EXCERPT, Pheasant Alley:

"I grew up in an alley in Chicago. That is, we lived in a house, on the border of the city, but we did our growing up in a rutted cinder lane out behind. We built our first fort there, cooked our first food, explored the adjacent prairie. We fought there, played sports there, learned about sex there, and found amazing things. Above the alley the sun set, and the dawn pinked, and the stars cracked at night, broke for an instant like rock salt and as quickly came together, what some people just call "winking." We saw moons there, old prairie moons as yellow as yolk, as pale as skim milk, as bruised as blue cheese. We saw fogs and rains and deep snows and puddles five yards wide that showed God in their reflections, pinched among the clouds. When I was three I saw God a lot, and sometimes his angels, who flew and had pretty wings and bodies, feathers in long trains, and lived somewhere in the prairie beyond. My brother was older and he said they were pheasants, and two years later, when the prairie went, so did the birds. The lane was engulfed with housing. But we still called it 'Pheasant Alley'."


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EXCERPT, Home Ground:

"Someone, he realized all at once, was applying spray-paint to the shed. He came out the door so fast that he nearly lost his balance... A single phrase registered, lettered neatly in hot orange paint, and the sense of it flushed him with anger: HERE DWELLS A MURDERER. Now he closed on the figure, who had tossed the spray-can in the weeds... (he) threw himself at its legs. They tumbled to the lane together. It tried to punch him with an elbow, to kick him with a knee. He got his own knee on top of it... applied the weight of his body, gulped air and finally shouted those words that had beat in his head from the moment he'd seen the lettering. "Who in God's name are you?"

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EXCERPT, Black Coffee:

"Out on the streets the day had dimmed. Sunset burnished the landscape as he tracked suburban lanes in his white Honda Civic, and the sight of kids on bikes and in grassy yards, where footballs wobbled through the leaf-shattered light with its pumice of autumnal dusk, made him suddenly blue as hell. If things had worked out as they're supposed to he'd have married Mel long ago, and one of these kids would be his kid, chucking loose spirals and sliding on lawns, running colt-like in the fusty pre-dark, arriving flushed and late for supper.

On the other hand, who wanted it? The exhaustion and sacrifice, the too-touching sweetness of their childhoods, the heartache of their adolescence, the rejection that was bound to come. Who wanted to watch close-up the creature you loved more than life, the kid you put all your marbles in, get chewed up bit by bit by a sprawling culture of neurotic apes who had overrun the globe? Who wanted the slow crucifixion?"


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Fiction

FROM 2012
PHEASANT ALLEY: A NOVEL
395 pages

Synopsis of PHEASANT ALLEY:

An uneasy household, and a certain cindered alley in post-World-War-II Chicago. Two very different brothers grope toward adulthood in the turbulent babyboom era and find separate blemished glories -- as rock star and archeologist -- in careers that are haunted by a troubled past and their family's closet of skeletons.

Not just a tale of family roots and destinies, this novel looks to the stars and beyond, and confronts our sense of distinction. Are we really separate from our fellows? Or is separateness but an illusion, the daily hallucination that helps us to out-compete others? What is the cipher of self-hood and how can one man decode it?

Book Reviews of PHEASANT ALLEY:
'Baby-Boomers Unite?' By Write-Rider

"Hmm...what is this guy smoking? Pheasant Alley, the third, and latest, novel from naturalist and writer Jack Wennerstrom, takes on -- in a fetchingly simple style -- not only such disparate subjects as witch-craft, ice-hockey, Indian attitudes, and alcoholism, but the very notion of personal identity and "self-hood", which it proceeds to deconstruct through its committedly lonely protagonist. Baby-boomer or not, it isn't everyone's memory of the Fifties and Sixties. Odd-ball Chicagoland brothers Dan and Lance grow up -- like most of Wennerstrom's characters -- in a shaky household, where the alley out back defines their freedom from a homelife that is less than perfect. Lance loves James Dean and Kerouac; Danny loves butterflies and broken pots and the brooding skies of the prairies, the lingering ether of the nomads who first roamed The Windy City. The Sixties become the catalyst for their separate escapes from urban-edge gloom -- Lance to rock-and-roll stardom and Dan to artifact-rich dig-sites -- but soon they are goaded by a family secret that both haunts them and helps them to survive. The author almost has a thing about nooks and retreats -- those places, both literal and figurative, where the sensitive go to recharge themselves: those little troglodyte hideaways where introspection is king. If you don't mind seeking such lane-ends yourself, you will clearly enjoy this journey from childhood's vices and visions to that painful grown-up wilderness where all souls are doomed to tarry."

