Stories & Essays Available Online
I have fallen in love with a willow tree. I first saw it a week ago, on a golden, dusty afternoon. You and I were out for our daily constitutional. You move with a walker these days, tennis balls affixed to the bottom. You hunch over the metal frame, a shuffling figure with a cap of white curls.
The parole officer is the one who calls you. She chats aimlessly for a minute or two, bright and cheery, before getting to the point. Today is the day. After three years, Doug is a free man. He is no threat to you anymore, she says, and then she repeats it. No threat. No threat.
Writing Back Story
I used to be afraid of memory. As a young writer, I stayed away from back story in my fiction. Flashbacks always felt clunky and expositional, and I was never sure how to incorporate them into the story in a way that felt seamless.
Every story exists somewhere between the writer's imagination and the reader's imagination. As the author, you create the story, but once it leaves your hands, it isn't yours anymore. It becomes whatever the reader makes of it.
The Sin Eater
Los Angeles Review of Books
At first glance, Alice Thomas Ellis might not seem an exemplar of Gothic writing. Her work is witty, scintillating, at times even comic. Her dialogue fairly glitters. She has been compared to Virginia Woolf, Evelyn Waugh, and Muriel Spark. As a rule, her writing defies easy categorization. Her work is an alchemical blend of disparate elements — humor and darkness, exquisite prose and empty banter, the spiritual and the commonplace. She writes about the trials and tribulations of the English middle class. She writes about ordinary people thrown out of their usual rhythms and routines by visitors, by holidays, by illness, by love. She writes with poetry and biting insight.
But what interests me most are her monsters.
World after Water
The boys wake at dawn. They share a mattress on the floor, piled like puppies. There are four of them, stair-step in age, as similar as twins. They are sun-colored: copper-skinned, their hair bleached white. They are wishbone-thin.
Chicago Review of Books
My aunt has an apartment on Lake Shore Drive. There’s a bank of windows that overlooks the water. There’s a balcony that no one ever uses because the breeze is too powerful, the sound of traffic too persistent. The lake changes by the hour—now tropical turquoise, now murky, now topped by whipped cream whitecaps, now stone-flat and lightless, now dotted with sailboats, now bejeweled by birds.
Mysteries & Memoirs
It began with Agatha Christie, as so many things do. In a moment of curiosity, I picked up The Murder on the Orient Express, and a few days later I read And Then There Were None. Over the month that followed, I devoured every one of Christie’s dozens and dozens of marvelous mysteries.
The Urban Wild
In 1987, there were rumors of mink in LaBagh Woods. The forest preserve on the city’s Northwest Side was a tradition in my family. My father, an avid bird watcher, had mapped the shimmering gravel trails that followed the line of the old railroad track through the foliage. On a balmy spring day, he and I entered the forest from the south. We passed fallen logs studded with mushrooms and marshy pools gleaming in the underbrush. I was 8 years old, clutching my father’s hand. I knew what mink looked like—smaller than otters, sleek and clever, usually found near water. We approached a bridge so thoroughly coated in graffiti that the clashing colors danced before my eyes, doubled in the water, a chaos of indecipherable symbols. My father and I lingered there, inhaling the musk of the river. We saw a turtle and a cloud of dragonflies. We did not see any mink.
The turtle was almost as big as I was. It looked like a relic from the deep ocean, or perhaps the distant past—a cruel, hooked beak and a shell studded with sharp points. The alligator snapping turtle was theoretically benign, but its broad maw and vicious claws were a bit too reminiscent of dragons and dinosaurs for my taste.