Jim Heynen and ‘The Fall of Alice K.’

Tonight author Jim Heynen is launching his new novel The Fall of Alice K. at Dayton Avenue Presbyterian Church in St. Paul.


Best known for his short-short stories featuring young farm boys, Heynen's first novel revolves around seventeen-year-old Alice Marie Krayenbraak, and her the struggles of her family to survive on their Iowa farm.

I find I can pretty much tell whether or not I'm going to enjoy a book from the first page. With that in mind, here's his:

Alice Marie Krayenbraak was standing on the screened porch when she heard shots coming from a neighbor's farm--one loud blast after another, the sounds of a twelve gauge. Each time she thought the shooting had stopped, it would start again. Some shots were followed by moments of silence, but others were followed by guttural squeals, like pathetic last-second objections. Sometimes a new blast came before the last squeal stopped. The time between shots got shorter, as if someone was hurrying to get this done.

The kitchen door opened and Alice's father stepped onto the porch with her.

"You don't have to hear this," he said.

The four-foot sections of screens were gray from the summer's dust, giving a hazy view of the feedlots and beyond them the corn and soybean fields that extended in the direction of Ben Van Doods's farm. The buffer of trees and dusty screens might have absorbed the sounds, but instead it caught the blasts and flung them back into the air for a second life, like an echo--or an aftershock. Alice could see the cupolas of Ben's tallest barn and the green domes of trees in his grove, but she could not see the scene on the ground.

"Aldah sure shouldn't hear this," said Alice's father. "Go inside and have her watch some television. Play piano for her or something."

"What's going on?"

"Today's market report."

"What's going on?"

Alice stepped closer to the screen, which prompted her father to move in front of the screen door to keep her from stepping outside and closer to the gunshots.

"Ben must figure it's cheaper to shoot them than truck them to market."

Her father's shoulders twitched with each blast. If Ben was doing this by himself, he was getting faster and faster at it. Now there was squealing before the gun blasts, frantic squeals as if animals were trapped in a corner. The ones that were left must have known what was coming.

"Go take care of Aldah."

Alice didn't move. "She probably can't hear it," she said. "Mother is probably covering Aldah's ears."

"Your mother is covering her own ears," said her father. "Get inside."

-- Excerpt from The Fall of Alice K. by Jim Heynen

(Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2012). Copyright ©2012 by Jim Heynen.

Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.

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