My writing, particularly this collection, owes a great debt to the natural world.
My books owe a great debt to small, independent booksellers.
The coronavirus epidemic is deeply impacting Independent bookstores everywhere. If you are ordering a book online, please consider one of the wonderful independents via the links at the bottom of the page.
I will donate all author proceeds from A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth sold by independents through 2020 to help protect a threatened site near Chapada dos Veadeiros, in Brazil. The region is recognized as a biodiversity hotspot and is experiencing increasing rates of habitat destruction and biodiversity loss, and this specific site is at imminent risk of deforestation. It is one of the most beautiful places I have visited on earth.
Here are some photos, from the site and the area nearby.
Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
Nine tales of human endurance, accomplishment, and epiphany told with style and brio. Mason is one of our best historical novelists, creating panoramas of rich detail, propulsive plot, and artful character development in novels such as The Piano Tuner (2002) and The Winter Soldier (2018). In his first story collection, he shows how quickly and completely he can immerse readers in a foreign place and time. "Death of the Pugilist, or The Famous Battle of Jacob Burke & Blindman McGraw" is--if you'll forgive the wordplay--a knockout punch: 17 short, numbered rounds recounting the life of a Bristol stevedore whose fate awaits him in the ring of an 1824 boxing match so vividly described you can almost taste the blood... "The Ecstasy of Alfred Russel Wallace" follows an English "bug collector" and "species man" who is "entranced by life's variety" to go to the Malay Archipelago, where, burning with fever, he concocts a theory of the natural world: "Everywhere he looked he saw the struggle for existence. He could not happen upon an insect without wondering how every trait had saved it from nature's forge..." In "The Line Agent Pascal," the titular Frenchman maintains a solitary railway station deep in the Amazon rainforest, his only human connection coming, Twitter-like, with other agents along the telegraph line... An enchanting cabinet of curiosities and wonders.
Publisher's Weekly (Starred Review)
Mason’s melodious, introspective collection (after The Winter Soldier) locates startling depth in a series of engrossing character studies. In the opener, “Death of the Pugilist, or The Famous Battle of Jacob Burke & Blindman McGraw,” a thoughtful stevedore in 1820s England becomes a champion fighter (“Burke spent a good deal of time wondering... about how a hitter could be a good man”). In “The Miraculous Discovery of Psammetichus I,” a curious pharaoh conducts cruel experiments on children to solve the mysteries of human behavior. In other stories, a desperate mother strives to save her severely asthmatic son in coal-choked Victorian London, a doctor loses his very self to a strange doppelgänger, and a French telegraph operator deep in the Amazon finds a strange sort of companionship. In “The Ecstasy of Alfred Russel Wallace,” Mason imagines a scientist’s thoughts while he waits in vain for a reply to a letter he’s written to Darwin outlining his ideas about natural selection. The title story is a standout, rendered in the form of a madman’s ravings... compelled to obsessively catalogue every poignant piece of human existence. Mason is a brilliant wordsmith (“he looked upon the world, and what he saw was not life, but life transforming, sprouting sharper fangs and nectaries of ever sweeter nectar, taking flight as color danced kaleidoscopically across her wings”), and respectful of his readers by not giving away too much. Each story is informed and deepened by scientific inquisitiveness, and rewards readers with understated philosophical insight. This showcases Mason’s wide range and mastery of lyrical precision.
Mason follows three novels, including The Winter Soldier (2018), with a collection of mind- stretching historical short stories. Each narrator is in danger or under grave stress and at odds with society. Pinpoint physical details and precisely articulated emotions collide with the mystical, while scientific quests drive characters to extremes. A mother whose son is sickened by London’s poisonous fogs finds an improbable rescue in an article about ferns. Psammetichus I of ancient Egypt conducts alarming nature versus nurture experiments with children. A French woman balloonist sees what appears to be a “rent in the heavens.” With transporting empathy and feverish intensity, Mason portrays the brilliant naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who trustingly shared his theory of evolution with Darwin. Sheer wonder shapes the title story, a poetic homage to the Brazilian self-taught artist Arthur Bispo do Rosário, who created a Registry for God out of resplendent assemblages of cast-off objects and embroideries during his 50 years in a psychiatric institution. With touches of Borges and Calvino, Mason’s fabulist stories are works of tenderness and awe for human curiosity, passion, mad valor, and profound resiliency.
