• print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    Use Your Elusion

    THE UNNAMED NARRATOR of Lauren Oyler’s debut novel is an ex-blogger. She delivers hard truths about what she reads online: popular tweets and think-pieces alike are “aimed not at clawing for some difficult specificity but at reaffirming a widespread but superficial understanding.” Fake Accounts details her pivot to clawing, and to fiction; she is writing a semiautobiographical novel of hyperspecific circumstances, having recently discovered that her boyfriend, Felix, peddles anti-Semitic conspiracy theories via Instagram. Soon after, he dies. She gets the news at the Women’s March in Washington,

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    Pure Moods

    THE FIRST HALF of Patricia Lockwood’s novel No One Is Talking About This opens in a place between life and death. The second half unfolds in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The first half is about the internet. The second half is about having a body in a world. These halves are as discrete as a clunky little screen glowing its gloamish light into an open face, two limitless modes that find their limit only where they merge. The novel takes shape in the parenthetical scoop of a Venn diagram between machine and mind, crowd and solitude, joke and beauty. A very online woman, unnamed, microfamous

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    Wayne’s World

    IN THE ANTIC TALE that opens The Cheerful Scapegoat, Wayne Koestenbaum’s book of self-described “fables,” a woman named Crocus, like the flower, arrives at a house party wearing a checkered frock designed by the Abstract Expressionist Adolph Gottlieb. She cowers in the entrance, vacillating over whether to enter or not. She phones her doctor, a man whom she refers to as the “miscreant-confessor,” who entreats her to be social. Inside, Crocus accompanies a “fashionable mortician” to a bedroom where she happens upon a fully clothed woman lying atop a fully clothed man. Observing something “unformed

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    It’s Complicated

    TORREY PETERS HAS BEEN self-publishing and giving away her stories online for pay-what-you-like prices since the mid-2010s. In the short works The Masker, Glamour Boutique, and Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones—a sci-fi contagion story about hormones—Peters zeroes in on moments when her trans protagonist behaves or thinks in ways that communal consensus has agreed is “wrong.” Peters simplifies nothing, explains nothing to the outsider, which is why she is treasured by readers who are also protective of her and her work. For as long as such stories have stayed in the underground, where people

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    Fortress of Solitude

    A DECADE AND A HALF AGO, a book so enchanted me that it was hard to pull away. If I were to get any of my own work done, I needed to hide it. (The book was very long, over eight hundred pages; I didn’t have the time.) But the tome kept jumping back into my hands. I could have given it away, of course, or simply tossed the thing, but surely at some point—when this oppressive spell of work was over—I’d want to dive back in. I had only finished a third, perhaps less. One day, I came across a length of twine, and instantly its purpose was apparent to me: I neatly tied the fat book up, quartering

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    Apocalypse When

    THE LIFE OF THE MIND, Christine Smallwood’s debut novel, begins with an ending. We meet Dorothy, a contingent faculty member in the English department where she used to be a doctoral student, as she negotiates the miscarriage of an accidental pregnancy. The pregnancy, at once unexpected and welcome, is a blighted ovum, “just tissue” according to her ob-gyn. The metaphor is clear: Dorothy’s academic career and the pregnancy are both projects of development and growth that never had a chance to thrive.

    Dorothy is introduced after the first wash of her miscarriage, as she is waiting anxiously to

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  • print • Mar/Apr/May 2021

    Fearful Circuitry

    KLARA, THE TITLE CHARACTER OF KAZUO ISHIGURO’S new novel, would seem to have some serious shortcomings as a narrator. Introduced in a retail outlet in an unnamed city where she alternates between the window and less desirable display positions, Klara is a solar-powered AF, or Artificial Friend, who exists solely to assist and accompany the human child who purchases her. Despite her impressive capacity for mimesis and spongelike powers of absorption, we never forget Klara’s obvious limitations. Her view of the world is circumscribed, her vocabulary stilted, her agency virtually nonexistent. All

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  • excerpt • January 21, 2021

    An excerpt from Japan’s first bilingual, semiautobiographical novel

    I thought that in the interest of financial stability Nanae ought to increase her hours of part-time work rather than stocking up on lottery tickets.

    “You know those tickets never win.”

    I know[1].”

    “Why don’t you quit buying them then?”

    Yeah. But I still have a dollar and a few dreams. A person can’t live without dreams, after all.”

    “I suppose not.”

    “Anyway, nothing good ever happens in life.” She sighed.

    This was her constant refrain. I gave my stock reply: “No, it doesn’t. Good things just don’t happen.”

    “I’d have been satisfied with something small. I don’t need a million dollars.

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  • review • January 12, 2021

    On pleasure and survival in Claude McKay’s Romance in Marseille

    Claude McKay’s “lost” novel Romance in Marseille begins where most novels would end: with a twist of fate that brings life to a grinding halt. Lafala, a West African sailor and a man of “shining blue blackness,” is discovered stowing away on a ship traveling from Marseille to New York and detained in an uninsulated bathroom, where he nearly freezes to death. When he comes to, he’s in a New York hospital, legless. Lafala’s first reaction is fear: he has heard that doctors in hospitals sometimes kill Black patients to use as cadavers. This is not merely superstition, but the unremitting condition

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  • review • December 15, 2020

    David Mitchell’s vertiginous novel of a fictional British rock band

    For every novel David Mitchell writes, two are published: there is the novel read by Mitchell’s fans, and the novel read by first-timers. Each of his books stands alone, as a thoughtful, researched, realistic portrayal of a specific time or place. There is a coming-of-age novel about a video-game obsessed adolescent in present-day Japan (Number9Dream), a novel about a Dutch visitor to a port near Nagasaki at the very end of the eighteenth century (The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet), a novel that deals with a widespread environmental collapse and the horror it brings to ill people (The Bone

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    The Martin Papers

    “SENESCENCE” ISN’T QUITE THE RIGHT WORD for the stage the writers of the Baby Boom have reached. Sure, they may be collecting social security, the eldest of them in their mid-seventies, but the wonders of modern science may allow some another couple of decades of productivity. When the Reaper starts to come for the writer’s instrument, the first thing to go is flow, but that may not matter: fragments are in. In a decade or so, robbed of their transitions and reduced to accumulating prose shards, the octogenarian Boomers may find themselves newly trendy. A strange fate for a generation that

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  • print • Dec/Jan/Feb 2021

    A Rumble Offering

    YOU KNOW HOW, when you roll into a small town for the first time, in search of a slice of pie and a decent cup of coffee, you inevitably uncover a byzantine and nefarious criminal conspiracy, perhaps concerning Russian spies and Nazis? And your sense of justice and your MMA-style fighting skills demand that you stick around long enough to expose the evildoers, protect the innocent, and kick a whole lot of ass?

    OK, that probably hasn’t happened to you more than once. But it happens to Jack Reacher all the time. Lee Child’s ex-military drifter-hero is framed for murder in a small Georgia town

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