The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 2020)
Reviewed by Megan Foster
A good man is hard to find, as they say. This is certainly the case in Cuban author Marcial Gala’s The Black Cathedral, a darkly comic novel that buzzes around the Stewart family’s fated arrival to Cienfuegos. Arturo Stewart moves with his wife Carmen and their three children – David King, Samuel Prince, and Johannes – with the express purpose of constructing a titular cathedral to outshine any temple in Cuba and make Cienfuegos the new Jerusalem. It doesn’t take long for the neighborhood to suspect that the Stewarts are not what they seem. Readers must determine whom to trust as the novel rapidly flits through everyone’s point of view but the Stewarts: town gossips, classmates, a school principal, an architect, a drag queen, ghosts, a serial killer. In a town spurred by greed and violence, no one is holier than thou.
Godshot by Chelsea Bieker (Catapult 2020)
Reviewed by Megan L Stills
Everyone in Peaches, California is thirsty. The once-abundant land that the Gifts of the Spirit cult watches over is now nothing more than crackling, scorched earth. Baptism occurs in tubs of warm soda, the shallow end of the measures taken by The Body to bring life back to their raisin crops. But fourteen-year-old Lacey May Herd is thirsty for more than just the rains that Pastor Vern promises will pour down on those who are faithful. Within this world where young boys are messengers of god and girls are their vessels, emerges a story of birth and rebirth.
Hum by Natalia Hero (Metatron Press, 2018)
Reviewed by Summer A.H. Christiansen
As someone who has never really been a fan of magical realism, I will admit I was a bit skeptical when I started reading Hum by Natalia Hero. However, after a few pages, I knew I was reading something special, and my skepticism was misplaced.
Hum is a powerful story that comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement. The novella follows an unnamed young woman as she grapples with her life after being raped. Hero uses the metaphor of giving birth to a hummingbird to illustrate that the effects of trauma are constant and ever present in one’s life.
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.
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.
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 Emissary by Yoko Tawada, trans. by Margaret Mitsutani (New Directions 2018)
It had been my intention all along to review Yoko Tawada’s most recently translated novel The Emissary this week, and the announcement that Tawada was the recipient of the first award for translated literature since the National Book Award became the National Book Award in the early 1980s only solidified my thrill at getting the chance to write about this novel. Though all the books selected this year are exciting – I am particularly interested in finally reading Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend – I am particularly happy to see this nod to translated books in American literature. Compared to most countries America’s publication of translated works is nominal, and I respect and appreciate the National Book Award in their effort to encourage publishers to look internationally for new voices. 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