Fiction

  • Under Wildwood

    Colin Meloy & Carson Ellis

    When I read the first book in this trilogy, I made a comment about reading this second part “at my earliest convenience,” which turned out to be about five years later. This volume explores more areas of the fantastical land of Wildwood, where people and anthropomorphized animals coexist. It is a fairly straightforward sort of story where characters are either good or bad, and there is no development in between. But it’s a pleasant page-turner, and the book is written to make best use of Carson Ellis’s nostalgic illustration style.more

  • The First Rule of Punk

    Celia C. Pérez

    I am 100% biased with this book, as Celia is a longtime friend. But while it could be possible that I loved this solely from seeing Celia’s heart and humor within the narrative, she has been getting so much amazing feedback (including NPR interviews, shout outs from John Green, and this insightful extended review #humblefriendbrags) that it can’t just be my partiality at play.

    The star of the book is Malú, who feels that she relates more to her punk rock father than her mother, who she calls “SuperMexican,” as her mom is so devoted to embodying her cultural heritage. When her mom gets a two-year academic job in Chicago, the two of them will need...more

  • Pond

    Claire-Louise Bennett

    Everybody knows deep down that life is as much about the things that do not happen as the things that do and that’s not something that ought to be glossed over or denied because without frustration there would hardly be any need to daydream. And daydreams return me to my original sense of things and I luxuriate in these fervid primary visions until I am entirely my unalloyed self again. So even though it sometimes feels as if one could just about die from disappointment I must concede that in fact in a rather perverse way it is precisely those things I did not get that are keeping me alive.

    I started this book before I went on vacation and was...more

  • A Safe Girl to Love

    Casey Plett

    Epigraphs rarely feel undeniably necessary to me; they are interesting, but I assume they mean more to the author than the reader in most cases. Casey Plett’s epigraph for her debut collection of short stories (an excerpt from Michelle Tea’s The Chelsea Whistle) so perfectly sets the tone for the book and provides the title that I really can’t imagine the book without it:

    I loved that dream of a girl, the Beautiful Girl, calm and wild as water. I loved her like I loved the Psychic Girl, another paperback myth, because she was a safe girl to love, a fantasy that I could own. When I grew up and began to meet so many different real girls. I met beautiful

    ...more
  • Enigma Variations

    André Aciman

    A novel that takes its name from an Edward Elgar orchestral piece, the variations here are different romances from fragmented eras of the narrator Paul’s life. Though the novel progresses linearly, each chapter really exists as its own story with only passing references to the others. Characters mentioned in passing in one story may come to the forefront in another before sliding to the background again later.

    The opening chapter “First Love” feels much different from the rest, focused on Paul’s return to an Italian island where his family had a summer home in his youth, a house that later burned down. Though he is ostensibly there to finally see what remains of the property, he finds himself seeking out...more

  • The Idiot

    Elif Batuman

    Essentially a novel in two parts, the first comprises Selin’s first year at Harvard in the year 1995, as Selin chooses to study linguistics and Russian, meets a Hungarian mathematician, Ivan, begins emailing Ivan, and develops a crush on him through their correspondence. They have an awkward flirtation, being painfully unable to have a conversation outside of their strange emails. The second part covers the summer when Selin travels to Paris with her friend Svetlana and then Hungary to teach English in a small town, which she basically only does to try to see Ivan, even though this seems ill-advised. The book is episodic, focused on the humor and poignancy of banal moments. Usually that sounds like something I am...more

  • Transit

    Rachel Cusk

    Rachel Cusk’s previous novel Outline was an unexpected pleasure, so it was also a nice surprise to find out the book was the first in a trilogy — Transit is the second installment. This book follows a similar structure, where each chapter is centered around a conversation between Faye, the heart of the story, and people she meets. Whereas in the last book, she was traveling and the conversations were focused more on the other people, this one has her at home, albeit a new home after divorcing her husband. (A home that needs to be renovated extensively, while the tenants in the downstairs flat protest at even moderate sound.)

    In some ways perhaps I love this book less than Outline, whether...more

  • White Tears

    Hari Kunzru

    Hari Kunzru is a British-born writer and has only lived in the US since 2008, yet he weaves a tale about the roots of appropriation in our culture in this stunning literary thriller. Two college friends, both white, bond over a shared obsession with old blues music. Carter is from a rich, well-connected family with the money to set up a recording studio full of “authentic” analog equipment, and Seth is an introspective nerd with a habit of wandering the city recording ambient noise. By chance Seth picks up audio of a man singing a haunting tune on the street, which the duo mixes to sound like a genuine blues tune digitized from an old 78 record. Carter shares...more

  • 4 3 2 1

    Paul Auster

    After establishing the parental background and birth of Archie Ferguson, 4 3 2 1 promptly splits off into four directions, four possible paths of this one person. While certain aspects of each life are constant — all four Archies have an interest in writing and most are attracted to same woman — there’s a fair amount of variance in each version and how the constants are played out. Rooted in the banalities of each life, the concept is compelling but sometimes bogged down in too much detail. Archie #1’s experience working on Columbia’s newspaper during the 1968 Vietnam War protests, and to a lesser extent Archie #4’s exposure to the Newark race riots, bordered on a slog-level amount of detail, and I’m not sure for what purpose...more

  • Do Not Say We Have Nothing

    Madeleine Thien

    What was a zero anyway? A zero signified nothing, all it did was tell you nothing about nothing. Still, wasn’t zero also something meaningful, a number in and of itself? In jianpu notation, zero indicated a caesura, a pause or rest of indeterminate length. Did time that went uncounted, unrecorded, still qualify as time? If zero was both everything and nothing, did an empty life have exactly the same weight as a full life? Was zero like the desert, both finite and infinite?

    A sprawling novel centered around two generations of an extended family — two closely connected families, really — from the oppression of China’s Cultural Revolution through the violence of the student protests in 1989 into the modern day where some characters have...more

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