‘Dante’s Indiana’ by Randy Boyagoda: A Severe Satire

by Shelby Hinte

We are living in an era of instant gratification—information accessible via our fingertips in a matter of seconds, food delivered to our doorsteps without so much as having to talk to another human being, fast-track degree programs, and attaining inner peace through a single weekend meditation retreat—not to mention the omnipresence of quick-fix drugs that can calm your nerves, kill your pain, eliminate excess weight, liven your libido, grant you access to euphoria, and, in general, make life a little less miserable. Randy Boyagoda’s newest novel, Dante’s Indiana (224 pages; Biblioasis), a standalone sequel to his novel Original Prin, is […]

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‘The Five Wounds’ by Kirstin Valdez Quade: No Such Thing as Sacred Performance

by CJ Green

Amadeo Padilla is preparing for his starring role as Jesus in a Good Friday procession when his estranged 15-year-old daughter, Angel, shows up on his doorstep—eight months pregnant. So begins Kirstin Valdez Quade’s exceptional first novel, The Five Wounds (416 pages; Norton), which she arranges in three sections according to the Church calendar: “Holy Week,” “Ordinary Time,” and “Lent.” We begin in Holy Week, with Amadeo, adrift. He and his daughter have been estranged, and we learn that for weeks at a time, he has forgotten that he has a daughter at all. He is in his thirties, unemployed, lives […]

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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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‘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 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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‘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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‘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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‘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 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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‘Stubborn Archivist’ by Yara Rodrigues Fowler: The Preciousness of a Moment

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The task of organizing one’s life experiences into a comprehensible narrative is a universal one—why else do so many of us go to therapy? Through our internal dialogue we create stories, or perhaps allow ourselves to live according to the stories that best help us cope. This is a work of inclusion and omission, of unearthing and rearranging: But there were good times There were good times. Come on. Be honest with yourself. Yeah the sex had been good sometimes… And she had loved him… And there were other things. But she’s a stubborn archivist. Yara Rodrigues Fowler’s first novel, […]

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‘Stay and Fight’ by Madeline ffitch: Living Off the Land

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Building family in the face of capitalist-driven environmental collapse might look something like Madeline ffitch’s first novel, Stay and Fight (304 pages; FSG), at once indulging fantasies of reclusive living outside the gaze of the State, while simultaneously narrating the impossibility of such an existence. This is not to say Stay and Fight denies the prospect of, or human capacity for, crafting alternative, distinctly non-traditional ways of surviving. On the contrary, ffitch’s characters sustain themselves, maintain a home, and even raise a child, all miles outside the comforts and confines of urban or otherwise familiar civilization. And yet, even in […]

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‘The Wind That Lays Waste’ by Selva Almada: A Long and Humid Afternoon

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A devoted man of God and his sullen teenage daughter are on the road to a church in a remote village when their car breaks down. They soon find themselves at the mercy of a grizzled mechanic who has sworn off religion and runs a garage alongside his wide-eyed son. Though the setting may be Argentina, the setup for Selva Almada’s latest novel, The Wind That Lays Waste (124 pages; Graywolf Press; translated by Chris Andrews), feels as though it could be plucked from the pages of revered Southern author Flannery O’Connor. But while Almada shares some of O’Connor’s subject […]

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