Winner of the 2012 Richard Sullivan Prize in Short Fiction
In his latest collection of literary fiction, Mark Brazaitis evokes with sympathy, insight, and humor the lives of characters in a small Ohio town. The ten short stories of The Incurables limn the mental landscape of people facing conditions they believe are insolvable, from the oppressive horrors of mental illness to the beguiling and baffling complexities of romantic and familial love.
In the book’s opening story, “The Bridge,” a new sheriff must confront a suicide epidemic as well as his own deteriorating mental health. In “Classmates,” a man sets off to visit the wife of a classmate who has killed himself. Is he hoping to write a story about his classmate or to observe the aftermath of what his own suicide attempt, if successful, would have been like? In the title story, a down-on-his-luck porn actor returns to his hometown and winds up in the mental health ward of the local hospital, where he meets a captivating woman. Other stories in the collection include “A Map of the Forbidden,” about a straight-laced man who is tempted to cheat on his wife after his adulterous father dies, and “The Boy behind the Tree,” about a problematic father-son relationship made more so by the arrival on the scene of a young man the son’s age. In “I Return,” a father narrates a story from the afterlife, discovering as he does so that he is not as indispensable to his family as he had believed.
Mark Brazaitis has published two collections of stories, a novel, and a volume of poetry. His award-winning short stories have appeared in Ploughshares, Cimarron Review, and Confrontation, among other publications, and have been cited in the Pushcart Prize annual and Best American Short Stories volumes. Brazaitis is the director of the Creative Writing Program at West Virginia University.
“The beautiful stories in The Incurables, like the walking wounded who inhabit them, haunt the borderline between the land of the dead and the land of the living, where the bridge and remedy, as Mark Brazaitis knows well, is love. The lives within are urgently affecting, yielded up with strength and wit, with power earned the hard way, and most of all with wisdom.” — Janet Peery, author of Alligator Dance, The River Beyond the World, and What the Thunder Said
“The Incurables is a wonderful collection of stories about life, mental illness, and the human condition. The stories are wry, compassionate, and provide a deep understanding of the strengths and frailties of human nature and the ways in which individuals play out the hard cards they are dealt. Or don’t.” — Kay Redfield Jamison, author of An Unquiet Mind
“Mark Brazaitis has written a brilliant, humane, funny, and indelible collection of stories. His world is haunted by a powerful whiff of mortality, and by the love-worn and the lovelorn, but most magically, his Sherman, Ohio, is haunted by the Winesburg, Ohio, of Sherwood Anderson fame—with a twenty-first-century sensibility and flair. A rash of suicides, a washed-up porn star, fathers learning ‘Space Karate,’ a wistful ghost, and so much more, The Incurables is kissed by wisdom and humor. It is a well-grown terrarium of a book, a fascinating glimpse into the way we live now.” — Randall Kenan, author of A Visitation of Spirits and Let the Dead Bury Their Dead
“The figures at the centre of [Brazaitis’s] narratives are sometimes lonely or needy or deluded in the extreme; furthermore, their conditions are often contagious, hereditary or irremediable. But laughter is a refuge or a tonic for almost all of them, and even the most agonizing stories in The Incurables are funny . . . [D]eserves a lasting place among regional story cycles; it brings small-town Ohio palpably alive and combines a comic relish for the bizarre with a tenderness towards human frailty.” — Times Literary Supplement
“In the first story of this collection, the wife of a newly elected sheriff, who is suddenly thrust into a rash of suicides, says, ‘It’s like a plague of irrationality.’ That phrase describes many of the incidents in this series of stories, set in the community of Sherman, Ohio. Subjects and themes are dark: divorce, suicide, depression, insanity; the tone and style are not. The author’s bizarre humor and the outrageous plot elements and attitudes about the vagaries of human nature lighten the mood considerably. . . . A fine addition to large short story collections.” — Booklist Online
“Mark Brazaitis introduces us to Sherman, Ohio, a Midwestern university town, during a crisis, in which people commit suicide by jumping from a prominent bridge. The local sheriff, a retired professor, quickly finds out that the sleepy town, whose usual concerns include co-ed mischief, has become the center of a morbid display of public suicide, culminating in a gruesome circus act, where people dressed as clowns are shot off the side of the bridge by a canon. While this is a dramatic display of madness, many of the stories in this collection take a subtler approach to the inner turmoil of the inhabitants of Sherman. The beauty of the locale is that Sherman could be anywhere—that is, we recognize some of our own towns within it—and its inhabitants could be people we know and encounter every day, making these stories immediate and identifiable. . .” — The Los Angeles Review
“Brazaitis uses plain-spoken prose and focuses on the psychological insights of his characters. He also injects a welcome sense of dry humor that lightens some of the heavy material.” — Peace Corps Worldwide
“There are ten stories in this immensely enjoyable collection, all set in small town Sherman, Ohio. The provincialism creates the allure, with characters who have little experience beyond their locale, but whose struggles are like the many beyond its boundaries. That’s especially true when it comes to mental illness and emotionally driven behaviors. If you’re depressed, obsessive, delusional or struggling with anger—as are these characters—it doesn’t matter where you live.” — _TheLongestChapter.com