By Heather Mackey
Short enough to be read in one sitting, Severina by Guatemalan master Rodrigo Rey Rosa lingers disproportionately long in the imagination. A seemingly straightforward tale of a bookseller’s obsession with an alluring book thief, Severina carries mysterious hints of the metaphysical as it makes sly jokes and asides about literary culture and bibliophilia.
An unnamed narrator encounters and falls in love with a woman, Severina, who repeatedly visits his bookstore and steals from him. He watches her and notes the titles she steals as if they are keys to her soul. He follows her. At one point she moves in with him. Yet however close he gets to her, she remains elusive. Why does she steal? Who is the older gentleman she travels with? What sort of life do they lead, these nomads who steer themselves by the currents of literature? Read More
By Ho Lin
“Suddenly the front door swung open, and in walked…” This incomplete sentence, which occurs a third of the way into Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s delightful Definitely Maybe, is a tease, a taunt, and a mission statement. We’ve come to expect a certain amount of knottiness in our so-called serious literature and understand puzzlement is part of the game, yet it’s still a shock to encounter it in genre fiction, where at its best plot, character, and theme are still delivered in neat, enjoyable bundles. Suffice to say we never learn who walks in through that door and what happens immediately afterwards. Yet it doesn’t matter. Definitely Maybe is that rarest of creatures, a science fiction novella that is also a book of questions without answers. Read More
By Emily May Anderson
The poems in Soul in Space, Noelle Kocot’s sixth collection, spark across its pages like synapses firing in the brain. Arranged in four sections with different formal conventions, the book doesn’t tell a coherent story, but, like the soul of the title, travels widely while retaining its own voice throughout.
In the Acknowledgments, Kocot credits her editor (Joshua Beckman at Wave Books) with arranging the book into its four numbered sections. The organization works, and it’s hard to imagine the sections being composed without that structure in mind, they flow so well. Read More
By Ho Lin
That .45 was part of him, part of Filiberto García, as much as his name and his past. Fucking past!
— Rafael Bernal, The Mongolian Conspiracy (1969)
“You say ‘fuck’ a lot.”
—Kim Basinger, L.A. Confidential (1997)
The word “fuck” is deployed fast and furious by Filiberto García in Rafael Bernal’s The Mongolian Conspiracy — easily hundreds of times — and given that Filiberto is a public dick whose Christian name also means “dick,” this all might seem excessive to certain discerning readers. But to García and Bernal, the f-word, in all its vulgar, existential aggravation, is the only sane response to a Mexico City reeking with corruption, drug lords, would-be revolutionaries, lecherous Chinatown kingpins, payouts in fifty-dollar bills, and, yes, conspiracies. A former revolutionary himself, García now toils as a cop (read: hitman) for the ruling party and has plenty to be steamed about: within the next two days, he must investigate wild rumors of an assassination plot against the U.S. President by the Mongolians (fucking Outer Mongolia!), play nice with American and Russian agents who have their own Cold War priorities (fucking gringos!), and ferret out the truth from a thicket of untruths, secrets, and misdirection (fucking mission!), all the while babysitting and lusting after an illegal immigrant from China who may not be so innocent but is too comely to ignore (fucking Marta!). Read More
By Daniel Shank Cruz
As its subtitle indicates, Ewuare X. Osayande’s anthology Stand Our Ground: Poems for Trayvon Martin & Marissa Alexander attempts to make space for poetry within the fractious public discourse surrounding two recent examples of race-related legal injustice. Osayande explicitly ties the book to the Black Arts Movement tradition of poetry-as-social activism, writing in the introduction that Stand Our Ground “exhorts us not only to face our reality, but to act” and explaining that it contains “Poems that revolt and rebel / that holler, scream and yell” (15, 18). Read More
By Daniel Shank Cruz
In Somewhere Near Defiance, his sixth full-length collection of poems, Jeff Gundy is at the top of his game. The book revisits Gundy’s usual catalog of subjects — small-town life in the Midwest, nature, Mennonites, being on the road, and so on — but these themes remain fresh under his deft touch. Like two of his poetic influences, William Blake and Walt Whitman (who each appear in several poems), Gundy is a poet of the people in that his poems examine everyday life in a way that elevates it to the sublime. One of the book’s early poems, “Having It All Four Ways,” is written as a catechism, inspiring the desire to read it reverently, as one would whisper a prayer during morning devotions, but focuses on the holiness of fleshly being: “[s]weat, chocolate, lust, and fire” (23). The parallel emphasis on the earthly and the divine is present throughout this collection as an argument that the two are much more closely related than is often assumed. Read More
By Diego Báez
Donna Tartt has turned out a single novel every decade, starting with her bestselling debut, The Secret History (1992), a semi-autobiographical “murder mystery in reverse” about students at a small private school in Vermont. The Little Friend (2002) followed and fixes its focus on the suspenseful, Mississippi-based story of 12-year-old Hattie’s extended family and Southern life at large. The Goldfinch (2013) follows thirteen-year-old Theo Decker, who loses his mother when an explosion destroys an entire wing of an art museum in New York City. Theo’s estranged father reappears and absconds with the boy, removing him to the desert wastes of Las Vegas. Over the course of his drawn-out adventure, Theo finds himself inextricably linked to the novel’s eponymous masterpiece and its role in the underground art market. Read More
By Caitlin Callaghan
“He just wanted to live his dream of dying in Paris.” So says one of the new housemates of Leticia “Lita” del Cielo on her first morning as a new tenant in the House of Stars, a run-down mansion on the Left Bank in which well-moneyed—or “green-blooded”—young women board year by year. The man under discussion is an American who flew to Paris for the sole purpose of his suicide, and it is through this conversational topic that both Lita and the reader meet the young women with whom she will live during the next several months. We are less than twenty pages into Patricia Engel’s first novel, It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris, and the American’s death is the second one to bear mention. The first was Princess Diana, who died in that infamous tunnel crash under Paris as Lita was flying from Newark to the City of Light to begin her year abroad. As we soon learn, love and death are both present in the House of Stars. Read More