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I live for books. And I'm your guy for everything literary fiction, short stories, or lit in translation. I like to feel something when I pick up a book. Oh, and Stephen King is my literary muse.
How do you follow up the sheer absurdity of a novel like THE PISCES? Melissa Broder's response: with a very queer, very Jewish fable of physical and spiritual delights. MILK FED follows Rachel, a calorie-counting, image obsessed twenty-something working in the Hollywood fame machine. She lives by a strict ascetic code (nicotine gum for breakfast; a protein bar for lunch; and plain yogurt for dinner). A slim waist and approval from an emotionally withholding mommy drive her. By all appearances, she is cultivating an Instagram-worthy product for all to envy and desire. That is, until Miriam--the curvy, daring, eccentric Miriam--appears on the scene to blow it all to pieces, revealing to Rachel the varieties of desire and satisfaction. What ensues is something that reads like a fabulist sexual awakening--one that prominently features the golem of Jewish lore, all-night food binges, and sage rabbinical advice. If the Coen Brothers knew anything about what its like to be a millennial women, they might write something like this. But I thank little-g god every day for divining unto this earth Melissa Broder and the wise, funny, purifying gift that is MILK FED.
What's not to love about LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND? Rumaan Alam's third novel is a genre-bending, domestic thriller that grapples with the uncertainty of the present moment. It's every bit a family drama as it is a spin on the cataclysmic end-of-days type scenario. Trust issues, marriage issues, and parenthood issues abound. Unnerving and compulsively readable.
Should anyone be surprised that MEMORIAL, Bryan Washington's latest, delivers on the promise of LOT a dozen times over and is, in more ways than one, the pitch perfect novel of the year? I certainly am not. Much like LOT, MEMORIAL is an acerbic, page-turner brimming with so much life you can't help but be touched by it. The pages are graced with language so precise and descriptive clarity, one begins to wonder why real life can't be as rich. There is much to say, but to put it simply: MEMORIAL sets the standard for literary fiction this decade and beyond. This bountiful treatise on love, life, (plenty of food!), and queerness must be read, shared, and held close upon completion.
Sigrid Nunez's WHAT ARE YOU GOING THROUGH is an unyielding meditation on our moral and emotional drivers. Who and what do we live for? And is it worth it in a world galvanized by self-destructive tendencies (Climate change, the election of one far-right populist US President, and fraught family relationships hang heavy over this book)? Readers are pressed to reckon with these very questions as our narrator accompanies a terminally-ill friend through those, sometimes agonizing, last days of her life. And yet, this novel is also an uplifting, beautifully rendered piece that offsets the gloom with tremendous empathy. An utterly modern book in every way, Sigrid Nunez captures this singular moment in history and preserves a small treasure for all who pick it up. Just sublime.
RAMIFICATIONS, the first novel by Daniel Saldaña París to be translated into English, is a sinister little book suffused with a biting humor and morbid curiosity. This 'mom-gone-missing' story reels you in only to ensnare you into the dark corners of a neurotic, young man's mind. I couldn't help but fall completely headlong into this rousing carousel of toxic machismo and emotional depravity—more please!
Author and translator David Karashima attempts to pull back the curtain on the Murakami machine in WHO WE'RE READING WHEN WE'RE READING MURAKAMI—taking the focus off of Haruki Murakami himself and instead training the spotlight on the translators and editors behind that success. Though it upends any notion that Murakami became some kind of overnight sensation on the strength of his work alone, WHO WE'RE READING is illuminating in many ways. Karashima not only unpacks the tricky business of translating for an English-speaking audience, but how publishers market an author as a brand and elevate them to literary acclaim. All the while, we're introduced to a wily bunch of of backers that nurtured the voice and persona of the reclusive Murakami. Fascinating, cerebral and engaging, Karashima's penned a book Murakami fanatics and completionists alike will want to grab ahold of.
