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.
Forward: 21st Century Flash Fiction by Megan Giddings (Aforementioned Productions, 2019)
Reviewed by Nora Poole
So often, a collection or anthology sets out to represent the best writing of a given form, genre, or year: Best American This, Best Collected That. Not so in the case of Forward: 21st Century Flash Fiction (Aforementioned Productions, 2019), a collection of short short fiction by writers of color, edited by Megan Giddings.“I’m not really a person who believes in bests,” she explains in her editor’s note. “The point [of this collection] is to show off how many ways a very short story can be written[…], to show that there are many writers out there engaging with the incredible elasticity of flash fiction.”
look how happy i’m making you BY POLLY ROSENWAIKE (DOUBLEDAY, 2019)
Reviewed by Gregorio Tafoya
“1. Lack of Interest in Your Baby”
starts the quietly explosive “Ten Warning Signs of Postpartum Depression”, a thick middle piece to Polly
Rosenwaike’s short story collection, Look
How Happy I’m Making You—best said in a sleep-deprived, low, gravelly tone.
Much like the characters in Polly Rosenwaike’s debut, I feel wholly inadequate and ill prepared for the task at hand. They are entrusted with the nobler task, that of motherhood, and I, a male with no child rearing experience, am attempting to review their explorations. When I get sentimental about fatherhood aspirations, it is always the highlight reel of playing catch in the backyard and teaching the finer points of auto mechanics—a concept I hardly have any grasp on. The scenes in Rosenwaike’s book are far from the highlight reel of any parenthood.
Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett (Tin House Books, 2019)
Reviewed by Emily Nelson
Florida has a pretty brutal reputation. Between the ghastly riches of the Florida Man meme to Marco Rubio, there’s definitely more than a few reasons that a decent portion of the U.S. sees it as the embarrassing Drunk Uncle of the states. But if Kristen Arnett has anything to say about it, Florida is on the come up — at least, as far as literature is concerned. Her debut novel, Mostly Dead Things, is as much a love letter to her state of residence as it is a darkly sweet story of grief and growth in a family of taxidermists. Arnett, a darling of Literary Twitter for her dispatches on working as a librarian and her dedication to convenience stores (her Twitter bio declares her a “7-Eleven Scholar”), creates in Mostly Dead Things a universe conjured from swamp magic and sweat, something gritty and wild and aggressively real that makes it instantly unforgettable.
The Hole by José Revueltas (New Directions, 2018)
Reviewed by Andres Vaamonde
In 1969, writer and leftist revolutionary José Revueltas was in prison. It wasn’t his first time. More than thirty years earlier, when Revueltas was a teenager, he served multiple bids for his participation in the then-outlawed Communist Party of Mexico. He never attended university. Still, he became an important (if controversial) intellectual figure in Mexico, eventually finding himself in a cell in the infamous Lecumberri Prison in 1969 with nothing but time, fury, and, somehow, a typewriter.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Riverhead 2017)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is about magic portals. It’s about immigration. It’s about distance. But mostly, it’s about love. Continue reading
The Descent of Monsters by JY Yang (Tor, 2018)
I have never read a book quite like JY Yang’s, The Descent of Monsters, the third novella in their silkpunk Tensorate series. I have read and loved their first two installments, I have read Victorian epistolary novels, I have imbibed mysteries, thrillers, and other assorted noir, but never something that so successfully wove all these disparate DNAs together. Continue reading
The Grip of It by Jac Jemc (FSG Originals, 2017)
An old chain spools around a metal pulley next to a swinging kitchen door. The silver chain comes up from somewhere under the wooden living room floor and returns to the same place. When I pull it, it gives a little. On the pulley, three words circle, raised in the brown metal: Closed, Open, and Check. And there is a dial, a hefty metal switch that only moves a centimeter. Other than the give, nothing happens. It’s neat and old and mysteriously low to the ground next to the built-in hutch. An examination of the basement where the chain ends and begins again reveals nothing.
This chain is just one of those objects humans wonder about when they find them after they have moved houses, as I have just done. Continue reading