Emma Cline’s “The Guest” Shows the Danger of Using Powerful Men as an ‘Emergency Exit’

"The Guest"

We’re all familiar with the coupling of rich, older men and women half their age. It’s the troubled, age-old dynamic you can find in Hollywood, politics, and everywhere in-between. It’s also the sort of relationship 22-year-old Alex tries to game in Emma Cline’s latest novel, The Guest. Alex’s life is spiraling out of her control—a complete nosedive—until 50-something year-old Simon arrives as “the emergency exit she had always suspected would present itself.” As in: When she has no other options, she knows she can take the predatory interest older men have toward her and flip it for her advantage. 

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An Unexpected Urban Exile: Murzban F. Shroff’s “Waiting For Jonathan Koshy” Reviewed

"Waiting for Jonathan Koshy"

Through Waiting For Jonathan KoshyShroff presents a fascinating tale of characters who exist at the margins of a cosmopolitan city like Mumbai, a city undergoing changes from changing its name (Bombay to Mumbai) to landscapes because of construction. The city is a center of migration for people from all parts of India. Jonathan, the titular character, himself is from the state of Kerala and is exiled to a place like Mumbai. Other characters take various jobs in order to be assimilated into the culture of the big city. Prashant is a writer who writes scripts for other people while Jonathan does all sorts of jobs.

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Tribal Traditions, Outside Influences, and Conflicted Identities: A Review of D.M. Rowell’s “Never Name the Dead”

"Never Name the Dead"

D.M. Rowell (Koyh Mi O Boy Dah) has brought two worlds together in her debut mystery novel, Never Name the Dead. Rowell connects her story from Silicon Valley to Kiowa tribal lands in Oklahoma through her lead character, Mae “Mud” Sawpole. The novel, the first in a series, was recently nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award by Mystery Writers of America.  Mae runs a PR firm in Silicon Valley, but a strange call from her grandfather James leads her to catch a plane and head back home to her tribal homeland. While a lot of the novel shows Mae busy at work, working the phones back in California, the real heart of the book is her amateur detective skills in Oklahoma. 

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Doomsday and the Nuclear Family:  A Review of “Half-Life of a Secret” by Emily Strasser

"Half-Life of a Secret" cover

“I felt … drawn to the desert where fire blossomed in silence, 

sprouting from a great, featureless plain that 

could have been the end of the world or the beginning.”

Emily Strasser’s Half-Life of a Secret is ostensibly about unraveling the mystery of her grandfather George, who was a scientist at Oak Ridge.  In George’s time, Oak Ridge was a secret city, lesser-known than its sister Los Alamos, but built to do the same work—the construction of nuclear arms.  George is, in turn, a man of secrets, one who was an intelligent, high-ranking official but also suffered from mental illness.  Strasser attempts to uncover his history in order to better understand him as the patriarch of her family as well as a person who participated in the construction of the bomb that killed upwards of 135,000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  

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The Moral Terror of Eric LaRocca’s Short Stories

"The Trees Grew Because I Bled There" cover

In a 2022 interview with Cemetary Dance, Eric LaRocca discussed their approach to writing — and, more specifically, writing horror. “That would be a failure for me as an artist, if I left you feeling indifferent to whatever you just read,” LaRocca said. “I had failed in my capacity to tell a story that shook you and made you think and maybe disgusted you, maybe just made you feel something. That’s what I try to do with any of my work.”

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On Ghosts and Absence: A Review of Terese Svoboda’s “Dog on Fire”

"Dog on Fire" cover

“My brother was dead was what I remembered then,” reflects our unnamed narrator, “and I cried a little the way a car does when the ignition’s gone, a click and a grind, something that needs something, that could be stopped only by stopping.” That balky engine seems a defining image for Terese Svoboda’s new novel. Dog on Fire isn’t itself aflame, but rather smoldering: something that needs something. That’s not a criticism the text delivers an arresting portrait of both melancholy and a way out but rather a description of what’s lacking for the principal players. Both the grieving sister and her fellow-narrator Aphra, the brother’s lover and one of the only characters with a name, fumble after what psychologists call “closure.” 

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Dreaming Like a Boat: A Review of Benjamin Niespodziany’s “No Farther than the End of the Street”

"No Farther...." cover

Benjamin Niespodziany’s debut book of poems, No Farther Than the End of the Street, limits itself to scenes set within the space of a single block. It is equal parts domestic and dream, love letter and daily grief. In lieu of a traditional review, what follows is a “review” limiting itself to text contained in the book. It is meant to replicate the sensory experience of reading Niespodziany’s book for the first time. As such, it is not singular, but one snapshot among the many possible illustrations of the book’s emotional resonance.

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Burning Down the (Haunted) House: On Alison Rumfitt’s “Tell Me I’m Worthless”

'Tell Me I'm Worthless" cover

Who was the first storyteller to level up the haunted house? To put it another way: tales of houses haunted by restless spirits are unsettling enough. Who was the first person to see a haunted house as a place where existence itself could become malleable? As a concept, you can see wildly different manifestations of it in Mark Z. Danielewski’s novel House of Leaves and Dan Watters and Caspar Wijngaard’s comic book Home Sick Pilots. And then there’s Alison Rumfitt’s Tell Me I’m Worthless, which also nestles a kind of relentless, indescribable horror between the four walls of a home — but also finds a way to tap into some of the most urgent themes of the present moment.

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