Anna Lea Jancewicz built up her editorial chops on magical flash fiction and fairytale non-fiction journals, like Cease, Cows and Tiny Donkey, before becoming Editor-in-Chief of Rabble Lit, a magazine dedicated to working-class literature. Some might consider this a strange artistic road, but it makes sense. Using the magic in the everyday to challenge and undermine the power of oppressors, magical realism emerges from anti-colonialism and protest. Similarly, the classic fairytale often elevates working-class heroines like Cindergirl and Vasilisa. Jancewicz’s debut collection builds on these traditions of artistic protest, offering a mix of flash and short stories steeped in both the brutal realities and dreamy magic of women’s lives. The combination of flash and short stories serves to create a heady ebb and flow throughout the collection, almost like a heartbeat ba-boom, ba-boom, a place where prayers, stories, and spells live side-by-side.chop! chop! read more!
Sometimes we read fiction to escape, to experience the art of writing, or to lose ourselves in plot. Non-fiction is often imagined the territory of learning, absorbing direct information on a topic. We often forget that fiction still has this power, to take you somewhere real you’ve never been, to introduce you to people you might not have otherwise met. Fiction can convey social realities and erode the “otherness” of others. Sometimes even when we set out to read to escape, to read for fun, we are confronted with truths about our world. But of course, true art about the human experience never eludes the social and the political.chop! chop! read more!
When will we stop imaging climate change in the future and how can we reorient ourselves to this reality? Adrian Parr’s new academic work on climate change, Birth of a New Earth, attempts to answer this question by tapping into the recent trend of considering the positive, some might even say utopian, possibilities that the crisis of climate change allows. She argues, “Regardless of environmental harms and changes in climate impacting people differently, there remains a shared human experience of hardship that will intensify as time passes. For this reason, the environmental and climate crises contain the political potential to radically change social life so it evolves into a more equitable, inclusive, collaborative, and voluntary social system.”chop! chop! read more!
Time of Gratitude is an unusual text: the collected pieces are both prose and poetry, some of them written for events and some written as personal reflection. Translator Peter France has organized the book into two sections. The first one is devoted to Russian and Chuvash writers and artists, including Boris Pasternak, Kazimir Malevich, Varlam Shalamov, and Chuvash poet Mikhail Sespel.chop! chop! read more!
For Mireille Gansel, the work of translation is an all-consuming task. Before embarking on a project, Gansel first immerses herself in the world of the poet she is translating. She studies the historical context of their writing as well as the personal context. Wherever possible, she engages with their physical environment: she visits their home, observes their writing space. And, ideally, she listens to the poet read their work aloud. Attempting to translate a single German word, “sensible,” in a poem by Reiner Kunze, Gansel travels from West to East Germany to “[listen] to the poet read, alert to his intonations and facial expressions. In the tiny blue kitchen, I was conscious of his precarious everyday life.” She imagines the letters from friends in exile that he’ll never receive, and the mingling of his two languages, a German abstracted by Nazism and a Czech repressed by war, both of which survive in the poetry of his contemporaries, in songs from his childhood. Here, in this intersection of past and present, Gansel finds the word for “sensible”: fragile.chop! chop! read more!
Do Roy and Celestial have an ordinary American marriage? The title of Tayari Jones’ fourth novel implies that perhaps they do in fact have a quintessential American life, and in many ways they do…chop! chop! read more!
Above all else, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal is a novelist’s novel. Literary-minded readers will revel in the novel’s allegorical framework extending anywhere from cautionary tale to failed bildungsroman to a metaphor of novel reading itself.chop! chop! read more!
Situated between a national and a personal history, Kiki Petrosino’s poetry book Black Genealogy sifts through the past in search of lost identity, language, bodies, and self-possession amidst the legacy of the Civil War and slavery in America. The book details an exploration of both a familial and a larger American reality through the lens of a contemporary African American persona.chop! chop! read more!
For those of us still traumatized by the 2016 Presidential election, the debut novel Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado, is the emotional and intellectual release for which we have been waiting. It is electric with the #Resist spirit. It underscores the importance of the #MeToo movement. And, it tackles issues such as gender, language, and human interaction through a fresh, folkloric perspective. Winner of the Bard Fiction Prize and finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction, the Kirkus Prize, and the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize, this collection of ten short stories is timeless, yet also a necessary way to transition from 2017 to 2018.chop! chop! read more!
