Sarah Perry’s sophomore novel may be a gothic tale about fear, but the writing itself is absolutely fearless. Uniting several different stories that cross time and place by cataloging them as proof in a surreal monster investigation, Perry dissects the idea of guilt in ways both sweeping and intimate. In a narrative style that pulls the reader (at times uncomfortably) close, the story allows us to discover and dread along with our protagonist. Unnerving, at times devastating, at times funny, and always honest, this is a modern, cursed gothic story told with a wildfire level of passion, even as it masquerades beneath British restraint.
We Were Restless Things by Cole Nagamatsu boldly goes where YA rarely does–into fabulism, into difficult conversations about sexuality, and into visual narrative, all while slowly revealing the mysteries of the dangerous, sentient woods of Shivery, Minnesota. I love seeing fiction for young adults that treats them with respect, and this book honors the many wonders and troubles of learning to know oneself. The supernatural elements in this novel unite to create what we slowly understand to be a psychological landscape as much as a physical one.
I will always love this book. I read it so many times as a teenager at the turn of the millennium and the enchantment it held for me then is a lasting spell. Block’s writing is fearlessly stylized and she navigates the dark with so much love and tenderness. Her voice as a writer is very recognizable, and not for everyone: the feelings and the beauty she wields are supersaturated. For me, the stories here are still captivating and a crucial portal to my own awakening as a writer. I re-read it with so much gratitude.
Oh, this collection is so insane. And delightfully so. Kelly Link is a high profile player in a group of contemporary voices who have taken the traditional literary scorn of genre fiction and turned it into a dare. This kind of no-rules, dark, and playful prose is thrilling and fresh. Link’s tongue stays firmly in-cheek throughout this journey of weird, but it’s captivating, bold, and beautifully unrepentant.
My favorites in this collection: The Summer People The New Boyfriend *Two Houses
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.
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!
This volume of short stories has been on my to-read list for over a year–I added it when a close friend of mine told me, in no uncertain terms, to read it. Since then, it’s been recommended several more times. Now that I’ve read it, I understand why. Gutsy and gutting, structurally fascinating, and observant about all the unspoken things just beyond the edge of comfortable, Carmen Maria Machado’s prose is here whether you like it or not. This is quite a book. It’s a master class in style and somehow remains literary and poignant while spinning off of 90’s kid horror Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and including a sex scene on every other page. How does Machado do it? I have no idea, but I deeply enjoyed it.
Favorite Stories in this Collection: -The Husband Stitch -Real Women Have Bodies* -Eight Bites -Difficult at Parties
I’ve never read anything like Freshwater, and I’m so grateful that I did. This semi-autobiographical novel presents a rotation of narrators who all share the same body: the Nigerian college student Ada and the multiplicity of ogbanje children who shift in and out of her consciousness. The way that the author’s spiritual beliefs help frame the characters’ experience is fascinating… a metaphysical look at an identity as multiple, that a Western understanding might otherwise call fragmented, is presented in a way where we understand the motivation, the cruelties, the protection, and the pain of all the spirits within the “marble room” of the mind in an entirely new way. It was a difficult book to read purely because of the unceasing emotional pain of the narrative. But the writing is boldly inventive and captures a unique human experience of self-finding through the dark. A sensational debut.
This book is wildly experimental and very, very, very weird. It’s an ambitious and powerful hellscape with a spellbinding staying power. Matt Bell makes a torrential statement with this novel, the narrative structure of which resembles something like echoes that you can see bouncing off of a set of mirrors that you can hear. It’s truly beyond literal description and yet finds its footing in classical allegorical territory–it’s a psychological tour through grief, marital love and resentment, self-hatred, and the perverse (or courageous) will to keep going through any despair. The reader who approaches this monstrosity needs to be willing to accept almost anything as truth, and must be up for constant gut-turning imagery and lots and lots of pain. But: the reward is great. The story is a spinning, dreamlike voyage that I found impossible to go back from once I began. Bell pulls his reader deeper and deeper in, until it’s done. The rage and sorrow communicated in this story are as real as the plot is impossible, and that’s the towering literary feat of this pitch-dark, fantastical read. It reminds us that our choices, however we may choose to move on from them, are irreversible, and only our own to atone for.