An ambitious but uneven collection from a writer of significant talent and promise.

BURNING GIRLS AND OTHER STORIES

History and fairy tales are reimagined, repurposed, and remixed in this intriguing debut story collection.

Drawing deeply from history (particularly leftist, labor, women's, and Jewish history), folklore, fairy tales, and pop culture, Schanoes explores themes of historiography, queerness, duty, justice, and oppression. In the powerful "Among the Thorns," Ittele, a Jewish girl eschewing the trajectory typical for a 17th-century woman, dedicates herself instead—with intercession from an ancient, neglected deity—to taking revenge on the fiddler who was responsible for her father's humiliation and murder. In "Phosphorus," an Irish girl laboring in a London match factory falls ill with a ghastly disease but, thanks to a heartbreaking bargain, is able to see the workers' strike for better conditions through to the end. Despite this strong start, the collection begins to sag toward the middle, notably at the end of "Emma Goldman Takes Tea With the Baba Yaga." What begins as a captivating examination of the ways narrative choices, including state propaganda, affect perception and outcome, with the narrator imagining Goldman making a renewed commitment to revolution in the Baba Yaga's forest cottage following her disillusionment with the Bolshevik state, suddenly fizzles into a direct accounting of the United States' recent slide toward fascism. "Rats," a retelling of the calamitous relationship between Sid Vicious and Nancy Spurgeon, again starts off compellingly, examining the essential lie at the heart of fiction and our impulse to impose narrative order on the chaos of life, only to fall apart in an unpalatable take on the inevitable end, pegging Lily (Nancy's stand-in) as not only responsible for her own murder, but desirous of it. Fortunately, things pick up again beginning with "Lily Glass," a piercing variation on "Snow-White and Rose-Red" about an early film starlet navigating a complex maze of anti-Semitism, homophobia, and repressed desire, and culminating with the masterful Shirley Jackson Award–winning title story, which follows a gifted young witch and her seamstress sister as they escape the 1906 Bialystok pogrom to hoped-for safety in New York.

An ambitious but uneven collection from a writer of significant talent and promise.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-78150-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

THE SWALLOWED MAN

A retelling of Pinocchio from Geppetto's point of view.

The novel purports to be the memoirs of Geppetto, a carpenter from the town of Collodi, written in the belly of a vast fish that has swallowed him. Fortunately for Geppetto, the fish has also engulfed a ship, and its supplies—fresh water, candles, hardtack, captain’s logbook, ink—are what keep the Swallowed Man going. (Collodi is, of course, the name of the author of the original Pinocchio.) A misfit whose loneliness is equaled only by his drive to make art, Geppetto scours his surroundings for supplies, crafting sculptures out of pieces of the ship’s wood, softened hardtack, mussel shells, and his own hair, half hoping and half fearing to create a companion once again that will come to life. He befriends a crab that lives all too briefly in his beard, then mourns when “she” dies. Alone in the dark, he broods over his past, reflecting on his strained relationship with his father and his harsh treatment of his own “son”—Pinocchio, the wooden puppet that somehow came to life. In true Carey fashion, the author illustrates the novel with his own images of his protagonist’s art: sketches of Pinocchio, of woodworking tools, of the women Geppetto loved; photos of driftwood, of tintypes, of a sculpted self-portrait with seaweed hair. For all its humor, the novel is dark and claustrophobic, and its true subject is the responsibilities of creators. Remembering the first time he heard of the sea monster that was to swallow him, Geppetto wonders if the monster is somehow connected to Pinocchio: “The unnatural child had so thrown the world off-balance that it must be righted at any cost, and perhaps the only thing with the power to right it was a gigantic sea monster, born—I began to suppose this—just after I cracked the world by making a wooden person.” Later, contemplating his self-portrait bust, Geppetto asks, “Monster of the deep. Am I, then, the monster? Do I nightmare myself?”

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18887-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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