‘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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‘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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