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Titles 1998-2018

The Fifth Woman, Nona Caspers


2018 LAMBDA Literary Awards Finalist

2018 Foreword Indies Book of the Year SILVER Winner in Literary Fiction and Finalist in LGBT Fiction

IPPY Awards for LGBT + Fiction Bronze Medalist

The Masters Review, “22 Books We’re Looking Forward to This Year”

At the center of this book is the death of the narrator’s partner in a bicycling accident. Each short chapter serves as a brief vignette of, or occasionally a magical-realist metaphor for, the grieving process. A shadow of a dog appears in her apartment with no apparent source; a crack opens in the ceiling and splits her building down the middle. One day she notices in the alley below her window four women chatting together and a fifth, with no features, standing on the perimeter. She finds herself wondering: What did she want from me? What are the things that matter? At times dryly comical, at other times radiantly surreal, The Fifth Woman is a testament to the resurrecting power of memory and enduring love.

For a classroom-ready reader's guide written by the author herself follow this link, and explore more titles with reader's guides in Sarabande in Education

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Additional Info

Nona Caspers is the author of Heavier Than Air, which was honored with the AWP Grace Paley Prize in Short Fiction and listed as a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Her work has been supported with a NEA Fellowship, an Iowa Review Fiction Award, a LAMBDA nomination, and the Joseph Henry Jackson Literary Grant and Award, among other honors. Individual stories have appeared in The Kenyon Review, Epoch, Black Warrior Review and Glimmer Train. She is a Professor of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University and lives in San Francisco.


"Caspers’ writing is spare and deceptively straightforward, lending even her realist portraits the soft edges of a dream. . . . Each vignette is short—some are only a page long—but poignant; as if Lydia Davis’ controlled remove had been sifted through the humor and immediacy of Michelle Tea. But it’s the accumulation of grief that matters here, almost as much as the details of domesticity, a quiet but tender declaration of queer love lost in San Francisco." 

Kirkus Reviews

"This gem of a collection is a transcendent portrayal of bereavement, showing how death elevates the mundane and affects everything humans do, see, and think."

 —Publishers Weekly

". . mesmerizing, moving. . ."

—Brandon Yu, The San Francisco Chronicle

"I learned much about craft and tone from reading The Fifth Woman. I found myself constantly plunging into and then climbing out of dark holes. I reveled in rooting into the dark, icy ground, digging my nails into the rocky dirt. And I exulted when I finally surfaced, gulping air and blinking into the clear, bright light. Caspers's brilliance rests in her light yet firm touch: a use of language that is simultaneously tempered yet lush."

—"The Whispers I Could Almost Hear," Nancy Au, The Cincinnati Review

"In twenty three connected exquisite moments (or stories) the novel constructs a map of loss, its creative potential, its capacity to tear open the world, trouble boundaries, and dust the daily with wonder. In The Fifth Woman, grief is queer-as-in-odd, as in boundary-blurring, as in otherways loving, as in curious. . . . You need a book, like this one, that reminds you of what your own lost love once told you, that everything can be written about, and because it explores so clearly the stage, the smoke, and the mirrors of this two-bit magic trick of existence: a person is here and then they are gone."

—Carson Beker, Lambda Literary

“The mundane becomes poetic in Nona Caspers’s novel-in-vignettes, The Fifth Woman. Its atmosphere of grief is established with tight, beautiful prose. . . . There are no wasted words. The text itself is a pleasure.” 

Foreword Review, starred review

“Precise and glowing prose.”

—May-Lee Chai, The Millions

"[I]ncredible. . .The Fifth Woman is an ecosystem of grief; a circular cloud of emotion, memory, and experience that bends towards the surreal, exploring, or so it seems, every nook and cranny of the aftermath of the death of a loved one."

—Noah Sanders, Empty Mirror

"The writing style is lyrical and the story moves through different elements—ants, the girlfriend, the apartment, water, the neighbors—to create a circular, dreamlike remembrance."

—Lisa Martin, The Guardsman

The Fifth Woman is stealthily astonishing from its first line to its last. Over the course of twenty-three connected short fictions, the writer marks out a trail of mourning that is both quite straightforward and miraculously layered, strange, and emotionally multifaceted. There is not a single sentence in these stories that is not as clear as water…. It is a wonderful book.”

—Stacey D’Erasmo

"Grief alters the world in ways that are both expected and less so. The Fifth Woman is a story of love, loss, and carrying on, in language that is always precise and often transporting. There is a sadness here but also acute observation and magical happenings. Nona Caspers is a true original."

—Jean L. Thompson, author of Who Do You Love and The Woman Driver

"Let me just put it there: This is one of the most beautiful, sorrowful, light-infused love stories I’ve ever read. Some stories you walk around with for good. The Fifth Woman will be one of them. Nona Caspers will change the way you see. Can a reader ask for more?"

—Peter Orner


“The simplest acts—even just noticing one’s breath—become wondrous moments that push characters past anguish to reclaim their ‘bright, insistent, blooming’ lives. Darkly funny, compassionate, and unsentimental, these quiet stories offer memorable, rarely seen views of Midwestern life.”


“Caspers details the many ways reality can interfere with our dreams….Throughout, Caspers’s people…question the decisions they’ve made or the ones they refuse to make. There’s nothing flashy about Caspers’s prose; like the beauty of the prairie itself, its attraction lies in details seen close up.”

The New York Times Book Review

“Revving up Willa Cather’s naturalism and lesbian undertones with Denis Johnson’s deadpan Plains rowdiness, these are like alt-country songs, tales of wild but not wild-eyed girls, and women as likely to be enraptured by the girl next door as by the lay of the land. The prose is exact, unsparing, unsentimental….Caspers’s pungent voice, her fairness to city and country mores, and the artful arrangement of her tales reward rereading. Simplicity this precise takes time, talent and considerable cultivation.”

San Francisco Chronicle 

“With her finger firmly fixed on the pulse of each heartbeat in these stories, Caspers is infinitely compassionate and revealing in her details, and the moments of dark comedy captured here leaven what’s already a compelling read.”

The Short Review 

"The Fifth Woman is told as a series of vignettes in which the narrator grapples with the sudden death of her partner. Caspers’ beautiful, moving novel is out from Sarabande this summer."

The Masters Review 

“The elegantly crafted short stories…quietly buzz with life and secrets, like a hot summer afternoon in Midwestern farm county. There is a thread of longing that moves through the stories, as the characters watch their dreams decompose under reality’s harsh glare….Caspers is a careful, unsentimental and highly skilled writer….Like Anne Tyler, another Minnesota-born writer, Grace Paley and to a lesser extent Flannery O’Connor, Nona Caspers digs beneath the surface to examine the small details and then brings to life in this quiet, but lovely collection of stories.”
LAMBDA Book Report 

The Fifth Woman is an exquisite, breathtaking, exquisitely crafted book that plumbs the depths of what it means to love, to grieve, and to be human. Caspers masterfully captures the power hidden in ordinary moments, and the everyday mysteries that shape our lives. The Fifth Woman is singular, and profoundly moving." 

—Carolina De Robertis, author of The Gods of Tango