Literature that makes me uncomfortable holds a special place in my heart. This year I’ve been lucky enough to read two books that have dug their way underneath my skin and stuck with me like angry chiggers hellbent on never letting go. The first book was Rachel Eve Moulton’s Tinfoil Butterfly. The second was my most recent read, Matthieu Simard’s The Country Will Bring Us No Peace. A bleak, strangely poetic narrative full of mystery that explores the darkest corners of human emotion, The Country Will Bring Us No Peace is an outstanding novel with a depressive atmosphere that sticks to your ribs and refuses to let go.
When it comes to finding ugliness, unexpected beauty, and weirdness in everyday life, no author does it quite like Mary Miller. Her understated, straightforward prose is a treasure trove of illuminating morsels that strip away pretense and reflect humanity in all its glorious range: unpleasantness, pettiness, aching, love, hope, heartbreak, longing, lust, depression, humor, and confusion abound. At once a novel and a sociological treatise of loneliness and heartbreak, Biloxi, Miller’s latest novel, is a hybrid narrative that’s part novel, part love letter to human darkness, and part ethnographical observation of an old man and his dog. Oh, and it’s all strangely beautiful and engrossing.
In James Brubaker’s new novel, the titular Taxidermist’s Catalog is a long-rumored lost and final LP by folk musician Jim Toop, the sort of album that haunts fans’ existences, like a full-band recording of Springsteen’s Nebraska. The Taxidermist’s Catalog “is, famously, an album that was never properly completed” before Toop, at age 27, wandered into the desert to die — or was murdered, or, if fan sites are to be believed, was abducted by aliens. The “hardline conspiracy theorists” populating fan messageboards scrutinize Toop’s pre-disappearance records for contextual clues to support increasingly odd assertions, with his disappearance in 1977 the only certainty. The online Toop community’s many and sundried conclusions often include a woman named Angela, presumably of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, who is mentioned by name in his early work. A cottage industry emerges as Toop fans descend on the town, where “they go to restaurants and bars, acting all casual as they ask obtusely worded questions about UFO’s and cults and whatever other bullshit they’re interested in” regarding the swirling rumors surrounding the musician’s disappearance, and townspeople, much like those in Cornish, New Hampshire prior to the death of J.D. Salinger, do what they can to keep their secrets secure.
“Tomorrow, yes, I will leave this house, I’ll abandon the village and the life here, all the faces that I love I will leave.”
“Tilting” is putting it gently. Colette Fellous’s world, detailed through a collage of memory, is actually thoroughly ruptured and shattered amid a trio of losses. Translated from French to English by acclaimed literary translator Sophie Lewis, This Tilting World is Fellous’s first book to appear in English. This author of more than twenty novels in French deviates from conventional form to take us on an impressionistic journey through and beyond the comforts of nostalgia, in a memoir dedicated to her decision to move away from her native Tunisia following the deaths of her father and a dear friend, as well as the 2015 Sousse attacks.
It’s little more than a funny coincidence that two books with the same name are coming out within a month of each other this fall. The books are completely different—one is a memoir, the other a collection of short stories. Their shared name doesn’t lead to the same questions as the year of the two Prefontaine movies or the year of the two Capote movies. Far more productive is the question of what each author is doing with the word and metaphor of homesickness, and what would lead them to separately title their books the same way.
Some of the most unsettling horror taps into a primal and very real fear: that our bodies will somehow turn on us. It’s the sort of case where only the severity needs to be increased for a taste of the uncanny to emerge. We wrestle with our own bodies’ failures all the time, from chronic conditions to sudden illnesses. We struggle with our own health and we reckon with the health of those closest to us. Horror doesn’t need to do much to strike a chord here.
Vincent is just a guy, who has “just an office job” working for “the State” in the fictional town of A-ville. He used to be a painter, until “the shame of not selling paintings [made him] give up.” Unlike his namesake, he doesn’t sever his ear in the depths of despair; he enrolls in the experimental “PER” program offered by the bureaucratic Leader Dorian Blood, designed to increase worker happiness and productivity. The program requires a total devotion to data-entry, and dictates Vincent’s routine even outside of his 9-5 work, but it simultaneously walks him through his “ideal gate.” Once through his ideal gate, he carries out the same perfected routine, but feels in every way as though he is living his deepest subconscious fantasy. For most workers, this fantasy expresses itself as the material gain that we conflate with corporate success: a nicer car, a house with a pool, time to do and be nothing. For Vincent, this fantasy turns out to be exactly the same as his reality, except it includes his ex-wife Alice, an activist who left Vincent once the grayness of his work seeped out into the rest of his life.
When you look into a funhouse mirror, and your body appears stretched out or warped, you believe that reality is being distorted. You are confident that what you’re seeing in front of you is not how things really are. But what happens when you’re no longer looking into a mirror? What if you’re looking into a computer screen, or a book, or someone else’s face? Suddenly, it’s much more difficult to delineate what’s true from what’s not.