A debut poetry collection that vividly captures both the dreams and despair of blue-collar America.
The geographic inspiration for Richardson’s masterful book is the industrial heartland of Ohio. The collection is divided into two sections: “The Fire’s Edge,” which focuses predominantly on growing up in the Rust Belt in the mid-20th century, a time of financial instability and decay; and “Untying,” which takes a broader look at uncertainties that increase as one gets older. The first section contains a series of poems that detail the 1970 Kent State University shootings, in which National Guardsmen killed four university students, and their aftermath. By far the most haunting is “Randomness,” which imagines the early-morning ablutions of Sandra Scheuer, one of the students killed: “She slid from her bed on the morning of May 4, / chose the bright red blouse for the occasion / of the day of her death.” “Fainting” captures the feeling of wooziness during the event itself (“Heart / accelerated, free agent of pace and rhythm / beating against my chest wall, room tilting”) and goes on to note that “those lost / unconscious moments exist somewhere / in the cosmos, owed to me by the fact / I have not lived them.” In these claustrophobic, unstable industrial terrains, poems sometimes glimpse beautiful vistas, as in “Youngstown, Ohio 1952”: “the air lifted enough / for me to see the fevered orange flush / of the open hearth on the horizon.” Here, the powerful beauty of a sunset mirrors the infernal glow of the steelworkers’ toil. But Richardson’s painterly use of imagery is but one of her many skills; another is the manner in which poetry and music coexist within her work. In the second section’s “In the Cardiologist’s Office,” Procol Harum’s 1967 song “A Whiter Shade of Pale” filters through waiting-room speakers and wraps around recollections of a traffic accident: “my hands circling his chest turning cartwheels on the floor my head against his back bracing at the place where the car crushed his heart.” This collection will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever pondered the ephemerality of each moment.
Pronko’s (The Last Train, 2017, etc.) Tokyo-based thriller follows a detective’s search for a manuscript so valuable some will kill for it.
Hiroshi Shimizu’s injury from a previous case is the perfect excuse for the detective to work white-collar crimes from a computer. But Sakaguchi, Tokyo’s head of homicide, needs his English-speaking adeptness, courtesy of Hiroshi’s having studied in Boston. On a bisected body, a medical examiner has found a flash drive that contains images of woodblock prints and corresponding notes in English. It doesn’t seem like much until detectives learn the only specialist who could find the physical prints has just died—American diplomat Bernard Mattson, murdered by burglars at his home. As Hiroshi and others investigate, it’s soon clear someone is after Mattson’s manuscript. But what exactly is in the manuscript is the biggest mystery: The diplomat is linked to myriad sensitive issues, from U.S. military bases in Japan to the Status of Forces Agreement with America. Hiroshi is also keeping an eye on Jamie, Mattson’s Japanese-American daughter from New York, who’s in Tokyo for her father’s funeral. She may be a target; whoever wants the manuscript will likely assume she knows its location. Pronko’s thriller elegantly depicts Japanese customs within an American-style hard-boiled procedural. For example, lovingly detailed sushi preparation contrasts with the police station, a site of whiteboard scrawls, corkboards covered in notes, and piles of folders next to out-of-date computers. The concise mystery runs at full tilt with characters that focus assiduously on the investigation. Accordingly, welcome humor is plot-relevant: Detectives at crime scenes alternate heading off the assistant chief, who’s more annoying than helpful. Hiroshi, in his second appearance (along with fellow detectives), is a winsome but unassuming protagonist. Though he’d rather be at his computer, he faces a blade-wielding killer with confidence and relatively few complaints.
A tight, rock-solid installment in a series that’s only getting better.
Gapinski’s (Messiah Tortoise, 2018) surrealist novella doles out dark comedy, visceral detail, and deft commentary in equal measure.
Our main character’s bus commute takes her between work and a home life she’d rather not discuss, accompanied by the same sad, stained, frequently off-putting fellow passengers. When the bus’s marquee reads “Out of Service,” she finds herself taken not to her menial job behind a deli butcher’s counter but a barren shantytown in a desert wilderness. Despite seemingly hopeless circumstances, she remains determined to leave this place even as her butchery skills earn her a certain cachet in a town that survives on rat meat, beetles, and the dead. Her refusal to join one of the town’s cultlike factions makes her an object of fascination. In a world where the bus driver is armed and dangerous and only drops off new arrivals or drives pickups in a circle, there’s something heroic in her persistence as well as that of the townsfolk. Their lives are ugly, crude, and filthy, but they’ve still carved a society out of the will to survive and from every scrap that comes in on the bus, like using makeup as an accelerant for a fire barrel. Gapinski’s matter-of-fact prose works perfectly here, the straight-faced descriptions of death and cannibalism lending a comic tinge to the macabre proceedings: “Bus-Driver opens the door and pushes out the body. It’s got a terrible smell, like skunk and shit mixed with a hint of blood.” The story only heightens this dissonance with naturalistic dialogue, forcing readers to question what “normal” is when credit cards and other modern symbols of power and prosperity lose their meanings. Finally, for all the gore and horror, this isn’t The Road or Mad Max or any such story of the barbaric. The threatening aspects of the denizens of Out of Service seemingly stem from their extreme poverty and the narrator’s refusal to participate in their social order, not from any malice. Thus the novella poses questions of why these people have been thrust into these hellish circumstances, how they can escape them, and ultimately how different their lives really are from our own.
Brilliant and brutal; a thrilling story surrounding complex, nuanced considerations of nihilism, optimism, and our own existential reality.
This debut YA novel transports three teenage heroes to a magical realm that may vanish before they can save it from a despotic ruler.
