’s 2002 in Silicon Valley. 9/11’s still fresh, the dot-com bubble has burst, and holy calamity is raining down on 14-year-old Chad Loudermilk. His father is about to lose his job, his mother isn’t the same since Chad’s grandma died, and as one of the few black kids at tony Palo Alto High School, Chad’s starting to wonder about his birth parents. Next door lives dot-com mogul Scot MacAvoy, with his luxury SUV and his gardeners and his beautiful wife and his time to play video games with Chad, all making the Loudermilk family’s struggle to stay afloat seem that much harder. It’s going to be a tough year for the Loudermilks.
The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh is wise and witty novel about the Silicon Valley that’s not covered in the fawning features in The New York Times. It’s a place where the working class, blended Loudermilk family grapple with issues of race and inequality, all while trying to keep a smile on their faces. In the spirit of the works of Celeste Ng and Angela Flournoy, this is a big-hearted page-turner that will make you laugh, cry, and think all at once.
Jenn Stroud Rossmann writes the essay series “An Engineer Reads a Novel” for Public Books. Her stories have appeared in Hobart, Literary Orphans, Jellyfish Review, Tahoma Literary Review, failbetter, and other magazines. Her work has been a finalist for honors including the BOA Editions Short Fiction Prize, the Disquiet Literary Prize, and Sarabande Books’ Mary McCarthy Prize. She earned her BS and PhD at the University of California, Berkeley, and is a professor of mechanical engineering at Lafayette College. She throws right, bats left.
PRAISE FOR THE PLACE YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO LAUGH
“Acutely observed, full of wit, keen insight, and compassion, The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh follows an ensemble of complicated, entirely human characters, as they seek to define, or in some cases reclaim, their own identities in a radically shifting world.”
—Kate Racculia, author of Bellweather Rhapsody
“It may be her debut, but Jenn Stroud Rossmann’s novel shows she’s a startlingly wise and insightful writer. She effortlessly weaves together the stories of the extended Loudermilk family, a rich, complicated, and loveable cast of characters. Instantly absorbing and full of life, this is a story told with humor and heart.”
—Alix Ohlin, author of Inside
“Rossmann’s chief gift as a novelist is her keen and tender-hearted social observation of a diverse and struggling cast of characters. The Place You’re Supposed to Laugh is a wonderful and rich debut with a big heart.”
—Heidi W. Durrow, New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Fell From the Sky
“It started with a miracle. It was a useless miracle, but it still counted as a jaw-dropper, a total malfunction of reason and time… I can burn my own bushes, so I have no patience for miracles.”
Introducing the inimitable Milo Byers, a seventeen-year-old dropout whose brother is missing and mother has given up on life. In Lexington, Kentucky, Milo spends his nights being a bar bouncer and boosting cars while searching for his brother, who he suspects is a mysterious figure named “Nightwolf.” Nightwolf stalks the streets, tagging local businesses, while wearing a trash-bag over his head with eyeholes cut out, and making nonsensical threats to local news outlets. Caught between rival heavies Thomas the Prophet and Egan Hopper, Milo must choose what he stands for and the type of adult he wants to be.
In Willie Davis’s gritty, but affectionate portrayal of the new South, around every dark and harrowing corner, there is a tender and redemptive path forward.
PRAISE FOR NIGHTWOLF
“Davis, a master of wit, one-liners and dead on observations, has done everything right. Nightwolf, often funny and always smart, is told through the eyes of Milo, a devastatingly funny and keen social critic. And through him, this story of Kentucky and youth and angst and self-discovery gleams.”
—Natashia Deón, author of Grace
“Even among Nightwolf’s vivid landscape of smart-assed car thieves, bruised oracles, and horribly-named bar bands, Willie Davis’s tender, witty voice utterly steals this show. Every page of this brilliant, tough-willed novel is so alive with laughter, vulgarity, insight, wonder, wisdom, and heartbreak, often within the same impossible breath. What a book.”
