‘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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‘Search History’ by Eugene Lim: Rewriting the World After Loss

by Shelby Hinte

If the art a society chooses to endorse is a measure of who and what it values, then it is also a measure of who and what it denounces. What is art, and who decides, are central questions in Eugene Lim’s latest novel, Search History (208 pages; Coffee House Press). The book is a metafictional examination of art and identity-making that is part action-packed speculative fiction, part autobiography, and part intellectual banter on all things art, race, technology, and death. Search History feels reminiscent of Douglas Coupland’s Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture and the dialogue-heavy ’90’s films that […]

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‘Harrow’ by Joy Williams: Book of Revelations

by Zack Ravas

Given the popularity of the genre, chances are good you’ve probably read at least one post-apocalyptic novel by now. But have you ever read a post-apocalyptic novel as conceived by Joy Williams? 2015’s The Visiting Privilege cemented Williams’ reputation as one of our finest short story writers, putting her decidedly off-kilter worldview and rich characterization on display in a compilation of many of her best stories alongside new material. Now the author, who divides her time between Arizona and Wyoming, is back with her first novel in over two decades, following the Pulitzer Prize-finalist The Quick and the Dead. Harrow […]

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‘Night Train’ by A.L. Snijders: Blooming Within Constraints

by Chiara Bercu

When she began translating contemporary Dutch micro-fiction writer A.L. Snijders’s work, Lydia Davis had only a passing familiarity with the language. Night Train (128 pages; New Directions) presents 91 of Snijders’s more than 3,000 stories, or what he called his zkv’s (zeer korte verhalen: “very short stories”). The collection is a long-tended-to anthology of these writings—“autobiographical mini-fables,” as Davis calls them—whose translations she parsed and reasoned-through using what she knew of German and French, and with the consult of Snijders’s Dutch publisher, Paul Abels. Many of the pieces parallel the tone and form of some of Davis’s own vignettes: stories […]

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‘Win Me Something’ by Kyle Lucia Wu: An Outsider in the World of Privilege

by Supriya Saxena

Reading Kyle Lucia Wu’s first novel, Win Me Something (257 pages; Tin House), feels like listening to a friend tell you about her life straightforward and true. The main character, Willa Chen, a 23-year-old working-class Brooklynite who thinks her life has lost direction, proves immediately relatable. The first-person narration seems to come from her very soul, yet this directness belies a beautifully understated poignancy contained in Willa herself: though she may seem unremarkable at first, she is a deeply scarred, isolated individual. Willa lives in Crown Heights in a tiny apartment with a roommate who is more often than not […]

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‘Intimacies’ by Katie Kitamura: Truth, Doubt, and Intimacy

by Meryl Natchez

As soon as I finished Katie Kitamura’s newest book, Intimacies (238 pages; Riverhead), I immediately got copies of all her previous novels. Perhaps just quoting the first paragraph of this nuanced, intriguing novel will be enough for you to understand why: It is never easy to move to a new country, but in truth I was happy to be away from New York. That city had become disorienting to me, after my father’s death and my mother’s sudden retreat to Singapore. For the first time, I understood how much my parents had anchored me to this place none of us […]

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‘Runaways: A Writer’s Dilemma’ by Michael J. Seidlinger: The Perils of the Blank Page

by Shelby Hinte

“A writer, a little bit lonely and a whole lot desperate, signed into social media. They didn’t know what they were looking for. That was kind of the problem. They were having trouble getting started.” These are the opening lines to Michael J. Seidlinger’s novella Runaways: A Writer’s Dilemma (100 pages; Future Tense Books). In many ways, Seidlinger’s book asks an age-old question: how does a writer face a blank page? The modifier here is: how does one do this in the age of the internet—particularly in a time when dopamine-producing distractions are more abundant than ever? These questions are […]

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‘Lightning Falls in Love’ by Laura Kasischke: A Series of Unending Moments

by Chiara Bercu

Laura Kasischke’s latest poetry collection, Lightning Falls in Love (144 pages; Copper Canyon Press), is a charming address to time and the eternities sustained in memory. In fifty-two poems, Kasischke moves multilaterally over the many folds and features of memory, both personal and fantastic. “I was living my life a second time/for the first time/in my life,” she writes, “understanding/that I’d already lived a long time before I realized/that I was old enough by then to have been/my own daughter when my mother died.” What’s assembled in the collection is a swift mélange of the past, equal parts ordinary, death-bound, and […]

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‘Leave Society’ by Tao Lin: Our 21st Century Malady

by Zack Ravas

If part of the success of any novel involves timing, Tao Lin perhaps couldn’t have chosen a better moment for Leave Society (352 pages; Vintage) to have come out than during an extended pandemic. Though the story takes place over several years prior to 2020, its main character maintains a hermetic lifestyle many of us can relate to at present, whether we’d like to or not: “… isolating himself in his apartment in Manhattan, replacing pills and friends and most of culture with cannabis and books, and finding new interests…” Leave Society continues Tao Lin’s tendency for autofiction by following […]

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‘The Savage Kind’ by John Copenhaver: Seeking Agency By Any Means Possible

by Supriya Saxena

The femme fatale of classic detective fiction and noir films rarely offers a kind portrayal of women. Mysterious and alluring, she commits all sorts of devious and despicable acts for her own gain, and the narrative invariably punishes her in the end. As misogynistic as this archetype is, the concept of a woman who seeks independence and agency through lethal means is certainly an intriguing one. It is easy to understand why John Copenhaver chose to reimagine the femme fatale in his coming-of-age mystery novel The Savage Kind (384 pages; Pegasus Crime). This dark, captivating novel follows two teenage girls […]

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‘Dante’s Indiana’ by Randy Boyagoda: A Severe Satire

by Shelby Hinte

We are living in an era of instant gratification—information accessible via our fingertips in a matter of seconds, food delivered to our doorsteps without so much as having to talk to another human being, fast-track degree programs, and attaining inner peace through a single weekend meditation retreat—not to mention the omnipresence of quick-fix drugs that can calm your nerves, kill your pain, eliminate excess weight, liven your libido, grant you access to euphoria, and, in general, make life a little less miserable. Randy Boyagoda’s newest novel, Dante’s Indiana (224 pages; Biblioasis), a standalone sequel to his novel Original Prin, is […]

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‘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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