When Hans Herbert Grimm’s semi-autobiographical novel Schlump was published in 1928 alongside All Quiet on the Western Front, it was advertised as a “truthful depiction” of World War I. It is no surprise that Grimm took on the the pseudonym Schlump, just as his protagonist does, to hide his identity. As explained by Volker Weidermann in the afterward, Grimm “describe[s] the German soldiers of the Great War as less than heroic,” and “the entire war as a cruel, bad joke.” While this caused the Nazis to burn his book in 1933, today it gives the text, translated by Jamie Bulloch, a feeling of authenticity.chop! chop! read more!
The poetry of Light into Bodies begins and ends with a theme of identity while its pages flutter with the imagery of egrets, pigeons, swans, and starlings. Nancy Chen Long presents the complexity of exploring identity from multiple perspectives—from the viewpoint of a mathematician, from a child whose mother repeatedly becomes the property of other men by the “generosity” of her own father, to a daughter’s experiences growing up in a multi-cultural home and discovering the nuances of relationships in adulthood. The poems stitch together an intricate lace of childhood memories, family stories, myth, and Asian-American experience with a thread of women’s issues intertwined throughout, each conflict woven within the next to create the speaker’s complicated identity.chop! chop! read more!
Reading Harding’s new book Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win, published in mid-November by Vintage Books, gives the sense that we are living in a John Le Carre novel where we are not certain that the West won the Cold War or that the Cold War ever ended. Collusion is a deep dive into the coverage of the administration and the crisscrossing lines of Russian money and influence.chop! chop! read more!
Completely mundane happenings take on significant meaning in Chloe N. Clark’s The Science of Unvanishing Objects. Everyday things like butterflies, telephones, and mirrors assume a role beyond their normal functions. Likewise, ordinary events such as conversations between strangers and seeing a lover naked for the first time become catalysts for a deeper understanding of the universe. Through her explorations, Clark repeatedly returns to loss, a major motif in this collection, which is amplified by recurring narratives centered on missing women.chop! chop! read more!
“She wanted […] the location of her madness to be now the location of her art.”
This is how the narrator of The Working Woman analyzes her roommate, but the same can be said of the narrator herself, and perhaps as well of the only figure in this postmodernist novel who actually “speaks:” the author, Elvira Navarro. The text becomes the conjunction of madness and art, which share one abstract and yet delineated “location,” madness needing expression through art, or art uniquely poised to express madness.chop! chop! read more!
Tatiana is supposed to spend the summer before her junior year in high school in Vermont with her only friend while her mother summers in Rome. Instead, she hitches a ride from her boarding school’s Connecticut campus to Brooklyn. It’s 1980, and Tatiana renames herself Pluta, an alter ego she has long cultivated to meet the demands of this adventure. So begins Anca L. Szilágyi’s debut novel Daughters of the Air.chop! chop! read more!
Anyone who picks up And Other Stories’ edition of Malacqua, the first English translation of Nicola Pugliese’s Italian novel from 1977, will be immediately alerted to the strange weather which serves as the novel’s catalyst. Emblazoned across the book’s cover is Malacqua’s unofficial subtitle: Four Days of Rain in the City of Naples, Waiting for the Occurrence of an Extraordinary Event. Before even opening the book, the reader is clued into Pugliese’s supreme fascinations: water and Naples. And of course, the collision of the two.chop! chop! read more!
Iosi Havilio’s Petite Fleur is a great book because it is a work of surprises intimately knotted around each other. The plot twists and writhes. Murders and magic lead to diatribes about jazz fusion that leads to rebirth and love and examinations of the anxiety of parenthood and marriage. The unexpected is constant, the satisfaction complete.chop! chop! read more!
In the small town of Clemency, Texas Sunday morning worship is even more important than Friday night football. With a population of 1,236 and only two churches in town, everyone looks forward to putting on their Sunday best and lifting the Lord’s name on high.chop! chop! read more!
