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2017: Make/Shift

by Joe Sacksteder


Big Other, “Most Anticipated Small Press Books of 2018”

Readers of Make/Shift will find themselves confronting moments in which status and ceremony are shown to be destabilized, contingent—sorting through the suddenly unfamiliar contents of a time capsule, hanging poolside with parents while their hockey player sons devastate a hotel, and wandering the memory palace of a traumatized valedictorian during a commencement address—all while flash vignettes based on corporate slogans saturate the story collection with greater and greater frequency, like the commercials of a TV movie.

Joe Sacksteder is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Utah. Fugitive Traces, his album of Werner Herzog audio collages, is available from Punctum Books. His writing has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Florida Review, The Literary Review, Passages North, Hobart, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. He is currently a visiting instructor at Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan.


“[A] well-crafted, stimulating debut. . . Sacksteder’s wry humor and insight into his multifaceted worlds will keep readers on their toes. This is an excellent, surprising collection.”

—Publishers Weekly

“Joe Sacksteder is one of those rare writers whose work brims with both brain and heart. His debut short story collection, Make/Shift. . .pairs fierce and strange innovation with raw emotion, longing, and obsessions. From alternate reality game shows where contestants attempt to resist titillation, to high school boarding schools with catty, or perhaps violent, foreign exchange students, to beautifully smelling boys, to former fathers who play zombie video games and contemplate street sealant—Sacksteder’s stories span a wide-ranging and ever-engaging expanse of human experience… Make sure you don’t miss out on this outstanding short story collection. It gets in your guts. It’ll never leave.”

—”Hungry for More Histories: A Review of Joe Sacksteder’s Make/Shift,” Michelle Donahue, The Adroit Journal

“This collection by Joe Sacksteder is filled with characters who find themselves in varying states of mature and immature, in trying to know and be known, accepting and rejecting the identities they’re constantly creating. They also play the piano. Several characters do, at least, and the way that Sacksteder writes music into their lives gave me a surprising desire, in the middle of reading, to go off and learn to play piano myself. (I’m not sure that this was the intended outcome, but it was an outcome for me nonetheless).”
—”Coming of All Ages in ‘Make/Shift,'” Rebecca Hannagan, Into the Void

“Joe Sacksteder’s Make/Shift is a marvelously inventive book, formally restless, endlessly playful even at its bleakest, a Rube Goldberg machine of experimental fiction artfully hammered together out of high school traumas, late capitalist ephemera, and insider jokes about Werner Herzog. This is a book of feints and swerves and surprises, a debut collection that takes real risks and delivers real rewards.”

—Matt Bell, author of Scrapper

“Subversive, provocative, and piercingly poignant, the disparate fictions of Make/Shift deliver the reader to the mysteries of inchoate grief, the hilarity of subliminal messaging, the ecstasies of transgression, and the magical possibilities of a parallel universe. The speakers gathered in this dynamic, playful, wildly inventive collection expose the dangerous absurdities of contemporary experience tenderly juxtaposed with the timeless, potent passions of human suffering.”

—Melanie Rae Thon, author of Silence and Song

“Make/Shift is an experience—uncanny, revelatory, transcendent. To read it is akin to walking along a path through new territory, in the dark, with a flashlight. However, it’s just as satisfying as it is mystifying, just as full of dislocation as it is of the firmest grounding. The collection will resonate as deeply with traditionalists—thrills, surprises, atmosphere, suspense, voice, plot, and subversion of ploT—as it will those desperate for the newest forms, wildest visions, and the riskiest and most successful experimentations. Make/Shift arrives just in time to frighten, to change, and to save us.”

—Laura Kasischke, author of Space, In Chains

“In Make/Shift, Joe Sacksteder deftly stitches together an amazing range of stories, with generic and structural variance so extreme that, as themes begin to emerge and build, their resonances are even more wondrous. What a world we inhabit here. It is our own, and yet not always familiar. This book has many obsessions: music, labor, hockey, loss, writing, sexual taboos, kink, and pleasure. Prose poems, like ‘Subs so fast you’ll freak,’ read like linguistic puzzles. Some are reminiscent of David Lynch. Others, like ‘Enough Sealant to Pool the Concavity,’ are just plain breathtaking—gorgeous, weird, and heart-breaking. When I finished the book, the world felt just a little off-kilter, dazzlingly so.”

—Tessa Fontaine, author of The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts

“In the title story of Joe Sacksteder’s Make/Shift, a valedictorian speech warns us that ‘We let the world convince us to either/or our very souls.’ The stories here reject that trap as wholly as their characters. This is an inventive, high-flying, often moving collection of stories told with screenplays and squiggles of road sealant, sheet music and taglines and game shows. Instead of either/or, Sacksteder shapes the noisy and and and of modern life into wonderfully surprising, unruly stories.”

—Caitlin Horrocks, author of This is Not Your City

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