After the Afterlife explores the zone between language and spirit. It is a book of inner and outer boundaries: of blockades, of tunnels, of wormholes. Where does our consciousness come from, and where is it going, if anywhere? With a nimble blend of wit, whimsy, and erudition, Hummer’s poems assay the border that the shaman is forced to cross to wrestle with the gods, which is the same border the mystic yearns to broach, and the ordinary human stumbles over while doing laundry or making lunch—where questions of identity melt in the white heat of Being:
which is like trying to teach
The cat to waltz, so much awkwardness, so many tender
advances, and I’m shocked when it actually learns,
When it minces toward me in a tiny cocktail gown, offering a martini,
asking for this dance, insisting on hearing me refuse
To reply, debating all along, in the chorus of its interior mewing, who
are you really, peculiar animal, who taught you to call you you.
A strange museum, an even stranger curator, the deceased artist who haunts him, and the mystery surrounding the museum founders’ daughter, lost at sea as a child . . . The Ambrose J. and Vivian T. Seagrave Museum of 20th Century American Art is by turns a dark comedy, a ghost story, a romance, a whodunit, a family saga, and an exhibition catalog.
Through museum exhibit labels, as well as the interior musings of an elderly visitor wandering through its galleries, the novel’s numerous dramas gradually unfold. We learn of the powerful Seagrave family’s tragic loss of their daughter, the suspicious circumstances surrounding her disappearance during a violent storm, and of the motley conclave of artists (some accomplished, some atrocious) who frequented the Seagrave estate, producing eclectic bodies of work that betray the artists’ own obsessions, losses, and peculiarities. We learn about the curator’s rise to power, his love affair with a deeply troubled ghost—and when a first-time visitor to the museum discovers unexpected connections between the works on exhibit and her painful past, we are plunged into a meditation on the nature of perception, fabrication, memory, and time.
In The Beforeland, a boy’s desperate act of rebellion against his grandmother reverberates outward, causing rifts and reckonings in the lives of others: a man fleeing his own troubled family who becomes the grandson’s unwitting accomplice; a poet struggling with the limitations of language and his wife’s distance; the proprietor of a dying motel; and the grandmother herself, who finds love for the first time as she recuperates from her injury. Set in the Mojave Desert and the suburbs of Southern California, this revelatory novel moves swiftly among characters who are caught between the deprivations of the past and the mysteries of the future. With unflinching precision, Vallianatos unearths the vulnerability and volatility at our cores.
Big Familia follows Juan Gutiérrez, a self-employed single father, as he navigates a tumultuous year of inescapable change. His daughter, Stella, is on the verge of moving away to college; his lover, Jared, is pressing him for commitment; and his favorite watering hole—a ramshackle dive presided over by Bob the Bartender—is transforming into a karaoke hotspot. The story is set in a neighborhood that is also changing, gentrification inciting the ire of the established community.
Upon the unexpected death of one of the bar’s regulars, Juan is sent reeling, and a series of upheavals follow as he both seeks and spurns intimacy, pondering the legacy of distant parents and a failed marriage and grappling with his sexuality—all the while cycling and dating, drinking at Nicks Lounge, and parenting a determined and defiant child-become-woman.
When his incarcerated father dies and Stella reveals she’s pregnant, Juan is forced to examine the emotional bonds that both hold and hinder him, to reassess his ideas of commitment, of friendship, of love. His encounters with various characters—his mother, his ex-wife, a middle-aged punker, an aspiring acupuncturist, a dapper veteran—lead Juan to the realization that he himself must change to thrive.
This is a story of making family and making mistakes, of rending and of mending. As a Latinx queer father with a mixed-race daughter, Juan exemplifies the ways identity connects and divides us. With wit, insight, and tenderness, Big Familia explores the complexities of desire, devotion, and the mysteries of the heart.