Reading Andrea Jarrell’s memoir felt like I was squatting in the bushes outside of her house, fingers perched on the windowsill, watching and listening as her life unfolded, taking comfort in her family’s dysfunctions which mirrored my own in asymmetric ways. Being from a dysfunctional family myself, I take some sick comfort from seeing crying children in grocery stores, their mothers looking like they’ve reached their wits’ end. I thrive on overhearing family fights in restaurants, because for so long, it was my family who were making heads turn. Once, at a rest stop in Delaware, my younger brother pelted my mother and I with chicken nuggets from the booth across the aisle while my father yelled at him, and ultimately, dragged him from the McDonald’s. I suspect most of our families are dysfunctional, and it’s the job of our adult selves to use all of that dysfunctional material we’re sitting on to become something good. That, or we allow the cycle to repeat. But how does one heal from childhood? How does one become better than our parents? These are central questions in Andrea Jarrell’s haunting memoir I’m the One Who Got Away.chop! chop! read more!
THE MINORS by Chris Ludovici Unsolicited Press, 376 pages reviewed by Ryan K. Strader Hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in professional sports. A fastball travels at 90 miles per hour, moving from the pitcher’s mitt to the catcher’s glove in approximately .44 seconds. If the batter blinks, he’ll miss. For the last few feet that the ball travels, it is essentially invisible to the hitter. He has to have made his decision by then, whether to swing, how he’ll swing. I did not know anything about baseball when I picked up Chris Ludovici’s The Minors. Nick Rogers, one of the protagonists, reflects on the difficulty of hitting a baseball, and I ended up spending too much time engrossed in an ESPN Sport Science episode checking Nick’s information. It turns out that, football fanatic though I am, the fastball is a formidable opponent: 90 mph is a … chop! chop! read more!
Nathan Elias’ first novella, A Myriad of Roads that Lead to Here, tells a story that is simultaneously frustrating and accessible. This bildungsroman provides a snapshot into the emotional journey of a naive and sometimes selfish narrator, Weston, as he grapples with the untimely death of his mother, which had occurred a few months before.chop! chop! read more!
With the centenary of Franz Kafka’s first three major publications having passed just a few years ago, a plethora of new translations of Kafka’s stories have recently been released. Among them is Konundrum: Selected Prose of Franz Kafka, with works chosen and translated by Peter Wortsman, a writer known for his own micro fiction. Wortsman’s selection of what he considers to be the very best of Kafka’s short prose, whether it’s a story, a letter, a journal entry, a parable, or an aphorism distinguishes Konundrum from the other new translations. This approach contrasts with the single book-length work of Susan Bernofsky’s new translation of “The Metamorphosis” and Michael Hofmann’s new translation of all of Kafka’s unpublished stories in Investigations of a Dog.chop! chop! read more!
Christopher David Rosales, on the dedication page, describes Gods on the Lam as “an homage to Roger Zelazny, without whose books I may never have been inspired to write.” Zelazny’s influence is evident. Famous for his direct execution and his penchant for genre-mixing, the lifeblood of the late speculative fiction author rushes through the twisty veins of this strange novel—Rosales’ second.chop! chop! read more!
Muriel Leung’s Bone Confetti is an open door into a house of mourning; an exceptional look into the aftermath of loss, and in turn, an examination of what it is to love someone. A challenging collection of lyric and prose poems, the poet manipulates the space where words are carefully placed and the space where there is nothing. The theme of the book is grief, and it is palpable. It is disorienting and enveloping, but manages to avoid being overly sentimental, allowing it to be both intimate and universal. The poet stated in an interview that “applying the role of politics to the personal grief of loss was very important work to do . . . It became a way of understanding this loss as tied to a history that’s larger than me.”chop! chop! read more!
Dog people and cat people often like to stake their identities on the idea that they are starkly different from one another, but are they really so different? Regardless of species, a pet’s companion is a certain type of person who probably prefers their dog or cat to other people. In two recent books, by Eileen Myles and Caroline Picard, a dog person and a cat person, respectively, confess the closeness they feel to their pets while also marveling at the strangeness of intimacy with another kind of being. Reading both of these books together becomes a chance to deeply explore the intimate otherness of animal companionship. They live amongst us, but are they with us?chop! chop! read more!
