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.
Poetry subverts the failure of language to embody another human’s experience. Reginald Dwayne Betts harnesses this power with Felon: Poems, his poetry collection about the impact of mass incarceration in America and the hands it holds with racism. These poems are breathing things–they speak to our time and are spun from whispers and screams from all angles of the things we call prisons… and the social systems that contribute to filling them.
My favorites from this collection: -“When I Think of Tamir Rice While Driving” -“City of the Moon” -“Diesel Therapy” -“Essay on Reentry (I)” -“Night” -“Exile”
Before even thinking about reading this book, ask yourself three questions: 1. Have I read Borne yet? 2. Do I love Jeff VanderMeer from the very depths of my soul? 3. Am I down for a HIGHLY (whatever you’re thinking, add five to it) experimental narrative structure?
If you answered yes to all three questions, like me, you may proceed.
Dead Astronauts is a demanding journey through many perspectives, most of which are not (or not quite) human. There are multiple timelines woven through simultaneously, and the characters that you begin the book with are not the characters that you’ll stay with. I had to smile as I was reading because I do love Jeff VanderMeer from the very depths of my soul and I have never seen him write with such absolute freedom. Jeff has been unleashed here, and in order to enjoy the book, you need to just trust that after carrying you through bout after bout of madness, that he will ultimately carry you back to a place, in the end, where you feel the full essence and meaning of the book. Even for me, it was hard to trust at times, but once I got there, it was incredibly satisfying. This book broke my heart a little and I didn’t even fully know what happened. It’s not really a book. It’s more like a ride.
Ben Percy’s defining stylistic claim to fame is a refusal to separate literary fiction and genre fiction. For him, they are one and the same, and that comes through prominently in this dark collection. All the narrative tug of a well-creased pulp paperback, all the art of prize-winning literary prose (which, by the way, much of it is). My favorite stories in this collection were “The Cold Boy,” “Writs of Possesion,” “Mud Man,” and the shattering final novella “The Uncharted.” Each of these channels a gruesome or supernatural element to reflect the mundane-but-pressing anxieties of life that we’ve all confronted. That’s the fuel Percy uses to make his stories truly scary.
This book is filled with sumptuous images and easy to follow instructions for your next container garden or terrarium. It is filled with ideas that anyone can do, no matter how small their garden space or budget may be. Lovely little book!
Sharks in the Time of Saviors is steeped in place in the best kind of way. Kawai Strong Washburn’s jaw-dropping prose gives an intimate family portrait of a working-class family strung tensely between Hawaii and the mainland. Washburn blends Hawaiian mythology, tensions related to class and race, and the perennial struggle of finding how to belong in a family. The natural world is a character in and of itself that pulls on the characters’ destinies, making the novel immersively Hawaiian through and through. The multiple perspectives of the novel create a revolving door that provides different paths to understanding the sacred energy that permeates the modern setting of the book in surprising and irreversible ways.
Terrifying and visceral, The Need makes looming monsters out of our most primal and mundane thoughts. It explores the endless exhaustion and elation of parenthood, while also using anxiety as its plot’s rocket fuel. I loved the uneasy ambiguity permeating each page. Phillips is a wizard of language whose novel here is the narrative equivalent of smashing a vase on the floor. Bam!
All the adventure and suspense of the high fantasy genre, swirling with Black power, magic, and rage. Tomi Adeyemi uses her book to address racism, oppression, and police brutality through the lens of an alternative ancient Nigeria where magic and might are currencies of power. A necessary YA parable for our times, with gorgeous imagery and memorable characters. Can’t wait for the film!