While treating Robert Percy, a burly factory worker, psychologist David Malden unlocks not only his patient’s memories of childhood abuse but also an upwelling violence. When Percy abruptly departs Buffalo for rural Michigan, where he grew up in a series of foster homes, Malden fears that his patient seeks revenge. Concerned with his liability under Duty to Warn laws, Malden sets out after the troubled young man using the only guide he has, his treatment notes—a list of people and places that may or may not exist, especially after twenty years.
To aid him in the chase, Malden calls on his colleague, the awkward, remote, intimidatingly tall Sonja Nielsen. She reluctantly agrees to help, either because of or despite her previous entanglements with Malden.
Told from the perspectives of these three characters, the story swerves and jolts and switches back, much like Percy’s recollections of his upbringing. Kersting presents the interior struggles of her characters in a searingly spare style, all the while drawing the reader through an escalating series of events as Percy hitches rides and takes buses, searching the small towns of central Michigan, alternately helped and hindered by both old and new acquaintances.
While following disparate leads toward Percy’s final, surprising destination, all three conflicted souls are compelled to examine their loyalties, test their convictions, admit their frailties, and confront the ghosts lurking in their pasts, resulting in a revelatory climax.
The fourteen stories in Every Human Love redefine our sense of reality. Set seemingly in the quotidian, these tales veer into the unexpected, the uncomfortable, occasionally the eerie, thrusting characters in crisis into still greater quandaries, where the world of weddings and work, of frustrated hopes and mundane dissatisfactions, collides with a realm of legend, of fairy tale, of nightmare.
Following his acclaimed debut novel, The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo, the eleven stories of Ian Stansel’s Glossary for the End of Days explore today’s cultural and political climate with a disarming blend of speculation and realism. Whether faced with tragedy, approaching disaster, or an all-too-familiar uncertainty, Stansel’s protagonists—siblings, lovers, executives, drifters—reveal complex and often startling turns of mind, surprising themselves as well as the reader.
In Boulder, a man calls into a radio program with an altered tale of his brother’s murder—and faces the consequences when the story goes viral. In Tampa, a woman attends a convention of people believing themselves to be targets of clandestine government agencies. In Houston, a family with many secrets attempts to escape an oncoming tropical storm. In an East Coast college town, a professor has a charged run-in with a young woman from the radical right. And in Iowa, a cult suicide spurs the lone survivor to create a “glossary” in an effort to come to terms with his experience.
Simultaneously gritty and lyrical, grounded and visionary, Glossary for the End of Days gives us characters grappling with how to push on through dark days and dark times. This arresting, relevant collection tunes into and seeks to illuminate shared anxieties about the present—and future—of our world.
Grace for Grace brings celebrated cult filmmaker Steve De Jarnatt’s distinctive voice and cinematic vision to the page. Lush inner lives, idiosyncratic syntax, and sweeping scale characterize these wildly imaginative stories, which present characters in search of meaning and belonging, and often, at the same time, redemption and revenge.
“Rubiaux Rising” (a Best American Short Stories selection) is a tale of triumph amid calamity during Hurricane Katrina, while “Her Great Blue” a surreal interspecies love story. “Mulligan” reveals the private pain of parents traveling across the country to give away their children, and “Wraiths in a Swelter” is both a ghost story and a confessional memoir—following a deliriously exhausted EMT through a deadly Chicago heat wave.
Many of the stories in Grace for Grace are set against the backdrop of natural or manmade catastrophes. These disasters test the characters’ limits as they confront sudden changes and extremes, discovering through their unexpected resourcefulness and endurance something beyond suffering. . . something that approaches the sublime.
The characters who populate Jenn Scott’s debut collection are both trapped and adrift. Stuck in dead-end jobs or stagnant relationships or simply caught in the grip of their own inertia, they opt out, act out, and strike out, searching for emotional sustenance in a landscape of pointless patterns and dwindling hopes. Cuttingly clever remarks and excoriating observations act as shields—thrown up to protect an aching vulnerability, a bewildering sense of loss . . . of being lost in a world rife with expectations, where responsibility is ritualistic and meaning elusive.
