REVIEWS

"[An] exceptional first novel…The Standard Grand is an important and deeply human contribution to the national conversation."

Booklist (starred review)

 

"[A] promising debut…its vibrant style and twisting plot — at one point a character is mauled by a cougar — make for an appropriately complex snapshot of America’s relationship with the men and women who defend it."

Publisher's Weekly

 

"In capturing the story of one deserter's search for love and redemption in an increasingly corporatized America, Nicorvo carves out something truly original."

Library Journal (Great First Acts pick)

 

"[A] seamless blend of road-trip saga, love story, and critique of military contractors… An ambitious novel that effectively braids corporate greed, outdoorsy grit, and human connection."

Kirkus

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ORIGIN STORY

 

My former sister-in-law deployed to Iraq in 2008 as part of the surge. Her MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) was 88M, motor transport operator. She drove trucks, one of the most dangerous jobs in the Army. About halfway through her difficult deployment, my brother got word she was having an affair with another soldier.

 

After fifteen months, her tour ended, and she returned stateside. Stationed a couple thousand miles from my brother, she cut off all communication. None of us could reach her — e-mailing, calling, texting — we had no idea what had become of her. In that absence of information, while my brother went out of his mind with grief and confusion, I did what writers do. I went into my mind. I worked to imagine what could’ve happened, and I did so partly out of a sense of guilt.

I did not love my sister-in-law. I didn’t even like her much. I tolerated her because my brother loved her. It’s sad — shameful really — but I’ve found it’s my lot. I fail as a person. I’m awkward, anxious, or angry in my dealings with family, friends, and strangers. In the face of my social shortcomings, which are legion, I try, after the fact, to right them by rewriting them. Sometimes I find my way toward empathy. Occasionally, when I write long and hard enough, running myself through the full wringer of human emotions, I reach something that approximates love.

While my brother’s marriage gradually dissolved, I spent the next five years in daily communion with a make-believe woman inspired by my sister-in-law. In the early going, she, the main character of my first novel, The Standard Grand, bore a resemblance, at least on the surface, to my sister-in-law. But the longer I spent with her, the more she asserted herself, becoming an individual. Divorced from me and my preconceptions, and sharing only a few cursory details — a military job, a home state — with the woman who spurred her into being, she assumes selfhood. She takes on a name, Specialist Antebellum Smith, and a roster of nicknames: Bellum, Ant, Bang Bang. She has a dog and a dirty mouth. With every nuance, every telltale detail, she comes more lovingly to life.

But what is love to a novelist? In Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of Love, she tells us: “When I set a glass prism on a windowsill and allow the sun to flood through it, a spectrum of colors dances on the floor. What we call ‘white’ is a rainbow of colored rays packed into a small space. The prism sets them free. Love is the white light of emotion.” When we love someone, what we feel for this person is the full range of affect. This, according to Ackerman, is love. Love is not an emotion. Love is all emotion. And there aren’t all that many. The dominant theory holds that there are merely six basics: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise.

When I’m trying to create a major character, I’m attempting to evoke in myself — through the thought, action, and talk of that character — every last one of those six emotions. When I ultimately do — if I do — I come to love her. This is my consolation. Love, the life-giving breath. And if I do love her, dear reader, then maybe you will too.

excerpted from an essay in

Poets & Writers Jan/Feb 2017

Standard (grand) news

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Cornell College will kick off its first graduate degree program in nearly 100 years during the summer of 2020. Since 1936 the college has focused solely on undergraduate programming, but soon the college will expand its offerings with a low-residency master’s in fine arts (M.F.A.) in creative writing program. Guest artists joining Cornell for the first year of the program include Thisbe Nissen (“Our Lady of the Prairie”) and Jay Baron Nicorvo (“The Standard Grand”)....

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Like most writers, I consider myself reasonably self-aware. I do believe the unexamined life is worth living, but it’s not a life I’d care to live, at least not as an adult. Yet I’d managed to work on a novel nearly every day for five years, and it never occurred to me that the emotional hardships, the traumas, I was running my characters through were so plainly, and painfully, my own. About a month before a publisher acquired my first novel, The Standard Grand — a novel that concerns a large cast of characters, civilians and veterans, fighting through trauma and its aftermath — I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)....

