"In the moments when her mind did wander, it slowed and stopped in one spot, as if she’d hit the pause button at the same scene in a film, a wavy and pixilated image of one of the last days on her journey west. After leaving the interstate, she’d stopped in New Pine Creek, a tiny border town half in California and half in Oregon. By then she’d come almost as far as she could, but she couldn’t decide between the two states. She stood in the middle of State Line Road, so she could plant one foot in each, and closed her eyes, waiting for something, a magnetic pull that would draw her in one direction or another."
"Devil’s Club is almost impossible to avoid—no one has time to study and assess a plant in the seconds before falling. You just have to grab something, anything. The first time I slipped during a bushwhack and grasped a branch of Devil’s Club, I felt the spikes enter the soft flesh of my palm in a hailstorm, a thousand spikes of pain. My hands were not tough then, as they are now; they were still soft and winter-pale, the polish chipping away from my last manicure."
"She notices that there’s a been a blue tide—little creatures called 'by-the-wind sailors' that cover Oregon beaches in the spring…She was obsessed with these hydrozoans when she was a kid. When they are alive, they look like gossamer sailing ships with indigo-blue hulls, and she used to imagine herself climbing aboard, floating away, toward all of the world that was beyond this beach, this town. But, she realized later, the by-the-wind sailors never go back to sea. They come ashore and die."
"I stare at myself in the mirror, at my expressionless face—a look I’ve achieved after years of training, of hearing people’s worst moments and nodding calmly through every word. I wonder how long I’ve looked like this, how long it’s been since my carefully rendered gaze of passive acceptance has become my permanent expression. I wonder how long it has taken me to become this completely numb."
Winner, Frank O’Connor Award for Short Fiction
"For her final project, she’d made a short film about a loner living in a city park, a person who’d checked out of life altogether. The day before one of the shoots, a storm had soaked the city, and she won an award for cinematography in a student film festival for capturing the man’s isolation so well, for turning loneliness into something you could see."
"Lena thinks of what Avery had said on their first date: If invertebrates were to disappear, the entire planet would collapse. Perhaps this was true of humans as well—if it were not for the spineless, how would marriages hold up; how would families stay together?"
May 22, 2016
“Hartley had asked once, 'Do you judge me because I eat meat?' She’d said no, of course not — but secretly she did. She didn’t even wear animals anymore, surreptitiously returning most of his gifts because they were made of calfskin or cashmere. She once began to question when the rift between them began, who played the larger role, then realized it wasn’t fair to wonder.”
“Amanda misses those days, foolish as they seem at this point—college days brimming with boys who came and went so quickly they had only nicknames. Now, Courtney’s engaged to be married, while the men Amanda meets still end up with aliases.”
“Maybe it’s the curse of being an editor—of knowing how even the smallest change can make all the difference. When I think back, I can’t help but consider how it would’ve taken just one small edit to change everything, a revision so tiny it almost seems possible to alter reality, even now.”
“The world’s last passenger pigeon was named Martha. She died on September 1st, 1914, at the Cincinnati Zoo. Like herself, the bird was twenty-nine years old. Like her, Martha had never once produced a fertile egg.”
“As a quarter hour went by, then another, Monica began to hate this little exam room—the blandness and sterility, the waiting. It was a room, she suspected, in which bad news entered often, and while she had no great love for Pepper, she began to worry for Louis’s sake. And perhaps, she realized, for the sake of their marriage.”
“I took you to Café Gratitude in Berkeley, thinking it might help, but you wouldn’t play along. The waitress brought us water and hemp napkins and asked us, What are you grateful for today?”
"Lisa often tried to pinpoint when their life together had changed. Had it been when Drew had cut off his long hair and gotten into corporate law? When they decided that having a baby could improve their marriage? When the years passed and they’d neither conceived nor adopted? He was a high-priced defense attorney now, she a divorce lawyer. And because of this they knew, even as apathy seeped into their marriage, that a divorce was the last thing they wanted, that legal partnerships were even more binding than emotional ones."
