About the book, Pictures of the Shark
- Short Stories / Southern Fiction / Coming of Age
- Publisher: Texas Review Press
- Date of Publication: July 12, 2022
- Number of Pages: 205 pages
- Scroll down for Giveaway!
A sudden snowfall in Houston reveals family secrets. A trip to Universal Studios to snap a picture of the shark from Jaws becomes a battle of wills between father and son. A midnight séance and the ghost of Janis Joplin conjure the mysteries of sex. A young boy’s pilgrimage to see Elvis Presley becomes a moment of transformation. A young woman discovers the responsibilities of talent and freedom.
Pictures of the Shark, by Houston native and Dobie Paisano award-winning author Thomas H. McNeely, traces a young man’s coming of age and falling apart. From the rough and tumble of Houston’s early seventies East End to the post-punk Texas bohemia of late eighties Austin, this novel in stories examines what happens when childhood trauma haunts adult lives.
PRAISE FOR PICTURES OF THE SHARK:
- “McNeely’s brilliant stories are filled with delicious menace and heartbreaking hope.” – Pamela Painter, author of What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers and Fabrications: New and Selected Stories
- “In these gorgeously crafted interlinked stories, Thomas McNeely demonstrates once again an uncanny ability to illuminate the darkest emotional corners of his characters with a vision that is as tender and compassionate as it is unflinching.” – Antonio Ruiz-Camacho, author of Barefoot Dogs
- “With masterful prose, McNeely draws you down into emotional depths where your ambivalence and confusion show you at your most profoundly human. These stories hook you quickly and deeply and keep you even after they end. – C.W. Smith, author of Steplings, Buffalo Nickel, and Understanding Women
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About the author, Thomas H. McNeely
Thomas H. McNeely is an Eastside Houston native. He has published short stories and nonfiction in The Atlantic, Texas Monthly, Ploughshares, and many other magazines and anthologies, including Best American Mystery Stories and Algonquin Books’ Best of the South. His stories have been shortlisted for the Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories, and O. Henry Award anthologies. He has received National Endowment for the Arts, Wallace Stegner, and MacDowell Colony fellowships for his fiction. His first book, Ghost Horse, won the Gival Press Novel Award and was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize in Writing. He currently teaches in the Stanford Online Writing Studio and at Emerson College, Boston.
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I love short stories. I mean, I love novels and biographies, but it takes a special kind of talent to tell a complete story in a relatively few words. In his eight-story collection, Pictures of the Shark, Thomas H. McNeely shows that he has a great amount of talent, and is using it wisely.
To be honest, he had me at the word “scraggly,” used to describe someone’s beard. I use that word, but most people I know (and most people I read) do not, so when I saw that word in the opening story, “Snow, Houston, 1974,” I knew that I would love the language this author uses, and I was not wrong. His stories are somber, even dark, but his prose rises from the page, and grabs you by the wrists demanding that you pay attention.
I found myself shivering when six year old Buddy Turner experiences his first snow in 1974. Having lived through two extreme winter storms in Texas (Dallas county, in my case, but still rare) I was hit in the gut with the description of the aftermath:
“Now, the weatherman reported gas fires and burst water mains and houses whose roofs had caved in. Some neighborhoods, he said, were without electricity or telephones. Buddy began to worry about Grandma Liddy. Grandma Liddy and he made plans to buy a cassette recorder with cigarette coupons, to write President Nixon and ask him why he lied, to build a miniature city out of matchboxes and toilet paper rolls. They had already started the city, chalking streets on the threadbare carpet in his mother’s old room.”
It’s simple language, matter of fact, and almost Hemingway-esque at times, but it’s effective.
In addition to McNeely’s use of language, I also appreciated his ability to find and convey the emotional tone of every piece. The early stories in Buddy’s life (though not necessarily in the book, as it jumps around in time a little) have threads of hope running through them. The stories where Buddy is older and disillusioned feel darker and have a bitter quality. The pieces where we see Buddy as a young man are laden with sadness and wasted possibilities. And yet, not a single story was dull or made me want to skim it. Rather, I was riveted. “Hester,” especially, had me fascinated because it’s really the only story where we have another perspective, and see Buddy through another person’s eyes.
Speaking of people, Buddy, his mother (Margot) and his father (Jimmy) are the central characters, and each one is interesting on their own. Buddy, of course, is the boy whose family is unhappy, and who seems to know too much and not enough, afraid of becoming his father, but also so close to doing so. Everything I learned about Margot made we wish for a collection from her perspective – her youth and young womanhood. Jimmy is a perfect tragic figure, and some of the scenes, where he seems about to resort to violence, but doesn’t, had me flashing back to my own memories of an abusive partner my mother once had.
In fact, the only reason I didn’t read all eight of these stories in one sitting was that the emotions were so vivid and plausible that I had to step away.
In the beginning of his book, Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy wrote, “All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In Pictures of the Shark, Thomas H. McNeely has given us a visceral look at an extremely unhappy family, and shown us how that unhappiness echoes through all their lives. This is made most evident in the final entry in this collection, “Little Deaths:”
“I’d come to the University as a National Merit Scholar, but now lived off my mother’s credit card. I never visited my mother, because she reminded me both of my rotten childhood and my receding promise: my AP classes, my high school English honors, the expectation even by my family that I would become a writer.”
Buddy Turner may never have become a successful author (or maybe he did, that’s for another collection) but his creator, Thomas H. McNeely has given us a masterpiece in gray tones and grim feelings.
Goes well with: black coffee and anisette toast.
2 winners: autographed copy of Pictures of the Shark
2 winners: autographed copy of Pictures of the Shark
+ editorial critique of an excerpt (up to 20 pages) from an unpublished short story or novel.
(US only; ends midnight, CDT, 7/15/2022)
Visit the Other Great Blogs on this Tour
CLICK TO VISIT THE LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE TOUR PAGE FOR DIRECT LINKS TO EACH POST ON THIS TOUR, UPDATED DAILY, or visit the blogs directly:
|7/5/22||Excerpt||Shelf Life Blog|
|7/5/22||BONUS Promo||Hall Ways Blog|
|7/6/22||Review||Boys’ Mom Reads|
|7/6/22||BONUS Promo||LSBBT Blog|
|7/7/22||Guest Post||All the Ups and Downs|
|7/12/22||Author Interview||Rox Burkey Blog|
|7/13/22||Review||Reading by Moonlight|
|7/14/22||Review||The Book’s Delight|
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Wow. This book elicited an amazing and insightful review from you. I usually steer clear of books that might leave me melancholy, but I feel like I have to make an exception here. McNeely’s writing sounds amazing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Thank you, Ms. Bartell, for this very kind, thoughtful, and insightful review of my book. If I could put “A masterpiece in gray tones and grim feelings” on the cover of the book, I would. I also appreciate that you saw the hope for the characters in these stories, as well. Best, Tom McNeely
P.S. – I am working on other stories from Margot’s perspective (in this collection, “No One’s Trash” is written from Margot’s perspective). One of them, “Real Life,” was published in The Cimarron Review, Issue #212, Summer 2020. I would be happy to send you a copy to post on your blog. Best, Tom McNeely