Some kind words...

for The Salt Palace

“Above the footnotes (which serve as a kind of guide to Mormonia and the Utah Jazz) in this fine first novel, Darren DeFrain serves up the trials of Brian, another young American caught between his religion and the hard places of youth. This bittersweet homecoming, about a part of the world I know well, is both tough and tender, and certainly convincing. This novel is an engaging debut by a writer to watch.”
~ Ron Carlson, author of At the Jim Bridger: Stories and A Kind of Flying: Selected Stories (more…)

for Inside & Out

“Darren DeFrain’s INSIDE & OUT is a wonderfully companionable book. It’s eleven stories are told by a variety of first person narrators who share a keen eye and a caring, critical heart–a combination that makes for the comic center of the author’s voice. As the stories roam from the West to Wisconsin a contemporary America crafted from in its own deceptively colorful, plain–ie. economical–language emerges. It’s the style of storyteller, sure enough of his stories to tell them straight, adorned only by epigrammatically tight insight.”
— Stuart Dybek, winner of the MacArthur Fellowship and author of Childhood and Other Neighborhoods, The Coast of Chicago, and I Sailed with Magellan.

“These stories — dramatic monologues of the highest order — display a wealth of voices, each acting as a single instrument in the creation of an orchestral version of our American life. DeFrain has listened faithfully to his characters, and they have spoken to and through him with honesty and charm.”
— Antonya Nelson, author of five short story collections, including Some Fun (Scribner’s 2006), In The Land Of Men, and the novels Talking in Bed, Nobody’s Girl, and Living to Tell.

“DeFrain, an assistant professor at WSU and director of the university’s writing program, gathers stories of the American male in his latest work. Eleven stories, all told from the first-person perspective of working-class men and teenage boys, allow us a look into the thoughts and fears of his characters.
We see a dad trying to make the best of a father-son camping weekend. We see a teenage boy working up the courage to ask the most popular girl to dance, then finding out that the consequences aren’t as bad as he had feared. We see a preternaturally tall man who knows his life will be short try to reach out to a battered woman.
No one comes into the world knowing how to relate to others, but some people never quite get it: They do their best to figure out how to deal with others, but frequently, it doesn’t work, and then they’re lost, drifting, making it up as they go along. It’s not just wives and girlfriends they have trouble with, but buddies, fathers and sons as well.
DeFrain’s characters aren’t “misfits” — that implies almost willful nonconformity — they’re “not-quite-fits.” They struggle not to get ahead, but to get by. They’re generally good at heart, but don’t always know how to make the right choices. We feel for them, and also with them.”
— Lisa McLendon’s Full Review of Inside & Out from The Wichita Eagle, October 12, 2008.

Inside & Out made “The List” in the February edition of Salt Lake Magazine. This is a tremendously lovely magazine. If you haven’t discovered it and the sharp arts & culture writing within, here’s a link: Salt Lake Magazine.

“Our best current short stories sometimes seem to impress more than they do entertain or reward. The form originated by Poe seems to the public to be more a laboratory than a theater. Don’t be fooled about Inside & Out, though. DeFrain’s vital and provocative stories will amuse you.”
— G.W. Clift review from The Kansas City Star, January 4, 2009. Read the full review here.

for Big Mike

“What I like about Natural Bridge–one of its many strengths–is that it has a sense of humor. The short story “Big Mike” by Darren DeFrain is one such example. In synopsis, the story is anything but funny: an alcoholic is coerced into taking his son to a father/son “Indian Guide” outing. Big Mike, the alcoholic, is the story’s foul-mouthed narrator, and while the reader may not like him, it’s possible for the reader to empathize with him along the way and, even, be amused by his observations. Time and again, as much as I resisted, I found myself on Big Mike’s side, as when he heads out into the Michigan winter morning and observes several fathers chipping a hole into an ice-covered lake: “I’m next,” Marty says from right next to me and he takes his coat off. But he doesn’t stop there. He takes off his shirt, and his undershirt, and his boots and socks and his pants and his underwear. His headband is the last to go and he lays this down on his pants next to his bare feet. His dick looks like a circus peanut in the cold and I can’t believe he’s not embarrassed by it.”
Naked, Marty then jumps through the hole and into the icy water. Big Mike, unable to find anything remotely communal about the experience, thinks they’re all nuts. By the story’s end, however, Big Mike attempts his own spectacle. It’s the sort of ending that I love: there is no dramatic character change, no turnaround, but rather an image, or series of images, that exposes a character’s vulnerability, showing us a dimension we haven’t yet seen, an attempt on the narrator’s part to stake a claim, to make his mark, for better or worse.
Author DeFrain is just one of the many accomplished newcomers in this issue.”
~
John McNally, as reviewed in Literary Magazine Review.  Click here for the complete review.

For “Ms. Goffier”

“This excellent journal ends with “Ms. Goffrier,” a non-fictional work that is both honest and sensitive in its reflection. Ms. Goffrier, a stereotypical character, is an instructor for the advanced riding class at the military academy where she is at once resented and cherished for her feminine influence and spontaneity. In his writing, Darren DeFrain does not shy away from experience; he explores it. And the effort that it takes for a writer to do so makes the time spent with the journal worth the while.”

[Gihon River Review, Johnson State College, Johnson Vermont 05656. Single issue $5.] —Donna Everhart  (from NewPages.com Literary Magazine review)

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