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Our American mass shootings are misunderstood as a mental-health concern, and the toxic masculinity that compels many shooters isn’t anything so simple as longstanding socialized behavior rendered recently abhorrent. Male fragility is a biological fact, encoded in our cells. This certainty has yet to work its way into our popular consciousness, but the body of evidence is now irrefutable. Each lone gunman — engaging, by the week, in blatant acts of domestic terrorism, eroding the safety of our schools, dance clubs, and churches — shows us the same damn thing....

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"Thisbe Nissen and Jay Baron Nicorvo live in a two-novel household. The two novelists, who live on a farm outside Battle Creek, Michigan, have had plenty to celebrate in the last year. Last spring, Nicorvo released his first novel, The Standard Grand. This month, Nissen released her third novel, Our Lady of the Prairie. And, in a bit of marital and literary serendipity, both novels are exactly 358 pages long...."

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Founded in October 2000 and currently published 10 times annually, The Brooklyn Rail provides an independent forum for arts, culture, and politics throughout New York City and far beyond. Our journal, in addition to featuring local reporting; criticism of music, dance, film, and theater; and original fiction and poetry, covers contemporary visual art in particular depth....

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JAY: "I’m not someone who believes all art is political, all politics is artistry. Music can be apolitical, I think. But writing, as an art form, has to be political. There’s no way around it; it’s guilt by association. They both traffic in the same medium: words. Novels and laws require nouns and verbs. The US Constitution isn’t a piano concerto or saxophone solo...."

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The veterans of the Standard had been back from their wars for some time, trying to figure out how to live lives in the face of newfound civilian freedoms. No one barking orders but their girlfriends, wives, and mothers. Fuck them. The vets could do anything they wanted anytime — they were Americans in America — though what they wanted wasn’t what they needed....

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The CLMP Firecracker Awards for independently published and self-published literature seek to celebrate and promote great literary works from independent literary publishers and self-published authors. The Firecracker Awards spotlight books and literary magazines that make a sparkling contribution to our literary culture, and publishers and self-publishers striving to introduce important voices to readers far and wide....

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Join author John King for eclectic interviews with writers from a variety of genres, including fiction writing, poetry, memoirs, and journalism. From literature to genre writing to the movies, all writing is up for discussion. In particular, The Drunken Odyssey features discussion of all aspects of the writing process — not just the published manuscript, pristinely presented to the entire literate world, but also the scrawled notes and tortured drafts that lead writers there. In long-form interviews, writers discuss their process and the way that writing has influenced their lives...

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“REMEMBER THE OLD DAYS?” candidate Trump asked the crowd at a July 2016 rally. “A deserter, what happened?” Trump pantomimed aiming a rifle and pulled the invisible trigger, answering his own rhetorical question with a deadpan “Bang.” He was riffing on the case of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who walked away from his battalion in 2009 and was captured by the Afghan Taliban....

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I’m fascinated by literary couples. Part of the compulsion is tabloid — I was crushed when Paul Lisicky and Mark Doty split; no book made me sob harder than The Best Day the Worst Day, Donald Hall’s memoir of the life he shared with Jane Kenyon before her death — but some of my interest is logistical....

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In my mid-thirties, I started jogging and, shortly thereafter, I began a new novel. My wife, Thisbe, and I had recently bought our first house in the Catskills, some three miles from Woodstock. I’d finished but failed to publish three earlier novels. I always hated jogging. I found the slog dull. Nevertheless, the new novel centered, at first, around a runner. A middle-aged ultra marathoner inspired by Diane Van Deren....

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JAY: "One battle that I had to fight is the tampon scene — the burying of it and Milton, the owner of the Standard, wanting to use it as bait for a snare. I had to fight to keep that in my novel with my agent and my editor. They both wanted to lose it, and I refused. I joked that I should retitle the novel The Tampon Grand. If it was just a matter of me wanting to gross readers out, I would’ve cut it, but I came to see it as a kind of stand-in for the history of patriarchy and what most patriarchies have done to female self-conception and what a lot of women think about their bodies..."

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Publishing a novel isn’t just a matter of murdering your darlings. Killing darlings is easy by comparison... You’ve got to be willing to firebomb Dresden. To fly the plane. Identify the target. And ride a bomb giddyupping on down to the goddamn ground. Lay utter waste to years, even decades, of building sentences and characters and settings, bringing it all lovingly to life, only to be the one to give the awful order and, in the aftermath, dance madly round your own intimate devastation. On top of the ashes of first times — and first novels, plural — you may then, if you’re lucky, make something that, in the full maturity of repeated but ever greater failures, comes to feel like second nature....

