‘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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Community Plot

by Bryan Washington

I’d started tending the ex’s plot. The lettuce and the garlic and the turnips. It wasn’t my idea, the apartment complex had a community garden, and of course I’d seen you out there but we didn’t have shit to say to each other. We met on the stairs after my guy left, and it was another few weeks before we spoke. I’d seen you around, though. Sometimes I’d catch you staring. Our eyes met, and you’d look away. You were an old man, living alone, always in the same greasy cardigan and the same burnt brown shoes, which was everything […]

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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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Love Story, With Cocaine

by Tom Bissell

ZYZZYVA Fall 2011 Cover

Maarit’s father had given her a dog because he hoped it would provide her with something to do. It was true that Maarit did not have much to do, though she always felt busy, which was, perhaps, a natural consequence of waking up daily at 3:00 p.m. Most of her activities involved spending her father’s

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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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Wool

by Mark Labowskie

Martin exits I-89 before he needs to and progresses town by town. He keeps pulling over to eyeball a fiery spruce or an outcropping of mica, admire quaint inns with ivy wreathed around their VACANCY signs and crumbling breweries offering hard apple cider tastings. He’s eager to reach Tunbridge, but knows anticipation is the greatest pleasure. He stops to buy a mason jar of corn whiskey from a sweet old man on a porch, thinking how happy he’ll be once he reaches Lola and Dot’s barn. Then, realizing his spirits are at that peak where they’re in danger of toppling […]

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Q&A with Robin McLean: ‘Pity the Beast’ and Living in Wild Places

by Peter Schlachte

Robin McLean’s first novel Pity the Beast (384 pages; And Other Stories), has all the trappings of a traditional Western—the grime and the guts, the hard people amid an austere, extraordinary landscape—but McLean isn’t satisfied with the traditional. The novel revolves around Ginny, a rancher in the American west who cheats on her husband Dan and is gang-raped in a flurry of vengeance and violence. Ginny, left for dead, escapes into the mountains and is pursued by a posse of five townsfolk: her husband, her sister Ella and Ella’s husband Saul, a tracker named Bowman, and a mule-driver named Maul. […]

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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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