Dec 12, 2014

Dante DiStefano Reviews Dry Bones in the Valley by Tom Bouman

Dry Bones in the Valley
By Tom Bouman
W.W. Norton, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-393-24302-4

Grit-Tender, Gut-Black, Cold-Gleaming

In a dream, the Lord shows the prophet Ezekiel a valley full of dry bones. God tells Ezekiel that if he speaks the word of the Lord, then the word will breathe life back into these skeletal remains. Bone will rattle together with bone. Joints will snap into sockets. Ribcages will levitate from the dust. Tendons will reattach. Flesh will be recovered. As it turns out, God’s being metaphorical here. The bones are Israel and this vision contains the promise of homecoming, the hope of a return to the Promised Land. Hope malingers amidst desolation. Nature decomposes, and re-composes itself, as terrifying self-portrait. Families rise and fall. These are powerful tropes in American literature. Nevertheless, when we speak of home, as Svetlana Boym has pointed out, we experience the first failure of homecoming. Today, the logic of the strip mall and the handheld devise infuses the marrow of our daily lives. There’s a desiccated quality ghosting through the technologically driven ethos of our contemporary consumer culture. Tom Bouman’s debut novel, Dry Bones in the Valley, autopsies these dry bones.

Bouman sets the novel during the early days of the hydro-fracking boom in the Marcellus Shale. Wild Thyme Township, the fictionalized Northeastern Pennsylvania municipality, where this rural noir unfolds is a place where the locals eat antelope jerky, poach lumber and deer, dip their toes in the drug trade, and drive their ATVs to the local bar. It’s a place where generations of families, like the Stiobhards, are fighting an eternal Whiskey Rebellion. It’s a place where pole barns and corncribs rot amidst second-growth forests. It’s a place where cell phones don’t always get good reception, where dirt roads are commoner than paved ones, where a rusted Frigidaire might ornament what passes for a front lawn, and where a house’s interior might reek of bat piss and creosote. In short, it’s a place that’s about a thirty minute drive outside of many American suburbs; it’s the perfect setting to explore the dark contours of cultural and personal loss.

Officer Henry Farrell, the novel’s narrator and protagonist, is small town cop struggling with losses: environmental, emotional, ancestral, and connubial. In the opening pages of the novel, Farrell describes the view from his desk in the police station and says:
…way back in history someone had put a drop ceiling in the office, but I disliked looking at all the little holes and brown stains in it. So I popped out the tiles and unscrewed the frame. It’s still there in case someone wants to reinstall it. Till that day, I like seeing how everything works, the bones, everything plain from my steelcase desk right up to the pipes and HVAC near the ceiling.
Farrell’s impulse to lay things bare, to strip away the prefabricated, to tear down the artificial is the same impulse that animates Bouman’s novel as a whole. This impulse is also what propels the plot forward as Farrell investigates two local murders. Although the plot develops in a well-constructed and thoroughly satisfying manner, the real strength of Dry Bones in the Valley lies in the finely wrought nuances of Farrell’s narrative voice and the intricacies of his character.

Farrell’s narration is remarkable, a testament to Bouman’s facility as a writer. Sometimes the sentences unwind with the vertiginous grandeur of a Thelonious Monk number, sometimes they come clipped and slow like a fiddler bowing out “Bonaparte’s Retreat” in an old timey band. Toward the end of the novel, Farrell ruminates on the moments in his life that have slipped into a slower stream of time: “You don’t get many moments like that, I find. So you have to be open to them, even knowing that you won’t get many, and even knowing that when you remember them it’ll only feel like you’ve lost something important, instead of gaining something you can keep.” Grief and regret douse Farrell’s nostalgia for lost places, for departed loved ones, and for lost ways of living. Reading this novel is like taking a swig of moonshine. It burns and it sets you to reeling.

Ultimately, Dry Bones in the Valley delivers a poignant portrayal of a man coming to terms with loss. It also delivers an enjoyable and well-paced crime story. Most impressively, however, the novel reads as a love letter to Northeastern Pennsylvania. The backwoods characters such as Evelina Grady and Aub Dunigan, who inhabit this landscape, are as unforgettable as the Endless Mountains themselves. Bouman guides us through terrain as hardscrabble and as beautiful as a daylily growing in a trailer park. In Wild Thyme Township, history touches epidermis like barbed wire grown into an oak tree’s trunk. Riding shotgun with Henry Farrell over the mud ruts in a dirt road, one feels a little closer to seeing the world behind the world—as one might guess it really is—grit-tender, gut-black, cold-gleaming, beauty-stomped, and punched-alive. In the age of Twitter and Instagram (that is, in the era of the slipshod epiphany and the veneration of the superficial self), wisdom and delight shack up in such dark hollows, even if they have to share quarters with murder and sorrow for a spell.

Dante DiStefano's poetry and essays have appeared recently in The Writer's Chronicle, Obsidian: Literature in the African Diaspora, Shenandoah, Brilliant Corners, The Southern California Review, and elsewhere. He was the winner of the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize, the Phyllis Smart-Young Prize in Poetry, and an Academy of American Poets College Prize. He makes his living as a high school English teacher and he was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Information on Tom Bouman and Dry Bones in the Valley can be found here.

Nov 18, 2014

Pushcart Prize Nominations

We are honored to announce Harpur Palate's Pushcart Prize nominations for issues 13.2 and 14.1. Below are also previews of their wonderful work. We wish you the best of luck!

