Welcome back, Jenny Irish!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired in the past six months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods and our 2017 Hudson Prize. Today we bring you Jenny Irish, author of the short story collection I am Faithful, which will be published in late 2019. This will be Jenny’s second book with Black Lawrence Press.
Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our November Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies) and translations from German. Also, our Big Moose Prize for the novel is currently open to early bird submissions.

Jenny Irish Black LawrenceThe Author

Jenny Irish lives in Tempe, Arizona, where she is grateful to serve as the Assistant Director of the Creative Writing Program at Arizona State University. Her work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Blackbird, Catapult, Colorado Review, Epoch, and The Georgia Review.


On writing I am Faithful

As a writer, I’m interested in respectfully and honestly depicting the experience of the working, lower class. The working class, I think, is too often depicted in stereotypes that gloss over the complexities of human experience and are ignorant to the effects of multigenerational poverty. To live under constant financial strain is to live in a state of uncertainty that breeds not only anger, desperation, fear, and resentment, but also possibility, gratitude, and hope—a reality I try to capture throughout the stories in I am Faithful.
For children born into families labeled as “trash,” options are limited not only by their financial circumstances, but also by pre-existing expectations. I am Faithful tries to illustrate these complexities, through a representation of the working class that neither fetishizes nor glamorizes what it is to struggle.


My father kept dogs, and was particular about them in the way that other men are about the cars they’ll drive, or the women they’ll date. Within a month of my mother leaving him, he had a new woman moved in. She was a dishrag soul, and he treated her as a dog, absent the respect he gave chosen members of that species. He refused to be seen with her in public, but liked having her around the house. Without expectations for her treatment, she seemed grateful to be of service, and was content to be reprimanded—warranted or not—so long as it meant she might eventually be forgiven.
But, about the things that truly mattered to him, my father had his standards. Red Nose Pit Bulls were his dog of choice: forty pounds of muscle and snap. His were smaller than generally preferred in sporting circuits, but were all descendants of a lion-eyed Irish Old Family Dog named Haul, a celebrity so far as an animal who has never taken or saved a human life can be, a weight-pull champion on dirt, snow, and rails. It was a pedigree that forgave my father’s dogs their size.
Before the Pit Bulls, there was a high-strung Doberman, and later, an inherited Rottweiler bitch, and overlapping, an assortment of small, long-lived lapdogs with free run of the house: my mother’s pets. With their little faces between her hands, she would say, “I sha’n’t be gone long—you come too.” So we all knew some Robert Frost by heart—me, and the dogs alike.
Once, I found my college roommates, three Connecticut blonds, gathered around a newspaper, making shrill noises of excitement and distress. I assumed their enthusiasm to be over horoscopes, an especially favorable alignment of the stars. “Wait until you hear this,” one said. “It’s the worst thing ever.” Then I thought there must have been a rape or robbery or killing on campus, and because of it, the cancellation of some event—no midnight swimming, or XXX bingo in the Union.
But no—
They were beside themselves over a man with more puppies than he could find homes. He shot two without any problem, but the third wouldn’t stop squirming, making it difficult to aim. When he went down on his knees to pin it, there was an accident positioning the barrel. The puppy somehow managed to shoot the man, and he eventually died from the wound. The worst thing, the thing that so moved my roommates, was not the man’s death, but his intention.
There is, I think, an assumption of malice when we hear a story like that. But, what if it were only matter-of-fact? Like, there’s a kind of man who shoots a dog, because a dog is a dog. He’s the same man who drowns newborn puppies by the sack-full every spring then ticks it from the list of chores in his head. He’s seen the public service announcements: Spay and neuter your pets. But, he doesn’t have pets. He has dogs. He’s the same kind of man who is superstitious of bodies opened and altered. He doesn’t say so—he wouldn’t say so—but he believes the medical-arts to be a sort of dark magic. Doctors make him sweat. He’s a man who doesn’t admit to fear, and so when he is afraid he is angry. He’s the man who dies of a slowly consuming cancer, an abscess left to fester. He’s the man taken down by a clogged valve in his heart, thirty slow years in the making. That kind of man: he’s a tough old bastard, but he’s never meant any harm. On the anniversary of his death, his sons drink, because their father was a tough old bastard and they hated him, but he never meant any harm, and they loved him too.