by Seth Borgen


ISBN 9781941561171


Publication date: July 1, 2019

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She was Olive Thomas. Famous showgirl and silent film star and winner of the 1914 Most Beautiful Girl in New York City contest and twenty-five years old and if she wanted cocaine she would have it. But all night, all over Montmartre, she had not found enough. A few bumps at Fontaine de la Jeunesse. A few at the illusionist’s apartment. No more. And there was none, she knew, in her and Jack’s suite at The Ritz.

Her husband, Jack Pickford, younger brother of Mary Pickford—the Mary Pickford—lay splayed across a maroon divan, his suit jacket underneath his head, his red cravat undone about his neck like a slit throat. Olive—Ollie to her friends; she had lots of friends—dropped the room key to the floor, kicked off her shoes with two thumps, and dragged her black silk gown over her head and off her torso. She walked in black rayon stockings, garter belt, and step-in panties to the bar. With a tiny hand she held a tumbler and with another she filled it with brown liquor.

“If I tried to fuck you tonight,” Jack said without opening his eyes, “I can’t guarantee you I’d finish.”

“Don’t put yourself out, fella,” she said, gliding, heavy-lidded, through the dark, candle-licked air and into the bathroom.

She set the tumbler on the marble countertop. One candle in a brass candlestick made the shadows of perfume bottles and brushes and jewelry long and shaky. The girl in the mirror existed from the waist up and only faintly. An alabaster shadow of soft curves.

“The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” she said to no one.

Jack’s leather toiletry bag was filed with blue and brown bottles. Olive took one into her hand and tried to read the label. It was in French. Close enough. She opened the bottle and dropped a fistful of tablets into the tumbler, several scattering across the marble, into the sink, onto the floor. After a night of champagne cocktails and everything raucous and fucking dogs, she would have sleep if she could not have cocaine. She drank.

The sharp flame of the candle became a dandelion puff. She thought of the hotel bed and how she must hurry. As she turned, her knees buckled and she dropped to the cold black and white tiles. She picked up one of the tablets. Color of bone. The shape of a coffin. Mercury Bichloride, she knew then. Jack’s syphilis treatment. For external use only. Her limbs tingled. A gluey mass burning in her stomach, she clawed herself off the ground with dead hands and staggered out of the bathroom door, upright and rickety, on dead feet.

“My God,” she said through dead lips, “what have I done?”

It was three twenty-seven am. She was dying. She was already dead. 


“These stories remind me why I love stories. Borgen is a master observer and isn't afraid to use his power of spying for good, for the good of us all. Read him now and thank me later.”

author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter and Hell at the Breech

“Seth Borgen’s If I Die in Ohio is a beautifully crafted collection—but what makes Borgen’s stories truly remarkable is how he deftly deconstructs kitschy Americana down to its ugly little core. A dynamic debut: read this book. ”

author of Sweet & Low and How to Survive a Summer

“The stories in Seth Borgen's remarkable and compassionate collection deal with human relationships—quirky, sad, funny, heartbreaking—and the theme of love is the force that drives them along in often surprising ways. If I Die in Ohio is just the beginning of a long and brilliant career.”

author of The Heavenly Table and Knockemstiff

“The stories in If I Die in Ohio are, as the title suggests, about desire and its bedfellow, regret. Seth Borgen’s gift is his ability to deliver surprise, both through his impressive range of premises—from a restless young man who falls for his ice sculptor neighbor to a religious woman discovering the pleasures of sex and smoking pot—and through the depth and nuance with which he taps emotion. This collection is every single thing I hope for in stories: expansive yet incisive, compassionate, and beautifully written. Seth Borgen is an exceptional storyteller.”

author of The Bigness of the World and After the Parade

“These are the kind of heartbreaking, vulnerable tough-guy--and trying-to-be-tough guys, and the occasional trying-to-be-tough gals--stories we haven't seen the likes of in a long time. They made me think of Richard Yates, God rest his beautiful soul, and of Ray Carver. What does it mean to be a man, to be a husband, to be a father, to be good? Seth Borgen has a light hand with these heavy questions, and these stories brought me damn near close to tears too many times to count.”

author of Stories We Tell Ourselves and Dog: A Short Novel

“Whether walking the blistered streets of Tijuana, lying on an Ohio lakefront beach, or sipping champagne at a glittery Paris soiree, Borgen’s sharp prose and pitch-perfect details will lead you through stories you never saw coming. Along the way you’ll meet deeply flawed (but unflinchingly honest) characters you can’t help but like, even as they make choices you would never recommend. If I Die in Ohio is so beautifully unexpected, brimming with lines you’ll want to read again and again (and then again). Do yourself a favor, and let Borgen surprise you in all the best ways.”

author of the Nilsen Literary Prize recipient Rules for Lying