"In the fall, I went for walks and brought home bones. The best bones weren't on trails-deer and moose don't die conveniently-and soon I was wandering so far into the woods that I needed a map and compass to find my way home. When winter came and snow blew into the mountains, burying the bones, I continued to spend my days and often my nights in the woods. I vaguely understood that I was doing this because I could no longer think; I found relief in walking up hills. When the night temperatures dropped below zero, I felt visited by necessity, a baseline purpose, and I walked for miles, my only objective to remain upright, keep moving, preserve warmth.
- PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
Ten years after his first collection, The Point, D'Ambrosio checks in with a gemlike set of eight stories in which wayward, self-deceiving characters set out to make order of their customary chaos-and realize they are more likely to find unhappy company than catharsis. In "Screenwriter," a major Hollywood player and lifelong depressive falls in love with an elfish, self-mutilating dancer during their stay in a psych ward, where she reminds him that the mechanics of love and mental illness are similarly repetitive. In "Up North," a woman's rape at 18 is at the root of her marital infidelities. During a trip to her family's hunting lodge, her husband is wracked by the need to discover the rapist (one of her father's hunting buddies, but which ) and accept the unhappy terms of his marriage. "The Bone Game" follows Kype, the listless heir to a huge fortune made in a forgotten past, and freeloader D'Angelo as the two drive west to spread Kype's maverick grandfather's ashes. When they pick up a Native American hitchhiker and detour to her Reservation, Kype's dissipation-as-coping-mechanism takes on a harsher, and deeper, cast. D'Ambrosio's dark, intense prose drives these stories like coffin nails. (Apr. 21) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 10, 2007
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Excerpt from The Dead Fish Museum by Charles D'Ambrosio
At the Home I'd get up early, when the Sisters were still asleep, and head to the ancient Chinese man's store. The ancient Chinese man was a brown, knotted, shriveled man who looked like a chunk of gingerroot and ran one of those tiny stores that sells grapefruits, wine, and toilet paper, and no one can ever figure out how they survive. But he survived, he figured it out. His ancient Chinese wife was a little twig of a woman who sat in a chair and never said a word. He spoke only enough English to conduct business, to say hello and goodbye, to make change, although every morning, when I came for my grapefruit, I tried to teach him some useful vocabulary.
I came out of the gray drizzle through the glass door with the old Fishback Appliance Repair sign still stenciled on it, a copper cowbell clanging above me, and the store was cold, the lights weren't even on. I went to the bin and picked through the grapefruits and found one that wasn't bad, a yellow ball, soft and square from sitting too long in the box, and then I went to the counter. The Chinese man wasn't there. His tiny branchlike wife was sitting in her chair, all bent up. I searched my pockets for show, knowing all along that I'd be a little short. I came up with twenty-seven cents, half a paper clip, a pen cap, and a ball of blue lint. I put the money in her hand and she stared at it. By the lonesome sound my nickels and pennies made when she sorted them into their slots I also knew that the till was empty. I looked behind her through the beaded curtain to the small apartment behind the shop. Next to the kitchen sink was an apple with a bite out of it, the bite turned brown like an old laugh.
I held my grapefruit, tossed it up in the air, caught it.
Where is he I asked.
She was chewing on a slice of ginger and offered me a piece, which I accepted. In the morning, they chewed ginger instead of drinking coffee.
Husband I said.
She blinked and spat on the floor. Meiyou xiwang, she said. Meiyou xiwang.
She folded her hands, tangling the tiny brown roots together. Meiyou xiwang, she said, touching her heart, and sending her hands flying apart. Her singsong voice beat an echo against the bare walls. Her hands flapped like a bat. I shook my head. Meiyou xiwang, she insisted. Huh I said, but I knew we could go on forever not making any sense. She hugged herself, like she was cold. I didn't know what to say. She'd traveled all this way, she'd left China and crossed the ocean and come to Bremerton and opened a little store and put grapefruit in the bins and Mogen David on the shelves, but she'd gone too far, because now she couldn't tell anybody what was happening to her anymore.