History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund is an atmospheric, consuming thriller. The narrator’s perspective, mostly staying at age 14, also hovers down to childhood and sweeps back up to 20- and then 30-something, all while focusing on patterns that resonate with the crucial summer of her adolescence. Fridlund gives us a narrator that we believe but don’t trust, who sometimes seems as feral and predatory as the wolves that captivate her. At the same time, she also remains fragile and sympathetic as we watch her try to understand loneliness, desire, and jealousy within her wild but limited world. History of Wolves traverses uncomfortable psychological territory while staying tender, and tugs with a mature force of suspense that made me tear through the book in a few days. Dark need pulls the reader into this shadowy, disconcerting debut novel like a rip current.
The fantastic graphic novel You & a Bike & a Road by Eleanor Davis is part travel journal, part sports memoir, part social criticism, and all parts wonder. The piece is comprised of the full collection of Davis’ of-the-moment impressions of the American landscape, road, and people she encounters as she pursues an epic solo bike tour from Tuscon, AZ to Athens, GA. The raw quality of the pencil-drawn images add to their beauty–it reminds us that Davis was creating these drawings as her muscles were throbbing, when she was laughing or crying about her monumental physical goal, in tents and hotels and McDonald’s. This piece is an important one about why we challenge our own limits, both physical and emotional, and what we do when we know we’ve exceeded them. It’s also a sensitive and telling portrait of the southern border of the United States as represented by its people, policing, and passageways. Highly recommended, especially for endurance athletes (and those who love them).
Those of us who loved Borne are blessed to have this companion novella from the same world, out of Jeff Vandermeer’s spectacular and strange imagination. The Strange Bird is a troubling, surreal, but ultimately delicate elegy to the world as it once was. The imagery here is, once again, insane. The strange bird is made of all of us. Just lovely.
Memoirs of a Polar Bear travels to depths of weirdness that few books ever do, but it still manages to touch something primal and moving. Tawada’s prose is a whimsical dance that cartwheels from social commentary to absurdist humor to magical realism and probably eighteen other places that I missed along the way as I was puzzling over the blurred narrative boundaries that travel from bear brain to human soul, sometimes within the same creature, sometimes between two creatures of the same mind. Tawada’s message lands somewhere in the realm of commenting on our desire as humans to perform our lives for others, so as to have something to write down in the story of our lives. It also addresses the natural and unnatural bonds between humanity and animal kind. But it also includes things like a bear hallucinating the mentoring ghost of Michael Jackson in a broken computer monitor, so… either this book is totally brilliant, or Tawada just got away with writing whatever came into her brain and calling it a novel. Take it as you will.
Rivers Solomon tears onto the sci-fi scene with this assured, gutsy debut. The best thing about An Unkindness of Ghosts is how its characters transcend labels and tell their own stories. Their varied experiences, representing a much wider cross-section of actual human experience than is typical in a science fiction adventure, are told through their own voices with authenticity and an aggressive lack of apology. The novel, setting the social structure and generational trauma of the antebellum South aboard a far-future nation ship bound for a new world, takes the lurking shadows of American history and gives them the whole of space for a haunting ground. The pace is really interesting–slow and fast at the same time. I think it will take a while before all my impressions of this unique novel solidify, but I know I haven’t seen a heroine like Aster before. Solomon breaks new ground with An Unkindness of Ghosts.