Ted Morrissey is the author of five books of fiction—Men of Winter, Figures in Blue, An Untimely Frost, Weeping with an Ancient God, and, most recently, Crowsong for the Stricken—as well as two books of scholarship. Weeping with an Ancient God was a Chicago Book Review Best Book of 2015. His stories and novel excerpts have appeared in more than fifty journals, among them Glimmer Train Stories, PANK, ink&coda, and Southern Humanities Review. His essays and reviews have appeared in North American Review, Slush Pile Magazine, and elsewhere. In addition to teaching high school English, Ted has been a lecturer in English at University of Illinois and Benedictine University, Springfield campuses, and he currently teaches in the MFA in Writing program online for Lindenwood University. He lives with his wife Melissa, an educator and children’s author, and their two rescue dogs near Springfield, Illinois. Ted is the founding publisher of Twelve Winters Press, which he modeled after Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press.
“[Crowsong for the Stricken] resists easy description; recommended for those looking for something strange and beautiful. [Mrs Saville is a] fantastically chilling psychodrama intelligently woven into literary history.”
– Kirkus Reviews
Morrissey’s (Weeping with an Ancient God, 2014, etc.) novel in stories tells of the residents of a Midwestern town in the 1950s as they deal with a plague and personal issues.
The author states in an introduction that the 12 stories in this book may be read in any order, which will change how the reader views the overall narrative. Perhaps the story starts with the tale of Old Man Stevenson battling a crow, which he believes took his wife, Clara, away years ago. Or perhaps it starts with the disruption of the town’s Passion play by Rhonda Holcomb, whose dissatisfaction with her own marriage boils over after she puts a new resident, Mrs. Espejo, in charge of the production. Or it could begin with the very first story, which introduces the O’Brien family, who begin showing symptoms of a plague. When this happens, the town custom is to quarantine the home and carefully deliver supplies to the family; when there are no longer any signs of life, the house is burned down. Depending on where the reader starts, they may see a different character as the primary protagonist. But although the narrative is malleable, the vignettes all feature people weighed down by foreboding; there’s always a sense that something is coming for his characters, although Morrissey never defines it clearly. Indeed, they never seem to be able to truly define their own unease—even as the author makes readers feel it, too. References place the book in the mid-’50s, and the author describes the small, unnamed town in loving detail, but there’s also a feeling of detachment, as if all of this is happening in a place apart from our own. It also hints at the supernatural, especially when different characters encounter people in crowlike outfits, but it never presents events that couldn’t be ascribed to the natural world
A work that resists easy description; recommended for those looking for something strange and beautiful.
Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2017
Page count: 133pp
Publisher: Twelve Winters Press
Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2017
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017
In this epistolary novel set in 19th-century England, a brother’s sudden return ushers a darkness into his sister’s home.
Margaret Saville is left alone to run the household while her husband, Philip, is away on business, fecklessly turning to domestic obligations as a way to manage her loneliness. Then her brother, Robin, abruptly appears after a three-year absence, “penniless and beaten” after a harrowing experience at sea. He was the captain of a ship that explored the unforgiving waters of the Arctic. Robin was always a vigorous man, an autodidact known for his insatiable curiosity, but now there’s “something rather shattered about him”—he’s not only physically diminished, but spiritually exhausted as well. He’s also stubbornly laconic and avoids any conversation about whatever experience devastated him. Then a mysterious Russian, Mr. Andropov, a carpenter on Robin’s ship, arrives and explains “the strange time” at sea that shook the captain to his core, a tale hauntingly related by Morrissey (Crowsong for the Stricken, 2017, etc.). Meanwhile, Margaret grapples with demons of her own—her young son, Maurice, dies of illness, a torment that undermines her faith in God. In addition, she hasn’t heard from Philip in weeks, and she fretfully fears the worst, especially as her financial circumstances become increasingly precarious. In a tantalizing subplot, Margaret befriends Mary Shelley, the not-yet-famous author and wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley, who struggles to produce her first book. (This storyline also effectively dates the setting of the novel to about 1815.) The entirety of Morrissey’s tale is told from the first-person perspective of Margaret, conveyed in a series of letters to Philip. The prose is mercurial, especially the dialogue, which can be beautifully refined and moving: “I find I cannot fault him, for loneliness is a hard master, inflicting his lashes most vigorously during the quietest moments.” But it can also be clumsily overwrought and baroque, as when Mary discusses her husband’s genius: “Words flow from him like rays from the sun, and just as golden, only ceasing for necessary nocturnal rest; and I am not confident he fully comprehends that that is not a quality granted to all mortals in equal measure.” Further, Margaret’s “compulsive writing” can be exasperatingly long-winded and disorderly—even she calls them her “meandering missives.” Too often and at too great length her attention dwells on household matters tangential to the main plot and themes. Yet Morrissey magisterially conjures—first by incremental inches and then in a crashing crescendo—a fearsome atmosphere of something vague but evil. The author builds that cloud of foreboding out of pieces that seem disconnected but finally cohere in a univocal mood: Philip’s worrisome silence, the death of a child, and Margaret’s resentful conclusion that God has abandoned her. In addition, the author cleverly ties that mounting malevolence to Mary’s own writing in a way that genuinely adds to the story.
A fantastically chilling psychodrama intelligently woven into literary history.
Page count: 203pp
Publisher: Twelve Winters Press
Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2018
A professor applies to become part of a popular writer’s outlandish literary stunt in this novel.
Literature professor Christopher Krafft is on his way to Chicago for a unique conference organized by bestselling author Elizabeth Winters. The Logos Alive project selected 753 applicants to attend, all of whom had a single word assigned to them that will later be compiled for the prologue for Winters’ next novel. Chris’ journey takes a bizarre turn when news breaks that Winters has died en route in a plane crash. Stunned attendees show up at the conference to hear from her partner, who tells them about the next part of the project. Each participant (all of them literary junkies) will have a microchip implanted that contains 100 words of the forthcoming Winters novel. But the book won’t be published for more than 100 years, when scientists will retrieve the chips and the manuscript will be reassembled. Of course, the Logos participants have to agree to not be cremated. Chris, who is newly single after his girlfriend left him, is enough of a Winters fan to eagerly agree to the chip, and his new conference friend Beth also signs on. But with Chris despairing over his ex and Beth just a temporary companion, he struggles to unlock Winters’ mystery amid a sea of the author’s other admirers. Morrissey’s concise novel is delightfully literary and pulls in enough modern tech and internet realities to keep the genre current. The story revels in a background debate about fame versus talent and whether Winters’ bizarre stunts are her only offering, a view voiced mainly by Chris’ former girlfriend. It’s all approached very warmly, this desire these devotees have for a mystery, breaking news, and to feel a part of something grand. Strongly written with some light moments, the tale delivers an up-in-the-air premise that nicely amplifies its introspective tone.
An inventive, reflective story about cultural phenomena and personal connections to literature.
Page count: 188pp
Publisher: Twelve Winters Press
Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2020
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020
Crowsong for the Stricken Book Trailer
William H. Gass
Unexpected skill or talent
Passion in life
helping people realize their potential, especially young people
CROWSONG FOR THE STRICKEN: Kirkus Star
CROWSONG FOR THE STRICKEN: Named to <i>Kirkus Reviews'</i> Best Books, 2017
CROWSONG FOR THE STRICKEN: International Book Award in Literary Fiction 2018 (Int'l Book Fest), 2018
CROWSONG FOR THE STRICKEN: American Fiction Award in Literary Fiction 2018 (American Book Fest), 2018
CROWSONG FOR THE STRICKEN: Flyleaf Journal Editors' Choice Reprint Award, 2015
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