‘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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‘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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‘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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‘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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‘The Savage Kind’ by John Copenhaver: Seeking Agency By Any Means Possible

by Supriya Saxena

The femme fatale of classic detective fiction and noir films rarely offers a kind portrayal of women. Mysterious and alluring, she commits all sorts of devious and despicable acts for her own gain, and the narrative invariably punishes her in the end. As misogynistic as this archetype is, the concept of a woman who seeks independence and agency through lethal means is certainly an intriguing one. It is easy to understand why John Copenhaver chose to reimagine the femme fatale in his coming-of-age mystery novel The Savage Kind (384 pages; Pegasus Crime). This dark, captivating novel follows two teenage girls […]

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‘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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