New Books from NER Authors: Half as Happy by Gregory Spatz

Half as HappyGregory Spatz’s new collection of short stories, Half as Happy, has been published by Engine Books. Three of the eight stories originally appeared in NER.

From Publisher’s Weekly: “Spatz writes like a dream, and he is perfectly at home with the focus on the self, the search for a personal truth, and other tropes of contemporary literary fiction.”

From Brad Watson, author of The Heaven of Mercury: “Each story moves and unfolds, deepens and develops beautifully complex textures and moods, not unlike beautiful pieces of music. Spatz has a pitch-perfect ear for the language and an uncanny ability to mine the substance of his characters’ rich lives.”

The recipient of a NEA Fellowship in literature, Gregory Spatz is the author of Inukshuk and other novels. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Glimmer Train Stories, and Kenyon Review, among other publications. His work has appeared in several issues of NER (26.3, 27.4, 30.1, and 32.4). His piece “In Praise of Community Orchestras” was also featured in the NER Digital series.

Half as Happy is available from Engine Books and other booksellers.

New Books from NER Authors

Paula Bohince

The Children

“Another writer with Paula Bohince’s gift for the ravishing image—and such writers are very few—would have us on our guard. We are wary of beauty; we have seen too often what beauty leaves out. But Bohince, in her magical capture of the material world, scorns all euphemizing edits; ‘the condom listing against milk-/weed’ is registered as scrupulously in these pages as are the combs of the abandoned hive. Which makes these poems transformative in the true and difficult sense: they bestow on the world the blessing of having-been-seen. And beauty too: ‘Something to recall / as beautiful, in the future. As the sewer was / in summer. Little childhood river.'” (Linda Gregerson)


Gordon Bowker

James Joyce: A New Biography

“It is a great boon that British biographer Gordon Bowker, who has written lives of Malcolm Lowry, George Orwell and Lawrence Durrell, should have taken on this task, and better yet that he has produced such a fine portrait of the artist and the man who was James Joyce . . . Instead of being daunted by Joyce having in a sense got there before him, Bowker makes this a strength, as he skillfully presents incidents and experiences both as they happened in life and, suitably transformed to varying degrees, on the page . . . the reader has the best of both worlds, being informed—or in the case of those already familiar with the books, reminded—both of the glories of Joycean fiction and of their roots in his life. Never reductive, genuinely attuned to both Joyce’s fictive methodology and his human qualities, Bowker manages to be immensely sympathetic to his subject while managing to preserve necessary critical distance and acuity.” (Martin Rubin, San Francisco Chronicle)


Michael Collier

An Individual History

“Collier’s sixth collection engages with childhood, fatherhood, and family life, in the living present and memorial past, a history explored with brilliantly precise detail and originality of perspective.” (Publishers Weekly)


Eduardo C. Corral

Slow Lightning

“[W]e can make of what would blind us a conduit for changed vision, suggests Corral. In these poems, a cage implies all the rest that lies outside it; any frame frames a window through which to see other possibilities unfolding… Like Hayden, Corral resists reductivism.  Gay, Chicano, ‘Illegal-American,’ that’s all just language, and part of Corral’s point is that language, like sex, is fluid and dangerous and thrilling, now a cage, now a window out.  In Corral’s refusal to think in reductive terms lies his great authority.  His refusal to entirely trust authority wins my trust as a reader.” (Carl Phillips, from the Foreword)


Norman Lock

Escher’s Journal

“Lock’s work seems to emanate…from an essential strangeness, an estrangement from easily agreed-upon psychologies, from popular culture, from anything resembling a zeitgeist. It is marked by an eerie tonality and an intense, unsettled intellectual curiosity—a Lock novel might take place during any time period, anywhere in the world.” (Dawn Raffel)


Padgett Powell

You & Me

“Wonderful…You & Me is by turns hilarious, depressing, gnomic, smutty, and just a far better Saturday night than anything to be had in Jacksonville and Baskersfield combined.” (BookForum)

“…swaggering genius and ribald wit.” (Vanity Fair)


Gregory Spatz


“Inukshuk is a feat of empathy and honesty, a taut tale of fear and resentment and other threats from within, meticulously observed and fearlessly rendered in vivid, authoritative, gripping prose. It’s a virtuoso performance.” (Doug Dorst)



Craig Morgan Teicher

To Keep Love Blurry 

“A liberating push-back against the idea of economy. More play, more improvisation, and more defiantly deadpan humor – this is the vital shot-in-the-arm American poetry needs.” (D. A. Powell)



