Excerpt: Three Ways of the Saw: Stories by Matt Mullins

About the Book:

Atticus Books


A startling new voice in traditional storytelling carves out a territory all its own. The vibrant prose of this debut collection—ranging in both style and length from experimental and realistic to flash and longer form fiction—searingly probes and dissects the idea of connection and alienation with one’s self, the world and others. Always gritty, often cruel, yet quietly insightful, this jagged chain of vignettes is for readers who try to hold their thoughts together with duct tape while never quite grasping the things they just can’t seem to name.

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Featured in Feb/Mar 2016 Issue: Climate Fiction

How to Time an Engine

Know the guts of that tin can like no one else. Go shirtless, skin sheened with oil and diesel. Duck past the coffee pot swinging from a lanyard as the pounding engines shake. Fire the pistons that turn the screws. Churn out the speed destroyers die and live by. Wring more knots out of the Edwards. Prowl the Solomon Islands on a mission to derail the Tokyo Express. Knife your ship through The Slot above the ruptured hulls of Ironbottom Sound. Barely outrun the Divine Winds and grin a tight line at the telling shock of a wing sheared off by the fantail, a Kamikaze’s fuselage slamming into your destroyer’s drowning wake. Be a salvo in the hunter-killers convoys, a warrant machinist, and no one’s father yet. 

Get honorably discharged from that life. Return home to Detroit in 1945. Raise six kids after burying a wife who died too young in a car crash. In your eighties, point a sailboat into the setting sun while holding fast to a can of beer.

Never say much about the World War in your past. Keep it all below decks. Tell no one about seeing a flak blossom into those questions luck asks of aim. Leave it to others to speak of the torpedo bomber, a type the Japanese called “Heavenly Mountain,” and your shipmates called a “Jill,” peeling off from her sisters “Kate” and “Betty” and keening down through the explosive sky. Leave it to others to wonder at all the synchronicities housed inside a torpedo glanced off the water. A torpedo bouncing across the waves toward a speeding destroyer with perfectly timed engines pushed near to bursting by your hand. Pull the back of that hand across your grimy brow in the roaring engine room directly beneath the ship’s twin stacks. Know those twin stacks are exactly far enough apart for a torpedo to leap over the gunwale and spin harmlessly in between. In between the story of your nearly taken life and all that will happen to you after. 

From Three Ways of the Saw: Stories by Matt Mullins, Atticus Books 2012, www.atticusbooksonline.com. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. 

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