Favorite New Fiction
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Everyone Loves You Back

Everyone Loves You Back

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.

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They Could Live with Themselves

They Could Live with Themselves

An oft-repeated criticism of small towns is that too many residents have an unsavory and insatiable interest in the lives of their neighbors, an interest that no amount of acreage—geographical, emotional, or social—can discourage. One of the many strengths of Jodi Paloni’s début story collection, They Could Live with Themselves, is how it acknowledges a corollary truth: the impossibility of fully understanding the experiences or realities of others—sometimes, even those with whom we share a roof. By immersing us in the lives of residents of one fictional community, Paloni honors, with great compassion and insight, both private realities and the ways in which individuals do—or don’t—connect with others.

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Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness

Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness

It’s rare for my attention to linger on the cover of a book I’m about to read, but it certainly did when I picked up Jennifer Tseng’s poetic, richly imagined début novel Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness. The cover features an overhead shot of a pale woman in a fuschia dress lying, arms outstretched, on a rippling blue-green sea. Though this might be the sea of happiness, the image suggests a more complicated truth. Underlying the tranquility and sensuality of the scene is a sense of isolation, even peril—seemingly contradictory threads that this novel, like its cover, weaves together deftly and powerfully.

The Mayumi of the title is a forty-something librarian who inhabits a tourist-attracting island off the coast of New England (think Martha’s Vineyard) with her beloved five-year-old daughter and her not-so-beloved husband. Though kind and decent, he no longer interests Mayumi erotically or otherwise. They share little more than affection for their daughter and a ramshackle house, where they sleep in separate beds.

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Justice, Inc.

Justice, Inc.

After slamming a brick-weighted, $2,000 Gucci handbag into the skull of her boyfriend, a young woman, Emily, observes: “Technically, the law says you’re supposed to wait until they try to eat your brains before you take a whack at them, but what’s the point? Once the magic is gone, get them before they get you—that’s what I say.”

Emily’s world—in which a sexually transmitted virus is turning men into zombies—is just one of darkly comic dystopias that Dale Bridges brings to life in his new story collection, Justice, Inc. Some of the others: a post-apocalyptic megastore that both protects and imprisons its employees; a world in which death has been all but “cured,” making suicide a means of population control; and, in the title story, a corporation that aims to satisfy the desire for justice by staging public executions of cloned top criminals, like Osama bin Laden.

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Inside Madeleine

Inside Madeleine

A patient in a ward of anorexics envies “the protruding bones of someone who is that much closer to not being here at all.”

A psychology major finds that her job at a halfway house is replacing her idealism with frustration and disgust.

A nineteen-year-old becomes sexually and emotionally addicted to a rock drummer who, in response, scorns her “sheer lack of pride.”

These are just a few of the situations explored in Paula Bomer’s new story collection, Inside Madeleine, which shines a light into the most uncomfortable corners of the young female characters’ lives, under circumstances when these women are most vulnerable, uncertain, and prone to making mistakes. The stories are raw and sometimes cringe-inducing. But it’s likely that for any woman who has reached the point of looking back on her teens and twenties, aspects of these tales will feel unsettlingly familiar, or spark the occasional “but for the grace of god” reaction.

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It’s a Tough Economy!

It’s a Tough Economy!

In the best of times, in the best of personal circumstances, looking for work is a pain in the ass. But in a sagging economy, and especially for job hunters who are running on financial and spiritual fumes, this task can bring on an existential crisis.

Jarrod Shanahan’s darkly hilarious illustrated novella, It’s a Tough Economy, portrays just such a crisis.

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