Each week as part of SunLit — The Sun’s literature section — we feature staff recommendations from book stores across Colorado. This week, the staff from Explore Booksellers in Aspen recommends “Shimmer,” “The Red-Headed Pilgrim” and “Bear.”
By Alex Pugsley
From the publisher: In 10 vividly told stories, “Shimmer” follows characters through relationships, within social norms, and across boundaries of all kinds as they shimmer into and out of each other’s lives.
From Jason Jefferies, General Manager: Alex Pugsley is one of our greatest living writers. He is like a Canadian James Joyce, only if James Joyce grew up hanging out in the parking lots of rundown 7-Elevens and pow-wowing on the grimy floors of divey rock & roll clubs. “Shimmer” is a short story collection built in and around the same world as Pugsley’s previous novel, “Aubrey McKee,” which is one of the best books to be published in the past decade. Each story teeters on the edge of a life-changing moment, dealing with the complexities of real-world relationship issues that don’t need the grandiosity of contrived plot points, because the real world is enough, right? “Shimmer” is published by Canadian indie-publisher Biblioasis, which hasn’t put out a bad book since I was turned onto them half a decade ago.
The Red-Headed Pilgrim
By Kevin Maloney
Two Dollar Radio
From the publisher: On a sunny day in a business park near Portland, Oregon, 42-year-old web developer Kevin Maloney is in the throes of an existential crisis that finds him shoeless in a field of Queen Anne’s lace, reflecting on the tumultuous events that brought him to this moment. Growing up in the suburbs, young Kevin suffered “a psychological break that ripped me from my humdrum existence” mainlining high fructose corn syrup and episodes of The Golden Girls. Thus begins a journey of hard-earned insights and sexual awakening that takes Kevin from angst-ridden Beaverton to the beaches of San Diego, a frontier-themed roadside attraction in Helena, Montana, and a hermetic shack on an organic lettuce farm. This is an irresistible novel of misadventure and new beginnings, of wanderlust and bad decisions, of parenthood and divorce, and of the heartfelt truths we unearth when we least expect them.
From Tony Alcantara, Inventory Manager: In The Red-Headed Pilgrim, Kevin Maloney’s protagonist, also named Kevin Maloney, rambles from one unsatisfying antidote to existential malaise to another. The fictional Kevin, a wannabe philosopher king, works, minimally, at whatever odd job he can find to sustain himself between failed love affairs, drug and alcohol binges, and unsatisfying cross country relocations. In spite of himself, Kevin wants to be a good person, wants to live a simple, authentic life like his hero Henry David Thoreau. And despite how often he screws up, you just can’t help pulling for him. “The Red Headed Pilgrim” is one of the funniest and fastest flying books you could ever read and may just appeal to the repressed Jack Kerouac living secretly inside of you.
By Marian Engel
David R. Godine Publisher
From the publisher: Lou, a shy and secretive young librarian, is called to a remote Canadian island to inventory the estate of the recently deceased Colonel Cary. In a cabin on the island, she discovers the colonel had a secret as well. A bear is chained inside. Fascinated, Lou brings the bear into the house and slowly gains the animal’s trust. She sinks her fingers into the bear’s fur — and soon realizes her darkest desire is for this large, powerful animal to be her lover. This novel by award-winning author Marian Engel works within the logic of a fever dream as the young woman comes to an even greater, and unexpected, understanding of herself.
From Emma Murray, Marketing Specialist: “What if?” is among the central questions poised in this quick, satisfying, and historically controversial novel by Canadian writer Marian Engel. When Lou arrives on the island, winter is receding with “snow already falling in caterpillars off the greening branches,” and summer is fast on its way, charging the landscape with its own vivid personality. As Lou settles herself in the mysterious and semi-solitary abode, “the weather demanded lyricism,” Engel writes. “Now she wanted to listen to the riverworld shaking the rain off its wings.”
The story, a mere 122 pages, is ripe with lessons about presence, purpose, possession, and peace as Lou begins to see herself anew, wrapped for the first time in furs. “By what crazy luck she had come to this place she would never know,” Engel writes. And we would never know, either, for we can only feel Lou’s luck, her freedom, and the delicious audacity of her fearless behavior.