The Canals of Mars: A Memoir
Gary Fincke Michigan State University Press, 2010 Library of Congress PS3556.I457Z46 2010 | Dewey Decimal 813.54
The Canals of Mars is a memoir that explores and ponders "weakness," which in Gary Fincke's family was the catch-all term for every possible human flaw-physical, psychological, or spiritual. Fincke grew up near Pittsburgh during the 1950s and 1960s, raised by blue-collar parents for whom the problems that beset people-from alcoholism to nearsightedness to asthma to fear of heights-were nothing but weaknesses.
In a highly engaging style, Fincke meditates on the disappointments he suffered-in his body, his mind, his work-because he was convinced that he had to be "perfect." Anything less than perfection was weakness and no one, he understood from an early age, wants to be weak.
Six of the chapters in the book have been cited in Best American Essays. The chapter that provides the book's title, The Canals of Mars, won a Pushcart Prize and was included in The Pushcart Book of Essays: The Best Essays from a Quarter Century of the Pushcart Prize.
The Fire Landscape: Poems
Gary Fincke University of Arkansas Press, 2008 Library of Congress PS3556.I457F57 2008 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
The Fire Landscape is a series of poem sequences that chronicle a wide variety of coming-of-age moments from childhood in the 1950s through the beginning of the 21st century. These deeply layered, complex narrative poems are connected by close personal observation of place and time but also by the politics of the Cold War and its aftermath, including a sequence driven by the May 4, 1970, shooting of students by the National Guard at Kent State where Gary Fincke was a student at the time.
The Infinity Room
Gary Fincke Michigan State University Press, 2019 Library of Congress PS3556.I457A6 2019 | Dewey Decimal 811.54
In The Infinity Room the reader will find polished, precise poems that are built around the author’s experiences of touring Nevada’s atomic bomb test sites, the Chernobyl disaster site, and Oak Ridge, as well as living for decades near Three Mile Island. These iconic landmarks of the threat of nuclear technology become more than talking points as they provide grounding for narratives of faith and skepticism from multiple viewpoints that employ science, religion, history, myth, politics, and popular culture, including a piece about the author’s experience as a student at Kent State at the time of the National Guard shooting. The poems here are tightly controlled but electric, dark yet vibrant with love and longing, and packed with memorable characters and places that are presented through a singular, lyrical voice that connects us to what it means to be human.
The new and selected stories in this collection, written over a period of thirty years, are firmly entrenched in the culture and people of rust belt cities and rural Appalachia.
These stories are often set against large, significant events like the Cold War, Vietnam, and the Kent State shootings, but are always uniquely local. A mother fends off the police by brandishing copperhead snakes. A woman cares for the dog of an alleged double murderer. A husband who has lost his job works at trying to save his wife from a debilitating phobia.
This extensive collection by Gary Fincke, an accomplished poet and writer of fiction, gives rise to ordinary people living lives made fascinating by attention to the particulars of voice, place, and character. With precise language, surprising imagery, and sharp, evocative dialogue, these stories deepen beyond the oddities of their characters, who are scarred and defeated by circumstance and choice, but also attain moments of grace, compassion, and generosity of the spirit.
The Proper Words for Sin
Gary Fincke West Virginia University Press, 2013 Library of Congress PS3556.I457P76 2013 | Dewey Decimal 813.54
Coal burns underground and destroys a small town. A woman confronts police officers with her pet copperheads. A young girl drinks Drano. A man is banned from his favorite bar.
Within these eleven short stories, Flannery O’Connor Award winner and poet Gary Fincke brings into focus the small struggles of ordinary people. The characters within this collection, from boys and girls to fathers, mothers, and the aging, live in cities, in towns, and in rural areas. Yet, no matter the surroundings, all seem alone within a collective anxiety. Set against extraordinary events, such as the Three Mile Island accident, the Challenger Disaster, and the Kennedy assassination, these stories personalize history through a juxtaposition between large and small tragedies and the unflinching desire to find insight within and redemption from weakness and shortcoming.
A Room of Rain
Gary Fincke West Virginia University Press, 2015 Library of Congress PS3556.I457A6 2015 | Dewey Decimal 813.54
The narratives throughout Gary Fincke’s sixth collection of short stories contain newsworthy events that are chronicled secondhand: the shooting of a policeman, the murder of a house flipper, the firing of a teacher for punching a violent student, the accidental drowning of a gay man in a flood, and a fire somewhat accidently set by a juvenile smoker in a school.
Despite these surprising events, the narrator of each story is an ordinary person caught up in the action but preoccupied by other things, whether zombie movies, collecting unusual words, the oddity of other people’s sexual habits, or what to do in retirement.
These shocking incidents become both central and peripheral to the narrative, as Fincke portrays the fluctuating emotions and self-protective reflections of fathers, sons, and husbands, creating a world where individuals rarely understand each other, yet still arrive at moments of compassion, tolerance, perseverance, and familial love.
The Stone Child: Stories
Stories by Gary Fincke University of Missouri Press, 2003 Library of Congress PS3556.I457S76 2003 | Dewey Decimal 813.54
A university maintenance worker and his wife decide to give birth to their anencephalic baby and to accept all the consequences that will follow. During summer vacation, a journalism student trysts with his girlfriend at her suspicious father’s house and soon witnesses the ultimate in paternal vengeance. A schoolboy faces peer violence while his mother struggles with cancer, each relying upon a hopelessly misplaced faith. In The Stone Child, Gary Fincke presents characters at turning points, where the effects of their decisions will ripple throughout the rest of their lives.
“Clean Shaven” depicts the last family vacation of a couple with two nearly grown children; in a few pivotal days, Reynolds, the father, struggles with, accepts, then embraces, his comradeship with his roguish, college-expelled son. In “Natural Borders,” the way a small-town sheriff handles the marital problems of a pair of eccentrics leads to a conflagration that will haunt him forever.
The eleven stories in The Stone Child are about families of varying kinds, what binds them, and what threatens to tear them apart. Under pressure, the characters strive to maintain whatever connections they have established with one another. In important ways, all of these stories, even those with exclusively adult characters, are coming-of-age tales, the characters arriving at those points in their lives when what they do and say will mark significant passages.
Fincke brings great humanity to his characters and displays a sharp and wry sense of humor; his sense of place is strong, his stories richly textured, and his prose a joy to read. Primarily meditating on the viewpoints of male characters, Fincke gives us stories with beginnings that pull us right in and endings that won’t let us leave the world of the story until long after we have finished reading.