When it comes to books, December often brings the unexpected. This year is no different; even with paper shortages and distribution issues complicating the world of publishing, this month had plenty of notable books to offer. This includes multiple works by certified geniuses and a host of intriguing books in translation. Looking for some cold-weather reading? Read on for our recommendations.
There’s a long literary tradition of longform fiction set against the backdrop of someone on their deathbed. The Death of Ivan Ilyich is one of the lodestars here, for sure; I myself am partial to By Night in Chile for its haunting construction, both Satanic humblebrag and chastened confession. Max Porter’s latest novel, The Death of Francis Bacon, taps into that same dread-inducing momentum — the sense of a protagonist hurtling, depending on your (or their) perspective, into either the great beyond or complete nothingness.
Dana Spiotta’s Wayward follows the contentious path of Sam, who falls in love with a decrepit yet glorious Arts and Crafts bungalow in downtown Syracuse, leaving behind her husband Matt and daughter Ally to start a new life. While the novel doesn’t jab at the tilt of western society — and America in particular, toppled by the election of Trump — it stabs us straight in the heart, right where the knife belongs. Locked into a society that seems to evolve without us, it’s driven by a tribal mentality with the help of social media on steroids and textbook activism so finding her place without the anchor of family is a challenge. AIgorithms, hardly artificial as they represent the worst of human tendencies and rarely intelligent, reduce the lives around her into a ravenous, heterogenous blob that consumes anything and everything 24/7. All of which is evident when it spills over into group think as activists and renegades stake their place in a kind of Kabuki theatre of the absurd. Alongside the need to promote that which they consume, bloated by misinformation and seduced by material wealth, they belong in a parallel universe, which Spiotta brilliantly illuminates through her laser-sharp prose, revealing an admirable take on culture where authenticity isn’t valued over recognition.
LAURA THEOBALD is the author of three books of poetry—Salad Days (Maudlin House, 2021), Kokomo (Disorder Press, 2019), and What My Hair Says About You (Metatron, 2017)—plus three chapbooks. She’s an English PhD candidate at UGA in Athens and received an MFA from LSU, where she was the editor of New Delta Review. In her spare time she designs books for small press publishers. She’s on Twitter and Instagram as @lidleida.
We’re pleased to publish an excerpt from The Hubris of an Empty Hand, the new short story collection from Mahyar A. Amouzega. Disorder author Amy Crider called this collection “A mysterious book that will make you re-evaluate your assumptions about Promethean gifts and the promise of knowledge” — an enticing description if ever there was one.
We’re pleased to present an excerpt from Cameron MacKenzie’s River Weather, a collection of short stories set against a backdrop of suburban sprawl in the Washington, DC area. MacKenzie’s fiction has prompted comparisons to that of Chuck Palahniuk and Raymond Carver; read on to explore one of the stories you’ll find in the new book.
RAX KING is the James Beard Award-nominated author of Tacky (Vintage, 2021) and host of the podcast Low Culture Boil. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her toothless Pekingese.
After I finished Graham Irvin’s new book, Liver Mush, I biked to the grocery store to buy some liver mush. In the frozen meat section, there was one solitary block of liver mush left—almost like it was waiting for me. I ate the liver mush on a pillsbury biscuit with American cheese, like Graham suggests in Liver Mush. The liver mush was phenomenal, an unexpected and great discovery. Liver Mush is also phenomenal, also an unexpected and great discovery. Two brand new delights in the course of an afternoon. It made for a good day. And you can discover them, too. They’re waiting for you, too. I had the pleasure of talking with Graham about liver mush and Liver Mush.