"She has become an expert on the gradations of pain; she tries to experience pain and all its variations as if it’s a piece of music—its rhythms and notes, its beats and breaths—and she’s found that even pain has its own harmony, its own operatic narrative and drama."
"Tod has left most of the unpacking to me while he goes to the university library to write. I try not to meet Gage’s eye as I think about the way I’ve been unpacking, the almost subconscious way I’ve divided up Tod’s and my things—his books on one shelf, mine on another; his bachelor-party barware in one cupboard, my mother’s sherry glasses in another. I’ve already begun drawing lines between what’s his and what’s mine."
"She sits down at her mother’s vanity and stares into the mirror. She’s tempted to laugh at her own image: the horror-film eye patch, her red-rimmed right eye, her hair standing on end. Instead she only stares back at herself, frozen, bottle in hand, eye locked to let her face blur in front of her, to let it lose its shape and texture, clouding her features until it looks like someone else’s face entirely."
August 18, 2011
"I’d quit drinking when Nick got out of rehab, an act of solidarity that had long gone unappreciated. So many times – on a date, at a museum fundraiser, and especially during moments like this – I’d have loved a glass of wine, a margarita. But something stopped me, every time."
"BARBRA is watching the news. Witch Creek Fire a 'serious concern.' If you’re anywhere near, get off Facebook and turn on your television! October 19 at 9:20 p.m.
CARRIE – Multitasking: watching news, packing, updating FB status.
BARBRA – How do you decide what to pack?!
CARRIE – Packing: kids' favorite things, baby photos, Xanax. Not packing: wedding album."
Winner, 2011 Fiction Prize
"She loved the smell of his patrol car, a fake pine-tree scent that was manly and clean and made her forget she was in the middle of the city’s strange mix of surfers and vets, poets and retirees. She loved the glow of the computer screen on his face, the way it sharpened his soft features, slimmed his round face, glinted off the gray in his hair. She loved watching his hand move across the keyboard, his knee against the steering wheel."
Nominated for the Pushcart Prize
"They leave Vegas just after dawn, and the skies are clear. But as Stephanie looks ahead on the interstate, she sees a thick brown layer hovering over the horizon like a dirty fog. Closer, the sun turns bloody, the sky dark, and smoke seeps into the car. The freeway is backed up for miles on the other side, cars and SUVs fleeing the firestorm as she and Jason drive right into it."
Nominated for the Pushcart Prize
"By now, I’ve stopped believing in fantasies, in loyalty, in happily ever after. What I believe now changes and morphs, the truth fluid and malleable, ebbing and flowing the way friendships bend and stretch but rarely break."
"I’ve considered leaving Rick. I’ve envisioned the conversation, the packing, the moving, the divorce, the aftermath. It would take so little, just a few words, to set it all into motion."
"Sometimes it’s dark — an inky, almost-black. Other times, it’s light, like the deepest part of an iceberg. But the color follows me everywhere.
My therapist calls it synesthesia. When a color gives you a certain feeling. The way some people see the letter A and think of red, the way they hear C sharp and think green."
Nominated for the Pushcart Prize
"Liz had never wanted to work on children’s books, but I suppose, at twenty-eight, we’re both past realizing we can have everything we want. I still can’t recall having read those books as a kid, but the choose-your-adventure idea seems even more foreign to me now. Books for adults are not constructed that way. In the books we read now, one page follows another, and we turn them in the expected order, with no thought to the story having more than one ending, and no recollection of ever having done it differently."
"He closes the file, leaving the computer on. Beth waits until she hears the shower running, then sits down and begins to search. She finds a folder titled Works in Progress and skims the file names. She opens them, one by one, until she finds it. The first paragraph is a beach scene, and it reads like an instant replay of the weekend. Tom has written down everything verbatim: their conversations, their arguments, what they ate, what Beth wore."
"It was astonishing to her that she’d forgotten about the ring, which she discovered in a long-sealed box while cleaning out the storage room a few months earlier. It was even more astonishing, and somehow thrilling, that after more than twenty years of life with Ethan, she was about to tell him a story that he’d never heard before."