The protagonist of Jacob Appel’s 2017 novel, The Mask of Sanity, is a doctor, a family man, and a murderer. Appel offers a rare insight into the life of this high functioning sociopath, Dr. Jeremy Balint. With a staggering seven master’s degrees, medical degree, law degree, and experience in clinical psychiatry, Appel is certainly authority enough to paint a convincing psychological profile of such a troubling protagonist. The close third person narration allows the reader to hear Balint’s twisted thoughts, while also observing and nearly falling victim to the carefully constructed facade of “the most ethican human being on the planet.”chop! chop! read more!
Reviewing Elizabeth Hardwick’s new collection of essays is a task to strike fear into the heart of even the most headstrong literary critic. Biographer of Melville, co-founder of the New York Review of Books, and noted sharp tongue, Elizabeth Hardwick cast a long shadow in the literary world of the twentieth century. Darryl Pinckney introduces Hardwick in this volume as a New York intellectual firebrand, an avant-garde thinker with an acerbic writing style, and a cutting, devastatingly smart critic who employed a withering gaze. Would-be reviewers, if not scared off by Hardwick’s biography, will encounter an essay in the book’s first hundred pages, “The Decline of Book Reviewing,” which is destined to have some effect on their confidence. If reading that piece is not sufficient, the reviewer will then bump into a piece on a Hemingway biography that begins, “Carlos Baker’s biography of Ernest Hemingway is bad news.” To be blunt, Hardwick, a writer of fiction herself in addition to criticism and biography, does not go easy on writers.chop! chop! read more!
In the summer of 2011, novelist and scholar Jordan A. Rothacker discovered a box containing the journals of a being known as Maawaam. Thus begins My Shadow Book—part literary manifesto, part metafictional frame narrative. The novel itself is credited to Maawaam, while Rothacker gives himself the title of editor. This framing device, the found manuscript, is used throughout literature as a way of creating verisimilitude in the reading experience. By claiming to have found and compiled Maawaam’s papers, Rothacker gives the novel legitimacy as a real, authentic document, while also absolving himself of any blame for the contents: he simply discovered these writings, and so is not responsible for their creation.chop! chop! read more!
The Best We Could Do begins with birth. Thi Bui is a first-time mother in California, and her own mother–despite having flown across the country to be there–has quietly excused herself from the delivery room.chop! chop! read more!
In an interview with NPR, David Szalay pointed out that the title of his novel, All that Man Is, can be read two different ways: “either as a sort of slightly disparaging, sort of all that man is, and this is it. Or it can be read as a sort of almost celebratory—everything, all the kind of great variety of experience that life contains.” Szalay seems to see his work as falling somewhere in between, not entirely “disparaging” nor precisely “celebratory,” since it is a study of men dealing with situations of personal crisis. While many reviewers have described All that Man Is as bleak and depressing, Szalay confesses that he might have a “lower expectation of life than the average.”chop! chop! read more!
In 2013, a young journalist named Clara Beaudoux moves into a Paris apartment. The previous tenant, a woman named Madeleine, lived there for 20 years before passing away in her nineties. Strangely, Madeleine’s things have not been removed from the cellar. “All I had to do was open a door, the door to my cellar, for the adventure to begin,” writes Beaudoux.chop! chop! read more!
The New York City of the decade in which The Future Won’t Be Long is set is a city in transition, sloughing off the dirty skin of a seriously fertile artistic period to eventually reveal a heartless skeleton scraped clean by Mayor Giuliani and the NYPD by the book’s end. From the start, the city is riveting for Baby, who describes how he “wandered New York, its manic energy seeping into my bones. The pavement vibrated, resonating with billions of earlier footsteps, centuries of people making their way, the city alive with the irregular heartbeat of its million cars and trucks, of its screaming pedestrians, its vendors and hustlers. The roar and clamor infected my blood, transforming my walk.”chop! chop! read more!
Island of Point Nemo is a fast-moving adventure story featuring murderers, romance, and preternatural turns. But dig further into those turns, and the novel is ultimately a eulogy to books, both as physical objects and as containers for fiction. Written by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès and newly translated from French by Hannah Chute, Island of Point Nemo features suspenseful plotlines that intertwine in such a way as to make the reader question the natures of fiction, reality, and history.chop! chop! read more!
