Favorite New Fiction
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Kingdom of Women

Kingdom of Women

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.

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Skating on the Vertical

Skating on the Vertical

Many of the tales in Jan English Leary’s profound, heartfelt story collection, Skating on the Vertical, center on characters who have reached pivotal points in their lives and are trying to figure out next steps, and also themselves. Leary gives the complexity of such turning points its due, immersing us in the soul-searching, self-doubt, and mistakes that are natural—sometimes inevitable—during times of change, difficulty, or discovery.

Because all the stories in Skating on the Vertical are so powerful and resonant, it was hard for me to choose which ones to focus on in this review. To my mind, there wasn’t an off story in the book. So here, I’ll focus on a few stories that give a sense of the range and depth of this fine collection.

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Near Haven: A Novel

Near Haven: A Novel

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.

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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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