Book Review: A Girl Goes Into The Forest

By Anjali Becker

The title story of Peg Pursell’s new collection of short fiction, A Girl Goes into the Forest (Dzanc Books, 2019), opens with an unnamed girl following a male figure into the forest, “moving in the direction where perhaps she imagined the rest of her life waited. So ready for something to happen.” The “old secret cottage” they were evidently aiming for has long since collapsed, so they spend the night on the hard ground. Toward the end of the short piece, the girl thinks that eventually, “It might turn summer and she’d have survived the season.” The girl has ventured beyond whatever home she might have known and is searching for something, although what exactly that is, beyond survival, is unclear, both to her and to us. What is clear is that the stories to come will explore the emotions that drove so many young girls in the fairy tales of old to leave their safe little hamlets and to venture out into the forest of the unknown.

Book Review: Your House Will Pay

By Collin Mitchell

Ripples from the past resurface in Steph Cha’s new novel, Your House Will Pay.

At the time of the writing of this review, veteran journalist K. Connie Kang had recently died after writing about the Korean community for the the Los Angeles Times. Kang gave voice to the Koreatown community affected by the riots in the wake of the Rodney King verdict. Journalists like Kang are burdened with adhering to the idea of truth, while the creative writer can entreat memory and personal experience in finding a truth that fits within the framework of their own grief. It’s these personal stories, the prejudiced tales told within families, that Steph Cha explores in her new novel, Your House Will Pay. Through the frame of early ‘90s race-tinged LA and our current grapple with race politics and police brutality, Cha ably depicts greater Los Angeles as it is: a melded body of bedroom communities, sun-bleached strip malls, and liquor stores threaded together by a dozen distinct cultures and a violent history. It’s in this context that the book examines the idea of transgressing the familial stories we think define us and finding a part of ourselves that can separate from the past. As one character observes: “This is when shit gets permanent. The choices you make are gonna stick, they’re going to follow you.”

Book Review: Very Nice

by Leanne Phillips

Marcy Dermansky’s new novel, Very Nice, starts out with a simple enough premise. Nineteen-year-old Rachel has a crush on her creative writing professor, Zahid Azzam, a one-hit wonder of a novelist who has been skating on the success of his only book for years. When Zahid impulsively confides to Rachel that he’s had a bad day, she impulsively kisses him. But the plot gains in complexity from there. Anyone who’s seen The Wife knows that crushes on creative writing professors don’t end well, and there are red flags that Rachel chooses to ignore. Rachel’s passion for Zahid seems lukewarm at best, and Rachel is a bit taken aback when he calls their kiss “very nice”—during the semester, he had crossed out all of the verys in her short story.

Book Review: Banshee

By Diana Love

Banshee opens with a moment of bodily violence and tragedy. Not the personal tragedy of Samantha Baxter, sitting in an oncologist’s waiting room, moments from the cancer diagnosis which will unravel her, but the tragedy of a stranger:

The flesh blew off her bones underground. That’s how the waxy anchorman put it; you could feel his lips loving to make the shape of the word blew. The reason they knew? They’d had to exhume her. He sighed, going for horror, but conveying pleasure, maybe not accidentally.

Book Review: What A Body Remembers

By Laurie Rockenbeck

Karen Stefano’s What A Body Remembers is a timely and moving illustration of how our bodies instinctively tie our senses and memories together. It is a compelling book that reads as much like true crime as it does memoir, while delving into heady topics like trauma, PTSD, and victim blaming. Stefano manages to approach these subjects with a sensitivity that invites the reader to a deeper understanding of the after-effects of trauma while evoking empathy over pity.

Book Review: Mostly Dead Things

by Leanne Phillips

“How we slice the skin: Carefully, that’s a given.” So opens Mostly Dead Things, Kristen Arnett’s debut novel about Jessa-Lynn Morton, a grieving taxidermist living out a less-than-satisfying life with her dysfunctional extended family in Florida. I’m a sucker for a killer opening line, a killer opening scene, and I knew right away that I was in for something special.  As the novel opens, we watch as narrator Jessa-Lynn Morton recalls her father teaching her taxidermy in his workshop. The scene is vivid and engaging. Right away, we begin to see what Jessa has been willing to do, ignore, and give up, all in an attempt to preserve or create the life she imagines for herself.

Book Review: Three Women

By Jackie Desforges

Three WomenSince the publication and instant success of her debut nonfiction book, Three Women, Lisa Taddeo has stated that she set out to tell a story about human desire. She spent eight years researching and writing the book, and as the years progressed, the story narrowed: she went from writing about human desire to writing about female desire. She went from writing about hundreds of women to writing about dozens, and then less than a handful, and then, finally, three. She went from denying any requests for anonymity to shielding the identities of most people featured in the final book. The resulting story feels, at first glance, too specific to be universal: three women, living in small American towns and entangled in various phases of heterosexual relationships.

Book Review: Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino

By Rachel Zarrow

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion is the debut essay collection from The New Yorker staff writer, Jia Tolentino. In each essay she examines the ever-growing quagmire of self-delusion that faces us, humans living in the age of the internet.

The book opens with the essay “The I in the Internet,” and the author’s assertion that, “In the beginning the internet seemed good” (3). Tolentino quotes her ten-year-old self who, on an Angelfire subpage wrote, “I was in love with the internet the first time I used it at my dad’s office and thought it was the ULTIMATE COOL” (3).  Tolentino understands the age of the internet more deeply than most. Her relationship with the internet has metamorphosed over two decades.

Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere

By Jhenna Wieman

Celeste Ng’s first novel, Everything I Never Told You, was a national and international bestseller, and her second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, now available in paperback, does not disappoint. The novel is set in Shaker Heights, a community planned so specifically that there is a siren on Halloween announcing the start and end of trick-or-treating festivities. Trash is picked up from each resident’s backyard to avoid the unsightly appearance of trash cans on the curb, and the city’s motto is “Most communities just happen; the best are planned.”

Book Review: Dealing in Dreams by Lilliam Rivera

by Daniela Z. Montes

In a time filled with terms like “fake news,” when it can be hard to tell what’s true, Liliam Rivera’s Dealing in Dreams reminds us to be aware of the rhetoric that shapes our society and to be mindful of its effect on us.