Scrapper by Matt Bell

This disturbing, richly imagined novel will be hard to read at times not because of its style, which is formally ambitious but never pretentious or deliberately obscure. Rather the book may require frequent breaks because of its darkness, a kind of soul darkness that makes a reader see an old story–sexual abuse–anew. Of all the many articles, memoirs and novels I’ve read that deal with this issue, this is the book that captures its devastation most acutely, and from both the perpetrator’s and the victim’s perspective. A marvelous, if painful,...

“Gustine’s tales are bursting with startling insights, stabbing dialogue, ambushing metaphors, and stunning moments of dissonance. Her first collection aligns her with such short story stars as Joy Williams, Antonya Nelson, and Bonnie Jo Campbell.”
Booklist, Starred Review

Read more

“In this dazzling debut collection, Gustine shows tremendous range, empathy, and spark…Gustine’s language is uniformly remarkable for its clarity and forthrightness.”
Publisher’s Weekly, Starred Review

Read more

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu

“There’s no justice in it, but there’s no evil in it either.” Judith offers this observation of how the world works, and it perfectly captures the virtues of this brief, wonderful novel about Sepha, an Ethiopian immigrant shopkeeper in Washington D.C, and a white American woman who moves in down the block. At once simple and complex, heartbreaking and uplifting, the novel tells a story of race, immigration, the American dream, poverty, education, class, and personal responsibility through the lens of one neighborhood’s gentrification, Sepha’s friendship with Joseph and Kenneth (immigrants from Congo and Kenya respectively) and Sepha and Judith’s brief romance. A wonderful example of the “time-braid” novel in first person, Mengestu takes us through the months Sepha spent with Judith and her daughter alternating in chapters with a day in the present, when Sepha receives an eviction notice. A rare subtlety, nuance and generosity distinguishes this novel’s spirit while the plot and characters perfectly balance social forces against personal circumstances and psychologies. Nothing is over-simplified, nothing over-stated. All of the characters are both capable of improving their lives and not, victims of the world’s prejudices and inequalities, as well as plain bad luck and their own self-defeating attitudes. Truth lies in these complexities and the novel is one of the best ways of finding it. Buy the...

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Set in 1955 and originally published in 1961, the book was adapted into a movie in 2009. However, its beauty and intelligence can’t be portrayed on film because they arise from the narrative techniques, not the plot or the dialogue. Yates is a master of point-of-view, using limited third-person, speculative, roaming and omniscient to tell the story of Frank and April Wheeler, a couple whose marriage is falling apart. While April is intensely and fully-realized with the most minimal of strokes, Frank is explored in detail, a complex man whose inner world is vastly more sympathetic than his observed weakness and foolishness. Simultaneously personal fiction and grand cultural indictment, like The Great Gatsby, Revolutionary Road is a masterpiece that manages to be both very much of its time and endure across the...