‘I Wished’ by Dennis Cooper: Serving Witness

by Zack Ravas

George Miles. To the average reader, it’s not a name that necessarily conjures associations; but for followers of underground literary icon Dennis Cooper, it’s a name that has loomed large since the publication of Cooper’s first novel, Closer, in 1989. That book marked the beginning of Cooper’s most enduring body of a work, a five-novel series collectively known as the George Miles Cycle. The novels form a loosely connected narrative that, by Cooper’s own admission, represent his attempts to process his relationship with Miles, an enigmatic young man suffering from mental illness and a general difficulty at articulating himself. Unbeknown […]

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‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’ by Anthony Doerr: Across Time and Space

by Mike Berry

Anthony Doerr thinks big. His latest novel, the follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See, not only clocks in at more than 600 pages, but follows five major protagonists across three meticulously detailed timelines. Added to that, it focuses attention on a lost, resurrected manuscript that exemplifies the power of literature and of librarians by envisioning a magical place between Earth and Heaven. Cloud Cuckoo Land (628 pages; Scribner) is set in 15th-century Constantinople, contemporary Idaho, and aboard a generational starship in the not-too-distant future. The cast of characters includes a teenage ox driver, a young […]

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‘Householders’ by Kate Cayley: Of Misfits & Runaways

by Peter Schlachte

In a 2013 interview, Canadian writer and theatre director Kate Cayley noted the influence of Wendell Berry’s poetry on her writing, describing him as “a voice crying in the wilderness.” It’s an apt description of Berry’s work, suffused as it is with a sense of the bucolic and the simple in the face of the anthropocene and capitalism. Yet, in a very different sense, it’s also an apt description of Cayley’s stories in Householders (224; Biblioasis), her most recent story collection. Even surrounded by others, Cayley’s characters in Householders are often alone—misfits, runaways, forsaking the ties of friends and family, […]

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‘The Manningtree Witches’ by A.K. Blakemore: Compelled to Torture

by Supriya Saxena

The Manningtree Witches (320 pages; Catapult) is about all the ugliness that comes with being a woman in a society in which they are oppressed and deemed inferior. Set in the small English town of Manningtree, A. K. Blakemore’s first novel illustrates the anti-witch hysteria sweeping the townspeople as related by Rebecca West, a young woman who lives in Manningtree with her widowed mother. It is a picture both vivid and ugly, and though the book is set in the 17th century it feels relevant to our present day.  Rebecca makes for an insightful protagonist, describing the extraordinary and horrific […]

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‘Death Fugue’ by Sheng Keyi: A Tower of…What?

by Colton Alstatt

In Sheng Keyi’s absurdist novel, Death Fugue (translated by Shelly Bryant; 376 pages; Restless Books), a tower made of feces appears in Round Square in the fictional capital of Beiping, much to the intrigue of young people who do not believe, as the government and media say, that the nine-story heap is composed of gorilla excrement. Concerned with more than sphincter logistics and scatological expertise, this excitable group demands answers from an unaccountable government. In response, protesters are rounded up, thinkers put on watchlists, and the movement’s final gathering quashed with incredible force. Banned in China’s bookstores and circulating in […]

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‘Afterparties’ by Anthony Veasna So: Born from Incongruence

by Peter Schlachte

The stories in Anthony Veasna So’s debut collection, Afterparties (272 pages; Ecco), are stories of humor and wit, of loud-mouths and bad-mouthers, of queer kids and chain-smoking monks and parties and sex, sometimes all squashed together in a few whirlwind pages. They are also stories of genocide and diaspora, of making ends meet and meeting ends. It’s a tight line to walk—the balance of the sometimes tragic with the often comical—but for So, who died in 2020 at the age of 28, it seemed second nature. “I think humor is a particularly important tool in immigrant literature and stories, or […]

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‘Something New Under the Sun’ by Alexandra Kleeman: Don’t Drink the WAT-R

by Shelby Hinte

Imagine for a moment that the power to your city has been turned off for an undisclosed amount of time—a precautionary measure to ensure that homes are not engulfed in flames by the fires that rage just outside the city limits. A heat wave invades the city and in the darkness of a blacked-out night, no air conditioners hum. People open their windows to let in air, any air, to cool themselves amid the scorching heat, even if it is full of smoke from nearby fires. The state has issued water restrictions due to drought and, oh yes, people are […]

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‘Appleseed’ by Matt Bell: From Antiquity to Apocalypse

by Colton Alstatt

From novelist Matt Bell comes his newest book, Appleseed (480 pages; Custom House), a story about the linked fates of three Ohioans: a malformed brother in pre-colonial America hunting the Tree of Forgetting, hoping to forget pasts he does and does not know; a near-future ecoterrorist resisting his former lover’s corporate dystopia across an abandoned United States; and a haunted cyborg crossing an icy, post-human purgatory to re-cultivate the Earth, which, despite lacking the vocabulary or Keatsian tradition, he instinctually knows is beautiful. Sentence-level epics form on every page, the prose floating between beatific and elegiac: This overripe abundance all […]

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‘Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead’ by Emily Austin: Return to Dust

by Oriana Christ

Life is, as some are already too aware, absurdly fragile and relatively meaningless. This certitude saturates nearly every page of Emily Austin’s debut novel, Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead (243 pages; Atria Books). Though the book’s title makes it fairly clear what is to follow, its cover, with its delicate cursive lettering and pastel bunnies, might mislead one to expect an ultimately lighthearted or uplifting story. This is not the case. Readers should go in with a few warnings: the novel is fundamentally about severe anxiety and thus severely anxiety-inducing; it contains heavy suicidal ideation and is […]

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‘Low Budget Movie’ by Kendra DeColo & Tyler Mills: Pushing Back Against The Norm

by Anna DeNelsky

In her famous essay, “The Laugh of Medusa,” French literary critic, poet, playwright, and philosopher Hélène Cixous discusses the role of feminism in authorship: “Woman must write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies–for the same reasons, by the same law, with the same fatal goal.” Kendra DeColo and Tyler Mills harness Cixous’ sentiment, tapping their experiences bringing women to writing in their poetry collection Low Budget Movie (40 pages; Diode Editions). Through the voice of a singular speaker, the authors traverse the […]

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‘Ghost Forest’ by Pik-Shuen Fung: What We Say to the Dying

by Ray Levy Uyeda

In Ghost Forest (251 pages; Random House), the novel’s title is also the name of a painting created by the protagonist, an unnamed daughter of immigrants from Hong Kong. As an adult, the narrator takes her father, who throughout her childhood split his time between Hong Kong and Vancouver, to see her painting in a juried show. “In the painting, I am riding a brown bird,” she describes. “We are soaring above tree after tree, and each one is white and translucent. I washed white watercolor on gray rice paper to create that effect.” Her father’s reaction is not what […]

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‘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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