The stories in Rion Amilcar Scott’s debut collection, Insurrections, are set in Cross River, Maryland, a small East Coast city you won’t find on any map. The city itself is a work of fiction, but the lives of its inhabitants feel startlingly real. Among the Cross Riverians—or Riverbabies, depending on who you ask—included in this collection are a suicidal father, an old man known as the slapsmith, and a pair of brothers separated by the constantly flooding Cross River, which gives the city its name and divides it into the affluent Northside and impoverished Southside.chop! chop! read more!
Posthumous novels are both a joy and, sometimes, a let-down. Left behind by an author whose polished work stands as a testament to the full capacity of his or her mind, the words on the page surface at first like an extension from the past. This one last bit of evidence left for us to find. The posthumous novel should be examined and praised as a rare object—hidden in a vault, locked in an old suitcase, tucked into an envelope—and given a small bit of license for being not quite the full body of work its author intended.chop! chop! read more!
If we felt attached to and invested in the ground beneath our feet, how would the world be different? What’s the difference between feeling rooted in a place and feeling stuck there? And how is one to face the facts of geographic and human impermanence?chop! chop! read more!
Lazi argues that mapping secrets and pain can be a matter of life and death, and Qiu’s suicide seems to attest to that. Considering the stresses of our present age, where identities and ideologies are masking and unmasking, the intrapersonal mapping of identity is even more significant for artists that would influence culture. That might be another way that Notes of a Crocodile is oddly predictive; or, its tendency to speak so clearly to our global present might mean that Lazi—and Qiu’s—struggle for self-identification is timeless. In either case, Notes of a Crocodile is an important addition to literature that addresses identity and sexuality, as well as a significant stylistic legacy from a writer prematurely lost.chop! chop! read more!
The Apostle Killer by Richard Beard Melville House, 331 pages reviewed by Ansel Shipley Jesus is the enemy in The Apostle Killer: a socialist anti-establishment religious extremist. In the novel, Richard Beard creates a world that melds both the superstitious past, in which a self-described Messiah could amass a frighteningly large following, and the skeptical present that labels such men religious extremists and terrorists. “With Jesus, the trickery is without end. If he feigned his death he was extending a pattern that started with the miracles because what you see, with Jesus, is rarely what you get.” The protagonist, Cassius Gallio, is a counterinsurgency agent, a “Speculator” tasked with stamping out superstition and political threats to Rome’s control over Jerusalem. As a young man, Gallio found himself assigned to disprove Jesus’s miraculous resurrection and quickly became embroiled in a twisted web of uncertainty and dangerous machinations. A series of dead-ends … chop! chop! read more!
An aging and dying actor, a blank slate, a forgotten man. This is the first narrator the reader meets in Dennis Must’s 2016 collection of seventeen short stories, Going Dark. The narrator of the title story, though a nobody, shares much in common with the other narrators and characters of the stories that follow in the collection. Indeed, throughout the collection, Must’s characters wrestle with important questions about identity, sanity, and morality, as their lives are colored by the particular details of their lives: their cars, the music they listen to, and their work. . The reason the first narrator, the actor, considers himself a nobody is that his identity is simply that of every character he has ever played. His own identity is simply lost.chop! chop! read more!
In Nico Amador’s Flower Wars, the lines of poetry are full of flesh and voice, both of which are sure of their uncertainty and masterfully show the reader that, if we would trust an author to write their own poem, we should absolutely trust someone with reordering, preserving, mangling, and or perfecting the syllables of their own humanity. If you are a person and or a body, Flower Wars is relevant and vital reading.chop! chop! read more!
Herr Eduard Saxberger lives in a pleasant apartment overlooking the Vienna Woods. Each night after spending the day in his civil service office, he eats at his usual restaurant where he interacts little with his companions beyond small talk and basic requests, and goes for a walk. His life is stable, if a bit empty. But one day a young man named Wolfgang Meier appears at the door, clutching a copy of the Wanderings, poems by Eduard Saxberger, and the somewhat bumbling, bourgeois civil servant is thrown back into a past he hardly remembers.chop! chop! read more!
Hindsight never fails in providing a comprehensive scope of recently-felt chaos—this is the key narrative tool Claire Messud employs in her intimate coming-of-age novel, The Burning Girl. The Burning Girl offers deep insight into a seemingly minuscule and ordinary loss of two young Massachusetts girls, and quietly probes us to ponder the necessity, ridicule, and unfairness that results from a society prizing itself on the lack of innocence as means of survival.chop! chop! read more!