Thirteen-year-old Ben Young has awoken in a forest beneath a red sky. He heads for a clearing, where he meets a girl collecting glowing flowers. She says she’s protecting them against something called the Fading. Ben next encounters a pair of faeries who lure him into a net that dangles him over a boiling swamp. Luckily, two elves save him from the faeries with arrows. Accompanying the elves is Marcus Cooper, a 13-year-old boy, who explains that the Fading is causing the spread of white nothingness on this world, Meridia. But Ben’s watch—a gift from his father that has stopped at midnight—might be the key to halting the Fading. Meanwhile, at the Blue Glass Palace, 13-year-old Queen Regent Avery Hopewell, like Ben, remembers little of how she comes and goes from Meridia. Fate has placed her in the path of Ben and Marcus but also in the way of the evil Sovereign, who plans to dominate all. Can the three teens reach the Creator’s Citadel and preserve the multifaceted beauty of Meridia? In this novel, Massey evokes the charm and psychedelic whimsy of classic fantasies like The Last Unicorn and films like Labyrinth. The heroes may pop in and out of Meridia via dreams, but their waking lives are just as dramatic as battling dark armies. Avery, for example, lives in a group home and still occasionally wets the bed yet has the intellect to be a catch for any foster family. As the teens tackle fantasy evil, they gain the confidence to address bullies and other real-world problems. The author’s dialogue, a buffet of snark and riddles, consistently augments the imaginative story. The dragonwoofs, a trio of underwhelming winged dogs who accompany the group, prompt Tamerlane the elf to ask, “How will these creatures learn to use their abilities if you keep sheltering them?” In this striking tale, Massey encourages parents to let children make mistakes as they explore their talents and identities.
A fantasy with tremendous heart and a magisterial execution.
In this debut book, an entrepreneur views intellectual capital as securing the world’s future.
Jain’s enthusiasm for the entrepreneurial mindset permeates a potent volume that is both a futuristic look at innovation and a recipe of sorts for success. Part 1 of this elegantly written treatise deeply explores in the broadest possible terms the thought processes of the entrepreneur. The author makes a solid case for the entrepreneur as an imaginative visionary. Jain, a serial entrepreneur, celebrates in particular those magnates who take “moonshots,” or reach for the impossible. He believes they “will emerge as leaders of the new world order,” a bold if not wildly audacious prediction. Equally daring are some of Jain’s educated guesses as to where entrepreneurial thinking will take readers in 30 to 50 years, examples intended to demonstrate exciting possibilities rather than accurately predict the future. The author waxes poetic about intellectual curiosity, motivation, perception, and wisdom, but none are more important than imagination—all elements embodied in the moonshot entrepreneur. Parts 2 and 3 of the book are shorter but no less enticing. Part 2 concentrates specifically on health care and education, two areas in which Jain thinks moonshots are sorely needed. Here, his pertinent illustrations are creative, stimulating, and thought-provoking; for example, his idea to “make illness ‘optional’ ” is discussed in the context of Viome, a company he founded, which works in the microbiome space. Part 3 is an exhortation for entrepreneurs to have “an openness to radical possibility” and to strive for moonshots, with some helpful advice for how to do so. “As long as you continue to learn,” advises the author, “you never really fail.” The “ten takeaways” offered at the end of Jain’s volume—written with Schroeter (Between the Strings, 2004, etc.)—encapsulate his thoughtful counsel. The prose conveys breathless, almost soaring optimism; the book exudes an infectious passion for the role of the disruptive entrepreneur in meeting the world’s challenges. There is so much genuine wisdom in this work that it is hard not to come away impressed with the breadth and depth of Jain’s insights.
An exuberant, mind-expanding, and at times enthralling call for inventive entrepreneurs.
A set of stories about kids in a seemingly wholesome small town that’s tinged with darkness.
Elliott’s (Runners on Running, 2012, etc.) characters are young boys and a few girls, most of whom are growing up in the town of Milford, Illinois, during the 1950s and ’60s. Their lives are filled with schoolwork, sports, and crushes until subtle crises undermine their complacency. In “The Faulkner Sentence,” for example, a beloved English teacher revels in diagramming sentences until a student challenges her to parse a 1,300-word William Faulkner passage. A boy trudges through a snowstorm toward the hospital where his mother lies dying of cancer in “The Big Snow,” and a high school track star, in “Running God,” gets ground down by his coach’s sadistic training regimen. In “The White Sox Team Card,” a trio of delinquents plots to steal a precious baseball card that a Chicago gangster covets, and in “Lucky,” a boy discovers that his perennial good fortune comes at the expense of his polio-stricken sister—and he tries to compensate by courting disaster. A young girl marvels at the northern lights and dreads her strange, drunken uncle in “Aurora Borealis”; a boy reacts to the Sputnik 1 launch in “Propellants” by building an amateur rocket called Red Scare; and in the title story, an eighth-grader discovers a classmate taking refuge in his family’s fallout shelter during the Cuban missile crisis. In this debut collection of stories, some of which have previously appeared in literary magazines, Elliott crafts characters who are mainly ordinary youngsters in ordinary circumstances who feel slightly uneasy in their skins—overmatched by expectations or possessing unrealistic desires. Often, these tensions are played for gentle comedy, but just as often, the author pulls the rug out from under readers by swerving into disaster. Elliott writes with a supple, naturalistic style that’s also psychologically rich: “George—beautiful, vulnerable George—with lifetimes behind those lovely, hooded eyes and smiling his all-knowing smile,” muses a girl besotted with Beatles heartthrob George Harrison in “Mania.” The result is a vivid evocation of postwar America that’s both halcyon and haunted.
A sometimes-luminous, sometimes-mordant collection that undercuts its nostalgia with complex ironies.