In Harrow, Joy Williams doesn't write precocious child narrators so much as she writes all-seeing child gods. Funny as hell, full of nonsense and uncontrolled wit, this stunning, death-hurtling novel is certainly one of the best Williams has ever produced. It's a pleasure to be alive to see it.
The inaugural publication from Fern Books, AN IDEAL PRESENCE is a book about death, dying, care, and the cold logistics of it all. A work of fiction by an OuLiPian with the fatal energy of Alice Oswald's Memorial, I was as amazed by this polyphonic novel as I was humbled by its reverence for the profession of caregiving in our often unremarkable final hours. An instant favorite.
To the chagrin of plenty, when people ask me about Miriam Toews (and when they don't), I often say her name in the same breath as "greatest novelist writing in English today" and "the best writer on grief and loss living on this continent," superlatives that surely test my credibility and raise eyebrows, but I stand by them. So help me. It's easy for me to articulate what makes Toews so compelling: her acidic humor, her total inability to play by the rules, always one eye on the specter of death. Rivaling some of Toews's best novels (All My Puny Sorrows, Women Talking, A Complicated Kindness, to name a few), FIGHT NIGHT is the most invigorating work of art in Toews's oeuvre thus far. Come for Toews's unparalleled knack for writing sour grandmothers; stay for Swiv, the precocious child narrator who says things like this: "I don't know why saying bowel movement and stool is better than vag and piehole. It doesn't matter what words you use in life, it's not gonna prevent you from suffering."
The Divorce rivals The Literary Conference and An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter as my favorite Aira to date. Nutty, full of preposterous coincidence, always veering in impossible directions. We call César Aira a writer of fiction (is he a magical realist? surrealist?) because there's no other name for what he does.
Let me introduce you to Brian Evenson. He can write in nearly every genre imaginable. He's the Rod Serling of books, guiding you through moral tales of ecological horror, the violent history of American religion, the monstrous, self-destructive nature of our species. Booksellers, critics, hard-boiled genre writers, and the snooty upper echelon of literary novelists speak about Brian Evenson in hushed, reverent tones. He never misses.
Our ill-fated narrator is Aurora Berro, who dies in the novel’s opening pages when a vinyl record, screaming across the sky like a “demented boomerang,” slices her jugular in unspectacular fashion. What ensues is a nightmare of vaudevillian overtones and magnificent solitude (think Carmen Boullosa meets Jon Fosse meets Marx Brothers). Out of the Cage made me feel uneasy in my skin, uneasy about the fact of my birth, and suddenly unsure of how my mother really felt about me.
This is a read-in-one-day kind of book or stretch it out into two if you don't want it to end. Written in fragments but still stays whole, Offill outlines the very real thoughts and feelings of a wife and mother with a careful wit and quiet intelligence. One of my favorite books I will come back to again and again; you should probably just read it.
Pew, Catherine Lacey's genderless protagonist, arrives in the American South one day, without shelter or memory of whence they came. A strange event called the Forgiveness Festival looms over the novel, a gathering that brings about the book's unnerving but ultimately cathartic climax—like reading Ursula K Le Guin, or Ágota Kristóf, or Jesse Ball. Pew is Catherine Lacey's weirdest, most provocative book to date, the novel that she'll be remembered for for years to come.
"That is our 'pointed task. Love & die." So says John Berryman, the pre-eminent lovedrunk poet and the central obsession of Andrew Palmer's debut novel, The Bachelor, a book that is, yes, partially about romantic love in the age of reality television. But what if you're not a fame-starved Instagram model, and instead a brooding but friendly millennial type, recently void of artistic ambition? Palmer's brilliant work is full of insight and romantic mistakes, like reading the best of Andrew Martin, Ben Lerner, or Elif Batuman. Palmer extracts the language of love for what it is—its hollowness! its empty repetition! ("I've never felt this way before." "I think I'm falling for you.") It's a difficult thing to watch, as it starts to indict us all.
A truly unique book, perfect in pitch, perfect in form, perfect in many things. The Organs of Sense is like a sour George Saunders novel or an astronomical Bernhard with a degree in the science history, but seriously, only a writer as bizarrely talented as Adam Ehrlich Sachs could have written it.