77 by Guillermo Saccomanno, trans. by Andrea G. Labinger (Open Letter 2019)
Reviewed by Allison McCausland
Fear makes people do crazy things. When a country is in turmoil politically, its hard to distinguish the clear-cut actions of people as heroic or survivalist. In the case of Professor Gomez, the protagonist of Guillermo Saccomanno’s latest translated work, 77, he acts as more of an active bystander, drawing in the reader through his retrospective narration of his time in Buenos Aires during the Jorge Videla coup d’état in 1977. Saccomanno captures the uncertainty and day-to-day dangers of living in this era with visceral scenes and inner longing for a better life. Translator Andrea G. Labinger keeps the rhetoric in line with Saccomanno’s vision to ground readers in both terrifying and startlingly mundane situations.
Bestiary by K-Ming Chang (One World 2020)
Reviewed by A. Mana Nava
Bestiary is a nonlinear, multi-generational experiment exploring how stories are passed down from generation to generation. K-Ming Chang plays with narrative structure by blending the epistolary form, fables, oral storytelling, and close third-person narration. In the narrative, the character Mother tells Daughter a story about a hungry tiger who eats toes to explain why she cut hers off and keeps them in a tin. Then, one day Daughter wakes up with a tiger tail. This novel turns impossible tales of rivers impregnating women, flying crabs, and holes carrying letters across the country into a plausible reality. There is no line between fantasy and reality as the two are brilliantly woven together.
The Seep by Chana Porter (Soho Books 2020)
Reviewed by Edmondson Cole
In Chana Porter’s debut novel, an alien life form known as the Seep doesn’t conquer the planet in a military sense –instead it infiltrates humankind via their drinking water, achieving the “softest invasion” (9) earth (or the sci-fi genre) has ever seen. The effect of this invasion is not what one might expect. Not mind-control or bodily harm, but instead a oneness with the world, the ability to touch objects and feel their past, present, and future. For those under the influence of the Seep, “it was impossible to feel anything except expansive joy, peace, tenderness, and love.” (11) So begins an unconventional take on a classic sci-fi premise, a novel about grief and identity and those hardships of the human condition that persist even in a world where death is an “opt-in procedure” (44) and humanity has been freed to live outside “the old scarcity paradigm.” (13)
“Just Dandy: ” A Review of I’ve Seen the Future and I’m Not Going: The Art Scene and Downtown New York in the 1980s by Peter McGough (Pantheon 2019)
Review by Michael Quinn
Peter McGough and his partner (in business and romance) David McDermott rose to prominence in the 1980s New York art scene. Their paintings have a vintage feel with a contemporary twist (a still life of flowers has the blossoms arranged into the shape of a dollar sign). Their later photography has a much more mysterious feeling, truer to whatever periods they were aping. Mentored by Julian Schnabel, their work appeared in three Whitney Biennials and graced a 1986 cover of Artforum.
Sword in the Stars by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy (JIMMY patterson 2020)
Reviewed by Maayan D’Antonio
Ari, Merlin and their rainbow knights are back and are headed straight for the Camelot of the Middle Ages, where they must attempt to steal the Holy Grail from the King Arthur, in order to save the future from the evil Mercer Corporation that seeks galactic domination. But something is wrong, Merlin is in a…well? And where are his friends?
Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett (Knopf Books for Young Readers 2019)
Reviewed by Kelly Dasta
Full Disclosure is an intersectional young adult novel that fosters sex-positivity and works to break the stigma surrounding HIV—a prime example of how diversity and inclusion are becoming more pervasive within the YA genre. Written by New York University film student, Camryn Garrett, the novel details the story of Simone Garcia-Hampton who hopes to keep her HIV positive diagnosis under-wraps upon transferring to a new high school. However, she soon develops feelings for a charming boy named Miles, which means if she wishes to pursue a relationship with him, she’ll have to tell him about her diagnosis eventually. To make matters worse, one day she receives a note in her locker, threatening that she either tell Miles about her diagnosis, or the note-writer will tell the whole school. Her first reaction is to hide the truth, but “as she gains a deeper understanding of the prejudice and fear in her community, she begins to wonder if the only way to rise above is to face the haters head-on.”