McMullen Circle

Pre-order McMullen Circle, Finalist for the W.S. Porter Prize

My collection of linked stories, McMullen Circle, is now available for PRE-ORDER from MALAPROP'S BOOKSTORE  and other fine Indies. Order now for delivery in January 2022.

The twelve linked stories in McMullen Circle explore the intertwined lives of faculty families at the McMullen Boarding School in Tonola Falls, Georgia in 1969–70, the summer the great Karl Wallenda walks a tightrope across Tonola Gorge. The school community is isolated and idyllic, yet issues of race and the Vietnam War still intrude. The stories in this collection ask what, or who, is a hero? Does heroism require physical prowess, or is there valor in a cafeteria worker enduring a cluttered, needy life with her four young sons (“Good Boys”), or an elderly school librarian caring for her disabled lesbian partner (“Twilight Song”)? In “Once and Always” a decorated World War II pilot feels his own hero status threatened when whites petition to have a black civil rights activist barred from burial in Arlington Cemetery. In “Wish I May, Wish I Might” a young African American girl finds the courage to assert her right to attend the all-white McMullen School. In “The Preferred Embodiment,” a headmaster realizes that his role as father-hero requires him to do more than simply not embarrass his child. In “The Stole,” “Things Summoned,” “Breaking Bread” and “The Walk,” two children learn the limitations, and the surprising extent, of their parents’ strength and integrity.

Praise for McMullen Circle

"These deeply literary, heartfelt, and heartbreaking characters call to mind the work of Elizabeth Strout, Gail Godwin, and Richard Russo, but Heather Newton is her own writer. Her characters are shot through with longing and hope, and in this small community we watch as big dreams and big desires are dreamed and felt, run toward and away from. This is the kind of book that readers return to to reimmerse themselves in Newton's world, and it's also the kind of book that writers return to to see how she pulled it off." -Wiley Cash, New York Times bestselling author of A Land More Kind Than Home

“Clear-sighted, restrained, deceptively simple, and eternally charitable, the stories that comprise McMullen Circle cohere deftly to create a devastating, life-affirming, vibrating, multi-voiced whole." -Jen Fawkes, author of Mannequin and Wife 

“At turns dreamy and dark, Newton turns a deft eye toward the inhabitants of a small southern town on the cusp of turmoil--both in their inner lives and in the changing world around them--leaving the reader entranced.” -Kelly J. Ford, author of Cottonmouths

“Heather Newton is a beautiful writer and McMullen Circle is a beautiful book, written with compassion, humor and unflinching honesty. I love these stories, and as standalone pieces, each is compelling in its own way, often breathtakingly so. And read as a whole, the stories transcend the individual characters, offering a complex, conflicted and empathetic portrait of this North Georgia boarding school and its community. The whole time I was reading McMullen Circle, I was reminded again and again of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.”—Tommy Hays, author of The Pleasure Was Mine

“A reader immediately warms to the linked stories in this collection. At first, they feel familiar, and welcome us, before turning strange. Wryly funny, they surprise with their sudden melancholies. With a practiced hand, Heather Newton reveals the many lives of McMullen Circle, but in glimpses. Through parted curtains and snippets of backyard conversations, we are treated to all the mysteries of childhood and aging that, just like a circle, never resolve.”—LC Fiore, author of Coyote Loop

“Heather Newton is a master at capturing the mood and longing of the late sixties, early seventies, and the isolation of a boarding school in the North Georgia mountains where the children run free and the headmaster’s wife goes in search of a television. When the Cordelia Six are arrested for firebombing a nearby theater that wouldn’t admit Black teenagers, the striations of race become wider and insistent. In this linked collection, the stories often turn on what is overheard or understood only by some or even on a simple gesture, and Newton’s carefully crafted sentences place discovery and feeling squarely in the heart of the reader. McMullen Circle is forged out of our past, but this is a collection for now.”—Cynthia Newberry Martin, author of Tidal Flats

“In McMullen Circle, Heather Newton’s riveting novel in short story form, compelling and believably flawed characters inhabit Tonola Falls, Georgia, a small town on the cusp of integration. In a dozen connected stories, Newton weaves a tapestry of rich irony with fierce emotion and genuine bewilderment. Ordinary people, animated with astounding power, confront their weaknesses and principles in a baffling, rapidly changing world. Empathy and insight are forces as powerful as the stone mountain that supports and looms over these unforgettable stories.”—Anna Jean Mayhew, author of The Dry Grass of August and Tomorrow’s Bread