Domesticated Wild Things

Just down the highway from Connecticut’s Gold Coast is the state’s rusty underbelly, the wretched, used-up sort of place where you might find Xhenet Aliu’s Domesticated Wild Things: reluctant mothers, delinquent dads, and not-quite-feral children, yet dreamers all. These are the sons and daughters of immigrants who found boarded-up brass mills instead of the gilded streets of America; they’re the teenaged girls raised in the fluorescent glow of Greek diners, the middle-aged men with pump trucks and teratomas. These are people who have fled, or who should have. And if they are indeed familiar, it is because Aliu writes what is real, whether we ourselves, her readers, have seen it up close or not. And her stories make sense in a way that matters.

A young mother buys into a real-estate investment seminar offered on an infomercial, only to be put back into her place by a bully in foreclosure. A closeted wrestler befriends a latchkey seven-year-old neighbor who harbors secrets of her own. A YMCA counselor tries to reclaim the shoes stolen by a troubled young camper.  What they share is a biting humor, an eye for the absurd, and fumbling attempts at human connection, all rendered irresistible—and as moving as they are amusing—by a writer whose work is at once edgy and endearing, and prize winning for a reason any reader can appreciate.

Available from your favorite local or online bookseller, and from the University of Nebraska Press.

Domesticated Wild Things and Other Stories


Winner of the 2012 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction, Aliu’s debut collection makes no apologies for its hodgepodge crew of boisterous characters . . . Offering sharp dialogue and a sense of the absurd, the book’s 11 stories evoke compassion rather than pity for this cast of wretched souls. Humorous and vibrant.

Publisher’s Weekly


Aliu’s debut collection, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction, looks at a variety of characters living on the outskirts as they wrestle with their circumstances or impulses . . . Aliu’s colorful characters, both resilient yet troubled, bolster the 11 spirited tales.



There is a lot of the body in these stories: stink and rot and perfume and dead skin. Often out of control and goofy, Domesticated Wild Things is also extremely funny and mordant. The wild energy of Aliu’s diction mocks and illuminates the English language: ‘Sue was that rare kind of fat: fat and flat, no giant breasts to balance out the kangaroo-pouch of her belly.’ I’m going to steal (borrow) that one.

-Sherman Alexie, author of Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories


Xhenet Aliu’s stories evoke with fierceness and a resilient compassion what it means to be disadvantaged and self-destructive, her characters negotiating the kind of homes in which your bed and your mother might be missing, or in which your husband might be raising venomous snakes in your bedroom closet. Her protagonists live at that intersection of the ethnically despised and the economically demolished, but they’re not ready to quit, and they never stop believing that everyone, everywhere, is entitled to a little something special.

-Jim Shepard, author of You Think That’s Bad


Set in nondescript but familiarly seedy settings, these stories tell of the children of immigrants looking for connection and forever aspiring. There are wrestling matches, bears, pet snakes, and many women looking for a way out. The voice is disarmingly casual, filled with lines like “Sam nodded, but the only thing he understood was that the evening had not gone as planned, and he wanted it never to end.” The dialogue puts the reader directly into worlds where seemingly strong men have crippling weaknesses, where the young act too mature, where wild things are constantly struggling not to be domesticated.

– Suzanne Herman, The Center for Fiction.


How would an author write loss without having it become trite? By writing around it. So Aliu writes about kittens, rectums, real-estate foreclosure scams, Greek diners, a praying mantis in a kill jar, and a dead child’s stuffed rabbit…Aliu’s characters have different names, ages, worries, loves and illnesses. Mostly, they make the same mistakes. The stories hit somewhere between the heart and the gut, maybe around the liver or the solar plexus. Call it gut wrenching, if you must use a term. It’s a better way to think about Aliu’s stories than the impossibly ridiculous about question…So, the next time a friend asks you what a book is about, tell her that all you can say is that there are no oil tycoons or kidnapped daughters. The question is loaded because it contains an assumption that books could be boiled down to a plotline, a few themes and a takeaway. Maybe give her the book. Especially if it left a few stones in your gut along with an inability to describe it well.

-Marina Petrova, Late Night Library


Aliu’s stories are vivid, funny as hell, and deeply compassionate, with characters that feel familiar even if you didn’t grow up in Waterbury, or Flint, or any of the other blighted landscapes Forbes puts on its worst cities lists…In Domesticated Wild Things, we see the almost too strange to be true collide with the deeply familiar. This is a portrait of the equally flawed and resilient people living in postindustrial America—an important account of voices seldom heard.

-Kelsey Ronan, Sycamore Review


This author with the exotic name has a unique writing style that reads like musical Rap…She has poetically captured the sweet sorrow of life through these poignant portrayals of those living on the fringe.  The stories will appeal to the adolescents and the bewildered young who will recognize their own ruminations so aptly expressed by the emotionally tortured characters.

-Aron Row, San Francisco Book Review


The heart of these stories is a broken one, but one that is still beating. It’s a heart that could turn into a car engine at any moment, could combust, could walk out on its characters leaving blood but no footprints, or footprints but no blood. But it’s a beautiful heart, its hopelessness driving it ever forward, Aliu’s prose the director, or the orchestrator, the force that keeps the heart pumping, spewing its messy insides everywhere it goes.

-Ali Rachel Pearl, The Journal


Aliu’s first collection of stories, Domesticated Wild Things, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize, vividly captures the longing, striving and eternal disappointment in one of Connecticut’s downtrodden cities, without a golf course in sight . . . Her dark humor keeps us from being overwhelmed by the futility of her characters’ lives and her knack for choosing the just-right small moment within a life wrought with dysfunction brings her message home without becoming maudlin or preachy.

-Jennifer Wisner Kelly, The Colorado Review


Critics used to talk about the “Rough South,” the violent, blue-collar region depicted in the novels and stories of Harry Crews, Larry Brown and North Carolina’s own Tim McLaurin. Xhenet Aliu…finds her subject in what might be called the “Rough North.” Aliu narrates all of this in the manner of Raymond Carver by way of Hemingway: Just the bare facts, ma’am, with adjectives and adverbs in short supply What makes Aliu’s stories bearable is that the human spirit keeps poking through, like a flower in the rubble.

-Ben Steelman, Wilmington Star-News


One need look no further than Xhenet Aliu’s slim volume of darkly humorous stories to be reminded that mankind is nothing more than highly evolved animals. Domesticated Wild Things and Other Stories is a masterful collection of humanity at its worst. What remains constant is that these tales are frighteningly recognizable, not due to a lack of originality—for there are unique and bizarre situations—but instead for the stark portrayal of the monsters that lurk inside the people we call family and friends.

-Joshua Myers, Curled Up With a Good Book


There is a sophisticated brand of humor in Aliu’s fiction—her stories in Domesticated Wild Things will make you laugh out loud but will not burden you with any sense of guilt that might come from laughing at people . . . Her affection for her beautifully rendered characters is contagious, making the humor affirming and humanizing.  These are entertaining and insightful stories full of surprises and revelations.

-Kwame Dawes, author of She’s Gone