Jason Diamond does his best David Attenborough impression in 'The Sprawl,' his humorous, sobering look at the much-maligned, oft-ignored wilderness of Suburbia. It's sociology and pop culture critique, and a tinge of urban planning bundled into one, neat package. It's a little heady but that's okay, because reading it is so effortless at the same time. Fascinating, too, because suddenly I'm looking at a place I once called home so differently.
It's impossible not to see a little bit of yourself in Edie, the twenty-three year old narrator of LUSTER — a wayward millennial, victim of abject rejection, losing a grip on the tattered rungs of a faulty job market and wading in a romantic cesspool. She is frustratingly careless, promiscuous, an aspiring artist trapped in the crosshairs of cutthroat office politics. And when Edie loses her job, life spirals uncontrollably, but its her involvement in an open marriage that proves to be both her undoing and the key to a visceral re-awakening. The writing is precise, and Raven Leilani exhibits an exhilarating command of language, spilling her guts to tell a story about art, class, race, and power. LUSTER is depraved, dark, funny, and so deeply in touch with the modern human condition.
The Stricks are in trouble. After witnessing the sudden death of an acquaintance, Astrid, the family's widowed matriarch, contemplates her own mortality and is forced to re-examine her career as a mother and wife all while tending to her troubled granddaughter. Her children aren't that much better off: Elliot, Porter, and Nicky are fumbling through life carrying the weight of their dysfunctional upbringing. Like the best family dramas, Emma Straub's ALL ADULTS HERE looks at the joys and pitfalls of the blood ties we can't seem to shake. It's a tender, and often hilarious, testament to the power of love and forgiveness. And it's the picture-perfect rendering of a family going through it all and coming back together again. This novel's an absolute marvel.
The alarming decline of Western Civilization serves as the punchline to Deb Olin Unferth's apocalyptic and big-hearted new novel, BARN 8. Take several hundred rag-tag ex-eco activists, a million incarcerated hens being groomed for future work as nuggets and tenders, and one ingenious plan to bust them out and you have the groundwork for this novel that, for all the gloom and doom it forsees, speaks to the unmatched spirit of what people with a common cause can achieve. With temperatures rising and democracies ripping themselves to shreds, BARN 8 may be the only hope we have left. Unferth fearlessly treads the shaky ground she writes on and delivers her latest masterpiece here.
A sometimes pirate, sometimes hitman's assistant wades interminably through the muck of temporary positions, searching for the elusive steadiness a career job will surely usher in. Whether she's dropping bombs on an unknown locale or handing out fat stacks of informative pamphlets, our unnamed narrator trudges along dauntlessly in a world turned upside down. This darkly comedic take on the failings of late stage capitalism is Hillary Leichter's marvelous debut that fearlessly questions every authority and holds every institution accountable. TEMPORARY is not to be missed!
'My Autobiography of Carson McCullers' gives us unfettered access into the lives of two writers: Jenn Shapland, grad student and archivist, wading through the murky waters of her queerness; Carson McCullers, the oft-misunderstood phenom behind the beloved 'The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.' And it is by sheer accident (maybe fate) that their stories meet. Employing a dazzling blend of memoir and biography, Shapland describes a chance encounter with McCullers' letters, re-introduces us to one of the twentieth century's most prolific artists, and recovers a hidden history of repressed queerness, drawing parallels to her own story along the way. In McCullers, Shapland finds a muse and through Shapland, McCullers' story receives the treatment its long been denied. The pair share an intimate kinship that bridges decades and their joint narrative is at once powerful and utterly necessary. This is a story that should be read over and over and over.
Spring Training is here for the LA Lions, bringing a cadre of players, coaches, agents and hangers on to the desert-scape of Arizona. And for nine chapter-long innings we're taken 'round the diamond looking to get the full story on fading baseball phenom Jason Goodyear from those who know him best and those who don't, but think they do. It's a story that, like a season of MLB ball, unfolds incrementally, full of dramatic peaks and valleys, and, when it matters most, reveals the character of those stepping up to the plate. Emily Nemens hits it out of the park with this no-doubt, moonshot of a debut. 'The Cactus League' brims with heart and a ferocious sense of humor!
"Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn't me. Here is her dead body." This note plunges the elderly Vesta, a woman living at civilization's edge, on a madcap search for Magda's killer. Undaunted by the visible lack of evidence, Vesta's search takes her to the end of her sanity, forcing her to confront repressed demons and the memories of her now-deceased husband, as well as a bevy of shadowy figures out to foil her plans. With clues and evil-doers at every turn, the investigation becomes an all-consuming descent into a void of possibilities. In piecing together this narrative of brilliant violence and divine revelations Ottessa Moshfegh illustrates a startlingly firm understanding of the dark things that make us tick. 'Death In Her Hands' is an immaculate example of a writer at her absolute best.
I'm over-the-moon smitten with Tillie Walden's latest offering, 'Are You Listening?' Paired with gorgeous illustrations, Walden pens a tender and affecting road-trip story about the power of friendship in our most trying times. You'll be in a puddle of your own emotions by book's end!
Using the Sandra Bland case as the focal point of his latest book, Malcolm Gladwell unpacks the misconceptions and pitfalls of modern communication. 'Talking to Strangers' is an exhaustive exploration of the psychology behind liars and truth-tellers and how so often we are bad at distinguishing one from the other - whether in international politics, jurisprudence or romance. But it's also an argument for thinking critically and empathetically and skeptically in the moments where automatic thinking takes over. Gladwell's razor-sharp prose and ideas make these essential lessons about communication accessible to all readers. You've got to read this now!"
'The Secrets We Kept' is a lush, beautifully rendered piece of historical fiction. Prescott's eye for detail and language brings the Cold War-era tensions to shining life in this novel of espionage and literature and human triumph!
'Parade' is a whimsical fable of childhood wonder and innocence. Illustrated throughout and peppered with Hiromi Kawakami's signature ethereal prose, this novelette is a perfectly simple escape.
The titular Dream House - the figurative archive of Carmen Maria Machado's ill-fated relationship to an abusive partner - is a construction of memories, full of desire, destruction and ultimately, hope. In this powerfully-rendered memoir, Machado unpacks the myths of queer romance; speaks to the beguiling nature of love in the throes of turmoil; paints an utterly vulnerable portrait of a woman re-making herself. 'In the Dream House' is a terrible beauty that offers salvation in the darkest of times.
Borne of adolescent embarrassments and adulthood's betrayals, the stories in 'Humiliation' capture failure and disgrace with moments that are both palpable and hit unsettlingly close to home. Paulina Flores's oeuvre of short fiction is some of the best I've read all year.
Jonathan Safran Foer's latest nonfiction effort is less of a scientific treatise than an emotional plea for meaningful collective action to combat the escalating crisis of climate change. Employing callbacks to civilian wartime efforts and anecdotes from history and Foer's own life, 'We Are the Weather' makes the case that saving the planet is still entirely plausible if we act now.
Mark Haber's little novel is a breathless epic that, in a single paragraph, transports readers from provincial Europe to the far-flung forests of South America, tracing the path of the wealthy eccentric Jacov Reinhardt and his loyal scribe in search of the elusive sense of melancholy. It is a mesmerizing, drug-addled trot down a path of madness that strings you along page by page. 'Reinhardt's Garden' evokes notes of Conrad and Bolaño in a style that feels all Haber's own.
In 'Earl Campbell: Yards after Contact,' journalist Asher Price unpacks the legend of Earl Campbell the football player and pieces together the portrait of man forged by East Texas politics and culture in the post-Civil Rights era. From the rose farms of Tyler to the 40 Acres in Austin and the booming metropolis of Houston, Price digs deep to humanize the bruiser that took defenders by storm most Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The narrative that gets spun is as much a riveting sports story as it is a deep examination of race relations in the South and the struggle to desegregate the University of Texas. 'Earl Campbell: Yards after Contact' is a well-researched, fast-paced and inexhaustible piece of Lone Star lore.