—Mike Scalise, author of Brand New Catastrophe
“This is a story of profound loss—missing mothers, brothers, babies, hearts—populated by trash-talking, drug-addled, thieving, violent, wickedly funny, elegiac, fail and fail better prophets and preachers. Part Elmore Leonard, part Padgett Powell, part Eugene Ionesco if he’d trained his eye on the seediest corner of Lexington, Kentucky, Davis is a wildfire talent who understands there is no end to seeking, only endless reckoning with desire and mystery.”
—Maud Casey, author of The Man Who Walked Away and Genealogy
“Nightwolf is by turns hilarious and tragic, acerbic and tender, despairing and triumphant—and brilliant withal. Willie Davis’s kick-ass debut novel heralds the arrival of a major new talent.”
—Ed McClanahan, author of The Natural Man and Famous People I Have Known
“The reader needs to tread carefully or he (or she as the case may be) will wind up as a character in Nightwolf and never be seen alive again. Happened to me. Nightwolf is delightful, compelling, utterly original, funny as hell, such a bright new light on the literary landscape it makes the turn of the century seem like ancient history. Linguists are applying for NEA grants in such numbers to study Nightwolf they have had to resort to handwriting because of declining access to digits.”
—Gurney Norman, author of Divine Right’s Trip and Kinfolks. Poet Laureate of Kentucky
“Like a shotgun blast at the moon, Willie Davis’ debut novel enters the world. At its heart is Milo Byers, wayward son of Prospect Hill, a derelict Kentucky neighborhood where violence is arbitrary and opportunity nil. Haunted by the memory of a brother who disappeared and caught up in a power struggle between petty criminals, Milo must navigate the injustices of growing up poor in a forgotten place. And yet this isn’t your standard coming-of-age fare. Davis doesn’t truck in clichés or serve up some superficial tale of redemption. Sure, teeth are broken and scars are formed, but Milo manages to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. He’s literary kin to the protagonist in Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son—a princely fuck-up and a worthy companion. Tragic, comic, and brilliantly perverse, Nightwolf is a big-hearted novel heralds the arrival of a gifted storyteller. Read this book.”
—Jesse Donaldson, author of The More They Disappear and On Homesickness
In the smallish American city of Grand River, things are not so grand. The river is hopelessly polluted. City officials are in the pockets of oligarchs. And its best hope for meaningful change is a platitude-spouting eight-foot giant named Reason Wilder running for mayor.
Gray Davenport, a veteran political operative, isn’t faring much better than his hometown. His wife is about to leave him. He’s working for a mayoral candidate who has no chance to win and who can’t even pay for Gray’s services. When Gray notices that Reason may not be human, Gray embarks on a quest to uncover the truth about Reason’s mysterious origins, and the truth promises to change Grand River and Gray forever.
A satirical mashup of Frankenstein and Veep, Mr. Neutron is a hilarious genre-bender that speaks to the unpredictable nature of American politics today.
PRAISE FOR MR. NEUTRON
“Joe Ponepinto’s Mr. Neutron offers a hilarious and biting romp across the American political landscape through the eyes of beleaguered campaign operative Gray Davenport. Gray is a man accustomed to living a “slow-lane life” as an aide to a perennial office seeker, while conjuring up an imaginary alter ego, Monterey Jack, a tough hombre who bubbles with testosterone. Yet Gray’s existence picks up unexpected speed when his own wife signs on to manage the mayoral campaign of an eight-foot-tall opponent, Reason Wilder—a nemesis who seems hardly human. Soon several mysterious old men have hired Gray to investigate this monstrous neophyte…and what ensues is a mad escapade that perfectly captures the ongoing derangement of our current electoral order. Mr. Neutron is satire at its best: sharp, clever and unsettling. Ponepinto has penned the defining political comedy for our own tragicomic democracy.”
—Jacob M. Appel, author of Millard Salter’s Last Day
“Mr. Neutron is pure fun, satire at its best, skewering American government, politics, and society with delicious humor and insight. This is a book you’ll press on your friends, a book full of quotable gems and characters you won’t soon forget.”
