Today is the first of two posts I’m excited to share with you for this year’s #30Authors event. Put together by Allison at The Book Wheel, #30Authors is a fantastic chance to connect with authors and find out what books they recommend. Last year I was able to share Jean Kwok’s recommendation of Everything I Never Told You and although it took me a little while to read it myself, boy was she right about that book! Given that great experience, I can’t wait to share the recommendation author M.O. Walsh has for us today.
Review of Andrew Malan Milward’s I Was a Revolutionary by M.O. Walsh
I make my living off short stories. Not in the super cool Raymond Carver or Alice Munro way, of course. I don’t make a living writing them. Rather, I teach fiction writing in an MFA program, so I read and critique well over a hundred unpublished short stories a year. You’d think this might make me some sort of expert on the form but I actually find myself growing more mystified by the magic behind great stories the longer I study them. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed enough to call a rule, though, or perhaps a “law of stories,” it’s this:
Excellence is obvious. And excellence is rare.
So many stories, both published and in draft form, seem content to simply just sit there and exist. They’re perfectly well written and properly structured, but what’s the point? Where’s the fire? What do they want from me? It can, at times, feel like people only write short stories because they think they have to on their way to writing a novel in the same way that they had to turn into their math homework on their way to graduating high school. This cursory attitude, as you can imagine, makes for less than scintillating reading.
That’s why I get so excited when a new story collection comes out that just blows the doors off the place. I love it. Books like these remind me that the story as an art form is as fresh and full of possibility as it’s ever been. Writers like Kelly Link, Wells Tower, George Saunders, Adam Johnson and Karl Taro Greenfeld have done this to me recently. Now, add to this list Andrew Malan Milward.
Milward’s new collection, I Was a Revolutionary, is not only excellent, it is, in many ways, revolutionary itself. A story collection that works more like an epic or historical novel than any other I’ve read, I Was a Revolutionary spans hundreds of years of American history, often within each story, and yet never feels tricky or burdened by its own ambition. It never feels like a gimmick or class project. The stories instead take the state of Kansas, in particular, and the human heart, in general, and treat them both with the respect that all great writing demands.
Overtly political, incredibly polished and well researched, the stories in this book somehow eschew all of the dusty or boring avenues that those descriptions might suggest. Milward instead seems able to do whatever he damn well pleases on the page, conjuring up battle scenes from the 1860’s with the same clarity and propulsion that he tracks the disintegration of a contemporary marriage. And, for those of us who also write fiction, the breadth of Milward’s skill is flat out enviable. You want some strict realism? He’s got that. You like a little second person? He nails it. You want your fiction to be multicultural, with characters of various races, genders, ages, and socioeconomic statuses all written with the same care? Done. What about some interesting usage of mixed media, such as photos and historical correspondence? What about some good old fashioned heartbreak? I Was a Revolutionary has all of that, as well, and much more. It’s the total package.
This book isn’t for everyone, though, I’ll admit. It’s not for the scatterbrained or lazy reader. The second story, for example, is 50 pages long. It will require a person to sit for a good long while and actually think and actually feel. There’s no skipping around this collection to find the punchy piece of flash fiction that reads like a 30 second YouTube clip. The stories here are all layered and complex and often brilliant in the connections they make between history and our daily lives. None of them look at the world flippantly or end with the sort of ironic punchline that a lot of lesser stories do. This is instead a serious book by a serious writer with a lot of important things to say.
Which reminds me that I also have something important to say:
If you love excellent writing, read Andrew Malan Milward. Read him now.
Buy the Book
#30Authors is an annual event connecting readers, authors, and bloggers. Throughout the month of September, 30 authors review their favorite books on 30 blogs in 30 days. The event has been met with incredible support from and success within the literary community. In the six months following the event’s inaugural launch, the concept was published as an anthology by Velvet Morning Press (Legacy: An Anthology). Started by The Book Wheel, #30Authors remains active throughout the year and you can join in the fun by following along on Twitter at @30Authors, using the hashtag, #30Authors, or purchasing the anthology. To learn more about the event and to see the full schedule, please click here.
My Sunshine Away was a New York Times Bestseller, an Indie Next Pick, and Amazon Featured Debut. His stories and essays have appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, The Southern Review, Oxford American, and Best New American Voices, among others. He currently directs the Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans.