Going Dark: Selected Stories, by Dennis Must

GoingDarkGoing Dark ($13.95, 184 pp, 5×8 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-397-6) is a collection of seventeen stories by Dennis Must. The cover and interior illustrations are by Rostislav Spitkovsky, who also illustrated Must’s novel, The World’s Smallest Bible.

Must’s most recent novel, Hush Now, Don’t Explain was the winner of the 2014 Dactyl Foundation Literary Fiction Award. It was also shortlisted for the Eric Hoffer Award.

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5 Stars: “Dennis Must’s third short story anthology, Going Dark, presents a raconteur a la F. Scott Fitzgerald meditative pretext by transporting the reader into each of the dissimilar accounts be they matter-of-fact or stately, rational or imaginative. [….] Must’s writing is expressive, as he approaches the numerous stages of life we all share as we too transfer from childhood to youth, to conceivably consider marriage or other association, and, at the end face the inevitable death that awaits us all. Lives so unrelated yet very much the same; are the ones brought to life under the pen of this skillful writer. Dennis Must’s assortment of short accounts, is at once a multilayered, thought-provoking psychological frolic in addition to being a deeply seated thoughtful work; brimming with anxiety, as distant, unapproachable, self-absorbed characters usually at odds with themselves, others around them, and life in general[….] Enjoyed the read, happy to recommend for those who enjoy a bit of the avant garde.”  Read more….

—The Midwest Book Review

“Dennis Must is a searching writer, able to transcribe madness and instability, the wrack of obsession and the weariness of giving in. Reality, in Must’s hand, is always flirting with the abyss and this gives his prose an expansiveness and wonder quite beyond the ordinary. In Going Dark, Must tenderizes this same hot sense with implements of magic that turn our sentient lives into examples of the bizarre, the wondrous, and the crushing. As the stories move out of their mid-century crucible, amidst engine oil stains and belt buckles, and into the present and back again, the reader can’t help but notice the same amber light.” —Nathaniel Popkin, journalist, editor, member of the National Book Critics Circle, and author of 3 books, including the novel Lion and Leopard

“Dennis Must’s third collection, a complex psychological, philosophical work, is filled with isolated, alienated, self-absorbed characters. Each story in this volume goes dark as Must burrows deeply into the souls of his intricately drawn characters. Overall, the collection becomes a compelling study of the problem of evil, the nature of human identity, and the function of art.” ——Jack Smith, author of Hog to Hog, Icon, and Being

“There are places where I stopped reading for story just to enjoy Must’s words. In the words, in the vocabulary, Must speaks to us living in an age that has turned its back on lexical prowess and seems to seek out the lowest elements in the lexicon. In Going Dark, Must refuses to admit that the dumbing down of America is in full swing.” —Jack Remick, author of the California Quartet and Gabriela and The Widow, for the Dactyl Review

“Writers aren’t exactly people … they’re a whole lot of people trying to be one person.” In Dennis Must’s third story collection, Going Dark, the narrators mirror F. Scott Fitzgerald’s observation by drawing the reader into their dissimilar yarns, earthy or exalted, practical or fanciful. An aging actor looks back on his life, but whose life does he recall? A couple finds a novel way to spice up their marriage, but then the fantasy takes on a life of its own …. Middle-aged men struggle to cope with distracted wives and terminal loneliness. They look back on hapless childhoods to come to terms with what drove their parents or siblings to suicide, infidelity, or madness.

Post World War II Midwest is the predominant setting, and Must’s poetic gift captures its moods, textures and odors and gives it form and substance in vivid colors and dramatic shades of gray.

Their author has been variously compared to Franz Kafka, Flannery O’Connor, Nathaniel West, and Nathanial Hawthorne.

Says Must, “Stories preserve the heartbeat of those telling moments in our lives that, for better or worse, distinguish who we are. I write to savor their ardor once again, in hope that they become less ambiguous so that I might revel in their wonder, their mystery, or even mitigate their lingering pain. It’s a journey that began for me upon reading Sherwood Anderson’s ‘I Want To Know Why.’ ”

Dennis Must is the author of two short story collections: Oh, Don’t Ask Why, Red Hen Press (2007), and Banjo Grease, Creative Arts Book Company, Berkeley, CA (2000). His first novel, The World’s Smallest Bible, was published by Red Hen Press in March of 2014. His second novel, Hush Now, Don’t Explain, was published by Coffeetown Press in October of 2014. His plays have been performed Off Off Broadway, and his fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary reviews. Dennis and his wife Aviva live in Massachusetts. Click here to visit him online.

Keep reading for an excerpt from “Houseguest”:

The following morning he found a pair of brown leather bluchers squirreled away in the corner of the garage. In the garden shed—alongside a spade whose handle had broken, a rake with several tines missing, and a package of nasturtium seeds—a man’s Elgin watch dangling by its crocodile leather strap from a nail. Edgar shook it, causing it to tick alive.

That second night he placed the timepiece next to his head. He dreamed he heard the former tenant’s heart beating in the upstairs bedroom, the large one with the porthole to the attic where the stoup remained, and that, by some miraculous intervention, he’d learned to play Debussy. That his fingers had taken on a life of their own and astonishingly begun to fly over the keys, producing the lovely sounds.

Would the shoes fit? he wondered. And what did the gentleman look like? (The house sale had been arranged by a lawyer for the former occupant’s estate.) Was there a photograph secreted somewhere in the house?

These items that I’ve discovered are meant for me to puzzle together. They’re talismans of some sort. How could it be otherwise? Why was the piano left behind? The shoes and the watch? Surely there is a photograph lying about somewhere.

The kitchen cupboards lay bare.

The medicine chest in the upstairs bath was sparkling clean. In the harsh overhead light, he spotted a slit in the cabinet’s back for discarded razor blades. How many had fallen to pile up in the cavity of the studded walls? Were they blue steel or silver? Were any stained with blood?

He checked the smaller bedroom closets. Each was empty, the top shelf lined with fading newspaper.

Inside the Bösendorfer!

Moonlight puddled its closed lid. A brittle manila packet lay across its strings. He emptied its contents upon the parquet floor.

A glossy photograph of a nude sitting before an oval dressing mirror accompanied a song book, its pages dog-eared with several missing. The woman stared at Edgar in the mirror, and behind her, a shellacked-hair male wearing a tweed jacket.

Younger … yes, but I swear it’s me. Who is she? The china breasts with plum aureoles. The raven hair spiraling over her left shoulder. The mirror casting a silver light on her narrow waist and willowy thighs.

Edgar lifted the glossy to his face. His double stared at him over her shoulder. Not at her. Erotic as she was … but at him.

He lay under the Bösendorfer, tossing and turning, the photograph alongside.

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