This week’s other featured books, “Helltown Chronicles,” by Philip J. Temples and “Welcome Distractions,” by Carol Wierzbicki, can be found by scrolling down below this post, or by clicking the author’s name on our Authors page.
THE BOOK: What It Might Feel Like to Hope
PUBLISHED IN: February 2019
THE AUTHOR: Dorene O’Brien
THE EDITOR: Danilo Thomas
THE PUBLISHER: Baobab Press
SUMMARY: What It Might Feel Like to Hope, the second full-length collection from award-winning author Dorene O’Brien, is a masterful and eclectic mix of stories that consider the infinitely powerful, and equally naïve and damning force that is human hope. A couple tries to come to terms with one another as they travel west in the uncomfortable twilight of their youth; a mortician and an idealistic novelist spar about the true nature of death; an aspiring author hopes to impress Tom Hanks with zombies; a tarot reader deals out the future of Detroit. Highlighting her diverse talents, O’Brien offers a panoply of characters and settings that dwell beyond the borders of certainty, in a place where all that has been left to them is an inkling of possibility upon which they must place all their hopes. These stories offer a variety of tones, forms, and themes in which O’Brien displays an amazing range and control of her craft, all while exploring the essential nature of humanity with nuance, empathy, and at times a touch of skepticism.
THE BACK STORY: The stories were written over the course of 20 years, the earliest while I was still in college and the most recent within the past year. What I noticed is that the global tone of the work grew more optimistic as I aged, that despite these cruel times I was finding—or perhaps creating—the hope I so desperately need.
WHY THIS TITLE: Like many of us, the characters in the collection are often confronted with hard circumstances—crumbling relationships, incurable illnesses, demanding parents—but they never stop working toward positive outcomes, toward something better.
WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: The characters and their conflicts are contemporary and relevant. Award-winning authors have commented on the book’s relatability. Kelly Fordon has said that my characters “are hilarious and real and bumble through life making the same mistakes as the rest of us,” and Lolita Hernandez has said that “these stories remind me of what it means to be human.” I’ve also tempered the bleakness and gravity with humor not only to keep readers tuned in to a tough message but to keep them entertained. The collection also won a gold medal in the Independent Publishers Book Awards for Short Fiction (IPPY), so the writing has been deemed top notch in a literary contest.
“The stories in Dorene O’Brien’s What It Might Feel Like to Hope are heartbreaking, funny, thoughtful and keenly attuned to the frailties of humans and their often ineffectual attempts to connect with each other. A couple dukes it out on a road trip, a pair of quiet neighbors reject and then find each other thanks to a pet lizard, superstar Tom Hanks faces off against the zombies, and a mortician offers sage advice to a famous novelist who ought to know better. Deliciously all over the place, yet tight and cohesive, once these stories drop their truth bombs, you’re left both dazed and sated by their richness.” — Michael Zadoorian, author of The Leisure Seeker and Beautiful Music
“Dorene O’Brien’s stories operate on a different plane and dimension of realism—flesh and blood yet dipped in a neon wash. At once a scientist of sensory details and a heartfelt observer of the intricacies of the human psyche, O’Brien’s prose possesses a particular cinema that will not just stay in your mind but your gut as well.” — Porochista Khakpour, author of Sons and Other Flammable Objects and Sick
“What gives these fine stories real heft is their authenticity, which O’Brien achieves through masterful use of voice, dialogue, and accurate detail. You trust her storytelling utterly.” — José Skinner, author of The Tombstone Race
“Entering closely and powerfully into the varied lives of her characters, O’Brien shows an uncommon sympathy to the struggling, the beleaguered, even the obtuse and the angry. In doing so, she brings us to the humor, tenderness and, yes, hope.” — Sarah Shoemaker, author of Mr. Rochester
“A panoply of humanity—characters who are hilarious and real and bumble through life making the same mistakes as the rest of us.” — Kelly Fordon, author of Garden for the Blind
“These stories remind me of what it means to be human and the myriad ways we work out its complexities.” — Loita Hernandez, author of Autopsy of an Engine
“Like all superb constructions, Dorene O’Brien’s magical, new collection of short fiction, What It Might Feel Like to Hope, quickly transports readers beyond the bones of its structure—the deftly-crafted plots, striking characterizations and clever, lyrical prose—to places of genuine wonder. It’s not surprising, then, that O’Brien’s characters similarly strive to transcend the defining characteristics of their lives. From the Detroit psychic who takes it upon herself to fix her failing city in the most brutal of ways, to a blocked writer constructing, and as quickly deconstructing, her zombie story, the protagonists in O’Brien’s collection are constantly tinkering with the building-blocks of their own, and other people’s, realities. Take Ben, a crystallographer from “A Turn of the Wind.” Though he knows “the internal structure of a crystal is a testament to orderly repetition,” still, “every crystal maintains a slight error in its pattern.” And so, when he is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Ben begins building weathervanes instead, and dating Opal, a waitress at his local diner. In this way, these terrific stories not only create order from the turmoil of human existence, they present us lucky readers with the unexpected and the marvelous: the hand-crafted chair that raises more memories than a daughter can bear; two modern “witches” and their healing herb garden; a brand new paradigm, or, as Daly tells us in “Pocket Philosophers,” “We are going to find a better way to make a fuss.” — Laura Bernstein-Machlay, author of Travelers
