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All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby (7/10/23)
Titus Crown, a Black sheriff in the deep South, is now faced with a shocking school shooting. A crazy young Black man, Latrell, has killed the high school teacher of the year. Some digging, literal and figurative, uncovers very sick doings. More killings, more Biblical connections, and lots of pressure from smarmy Scott, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, to wind up the case fast so tourists will return. Though Latrell was shot, there’s a third villain out there who plays cat and mouse with Titus until the blistering denouement. I’d call much of the writing melodramatic, which I actually enjoyed, but there’s also thoughtful material on race relations underneath the blood and gore. Note: Two of Cosby’s previous books also spotlight Titus.
Do You Remember Being Born? By Sean Michaels
A poet (based on Marian Moore) is offered a big chunk of change by a huge tech company to write a signature piece with their AI poet Charlotte. Marion wants to do right by her son—she wasn’t the best of mothers—and buy him a house, so she flies to California and the two set to work, overseen by anxious handlers. One saving grace: Marion’s down-to-earth driver Rhoda, and there’s a great plot twist when her identity is revealed. The collaboration is a clumsy process, to say the least, until there’s a last-minute save. I found the book hysterically funny as well as thought-provoking—quite a trick!
The Free People's Village by Sim Kern
Maddie’s passion is rock music, though her day job is teaching high school English. Her band practices in a huge warehouse that transforms into the eponymous community of rebels. It’s 2020, supposedly, but not the time and place we know. Attempts at battling climate change have developed supposed remedies that look good (if you don’t look too closely at their sources: fossil fuels, exploitation, and money money money). Maddie’s boyfriend Fish is a trust funder, and their relationship is fraying but if she tears loose, they all might lose home base. The Village goes viral with demonstrations and actions but soon is overrun with 24/7 drum circles, homeless folks and bad actors. Maddie falls in love with Red who uses xi/xem pronouns. (Have to admit those threw me for a loop in print.) Sometimes over the top with rhetoric and intensity, but a clever reimagining of a future that—I hope—I never have to witness.
Family Meal by Bryan Washington
In LA, Cam is anorexic, in deep grief over the death of his lover Kai who visits Cam in spectral form. He returns to Houston where he grew up and reconnects painfully with TJ, best friend from boyhood, long estranged. TJ’s lover is a translator who lives primarily in Osaka. Many scenes center around TJ’s family bakery. Sections are narrated alternately by Cam or TJ. Desperate, random hook-ups abound. Lots of anguish and self-hatred, and the f-word peppers every page. I periodically got confused by characters’ identities (Kai is Black and Korean, for instance) and questioned the addition of those grainy black and white photographs, but the book had such a powerful impact on me that I wanted to share it here.