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"McManus burrows deep under the skins of his rough, cast-out characters and emerges with stories that are bold and ingenious.”   —The New York Times

“[These] wildly inventive short stories . . . exist in a meticulously crafted world, quite different than our own. . . . McManus delves into the minds of his characters, allowing readers to experience their anxieties, delusions, fantasies, and fears.”       —Publishers Weekly

“Achingly visceral . . . a masterpiece.”    —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“John McManus writes like the love child of Denis Johnson and Joy Williams. . . . For those wearied by predictable fiction, Fox Tooth Heart is manna from someplace more interesting and sorrowful than heaven.”  —Huff Post Books

“This is McManus’s genius: depravity, tender and effortless.”   —The Oxford American

“Reading a McManus story isn’t entirely unlike doing a popper of amyl nitrite, with qualifications: a lingering sense of discomfort that is disturbing. . . . Mind-altering effect also common—an extended moment of disquieting literary ecstasy after initial, brief, tornadic effect.”    —Brad Watson, author of The Heaven of Mercury

"Fox Tooth Heart will impress readers. . . . McManus is a terrific writer."    —The Minneapolis Star-Tribune


“A southern gothic novel for the twenty-first century....The writing is powerful and original, but a lot like a train wreck––you don’t want to look at it, but you can’t help yourself.”    —Booklist

“Profoundly moving and dizzyingly intense.”    —Genre

“Bold in conception and shrewdly deployed, the voice that first-time novelist John McManus has invented for Bitter Milk is inspired.... Read Bitter Milk and you'll find yourself often catching your breath in anticipation that Mr. McManus's feats and agile contortions are but a prelude to a great, climactic crash.... Bitter Milk is an outstanding novel.”   —The Dallas Morning News

Bitter Milk will sting you like a blast of rock salt packed into a sawed-off 20-gauge....Loren's eccentricities are rich enough to make him nearly as compelling as Benjy in The Sound and the Fury. You're going to read a number of comparisons to Faulkner over the coming years, maybe to Cormac McCarthy too, and if Bitter Milk has shown anything it's that McManus has the talent and the smarts to live up to them.”   —Philadelphia City Paper

"The author depicts a mournful hardness specific to this cranny of the world. But mournful hardness exists on the back streets of Brookline as much as in the backwoods of Blount County, and McManus expresses the process of coming to know and understand that truth in a way that transcends locale.”  —The Boston Phoenix

“The narrative moves toward a kind of liberation....The result is a densely atmospheric, propulsive tale.”  —Kirkus Reviews

“In his two collections, Stop Breakin Down and Born on a Train, John McManus writes visceral prose that explodes within the tight boundaries of the short story. These narratives possess a graceful internal logic and feature a wide range of gritty characters rebelling against an indifferent and often brutal world. McManus’s first novel, Bitter Milk, features similar writing, effortlessly sweeping the reader into the story with its highly detailed and captivating characters.... Bitter Milk evokes a group of characters who are self-aware but unable to change, and in a vision both disturbing and memorable, the murky depths of the Garland family reflect the malaise and mystery of the land.”  —BookForum


“John McManus’s Born on a Train delivers a dozen pitch-perfect tales…all packed with yearning, dark humor, and a gorgeous poetry of love and loss.”    —Elle

"Born on a Train," then, is not cheerful. But it is held together by the dogged determination of the author, who at once insists that this is what life is "like," and holds his vision together with a tightly controlled series of recurring images -- of drugs and dead leaves and sorry dogs and shadows. This is a shadow world, the "dark" side of America, and like a shadow you can't get rid of it."  —The Washington Post

“The stories in John McManus’s Born on a Train are powered by radiant prose.”    —Vanity Fair

"John McManus' nervewracking prose has great pitch and daring, and "Eastbound" has to be one of the best, most mournful end-of-the-road stories ever written. He's a wildly talented writer."   — Joy Williams, author of Harrow and The Visiting Privilege

"John McManus writes like he is inventing a new language on pure guts. Here is life raw and edgy and visceral. Here is the accident of beauty. Other writers have laid claim to this world—the ragged-out American South—but nobody that I can think of has done it with such desperate grace."   — Michael Knight, author of Dogfight

"These are stories that hit hard enough to bloody your nose. I wish I wrote half so well." — Pinckney Benedict, author of Dogs of God

"McManus's sensibility is that of a Tennessee Williams writing about impoverished hillbillies instead of fading Southern gentlefolk. He has an ear for punchy, pungent dialect which contrasts starkly with the lush imagery of his authorial voice.  —Publisher's Weekly


“A phenomenal talent blazing up suddenly on the horizon…precise, brilliant language that evokes without ever having to explain… His transcendent vision gives us devastating glimpses… He may be in Denis Johnson and Thom Jones territory, but the arresting music he makes there is all his own.”  —Joyce Johnson, Elle

“Here is rage on the page…. It’s a whole environment, with a new food chain, and yes, I want to know about it.”  —The Los Angeles Times

 “Fast and furious…[an] exhilarating read.”   —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“McManus straps [his characters] into a screaming, circular drop toward nothingness in what seems like one long, breathless take.”  —The Denver Post

“John McManus’s short stories are the literary equivalent of drive-by shootings…. McManus is either going to become the next Celine or self-destruct before he turns 30… but what this young author knows is as impressive as how he writes.  —The Richmond Times-Dispatch

"McManus's stories surprise, excite, and delight.  I loved them."   —Darcey Steinke, author of Jesus Saves




In stories and novels set mainly in the South, McManus presents damaged outsiders hanging by a thread, without judgment. His particular lyricism joins with dangerous territory to produce a spectacular "haunted eccentricity." His work begins and ends in jeopardy, the kind that dismantles a soul. And that the afterimage is one of beauty is part of his surpassing ability, as is the dark humor that lands with a jolt.



The stories in Stop Breakin Down, this first and widely praised book by John McManus, are arresting for several reasons. Subject, certainly: all behavior in these narratives is violently carried to its extreme in every case. Language, too, noticeably. McManus has the desire and the ability to push his language toward a similar extreme and to transform it radically, as Cormac McCarthy and, before him, William Faulkner have done. Fierceness, too: the best of McManus’s stories have some of the ferocity that Flannery O’Connor brought to her vision of her material.


Together with these qualities—and underlying all of them—is this writer’s sensitivity to place. John McManus comes from the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, but that is only one of the settings he faithfully renders. He is equally authoritative when writing about the western desert of the Pacific northwest or a number of northeastern urban environments. “Setting” is too weak a word for the exact attention that he gives to landscapes—an attention so intense that it goes beyond love or loathing. In a McManus story “setting” is the artery that brings the narrative its life blood.


That sense of place is a trait of the southern writer, no matter where it is exercised. John McManus gives us, here and now at the beginning of the twenty-first century, another strong example of how southern writing can be transplanted so as to thrive almost anywhere without ever being deracinated.


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