Black Cat
Black Cat
Black Cat

Disasters in the First World

by Olivia Clare Friedman

From a dazzling new American storyteller—who “writes with Carveresque clarity and bite” (Janet Fitch)—an arresting debut story collection that explores the fragility of troubled lives caught in disruptive turbulence.

  • Imprint Black Cat
  • Page Count 208
  • Publication Date June 06, 2017
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2661-0
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $16.00

About The Book

Olivia Clare’s delightfully strange and tender debut collection traces the impact of larger-than-life forces on everyday people. From siblings whose relationship is as fragile as glass, to a woman grappling with both an emotional and physical drought, to a superstitious spouse fearful of misfortune, Disasters in the First World explores the real and the imagined, environmental and man-made calamities, and the human need to comprehend the unknown.

In “Pittsburgh in Copenhagen,” a man and a woman confront infidelity and estrangement as they share one last night together. “Pétur” tells the tale of a son who takes his mother on an Icelandic vacation only to be stranded there by a volcanic eruption. “Rusalka’s Long Legs’ follows a young girl’s treacherously long walk through the woods with her unpredictable mother. And in “The Visigoths,” an older sister finally breaks through to her idiosyncratic brother.

With precision and grace, the thirteen stories in this collection capture the fragility of troubled lives caught in disrupted turbulence, moments of connection–no matter how fleeting. Through these intimate, profoundly moving worlds, Clare’s voice rises as a distinctive new American storyteller.


“Olivia Clare is pure literary dynamite. In these stories, humor and dread oscillate at sonic speed, and the worldliness of the sensibility never negates its vulnerability. Clare writes with Carveresque clarity and bite and an elegance all her own. A bravura debut.” —Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander and Paint It Black

“The stories in Disasters in the First World are broad, clear, wild, caring, evocative, deceptively simple, clever without resorting to boring cynicism, deeply-affected and affecting, and rendered expertly with admirably few strokes. Sister to missing sister, vaulted son to mother, the characters who haunt these pages are marked in their depths by their profound and painful stumblings toward connection. They will stay with you for a very, very long time.” —Marie-Helene Bertino, author of 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas

“The ordinary is transformed in the crucible of Olivia Clare’s mind. These stories are artful and strange, both otherworldly and gloriously earthbound. They’ll wend their way into your consciousness with stealth.” —Lauren Acampora, author of The Wonder Garden

“Olivia Clare’s debut collection will surprise you with its poetic weirdness, its dark confidence. The ‘disasters’ in these stories are tragically indefinite, fissures in the lives of the characters, whom Clare brings to life with humor, wisdom, and brutal honesty.” &mdasdh;Vu Tran, author of Dragonfish

“Graceful and understated, the stories in Disasters in the First World probe the strangeness in the ordinary. Olivia Clare’s language is insightful, shimmering, and entirely her own.” —Kirstin Valdez Quade, author of Night at the Fiestas


Because I was happy, I looked for what might ruin me. I asked questions—wanting vision, prophecy–of someone or thing not there. I called it Baby. Baby, tell me what it is, I’d say. What takes this away? I meant not just happiness, but my life.

For months I was consumed by a blackish-brown screwhead-sized mole on my jaw. I delayed the appointment. I didn’t want the news. The mole, I was told, was nothing. I worried about gangrene, spent hours with Internet images of dying intestine and toes. I worried for the circulation in my right leg. Down its back is a visible vein. That leg bruises easily.

I’d go into our guest room, my Asking place. Shut the door. Lie down in the impartial smell of pine and wicker. I’d say, Baby, let me be happy. Then I’d say, let her be happy. I prayed on behalf of myself.

My husband, Shannon—I want to say this–is a kind person. No other way to describe him but calm and kind; I couldn’t understand.

During sex I’d say to myself, Baby, let her be happy. While Shannon went down on me, I’d say it.