7 Great Books from Small Presses That Are Worth Your Time

From psychological thrillers to Southern sagas, from stunningly daring narratives to delicious period dramas, great things come from little presses.

By Dawn Raffel from original
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    The Boy in His Winter by Norman Lock (Bellevue Literary Press)

    You've probably never heard of Lock, which is a pity; this prolific author is one of the most interesting writers out there. This time, he re-imagines Huck Finn's journeys, transporting the iconic character deep into America's past—and future. A sample: "I look back in my old age on that long-ago day when I came off the river and began my grown-up life—and much earlier still, when, no more than a boy, I set out from Hannibal on the raft with Jim. Of course, I reckon time differently now than we did then, sweeping down the Mississippi toward Mexico as though in a dream."

    The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals by Wendy Jones (Europa Editions)

    Are you a fan of Downton Abbey? The same company that produced the BBC blockbuster has already optioned Jones' comedy of manners, set in 1924 in a small Welsh town. A sample: "Wilfred wondered how she got the dress on. Maybe there were hooks and eyes hidden on the side, under her arm.  Ladies' dresses sometimes had those. Women hooked and encased themselves in their dresses but there was always a way out."

    The Brunist Day of Wrath by Robert Coover (Dzanc Books)

    Literary powerhouse Robert Coover inspired a generation of innovative, genre-bending writers. Now 82, he brings us the 1,000-plus page The Brunist Day of Wrath—a brilliant tour of matters sacred and profane. Sample: "After bus stops at a progression of small wet towns, eerily empty and haunted by the skeletons of abandoned mine tipples, Joshua arrives in West Condon at last. The rain has stopped and the sun is surging from behind the clouds, welcoming him to his new life. One of his companions on the bus, perhaps the one who had sung along with him earlier, asks as he steps down behind him: 'Are you a defender, brother?'"

    Woke Up Lonely by Fiona Maazel (Graywolf Press)

    Maazel's whip-smart comic novel about a cult that promises to cure loneliness was a critical hit in hardcover; now it's out in paperback. Sample: "They were together. In their way. Dad on a bus, gaping out the window at a little girl and her mom. The pair not five feet away. He swiped the glass with his palm. Stop the bus, he said, though no one heard him. Stop the bus."

    Come Landfall by Roy Hoffman (University of Alabama Press)

    Hoffman's generation-spanning novel of love, war, and hurricanes brings the Mississippi Gulf Coast vividly to life. Sample: "In dress blues the Army Air Corpsmen face each other down the aisle of the Presbyterian church and when the command comes—'Arch swords!'—they lift their sabers, point to point."  

    The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann (Other Press)

    In her latest heart-stopper, internationally bestselling author Ullmann (who lives in Oslo), combines a mysterious murder with a razor-sharp eye for family relationships. Sample: "Jenny Brodal had not had a drink in nearly twenty years. She opened a bottle of Cabernet and poured herself a large glass. She had imagined the warmth filtering down into her stomach, the tingling in her fingertips, but there was none of that, no warmth, no tingling, nothing, so she drained the glass and waited."

    Lesson Plans by Suzanne Greenberg (Prospect Park Books)

    Greenberg's witty and insightful debut novel takes us into the world of three California homeschooling families who find themselves in for a few surprises. Sample: "Who cared what the names of the fifty state capitals were if you never got to leave your own confining desk? His girls would be able to get up and sharpen pencils without raising their hands."

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