“The beauty of being young was, in fact, the ability to project all that might happen. She recognizes, suddenly, how less grandiose the projection of her plans has become. It’s like she was once standing looking an expanse of field, but now she’s trapped in a hallway hung with too many pastel prints of landscapes that refuse to interest her. It’s as if she’s moved her entire life inside a dental office, minus the gas that sings a person to sleep while their cavities are filled, their roots fixed.”
Assumed identities, Russian mail-order brides, pie theft, lost (and found) cleavers, coworkers who commit murder, the sudden ballooning of breasts, conversations with the (surprisingly opinionated) vegetables in a restaurant’s walk-in cooler: in stories sharply funny and deeply poignant, situations that delight and discomfit, Scott explores “the complicated, or simple, ways in which we settle.”
A dreamlike novel set in Pennsylvania in the 1990s, Here Is a Game We Could Play is the story of Claudia, an intelligent eccentric trapped in the rundown industrial town she grew up in—a place plagued with troubling memories and hidden threats. Seeking escape from tedium, loneliness, and her obsessive fear of poisoning, Claudia retreats into books. . . and into a fantasy life with her perfect lover, to whom she addresses letters about her life, all the while imagining outlandish sexual scenarios.
In each fantasy, her lover takes a different form, ranging from a prison guard in a world where metaphor is forbidden, to a more-than-brotherly Hansel from the Grimms’ fairy tale, to a tentacled mind-reading space alien. All share a desire for a deep intimacy that eludes Claudia, even as she forms new real-life relationships and reconsiders her sexual identity—building a rapport with an elderly volunteer at the library, striking up a friendship with a wily temp at her dead-end job, and embarking on a passionate affair with Rose, the town’s new librarian. When paranoia threatens to ruin her relationship with Rose, Claudia is forced not only to combat her anxiety but to face the unresolved trauma in her past—the disappearance of her father on a night she has long repressed.
Funny, dark, inventive, and moving, Here Is a Game We Could Play is an original debut novel recalling the work of Aimee Bender, Angela Carter, Rebecca Brown, and Margaret Atwood.
This riveting debut from poet Faylita Hicks is a reclamation of power for black women and nonbinary people whose bodies have become the very weapons used against them. HoodWitch tells the story of a young person who discovers that they are “something that can & will survive / a whole century of hunt.” Through a series of poems based on childhood photographs, Hicks invokes the spirits of mothers and daughters, sex workers and widows, to conjure an alternative to their own early deaths and the deaths of those whom they have already lost.
In this collection about resilience, Hicks speaks about giving her child up for adoption, mourning the death of her fiancé, and embracing the nonbinary femme body—persevering in the face of medical malpractice, domestic abuse, and police violence. The poems find people transformed, “remade out of smoke & iron” into cyborgs and wolves, machines and witches—beings capable of seeking justice in a world that refuses them the option.
Exploring the intersections of Christianity, modern mysticism, and Afrofuturism in a sometimes urban, sometimes natural setting, Hicks finds a place where “everyone everywhere is hands in the air,” where “you know they gonna push & pull it together. / Just like they learned to.” It is a place of natural magick—where someone like Hicks can have more than one name: where they can be both dead and alive, both a mortal and a god.
In fifteen sharply engaging essays, acclaimed novelist and short story writer Brock Clarke examines the art (and artifice) of fiction from unpredictable, entertaining, and often personal angles, positing through a slant scrutiny of place, voice, and syntax what fiction can—and can’t—do. (“Very: is there a weaker, sadder, more futile word in the English language?”)