"I have seen -- and gotten sucked into -- entirely too many arid discussions of the phenomenon of indie- and self-publishing. PHEASANT ALLEY is hands-down the most persuasive argument in favor of such things which I have seen in the year 2012."

---- Harry MacDonald, Library Thing
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FROM 2010:
HOME GROUND: A NOVEL
207 pages

SYNOPSIS:

Nothing was going right for the Farrells. Nick and Kate, with their grown son Jason, had finally escaped D.C. and moved to a charming old farmhouse beside a protected shale barrens and the beautiful Pemican River. But Kate's death and a series of setbacks left Nick trapped by depression. Fortunately, his son Jason was a shining star. His talent for wood-carving brought national recognition, while his schoolboy charm and love of people had bonded the Farrells with diverse and interesting neighbors. But someone has it in for the Farrells, and Jason becomes the prime suspect in a murder that is beyond anything in his wildest dreams. Or is it?

Book Reviews of HOME GROUND:
'Of Crime and the River' By Write-Rider

"There are still places in this world where pursuing face-to-face contact, and rejecting anonymity, can make a significant difference. That's the theory, anyway, of West Virginia wood-carver Jason Farrell, a cheerful 20-something who is dragged into a murder case as the sheriff's only suspect. Never mind that he's the nicest guy around, and the son of a local editor whose wife -- a respected urologist -- has recently died of cancer. What drives all this fuss is the landscape: a precarious riverside kingdom, replete with endangered habitats that aren't being fully protected, some radical animal-rights folks who sometimes go too far, and a town full of urban escapees who have gentrified the corn-pone and slowly turned hick into chic. Wennerstrom's Home Ground is an "environmental mystery" whose subject is more than mere murder, and whose thrills don't just lead from its "thriller" core, though it meets that promise in spades. The land in this novel is a living thing, and it and its palpable details are a sentient force in themselves which can alter the course of events. The author shows that what springs from our hearts, and translates to daily behavior, is not just controlled by our thinking but by everything around us in the elemental earth."

"It is, in fact, one of the more haunting hunter/​hunted narratives I've read in a long time, recalling, among others, Davis Grubb. ...Wennerstrom's creations are more worthwhile to read than ninety percent of that vast sucking miasma called Contemporary Fiction."

---- Harry MacDonald, Library Thing
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FROM 2009:
BLACK COFFEE: A NOVEL
168 pages

SYNOPSIS:

Death brings families together. Sometimes. When three middle-aged siblings return to Chicago to visit their dying mother, strange chemistries are mingled and distilled. And the potion is not very pleasant. Jackie, a successful West Coast entrepreneur who distributes mail-order coffee, has bones to pick with her two male sibs: East Coast journalist Eric and Midwest street-person Gabe. And they’re not really thrilled with her either. Will their mother, Glenda -- an expert on butterflies and moths and collector of rare nature art -- be able to smooth the rift? Or is there a deeper divide at work, one that stretches back through time to their earliest Celtic forebears?

Set in the early 90s, this is a hard-nosed love story, intricately woven with drama, beauty, surprise, and imagination. It deals complexly with betrayal, with dysfunction and schizophrenia, and with the hidden power of love.

Book Review of BLACK COFFEE:
'What Lies Behind and Beneath' By Write-Rider

"This is not a novel that invites loving feelings about the nuclear family, yet its loving moments, which are many, are those that linger longest. Nor is it a novel that portrays its one schizophrenic as a deranged, wild-eyed psychopath who wields an axe or a gun. Rather it shows us a gentle soul, one of our country's estimated several million schizophrenics, whose inner world of turmoil and drama is as complex and compelling as the vision of any genius. What we have in Black Coffee, the first novel from writer and naturalist Jack Wennerstrom, is the portrait of a modern family stripped bare of its smoothest features and reduced to the lurking flaws and scars that lie just beneath the skin. It dares to suggest that what others see as failure or the frightening face of madness may in fact be an old world of insight and an unpretty slough of invention. When the three central characters -- a former street-person, a mail-order entrepreneur, and a cynical small-time journalist -- converge on the deathbed of their mother, the clockwork of a once-proud family is reduced to mainsprings and gears. High descriptive lyricism trades off with edgy dialogue and a steadily darkening plot, and the denouement is as surprising, and subtly convoluted, as any you will encounter."









Creative Non-Fiction:

Worldviews
In this surprising sequel to the acclaimed Soldiers Delight Journal, Wennerstrom stakes out a quiet place between city and country to study the world past and present.
Natural History/History
A lyrical probe of the upper Potomac River's rich human and natural history, especially its hidden corners and ghostly legacies.
Natural History
A year-long serendipitous walking exploration of a unique prairie environment just seven miles outside Baltimore, Maryland. _____________________________________

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