Likes by Sarah shun-lien bynum (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2020)
Reviewed by Lisa Slage-Robinson
Sarah Shun-lien Bynum is all grown up. In what may seem like a departure from her trademark whimsy, Likes, a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize for Fiction, is a collection of nine stories, mostly grounded in reality, that dwell in the concerns of mid-career professionals, their affairs, infertility and child-rearing. The O’Henry Award winning story, “Julia and Sunny,” for example, laments the disintegrating marriage of a perfect couple.
In our second round of micro-reviews, we are thinking about place – not just in terms of physical setting, but also the emotional and imagined places that books allow us to inhabit.
This collection includes poetry set on a rumbling train, a novella about a woman for whom time is as much as a place as the otherworldly rural setting in which she finds herself, and a mystery in which the real horror comes from inhabiting the mind of the troubled narrator. With books set from Cairo to the Oregon coast and everywhere in between, you are sure to find a book in this round-up that speaks to your desire to escape.
This is our first reading round-up! Hurray! And after the outpouring of support (and content!) from our community these last few months, we can’t think of a more fitting theme for our first collection of micro-reviews than LOVE.
In this month’s round-up, we’re sharing love stories — stories of queer love, brown and black love, parental love, self-love, love of home. These books teach us that love is sticky and uncertain. Sometimes, it is colored by bias and political violence. Sometimes, we don’t have the language for it. Sometimes, it is wrapped in a heavy blanket of grief. But no matter what shape love takes, the Drizzle team believes that love is valuable. Love stories are valuable. After all, as contributor Katie Centabar wrote in her review of Get a Life Chloe Brown: “In these tough times, we all need love.”
You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat (Catapult Press 2020)
Reviewed by Isabella Scala-Natoli
In Zaina Arafat’s debut novel, You Exist Too Much—what some have called a bildungsroman, and a character study—an unnamed D.C. raised Palestinian-American narrator gets dumped by her girlfriend for her chronic infidelity and goes to rehab, then an MFA program. Across America, Europe, and The Middle East, she learns how to shape her life story into a love-story both shattering in impact and fractured in shape. Each place the narrator takes us to is tied to a person, and another manifestation of the same quest. That is, to find a mother—and in effect—a homeland. On this quest, as readers, we experience with the narrator what I can only describe as growing pains. What I got from reading YETM was the chance to bond with a character who by working out her own flaws, made me consequently realize my own. This sounds negative but it isn’t. It was a pleasant awakening. Like suddenly remembering where you know that person from, the one you saw on the bus earlier. You went to college together. Of course! Your dislike of others stems from your own insecurities. Of course!
The Wind That Lays Waste by Selva Almada, trans. by Chris Andrews (Graywolf Press, 2019)
Reviewed by Allison McCausland
There is an old saying that one can tell the character of a person not by how long they have known them, but based on a single gesture. These view sinuously weaves together four characters of Selva Almada’s 2012 novel The Wind That Lays Waste. Translated by Chris Andrews in 2019, both author and translator create a character study of four individuals at a roadside garage in Argentina.
The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi (Mira Books 2020)
Reviewed by Angela Gualtieri
Historical fiction opens the gateway to a different time and place. The settings themselves make readers long for somewhere they’ve never been. This is the case in Alka Joshi’s debut novel, The Henna Artist.
Set in the 1950s, The Henna Artist transports us back to India a few years after gaining independence from the British. Joshi’s vivid imagery makes India’s past crawl off the page, bringing it to life: “We entered a colonnade flanked by lush gardens. Topiary elephants frolicked on the lawns. Live peacocks pranced around circular fountains. Stone urns sprouted honeysuckle, jasmine and sweet pea” (142). Amidst the color and beauty of historical India, Joshi also gives us a taste of the social, economic, and political climates of the time, shedding light on the difficulties for people of lower castes and women.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (Make Me a World 2019)
Reviewed by Robert Drinkwater
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi is set in a utopian city, Lucille, where evil people, also called “monsters” no longer exist, but have been replaced by “angels”, good people who try to establish justice and peace. Pet explores a world which may look peaceful and perfect on the outside, but is in fact full of monsters. In many ways, the book mirrors the systemic racism and issues of justice that characterize the current political situation in the United States.
Obviously, it’s a weird time to be alive. I won’t say much more about COVID-19 here, other than the fact that I am grateful to find solace in books while home-bound.
In that vein, I asked our editors and frequent contributors to send over a book or two that has made their quarantine more manageable. Some of these are old favorites, some are new finds, but all are solid picks to stave off your quarantine-fueled boredom, and maybe even provide a little hope or inspiration in moments of chaos and confusion.
The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo (Flatiron Books, 2019)
Reviewed by Angela Gualtieri
Some stories tell of rich histories and folklore. Others enchant with forbidden romances and evil foes. Others are filled with emotional turmoil and death. And yet, some stories seem to encompass it all.
Set in 1930s Colonial Malaya (current Malaysia), Yangsze Choo’s The Night Tiger follows an eleven-year-old houseboy named Ren, tasked with fulfilling his dead master’s final wish to find his long-since detached finger. Ren only has 49 days to reunite the finger with its earthly body or his master’s soul will roam the Earth forever. Ji Lin, a young apprentice dressmaker moonlighting as a dancehall girl to pay her mother’s debts, accidentally receives one of her dance partner’s lucky charms: a mummified finger. As Ren and Ji Lin walk their destined paths unknowingly toward each other, a strange series of deaths, dreams of the in-between, and whispers of weretigers force them to fight their demons, both internal and external.