‘The Night Shift’ by Natalka Burian: Vibrant Vulnerability

by Megan Luebberman

In author Natalka Burian’s new novel, the exciting and thought-provoking The Night Shift (325 pages; Park Row Books), otherworldly openings called “Shortcuts” allow individuals to teleport through time and space from one location to another. Only certain characters are in-the-know, while others, like Jean Smith, have no idea that it’s possible at all. Jean, a woman struggling just to pay her rent in New York City, has to pick up jobs at a bar and at a bakery.  She soon feels there aren’t enough hours in the day until a newfound acquaintances introduces her to New York’s Shortcuts. Jean is […]

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‘Tell Me the Truth About Love’ by Erik Tarloff: A Bump in the Road to Romance

by Paul Wilner

Erik Tarloff’s new novel, Tell Me the Truth About Love (Rare Bird Books; 360 pages), is at once a comedy of manners about the not-so-smart set of San Francisco society, a sex farce complete with a mistaken identity subplot that could have come out of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To The Forum, and a deeply serious examination of just how rocky the road to romance can be. Toby Lindeman makes an inherently undignified living as fundraiser for the San Francisco Opera, which helps him support his ex-wife and teenage daughter. But a chance meeting with Amy Baldwin, […]

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‘Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow’ by Gabrielle Zevin: Life as a Game

by Emily Garcia

If ever there were ever a novel that replicates the addictive, multi-level quality of video games, it would be Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (416 pages; Knopf),an endearing and loving portrait of three friends who start their own video game company. When they’re eleven, Sam and Sadie meet at the hospital. Sadie’s sister, Alice, is recovering from leukemia, and Sam is recovering from a terrible car accident that practically destroys one of his feet, an injury that haunts him throughout his life. As they wait around, they begin to play video games together, developing the bridge of play […]

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‘Sleeping Alone’ by Ru Freeman: Snippets of Life

by Megan V. Luebberman

Sleeping Alone (202 pages; Graywolf Press), author Ru Freeman’s newest book, leads readers on a journey into the lives of a variety of unique individuals. In this collection of eleven short stories, Freeman utilizes a different point of view in each to tell of struggles with identity, loss, love, and more. Along the way, she reveals how thinking deeply about our own lives, contemplating our choices, and trying to make meaning of it all is simply a part of being human. The conflict in some stories involves familial relations, such as “The Wake,” which relates how an eccentric mother’s antics […]

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‘Fudekara’ by Liliana Ponce: Evolution Through Repetition

by Roz Naimi

“Why write confessions? Why confess the written?” asks Liliana Ponce in her poetry collection Fudekara (44 pages; Cardboard House Press; translated by Michael Martin Shea). Ponce is a poet and scholar of Japanese literature from Buenos Aires, Argentina, who incorporates her knowledge of Japanese culture into her work: “Fudekara” is a Japanese neologism created from the terms “fude” (brush) and “kara” (from) to mean “from the brush.” Written over the course of a Chinese ideograph calligraphy class the author took in 1993, Fudekara takes as its subject the stroke: the iterative, meditative practice of putting pen to paper. The collection […]

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‘Nightcrawling’ by Leila Mottley: Oakland on Its Own Terms

by Emily Garcia

Kiara Johnson, the scrappy protagonist of Leila Mottley’s transfixing first novel, Nightcrawling (288 pages; Knopf), lives in East Oakland, in an apartment complex called the Regal-Hi, where money is sparse and trauma is abundant. Kiara’s father died years before; her mother’s currently in a halfway house following a prison stint; and her older brother, Marcus, who is also her legal guardian (Kiara is seventeen when the novel begins), is pursuing a rap career in lieu of a job that might help pay the rent—which has also recently more than doubled. Beyond her fears of eviction and homelessness, Kiara is pulled […]

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‘Ante body’ by Marwa Helal: A Window into a Double Life

by Roz Naimi

The latest collection from Egyptian-born, Brooklyn-based poet Marwa Helal, Ante body (80 pages; Nightboat Books), demonstrates the participatory nature of Helal’s work. The book offers a kaleidoscopic window into the double consciousness of the emigré, her post-migratory grief and dispossession, and the cheeky coping mechanisms that come into play. In her exploration of our post-pandemic political moment, Helal harnesses and discharges an energetic exigency, calling the reader into an honest mindfulness through non-traditional and experimental poetic play. Ante body invites us to trip over language, to recover, and view those stumbles as necessary toward achieving wisdom. Whatever linguistic baggage the […]

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‘The Music Game’ by Stéfanie Clermont: A Disenchanted Life

by Sophia Carr

While it’s rare, there are some friends you make during your childhood that you keep for the rest of your life, and The Music Game (304 Pages; Biblioasis; translated by JC Sutcliffe), the first novel by Stéfanie Clermont, is a story of this kind of friendship. Primarily set in Montreal, the novel follows Céline, Julie, and Sabrina—three French-Canadian friends with differing life trajectories. Though this winding and unconventional novel often reads more like a collection of linked stories, the sum of it feels in conversation about the millennial experience in contemporary Montreal. Among the group, Sabrina deals with racism and […]

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‘Forbidden City’ by Vanessa Hua: Beauty in the Brokenness

by Pia Chatterjee

It is an age-old tale: a young woman escapes the constraints of her provincial life to make her way to the big city, only to fall victim there to the machinations of an older, powerful man. But Vanessa Hua’s Forbidden City (353 pages; Ballantine Books), set in China just before the dawn of Mao’s Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, takes this trope and cunningly turns it on its head, making for one of the most compelling works of feminist and historical fiction in recent years. Unlike stereotypical ingenues, teenage Mei is morally ambiguous and neither beautiful nor beloved. She connives her way […]

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‘Monarch’ by Candice Wuehle: Dead Ringers and Sleeper Agents

by Maura Krause

Candy-coated nightmare is a familiar aesthetic by now. From TV shows like Stranger Things to movies like Birds of Prey, it is not unusual to see horror and violence shellacked in bright colors. Monarch (256 pages; Soft Skull), the first novel by acclaimed poet Candice Wuehle, wears the neon skin of such blockbusters while exploring much thornier intellectual territory, asking: what is the true meaning of self? On the surface, Monarch is a thriller, charting the life of former beauty queen and decommissioned clandestine operative Jessica Greenglass Clink. A child pageant star from the age of four, Jessica grows up […]

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‘When I Sing, Mountains Dance’ by Irene Solà: Trouble in the Landscape

by Maura Krause

In the age of the Anthropocene, Irene Solà’s When I Sing, Mountains Dance (216 pages; Graywolf Press; translated by Mara Faye Lethem) is a salve. Its texture is smooth yet it’s laced with herbaceous pungency. In a magically rendered translation from the Catalan by Mara Faye Lethem, Solà’s second novel offers up healing for those who care to find it. Set in the Pyrenees near Spain’s border with France, this marvelous book loosely traces one family’s tragedies and how they seep into the lives of others in their close-knit village. These troubles are refracted by the landscape, witnessed by unusual […]

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‘The Boy with a Bird in His Chest’ by Emme Lund: Like the Best Fables

by Maura Krause

The last few years have seen queer and trans literature receive a long-overdue upswing in both publication and attention. Emme Lund’s first novel, The Boy with a Bird in His Chest (320 pages; Atria Books), takes a well-earned place among its siblings, while shimmering brightly with its own unique brilliance. Lund’s lyrical and fabulist-leaning tale is the story of Owen Tanner, a boy with a java sparrow living in a hole behind his ribs. Born during the worst spring flood in Morning, Montana, Owen is supposed to be lucky. Yet the beginning of his life seems anything but. According to […]

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