—Kathy Anderson, author of Bull and Other Stories
“Just when you thought politics couldn’t get any stranger, Joe Ponepinto gives us this–a madcap, comedic tale of politics as usual–or unusual, rather. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll read, you’ll vote. And then you’ll read again.”
—B.J. Hollars, author of Flock Together
In eighteen stories that shine a light on people who are far from champions, Like a Champion is an ode to underdogs and long shots, sad office parties and one-sided basketball games, disappointed worker bees and hopeful lovers. Vincent Chu’s work is funny and big-hearted, like the best short stories of Sherman Alexie, and imbued with a generosity and warmth that reminds us that moments of glory can happen when we least expect it.
PRAISE FOR LIKE A CHAMPION
“Chu finds ways to turn the everyday into the revelatory… He covers a host of relationships – familial, romantic, occupational – and, in doing so, showcases the complexities of the characters on display. Chu’s stories are solidly realistic in their scope, exploring everyday issues with charm and empathy – and occasional moments of unexpected humor”
— Kirkus Reviews
“Vincent Chu takes us on a journey through real life, with brief glimpses into the lives of diverse characters. While each character and story is different, there is something relatable about them all. You’ll find yourself among friends in these stories”
— San Francisco Book Review
“Like a Champion is a lighthearted testimony to life’s unexpected turns… Chu creates a context where the lonely feel loved, connections thrive through conflicts, and private issues unfold in public spaces. Above all, each story retains a sense of hope or new beginning”
— Forth Magazine
“With gentle precision, Chu moves beyond the writerly adage of show don’t tell; he doesn’t want the reader to be shown or told anything, rather asking the reader to experience the feeling of being sucked into another person’s head… by the end of the book, we’re not just cheering for his characters, but for Chu himself”
— East Bay Review
“Chu decidedly hands us a triumphant collection of surprising, energetic stories and good, weird, sometimes sad people. It is an intimate book that made me laugh out loud more than once… I read this book thinking, oh bless their hearts, bless all of our hearts”
— Leesa Cross-Smith, author of Whiskey & Ribbons
“Vincent Chu can do many things, tell a story, create indelible characters, and craft spot-on dialogue, but what he does most movingly in Like a Champion is unpack our greatest fears, hopes and desires, in other words, what makes us human”
— Ben Tanzer, author of Be Cool
“The brilliance of this collection is not only these complex portrayals but the surprising twists that make us nod in recognition at what makes us hopeful and human. A fun and deeply moving read”
— Jimin Han, author of A Small Revolution
“The characters in each story reminded me of either myself or someone I know. Cannot wait for more from Vincent Chu. At the end of Like a Champion, I felt as if each story could be a full-fledged novel on its own”
— Shamala Palanappian, author of Elephant’s Breath
“These stories surprise and delight. Vincent Chu sees into the longings, quirks, and humanity of his characters, revealing the small moments that touch their lives with gravity and, often, grace”
— Lindsey Crittenden, author of The Water Will Hold You
In twenty-eight stories that draw blood while making you laugh, Alex Behr’s debut collection Planet Grim is a vivid, unsettling portrait of the gritty fringes of San Francisco and Portland, where complicated characters long for connection just out of reach. Behr is an idiosyncratic, unpredictable prose stylist with an edge and willingness to cut to the bone that makes her writing truly original.
PRAISE FOR PLANET GRIM
“Alex Behr’s imagination is wild, rigorous, and totally unique. I haven’t been able to decide if her stories are comedies intercut with horror or horror stories leavened by comedy, but when they’re this entertaining, who cares?”
— Tom Bissell, author of Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve
“Alex Behr’s Planet Grim turned me inside out. No, really, these stories of eros and ids getting loose, inner contradictions and desires crashing into each other like marbles, brutal instances of violence up against a moment of tender beauty, the people and lovers and mothers and families in this book are carved from the guts of us. What sits dead center at this hybrid of self and other is, mercifully, an unbeaten heart.”
— Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Book of Joan and The Small Backs of Children
“Alex Behr’s characters are conflicted, uncertain, and pained. What’s so compelling about her fiction is how she honors that conflictedness, explores the uncertainties, and examines the pain until it reveals itself as irreducibly human and therefore a kind of grace.”
