The Girls

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Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.

The Girls by Emma Cline

Publication Date: June 14, 2016 by Random House


My Thoughts:

I’ve never been so hesitant to start a book in my life. When Emma Cline’s novel was initially released in June, you couldn’t go anywhere on social media without seeing a snapshot of the cover – it felt like the most hyped up book of the summer. And when I finally read a synopsis, I immediately sensed it would be a book that I loved.

And then the reviews started coming in, many of which shared that Cline’s verbose writing style took away from any interest in the story. So then it began – I would enter a bookstore and walk around with a copy of The Girls in my hand only to talk myself out of it before leaving the store with a different purchase. On yet another trip to Barnes and Noble this month (damn you, Barnes and Noble and your 30% off discounts!), I was about to go through the same circle of self-doubt again, but this time I wasn’t alone. My internal ramblings became external and my love convinced me to buy a copy of The Girls. So if you’re reading this, thanks wifey!

I admit to having the same frustrations as a lot of readers when I started this book. Cline’s writing style is descriptive (to say the least) and there were a few moments where I wondered if I had been right to bypass the novel on all my previous bookstore excursions. Cline uses phrasal fragments (in particular, those that seemed to highlight nouns) like there’s no tomorrow – The horses I copied from a pencil drawing book, shading in their graphite manes. Tracing a picture of a bobcat carrying away a vole in its jaws, the sharp tooth of nature– and the novel as a whole could be used in a study of metaphors and similes.

And yet despite the technical difficulties, there is something in Cline’s writing that’s best described as haunting. Because the story is based on Charles Manson and his commune cult, I essentially knew the chain of events that would occur, but Cline was still able to create a sense of unease as the story progressed towards its horrific finale. I also really appreciated Evie’s internal dialogues as both a teenager and an adult – her narration felt like an honest portrayal of what it means to be a girl/woman:

Poor Sasha. Poor girls. The world fattens them on the promise of love. How badly they need it, and how little most of them will ever get. The treacled pop songs, the dresses described in the catalogs with words like “sunset” and “Paris.” Then the dreams are taken away with such violent force; the hand wrenching the buttons of the jeans, nobody looking at the man shouting at his girlfriend on the bus. Sorrow for Sasha locked up my throat.

That doesn’t mean to say that Cline speaks for all girls, but in telling Evie’s story she paints a picture of how gender can impact a person’s life, as well as the choices they make. While it is far from a typical coming-of-age novel, Cline has the ability to evoke all the universal feelings and frustrations of those years that bridge the gap between childhood and adulthood and that is ultimately what I enjoyed the most about her first novel!

Slipping: Stories, Essays, & Other Writing

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In her edgy, satiric debut collection, award-winning South African journalist and author Lauren Beukes (The Shining Girls, Moxyland) never holds back. Nothing is simple and everything is perilous when humans are involved: corruption, greed, and even love (of a sort).

A permanent corporate branding gives a young woman enhanced physical abilities and a nearly-constant high
Recruits lifted out of poverty find a far worse fate collecting biohazardous plants on an inhospitable world
The only adult survivor of the apocalypse decides he will be the savior of teenagers; the teenagers are not amused.

From Johannesburg to outer space, these previously uncollected tales are a compelling, dark, and slippery ride.

Slipping: Stories, Essays & Other Writing by Lauren Beukes

Publication Date: November 29, 2016 by Tachyon Publications


 

My Thoughts:

I first discovered Lauren Beukes after picking up a copy of Broken Monsters and immediately became smitten. I found I had a hard time putting into words what the book was about and why I fell in love with it, mainly because Beukes is able to tackle serious real world issues through fiction – fiction that involves science fiction/fantasy elements that don’t ruin the story line or make something terrifyingly real seem silly or impersonal. This is a talent I haven’t found in many other authors and it makes me feel like I’ve found a true treasure in Beukes’ novels.

My love of Broken Monsters and The Shining Girls has yet to waiver so when I saw that Beuekes had released a collection of short stories and essays, I think my heart stopped momentarily.

Slipping is an interesting compilation of stories that tackle topics ranging from the frightening future of technology/social media to issues of extreme poverty and race. While some stories are particularly heavy on the science fiction (“Unathi Battles the Black Hairballs” and “The Green”) others like “Smileys” and “My Insect Skin” are made all the more chilling by their realism.

While each story in this collection is unique, they all have that one piece in common that make me so passionate about her previous novels – there’s a sense of some underlying real world threat in even the most intensely science fiction story lines. Much like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the reader is left with feelings of unease, that though what you’ve just read is fiction, it still hits too close to home to not make you nervous.

