Liana Finck’s distinctive style of drawing makes her graphic memoir feel as if it’s being told to you from the other end of the couch, while sharing a kettle of tea. The story is gently carried on the back of metaphors that allow her images to range free. It’s a beautiful memoir. Reading it feels like meeting someone for the first time, and knowing that they’re going to become important to you. Hard to describe. But you’ll know it when you see it.
John Larison breathes new life into the Western with Whiskey When We’re Dry, a book with a new edge on the genre that smells like gunsmoke and lets us fully into the body of an American person who represents so many of us, past, present, and future. Jesse’s voice explores so much–what we do or don’t owe our family, our gender, our employers, our friends, our lovers. A remarkable, whip-smart read that feels vintage and fresh at the same time.
The Grace Year is powered by plot. This is a delightfully twisty and genuinely frightening plot for a YA title, and that makes it a rapid, careening ride. The character development and motivation is definitely a little more on the two-dimensional side, but for the younger reader who is looking for a thrill, this novel will deliver with its high-voltage mix of survival narrative, romance, mean girl comeuppance, and minor gore. This book would make a great stepping stone to The Handmaid’s Tale.
Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s sea-soaked novel The Mercies is as unflinching as it is intimate. Told through the perspectives of two women brought together by circumstance and hardship, it is as much a love story as it is an impeccably researched account of what it might have felt like to live as a woman at the northern edge of the world during a time when the smallest deviance could become a witchery death sentence. Hargrave’s book is moving, menacing, and marvelous.
Brian Sonia-Wallace’s meandering memoir stops off at unexpected destinations as he explores what it means to make a living as a busking poet in today’s America. Through the lens of his spontaneous poetry that is born of conversations with whomever approaches his typewriter and table, he contemplates all different kinds of desires, legacies, and wishes for the future that define the lives of the strangers that he begins to know. From the shiny temple to commercialism that is the Mall of America to a van that fortune tellers call home in the middle of the desert, these stories show a portrait of a nation and offer poetry as a possible prescription to mend the divisions of its people.
Sue Rainsford’s style in Follow Me to Ground is sensational, quietly bizarre. It achieves a very difficult feat–making magic feel real, personal, and everyday. The book is captivating, with mysteries and grisly heat around every turn. The way Ada’s narrative is interspersed with short interviews from the townspeople adds another dimension to the strong culture that Rainsford creates, and it’s all very bewitching. This would have been five stars for me but for my feminist uneasiness at how the heroine’s desire, while all-consuming, is portrayed as her undoing, and how the men in her life seem to have ownership over her immense power, whether applied with love, cruelty, or both.
Claire Vaye Watkins has established herself as a writer to watch with her novel debut Gold Fame Citrus. I read this book as extreme devastation was ravishing California with wildfire, which feels dangerously close to the future Watkins offers here–the novel is set in a California scorched by extreme drought, fire, and an encroaching sea of sand. The writing is extraordinarily bold, and I admired it for that–it’s very free and very incisive all at once, and there are so many scenes that are just razor sharp. The social criticism here is definitely on point, though it’s truly devoid of hope. The more imperiled the environment becomes in Gold Fame Citrus, the more morally bankrupt its people, the more willing to believe in lies to preserve their own sense of comfort. This book, at its most basic level–even for all of Watkins’ play–is terrifying.
How much of us is our body? How much of us is our history?
The Hatchet and the Hammer by Caitlin Scarano is here to reckon, defying genre, clear-eyed and standing two inches from those questions without flinching or ornament. Generations of trauma and violence, physical and imagined, threaten the speaker–but Scarano’s poetry dissects that threat in a way that peers into its origins, interrogates the idea of blame, is still standing at the end, and finishes with a roar.
This is my second read of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I first read it the year that it came out, just a few short years after 9/11. I remember being astounded by Foer’s work, and how it stumbled through the rubble of that tragedy and tried to tell the story of America. Returning to it now, it feels different, but still brilliant. I particularly noticed how deftly Foer layers the generational experiences of loss, of war, of fathers and sons, of wives and husbands–history repeats but never reverses. In this story, we learn along with the remarkable young protagonist that there are always new inventions of love and terror, regrets that frame our identities, and ways to hold what we have while it’s in front of us. It’s one of the most human books I’ve ever read.