— Dan DeWeese, author of You Don’t Love This Man and Disorder
“In Alex Behr’s funny, poignant stories, the kids are sharp, fearless, and insatiable, the parents conflicted, lustful, and tough. The meaning of family and love is an epic game nobody can win or stop playing.”
— Mary Rechner, author of the story collection Nine Simple Patterns for Complicated Women
“Planet Grim is an affecting debut that should remind us how we’re all fighting a tough battle.”
—The Lit Pub
“…the main draw to this book is the extraordinary sentence work on each and every page. Readers who love dark stories filled with drugs, strangeness, desperate characters, Cascade landscapes, and some of the best writing this reviewer has ever read in a debut, should pick up Planet Grim.”
“Planet Grim pushes the limits of the imaginable and takes readers on an ever-expanding, sometimes horrifying, yet always entertaining journey, leaving us all wondering just where Behr might take us next.”
“She has a world that is entirely her’s, which is not given to many debut authors. She is obviously inspired by many iconic names such as Gaitskill and Cheever, but the worldview she introduces in Planet Grim is entirely hers.”
—Dead End Follies
“Alex Behr’s Planet Grim is an honest exploration of human conflict, convolution, and confusion. Her pacing, unflinching gaze upon the grotesque, and her unique descriptive turns make this book a gripping and compelling read.”
—Mom Egg Review
Nominated for a Pushcart Press Editor’s Book Award, The Glamshack is a lyrical, darkly humorous novel on the nature of love, divinity, the Plains Indian Wars, and the male gaze. A bold, accomplished work set at millennium’s end, the book echoes early prose masterpieces of Cormac McCarthy and Martin Amis, but is entirely Paul Cohen.
PRAISE FOR THE GLAMSHACK
“There is a powerful, innate tension in his writing which comes not only from his voice but from his particular way of looking at things, an unusual way, and in art in fiction the only real worlds are likely to be the unusual.”
“There is so much to admire in Paul Cohen’s beauty of a first book. It is smart, sexy, wonder-filled, haunting and oh so marvelously, so humanly strange. Here even meat (venison) can be graceful. Here the heart grows hot, the soul burns dark and Desire blows a thousand horns.”
—Laird Hunt, author of The Evening Road
“Funny, intense and brilliant, this is a book about love but also about the self’s ability to withstand love. Every sentence is poetic, magnetized, in love with life. The language in this book cuts so close to the heart of experience that it feels very much like life itself–sacred, invincible, beautiful, full of meaning.”
—Rebecca Lee, author of Bobcat and Other Stories
“Poignant, sharp writing infused with flashes of brutal humor. Paul Cohen’s The Glamshack cuts to the quandary we all endure: the burden of desire. With a voice distinct and resonating, Cohen casts a sober eye on life and longing, love and failure. He personalizes a universal plight and casts a searing spotlight on the fact that we are all uniquely un-unique that, in the end, we all share the same fate.”
—Douglas Light, author of The Trouble with Bliss and Where Night Stops
“The Glamshack is that exceptionally rare, uncategorizable novel that not only finds its greatest achievements in its singularity, but also serves as a reminder of how very familiar and commonly un-daring contemporary fiction is in general.”
—Josh Kendall, Executive Editor, Little Brown, in letter nominating The Glamshack for a Pushcart Press Editor’s Book Award
“In his debut novel, Cohen manages the impressive feat of memorably documenting obsession without surrendering to it.”
“Cohen is creating new language, finding surprising combinations that are both familiar and wonder-inducing.”
—Heavy Feather Review
“With sparse, languorous sentences that nonetheless hold a masterful deep-seated tension throughout, The Glamshack is a look into the interior landscape of a man on the edge of self-discovery, and, even larger, it chronicles the ubiquitous nature of us all.”
“[The Glamshack] fits together like a beautiful puzzle without losing any sense of urgent personal anguish.”
—Barnes & Noblz Reads 10 Debut Novels for Your Autumn (2017) Reading List