Slipping ends with a brief collection of non-fiction that helped to make her fiction even more meaningful. “Adventures in Journalism” gives an intensely personal description of Beukes career as a journalist in South Africa, while “All the Pretty Corpses” shares insight into how The Shining Girls came to be and why gender issues (sexism, domestic violence, etc.) play such a prevalent role in much of her work. I felt that this glimpse in Beukes’ own life and personal experiences made her fiction even more meaningful.

Thank you, Netgalley and Tachyon Publications, for providing me the opportunity to further my Lauren Beukes obsession!

Dear Mr. M

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Once a celebrated writer, M’s greatest success came with a suspense novel based on a real-life disappearance. The book was called The Reckoning, and it told the story of Jan Landzaat, a history teacher who went missing one winter after his brief affair with Laura, his stunning pupil. Jan was last seen at the holiday cottage where Laura was staying with her new boyfriend. Upon publication, M.’s novel was a bestseller, one that marked his international breakthrough.

That was years ago, and now M.’s career is almost over as he fades increasingly into obscurity. But not when it comes to his bizarre, seemingly timid neighbor who keeps a close eye on him. Why?

From various perspectives, Herman Koch tells the dark tale of a writer in decline, a teenage couple in love, a missing teacher, and a single book that entwines all of their fates. Thanks to The Reckoning, supposedly a work of fiction, everyone seems to be linked forever, until something unexpected spins the “story” off its rails.

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch

Publication Date: September 6, 2016 by Hogarth

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My Thoughts:

Yes, I have certain plans for you, Mr. M. You may think you’re alone, but as of today I’m here too. In a certain sense, of course, I’ve always been here, but now I’m really here. I’m here, and I won’t be going away, not for a while yet.

Herman Koch’s novel, Dear Mr. M, starts out ominous enough with some insight into M’s stalker downstairs neighbor. It’s clear from the beginning that this neighbor, whose name we later learn is Herman(!), has unresolved issues with the novelist and isn’t exactly about to handle them in a healthy way.

I read Koch’s novel, The Dinner, a few years ago and found I really enjoyed the psychological build up he creates within his story lines and how multifaceted he makes his characters. Dear Mr. M is no exception – it slowly builds in intensity, often leaving the reader in the dark about details until the very end. But more than the plot itself, what I love about Herman Koch’s books is his ability to create characters that while often twisted and completely unlikeable, are fascinating to read about – even when the reader may find him/herself wondering if people could truly be that despicable.

Dear Mr. M alternates narratives, mainly between M and Herman, but there are several chapters interjected that feature M’s wife, Herman’s teenage girlfriend, and the (missing? murdered?) teacher, Jan Landzaat. Through these different points of view, the reader is slowly exposed to a story line that explains the truth behind M’s bestselling novel, Payback – a book based on real events.

While overall I enjoyed the changes in point of view, there were times when it felt a bit sloppy and unnecessary. Several of the chapters shared a lot of information that I personally felt strayed away from the plot, particularly those that focused on Herman’s adolescence. While still interesting to read, they made the mystery of what happened to Jan Landzaat seem a bit disjointed. What had hooked me in the beginning ultimately got muddied by the end of the book.

Despite these issues, I still enjoyed the novel as a whole. Dear Mr. M may not have held the intensity for me that The Dinner had, but I still found myself absorbed enough to want to see how events would unfold and luckily, I wasn’t disappointed in the finale.

Thank you, Netgalley and Hogarth, for giving me the chance to read Herman Koch’s newest novel before its publication date!

Loner: A Novel

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From the award-winning author of The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, a novel as unsettling as it is impossible to put down.

David Federman has never felt appreciated. An academically gifted yet painfully forgettable member of his New Jersey high school class, the withdrawn, mild-mannered freshman arrives at Harvard fully expecting to be embraced by a new tribe of high-achieving peers. Initially, however, his social prospects seem unlikely to change, sentencing him to a lifetime of anonymity.

Then he meets Veronica Morgan Wells. Struck by her beauty, wit, and sophisticated Manhattan upbringing, David becomes instantly infatuated. Determined to win her attention and an invite into her glamorous world, he begins compromising his moral standards for this one, great shot at happiness. But both Veronica and David, it turns out, are not exactly as they seem.

Loner turns the traditional campus novel on its head as it explores ambition, class, and gender politics. It is a stunning and timely literary achievement from one of the rising stars of American fiction.

