Pages: 176 Size: 5.5x8.5
With a hearty helping of Detroit grit, the stories in Stiff pay homage to a city turned upside down by economic abandonment. Steve Hughes pushes the boundaries of realism, creating situations that seem odd and otherworldly. In his Detroit, witches cast spells to improve their husbands, chickens grow from seeds, and house painters with anger management issues declare themselves poet laureates. The characters in Stiff are all searching for something in each other—a certain wholeness or understanding, a place to rest and call home.
Hughes writes with great empathy about people who are struggling with their lives. In "Ripening," a man and woman in an illicit affair witness their genitals leaving their bodies for a rendezvous. In "Dexter’s Song," a drug-addicted saxophone player meets a bored suburban woman who gives him her ex-boyfriend’s sax, which unleashes a series of disasters but the instrument is so fine, so perfect, that when he holds it to his lips he can do no wrong.
Readers of contemporary fiction will enjoy this inventive and evocative collection of stories.
Steve Hughes’s characters in Stiff are a handful—love-struck, addled, smart-ass, and wildly innocent. A Detroit romance, this collection of fiction is outrageous with lives run amok, taking high-risk turns, and rejuvenating themselves. Disaster is every day, often small-time, with that familiar taste—sour and sweet—then a blast of chicken fat and heat. Hughes’s stories offer up ‘a necessary apology to the world’ for daily, heartfelt damage done.
– Janet Kauffman, author of Eco-dementia (Wayne State University Press, 2017)
Combining magical surrealism with downright grittiness, Steve Hughes’s astounding Stiff reads as if Franz Kafka and Denis Johnson hooked up in one of the meaner sections of Detroit and spent the next year together in an abandoned pizza parlor writing short stories. Yes, it is that damn good.
– Donald Ray Pollock, author of The Devil All the Time and The Heavenly Table
Hughes' debut is fun and adventurous, an imaginative barrage of raw emotion.
– Jonathan Fullmer, ALA Booklist
A zany collection that explores alcoholism, modern Detroit, and characters who yearn for 'the tender warmth of female companionship.'
– Kirkus Reviews
Hughes’ lively collection is a whimsical exploration of the human need to find a sense of home and belonging.
– Mahjabeen Syed, The Booklist Reader
Being an artist can be surreal, and it's fitting that Hughes applies his own signature flavor of magical realism to properly portray that. I don't want to give much away beyond saying that you'll find a weird familiarity in even the most fantastic moments of these (often Detroit-set) stories.
– Jeff Milo, Deep Cutz
Stiff is a compendium of love stories for a broken city. Much as Detroit longs to reestablish itself as the heartbeat of southeastern Michigan, the men in these stories seek a place for themselves by reaching often for something otherworldly but almost always somehow unattainable. While there may be a layer of filth and decadence on the surface of their characters, they are complex in their hope for what might be.
– Melissa Grunow, Fiction Writers Review
(video by kim d. hunter)