Ottessa Moshfegh lifts the rock of our inner lives to see what sort of critters writhe beneath in darkness. While she thoroughly explored the inner lives of troubled protagonists in her novels McGlue and Eileen, Moshfegh’s tight-yet-roomy plotting lends itself well to short fiction. Because of this, there is perhaps no better display of her unique talents than Homesick for Another World, which features new pieces alongside stories that previously appeared in The New Yorker and The Paris Review. In each story, a cockeyed protagonist is confronted by exactly the kind of pain they need to grow. That may sound rote, but Moshfegh dazzles with her abilities to sidestep sentimentality in favor of plot development, to humanely portray the broken, and to slowly unfold a surprise. Continue reading
In two of her previous historical novels, Sabina Murray used the “I” point of view to examine different eras from a personal vantage, inhabiting a character to assess shifting political attitudes from up close. In Valiant Gentlemen, she drops the “I” in favor of three distinct perspectives: Irish patriot Roger Casement, his close friend Herbert Ward, and Ward’s wife, the heiress Sarita Sanford. Using these three lives, Murray examines the last burning years of the 1800s and how they influenced the First World War, painting a broad picture of gender and sexual politics at the turn of the last century, and leaving us to ponder how we got to now.
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.