‘The Five Wounds’ by Kirstin Valdez Quade: No Such Thing as Sacred Performance

by CJ Green

Amadeo Padilla is preparing for his starring role as Jesus in a Good Friday procession when his estranged 15-year-old daughter, Angel, shows up on his doorstep—eight months pregnant. So begins Kirstin Valdez Quade’s exceptional first novel, The Five Wounds (416 pages; Norton), which she arranges in three sections according to the Church calendar: “Holy Week,” “Ordinary Time,” and “Lent.” We begin in Holy Week, with Amadeo, adrift. He and his daughter have been estranged, and we learn that for weeks at a time, he has forgotten that he has a daughter at all. He is in his thirties, unemployed, lives […]

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‘Always Crashing in the Same Car: On Art, Crisis, and Los Angeles, California’ by Matthew Specktor: Blood Sports

by Paul Wilner

As the Beat poet Lew Welch pithily put it, “More people know you than you know. Fame.” Welch was someone who knew whereof he spoke. He disappeared from his friend Gary Snyder’s house into a nearby mountain range in May 1971, leaving behind a cryptic farewell note that read, in part: “I had great visions but could never bring them together with reality. I used it all up. It’s gone.’’ Matthew Specktor explores the pulls—and perils—of chasing success in Always Crashing in the Same Car: On Art, Crisis, and Los Angeles, California (300 pages; Tin House), an eloquent account of […]

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‘All the Water I’ve Seen is Running’ by Elias Rodriques: The Unlikeliness of Life

by Ray Levy Uyeda

Elias Rodriques’s All the Water I’ve Seen Is Running (255 pages; Norton) tells the story of Daniel Henriquez, a high school English teacher working in New York who returns home to Florida after he receives news that a friend from his teen years has passed away. The book’s plot takes place in the present, mostly over the course of a few days on the Palm Coast, though Daniel’s interiority takes the reader back in time with him as he retraces memories of his friend Aubrey. Daniel, the mixed-race son of Jamaican immigrants, and Aubrey, a white Southerner whose family proudly […]

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‘To Write as If Already Dead’ by Kate Zambreno: The Body of the Author

by Alana Frances Baer

Roland Barthes’ 1967 essay “The Death of the Author” saw a challenge, two years later, with Michel Foucault’s lecture “What Is an Author?” Kate Zambreno abbreviates the distinction between these two works: “Barthes wants to kill the author, Foucault wants the author to take on the appearance of a dead man.” Zambreno’s two-part book, To Write as If Already Dead (158 pages; Columbia University Press), meditates on its title throughout, circumscribing death in its consideration of the author as a living and breathing body, flesh behind words. Zambreno is the author of the novel Drifts and a 2021 Guggenheim Fellow […]

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‘In the Event of Contact’ by Ethel Rohan: The Law of Life

by Oriana Christ

People are shaped by people. In In the Event of Contact (180 pages; Dzanc Books), San Francisco author Ethel Rohan cements this broad maxim into a specific and learned law of life via the host of complicated characters she creates in her fourteen stories. Each character navigates distinct anguishes, from irreparable guilt to insatiable longing to persistent disappointment, linked only by a home country of Ireland and the theme of human connection. The first story in the collection, after which the book is titled, introduces this theme in its most literal sense via Ruth, a character with a debilitating phobia […]

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‘First Person Singular’ by Haruki Murakami: More than Meets the ‘I’

by Colton Alstatt

Superstar author Haruki Murakami has published twenty-three books (in English) since beginning his career as a novelist in 1978. In his strictly upward trajectory, full of merits and awards, he has not had much space for rumination. However, in his new story collection, First Person Singular (256 pages; Knopf), he channels 72 years of writing prowess into a series of mystery-dipped stories about youth, memory, and identity. Each begins with a distinct memory, an arresting one. “A dimly lit hallway in a high school, a beautiful girl, the hem of her skirt swirling, [holding] With the Beatles.” The speaker tunnels […]

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‘Crying in H Mart’ by Michelle Zauner: If Belief Were Real

by Ray Levy Uyeda

The chorus of “In Heaven,” the first track on Michelle Zauner’s first album as Japanese Breakfast, goes: Oh do you believe in heaven? / Like you believed in me / Oh it could be such heaven / If you believed it was real. The “you” and the “me” could be anyone, the “heaven” could be any utopia. But as revealed in Zauner’s memoir, Crying in H Mart (239 pages; Knopf), these lyrics were drafted in the aftermath of her mother’s death from pancreatic cancer and formed at a time when she was reckoning with her identity while caring for her […]

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‘Somebody’s Daughter’ by Ashley C. Ford: Together Amidst the Flames

by Oriana Christ

From a young age, author Ashley C. Ford was taught that family is all you have and all you need, and for this reason you should love them and hold onto them, no matter what. In her memoir, Somebody’s Daughter (210 pages; Flatiron Books), Ford grapples with this maxim as she grows up with a single mother prone to violent fits of rage, and an absent father who has been incarcerated for as long as she can remember. Her childhood, which makes up about half of the book, is spent believing that she is fundamentally bad inside, while fearing her […]

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‘Land of Big Numbers’ by Te-Ping Chen: Mirror to the Nation

by Kyubin Kim

To the rest of the world, China often looks like a monolithic, vast “land of big numbers,” where its people are eclipsed by the country’s monstrous economic influence and the Communist Party. But in her first story collection, Land of Big Numbers (255 pages; Mariner Books), journalist and fiction writer Te-Ping Chen gives breath and form to those who may be overlooked. Written during Chen’s time as a China correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Land of Big Numbers is a literary simulacrum of modern China and the agency of its people. Here, each fictional story holds a mirror to […]

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‘Mona’ by Pola Oloixarac: Life in Translation

by Owen Torrey

“The festivals are the real novels!” shouts the protagonist of Mona (192 pages; FSG Books), a new novel by Argentinian author Pola Oloixarac. Mona is one-whiskey-deep, standing in a pub in Sweden with a crowd of writers. Across the bar, a Latvian poet grabs a Finnish author, striking up a conga line. Mona orders a second whiskey and surveys the crowd. “They come to places like these thinking they’re writers,” she continues, “and end up leaving as characters.” The occasion for this evening’s celebration, as well as the novel as a whole, is the ceremony for the Basske-Wortz Prize: a […]

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‘Subdivision’ by J. Robert Lennon: The Missing Pieces

by Lily Nilipour

On the cover of J. Robert Lennon’s latest novel, Subdivision (256 pages; Graywolf Press), is a puzzle. A large crow sits on top of a quaint-looking house, and the whole image is fragmented into jigsaw pieces. Whoever has been working on this puzzle has almost completed it; just a single piece lays missing from the whole: the eye of the crow. But as we flip past the cover and set our eyes on the first page of the book, it becomes clear that Subdivision’s puzzle is just beginning—literally, as an unnamed narrator checking herself into a guesthouse is immediately invited […]

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‘Low Country’ by J. Nicole Jones: Lost Dreams, Anger, and Ghosts

by Ray Levy Uyeda

In every family there is an archivist. Someone to keep track of lost things, tales of victory and heartbreak, someone who can recall nearly-forgotten names. In author J. Nicole Jones’ family, that person was her grandmother, a woman who could fluidly weave a tale of home—Horry County, South Carolina. With her memoir, Low Country (230 pages; Catapult), Jones has succeeded in the role of family archivist, imploring us to see that the story of the Jones family is the story of South Carolina, and the story of J. Nicole Jones is the story of the women who preceded her. Low […]

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