Christopher Irvin’s novel Ragged; or, The Loveliest Lies of All is a page tuner of a mystery/crime thriller, interwoven with a captivating story of family and community. The fact that all the characters are animals never distanced me from the drama; to the contrary, it provided a bracing reminder of the degree to which we’re driven by beastly instincts, which are never as far from the surface as we might wish to believe.
Favorite New Fiction
from Small and Micro Publishers
Because of his wealth and power, a serial rapist repeatedly escapes the consequences of his actions. A man beats his wife severely but is somehow found not to have committed a crime. A young man admits—without remorse—to killing a woman he’d been having sex with, and gets a light sentence and an early release from prison. “She was a slut,” the logic goes.
Such situations figure all too often into the news, and sometimes, they are part of our personal histories. But imagine a world in which groups of vigilante women make sure that the men who commit such crimes face real consequences—usually, fatal ones. Rosalie Morales Kearns does just that in her masterful and thought-provoking new novel, Kingdom of Women, set in a not-too-distant future that flows chillingly and logically from our less-than-just present.
May 1st, 1988. In Near Haven—Matthew Stephen Sirois’s provocative and deftly paced debut novel—it’s the date a comet is predicted to strike the Earth, ending civilization. In the face of what appears to be certain doom, society crumbles in advance of the comet—from helplessness and hopelessness, and from the violence they fuel.
But not everyone is hopeless, including the novel’s protagonist and conscience, Tom Beaumont, whose story begins about ten months before the comet’s expected arrival. A boat builder in the fictional seaside town of Near Haven, Maine, Tom is skeptical about assurances that the comet will strike, and about pretty much every other variety of received wisdom. His views isolate him from just about everyone other than his friend Neville “Nev” Bradford, who, with Tom, struggles to survive as social order dissolves.
The central characters in The Expense of a View, Polly Buckingham’s dark and sometimes surreal story collection, face the kinds of suffering that many of us, if we aren’t experiencing them ourselves, would rather turn away from: grief over the loss of a loved one, drug addiction, domestic violence, parental abandonment, mental illness, poverty. Buckingham’s stories immersed me so deeply in these characters’ mental, physical, and emotional states that the barriers between their worlds and mine seemed to dissolve, giving me insights into experiences I might otherwise feel—or seek—distance from.
Jeff Fearnside’s début story collection, Making Love While Levitating Three Feet in the Air, is rich in so many ways: in its deep explorations of diverse lives and experiences; in its immersion in place, which often becomes a character itself; in the subtle surprises of several tales—surprises that, retrospectively, feel completely earned and natural.
But one of my favorite aspects of the book is the way it explores the solo mission—certain characters’ efforts to find their way, largely alone, through difficult periods or situations in their lives.
Benjamin Disraeli once commented, “Change is inevitable. Change is constant.” Some advice that may be implied in that: “Adapt or fail”—a recommendation that can feel survival-of-the-fittest cruel, especially when the changes in question threaten to render you irrelevant, at best.
Changes of a threatening variety definitely conspire against Bob Boland, the protagonist of Louie Cronin’s funny, perceptive, and–dare I say–hopeful début novel, Everyone Loves You Back. A stubborn (and cranky) yet pragmatic rebel, Bob charts an entertaining course between thumbing his nose at these changes and adapting to them, so much as he is willing to do so, on his own terms. For that reason I consider him, and this novel, an inspiration, especially in these dark political times.