This is a modern allegory with a unique voice—searching, questioning, vulnerable, witty.

FUTURE FEELING

A trans man armed with the power of self-reflection embarks on a hero’s journey.

This debut novel begins in a vaguely futuristic New York City with our hero, Penfield R. Henderson, scrolling through the Gram, a sort of evolved Instagram with holographic capabilities. The object of Pen’s attention is Aiden Chase, a fellow trans man whom Pen both worships and despises. Aiden represents a “trans-father whose shadow [he] wanted to step out of even tho dude was younger.” Unable to handle another perfect post from Aiden on the Gram, Pen decides to place a hex on him, asking his Bushwick roommates, the Witch and the Stoner-Hacker, to help him “curse someone, in both the old ways and the new.” This plan goes awry when a trans man named Blithe Freeman encounters Pen’s curse before Aiden does, and he's sent deep into the Shadowlands. Enter the Rhiz, an underground trans network, which enlists both Pen and Aiden to find the cursed man and bring him back. The two frenemies set out to rescue Blithe from the Shadowlands, which, despite functioning as a metaphor for deep depression, is physically located in Joshua Tree. The journey is akin to a queer millennial version of The Alchemist, complete with proverbs and personal growth. Pen’s raw reflections on his insecurities as a trans man—"my feet were still sweating from my encounter with the airport scanners. I knew they saw I was missing a big dick”—provide a realness to this dreamlike, allegorical narrative. The attempts to orient the story in the future, from subway cars that glow with Bio-meter readings to vague mentions of climate-related natural disasters, only serve to distract from a more powerful reality: For underrepresented communities, the everyday experience can be alien enough.

This is a modern allegory with a unique voice—searching, questioning, vulnerable, witty.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59376-688-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Soft Skull Press

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

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THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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