‘Post-Mortem’ by Heather Altfeld: The Complexity of Loss

by Meryl Natchez

There is a custom in the Jewish tradition called Kaddish, which includes saying aloud the names of the dead. The idea is that they live again for that brief moment when their name rings in the air. I thought of this while reading Heather Altfeld’s new book, Post-Mortem (100 pages; Orison Books), which details the complexity of loss we all know about but rarely speak of: the death of languages of indigenous peoples, of species, of the earth. Though the tone of the book is elegiac and it’s not light reading, the specificity and detail in these poems often make […]

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‘Rabbit Island’ by Elvira Navarro: Masterful and Strange

by Lily Nilipour

In “Strychnine,” the second story of Elvira Navarro’s collection, Rabbit Island (164 pages; Two Lines Press; translated by Christina MacSweeney), an unnamed narrator wanders an unnamed city while struggling to write a story—her story. The only thing she can decide on is a style: “She wants to enter this aura of serene iciness she has just imagined, which is also the tone she wants for her text.” But the narrator’s project becomes hindered by the growth of a strange protrusion from her right ear–a paw with toes that have small mouths. The paw hangs painfully from her earlobe, garnering sideways […]

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‘My Heart’ by Semezdin Mehmedinović: Matters of Life and Death

by CJ Green

People say that when you have a child, it’s like your heart has left your body and begins walking around on its own. This idea came to mind reading Semezdin Mehmedinović’s novel My Heart (225 pages; Catapult; translated by Celia Hawkesworth). It begins with a heart attack that sends the protagonist into an eloquent, existential spiral, after which his priorities become increasingly clear to him. “Since I passed fifty,” he explains, “I know that everyone dies young.” The overall effect is of a camera sharpening: the background noise gives way to a crisp foreground, the local details of love and […]

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‘Missionaries’ by Phil Klay: The Cost of Indifference

by David Emmanuel

In an era of globalized conflict and widespread disinformation, all of which help fuel conspiracy theories and increasingly violent online factions, the world stage can appear given over to chaos. It is for precisely these reasons that Phil Klay’s most recent novel, Missionaries (404 pages; Penguin Press), feels so refreshing, as the author draws connections and finds meaning in the disorder. The plot largely takes place in Colombia and centers around the various factions (paramilitary groups, guerilla fighters, the Colombian government, and U.S forces) that strive to steer the country in the direction that best suits their own interests. Though […]

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‘Born Slippy’ by Tom Lutz: Unchecked by Moral Scrutiny

by Michelle Latiolais

Tom Lutz novel Born Slippy

With great guilty pleasure I left off reading A Journal Of The Plague Year by Daniel Defoe and picked up Born Slippy (310 pages; Repeater Books) by the critic and scholar Tom Lutz. This is Lutz’s first novel, and on show are the wild and woolly qualities of the best first novels, I am happy to report. There is no bubonic plague to drive the narrative and to provide the agar within which we observe human behavior, no. Instead, there is in Born Slippy a character named Dmitry, a one-man plague. Frank, the novel’s central intelligence, regrets many, many times […]

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‘Barn 8’ by Deb Olin Unferth: A Comically Extreme Heist

by Zack Ravas

The premise of Deb Olin Unferth’s latest novel, Barn 8 (252 pages; Graywolf Press), involves the heist of a comically extreme number of chickens—yet to label the novel a mere comedy would be tantamount to calling Kurt Vonnegut a “humor writer.” Sure, the book is funny, quite funny, but it is much more. Unferth is tackling, with great wit and technical skill, topics as pressing as Big Agriculture, the humane treatment of animals, and the impossibility of maintaining ideological purity in any social movement. The reality is that Americans love eggs: free range or not, we will eat as many […]

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‘Here I Am!’ by Pauline Holdstock: The Messenger of an Urgent Truth

by Alecsander Zapata

Pauline Holdstock novel Here I Am!

The past years have seen a renewed interest in capturing the adolescent perspective. In shows like Netflix’s Stranger Things and films like Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit,  the earnestness of a child’s voice in a period when everyone in the audience seems to have something to say seems both timely and necessary. Pauline Holdstock’s latest novel Here I Am! (292 pages; Biblioasis) embraces this trend, shining its narrative spotlight on Frankie Walters, an incredibly intelligent six-year-old with Avoidant Personality Disorder. When his mother dies while his father is out of town, Frankie is left alone; the young boy attempts to tell […]

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‘Track Changes’ by Sayed Kashua: A Loss that Reverberates

by Alicia Long

Sayed Kashua’s fourth novel, Track Changes (240 pages; Grove Press; translated by Mitch Ginsburg), is a haunting exploration of the unplaceable loss that reverberates through one man’s memory. Saeed, an Arab-Israeli man hailing from the small Palestinian village of Tira, has long maintained a passion for writing, and he develops a career of ghost-authoring other people’s life stories. As he learns to craft memoirs, drawing out stories and observations from taped interviews with his subjects, he finds that his true power lies in editing. At first, he transcribes the stories precisely as they are relayed to him, but he comes […]

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‘The Ice Cream Man and Other Stories’ by Sam Pink: Conveying the Toil

by Zack Ravas

Literature is full of characters who experience reversals of fortune or claw their way to the top; Sam Pink does not write about those people. His latest collection, The Ice Cream Man and Other Stories (268 pages; Soft Skull), is comprised of stories about the individuals who wash the dishes at your favorite restaurant, set the plates at your wedding, and yes, drive the ice cream truck through your neighborhood. In Pink’s writing style, words cascade down the page as he creates a line break after every sentence. The ample white space means it’s never long before the reader is […]

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‘The Town’ by Shaun Prescott: A Legacy of Erasure

by Zack Ravas

The Town (249 pages; FSG), the first novel by Shaun Prescott, takes place in New South Wales, a region of Prescott’s native Australia that was once home to the Wiradjuri people. The United Kingdom’s colonial campaign in the region erupted into war by 1824, which led to famine among the Wiradjuri, as well as to the destruction of many of their sacred sites. With this legacy of erasure in place, The Town takes a look at life on the fringes of contemporary New South Wales as our unnamed narrator visits the titular town, an isolated smattering of petrol stations, fast […]

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‘Creatures’ by Crissy Van Meter: Bound to the Sea

by Alicia Long

Set among the seasons and temperaments of a fictional island just off the coast of Southern California, Crissy Van Meter’s first novel, Creatures (256 pages; Algonquin Books), explores the world of Winter Island through the eyes of its narrator, Evangeline. Her story begins just three days before her wedding as she awaits her fiance’s return from the sea, even as a storm grows on the horizon and a whale’s carcass lodged deep in the harbor fouls the air. With her fiance possibly lost at sea and with a rotting whale to dispose of, Evie must also make do with the […]

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‘Dead Heat’ by Benedek Totth: A Record from the Abyss

by Zack Ravas

In the Nineties, it wasn’t uncommon for a shocking film like Larry Clark’s 1995 Kids to be marketed as “The Movie Every Parent in America Should See”—the implication being, it’s occasionally worthwhile or even necessary for parents to subject themselves to outré youth movies so as to keep abreast of what their children may or may be doing outside of adult supervision. It’s difficult to make the same case, to parents or anyone, for Benedek Totth’s first novel, Dead Heat (251 pages; Biblioasis; translated by Ildikó Noémi Nagy). The book, which concerns a quartet of teenage boys in an unnamed […]

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