Recipient of the 2018 Story Prize Spotlight Award
Lee Conell's linguistically deft stories examine the permeability between the real and the imagined, the stories buried beneath the surface and the stories by which we live our lives.
In the title story of this collection, a young woman who wants to become a doctor is manipulated by an older man into playing a role in one of his medical studies. In "The Lock Factory," winner of the Chicago Tribune's 2016 Nelson Algren Literary Award, three women who assemble school combination locks are trapped inside an escalating generational conflict of their own making. A boy who has lost his mother in "The Rent-Controlled Ghost" searches for the spirit of the mistreated tenant who formerly inhabited his apartment. "A Magic Trick for the Recently Unemployed" serves as a three-step how-to guide for reclaiming a sense of self and purpose. In "What the Blob Said to Me," an elderly woman dwells on her long-ago experience working at a government production site for the atomic bomb. And a mother-daughter Groupon for an upscale afternoon tea goes seriously awry in "Mutant at the Pierre Hotel."
With humor and verve, Subcortical's dynamic stories delve into the mysteries of the human mind as these haunted characters struggle with economic disparity, educational divides, and the often-contested spaces in which they live.
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About the Author
Lee Conell has taught for Southern Word, SUNY New Paltz, and Vanderbilt University, where she earned her MFA. Her fiction has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Glimmer Train, Kenyon Review online, Guernica, American Short Fiction, and elsewhere. This is her first book.
Subcortical urges the reader to take fantasy and fiction seriously, to consider how belief in the supernatural or the unlikely is not only an emotional touch point, but also a potential form of salvation . . . Throughout the collection, Conell never loses touch with the reader; the passion and sense of loss in these stories, their beat and pulse, is never distant. Whether transported to New York or Nashville, the 1940s or the present day, she does not lose sight of what lures and hooks our hearts . . . Dreams, hopes, the unreal-made-real and vice versa, weave and tighten these stories together, rewarding the reader with perspectives that captivate and confound, whirl you around and yet fasten you to the solid reality of the human body.--Cara Dees "The Adroit Journal"
Conell invites us into our own world with new eyes that capture the extraordinary details of the everyday and experience the extraordinary as merely mundane . . . These stories ask the reader to look closely at our present moment, to uncover its wonders and marvels. These stories are a reflection rather than a solution. They'll do better than break your heart--they'll shake it up and set the pieces cascading like snow in a globe, settling eventually in a familiar but different arrangement.--Alicia Marie Brandewie "Nashville Review"
Conell brings the characters in her rich debut collection to life in weird, wise, and often poignant ways.-- "Publishers Weekly"
With sixteen stories of various lengths, Subcortical is a substantial debut. The shorter pieces, four to five pages each, are elliptical and open-ended, leaving readers wanting more. The longer stories possess the heft of novels, with complex characters who grow in surprising directions. This collection promises a bright future for Conell in longer fictional forms, but here's hoping she returns on occasion to write stories like these, gems of quirky insight and the heartache of difficult lessons. As Conell clearly knows, learning the hard way is the only way we learn anything.--Sean Kinch "Chapter 16"