“O’Brien’s collection of stories takes us on a wild ride from a seemingly mundane, side-splittingly funny story about romantic missed opportunities to the depth of sorrow in a story about a mortician’s belated realization about the cost of loss; from the realistic depiction of the love between a bereft brother and sister to a roller-coaster parody of postmodern story writing via zombies. She slyly moves us through tales that begin with three drunken bricklaying louts and end with the characters revealing themselves as men of brain and soul; stories that show us women mourning separately or mourning together as they heal themselves and others. What It Might Feel like to Hope is not a series of stories, but rather an intricately woven pattern that brings characters from the margins into their own plots and conversely uses protagonists of some stories as marginal characters of others, making the reader shudder with recognition of lives crossing and merging with one another. The final story of the collection closes the circle beautifully, making us feel that out of the most circumscribed conditions hope can rise.” — Anca Vlasopolos, author of Cartographies of Scale (and Wing)
“Dorene O’Brien’s second collection of short stories takes readers on a wondrous journey that is at times laugh-out-loud humorous, at times heartbreaking, but always compelling and magnificent in its authenticity. Through vivid and engaging prose, O’Brien portrays characters and worlds that are starkly different from one another: a health-conscious widow continually bails out her drunken next-door neighbor from jail while defying the peering eyes of their neighbors; a young couple on the brink of breaking up takes a road trip; a research scientist slipping into dementia discovers a whole different realm; zombies spring to life on the pages of a screenplay meant for Tom Hanks. Each story is a delight, filled with keen insight. But just as the title of Dorene O’Brien’s collection “What It Might Feel Like to Hope,” portends, the thread of hope — in all its desperate and wonderful glory — weaves its magic throughout this gem.” — Ksenia Rychtycka, author of Crossing the Border
“The stories in What It Might Feel Like to Hope are crystalline portraits of characters bold and brave enough to hang on to their idealism through every thwarted dream. O’Brien links her stories not with the traditional steel of recurring characters or connected plotlines, but with the silken thread of shared desires, destinies, and the refusal to relinquish either to the quotidian challenges of circumstance. From a grieving woman who finds her freedom in repeatedly bailing her neighbor from jail to an herbalist whose cures for her community help her heal from her own loss, the characters in this beautiful collection, who once knew what hope felt like, never give up searching for what it might feel like to win hope back.” — Laura Hulthen Thomas, author of States of Motion
AUTHOR PROFILE: Dorene O’Brien is a Detroit-based writer and teacher whose stories have won the Red Rock Review Mark Twain Award for Short Fiction, the Chicago Tribune Nelson Algren Award, the New Millennium Writings Fiction Prize, and the Wind Fiction Prize. Her story, “#12 Dagwood on Rye,” was chosen by writer and fiction judge Jim Crace from among 4,000 entries as first-place winner of the international Bridport Prize. She has earned fellowships from the NEA, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Pfeiffer-Hemingway Educational Center. Her stories have been nominated for two Pushcart prizes, have been published in special Kindle editions and have appeared in The Best of Carve Magazine. Her work also appears in Madison Review, Short Story Review, The Republic of Letters, Southern Humanities Review, Detroit Noir, Montreal Review, Passages North, Baltimore Review, Cimarron Review, and others. Voices of the Lost and Found, her first fiction collection, was a finalist for the Drake Emerging Writer Award and won the USA Best Book Award for Short Fiction. Her fiction chapbook, Ovenbirds and Other Stories, won the Wordrunner Chapbook Prize. Her second full-length collection, What It Might Feel Like to Hope, was first runner-up in the Mary Roberts Rinehart Fiction Prize and won the gold medal for short fiction in the Independent Publishers Book Awards in 2019.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: I love the short story form and wonder why, during an age when our time is at a premium because there are so many “distractions” competing for it, story collections are not more popular. When I was a younger and more impatient writer the short story was something I could “finish” and feel that sense of accomplishment before moving on to the next one to feel it once more. Now I am interested in the form as a challenge in brevity, which demands authors create entire worlds and character histories in a very small space. We must use just the right words while also withholding just the right information so that readers are seduced into colluding with us to make meaning. If the “white space” is as charged with clues as the words printed on the page, the story will emerge in a way that is more gratifying to readers, who have used their insights and perceptions to help craft the tale. There is simply no room in stories for devices used frequently in novels, such as lengthy digressions, false leads, casts of thousands
LOCAL OUTLETS: Literati, Nicola’s, Pages, Crazy Wisdom, Common Language, Schuler’s Books.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: https://www.doreneobrien.com/contact/