‘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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Mrs. Sorry

by Gabriela Garcia

The first time I see her, she is buying cold cream. What she wants, she says, is a moisturizer that doesn’t feel heavy, doesn’t sit on her skin like so much weight. I lay out her options: whipped argan oil, cold-pressed and refined; our new micro-beading exfoliating lotion with gentle 7 percent alpha hydroxy; the best-selling hyaluronic acid-plus-B-vitamins gel with all-day-stay technology, patent pending. Her red fingernails tap the counter as she slides a credit card with her other hand. She buys all of them. A few days later I see her across my booth in the shoe department. She […]

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‘Suicide Woods’ by Benjamin Percy: A Horror that’s Close to Home

by Zack Ravas

Benjamin Percy is a writer who understands that, in the twenty-first century, the scariest thing to many readers is not the supernatural or threats from beyond the grave, but something altogether closer to home: real estate. His latest release, Suicide Woods (192 pages; Graywolf Press), collects a variety of stories culled from the last decade of Percy’s career. The book covers a number of subjects and genres, including the uncanny, from “The Dummy’s” tale of a wrestling practice dummy that may or may not be imbued with life, to the titular story’s account of a group of depressed individuals who […]

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‘Space Invaders’ by Nona Fernández: Mutations of Reality

by Lindsey Pannor

To replicate child-like bewilderment rather than to simply retell it is an enviable feat—one that Nona Fernández masters in Space Invaders (88 pages; Graywolf Press; translated by Natasha Wimmer). Bordering on autofiction, the short novel calls upon Fernández’s childhood in Chilé in the ’80s during the turmoil surrounding dictator Pinochet’s unseating, and looks at how those times pervade the lives of the fifth-graders who center the story, and manifest in unexpected and devastating ways. The young community faces police brutality and various other traumas, culminating in the disappearance of Estrella—a well-loved peer who vanishes without explanation. The story is primarily […]

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Session Drummer

by Tommy Orange

I’m on a train and it’s Saturday so I don’t have to work, but when I’m not working Saturday I’m usually working. I mean it’s work only because I get paid and need the money, but it’s playing drums—like a drum set in a studio. I’m a sometimes session drummer working mainly at this studio in West Oakland where people know me as a good enough drummer to call when they need a good enough drummer for a usually mediocre album project. What I do for a living, as they say, is to wash windows. I wash building windows no […]

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‘We, the Survivors’ by Tash Aw: A Grim Portrait of Life Under Late Capitalism

by Zack Ravas

The latest novel by Man Booker long-listed author Tash Aw offers a grim portrait of contemporary Asia under late capitalism. We, the Survivors (336 pages; FSG) traces the life of Ah Hock, a Malaysian-born citizen of Chinese heritage living a quiet life of solitude on the other side of a murder sentence. Ah Hock relays his story to a young journalist looking to shed light on the circumstances that led to Ah Hock’s violent crime, a crime he himself doesn’t quite understand. The murder is ultimately connected to Ah Hock’s former career as second-in-command at a local fish farm, as […]

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‘The Promise’ by Silvina Ocampo: Remembering How to Die

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In The Promise (120 pages; City Lights Publishers; translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Jessica Powell) the nameless narrator, after falling over the handrail of a transport ship, recollects her life in a disparate series of largely character-based vignettes as she waits to drown or be rescued at sea. As she comes to in the ocean, she promises Saint Rita that in exchange for her life she will commit to publishing a book documenting a “dictionary of memories that are at times shameful, even humiliating.” And so the lone novel by the prolific Argentine author Silvina Ocampo (1903-1993) becomes a […]

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‘Black Card’ by Chris L. Terry: A Satirical Look at Racial Identity in America

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Chris L. Terry’s new satirical and funny novel, Black Card (272 pages; Counterpoint), challenges ideas about race and identity as it follows its unnamed mixed-race narrator as he navigates the complex world of the punk rock scene in the American South, trying to understand where and how he can fit in—or if he can ever fit in. Structured episodically, Terry’s novel manages to address specific and thematically relevant incidents of the narrator’s life minus an overwhelming page count. “I was finally black again,” the novel begins, in 1997. “I sat on my bed, waiting for proof. Gray smoke oozed under […]

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Q&A with Seth Borgen: ‘If I Die in Ohio’ and Some Extraordinarily Unremarkable True Thing

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The stories in Seth Borgen’s collection If I Die in Ohio (160 pages; New American Press), winner of the New American Fiction Prize, are like bars where I have learned more about people and about writing than anywhere else, except perhaps from books. And like those bars, they are places where people who would never have crossed paths come together—a retired, well-known architect and a young high school dropout, for example; a slacker, stoner, atheist and a Mormon. The characters do not seek each other out, but once they do, something happens. Nothing huge or life-changing but something that helps […]

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Q&A with Susan Steinberg: ‘Machine’ and an Automatic Tension

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You can accuse the narrator of Susan Steinberg’s Machine (149 pages; Graywolf) of many things, but failing to hold the reader’s attention isn’t one of them. Steinberg’s first novel after a series of story collections, Machine chronicles a dread-filled summer on a nameless shore following the suspicious drowning of a teenage girl. Our narrator, a former friend of the deceased, grapples with guilt, teenage boredom, and her own privileged family’s struggles. “This is a story about desperation,” she states, “you could also say acceleration; but in this story, they’re the same.” The novel unfolds in haunting and poetic style, with […]

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‘Home Remedies’ by Xuan Juliana Wang: Perfect Worlds

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“Family,” “Love,” and “Time and Space” comprise the three sections of Xuan Juliana Wang’s first story collection, Home Remedies (204 pages; Hogarth). These categories describe this book better than much else could: Wang conjures an incredibly wide range of characters and plotlines, all tied together through notions of familial bonds, love, and temporality. There are no broad strokes or homogenizing glances in Wang’s work. These stories, concerned with Chinese young people and their engagements with culture, curiosity, and identity are complicated and specific, personal and detailed, messy and absurd. Each story Wang creates is so perfectly and wholly its own […]

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‘The Churchgoer’ by Patrick Coleman: The Limits of Doubt

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Even if Patrick Coleman’s first novel, The Churchgoer (354 pages; Harper Perennial), was not prefaced by a quote from Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, the story’s noir flavors would be unmistakable. Mark Haines, a former youth pastor turned burned-out security guard and amateur surfer, lost his faith and more than a step when his beloved sister committed suicide years ago. In his rearview are a wife and a teen daughter who can barely swallow their bile to speak to him on the phone every so often. Meanwhile, always close at hand is the alcohol addiction he fights to keep a […]

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