The Black River Chapbook Competition Winner

Families Among Us

Publication Date: September 2014


Winner of the Spring 2013 Black River Chapbook Competition

Fantastical and disquieting, yet utterly familiar and human in their strangeness, the six short tales in Blake Kimzey’s Families Among Us introduce us to the work of a wildly imaginative and masterfully nuanced new writer. In the tradition of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, but also of Roald Dahl and Aimee Bender, Kimzey taps into the dark and darkly beautiful plights of six families pitched against mysterious and uncontrollable conditions. We encounter characters at the painful point of transformation: from sea to land, from human body to animal body, from compassion to rejection. When confronted with the surreal, the unknowable, the impossibly strange, we could choose to run. Or we could make the difficult choice, the one that leads us to weirder and better things. Kimzey’s stories ask us to do just that, and in doing so, to be a little more human.


Four of them, a family, crawled naked from the sea clutching plastic suitcases. Like a brass section in an orchestra they drew breath into their lungs for the first time in days, months, years, decades. They were ageless, the mother and father, boy and girl. Slowly, the gills on their necks flattened and disappeared into skin, leaving only faint watermarks that suggested long forgotten scars or birthmarks. It hurt at first, their lungs rising and falling, rising and falling.

The decision to leave the sea was permanent, a unanimous vote to abandon the fuselage that had been their home, for how many years they could not count. On shore, among the smooth rocks and wet driftwood, they dressed. They stood on uncertain legs. Out of the water their arms seemed to move too fast, cutting through the air without resistance. For the first time the children heard waves crashing, birds overhead, and felt the warmth of the sun on their bare skin. A multitude of smells swirled about the children, and they smiled and dripped dry for the first time in memory.


These stories are like tiny portholes into worlds teeming with rich, surprising life. Blake Kimzey is a master miniaturist.

-Ramona Ausubel, author of No One is Here Except All of Us and A Guide to Being Born

Each of the stories in Blake Kimzey’s astonishing chapbook Families Among Us are intricate, beautifully written universes unto themselves. These stories blur the lines between what is real and what is possible yet they are also intimate and familiar because they are stories about people and connection and the very human desire to be a part of something greater than ourselves.

-Roxane Gay, Author of An Untamed State

In Families Among Us, Blake Kimzey’s inventive prose summons six weird worlds of the imagination-but more than anything else, these imagined worlds conjure not some other space but the forgotten weirdness of the world we know, revealed here in all its wondrous everyday magic.

-Matt Bell, author of In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods

In these six controlled and full-hearted tales, Blake Kimzey propels his characters into a wilderness that threatens and promises to obliterate our old notions of home. Steeped in legend and grounded by nature, Families Among Us is a powerful reminder that one can, even in the most supportive families, metamorphose into an adult whose only option is flight. What a terrific start to a long and bright career.

-Gabe Durham, author of Fun Camp

Kimzey brings us into the world we glimpsed with Kafka, where, with both clarity and mystery, we must confront the monster as family and the family as monster, the sorrow of separation as the liberation of leaving. This is what fiction is for.

-Josh Woods, editor of Surreal South ’13 anthology

Blake Kimzey writes with enormous talent, imagination, and depth of feeling. The eerie, haunting fables that comprise Families Among Us are like dreams that bind abandonment and solitude to growth in a tragic and moving way, bearing out what Heraclitus said: ‘Nothing endures but change.’

-Austin Ratner, author of the novels In the Land of the Living and The Jump Artist, 2011 winner of the $100,000 Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature

Blake Kimzey’s Families Among Us is a strong and stunning collection. The prose feels new, always imaginative and surprising, striking a beautiful balance of realistic and surreal. The stories-even when completely fantastical and lightly allegorical-always remain utterly human, and it’s a powerful book that builds to something complete and wonderfully memorable.

-Harriet Alida Lye, editor, Her Royal Majesty

Blake Kimzey has given us all the pleasures our imagination can bear, six stories to savor slowly, to break our hearts and then mend them. My only complaint is that Families Among Us is only 36 pages, instead of 360. I wanted more of these good things.

-Kyle Minor, author of Praying Drunk and In the Devil’s Territory

Following the likes of Orson Welles and his radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds, Rod Serling and the television series The Twilight Zone, and John Carpenter and his film The Thing, Blake Kimzey and his chapbook collection of short stories Families Among Us delve deep into different, yet equally mysterious phenomena. Kimzey’s collection proposes that we need look no further than our own homes and communities for the source of the curious and the bizarre, and it is through these otherworldly, yet earthly, creations that we discover that which binds us all.

-Colorado Review, Center for Literary Publishing

When a writer tells vibrant stories that bleed into the margins, and when a sharp design meets fitting, fascinating artwork, the result is too great to ignore. In other words, the result is Families Among Us. An entire universe lives within these forty pages, spun into existence with the sincere cadence of an ancient origin story. For readers, this chapbook is a welcome pause from realism, a chance to give in to and live briefly in the fantastical.


“The Boy and The Bear” achieves what all great flash fiction aims to achieve in that readers live in a fully imagined world, even if for only a short time. This story is both magical and sad, and we were immediately drawn to the quality of the writing and the story’s fable-like quality. Simply put, you won’t forget this one.

-The Masters Review

Lovely and Majestic. Kimzey has fashioned six allegories about the inevitability of change, people trying to love what is different from themselves, and the hardship and heartbreak that comes with being part of a family.

-The Small Press Book Review

Families Among Us is a daring book. As with Kafka’s work, after living in these stories for a couple days, they get even stranger, and new layers emerge.

-Fiction Southeast

Captivating…[Families Among Us] would go on to win the Black River Chapbook Competition, and rightly so; it’s frickin’ great.

-Structo (Oxford, England)


-Necessary Fiction, 2014 Best-Of Year-End List

About the Author

Blake Kimzey

Blake Kimzey is a 2014 graduate of the MFA Program at UC Irvine and the recipient of a generous Emerging Writer Grant from The Elizabeth George Foundation. His fiction has been broadcast on NPR, performed on stage in Los Angeles, and published by Tin House, McSweeney’s, Green Mountains Review, FiveChapters, The Lifted Brow, Puerto del Sol, The Los Angeles Review, Short Fiction, PANK, Monkeybicycle, Fiction Southeast, The Masters Review, Surreal South '13, and selected by Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Olen Butler for inclusion in The Best Small Fictions 2015 Anthology. Blake has been awarded fellowships to attend the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and the Vermont Studio Center. He has taught creative writing at UC-Irvine, and most recently, at the University of Texas at Dallas.

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