Fiction

The Attack by Dauvillier and Chapron

This graphic novel (and the novel it is based on) is about the struggle to come to terms with decisions and actions that do not correspond with the facts as the main character sees them. It illustrates the humanity underlying the desperation in an act of terrorism, without trying to justify the act, and it explores the expanding circles of family and friends affected by the attack. Many peoples’ lives are changed forever and the carnage is far more than those involved directly in the attack. The collateral damage is more than the surrounding buildings. The author explores the complicated circumstances without being didactic and without providing clear answers. This story thoughtfully engages a sensitive and controversial topic. Back to Book Reviews  

Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

I found Colson Whitehead’s idea intriguing, portraying the Underground Railroad as a real railroad that traveled beneath the land. However, the real highlight, I found, was Cora’s story, a woman who clung to the railroad as her only hope of freedom, or even survival. As she journeys on the railroad the reader witnesses the many different kinds of horrible slaves experienced throughout the South, and in fact throughout a long and embattled journey towards equality, each stop signifying a different struggle. While it is an important story, I found it lacking in continuity and depth in comparison to Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, which portrays similar narratives and was my favorite book in from the past year of reading. I happened to read two one right after the other, which maybe was unfair to Underground Railroad, a very good book in its own right. Back to Book Reviews  

Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

These well-written stories center on Refugees’ experiences. The characters are caught in a transition between two cultures, two worlds, two lives, not able to fully inhabit either, struggling with the idea of assimilating while clinging to the memories of a life that was ripped away. I recently heard Viet Thanh Nguyen say in an interview on NPR that he believes refugees have the valuable experience of being outsiders, which helps them feel compassion and empathy towards others. He wishes everyone “had a sense of what it is like to be an outsider, an other.” These stories give the reader a brief glimpse into how that might look and feel. Back to Book Reviews

Normal by Warren Ellis

Too flippant to take seriously, was my first reaction, but I soon realized the marrow of this short near-future mystery is not in the plot or the tone, but the incidentals. Normal is a psychiatric rehabilitation center for people who have worked with information on a large scale and are traumatized by the dissociative, destructive, or futile nature of their work. Sure these characters are mouthpieces for Ellis' outlook, but pay attention to their rambling monologues for an enlightening but very sobering read. Back to Book Reviews  

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley

This book was clever, original, surprising, and all-around awesome. The art is manga-style and the story reflects many manga elements while also playfully mocking them. Katy is a likable but seriously flawed character whose bound toward disaster when she discovers she can "erase" yesterday's mistakes. As you might guess, things get out of hand as she erases mistake after mistake and weird stuff starts happening. Though a somewhat cliche premise, the humor is spot-on and Katy proves to be an irresistible protagonist as she rushes headfirst into something she doesn't understand. I couldn't put it down. Five out of five stars. Back to Book Reviews

Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

Just fantastic. Russian investigator Arkady Renko plods fatalistically through a homicide investigation despite resistance from all quarters. Though the author is an American jornalist, he paints a compelling picture of the bewildering contradictions of cold-war Russia and populates it with memorable characters. The dialog is especially strong. Back to Book Reviews  

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

This book is outrageous throughout, in ways both hilarious and offensive, with no clear separation between the two, but that just shows how hard-hitting the satire is. It is a brutal satire on race, and nearly everything race-related, including slavery and segregation. Beatty irreverently digs into these sensitive subjects, dissecting them with wit and satire, leaving them raw and bare and leaving the reader laughing inappropriately. Back to Book Reviews  

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

This is one of those books you read with fascination watching the conflict unfold. A woman decides to become a vegetarian in a family who savors their meat. Not surprisingly, her family has a hard time understanding her decision to not eat meat. As the story unfolds, it raises the questions of where is the line between eccentric and total madness, between self and family, or self and culture? Back to Book Reviews  

Big Machine by Victor LaVelle

He grew up in a cult, and now he’s been recruited to join a mysterious paranormal investigation team. Conspiracy underlies the structure of the story, which plays with the fine line between belief and doubt. However, the humor and absurdity is what I enjoyed most. Back to Book Reviews  

We the Animals by Justin Torres

This is a short, beautifully written coming-of-age story about three rough and tumble boys growing up in a family characterized by intense relationships. The power of this story is well beyond the short 130 pages of the novel. It is well worth the quick read. Back to Book Reviews