It was a year for notable debuts in fiction by local authors | Literary Arts | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

It was a year for notable debuts in fiction by local authors

Bacharach, Shotland, Sweterlitsch among the names publishing first novels

Pittsburgh's year was marked by notable debuts in fiction by local authors. Among them:

Jacob Bacharach's The Bend of the World (Liverigth) is a madcap, wickedly funny but still poignant coming-of-age novel about a 30-year-old Pittsburgh office drone, his messed-up buddies, various conspiracy theories, and UFOs over Mount Washington. Strong reviews included one in The New Yorker, and there were complimentary quotes from such literary lights as Sam Lipsyte and Gary Shteyngart.

Junkette is Sarah Shotland's alternately lyrical and matter-of-fact novel about a young college-graduate heroin addict in pre-Katrina New Orleans. Searching, funny, sometimes devastating, it upends preconceptions about addicts without romanticizing them. Published by indie White Gorilla Press, Junkette didn't get much media attention, but Shotland (who runs the Words Without Walls program for prisoners, and teaches at Chatham University) is a potent new voice.

click to enlarge Jacob Bacharach published The Bend of the World.
Photo by Heather Mull
Jacob Bacharach published The Bend of the World.

In Tomorrow and Tomorrow (Putnam), Thomas Sweterlitsch offers a remarkably assured depiction of a devastated protagonist unraveling a murder mystery in a slightly future society where the world's been uploaded, virtual reality is barely virtual ... and, oh, Pittsburgh has been flattened by a bomb. The book debuted to good notices, a Playboy Book of the Month pick and even a movie deal.

Jeffrey Condran's novel Prague Summer (Counterpoint) was a solid follow-up to his debut short-story collection, 2013's A Fingerprint Repeated. The story, a mystery and a hymn to bibliophilia, is set in the entrancing but forbidding Czech capital. Kirkus called the novel "an expressive, tantalizing and ingeniously constructed study of human character." Condran is also in indie publishing, as a co-founder of Braddock Avenue Books.

And the stories in Your Life Idyllic (Black Lawrence Press), Craig Bernier's debut collection, are mostly straightforward narratives about ordinary people doing everyday things, mostly in and around Detroit. But Bernier regularly surprises and moves with his portraits of factory workers, lovers and drunks.

Also noteworthy in Pittsburgh letters: Terrance Hayes, already a National Book Award-winner for his poetry, won a coveted MacArthur "genius" grant, in September. And City of Asylum/Pittsburgh marked a decade of sheltering writers persecuted in their home countries with projects including its arm Sampsonia Way's publication of an English translation of resident Venezuelan writer Israel Centeno's The Conspiracy; coverage in the national press; and a big anniversary reading, in October, called Exiled Voices.

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