Chris L. Terry’s hilariously unnerving novel, ‘Black Card,’ grapples with questions of racial identity, pitting one mixed-race, punk-rocking barista against an alarmingly racist circle of friends and strangers, a police investigation that views him as the prime suspect of a violent crime, and the existential threat of having lost his Black Card, the lone tie to his Blackness. ‘Black Card’ is probing, revelatory and deftly toes it’s way through the murky waters of the bi-racial experience. Chris L. Terry is infinitely wise and the heir apparent to the likes of Paul Beatty and Percival Everett.
Leonard Cohen's "So Long, Marianne" played as I turned the last page of Sally Rooney's 'Normal People,' her lush, sophomore effort that puts modern love under the microscope. Like the song, the novel is a bittersweet ode to love lost and found; subtle and heartrending. Rooney tells the story of Connell and Marianne, the on-again, off-again couple of the novel, with acuity, capturing the minutiae of millenial romance. It's absolutely impossible not to get entirely invested in the lives and loves of these two.
'Rough Magic' is a life-affirming read that brims with a boundless sense of wonder. Here, Lara Prior-Palmer recounts her week-long trek across the punishing Mongolian steppe riding the "world's longest and toughest horse race." This is an adventure story just as much as its a journey of self-discovery; a candid, and often humorous, musing on nature, memory and the inescapable desire to be free. This ride feels true and gallops away with your heart.
Based in part on the real life events that transpired at the Dozier Academy, Colson Whitehead's THE NICKEL BOYS re-imagines the horrors suffered and the friendships borne in a hellish internment at a Jim Crow-era reformatory. In it, we follow Elwood Curtis, a studious young man and ardent disciple to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., fall victim to the racist policing that lands him at the Nickel Academy for Boys. His time there reveals the hard truths of race in America, the extent of human cruelty and brings him close to a boy known only as Turner. Whitehead brings to life the broken promises of Emancipation and Reconstruction and spins a tale of unrelenting power and force. It is a sublime experience to read THE NICKEL BOYS.
THE NEED is an unsettling page-turner that moves at staccato rhythms. Helen Philips captivates readers in a thrilling exploration of motherhood and identity that blends forms in the most exciting way.
Readers not yet privy to the brilliance of Valeria Luiselli have a true gem to discover in 'Lost Children Archive.' The confluence of sights, sound and memory reaps an engrossing chronicle of a patchwork family and a timely take on the topic of human migration.
'Black Leopard, Red Wolf' is a towering achievement in fantasy literature. In it, Marlon James has rendered a wholly original landscape of African myth that is a palpable as its prose is poetic. Marrying the best of the genre and his own imagination, James has set out on the first part of an ambitious journey with a novel that is absorbing, mesmerizing and beyond rewarding.
Each page of Fernando A. Flores's debut novel, 'Tears of the Trufflepig,' brims with a confection of absurdity and hilarity. In it, Flores places us in near future South Texas where the US has erected a third border wall and Mexican cartels pedal extinct fauna to the ultra-rich. At its heart is Esteban Bellacosa, a throwback to the swashbuckling vaqueros of elderdays, and Gonzo reporter Paco Herbert; both are caught in a conspiracy by these crime syndicates to hijack ancient artifacts, a conspiracy that's also resulted in the disappearance of Bellacosa's own brother. In what reads like a peyote-fueled fever dream is a stellar debut novel of the highest order; an immaculate rendering of borderland politics, language and spiritualism; a cosmic joyride that is both daring and ambitious.
In “Lot,” Bryan Washington explores the myriad experiences of family and friends in the margins of the Houston area. These interconnected stories follow an unnamed narrator as he navigates an adolescence of poverty while confronting his own identity as a gay man. Meanwhile, in the periphery, we encounter unfaithful spouses, scorned lovers, drug dealers, sex workers and witness the indelible effects of gentrification on those on the lowest rungs. “Lot” is a little bit like “Jesus’ Son” with some optimism, a panoramic view of a city’s invisible population and a writer’s blazing debut on the literary scene.
Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah's 'Friday Black' is such a book that requires one a moment to catch their breath upon completion. These twelve stories are ferocious and reveal the underbelly of a nation still at odds with its own past, destined to be consumed by its present. And yet, there's a persistent glimmer of hope that runs through these visions of chaos and suffering, of ghosts seeking redemption, of the over-worked sales representative, of those caught in an system actively working against them. Though this collection feels tailor-made for 2018, much of what Adjei-Brenyah writes has that quality of persistent relevance.
Few writers captivate readers quite like Haruki Murakami. The international superstar and perennial Nobel Prize favorite is in a class of his own, having amassed an insatiable readership the whole world ‘round. When his latest novel was first released in his native Japan, an initial run of 1.3 million first edition copies flew off the shelves. Now, a year later and finally translated into English, Killing Commendatore arrives in the U.S. to a growing amount of intrigue following the partial censorship of its release in China for supposed “indecency.” Domestic readers, however, can expect a lush, doorstop epic à la 1Q84 and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. The novel is a practice in what Murakami does best (tales populated by lovelorn middle-aged men, cats, classical music, exquisite meals, and fantastic happenings) as well as a bold re-imagining of The Great Gatsby. Killing Commendatore unfurls during “a period of inexplicable chaos and confusion.” Our unnamed narrator, a portrait painter by trade, abandoned by his wife and suffering from a severe case of artist’s block, takes to living a cloistered existence in a mountaintop estate hoping to find inspiration in solitude. Awash in a sanctuary of his thoughts and an endless library of operas on vinyl, a set of increasingly mysterious events begin to disturb the peace. This chain is set off by the discovery of a grisly painting, the titular Killing Commendatore, depicting a murder that occurs early on in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Transfixed by its violence and composition, more questions than answers arise as our narrator discovers it to be a remnant of the estate’s previous tenant, the eminent Japanese artist, Tomohiko Amada. And before our narrator can reach a sensible conclusion regarding its abandonment, the string of oddities persist in the form of an ominous nighttime ringing and the appearance of a Wataru Menshiki, a shady tech tycoon hoping to solicit the artistic talents of our narrator. The two become fast friends and, with our narrator serving as the Nick Carraway to Menshiki’s Jay Gatsby, the two exchange personal tragedies, revealing a darker side to Menshiki’s past that’s never been shared. As the confidence between them grows, so too does a desire to unearth the mystery behind the ringing that plagues our narrator’s sleep. What is ultimately brought to light is the existence of an underground chamber in the woods outside the estate housing an ancient bell. Its discovery not only introduces the novel’s more surreal elements, but begins to bridge meaning between the seemingly disparate elements of the narrative (the abandoned painting, Menshiki’s prevailing motives, and the question of who exactly has been ringing the bell) and the narrator's role in it all. In true Murakami fashion, Killing Commendatore operates on many levels: as a philosophical and psychological mind-bender; a meditative discourse on art and obsession; a journey of spiritual transformation; an homage to an American classic. At just over seven-hundred pages, this hefty tome flows to a tragic and propulsive rhythm as we’re transported across time and space, from wartime Vienna to a spirit world of ideas come true, culminating in Murakami’s most bizarre, satisfying and addictively readable novel yet.
'Vanishing Twins' compounds snapshots of dance, the twin-ness of life, and unspoken desires to reap a startling meditation on love's dissolution and rediscovery. Leah Dietrich's writing feels true and utterly vulnerable; the story she shares, of the dive into an open marriage with her husband of nearly a decade, is plagued with doubt, specters of shame and existential terror. The emotional whirlwind of this book cuts deep. And remarkably, it is the most uplifting thing I've read in a long time.
There's weird and then there's "Oh my goodness, what the heck did I just read?" weird. The stories collected in Yukiko Motoya's "The Lonesome Bodybuilder" belong to the latter group. These stories are incisive explorations of domestic life fraught with tension and "out-of-left-field" bizarre field trips into the dark woods of the mind. Immersive, captivating, I can't get enough of Yukiko Motoya!
