15 Small Press Books To Kick Off Your 2020 Reading Season

Here are 15 recent and upcoming books from small presses that span everything from fantasy and crime fiction to memoir and literary short stories.

As a River by Sion Dayson (Jaded Ibis Press; out now)

A novel steeped in family secrets, Dayson’s As a River follows Greer Michaels who has returned to his small, Southern town ostensibly to look after his aging mother, but even Greer knows it’s more than that. Haunted by his own urgent departure from the town over a decade ago, his relationship with a white woman, and the teenage girl Ceiley whom he sees too much of himself in, Greer has to find a way to reconcile his past while forging some kind of a future. Dayson has written a classic story of generational struggle and redemption.

This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story by Jackie Shannon Hollis (Forest Avenue Press; out now)

This memoir opens with Hollis, newly married to her husband, Bill, holding her baby niece and wondering if she wants a baby of her own. She and Bill were both clear that they didn’t want children — except Hollis begins to wonder if maybe she does want to be a parent. In crystal clear prose laced with memory and introspection, she examines both societal expectations and her own thoughts regarding motherhood.

Tidal Flats by Cynthia Newberry Martin (Yellow Pear Press; out now)

Martin’s novel tells the story of a couple who have an agreement for their long-distance relationship. Ethan will have three years to continue his work as a photojournalist in Afghanistan, and after that, Cass will get him home for good. Yet, like most plans, theirs goes awry. Cass finds an unexpected community — and a mission of her own — in her work at a home for elderly women, and Ethan pushes the deadline of their pact to a critical and, ultimately dangerous, point. When Ethan finally returns to Atlanta with a bombshell of a secret, Cass must decide if sticking to the plan is more important than being with the man she loves.

Five Windows by Jon Roemer (Dzanc Books; out now)

This literary fiction debut takes a cue from Rear Window, Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery thriller film. While Roemer’s updated version tackles gentrification in San Francisco, it still has the same technicolor quality of the 1954 original. At the center of this story is a man who is homebound and his attentiveness to his shrinking world imbues every moment and interaction with hyperaware contrast. As he asks questions about the neighborhood, he must also answer questions about himself.

Pigs by Johanna Stoberock (Red Hen Press; out now)

On an unnamed island in the middle of an unnamed ocean, four children live with six pigs and tend to the world’s refuse. The insatiable pigs are fed everything from old refrigerators and discarded water bottles to emotional baggage and dreams. In Pigs, Stoberock has created a world that is as magical as it is practical, a place where both discarded hopes and dot matrix printers have somewhere to go. Yet the island is not so unlike our own word, cruel and tender and in need of balance. When a fifth child, and then an adult man, are washed up on shore, everything changes.

Night Theater by Vikram Paralkar (Catapult; Jan. 14)

Set in rural India, Paralkar’s Night Theater is a medical drama that veers into the unearthly. A surgeon leaves an urban area on the heels of a scandal and finds himself working in an understaffed, underresourced village health center. After a brutal robbery, the physician has a shot at saving the victims and restoring a family, if he can work fast enough. The stakes are already, necessarily high, but the doctor needs a miracle. This book braids philosophy, magical realism, and the complicated facts of health care in the modern age into a compact and compelling story.

City of a Thousand Feelings by Anya Johanna DeNiro (Aqueduct Press; Feb. 1)

DeNiro packs an entire epic fantasy into this very short book from Aqueduct Press, and it is a testament to what a skilled writer can do with a hybrid form. More complex than a novella but not quite a novel, City of a Thousand Feelings puts the voices of trans women front and center. It’s a complicated, lyrical story underpinned by the trappings of war and feelings of loss. For longtime or new fans of DeNiro’s work, this is a quick but satisfying read.

Ceremonials by Katharine Coldiron (Kernpunkt Press; Feb. 11)

Ceremonials is the story of two young women who fall in love at boarding school and has all the emotional resonance of the 2011 Florence and the Machine album its title references. What Coldiron does particularly well is add on to the backdrop of Ceremonials, the record, while creating an entirely new landscape for Ceremonials, the book. There’s a current of urgency in her prose that will feel familiar to Florence and the Machine fans, but the book stands on its own.

Where You’re All Going by Joan Frank (Sarabande Books; Feb. 18)

Where You’re All Going is comprised of four novellas that include similar themes, like music and challenging relationships. The novellas can be read alone or together, but taken as a whole, Where You’re All Going becomes an expansive book that reads similarly to Joan Silber’s Ideas of Heaven. In each of the novellas, Frank shows the intimate ways people are connected while exploring the distance that exists between them.

Whiteout Conditions by Tariq Shah (Two Dollar Radio; March 17)

Ant is borderline obsessed with funerals, likening the events to weddings as gatherings he looks forward to. Yet, when a childhood friend passes, Ant’s veneer starts to crumble. Weirdly funny, Whiteout Conditions tracks Ant and his friend Vince as they make their way through Chicogoland’s suburbs, which, in Shah’s telling, are as harrowing as any arctic climate.

My Morningless Mornings

by Stefany Anne Goldberg (Unnamed Press; March 24)

An exploration of her relationship with her father and her relationship with nighttime, Goldberg’s memoir, My Morningless Mornings, belies an easy plot summary. It is a book about insomnia as much as it is about art, and it is a book about being alone as much as it is about relationships with family and community. Throughout My Morningless Mornings, Goldberg is on a journey toward understanding her position in her own life, and she deftly unpacks these ideas and thoughts with every turn of the page.

Cheap Heat by Daniel M. Ford (Santa Fe Writers Project; May 1)

The second book in Ford’s Jack Dixon trilogy, Cheap Heat, follows the detective across Baltimore’s piers, seedy districts, and on the road as he confronts both a deadly gang and his own past failures. This is Ford’s fifth novel, and it shows. Strong character development and fast pacing make this an enjoyable read.

A Small Thing to Want by Shuly Xóchitl Cawood (Press 53; May 3)

Cawood’s short stories are beautifully crafted and dig deep into the realities of family life, drawing heavily on narratives around women’s friendships and partner abuse. Cawood’s talent in this collection is bringing a fresh sensibility to the domestic. A Small Thing to Want finds its center in stories like “Passenger,” where Leticia learns to drive in a high school parking lot. It’s an image that is familiar to many, but Leticia is pushing 40, her teacher is an older friend, and they are both immigrants. Yet, even when her characters are unsteady, Cawood’s hands are firmly on the wheel.

The OK End of Funny Town by Mark Polanzak (BOA Editions; May 5)

This debut collection from Polanzak features a fantastical world that is grounded in the ordinary. The collection is playful in some ways, populated with robots and giants, but there’s also cultural commentary, like the school in one short story that offers courses in subjects like Cultivating Irrational Fears and Picking a Daisy While Feeling Ugly; his story “A Proper Hunger is a compendium of dystopian Yelp reviews. While there’s an irreverence to Polanzak’s writing, he manages keeps it from feeling distant with his smart takes on our times.

The Good Luck Stone by Heather Bell Adams (Haywire Books; July 7)

This novel follows Audrey, an elderly woman in Savannah, Georgia, who is reckoning with her history and a secret from her past as a World War II Army nurse stationed in the Philippines. As the story unfolds, Audrey must come to terms with the choices she has made, and she races against the clock to meet a dying friend while her own health flags. An unexpected alliance helps Audrey through her journey in this poignant story of love, loss, and second chances. ●

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