A rich and honest examination of family histories, cultural disconnection, and the way people fall in love.

MONSTER IN THE MIDDLE

A young couple falls in love in 21st-century New York City: Is it fate, or was their connection foretold by their ancestors?

We are the sum of the people who made us, Caribbean American writer Yanique tells us in her new novel. Their hopes and dreams may bear no resemblance to our own, may in fact be directly opposed to what we want and need, but their stories are the foundations from which we blossom. The idea isn’t new, but the gifted Yanique, author of Land of Love and Drowning (2014), shapes it into something unique and memorable as she considers the effects of cultural disconnection on desire and love. At the heart of her story are Fly and Stela, who will meet in New York City on the cusp of a pandemic. He’s a Black American, raised on religion and weed, with a mentally ill father and an ear for music; she’s half an orphan from the Virgin Islands with an artist’s eye who loves the colors of the sea and dreams of landing in the belly of a whale. A long and compelling road leads to their love story, one lined with mistakes, regrets, and other emotional flotsam. Potential menace lies everywhere, in a preacher who peddles a peculiar brand of salvation from a parking lot; a predator who slyly hides bad intentions; police officers whose racism and careless sense of justice are tangible dangers. What, then, is Yanique’s “monster in the middle”? She scatters clues with allusions to myth and magic, but interpretation lies with the reader. This author understands how we come to be who we are. “We all know it takes a village to raise a child. But I can tell you honestly that it takes an ancestry to make a man or woman,” says Stela’s stepfather. Look to your roots, Yanique urges us, and maybe you’ll see the outline of your future.

A rich and honest examination of family histories, cultural disconnection, and the way people fall in love.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59463-360-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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A novel that reckons with ghosts—of both specific people and also the shadows resulting from America’s violent, dark habits.

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THE SENTENCE

The most recent recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in fiction—for The Night Watchman (2020)—turns her eye to various kinds of hauntings, all of which feel quite real to the affected characters.

Erdrich is the owner of Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore in Minneapolis and, in this often funny novel, the favorite bookstore of Flora, one of narrator Tookie’s “most annoying customers.” Flora wants to be thought of as Indigenous, a “very persistent wannabe” in the assessment of Tookie, who's Ojibwe. Flora appears at the store one day with a photo of her great-grandmother, claiming the woman was ashamed of being Indian: “The picture of the woman looked Indianesque, or she might have just been in a bad mood,” Tookie decides. Flora dies on All Souls’ Day 2019 with a book splayed next to her—she didn't have time to put a bookmark in it—but she continues shuffling through the store’s aisles even after her cremation. Tookie is recently out of prison for transporting a corpse across state lines, which would have netted her $26,000 had she not been ratted out and had the body not had crack cocaine duct-taped to its armpits, a mere technicality of which Tookie was unaware. Tookie is also unaware that Flora considered Tookie to be her best friend and thus sticks to her like glue in the afterlife, even smacking a book from the fiction section onto the floor during a staff meeting at Birchbark. The novel’s humor is mordant: “Small bookstores have the romance of doomed intimate spaces about to be erased by unfettered capitalism.” The characters are also haunted by the George Floyd murder, which occurred in Minneapolis; they wrestle with generations of racism against Black and Indigenous Americans. Erdrich’s love for bookselling is clear, as is her complicated affection for Minneapolis and the people who fight to overcome institutional hatred and racism.

A novel that reckons with ghosts—of both specific people and also the shadows resulting from America’s violent, dark habits.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-267112-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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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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