'Boom Town' is an uproariously good piece of civic history. Sam Anderson takes the sometimes droll, sometimes mundane Oklahoma City landscape and reaps from it the most astounding saga of a city born in chaos and built by gamblers, back room business deals and a dream of becoming the next great American metropolis. Featuring a cast of frontier outlaws, extremist right-wingers, NBA superstars, an eccentric rock star, Civil Rights activists and a legendary meteorologist, 'Boom Town' brings to life an often overlooked piece of flyover country and gives Oklahoma City the second look it so rightfully deserves. To put it plainly, 'Boom Town' is a singular history and does for Oklahoma City what Didion did for California, what Michener did for Texas.
Without a doubt in my mind, I can say Otessa Moshfegh’s ‘My Year of Rest and Relaxation’ is my favorite book of 2018 (so far). It follows one woman’s quest to “hibernate” for a year under the influence of enough prescription medication to sedate a small town in hopes of attaining freedom from her droll, empty life full of shallow friends and mindless entertainment. This quest for enlightenment, however, quickly transforms into a hypnotic nightmare of blackouts and lost time that touches at the very nature of the pain and self-destructive tendencies our narrator harbors. Leaving behind what could’ve been a promising career in the art world, the only friend who might truly care about her and squandering what is left of her inheritance, we see a twisted re-birth that is surprising and nauseating. I laughed and laughed (and felt terrible for it) and cringed the whole way through MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION, even rooted at times for our wholly unlikable, sadistic anti-hero, and I hope you can too. Dark. Hilarious. A masterwork of a modern great.
THE WRONG HEAVEN is a collection that transcends its "debut" label. Amy Bonnaffons tangles us in a web stories that are magical, morose and bear a quality of greatness only seasoned writers can achieve. Whether we're immersed in the lives of dolls come to life, a woman transforming herself into a horse or the turbulent relationships between best friends and lovers, each story is brought to stunning life with Bonnaffons' raw, restrained and sardonic prose. Everything about this collection rings true and reaffirms the power of short form fiction.
Fast forward to 2035 where society is even more technology obsessed than today, VR landscapes have become more life-like than ever and happiness can be yours in a few minutes time. This is the world Katie Williams has wrought for her wildly inventive and candid first adult novel that bursts with laughs and hard truths. Frequented by a colorful cast of celebrities, mid-tier corporate management and everyday people, TELL THE MACHINE GOODNIGHT entangles us in saga where each must decide at what cost true happiness comes. There was an infinite amount of joy reading this splendid novel, and this reader can only hope that Williams' next is just as un-putdownable.
Altered realities. David Bowie. Endearing friendships. Just a few things you'll find in this totally engrossing, mind-bender of a book. David Arnold has wrought a page-turner of the highest caliber that captures all the angst and anxiety oozing out of every teen caught in the crossfire of impending adulthood. THE STRANGE FASCINATIONS OF NOAH HYPNOTIK is tender, hilarious and full of wonder.
This is classic Chuck - back with enough here to shock, offend and make us laugh all the same. The book follows a plot to completely upend the U.S. government and re-invent the nation into some Libertarian fantasyland, creating separatist ethno-states and violently dispersing wealth and prestige to the most violent and dedicated followers of a radical, new edict. From the far reaches of Caucasia, Blacktopia and Gaysia, the principal homelands within the formerly United States, we follow a mishmash of displaced persons and leaders with newfound power navigating their “adjusted” positions to disturbing, heroic and often hilarious ends. Adjustment Day is a side-splitting satire that is ripe for this day and age. It holds up a mirror to our own societal decay, casting a spotlight on the faults and ironies of our broken political and ideological systems. Absolutely perfect for Generation Click-Bait.
After wowing readers (former President Barack Obama included) with 2015's 'Fates & Furies,' Lauren Groff returns with a collection that is just as wise and as meticulously constructed. Within the sun-kissed, palmetto-strewn swampland of Groff's Florida we encounter a pair of abandoned sisters, anxious mothers and a woman being pushed to the outer edges of her former life. Looking inward and out, Groff examines the lives of her characters with a surveyor's eye, capturing the sense of dread and desire that pervades their existence. 'Florida' is an exploration of time and place, both sensual and terrifying, and seems to me both timely and timeless.
