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.
Megan Miranda’s fifth novel for adults, Such a Quiet Place, is hazy and buoyant with suspicion and explores intimate, female friendship. This quiet place, which of course isn’t quiet at all, is Hollow’s Edge, an insular, preplanned community by a lake. A year and a half after the unsolved murder by carbon monoxide poisoning of Brandon and Fiona Truett, Ruby Fletcher, the prime suspect and their dog sitter, returns to the neighborhood after 14 months away and an overturned conviction.
Consider the apocalyptic writ small. While some novels and stories have taken the idea of a world-ending or world-changing event as a way to use the largest possible canvas, other writers have taken the opportunity to zero in on one specific element of society. Both Laura van den Berg’s Find Me and Karen Russell’s Sleep Donation have embraced this route, which — not unlike some of J.G. Ballard’s work — offers a chilling vision of an imploding society.
David Leo Rice’s A Room in Dodge City, Vol. 2: The Blut Branson Era is the second book in a trilogy about a nameless protagonist, who arrives in Dodge City, a town which is quintessentially American in the way in which it embodies both the realization of the great dream and its contrapasso, having to endure watching a replay of its perversion ad nauseam. A paradox that defines the everyday experience in America today.
There are a lot of things I like about Something Gross. I want to point out some sections in the novel I like and talk about why I like them and maybe what that means in a bigger way, outside of myself and the novel. Maybe what those parts of the novel mean for writing in general too. You know. A review.
I was excited about this book for a lot of reasons. It was a surprise and it was a novel and relatively lengthy. Over 200 pages. I didn’t know what the book was about except Big Bruiser Dope Boy (BBDB) wrote it and I appreciate BBDB as a writer.
The world is built on language. In language. Through language. And ergo, obviously, the novel is built through language. Emily Segal has written a novel, Mercury Retrograde, that is about many things, but is mostly about language, and what happens to humans’ vocabulary when it is placed into a bubble and told to do something new.
There is nothing particularly wild about Jonathan Epstein, the main character in Jeff Schneider’s new book, Therapists Gone Wild. He’s hardly protagonist material: a sheepish, soft-spined licensed clinical social worker with the best intentions who probably has one of those daily motivational quotes calendars on his desk and loves it. This is what makes his gradual descent into madness both painful to watch, and impossible to look away from.