Loner: A Novel by Teddy Wayne

Publication Date: September 13, 2016 by Simon & Schuster

Goodreads


 

My Thoughts:

This book is terrifying and made my skin crawl at times the whole time I was reading. And yet I couldn’t put it down.

The content of the story is disturbing. The reader is forced to listen to the internal dialogues of David, a self-proclaimed loner who thinks attending Harvard will bring a change to his social status. However, it becomes obvious quite early on that David isn’t really looking to make meaningful relationships and his obsession with fellow classmate, Veronica, only helps to spin him further away from any true connections with his peers.

There were moments in the beginning where perhaps it is possible for the reader to feel empathy, or at the very least – pity, for our narrator. He clearly has difficulty fitting in and there are some seriously cringeworthy moments where it’s a little easier to see why David is the way he is and why human interaction doesn’t come easy to him. But then David’s obsession with Veronica slowly starts to build in intensity and all feelings of concern for our narrator fly out the window.

I don’t know what the author’s intent was when writing this novel, but as a female reader, my thoughts kept returning to what the narration shared about male privilege. As David’s behavior and thought processes became more and more extreme, I found myself thinking about news headlines such as this one. Not to mention, all one needs to do is type something like “man kills woman for rejecting him” into a google search and hundreds of articles pop up. It’s an issue that is frighteningly prevalent in our society and Wayne’s novel puts the reader right into the head of someone who feels like an Elliot Rodger or one of the slew of men who have felt “owed” by a woman just because they showed them attention.

Wayne shows this slow build up in David’s character in the thoughts he has regarding Veronica’s lack of interest:

“By Tuesday my [Facebook friend] request remained unanswered. If your delay was calculated, it was no longer cute. I wrote an entire essay for you; all you had to do was click a button or press on a screen.”

“So you had time for her but not the guy who wrote your paper.”

Again and again, David sees Veronica’s unwillingness to engage in a romantic relationship with him to be an affront against him.  What’s even more frightening/sad is that David never truly sees his behavior as anything but normal or appropriate – anything he does he deems as a worthy response to Veronica’s actions.  There’s SO much more to be said about the ending of this book, but I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read Teddy Wayne’s novel yet!

Perhaps I missed the point of the book entirely, but I enjoyed it nonetheless for the questions it raised on an issue I feel so strongly about.  So despite the serious creep factor, I would definitely recommend this novel!

We Eat Our Own

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An ambitious debut novel by an original young writer, We Eat Our Own blurs the lines between life and art with the story of a film director’s unthinkable experiment in the Amazon.

When a nameless, struggling actor in 1970s New York gets the call that an enigmatic director wants him for an art film set in the Amazon, he doesn’t hesitate: he flies to South America, no questions asked. He quickly realizes he’s made a mistake. He’s replacing another actor who quit after seeing the script—a script the director now claims doesn’t exist. The movie is over budget. The production team seems headed for a breakdown. The air is so wet that the celluloid film disintegrates.

But what the actor doesn’t realize is that the greatest threat might be the town itself, and the mysterious shadow economy that powers this remote jungle outpost. Entrepreneurial Americans, international drug traffickers, and M-19 guerillas are all fighting for South America’s future—and the groups aren’t as distinct as you might think. The actor thought this would be a role that would change his life. Now he’s worried if he’ll survive it.

Inspired by a true story from the annals of 1970s Italian horror film, and told in dazzlingly precise prose, We Eat Our Own is a resounding literary debut, a thrilling journey behind the scenes of a shocking film and a thoughtful commentary on violence and its repercussions.

We Eat Our Own by Kea Wilson

Publication Date: September 6, 2016 by Scribner

Goodreads


 

My Thoughts:

There’s no such thing as murder in the jungle

OH.MY.GOD.

This book is nothing like you expect and for the first time in awhile, I felt like I truly had no idea what was going to happen in a novel. I can see how it would be easy to make comparisons to Heart of Darkness or Lord of the Flies, but that doesn’t do this story justice. While there’s plenty of room for comparable discussions on human nature and what it means to be “civilized”, We Eat Our Own isn’t at all what it seems and definitely makes you question your own assumptions as a reader.

The author’s ability to play with language and a second person POV (something I don’t normally enjoy in fiction, but is done so well in this book!) drives up the intensity of the scenes in a way that makes it hard to believe that this is Kea Wilson’s first novel. The characters are flawed and at times, extremely despicable, but they’re still entirely human and that makes the story all the more frightening.

Thank you, Netgalley and Scribner, for the introduction to Kea Wilson’s first novel – you’ve started a new literary love affair.