When the Cicadas Return










After the Gazebo


After the Gazebo
by Jen Knox

short stories

Jen Knox writes the healthy fiction equivalent of the detox smoothie you’d get if you poured half a cup of Mary Gaitskill, two tablespoons of Mary Robison, a teaspoonful of Raymond Carver, and some chilly Laura van den Berg into a Tom Waits blender and hit puree. Here are twenty-four darkly fun stories populated by everyman and everywoman genetically predisposed to ‘tough luck but hopeful genes,’ and primed for fight or flight. And yet she has the uncanny ability to make you root for even her most unredeemed characters in all of their stressed out glory. All of them inhabitants of our lonely damaged universe, searching for connection in the daily grind of everyday losses.

—Richard Peabody, editor Gargoyle Magazine

The perfect pitch, the flawless diction, and the aura of calm are all grace notes with which Jen Knox cloaks the troubled waters of the human heart. A Knox tale begins in a recognizable place, but in every one of these brilliant stories, she confounds the reader’s expectations and ends them in eerily beautiful, untrod territory. The stories in After the Gazebo seduce yet refuse what is coarse; they disdain the slipknot of the obscene, and still they electrify. Exquisite and edgy, they quietly shock. The reader bestows a rock solid trust in this narrator’s voice and is willing to linger with the energy drinks and flat-screen TVs, the 12 Steps, the cubicles and performance reviews, the bus rides and DMV’s eye tests. This author does not hide behind the exotic but with great skill and generosity braves the commonplace. These stories go fathoms deep—all the way to the shivery core, where the familiar heightens into the sublime, and then into the dazzling. The perceptible world has been sorely neglected in fiction, perhaps waiting for a writer with the craft and courage to take it on. Jen Knox is that writer. After the Gazebo is that book.

—Stephanie Dickinson, author of Love Highway

After the Gazebo is a wonder: complex, compelling, beautifully told. Jen Knox writes with a deceptively quiet fierceness that will sneak up behind you and grab you by the throat, clutch your heart, and never let go. Her motley cast of characters find themselves caught at the fault line of before and after, tasked to challenge the veracity of whether "a person can't start over if he's always looking back." The disparate ways they claw and fight, strive and fail to succeed are testament to Knox's range and her deep understanding of the human condition. The stories in this accomplished collection will make you ache, will make you think, and will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

—Sara Lippmann, author of Doll Palace

Jen Knox’s After the Gazebo offers us an astounding panorama of torqued moments and vignettes that strike the depths and dimensions of human behavior. Each cautionary tale illuminates the next, reminding us of the uncanny impact that fate, luck and destiny have on our lives, and weaving all the necessary elements: “I never saw the value of negative space, but learned to live inside of it. With kids de-bussing around us and the cold biting our cheeks, we all knelt on the pavement and scratched lottery tickets.” Knox’s keen eye and heart are devoted to noticing every detail, infusing the most ordinary and subliminal experiences with epiphanies that transcend her characters. The range and depth of each story in this collection is pitch-perfect, as the writer hits the marks, gripping us with vivid, familial and domestic landscapes that inform and widen our own lives—leave us all the richer for it. After the Gazebo is indelible and astonishing.

—Cynthia Atkins, author of In the Event of Full Disclosure

Jen Knox is an incredibly versatile writer whose stories go down smooth and burn for days. Few people on the planet are both acute observers as well as superb prose stylists. Jen Knox is one of those rarities. And After the Gazebo is proof!

—Mathieu Cailler, author of Loss Angeles

With a clear lens pressed to her creative eye, Jen Knox has crafted a diverse collection of stories where loss, hardships, and tender vulnerabilities are stretched across the uncertain horizon of everyday life.

—Beth Hoffman, internationally bestselling author of Looking for Me

Jen Knox is a writer of honesty, and her stories always indicate her clear understanding that even those flawed people in the world have their moments of goodness and beauty and that we are all flawed. The stories in Knox’s newest collection, After the Gazebo, are impossible to read piecemeal. I devoured the book in one sitting and will read them again and again. Knox’s writing is nuanced and strong, her stories filled with glorious gems of insight, which made me feel like a woman in a diamond mine, admiring dark walls studded with sparkling treasure. As I read each piece I discovered riches hiding in and between each narrative moment. Even in the most shadow-rich stories, Knox builds a kind of grace into her characters, showing empathy for the human condition that transcends the hurt, equalizes the pain. We want to know these people, ask them questions about their lives, and help them heal. We do know these people. They are our neighbors, our fellow workers, our families, ourselves. This gentle book is a triumph in which the seemingly ordinary becomes the extraordinary.

—Joani Reese, Editor of MadHat Lit and author of Night Chorus






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After the Gazebo

Jen Knox was raised in Columbus, Ohio. She now lives in San Antonio, Texas with her husband Chris, dog, cat, and the occasional lizard. She teaches creative writing at San Antonio College and writes about technology and creativity convergence at Fiction Southeast. Jen studied English at Otterbein College, and completed her MFA at Bennington College. She earned grant assistance to attend a residency at the Vermont Studio Center, where she worked on a few of the stories in After the Gazebo. She was the recipient of John Kessler Memorial Endowment for the Arts Award and earned finalist status in The Adirondack Review’s 2013 Fulton Award. All Things That Matter Press published her short story collection To Begin Again (winner of the Next Generation Indie Book Award in Short Fiction) in 2011, and Monkey Puzzle Press published her fiction chapbook Don’t Tease the Elephants in 2014.