The judges’ citation for the book follows:
Both a straight-talker and a poet at heart, Joey Harvell revisits his childhood home in Arkansas to plumb the wildness that still ricochets out from those early years: his “real-deal” mother, his violent step-dad, his kinship with a kindly Cherokee family, and the blistering ride that Joey takes to manhood. In these powerful linked short stories, Michael Gills’ love of language in service of deep understanding shines.
When first we enter “the house across from the deaf school,” it is on the day Joey’s parents marry and leave him on the front porch while they consummate their union. Their marital bliss lasts about an hour. Then dire reality sets in. Years later, when Joey enters that same house, breaking and entering to gain access, he walks into his childhood: “The slant of light through the windows and the way the floor feels beneath my feet. An odor, or the trace of an odor that sneaks deep into you the way a piece of clothing from a person dead thirty years can take you right there . . .” The reader is right there as well, lost in a dim house as a man grapples with his hardscrabble past, a past that keeps coming round to haunt him.
Or does Joey Harvell haunt his past? As author William Gibson has intoned, “Time moves in one direction, memory in another.”
The pig slaughter, the hard tackles, the sucker punches, the betrayals, all trespass into Joey’s present. He longs to know, examine, refract. “Arkansas was, and remains . . . a frontier state,” he tells us. That frontier heat still pumps his veins. As a longtime university professor, with a wife and daughter, Joey cannot help but wonder whether he actually did get out of Lonoke, Arkansas, alive. And the way his past and present tangle up, you have to wonder with him.
Deep inside Gills’ unflinching masculine honesty come moments of generosity and grace, “inhabiting the place where the day is forever at hand.” In this fine book, a man looks back with real attention to embrace his past—all of it—to hold it, admit it, claim it, circle it round. Time’s stubborn arrow bends to human will in Michael Gills’ generous imagination.
15 Bytes’ Literary Associate Calvin Jolley writes in Project Muse of Deaf House that“Michael Gills engages readers with a psalm in one hand and bloody hunting knife in the other. The author’s lexicon is raw-boned and muscular, insightful and severe. There is soulfulness at work here. This fiction blends the colloquial intuition of heartbreak with the physical fluency of a pugilist intent upon protecting his broken heart.”
And 15 Bytes’ Tamara Pace Thomson writes that Gills plays “detailed narrative against linguistic restraint” in Deaf House, and that his stories in this collection “tackle the guilt and regret inherent in human relationships, the ugliness of selfishness and cruelty, the loneliness and misunderstanding that even sincere love can engender, and he turns it all into shining narratives with beautifully flawed characters and unforgettable places.”
You can read the 15 Bytes Interview of Gills by Thomson here.
The House Across from the Deaf School (Texas Review Press, 2016) is one of three books of fiction that were finalists for the 5th Annual 15 Bytes Book Award, the winner of which receives a modest cash prize. You can read the citations of the two finalists, Gerald Elias (Playing with Fire, Severn House, 2016) and Andrew Hunt (Desolation Flats, Minotaur, 2016) here.
Gills will appear November 14, 2017 (7:00 pm) to read from his award-winning book and receive his award at Weller Book Works, Trolley Square. The event, which will also include the winner and finalists of the 15 Bytes Creative Nonfiction Award, is free and open to the public.
Congratulations to Michael Gills, winner of the 2017 15 Bytes Book Award in Fiction for his The House Across from the Deaf School!
In addition to The House Across From the Deaf School, Michael Gills is author of three collections of short fiction, including two novels, including Emergency Instructions, and the visionary memoir White Indians, both published by Raw Dog Screaming Press in 2017 and 2013, respectively. Part two of White Indians is forthcoming. He is Associate Professor/Lecturer of Writing for the Honors College at the University of Utah. Gills’ collected papers are archived at Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Gills will appear in conversation with short story writer Joe Totten Thursday, September 28, 2017 at 15 Bytes’ READ LOCAL SERIES in Salt Lake City as part of the weeks-long, statewide Utah Humanities Book Festival. The event takes place at Finch Lane Gallery, 15 Finch Ln. at 7:00 pm and is free and open to the public.