"Landing the nanny job gave me a little hope, with the mother being an actress and the father a producer...The irony is that I am acting, every day. I’m a housewife who never got married, a mother who never got pregnant. I’m playing a role, but they don’t give SAG memberships to nannies."
"She could see the moon in his eyes when they left the club and walked to the beach. As she pulled off his shirt, she scanned his shoulders, his arms, his chest, looking for scars or birthmarks, landmarks to guide her. She found nothing."
"I was born twenty minutes after Bee...And I still feel that we're floating around in the same primordial place, breathing the same liquid air, battling for space despite having outgrown our environment."
"Words I've always loved; books give me a place to disappear, pulling me deep into forests of bleached paper and ink. I'm most comfortable with people in this form — characters on pages, whose lives touch you without your touching them."
"This is what he remembers: the day he and Julie met, five years ago, at an outdoor jazz festival on Boston Common, ten minutes before a thunderstorm sent them into the lobby of a boutique hotel. He remembers martinis in a dim lounge, emerging later to a clearing summer sky."
July 16, 2006
"Associated Press picked it up, he said. He handed it to her. It was just a small weekly for the coastal cities, but there it was, on the back page. It described her as twenty-four years old and brunette, and it didn't mention him at all. She was actually only nineteen, and blond."
Winner, 2006 gsu review Fiction Prize
"Paige gazes across the street at the neon lights, the blinking red characters over restaurants, on billboards. She studies them hopefully, wondering if one day she might be able to decipher them, to translate the jumble of her own life into something coherent. As she waits, she practices the numbers, repeating the strange words — yi, er, san, si, wu, liu, qi, ba, jiu, shi — over and over, softly, as if murmuring a prayer."
"Often when I watch the penguins, I forget I'm a scientist. I become so mesmerized by the sounds of their purrs and squawks, by the precision of their clumsy waddle, that I forget that I have another life, somewhere else — that my life now is only as good as my next grant, and that when the money dries up, I'm afraid that I will, too."
Winner, 2004 Indiana Review Fiction Prize
"He lives in his mother's house, with no electricity or hot water, yet somehow he always has a ready supply of condoms. The notion strikes me one night as he rolls away from me and gets out of bed."
Third Prize, 2003 Kurt Vonnegut Fiction Prize
"Ruth-Ann listens to the CD with headphones — The first rule about cancer, the author says, is that there are no rules. Ruth-Ann tries to take comfort in this, but she knows, deep down, that there is only one rule about cancer, and she has broken it."
"Strange things began to happen after we befriended Sam: Clothes and homework went missing, food and drinks disappeared from the tiny fridges in our rooms, yet we spoke of mental clumsiness and too many drugs."
“Ky pretends she’s one of them. She tries on cocktail dresses and riding clothes, accents and attitudes…But eventually she retrieves the clothes she came with, smelling of cleaning fluid and other people’s dirt.”
"Up ahead, a white mass poured out from between the mountains...She heard a deep rumble, like thunder, and clouds of ice-dust billowed up as a section calved into the sea. She watched the newly formed icebergs surf gently toward the boat on a shallow wave, and for a moment she felt as aimless and frozen as the drifting ice."
Winner, 2002 Short Fiction Contest
"'I served coffee to Matt Damon yesterday,' she says. 'He had a nonfat, decaf, no-whip white chocolate mocha.'"
"She sat up in bed and watched the shadows of the trees grow tall and thin, like gawky teenagers, their long limbs stretching forth like fingers pointing expectantly into their bedroom."
Winner, 2002 Short-Short Fiction Contest
"It began pouring rain, Faye is saying, and we went to a lounge bar, where a blind man was playing the piano. I kept going up and giving him requests, and then my date came up — I think he was jealous — and he says to the man, 'Do you want to touch her face? Don't blind people like to do that?' And the blind man says, 'I only touch the faces of women I sleep with.'"
"'People come here to ease their pain, to be comforted,' she said. 'You should always tell them that they need to be patient, that things will be okay.' br>'But then you're not telling them the truth. Isn't that what they came for?' She said, 'They always get what they came for.'"
"She was obsessed with cats. That was the third thing I learned about her. Her mother had always fed the cats before feeding the human members of her family."