Creative Nonfiction

Shawn Fawson, for "The Owl Sits Apart From Its Tree" (13.2)

Shawn Fawson resides with her family in Denver, Colorado. Her book Giving Way won the Library of Poetry Award and was published by The Bitter Oleander Press in 2010. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming in South Loop Review, Vallum, and Mid-American Review, among others. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.


Anna Gates Ha, for "The Abalone Diver" (14.1)

Anna Gates Ha has an MFA from Saint Mary’s College of California. She was an honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers and currently lives in Concord, California.

Caitlin McGuire, for "Centralia, Pennsylvania" (13.2)

Caitlin McGuire is a founding editor at Cartagena Journal, fiction editor at Yemassee, and online content editor at Fjords Review. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Booth, fwriction, and Whiskeypaper. You can find her at

Lindsay Merbaum, for "Lemon Tree" (13.2)

Lindsay Merbaum is a wanderer and ex-teacher whose stories have appeared in Epiphany, PANK, The MacGuffin, Anomalous Press, and Dzanc Books Best of the Web, among others. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and is currently at work on a novel.


Brandon Courtney, for "On Seeing My Ex-Wife at the Farmers' Market" (14.1)

Brandon Courtney was born and raised in Iowa, served four years in the United States Navy (Operation Enduring Freedom), and is a graduate of the MFA program at Hollins University. His poetry is forthcoming or appears in Best New Poets, 32 Poems, and The Boston Review, among many others. His chapbook, Improvised Devices, was published by Thrush Press, and his book The Grief Muscles will be published by The Sheep Meadow Press. He is a graduate student at the University of Chicago.

M. P. Jones IV, for "Fish Tale" (14.1)

M.P. Jones IV is a second-year graduate teaching assistant, soon to graduate with a master’s in literature from Auburn University where he reads for Southern Humanities Review. He is also founder and editor-in-chief of Kudzu Review, a journal of Southern literature and environment. His poetry has recently appeared in Tampa Review, Cumberland River Review, Canary Magazine, and Town Creek Poetry, among diverse others; his creative nonfiction has appeared in Sleet Magazine and decomP magazinE; he has an article on The Shadow of Sirius in the current issue of Merwin Studies; and he is the author of a poetry collection, Live at Lethe (Sweatshoppe Publications, 2013).

Want to see the full versions of these pieces? Support print media by purchasing a subscription here! Indicate which issue you'd like to start with on the Submittable form. If you'd only like to purchase a back issue, information on that can be found here.

We are very proud to have these pieces in this year's issues and absolutely wish the nominees the best of luck.

Nov 17, 2014

Submissions Will Reopen February 1, 2015

We would like to extend a big thank you to everyone who submitted to us and to those who spread the word about our contests for issue 14.2! We have closed up the reading period and are busy making final selections. Our contest winners will be announced when the issue is printed in January.

Harpur Palate will reopen for submissions on February 1, 2015! We will be seeking regular genre submissions of fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction, as well as a winner for our John Gardner Memorial Prize in Fiction. We hope you will submit your work to us!

Thank you again, and have a good holiday!

-The Editors

Nov 11, 2014

The End is Near!

It's hard to believe that there are only FIVE days left to submit to Harpur Palate for issue 14.2! We've been having a blast reading through all the wonderful work that we've received so far, and are eagerly waiting to see what sort of pieces you send us in the next few days.

This is already shaping up to be an excellent issue, so take a look at the guidelines below (or click on "Submissions" above) to see if your work is right for Harpur Palate.


Our Poetry Contest is Open!

Our Creative Nonfiction Contest is Ready For Your Work!

General Submissions

Please no multiple submissions, but simultaneous subs are fine with notice. We cannot accept work from those affiliated with Binghamton University except for book reviews and cover art.


  • Short stories up to 6,000 words
  • Up to three flash fiction pieces

Creative Nonfiction

  • Pieces up to 8,000 words
  • Smaller flash pieces limited to three
  • Take a look at our archives to see what we've accepted before


  • Between three and five poems considered
  • No more than ten pages total

So polish up your work and send it our way by November 15, 2014! Our Submittable page is open and waiting for you.

Sep 18, 2014

Announcing the Winner of the 2014 John Gardner Fiction Contest!

Our new issue is here! And that means we finally get to announce the winner of our 2014 John Gardner Fiction Contest. We run this contest in honor of John Gardner (1933-1982), author of fiction, a dramatist, and beloved professor here at Binghamton University.

We would like to thank everyone who submitted their work for consideration. Without you, we wouldn't be able to function as a journal. Seriously.

Congratulations to Janet Schneider, whose work "The Positional Player" is the winning piece! She wins $500 and our admiration here at the journal. Take a look at the sneak peek of her work below.

Want to know how the story ends? Buy a copy for yourself!

Janet Schneider writes during the winter in Berkeley, CA and in Charlevoix, Michigan all summer long. Her fiction and non-fiction work has appeared in Traverse Magazine,, and She received her MFA in fiction writing from Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky. When she’s not writing, she’s riding her bike.

You can buy the latest issue of Harpur Palate with Schneider's winning piece included via Submittable. While you're there, take a look at our submission guidelines and send us something yourself!

Congratulations again to our 2014 John Gardner Fiction Contest Winner, Janet Schneider!