Clarke supports his case with passages by and about writers who have both influenced and irritated him. Pieces such as “What the Cold Can Teach Us,” “The Case for Meanness,” “Why Good Literature Makes Us Bad People,” and “The Novel is Dead; Long Live the Novel” celebrate the achievements of master practitioners such as Muriel Spark, Joy Williams, Donald Barthelme, Flannery O’Connor, Paul Beatty, George Saunders, John Cheever, and Colson Whitehead. Of particular interest to Clarke is the contentious divide between fiction and memoir, which he investigates using recent and relevant critical arguments, also tackling ancillary forms such as “fictional memoir” and the autobiographical novel.
Anecdotal and unabashed, rigorous and piercingly perceptive—not to mention flat-out funny—I, Grape; or The Case for Fiction is a love letter to and a passionate defense of the discipline to which its author has devoted his life and mind. It is also an attempt to eff the ineffable: “That is one of the basic tenets of this book: when we write fiction, surprising things sometimes happen, especially when fiction writers take advantage of their chosen form’s contrarian ability to surprise.”
A crumbling marriage. An ancient mystery. And a way to change the past . . .
When archaeologist Aaron Keeler finds himself transported eighteen years backward in time, he becomes swept up in a strangely illicit liaison with his younger wife. A brilliant musician, Violet is captivated by the attentive, “weathered” version of her husband. The Aaron she recently married—an American expat—has become distant, absorbed by his excavation of a prehistoric site at Kilmartin Glen on Scotland’s west coast, where he will soon make the discovery that launches his career. As Aaron travels back and forth across the span of nearly two decades, with time passing in both worlds, he faces a threat to his revelatory dig, a crisis with the older Violet—mother of his two young children—and a sudden deterioration of his health. Meanwhile, Violet’s musical performances take on a resonance related to the secrets the two are uncovering in both time frames. With their children and Aaron’s lives at risk, he and Violet try to repair the damage before it’s too late.
Persephone in the Late Anthropocene vaults an ancient myth into the age of climate change. In this poetry collection, the goddess of spring now comes and goes erratically, drinks too much, and takes a human lover in our warming, unraveling world. Meanwhile, Persephone’s mother searches for her troubled daughter, and humanity is first seduced by the unseasonable abundance, then devastated by the fallout, and finally roused to act.
This ecopoetic collection interweaves the voices of Persephone, Demeter, and a human chorus with a range of texts, including speculative cryptostudies that shed light on the culture of the “Late Anthropocene.” These voices speak of decadence and blame, green crabs and neonicotinoids, mysteries and effigies. They reckon with extreme weather, industrialized plenty, and their own roles in ecological collapse.
Tonally, the poems of this book range between the sublime and the profane; formally, from lyric verse and modern magical-realist prose poems to New Farmer’s Almanac riddles and pop-anthropology texts. At the heart of this varied and inventive collection is story itself, as Demeter deconstructs “whodunits,” as the chorus grasps that mythmaking is an act of “throwing their voices,” and as their very language mirrors the downward spiral of destruction. Together, the collected pieces of Persephone in the Late Anthropocene form a narrative prism, exploring both environmental crisis and the question of how we tell it.
Hannah Dow’s debut poetry collection, Rosarium, is a series of beautiful interrogations. In precise, luminous language, Dow engages the mysteries of faith as a catalyst for meditations on the contradictory human condition—our knot of body and spirit. These poems engage the inexplicable, attempting to articulate the tension between doubt and a longing for certainty, between belief in the potency of language and acceptance of its failures. Yet these lyrics never evaporate into abstraction. They pulse with the particular. Postcards that read as prayers (spoken without hope of response) lead us around the corporeal world through vastly different landscapes—from Mississippi, to California, to Europe, to the Middle East—showing how place shapes us, how the mind cannot escape the body.
Nancy Au’s debut collection is rich with scents, sounds, imaginative leaps, and unexpected angles of vision. These seventeen stories present the challenges facing characters whose inner and outer lives often do not align, whose spirits attempt flight despite dashed hopes and lean circumstances. Marginalized by race, age, and sexuality, they endeavor to create new worlds that honor their identities and their Chinese heritage.
