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Fires of Our Choosing Paperback – April 3, 2012

4.8 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Eugene Cross captures much of his generation's fears and excitements with a collection of realistic stories that borders on darkness at times. His is a voice combining humor and pathos with an edginess creating fresh new stories that are being published in great literary journals regularly.

A boy acts out at the death of his father and abandonment by his brother through a savage playground beating; a young man confronts his own troubled history when asked to hire on his girlfriend's strung-out brother in an attempt to keep him out of prison; a teenage babysitter works through a scorching-hot summer afternoon that will prove to alter her life forever; a grieving widower finds comfort in the unlikeliest of places, a recently-built casino; an itinerant farm worker visits the same former lover in South Dakota year after year while following the Harvest north; two friends search for excuses and fail to claim responsibility for their own decisions after one loses his father, and the other's house burns to the ground; and a taxidermist falls in love with the ex-wife of his high school bully and tries to convince her to marry him despite her son who seems to share his father's bullying mentality.

"A brilliant, sometimes heartbreaking debut by this gifted young writer and Columbia writing teacher. Cross captures the angst and tenderness of the young men and women growing up in the rust belt with little hope and less luck. The moments of grace and redemption shine through. I loved every story." —Linda Bubon, Women & Children First Bookstore

"There are countless moments like this in Fires of Our Choosing, lines that appear true from the moment they’ve been written and hang in the back of the mind for days afterwards... With Fires of Our Choosing, Cross climbs boldly into the ring with the greats, if only to deliver a decisive knockout punch." —Urban Waite, Fiction Writers Review

"Cross offers no apologies for his characters: their poor choices, their lack of moral fortitude, their betrayals of each other and the poverty of their surroundings and, often, themselves; he leaves these things alone. They are who they are, and if dignity has been denied them by the rest of us, including us story-tellers, it is restored by this collection. That he has undertaken to serve as their raconteur should place Cross on the radar of all the big prizes that gift those blessed with talent, compassion and fearlessness, particularly during this present moment in our history." —Ru Freeman, Huffington Post

Eugene Cross was born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania and received an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. His stories have appeared in Narrative Magazine (which named him one of "20 Best New Writers" and his story "Harvester's" a "Top Five Story of 2009-2010"), American Short Fiction, Story Quarterly, TriQuarterly, and Callalloo among other publications. His work was also listed among the 2010 Best American Short Stories' 100 Distinguished Stories. He is the recipient of scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and the Chautauqua Writers' Festival, and the winner of the 2009 Dzanc Prize for Excellence in Literary Fiction and Community Service. He currently lives in Chicago where he teaches in the Fiction Department at Columbia College Chicago.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 195 pages
  • Publisher: Dzanc Books (April 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1936873079
  • ISBN-13: 978-1936873074
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #393,496 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mark Krieger on May 24, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Busy as I've been lately I thought I'd sit down and read a page or two of Eugene Cross's story collection... just a little I told myself. Nevertheless I read one story after another in rapid succession. And every night before bed I couldn't wait to read the next. I didn't want the book to end. The last time I remember being that excited and hooked on a collection was reading Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son, another magnificent book.

Reading stories like these, especially ones like "Harvesters" but even "Hunters" and "Come August" I'm pleasantly reminded of what made Steinbeck's writing so powerful and pleasing to the eye and heart. Like Steinbeck Cross writes of human sadness that subtly consoles rather than depresses and doesn't leave the reader with a grim after-flavor as so much modern literature does. This bleeds through beneath each story from the essence of the writer himself: someone who has deep empathy for nature and humans. He has an uncanny ability (reminiscent of Tolstoy) to understand human beings and their plights as they fumble towards change.

Each of these stories are beautifully put together and one feels no pretensions in its literary aspects. When symbols arise they arise completely naturally and from the essence of the characters themselves. Stories where a setting, a field of tilled hay, or a stuffed bear in a bar display case, a dying dog, can speak as much to us about the interiors of the characters as the dialogue and narrative itself.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I hadn't heard of Eugene Cross' affecting and well-written short story collection, Fires of Our Choosing, until an author I follow on the Goodreads website recommended it. I'm really glad I pay attention to those recommendations, because otherwise I would have missed out on a collection I'm still thinking about a few days after completing it.

The characters in Cross' stories are all dealing with some type of struggle. Whether it's a young boy so overcome with rage at his brother leaving following the tragic death of their father that he severely beats up another classmate, a widower who finds a renewed sense of excitement by visiting a casino about an hour from the retirement community he lives in, a teenage babysitter just on the verge of college whose routine babysitting job has bigger ramifications than she is aware of, or the middle-aged man locked in a battle of wills with his girlfriend's son, whose temperament is all too similar to the boy's father, who used to beat the narrator up when they were in high school, each story has its main character facing a test of emotional (or sometimes physical) strength. Some of my favorite stories in the collection included "Rosaleen, If You Know What I Mean," "Only the Strong Will Survive," "Come August," "The Brother," and "The Gambler."

If I have any criticism about the collection, it's that I felt that some of the stories ended just before something key was going to happen, but the stories didn't leave you in suspense wondering what that something was, I just felt disappointed. Luckily those instances were outweighed by some powerful, fully fleshed out stories that affected me. Eugene Cross is a tremendously talented writer, and I hope this collection is just the start of a terrific career in fiction. I'll be watching.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A great book from a promising young author. Eugene nails it with a collection of short stories that keep the reader engaged like only he can. Consider me a fan and I can't wait to see what comes next.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
"Fires of Our Choosing" is written in such a deceptively simple style that you're surprised when each story hits with such impact.
There's something deceptively simple about this book and Eugene Cross's writing style. When you first read the collection, the stories appear un-intrusive, deadpan, easy picking. But there is something complex that surprises you every time.

(By the way, Eugene Cross offered to send me a free copy of the book, but because I'm a believer in supporting indie authors, I actually purchased the book on Kindle.)

If you're a writer, like myself, at first you fool yourself into thinking, "I could do this. I could write this story," only to be hit in the chest with a depth of emotions you didn't realize was actually there at first.

The two major themes that this collection tackles are ideas of loneliness and abandonment. Almost every main character in each story has either been abandoned or has lost something, whether it's a house that burned down or a mother who abandons her son to go apologize (alone) to the boy he beat up nearly half-to-death in school. Or the woman who has to clean up after her brother committed suicide. Or the harvester who travels the country to earn a living but always tries to return to the same woman.

The writing itself is sharp, deliberate and at times cunning.

"I knew also what it was like to wake up in a hospital room, one arm connected to an IV, the other handcuffed to the bedrail, your best friend dead in a car you were driving. I knew what it was like to have a policeman look at you like you wer ethe lowest thing on earth and tell you the wreck was so twisted that emergency crews had to cut the legs off the corpse to remove it.
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