Xhenet Aliu’s Domesticated Wild Things, and Other Stories
Just down the highway from Connecticut’s Gold Coast is the state’s rusty underbelly, the wretched, used-up sort of place where you might find Xhenet Aliu’s Domesticated Wild Things: the reluctant mothers, delinquent dads, and not-quite-feral children, yet dreamers all. These are the children of immigrants who found boarded-up brass mills instead of the gilded streets of America; they’re the teenaged girls raised in the fluorescent glow of Greek diners, the middle-aged men with pump trucks and teratomas. These are people who have fled, or who should have. And if they are indeed familiar, it is because Aliu writes what is real, whether we ourselves, her readers, have seen it up close or not. And her stories make sense in a way that matters.
A young mother buys into a real-estate investment seminar offered on an infomercial, only to be put back into her place by a bully in foreclosure. A closeted wrestler befriends a latchkey seven-year-old neighbor who harbors secrets of her own. A YMCA counselor tries to reclaim shoes stolen by a troubled young camper.
What they share is a biting humor, an eye for the absurd, and fumbling attempts at human connection, all rendered irresistible—and as moving as they are amusing—by a writer whose work is at once edgy and endearing and prize winning for reasons any reader can appreciate. (from the publisher)
Why we are (re) reading Aliu’s Domesticated Wild Things
It’s no secret that Xhenet Aliu is my best friend and I won’t pretend to be impartial. What’s indisputable, though, is that Xhenet’s debut novel BRASS (Random House 2018) was sold by her agent at auction —editors were clamoring at a chance to publish that book!
In anticipation for BRASS, I’ve decided to revisit Xhenet’s deadpan, gut wrenching, I-can’t-believe-I-just-laughed-at-that story collection Domesticated Wild Things, which won The University of Nebraska Prairie Schooner Prize for Fiction. For a reason.
My favorite story has always been “You Say Tomato.” In Domesticated Wild Things, flawed characters make perfect stories and the portraits Xhenet paints are so devastatingly real that they inspire both empathy and discomfort. Xhenet’s fiction hits close to to the bone and makes me yearn for home but grateful that I never have to go back. Funny. Heartbreaking.
Critical Praise for Xhenet Aliu’s Domesticated Wild Things
“Aliu’s debut collection, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction, looks at a variety of characters living on the outskirts as they wrestle with their circumstances or impulses . . . Aliu’s colorful characters, both resilient yet troubled, bolster the 11 spirited tales.”– Booklist Online
“Xhenet Aliu’s stories evoke with fierceness and a resilient compassion what it means to be disadvantaged and self-destructive, her characters negotiating the kind of homes in which your bed and your mother might be missing, or in which your husband might be raising venomous snakes in your bedroom closet. Her protagonists live at that intersection of the ethnically despised and the economically demolished, but they’re not ready to quit, and they never stop believing that everyone, everywhere, is entitled to a little something special.”—Jim Shepard, author of You Think That’s Bad
“There is a lot of the body in these stories: stink and rot and perfume and dead skin. Often out of control and goofy, Domesticated Wild Things is also extremely funny and mordant. The wild energy of Aliu’s diction mocks and illuminates the English language.”—Sherman Alexie, author of Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories
“Offering sharp dialogue and a sense of the absurd, the book’s 11 stories evoke compassion rather than pity for this cast of wretched souls. Humorous and vibrant.”—Publishers Weekly
“Aliu’s colorful characters, both resilient yet troubled, bolster the 11 spirited tales.”—Leah Strauss, Booklist Online
“Filled with both humor and compassion these original stories reflect the bog which sucks the hard up and those living on the edge deeper into the quicksand of life. . . . The stories will appeal to the adolescents and the bewildered young who will recognize their own ruminations so aptly expressed by the emotionally tortured characters.”—Aron Row, San Francisco Book Review