Rebecca Kauffman’s debut novel, Another Place You’ve Never Been, begins with a short prologue, a story unrelated to the main cast of characters. In this haunting tale shared among the Ojibwa tribe of North Dakota, two brothers go for a swim in a murky pond. The younger boy is bitten by poisonous water moccasin snakes and later dies. In tribal lore, he becomes a spirit with transformative and healing powers; this story is repeated from neighbor to neighbor, from parent to child.
Then the children will retell the story to one another. They feel something different in each retelling. They are learning that sometimes it takes a thousand voices to tell one story.
A difficult question rests at the heart of Loner, Teddy Wayne’s third novel: under what conditions does a sociopath’s true self emerge? Wayne’s sociopath character, Yale-bound David Federman, has a milquetoast background: middle class, lawyer parents, youngest of three children, low on the social totem pole in high school. But the reader reels in disgust as he begins stalking a fellow classmate. As David’s obsessive quest erupts into violence, more difficult questions arise.
The Art of Waiting by Belle Boggs is an inquiry into fertility and motherhood. After years of trying to conceive without success, Boggs makes the difficult and expensive decision to utilize ART—assisted reproductive technology. As she takes this drastic step toward biological motherhood, she explores every option and decision.
“The life an infertile person seeks comes to her not by accident and not by fate but by hard-fought choices.” What begins as a first-person narrative shifts into a wider sociological view as Boggs struggles to make sense of her situation. “Baby fever is painful and all encompassing,” she writes. Boggs draws parallels between her fertility experience and the outside world. Her research is evident in passages from academic studies and online chat sites. Gorilla and marmoset birthing habits give way to a cultural exploration of motherhood. Boggs’s straightforward language and empathetic style create a steady voice, and she is unafraid of posing difficult questions when she considers the multitude of situations women face: Continue reading
Theodore Wheeler’s debut collection of fiction Bad Faith is a lesson in perfidy, deception, and duplicity—a contemplative exploration of the vagaries of the double-minded human heart. There are eight stories in the collection. Or are there fifteen? Alternating with eight fuller, more traditionally rendered stories are seven vignettes, whose narrative purpose becomes clear in the final, culminating story, “Bad Faith.”
In Bad Faith, Wheeler gives us drifters, truckers, handymen, squatters, runaways, and farmers. They are from Lincoln or Omaha, the big cities in Nebraska, or they live in the shadows of those looming cities. They don’t work the jobs they say they do; they don’t come from where they say they do. They are not entirely sure who they are. They hop freight trains; they drift; they join the army; they murder; they kill. Presenting themselves as better people than they really are, they also end up deceiving themselves into believing their own hype. No one is as simple as they seem and everyone wants more than they can have.
“Evolution is a ladder, and our aim is to climb it as quickly as possible,” says Henry Forge, one of the three principal characters of C.E. Morgan’s second novel, The Sport of Kings. Whether or not evolution is indeed “a ladder,” his selective views on the subject of natural selection form the crux of Morgan’s ambitious new book, a dynastic saga on horse-breeding and the conservative beliefs it can breed. It depicts father-daughter team Henry and Henrietta Forge as they strive to raise the perfect racehorse, employing the recently paroled Allmon Shaughnessy as a groom on their Kentucky farm. The trio’s travails are a microcosm of a changing America, of an America that’s becoming increasingly intermixed but is still suffering the ugly fallout from decades of prejudice and subjugation. Below the surface, it’s also an allegory for two competing visions of evolution itself, and of how society should develop into the future.
Blindness is at the heart of Dana Spiotta’s Innocents and Others, a multi-voiced novel that deals with film, truth, and acceptance. The novel’s prose is compelling—Spiotta captures the laconic atmosphere and intense earnestness of her characters and the California they inhabit. Using film as both a framing device for the interior lives of characters and as a shorthand for the passage of time, Innocents and Others considers female friendship and artistic obsession from a distance.
The work follows the ups and downs of film directors Carrie Wexler and Meadow Mori, whose friendship serves as a bedrock during turbulent times in their personal lives and budding film careers. Beginning with a fantasy scenario involving Meadow leaving her happy, unassuming upper-class family to live out her teenage years with an aging Orson Welles, Spiotta draws strong distinctions between Meadow and Carrie’s artistic conceits. Meadow exudes a strong flair for showmanship, taking to documentary filmmaking and performance art while suffering through her high school experience. Everything about Meadow, from her pseudo-pretentious film interests to her penchant for androgyny, seems to belie her ambitions to make capital-A art. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Carrie, with her populist sensibilities and interest in goofy comedies. While Spiotta doesn’t spend as much time developing or probing the obsessions that underpin Carrie’s approach to her craft, she filters Meadow’s rise and fall through Carrie’s lens. It’s a lens that overflows with humanity and a desire to understand, even when the threads of friendship fray.