Au excels at inhabiting the minds and hearts of children and the elderly. In the title story, Sophie Chu dresses daily in her increasingly shabby elephant costume to ensure her missing parents recognize her upon their return. In “The Unfed,” a village elder seeks to revive, with her dimming magic, a mountain community struck by tragedy. “Louise” follows, with deceptive hilarity (involving a one-eyed duck), the nuanced give and take between May Zhou and Lai, dissimilar yet passionate partners considering parenthood. The volume also offers sparkling speculative work that taps into the strength of nature—fox spirits and fire beetles, swollen rivers and rippling clouds—to showcase the sometimes surreal transformations of Au’s protagonists.
Spider Love Song and Other Stories treads the fault line that forms between lovers, families, friends, cultures—exposing injuries and vulnerabilities, but also the strength and courage necessary to recast resentment and anger into wonder and power. Au’s lyrical style, humor, and tender attention to her characters’ fancies and failings make this powerful debut a delight to read.
In 1844, Horace Wells, a Connecticut dentist, encountered nitrous oxide, or laughing gas—then an entertainment for performers in carnival-like theatrical acts—and began administering the gas as the first true anesthetic. His discovery would change the world, reshaping medicine and humanity’s relationship with pain.
But that discovery would also thrust Wells into scandals that threatened his reputation, his family, and his sanity—hardships and triumphs that resonate in today’s struggles with what hurts us and what we take to stop the hurt.
In this novel, Michael Downs mines the gaps in the historical record and imagines the motivations and mysteries behind Wells’s morbid fascination with pain, as well as the price he and his wife, Elizabeth, paid—first through his obsession, then his addiction.
The book is a love story, but also a story of what love can’t redeem; of narcotic dreams and waking insanity; of humbug and miracle; of pain’s destruction and what pains can never be eased. Following Wells throughout New England and across the ocean to Paris, the novel immerses the reader in the nineteenth century, conveying through rich physical description and telling dialogue the tragic life of a dentist who gave everything to rid the world of suffering.
Synonyms for Silence
A. Molotkov Acre Books, 2019 Library of Congress PS3613.O49 | Dewey Decimal 811.6
A. Molotkov’s third poetry collection, Synonyms for Silence, traverses a terrain of terror and wonder. These sharp, brief lyrics and prose poems subject the world to ethical and metaphysical scrutiny, examining the familiar as well as the unknowable aspects of human existence and contrasting our transient chemical reality with our ability to manifest meaning.
The Tilt Torn Away from the Seasons imagines a human mission to Mars, a consequence of Earth’s devastation from climate change and natural disaster. As humans begin to colonize the planet, history inevitably repeats itself. Dystopian and ecopoetic, this collection of poetry examines the impulse and danger of the colonial mindset, and the ways that gendered violence and ecological destruction, body and land, are linked. “This time we’ll form more carefully,” one voice hopes in “Ecopoiesis: The Terraforming.” “We’ve started on empty / plains. We’ll vaccinate. We’ll make the new deal fair.” But the new planet becomes a canvas on which the trespasses of the American Frontier are rehearsed and remade. Featuring a multiplicity of narratives and voices, this book presents the reader with sonnet crowns, application forms, and large-scale landscape poems that seem to float across the field of the page. With these unusual forms, Rogers also reminds us of previous exploitations on our own planet: industrial pollution in rural China, Marco Polo's racist accounts of the Batak people in Indonesia, and natural disasters that result in displaced refugees. Striking, thought-provoking, and necessary, The Tilt Torn Away from the Seasons offers a new parable for our modern times.
In ten provocative stories, Ethan Chatagnier presents us with characters in crisis, people grappling with their own and others’ darkness as they search for glimmers to carry them through difficult times, untenable tasks, uncertain futures. The collection explores with unflinching eloquence the quandaries of conscience posed by the present, but also plunges us into a startlingly prescient “what if?” world, exploring in both realms questions concerning the value of perseverance, art, hope, and heart.