14 Oct

by Maggie Behringer

We often imagine that our childhood games of truth-or-dare and trust-hand-slap do not follow us into adulthood.

For the characters in Mark Brazaitis’ new collection, Truth Poker, those simple games—moments of venerability on the fault line between the truth and a lie—are equally high stakes for both children and adults.

Brazaitis’ new work recently won the Autumn House Press 2014 Fiction Prize. The Pittsburgh house will publish the book early next year.

Truth Poker is a collection of 15 stories whose outcomes hinge on how characters engage with a truth (about a situation, about themselves),” Brazaitis said. “In a crucial moment in their lives, will they tell the truth or conceal it? What will the consequences of their decisions be?”

These small, subtle moments play with the tension between a person’s internal existence and the life that others see. What should be exciting, like a pregnancy, or comforting, like a son’s relationship with his father, is only a guise for a lie.

A wife, who halfheartedly opted for a family rather than an academic career, faces the choice of putting her husband’s name on a journal article she penned or giving herself the credit. Hanging in the balance is his approval for tenure at a university.

Four female friends in their mid to early thirties are pregnant, but one of the women, the story’s leading lady, is faking it.

In the collection’s title piece, two boys play a real life version of truth poker. When a person loses a hand, he is required to answer his friend’s question. One of the boys, again the story’s main concern, has lost his mother and is living with his father.

Through playing the game, he slowly finds connections between his mother’s suicide and his father’s relationship with an Ohio congressman. As it turns out, the boy’s playmate is the congressman’s nephew.

“Autumn House has an excellent reputation as a press that produces beautiful books and promotes its authors and their work,” he said. “A short-story collection isn’t the easiest to publish, and I am thrilled to have an excellent press behind Truth Poker.”

Brazaitis’ manuscript was selected by Sharon Dilworth, the author of Year of the Ginkgo, an associate professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University and, like Brazaitis, a former Iowa Short Fiction Award winner.

The Autumn House Press award is attached to a travel and publicity grant. As he gears up to promote the book, Brazaitis is keeping his fingers crossed for an invitation to read in Hawaii.

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