Matthew Thorburn

Every Possible Blue

“If Fred Astaire could write, it might sound like this: practiced, complex, graceful…These are a sequence of anecdotes daring to love again, dreaming in daylight.” (Grace Cavalieri)

Exquisitely, perfectly sad

In Praise of Community Orchestras | By Gregory Spatz

Gregory Spatz

This winter, the adult-beginner community orchestra where my wife, Caridwen, coaches the violin sections and occasionally conducts, undertook one of the most demanding and profound pieces of music I know of: the second movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. This is a piece I grew up listening to – at home, at my grandparents’ house in the Berkshires, summer evenings over their outdoor garden speakers, maybe even a time or two at Tanglewood performed by the BSO. My senior year in high school, I undertook a full-blown harmonic analysis of the piece, mainly because I wanted an excuse to dodge math class, but also because I was hoping to get to the bottom of some kind of nostalgia I’d always felt hearing it – to root that out, and maybe distance myself from it by focusing on the music’s underlying calculus and structure, rather than on the feeling-tones and idyllic pictures of willow trees and summer sunsets reflected in my grandparents’ pond, which the music always evoked for me. I doubt the analysis was very good or thorough, and I’m positive it didn’t lead me to a more meaningful appreciation of the music, but for a while after I did feel a special connection to it, a kind of ownership even, because of that attempted harmonic analysis, and I’d always type out final drafts of college papers with it blaring on my dorm room speakers (or on headphones after roommates complained).

And then I stopped listening to it altogether. Until this winter.

What surprised me, hearing it again as Caridwen worked it up, and later as the adult-beginners performed it, was how relevant it all still felt. And still (for me) steeped in nostalgia; and still, I can’t say what’s at the source of that. Some of it now, of course, is the sadness of looking back at a childhood and a whole world of people that no longer exists – feeling all of that evoked in the drama of those chords and fugue-themes and plaintive call-and-answer sections. Some of it may be inherent in the music itself, a consequence of Beethoven’s own sadness/nostalgia for the world of sound (he was mostly deaf at the time of writing it) – very probably it pulses with longing because he would only ever hear it fully in his head, and one can only imagine how badly he must have wanted to hear it played.

But the real surprise for me this winter, was in the way the community orchestra, despite the piece’s technical and emotional challenges, didn’t feel out-classed by or mismatched with the job of playing it. In fact, I felt their playing of the piece struck an earnestness of feeling that you don’t always hear from a professional orchestra, precisely because of inevitable imperfections in the performance. No question about the defects…and therefore no room in the playing for the vanity or high-gloss artistry and perfectionism that can so often cause classical music to sound fossilized, intimidating or inaccessible to the lay-listener. Did they get inside the piece and articulate it in a way Beethoven would have been pleased to hear? Probably not. But there was a pure awe and pleasure in being immersed in the music that was moving to behold. For me, that kind of engagement is the whole point of making music in the first place. I was glad to be reminded of this – and so unexpectedly, imperfectly – to feel again the power and immediacy of one of the most exquisitely, perfectly sad pieces of music I have ever heard.


NER Digital is a creative writing series for the web. Gregory Spatz has been contributing to NER’s fiction pages since 1992. His most recent book publications are the novel Inukshuk and forthcoming short story collection Half as Happy. He is the recipient of a Washington State Book Award and a 2012 NEA Fellowship in Literature, and plays fiddle in the internationally acclaimed band “John Reischman and the Jaybirds.” Visit for more info. 

Gregory Spatz NEA Fellowship

Congratulations to NER contributor Gregory Spatz on his 2012 Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

NER will publish Spatz for the sixth time in 18 years in our next issue (32.4). He first appeared in NER in 1992 (14.2).

An excerpt from Spatz’s book Inukshuk, scheduled for publication by Bellevue Literary Press in June 2012:

Opening shot: exterior: the Erebus and the Terror on a sea more or less the same blue-green as that bus ceiling. No icebergs yet, no sign of land. Low-flying mist, and as the ships come closer, you see men on board, wearing black and wrapped in wool. Cue distant dance music—accordions, mandolin, and piano; mournful, ballad-inflected, but melodic and mostly happy. This is a good day, despite the ominous backdrop—a joyous day. Roll-across subtitle: Day 107 of the Franklin Expedition to navigate the Northwest Passage. Stores just replenished in Greenland and closing in on Lancaster Sound. The true start of the adventure . . . or . . . the beginning of the end?

[read more]