Q&A WITH KATE MILLIKEN: ‘KEPT ANIMALS’ AND WRITING A TREACHEROUS LANDSCAPE

by K.L. Browne

In Kate Milliken’s first novel, Kept Animals (350 pages; Scribner), Topanga Canyon of the early ‘90s is an isolated, wild place, beautiful but vulnerable to the destruction and chaos of wildfire. Two teenage girls suffer loss one summer in this rugged canyon nestled beside a Los Angeles of wealth and celebrity. As they seek solace in one another, their connection ripples through the small community with dangerous consequences. Milliken’s clear-eyed telling weaves their story with that of Charlie, a young woman who two decades later searches into the mystery of this relationship and the fire that swept through Topanga. The […]

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‘You Will Never Be Forgotten’ by Mary South: Life in Front of the Screen

by Zack Ravas

Under typical circumstances, it’s likely the literary community would be celebrating the release of Mary South’s first book, You Will Never Be Forgotten (240 pages; FSG Originals), a collection of ten dark and crystalline stories that announces the arrival of a distinct voice in contemporary fiction. But these are not normal circumstances, and it’s difficult for any author to garner attention right now, let alone one making their debut. Yet the mordant wit and biting irony in You Will Never Be Forgotten, and its complex understanding of reality’s often cruel reversals, resonates with launching the book when the world is […]

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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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‘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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Ring Around the Equator, Pockets Full of Acres

by Chia-Chia Lin

Chia-Chia Lin is the author of the novel The Unpassing (FSG). Below is an excerpt from her short story “Ring Around the Equator, Pockets Full of Acres” from the Bay Area Issue, which you can purchase at the link. You can also apply to our Fiction Workshop with Chia-Chia Lin by submitting here. When Delepine first started running, the air shredded her lungs. Like inhaling powdered glass. After a run, she kept right on sweating and her face kept coloring, peaking at its maximum carmine hue when she was doing something embarrassingly low-impact, like sitting at her desk and rattling […]

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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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‘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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