The New Yorker
The characters in these robust short stories, set mostly in the nineteenth century, struggle as captains of their destinies. A doctor increasingly believes his body to be inhabited by an “imposter”; a Frenchwoman takes a hot-air balloon to new heights, hoping to find “a tear in the very fabric of the heavens.” In the only story that takes place in present-day America, the narrator remembers an uncle, an immigrant from Eastern Europe, who became a fan of Civil War reënactments and of WrestleMania—confrontations with predetermined outcomes. “I wonder whether there was something about the cartoon violence that served as a parody of all violence, and perhaps as a catharsis for the real kind that he’d seen,” the narrator writes.
The Daily Mail (UK)
An outstanding collection of short stories from an American novelist best known for his historical fiction, this immerses the reader in various imaginatively realised moments from history while conducting a series of dazzling forays into style and form. A fight between a humble dock worker and an infamous pugilist in 1820s Bristol, with each punch and lunge bloodily detailed, builds up an almost incantatory force. A mother goes on a desperate midnight journey through 19th-century London to seek relief from a botanist for her dangerously asthmatic son. A budding scientist waits feverishly and in vain to hear from Darwin after sending him a letter detailing his own discoveries on natural selection. In the Edgar Allan Poe-esque The Second Doctor Service, a man is driven half mad by the belief his doppelganger is trying to take over his body and soul. The language combines featherweight grace with immense muscle across a collection that contains not one dud.
The Christian Science Monitor
This collection of nine stories captures characters in the midst of remarkable experiences: a hot air balloonist investigating the upper atmosphere, a French telegraph operator discovering companionship deep in the Amazon, a bug collector corresponding with Charles Darwin. Daniel Mason conveys more in a short story than many authors manage in an entire novel.
The Guardian (UK)
From the street fighter set up for a fall to a balloonist who encounters a hole in the sky, these short stories offer the nutrition of a novel at a tenth of the length... The grand pleasures of fiction are all here: rich, cushioning detail; vivid characters delivering decisive action; and a sense of escape into a larger world. The best story of all, though, might be one of interior drama. “The Second Doctor Service” is a tale of possession that stands comparison with Maupassant’s terrifying “The Horla”, and reminds us that before we face our foes, first we must battle ourselves.
San Francisco Chronicle
These stories are some of the most unique and beguiling I’ve read in quite some time. A perfect and fitting pick for these seemingly endless days when science, our understanding of reality and a faint longing for human connection are so irrevocably intertwined.
Packed with the exotic, quixotic, grotesque and transcendent, these tales are played out in a series of pungent historical settings. Equally intense is the knot of psychological oddities they present: Mason’s characters are tangled up in delusions, neuroses and absurd passions... Even though freighted with the influence of Conrad, Greene and Maugham, these literary journeys retain a distinctly American irreverence, with Mason producing playful riffs rather than straight-faced pastiches. And in spite of an overwhelming sense of an author having fun, they deliver poignant results too.
"What I've found most remarkable about Mason's fiction is the quality of his revelations, his ability to unveil temperaments, habits, natures. His stories are mysteries, albeit not in the genre sense... In all of the stories, you can see Mason figuring out new strategies to get closer to the people he is writing about. Each is a portrait, each a deep dive into an individual's nature, each rooted in history." Wyatt Mason, New York Times Magazine
"Daniel Mason is a masterful storyteller, and these stories— the attention to history and science and all that is unknown-- are nothing short of brilliant. With exquisite, mesmerizing language, he transports us to places far beyond the realm of our realities and then lands us in ways wholly intimate and moving. A Registry Of My Passage Upon the Earth is a marvel and a journey not to be missed." Jill McCorkle, author of Life After Life
"I've given up picking perfect sentences to read aloud and am now just reciting the entire book. The talent of Daniel Mason - using words in this way is witchcraft, surely." Elizabeth Macneal, author of The Doll Factory
Media Contact: Lena.Little@hbgusa.com