Wonder abounds in this collection of clever and whimsical tales that breeze the reader into worlds like and unlike our own. Whether we find ourselves in the dank cave home of a lovesick cyclops or in the hills of Africa, Ausubel takes us there with the ease and grace of a masterful storyteller.
An endearing love letter to artists and dreamers and the chaser of those dreams. Reynolds' prose is honest and inspirational.
Thomas Pierce's first novel is a tender and uproariously funny inquiry into the meaning of life and what lies beyond it. 'The Afterlives' is many-layered, big-hearted and feels like godsend by the time the last page is turned!
Francisco Cantú's recollection of his time as a Border Patrol agent along the U.S. - Mexico border captures the pervading sense of hope and fear that fills the unrelenting geography between the neighboring countries. "The Line Becomes a River" is a rueful, thought-provoking journey through one of the world's most misunderstood regions.
The world in Future Home of the Living God has been turned upside down by a global phenomenon that’s reversed the natural order of evolution. As once-extinct fauna spring from the shadows and women give birth to infants bearing the marks of ancestral hominids, the panic-stricken United States yields power to a government ruled by religious fanaticism. Assured that the answers to all of this lie in the wombs of women, Congress, headed by the newly-formed Church of the New Constitution, unanimously passes a motion to create a registry of all pregnant women, corral them and study the possible links to the biological event. All the while, Cedar Hawk Songmaker, 26 and four months pregnant, finds herself treading several paths to discoveries of her own: to seek out her biological Ojibwe parents, coming to terms with the fact that her unborn child may be born with the abnormalities she’s been reading and hearing about and, upon getting word of armed posses wrangling up pregnant women in public, whether or not she has what it takes to evade capture. Told largely in extended diary entries to her unborn child, Cedar’s story unfolds in a saga that pushes her to her physical and emotional limits. Future Home of the Living God is an exciting venture into new territory for Louise Erdrich who is best known for her novels concerning Native American life (i.e. 1984’s Love Medicine, 2012’s The Round House, and, most recently, 2016’s LaRose). The National Book Award winner has written a piece of speculative fiction that feels startlingly original in this era of the endlessly recycled idea. It never gets bogged down in overly complicated plot details and remains true to its character’s hopes and fears, lending tremendous heart to a story that is driven, ultimately, by the compassion and love shared between family, friends, lovers and complete strangers. And though the novel is a testament to the goodness of humankind it has an angry edge to it, too. Like The Handmaid’s Tale, Future Home of the Living God is an unflinching look at female resilience in the face of adversity, the ties between mother and child and asks of society how unalienable, if at all, the right to one’s body is. And yet, many will still ask, why this novel? Why now? For Erdrich, the answer was simple. After sitting on the manuscript for 10 years, she said it was “photographs of white men in dark suits deciding crucial issues of women’s health to know the timing is right” for Cedar’s story to be told. In a time fraught with social and political turmoil over the environment, racial tension, international disorder and questions regarding the rights of women, Future Home of the Living God is a sobering and alarming call to address these concerns before fictional dystopias between the covers manifest themselves in the real world.
It's a family affair in 'Sleeping Beauties' - the father and son duo of Stephen and Owen King have teamed up to deliver an epic novel in the vein of '11/22/63' and 'Under the Dome.' Constant Readers like myself, rejoice: this is the huge (I'm talking' 700 pages) book we've been waiting for all year!
Joe Hill no longer needs the "son of Stephen King" boost to sell books. Hill is carving out a nice career for himself with his own terrifying delights and those talents are on full display in this collection of novellas, some utterly fantastic, some all too plausible. Bring an umbrella, there's some strange weather on its way!
'The Largesse of the Sea Maiden' bookends the career of a great American writer. It is with the same brutal honesty of 'Jesus' Son' that Johnson captures a feeling of mortality and regret that pervade each page of this haunting collection.
