Two that might have slid under your radar

Steve Hayward’s first novel, “The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke,” is a masterpiece of fiction you may not recognize because it was never released in the United States. This is a small story contrasted against the grand setting of depression-era Toronto. It is funny and accessible and historical. It is simply dazzling–so much so that it won the prestigious international Grinzane Cavour Prize in 2006. When Hayward returned from the prize ceremony in Italy, he sent me photos of the event, including one of himself and Salmon Rushdie. Then he told stories about hanging out with Richard Ford and Derek Walcott.

As usual, I swore at him (“Goddamnit, Hayward!”), but in truth I was proud of him. He’d earned this. Hayward is maddening and brilliant–a writer’s writer to the core. I thought accolades of this caliber would surely mean a big U.S. launch. So far it hasn’t happened.

When you’re done with his novel, read his first short story collection, “Buddha Stevens and Other Stories”–provided you can find it. Why? Because the first installment in that anthology “August 14, 1921,” was simultaneously accepted by The Iowa Review and Crazyhorse and the Greensboro Review.

No shit.

That alone gives you an idea of what sort of writer Steve Hayward is. If we’re lucky, perhaps he will grace the comment section and tell the Erin O’Brien Lucio Burke Erection story.

Next up is Maureen McHugh’s first anthology, “Mother’s and Other Monsters.” Published by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant over at Small Beer Press. The collection was a finalist for the 2005 Story Prize, which carried a $20,000 award. Patrick O’Keeffe beat out McHugh and Jim Harrison with “The Hill Road”. But the two runners-up still received a $5,000 award for the title of finalist. Not bad.

Whenever I’m running a workshop I reference this book. McHugh has a way of juxtaposing impossible topics such as Alzheimer’s disease next to that which is so common, it’s almost invisible, a bowl of macaroni and cheese for instance. Sounds strange, yes, but she does it with the same skill Tim O’Brien uses to scale the horror of the Viet Nam war by setting it next to a packet of KoolAid and a comic book. Call it perfect application of detail. McHugh’s got it in nines.

McHugh and I have been reading and critiquing each other’s work for years, but when I sat down and read this published anthology, her singular talent shone like a beacon.

Here’s a few pertinent links–by no means complete–but you people are smart. You know how to use Google.

Steve Hayward’s (ahem) Wiki page (sorry, but it’s the best I can do).

The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke on Amazon Canada

McHugh’s website.

“Oversight” a short story from “Mothers and Other Monsters”

The preceding program was brought to you by Smart Erin.


  1. Thanks so much Erin, for the mention.
    The “Erin O’Brien Lucio Burke Erection Story” has to do with an early version of the novel in which one of the main characters, Ruthie Nodelman, a very hot, very fierce woman has a rather steamy encounter with another of the main characters, Lucio.
    In the draft of the book that the sage Erin was looking at, this encounter, despite its steaminess, didn’t produce an erection in Lucio.
    Erin announced that it was at this moment that the novel lost all credibility. That is how seriously Erin takes erections.
    So it is that in the published version, Lucio gets an erection. Reading it, Erin said she felt particularly good, because it was like SHE had given Lucio the erection.
    Which, I suppose, she did.
    Though, as far as I know, Erin and Lucio did not to beyond that. Not even to textual intercourse.
    Steve Hayward

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