‘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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‘Customs’ by Solmaz Sharif: The Complicity of Speech

by Ray Levy Uyeda

Solmaz Sharif’s second collection of poetry, Customs (104 pages; Graywolf Press), interrogates the English language and its role in shaping America. English was the language used to write the U.S. Constitution, enslave kidnapped West Africans, and free enslaved African Americans; it’s the language used to go to war and used to achieve liberation. Customs inspects language itself as a device for colonization and country-making, which in this land is the same. The collection, split into three sections, begins with a poem called “America.” Eighteen lines composed of 12 sentences, each sentence three words long, the poem appears almost like a […]

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‘Dead Winter’ by Matvei Yankelevich: Winter on the Page

by Chiara Bercu

Matvei Yankelevich’s latest poetry collection, Dead Winter (40 pages; Fonograf Editions), is a wheeling and melancholic address to winter as a mimetic object. “My task, my cross—to reassemble winter’s/ memory,” Yankelevich states in one the earliest of his twenty-seven poems. He meets this attempt to capture winter on the page by mounting an inquiry into the season as a site of recursion, ungovernability, and wasting. Yankelevich pictures winter as an “abandon” forever short of expression. Within “imagined limits,” winter appears to modulate time in an alternately moldering and propulsive manner: “Of/ course, one can look out a window, one/ can […]

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‘Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century’ by Kim Fu: Surrealism for Our Times

by Maura Krause

As the planet careens into 2022, surrealism might be the best way to capture our psyche. Kim Fu’s first story collection, Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century (220 pages; Tin House Books), makes a convincing argument for such an idea. Without referencing any specific events or cultural moments, the twelve pieces in Fu’s aptly titled fourth book capture a wide swath of modern maladies. In a recent interview with The Rumpus, Fu stated she wanted in her work to take “speculative ideas very seriously and at face value…without a winking eye to metaphor.” Remarkably, she succeeds, avoiding the pitfalls […]

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‘The Hungry and the Lost’ by Bethany W. Pope: Succumbing to the Rot

by Supriya Saxena

Bethany W. Pope’s The Hungry and the Lost (326 pages; Parthian Books; available for order online) offers a rich Southern Gothic tale that revels in the beauty and hostility of the Florida swamplands during the early 20th century. Pope’s immersive language draws the reader in early, but it’s the novel’s social commentary and respect for wilderness that leave a lasting impression. The Florida swampland attracts men who make a living from hunting herons, but after the birds stop coming and tuberculosis breaks out, a (fictional) small town near Tampa is deserted by all but two: the late minister’s mentally unsound wife, […]

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‘Psychros’ by Charlene Elsby: Death as the End of Desire

by Shelby Hinte

“The grand philosophical question is whether suicide makes a choice of death, and the answer is yes.” A bold assertion? Maybe. But it is the conclusion Charlene Elsby’s narrator comes to after her boyfriend commits suicide in Elsby’s latest novel, Psychros (140 pages; Clash Press). Psychros is both a philosophical inquiry into the nature of existence and a psychoanalytical study of a woman looking to quell her grief through sex and violence. The death of her boyfriend causes a series of intellectual dilemmas for the narrator: how do you reconcile who a person was in life with how they are […]

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‘Czesław Miłosz: A California Life’ by Cynthia L. Haven: The West Coast’s Mythic Allure

by Peter Schlachte

Czesław Miłosz: A California Life (256 pages; Heyday) is as much as portrait of a place as it is of a person. Cynthia L. Haven’s biography of the 1980 Nobel winner and towering voice in 20th century literature explores Miłosz’s work not distilled through the lens of his upbringing in Lithuania nor his formative years in Poland, but through his later life, residing on Grizzly Peak in Berkeley and teaching Slavic languages and literatures at UC Berkeley. From the opening pages, Haven writes beautifully of California’s history and landscape. Here she is describing California’s famously balmy weather: “At first, the […]

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