Perhaps the most important book this year (this decade, really). Hamid's prose is eloquent and compassionate, putting in context the refugee crisis and telling a fully realized tale of two people in search of a new place to call home in the heart and in the world.
Reading César Aira is always a treat: bizarre plots and philosophical ramblings meld to deliver a tightly packed fable of sorts. This one concerns memory, identity and a solid fifty pages of the undead set loose upon the inhabitants of a small Argentinian town.
This is the second of Hamid's books that I've read — this one was no less surprising and thought-provoking than EXIT WEST. Tackling the tense feelings/attitudes felt in the post-9/11 world, Hamid bridges the cultural disconnect between the West and so-called "enemies" in the East with a finesse and rage that builds to its shocking climax quite excellently.
Ng's second novel seems to be everything at once: a suburban drama, a meditation on motherhood, Gen Y's coming of age; all while touching on issues of class and race. Every page of 'Little Fires Everywhere' dazzles!
A deeply personal story of damage, survival, and the strength required to heal. Gay's story is often hard to read, but one knows immediately they are all the better for it.
'Wait Till You See Me Dance' is full of gems! Unferth's stories are vibrant and brim with heart, soul, humor and an energy I liken to a million compressed springs waiting to jump out at you! She treads the unsteady terrain of the 21st century with tales of domestic drama and ennui using her trademark speed and deft ear for our ever present anxiety and distress. Unferth's prose is smart, rich, original - she is a treasure!
'The Shape of Bones' ruined me in the best way possible. What begins as a mountain climbing adventure for Hermano soon devolves into a remembrance of those hot summer days leading up to the most traumatic event of his life. Galera reflects on adolescence and regret, on secrets and manhood, and whether redemption is still possible after so many years of hiding. This novel should cement Galera's place as one of the best young writers out there today.
Kehlmann does in this slim volume what others fail to accomplish in hundreds and hundreds of pages. 'You Should Have Left' is about madness and paranoia. It's a haunted house story. It's about a crumbling marriage. You can't help but finish it in one sitting!
Young-ha Kim's latest novel brings readers up close and personal with the lives of two young boys living on the streets of South Korea. One is the eccentric, enigmatic Jae. The other is Donngyu, who feels an unbreakable bond with Jae and tethers alongside Jae no matter what. Separate and together, the two are catapulted into events both terrible and beautiful that hurdle readers towards the novel's tragic climax.
An innocent visit to the ice cream parlor begins a mind-bending series of events in which readers and narrator alike must decipher events, are they real or not? Aira's prose is full of dark humor, is deeply philosophical, and will reside with you long after you've put the book down. Fans of Bolaño and Cortazar, THIS is what you've been waiting for!
A big book that professes to be a tale of a mother and child reunion, but is really a whole lot more. As we jump back and forth between the Chicago of 1968, 1988, and 2011, take slight departures to New York City and make a quick stop in 40s Norway, we're taught lessons of love, regret, ghosts literal and metaphorical, by a cast full of vibrant and wholly readable characters that keep you turning the pages asking for just one more. And another. And another. And another. The Nix is timely and more relevant than ever in this crazy 2016!
George Saunders' 'Lincoln in the Bardo' is one part historical fiction, another part ghost story, told in a way only Saunders could accomplish. Through one wild night in 1862 we follow a volley of voices, some real, others made up, recounting the night a grieving Abraham Lincoln visits his recently deceased son, Willie, in his final physical resting place. Willie's soul, however, has not made the final leap into the afterlife - instead he resides in the Bardo (purgatory in Tibetan lore) amongst other spirits like his - those unwilling to accept that their time in this mortal realm has long since passed. At this point it is up to Willie to make a choice - to remain in the Bardo hoping in vain for a return to normalcy, or give it all up for whatever awaits in the afterlife? 'Lincoln in the Bardo' will make you feel a whole range of emotions, but it never ceases to amaze. Around every corner - every page - is some hard truth to swallow, a hilarious set of circumstances, and new meanings surrounding the topics of life and death. Mark this down as the first great read of 2017!