In these 11 stories—and the weird spaces in between—people of all kinds struggle to free themselves from conventions and constraints both personal and political. Places ranging from the farthest reaches of outer space to the creepy abandoned farmhouse in the middle of nowhere become battlegrounds for change and growth—sometimes at a massive cost.
Tyranny takes many forms, some more subtle than others, and it is up to the reader to travel along with the characters, who improvise and create their own renditions of freedom.
Poet and fiction writer Alan DeNiro uses language like no other. His second collection of stories explores our relationship to art, history, and looks at how everyday events, personal and political, never cease to leave us off balance.
Praise for Alan DeNiro’s books:
“There aren’t many writers who take weirdness as seriously as DeNiro does, and fewer still who can extract so much grounded emotion, gut-dropping humor, and rousing adventure from it. A dizzying display of often brilliant, always strange, and definitely unique storytelling”
—Booklist (starred review)
“A fast-paced, suspenseful dystopian picaresque, part Huck Finn and part bizarro-world Swiss Family Robinson.”
“Macy’s adventure is engaging and absorbing, but it doesn’t make much sense. For those conditioned to the logic of classic science fiction, “Total Oblivion’s” rule-breaking can be frustrating. But readers who are willing to let go will be swept away.”
—Los Angeles Times
“DeNiro’s novel moves the reader along at a lively and crazy pace, engaging interest in Macy and her fate while making subtle references to the sad past and giving frightening glimpses of a scarier future.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Unsettling and never boring, ‘Total Oblivion’ should interest older teens who are hooked on vampires and other dark fantasies. They’ll cheer for Macy, whose courage increases as she does dangerous things she never dreamed of when she was in her safe high school in St. Paul—before everything collapsed.”
—St. Paul Pioneer Press
“Macy narrates this story in a delightful, lighthearted voice that stiffens only a little as she realizes that she will never have a senior year.”
“Chock-a-block with adventure, suspense, and surprise. Apocalyptic family values, too! Recommended to all.”
—Karen Joy Fowler (The Jane Austen Book Club)
Alan DeNiro’s excellent debut novel . . . is the very rare novel that satisfies on a multiple of levels.”
“Wow! This is a wonderfully weird, fun, touching, heartfelt and memorable novel. Imagine if Huck Finn had been living in post-apocalypse America, and Terry Pratchett had been promoted to God, with George Saunders as his avenging angel. The world of this book is a little like that. In this case, the role of Huck is played by a sixteen-year-old-girl named Macy, whose smart, mordant, utterly convincing voice grounds our journey through this crazy landscape. Macy reminds us that no matter how surreal things get, there is still resilience and hope in the human spirit. Alan DeNiro has created a hilarious and terrifying dream world, but his real genius is that he’s peopled it with characters we come to love.”
—Dan Chaon (Await Your Reply)
“Alan DeNiro lifts the modern family drama and sets it down in the middle of a wildly inventive post apocalyptic landscape. The insulated life of Middle America may be a thing of the past, but DeNiro finds a way to lead readers into a future full of humor, imagination, and hope.”
—Hannah Tinti (The Good Thief)
“Deeply weird, sometimes challenging, but always smart and affecting.”
—Locus (Notable Books)
“Deniro’s greatest gifts are those of a poet, and his prose is filled with stunning images and incantatory rhythms. Debuts often come along with press releases touting them as “assured,” and sure enough, Deniro’s was no different. But with talent as deep as his, it’s no wonder Deniro is confident in touring us around his strange worlds.”
—Jonathan Messinger, Time Out Chicago
“Maybe the future of sf is Alan DeNiro. The title story here, set in twenty-third-century Pennsylvania, is its nameless-till-the-last-sentence narrator’s university-application essay, numbered footnotes and all, which explains why not to expect him on campus anytime soon; he is in love and considering getting gills. Maybe DeNiro is the future of alternate history: in “Our Byzantium,” a college town is invaded by horse-and-chariot-led soldiers who demolish cars, wheelchairs, and other machines; reestablish Greek as the lingua franca; and otherwise conquer. He could be fantasy’s tomorrow, too, if the offhandedness of the impossible transformations in “The Cuttlefish,” “The Centaur,” “The Excavation,” and “If I Leap” catches on. In “The Fourth” and “A Keeper,” DeNiro is one of the most powerful, least partisan prophets of consumerist totalitarianism. “Salting the Map” confounds the distinction between artifice and reality as deftly and daftly as Andrew Crumey’s Pfitz (1997) and Zoran Zivkovic’s Impossible Stories (2006). The long closer, “Home of the,” about Erie, Pennsylvania, now and then, is as laconic and associative as its title is elliptic. Refreshing, imaginative, funny-scary stuff.”
—Ray Olson, Booklist
“A commitment to experimental structure and oddball elements provides this debut collection’s consistency…. The collection argues for DeNiro as a writer to watch.”
“Many of these stories unfold like dreams, startling in their detail but elusive in their meaning. Yet, the prosaic as well as the poetic features in these stories as characters attempt to create a detailed but incomplete record, like a dream book of their own histories. Objects such as a college entrance essay, maps, postcards, outdated computer disks, the provenance of a chess set, all become documents which convey the fragility of histories”
“I’m not ordinarily an editor, so finding stories for the first six issues of Fence magazine was a guilty pleasure, and the subsequent work by formerly unknown Fence writers like Kelly Link and Julia Slavin has made me look like a prognosticator, or maybe an annoying drunk guy on a streak at a casino. Now here’s Alan DeNiro, whose “Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead” was always my favorite. I’m thrilled to see him in bookstores at last.”
—Jonathan Lethem (Fortress of Solitude)
“Reading Alan DeNiro’s new collection, Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead, made me feel like a dog that twists its head a bit to the side on hearing a whistle too high for humans to hear. The dog is perplexed and intrigued by the sound — it knows where it’s coming from but not really. Familiar enough, but maybe not. So too with these strong, out of kilter stories. DeNiro blows his own distinctly different sounding whistle and once you’ve heard it, you can’t help but stop and take real notice.”
—Jonathan Carroll (Glass Soup)
“The wholly original, carefully crafted tales that comprise Alan Deniro’s Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead are like colorful pinatas full of live scorpions — playful, unexpected, and deadly serious.”
—Jeffrey Ford (The Girl in the Glass)
Cover by Kevin Huizenga.
Alan DeNiro was born in Erie, Pennsylvania. He graduated from the College of Wooster with a B.A. in English and the University of Virginia with an M.F.A. in creative writing. He is the author of the story collection Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead (Crawford Award finalist; Frank O’Connor Award longlist) and the novel Total Oblivion: More or Less. His short stories have appeared in One Story, Asimov’s, Santa Monica Review, Interfictions, and elsewhere. He lives outside of St. Paul, Minnesota with his wife Kristin Livdahl and their children.