Plainspeak, WY is impressive in its attention to detail and draws clear connections from matters of the earth to matters of the soul—and back again, repeatedly. The poet’s central obsession is depicted, in fact, somewhat subtly, on the cover of the book as a topographical map. Atop a cool, arctic blue, several thin black contour lines unevenly work their way around one another and connect to make shaky targets that reveal the gradual shifts in Wyoming’s terrain, formed largely, of course, by the glaciers that have so ensnared Doxey’s imagination. Plainspeak, WY, ultimately, is about the inevitable erosion of the human heart, as mirrored by the slowly eroding landscape of the northwestern United Stateschop! chop! read more!
Catherynne M. Valente’s most recent novel, The Refrigerator Monologues, exists in an odd space between novel and what could be called a pseudo-parable. Valente’s six protagonists and her interconnected narratives clearly parallel famous female comic book characters and their narrative arcs. Each of them, in fact, exhibits numerous traits that link her to a specific DC or Marvel property, ensuring that nothing is lost on the reader.chop! chop! read more!
“The narrator of this book is a Caribbean woman. You may have noticed that the writer of this book is not,” Rebecca Entel notes in a preface to Fingerprints of Previous Owners, her novel set at a resort built on the nettle-choked ruins of a former slave plantation. Alluding to her research and credentials as a scholar of nineteenth-century American literature, Entel does more than attempt to deflect criticism for cultural appropriation. She declares her investment in this story, as well as her intention to free her characters from a colonial narrative frame.chop! chop! read more!
Julie Lekstrom Himes’ novel, Mikhail and Margarita, imagines the love affair that might have inspired The Master and Margarita. This is Himes’ first novel, following the publication of several short stories and essays. Himes is a physician in Massachusetts; interestingly, Bulgakov was also a physician. In an interview with the literary website Eye 94, Himes describes reading Bulgakov’s collection A Country Doctor’s Notebook (reflections on his early years as a doctor) and identifying with “the fear and regret and self-questioning” of a young doctor. Identifying with Bulgakov’s “voice” as a doctor encouraged Himes to try writing from his perspective, to imagine what compelled him to write one of the canonical Russian texts of the 20th century.chop! chop! read more!
Take the existential universe of Jean-Paul Sartre and pull his pants down around his ankles—this is the paradoxical narrative met with in French comedic novelist Antoine Volodine’s Bardo or Not Bardo. Volodine’s blunt, absurdist style illustrates a marriage between the profound and the comedic, using humor as a weapon to further investigate humanity’s most unanswerable questions.chop! chop! read more!
The cover of Exposure, a short story collection by Katy Resch George, hints at the kind of stories you’ll find inside. The photograph of a topless woman on a beach with her arms tugged behind her is both intimate and distant, the woman exposed but also obscured by the translucent type of the title and, in the repeated image, wrapped around the spine of the book, also underneath type. The woman’s expression is blocked by George’s name on the spine and, on the front cover, hard to make out. Is she scowling at the camera? Pondering something beyond it? Seductive, angry, unsure? George’s female characters, especially, are exposed and obscured in this intriguing book.chop! chop! read more!
The German Girl permits readers to enter the minds of two 12-year-old girls as their lives are shaped by the tragedies of the SS St. Louis and 9/11. Correa expertly combines fact with fiction, as he constructs and then deconstructs the lives of two young girls. He also illustrates the importance a family’s history and the need to pass down history through the generations. The story of the contemporary girl, Anna, is imbedded (as is her name) in Hannah’s and though this is the conceit of the novel, it is also a weakness.chop! chop! read more!
Emmanuelle Pagano’s Trysting is an intimate romance among hundreds. This book of fictional fragments, each in the first person, features character after character—most of indeterminate gender, age, and history—falling in and out of love. The self-contained pieces range from one sentence meditations to several hundred word flash fictions. The shortest of these could be writing prompts, while others read as prose poems. Reading Trysting can, in fact, be like reading a book of poetry, and it benefits from slow, thoughtful study. You could linger over any one piece, reread it and taste the rhythm, the carefully chosen words.chop! chop! read more!