Stories by Christopher Merkner
January 14, 2014 • 5.5 x 8.25 • 228 pages • 978-1-56689-338-1
Shirley Jackson for the contemporary Midwest, where the ties of family and community intersect darkly with suburban American life.
In these stories, an enraged village gaslights unsuspecting vacationers and a young man delays an impending confession, fondling the nostrils of his mother’s pet pig. Sharp and uneasy, for these inheritors of tradition, that which binds them most closely—offering stability and identity and comfort—are precisely the qualities that set them back, pull them down, burden, limit, and ruin them.
About the Author
Christopher Merkner teaches creative writing at West Chester University. His work has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Cincinnati Review, Fairy Tale Review, Gettysburg Review, New Orleans Review, and Best American Mystery Stories.
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“Christopher Merkner wastes no time establishing the odd atmosphere that pervades this debut collection. . . . The longer [stories] show what Mr. Merkner can do when he marries his absurd plots and unnerving deadpan tone to genuine emotional concerns.” —New York Times
“The 17 stories here are wondrous strange. Husbands and wives, parents and children, they all come together in surreal and dreamlike ways. . . . Profound and terrifically fun.” —Star Tribune
“The true beauty of these tales lies in their delicate endings, which manage to both tie up loose ends and leave everything hanging, so that they are simultaneously satisfying and mysterious. Such complexity makes great reading for lovers of short fiction, and for all who wish to witness a new master at work.” —Booklist
“Merkner’s narratives pulsate with confidence, mixing the weird (a five-year-old the size of a 15-year-old, a couple that paints an entire house one color) with moments of earnestness, and the result is a memorable book.” —Publishers Weekly
“In his debut collection, Merkner presents a darkly funny set of stories that look closely at heartland American culture and reflect it back with devastating accuracy. . . . [His] relentlessly deadpan reportorial voice is not so different from that of Garrison Keillor (Lake Wobegon Days) or the Coen brothers (Fargo). Going in unexpected directions that evoke both laughter and horror, these stories will appeal to readers who are willing to give in to their sense of the absurd.” —Library Journal
“The premises are wild and strange; the writing is full of dark humor.” —Missouri Review
“Both chilling and funny too, and oft-uncomfortable for people familiar with the settings. Merkner is really good at melding his observations with his imaginations into something hugely entertaining.” —Detroit Metro Times
“Merkner starts off by saying ‘that life seduces from afar’ and The Rise & Fall of the Scandamerican Domestic seduces you from the start.” —Pure Politics
“Merkner’s sentences are crisp and cruel. . . . As a whole, the book resembles the movie Fargo with its heart fed through the wood chipper, leaving a work that is often possessed of cold, uncompromising beauty.” —KGB Bar Lit Magazine
“The stories in [Merkner’s] debut collection are formally playful in their interrogation of Midwestern privilege and parental prerogatives, each rendering the familiar strange again so that we might see it anew.” —Brooklyn Rail
“Sharing the seemingly ordinary setting of the Midwest, these short stories turn simple and normal into weird, melancholy, and wonderful. . . . The stories range from darkly comic to genuinely sad, to more than a bit unsettling. But all share a strong voice . . . and they all exhibit the author’s ability to keep his work in the realm of plausibility.” —ForeWord Reviews
“By the end of The Rise & Fall of the Scandamerican Domestic, I felt I was just getting to know Christopher Merkner—not only the talented writer of this intriguing collection, but also the extraordinary writer he will become.” —Three Guys One Book
“Coffee House Press delivers yet another original, absorbing book. Merkner’s Midwestern backdrop and icy storytelling makes the familiar alien and the grotesque hilarious.” —Largehearted Boy
“The stories in Christopher Merkner’s new collection The Rise & Fall of the Scandamerican Domestic wonderfully mix the surreal and absurd with the everyday, and are incredibly fun.” —Largehearted Boy
“The Rise & Fall of the Scandamerican Domestic is dark, but Merkner finds levity in the darkness, and celebrates the oddities of small life. The collection represents moments of joy and frustration in parenting, marriage, parent-child relationships, and the ties of the community. Merkner isn’t afraid to look into dark spaces and expose painfully honest truths.” —Bookslut
“For Nordic-tinged angst in the New World, Christopher Merkner offers proof that the Scandinavian upper lip is alive and stiff among the descendants of Swedish immigrants that populate the Upper Midwest.” —Cooper Street
“These earnest and darkly surreal vignettes hold a magnifying glass over Midwestern suburbia.” —Modern Midwest
“Christopher Merkner is the happiest, most disturbed—certainly the most happily disturbed—writer I know.” —Padgett Powell
“Christopher Merkner’s Midwestern fabulism makes him the Grant Wood of short fiction. Rare are writers with the gift to mash up domestic and gothic in ways uncanny and heartbreaking, and Merkner’s one of the gifted. No one’s better at defamiliarizing a family meal, a kiddie birthday party, Grandma’s funeral, or the well-meaning, exhausted ways we reprimand our three-year-olds when they smack their siblings: ‘We ask her if she would like to be hit in the face with a book. We ask her if she would like to be injured. She says she would not.’ Trust me, you would like to be hit in the face with The Rise & Fall of the Scandamerican Domestic. It’s that good.” —Josh Russell
“Christopher Merkner’s chillingly funny stories are a substantial reminder that the two weirdest and most disturbing places in the galaxy are the mind and the home. They also demonstrate repeatedly that it is possible for the skilled artist to draw laughter though a wince. This is my favorite kind of comic writing.” —Chris Bachelder
“With hilarious, biting prose, Merkner establishes himself as a masterful new voice of modern satire. These brilliant stories lay bear our greatest follies with a precision that leaves the reader humbled and breathless: here we have a must-read indictment of moral defect that could not be more saturated with importance and entertainment.” —Alissa Nutting
“Donald Barthelme and Tove Jansson did not have a child, as far as any of us know, but if they did, then that child would have been Christopher Merkner, and Christopher Merkner has written a book worthy of his genius would-be parents. The Rise & Fall of the Scandamerican Domestic is wild, it is wonderful, it is animated by its author’s unfailingly expansive treatment of his restless, covetous, striving, limited, dangerous, endearing characters. One of those characters in one of these stories notices that ‘The sun blazes at an odd angle.’ This is one of this book’s gifts to its lucky reader: its sun blazes at an odd angle so that we might see how strange and marvelous the old tired world can be.” —Brock Clarke, author of Exley and An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England
“Obsessive and purposefully flat, Merkner’s book is a triumph of unpleasantness, and his stories are Midwestern gothics, focused on bleak and colorless domestic spaces.” —Brazos Bookstore