Synopses & Reviews
"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. When I was lost, I told myself stories...."
So Charles D'Ambrosio recounted his life in Philipsburg, Montana, the genesis of the brilliant stories collected here, six of which originally appeared in the New Yorker. Each of these eight burnished, terrifying, masterfully crafted stories is set against a landscape that is both deeply American and unmistakably universal. A son confronts his father's madness and his own hunger for connection on a misguided hike in the Pacific Northwest. A screenwriter fights for his sanity in the bleak corridors of a Manhattan psych ward while lusting after a ballerina who sets herself ablaze. A Thanksgiving hunting trip in Northern Michigan becomes the scene of a haunting reckoning with marital infidelity and desperation. And in the magnificent title story, carpenters building sets for a porn movie drift dreamily beneath a surface of sexual tension toward a racial violence they will never fully comprehend.
Taking place in remote cabins, asylums, Indian reservations, the back roads of Iowa and the streets of Seattle, this collection of stories, as muscular and challenging as the best novels, is about people who have been orphaned, who have lost connection, and who have exhausted the ability to generate meaning in their lives. Yet in the midst of lacerating difficulty, the sensibility at work in these fictions boldly insists on the enduring power of love. D'Ambrosio conjures a world that is fearfully inhospitable, darkly humorous, and touched by glory; here are characters, tested by every kind of failure, who struggle to remain human, whose lives have been sharpened rather than numbed by adversity, whose apprehension of truth and beauty has been deepened rather than defeated by their troubles. Many writers speak of the abyss. Charles D'Ambrosio writes as if he is inside of it, gazing upward, and the gaze itself is redemptive, a great yearning ache, poignant and wondrous, equal parts grit and grace.
A must read for everyone who cares about literary writing, The Dead Fish Museum belongs on the same shelf with the best American short 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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Though D'Ambrosio is hardly among the most prolific writers of the contemporary American short story, he ranks with the best....An emerging master of the short story returns with a collection that should expand his readership." Kirkus Reviews
"These eight pieces find beauty at the edge of despair, leaving no dysfunctional stone unturned....D'Ambrosio has mastered the deadly cues signifying that catastrophe looms." The Oregonian (Portland, OR)
"D'Ambrosio is a great short-story writer because he compellingly confronts the inexplicable mysteries of what it means to be a human being....There are few writers today who should be read so carefully that your lips move. Charles D'Ambrosio is one of them." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"As old as the physical misery and mental confusion in D'Ambrosio's stories sometimes seem, his finished surfaces are thoroughly modern, and insistently so....[B]eautifully crafted images of departing light." San Francisco Chronicle
"[C]arefully crafted but sometimes overwrought stories....While D'Ambrosio's stories possess an impressive complexity, they sometimes seem built with the dry rigor of algebra equations." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"The real trouble with The Dead Fish Museum is that these six stories...are almost impossible to put down. D'Ambrosio's prose is fluid, even insinuating. Sentence leads on to sentence with a momentum that mimics the twisted logic of madness..." Seattle Times
About the Author
Charles D'Ambrosio is the author of The Point and Orphans, a collection of essays. His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Zoetrope All-Story, and A Public Space.