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JAY: "The America I know and love best is a righteous muddle. Like most Americans, I’m a mutt, and English is a mongrel tongue. That’s partly what makes it so hearty. Diversity — linguistic, cultural, genetic — engenders survival on our planet. Our staying power is dependent on this, whether we acknowledge it or not. The hard part is maintaining some union in the face of all this difference...."

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"This is a novel without missteps... Also of note is a bravura passage featuring Sammy Davis Jr., a flashback scene central to the story that is dazzling in its execution. It could stand on its own as a short story. As part of the larger narrative, it serves as the hub of Nicorvo’s investigation into how the past can define our present for good or ill. The Standard Grand is an outstanding novel — funny, heartbreaking and important. Assigning importance to a novel is tricky business, but this story asks us to imagine the lives of some of the most vulnerable among us, the women and men who fight for us and then return home where it often seems no one will fight for them...."

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"Nicorvo admits that his debut novel, The Standard Grand (St. Martin’s Press, 2017), is not an easy read. The characters are messy and complex. But that’s the reality of an honest war story and the people who inhabit it. And people have noticed...."

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Slews of writers out there listen to music while they write. For me, dead silence isn't a necessity but pretty damn near. Instrumentals, maybe. Anything with lyrics? Forget it. Singing, talking, or — worst of all — the mewling of our twenty-year-old cat, Fernie, drive me out of my mind, literally, while I'm writing or actively waiting for a word or two to arrive unannounced...

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"It’s rare when an author is able to take characters that are not exactly admirable, and makes them beautifully memorable, especially when the author does not shy away from that which makes them, well, objectionable. It’s also rare to find an author who can write with beautifully fluid prose that nevertheless is not cloying nor pretentious in describing those characters. And without moralizing, to boot..."

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In 1999, I was a senior at Eckerd College, and in Winter Term I took a World Lit class, with maybe 16 other students, taught by Dr. Carolyn Johnston and Dr. Elie Wiesel. We met every day, four days a week, for three weeks. Can you imagine? There aren’t many places in the world where young people receive the privilege — though it should be treated like the most necessary obligation — of exchanging ideas and intimacies with emissaries arisen out of the terrible, beautiful annals of human history....

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JAY: "I don’t know what’s wrong with me. In life and love, I like to tuck in, stay settled. But in my writing, I’m a nomad. I seem to want the thing I don’t have, whatever comes hardest, and then — after interminable effort, after an avalanche rejection — maybe I get it, and maybe because the getting was so fraught, I don’t care to go through it again? But I don’t think that’s it. I think I need the struggle. I must be a masochist. You can't count on success; the struggle you can be damn sure of...."

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JAY: "The Trump presidency has given Moby-Dick new resonance. The easy analogy is that Trump is Captain Ahab at the helm of the American ship of state… But by my lights, Trump isn’t Ahab. Trump’s the whale, or Moby-Dick. Trump’s the great white hope — thar he blows — and Ahab is the white male voter. Vindictive. Destructive. Determined. To hell with the leaky boat that got us here and all its crew. If we’re not at the wheel, we’ll scuttle the whole damn thing. Trump will either make America great again, or he’ll bring the whole thing down, and either way, white male voters win. Cause they’ve got all the guns. Or so the sad, shallow thinking goes...."

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JAY: "He’s a douchebag. (Can I say that in a wholesome, albeit gothic, Midwestern journal? Can you see I don’t fully belong to the Midwest?) Our menstruphobe president is a douchebag — it’s worth repeating — who gives douchebags a bad name, and the one thing I hold against Midwesterners — the knock on earnestness — is it makes you an easy mark for hucksters and conmen. A number of you — Michiganders and Ohioans especially — got conned last November, and royally...."

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"Jay Baron Nicorvo's novel envelops you in a world most civilians never know, where homeless veterans gather to work on regaining their hearts and minds. The reader is a listener, learning about these characters through each of their voices, accents, idioms, and military jargon - sometimes mean and ugly, sometimes only vaguely understood. Even in their hidden Catskills retreat, there is a realization that they are not beyond the reach of a sinister corporate world waging another, more personal war for oil. The Standard Grand is sculpture, a work of art with every word, every detail, perfect."

— Diane Marie Steggerda, The Bookman, Grand Haven, MI

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NPR: Between the LinesHost Zinta Aistars
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