This installment: grotesquerie in Detroit (f); sinister domestic happenings (f); funny essays (nf); a dystopian teen book (f); short stories set in Florida (f); and last in the Magicians’ trilogy (f).
Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
Warning: this is a grisly book, a little over the top in grotesquery. But I have an appetite for Strange Happenings and there are lots afoot here. It starts with a hybrid corpse: part boy, part deer. Detroit setting, a jazzy, tough-guy delivery. Detective Gabi’s on the case; her adolescent daughter Layla is embroiled in sinister stuff, and a hungry journalist keeps inserting himself aggressively into the proceedings. We also get to know various local crazies, one of whom may be the monster. If you like to be scared (with a soupçon of titillating disgust), this is for you.
Her by Harriet Lane
Emma is overwhelmed by motherhood. A seemingly nice neighbor, Nina, befriends her. But we know there’s some hidden agenda as many of Nina’s favors have disturbing consequences. Not until the end do we find out what they have in common. Chapters are narrated alternately by each, an intriguing device. Set in England and full of domestic detail into which subtly sinister events set up a cognitive dissonance. Intriguing and unsettling.
Once I Was Cool by Megan Stielstra
Personal essays by a storyteller (a special interest of mine, ahem, being one myself). Some, about pop culture, went by me. (Jane’s Addiction, for instance—a band.) Others spoke to me with candor and bouncy charm. Her newborn son in the depths of a Chicago winter; her time in Prague teaching Kafka; going to bed with a guy who had a glass testicle (really). Some are very short. I think some of these pieces might work even better in performance but she’s still a lively, funny social commentator and I was glad to make her acquaintance on the page.
Pills and Starships by Lydia Millet
Another book I came across at ALA and had the pleasure of hearing one of my favorite authors read aloud there. In this dystopia, highly managed “exits” are arranged for population control by a corporate government with greed at its core. Siblings Nat and Sam don’t want to let their parent “go gently into that good night” and end up as rebellious outcasts. It kind of blew my mind because I’ve always had a soft spot for Huxley’s vision of timely euthanasia (and even hoped it would be more readily available when I reach my funky dotage). A book for young adults, but don’t let that stop you. An aside: after the reading when I introduced myself and told Millet how I always recommend her books, she said when she scanned the small audience, she recognized me as “one of her people.”
Heaven of Animals by David James Poissant
Short stories, most placed in the underbelly of Florida, some linked. Grotesquerie (which I love), like the charms of an amputee, a man with a hazardous bee obsession, a boyhood friendship that leads to betrayal, and a messed up dad wanting to make amends after a long-ago heinous act. Somehow tenderness and cosmic perspective shine through these wry and tortured tales.
The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman
The last in his trilogy which I’ve loved from the get-go. Quentin’s in exile from Brakebills, the academy where he’d been teaching (a kind of Hogwarts variant). Fillory, a magical alternative reality, is under siege as well. He creates a portal of sorts to move between these complex worlds and even manages to bring his love, Alice, back to life. (She’s not pleased initially, to say the least.) Grossman’s command of these multilayered adventures makes it all very believable—a fine feat.
Back next week.