Synopses & Reviews
These characters may be the usual suspects, making the usual mistakes, but their stories are not the usual fare. Populated by pretenders, ex-cons, and wannabes who bend the rules, break the law, and risk everything to salvage their own hearts, the twelve stories in The Usual Mistakes
conduct readers into a world where betrayal is just a beginning. Deception, infidelity, even death where a person goes from there is the mainspring of Erin Flanagan's fiction, and in the turns her characters take, we find rare insights: that we are often wedded to one another because of, not in spite of, our flaws and that this paradoxical connection may be cause for hope.
An impostor medical assistant and an ex-neo-Nazi, covered head-to-toe in swastika tattoos; a seemingly oafish but suddenly sympathetic husband and a boorish mother-in-law in need of comforting; a young boy who finds adulthood by learning to forgive: the characters in these stories are by turns inappropriate, outlandish, selfish, and kind, complicated in the ways only real people are. Though they ask for little and rarely get even that, they do astonishing things with whatever does come their way; and their stories, in Flanagan's sure hands, never fail to surprise.
"This debut story collection from Prairie Schooner editorial assistant Flanagan is the second in Nebraska's Flyover Fiction series, named, with ironic Midwestern self-deprecation, for the 'flyover' states on which its books center. The title story leads off: Eleanor, a 31-year-old Omaha widow, a former Best Western receptionist who forged credentials when it converted to a hospital, works as a medical assistant in that hospital and takes in a laser surgery patient as a renter so she can make her mortgage payments; Eleanor photographs her young female tenant's neo-Nazi tattoos covering her body for her file of 'visible mistakes,' and the two eventually identify ties that bridge age and class barriers. In 'Intervention,' another standout among the 12 pieces, Kate's boyfriend drags her to Myrtle Beach, where his mother has plotted to end his father's drinking; rather than a somber attempt to turn someone's life around, the intervention (the third in three years) most closely resembles a Super Bowl party. The homogeneity of Flanagan's characters, as bright and clear as they are, threatens to spoil the whole, but the inventiveness of her deceptively mild plots keep common themes fresh. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"With laugh-out-loud dialogue and heart-rending moments of awkward revelation, Flanagan takes the world of 'Midwestern nice,' turns it over her knee and spanks it until it screams out its dirty secrets." Lisa Carey, author of Love in the Asylum and The Mermaids Singing
"Flanagan writes with bleak, searing humor...her acute vision is startling, reminding readers that every loss is the beginning of a long, new story of healing and replenishing." Erin McGraw, author of The Good Life
"Both gentle and wickedly funny, the stories in The Usual Mistakes beautifully define lives not so well lived." Timothy Schaffert, author of The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters
About the Author
Erin Flanagans short fiction has appeared in Colorado Review, Baltimore Review, South Carolina Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Cimarron Review, Connecticut Review, the anthology Best New American Voices 2001, and elsewhere.
Flyover Fiction is a series intended to support the work of fiction writers from the region in the center of the country referred to either sentimentally as the Heartland or dismissively as flyover country, a region more clearly defined by what it is not than by what it is.