Mistakes by the Lake
by Brian Petkash
978-1-948692-32-8 paper 19.95
978-1-948692-33-5 ebook 9.99
5½x8½ , 204 pp.
Set in Cleveland, Ohio, from its earliest beginnings as a forested frontier to the urban blight of modern times, Mistakes by the Lake is a collection of ten thematically-linked stories spanning the many faces of the city’s history: A motorman navigates his 1920’s back-and-forth trolley until he snaps; A stockyards knocker encounters the Virgin Mary during the 1954 World Series; A wannabe wrestles his unruly mind along the flammable 1960’s Cuyahoga River; In a reinvention of Henry IV, a young man must either stick with his bumbling criminal crew or uncover legit ways to support his mother and transgender Gramps.
The collection and its stories have garnered numerous accolades: Finalist: Nilsen Prize (Southeast Missouri State University); Winner: The Lake Prize in Fiction (Midwestern Gothic); Shortlisted: The Novella Award (Liverpool John Moores University); Shortlisted: Munster Literature Centre’s Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Competition; Honorable Mention: Family Matters Contest (Glimmer Train). Praise for the novella, Mistakes by the Lake: “Full of action, movement, tension and shocks. The world of the Cleveland stockyards and its denizens is brought to life with verve, skill and command” (Vulpes Libris).
“In this remarkable debut, Brian Petkash immerses his reader with textured prose that is as beautifully nuanced as it is brutally honest. The settings of these stories are authentically Cleveland, but the terrain is the full range of human emotion. From a trolley driver searching the tracks for purpose to a war veteran wounded by the loss of his wife, Petkash binds together a disparate cast of characters with threads of hope and humanity. Mistakes by the Lake is a collection that resonates long after the read, and Petkash is an author to be watched.”
—R. Dean Johnson, author of Californium
“Evidently, Brian Petkash was somebody’s big secret until now. I don’t know how they kept him from us. No one writes this good the first time out, do they? Well, secret no more, folks: this genie’s out of the bottle. Brian Petkash’s Mistakes by the Lake is a stunning literary achievement. The prose is luminous and compassionate, the themes are complex and resonant, the characters are riveting and heroic. You won’t soon forget them, and you won’t want to. They’ll haunt your dreams. This is not a book that you can put down until it’s through with you. Yes, it’s that good, and you’re going to thank me for telling you about Mistakes by the Lake. Go buy it now.”
—John Dufresne, author of I Don’t Like Where This Is Going
“Cleveland, in American history and minds, has never been the main attraction. Brian Petkash’s achievement is to save the city from its position of rarely used utility outfielder and lend beauty, urgency, and grit to centuries of playing in the minors. He makes us feel the acute and sepia-toned pain of what could have been. What we could have been.”
—Stefan Kiesbye, author of Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone and Berlingeles
“Brian Petkash is the Bard of Cleveland. He’s a perceptive teller of poignant tales that are both regional and universal. That’s a compelling combination.”
—Tony Macklin, film critic and author of Palestra
Thanks to Main Street Rag for their review of Brian Petkash’s Mistakes by the Lake.
“For readers who have never lived in Cleveland, Brian Petkash’s Mistakes by the Lake offers a visceral tour through the city’s history–from the wilderness of 1797 to the derelict streets of 2013. For those of us who have lived in Cleveland, the stories offer a glimpse of lives that we didn’t notice, or that we saw but chose to look away from.
Petkash deftly weaves the dual themes of seeing and understanding through the ten stories that make up this short story collection. Often, his characters see the world the way they hope it will be–as it appeared to them–not the way it is.
In “Our Lady of Cleveland, 1954,” the Virgin Mary appears as a brown patch of fur around the eye of a steer about to be killed in the stockyards. In fact, Mart had already tried to fell the steer (twice) but it didn’t die. This had to mean something, Mart and his friend Josef are convinced. In the end, the vision means something different to Mart than he expected.
The standout story is the title one, a reimagining of Henry IV. It’s 2013 in Cleveland, before any revitalization, the river on fire was a not-too-distant memory, and the smell of the stockyards hasn’t faded.
“It’s bad enough to watch the Yards flicker by while on the bus. The big movie-screen windows play a short film of run-down houses, crumbling storefronts, boarded-up buildings, people wearing twenty-year-old clothes, the obvious hookers, the obvious user, the obvious gangs and all the kids who’d grow up to be in one of those groups … By bike, the same film, but solid, real, three-fucking-dimensional.”
Petkash is brutally honest but ultimately compassionate in telling the tale of Hal, and his gang of criminal misfits led by Hal. His compassion for all the characters in his stories comes through in his sparkling prose and riveting imagery. You now that for once these people are seen.
–Jen McConnell, Main Street Rag
Chronologically from past to present, this author presents a novella and collection of short stories circulating in Cleveland. All of the stories are character-driven with Cleveland as the base. If you are looking for happy endings – this is not it, but instead, through serious and intense characters, your heart is tugged through emotions.
At times I needed to set the book aside until I felt strong enough to pick it back up again. And I did want to pick it back up as the book is compelling. The stories ranged from children dealing with survival to adults going past a point where survival was not working. A solid read.
Brian Petkash was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from University of Tampa and his stories have appeared in Midwestern Gothic and Southword, among other publications. He currently lives in Tampa, Florida, where he remains an avid fan of Cleveland sports.