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.
Sooner or later, you’ll have to say something about Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett. This debut collection of linked stories from an English writer who lives in Ireland may be slim, but it’s packed with vivid imagery of a quiet life, and deep reflections from an unquiet mind. It’s excellent, it’s ravishing, it’ll win a ton of awards, it’ll show up on everyone’s Best of 2016 lists. So before everyone starts asking you about Pond, here are some handy talking points.
Pond is like a really intense diary with all the specific names and locations and backstory omitted. One of the best stories (“The Big Day”) takes place entirely within the narrator’s head while she sits alone, waiting for a party to start. It’s all about her inner thoughts.
Yes, but the book moves in both inward and outward directions. It can be incredibly claustrophobic—focused on one person’s whims and daily minutiae—and incredibly expansive—suggesting worlds of detail, meaning, and personality—at the same time.
They’ll Say: Continue reading
“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.