I take great satisfaction in pushing together two unexpected things, examining contradictory points, or using two ingredients that shouldn’t go well together. Why shouldn’t that extend to the things I read? In a world where so much has already been said or done, sometimes one needs to take creative liberties to reexamine topics, moods, or issues in a new light. Imagine the types of characters that can come from that sentiment, the conclusions that can be drawn, the shifts in perspective. The books in the list below have so many odd and beautiful moments, a darkness and lightness that weave together something fresh and new.
In ROUGE, there are many striking images to mesmerize, to ruminate on; a marinade, almost, of intoxicating beauty, a patchwork of thoughts: Chanel Rouge Allure lipstick, cracked mirror, red shoes. Obsession, loss, oddities, sinister in the abstract: there’s something clinging, always lingering in corners of the mind and in the culty spa that held so much of Belle’s mother’s attention. Now Belle’s mother is dead, and Belle is left to explore the strange world introduced to her by a lady in red. I love the jacket’s description of the book as “Snow White meets Eyes Wide Shut,” and what a radically unique combination these pages deliver.
From the critically acclaimed author of Bunny comes a horror-tinted, gothic fairy tale about a lonely dress shop clerk whose mother’s unexpected death sends her down a treacherous path in pursuit of youth and beauty. Can she escape her mother’s fate—and find a connection that is more than skin deep?
For as long as she can remember, Belle has been insidiously obsessed with her skin and skincare videos. When her estranged mother Noelle mysteriously dies, Belle finds herself back in Southern California, dealing with her mother’s considerable debts and grappling with lingering questions about her death. The stakes escalate when a strange woman in red appears at the funeral, offering a tantalizing clue about her mother’s demise, followed by a cryptic video about a transformative spa experience. With the help of a pair of red shoes, Belle is lured into the barbed embrace of La Maison de Méduse, the same lavish, culty spa to which her mother was devoted. There, Belle discovers the frightening secret behind her (and her mother’s) obsession with the mirror—and the great shimmering depths (and demons) that lurk on the other side of the glass.
Snow White meets Eyes Wide Shut in this surreal descent into the dark side of beauty, envy, grief, and the complicated love between mothers and daughters. With black humor and seductive horror, Rouge explores the cult-like nature of the beauty industry—as well as the danger of internalizing its pitiless gaze. Brimming with California sunshine and blood-red rose petals, Rouge holds up a warped mirror to our relationship with mortality, our collective fixation with the surface, and the wondrous, deep longing that might lie beneath.
Everything about the book’s cover, title, and subtitle is rife with contradiction, which is just the type of gimmick to catch my eye. Sharks are predators, sent to shorelines to torment or entertain us during Shark Week. Aren’t they? Of course, nothing is singularly any one thing, as author Emily Habeck shows. Sharks can also be people—a newlywed man, to be exact, who receives his diagnosis of great white shark body so soon after the wedding that it seems to be a terrible joke. And yet, this is the (carnivorous) nature of things. Framed within this present-day calamity, the pasts of his wife and her mother begin to make themselves known, trauma and relationships explored with renewed urgency in this surprisingly poignant and funny tale.
A gorgeous debut novel of marriage, motherhood, metamorphosis, and letting go, this intergenerational love story begins with newlyweds Wren and her husband, Lewis—a man who, over the course of nine months, transforms into a great white shark.
For Lewis and Wren, their first year of marriage is also their last. A few weeks after their wedding, Lewis receives a rare diagnosis. He will retain most of his consciousness, memories, and intellect, but his physical body will gradually turn into a great white shark. As Lewis develops the features and impulses of one of the most predatory creatures in the ocean, his complicated artist’s heart struggles to make peace with his unfulfilled dreams.
At first, Wren internally resists her husband’s fate. Is there a way for them to be together after Lewis changes? Then, a glimpse of Lewis’s developing carnivorous nature activates long-repressed memories for Wren, whose story vacillates between her childhood living on a houseboat in Oklahoma, her time with a college ex-girlfriend, and her unusual friendship with a woman pregnant with twin birds. Woven throughout this bold novel is the story of Wren’s mother, Angela, who becomes pregnant with Wren at fifteen in an abusive relationship amidst her parents’ crumbling marriage. In the present, all of Wren’s grief eventually collides, and she is forced to make an impossible choice.
A sweeping love story that is at once lyrical and funny, airy and visceral, Shark Heart is an unforgettable, gorgeous novel about life’s perennial questions, the fragility of memories, finding joy amidst grief, and creating a meaningful life. This daring debut marks the arrival of a wildly talented new writer abounding with originality, humor, and heart.
AT SEA is an apt title for a novel involving a man who can breathe underwater; that’s what Brendan tells Cara, anyway, offering this hidden talent as the reason for his secret job in the US Special Forces. A job as important as this means their union must be a brief summer romance, a fun fling. But then Cara gets pregnant, and Brendan withdraws; eventually Brendan and the baby are gone, and Cara questions everything she’s ever known about the man. Is there hope? Is Brendan really a part of something critical and secretive? Though the mystery spans years, I finished this riveting book within a day or two.
“Moving and immersive...truly compelling.” —Marjan Kamali, nationally bestselling author of The Stationery Shop
What happens when the man you love most in the world—who may be lying about everything—unexpectedly disappears and takes your small child with him? Emma Fedor’s riveting and powerful debut explores the fierceness of first love and how far one woman will go to learn the painful truth about her family.
When Cara and Brendan first meet, she’s fresh out of college, recovering from the recent death of her mother, and spending time on Martha’s Vineyard while trying to figure out her next steps. She’s swept away by Brendan’s humor and charm, and intoxicated by his thrilling, dangerous secret: he can breathe underwater. Able to stay beneath the waves for longer than should be possible, Brendan reveals that he is part of a secret experimental unit of the US Special Forces. And Cara, struck by the power of his conviction, by his unstoppable charisma, and by the evidence before her, believes him.
Their summer romance turns serious. Then Cara gets pregnant. When their son, Micah, is born, she’s sure their happy ending is underway. Still, she’s thrown by Brendan’s dramatic moods, his unexplained disappearances, and the weight of his secrets. Cara is determined to stay strong for her young family, to heal Brendan’s psychic wounds, to keep him safe. Until he and baby Micah vanish, leaving her desolate and alone and questioning everything she once thought was true.
Five years later, Cara is still struggling to move forward, married to another man and trying to rebuild her life, when a local fisherman announces he’s spotted two people—one of them a small child—treading water in Nantucket Sound, far from any vessels and miles from shore. The news rekindles Cara’s never-abandoned hope that her little boy may still be alive. As she fights to untangle delusion from reality, and revisits a past she’s worked hard to reconcile, Cara is determined to learn the truth about her lost love and finally find her son.
This cover made me laugh, the pairing of an eye and a cactus of varying proportions so unexpected and revealing—of what, exactly, I couldn’t be certain. When I realized it was a desert-survival story, I was even more excited, having recently spent a particularly memorable month in Joshua Tree. Spiky situations—two of the people she loves in great peril—and an urge for something more lead a woman to a desert path inhabited by an incredibly large cactus. And when a large cactus beckons, you probably want to step inside.
The most profound book yet from the visionary author of Milk Fed and The Pisces, a darkly funny novel about grief that becomes a desert survival story.
In Melissa Broder’s astounding new novel, a woman arrives alone at a Best Western seeking respite from an emptiness that plagues her. She has fled to the California high desert to escape a cloud of sorrow—for both her father in the ICU and a husband whose illness is worsening. What the motel provides, however, is not peace but a path, thanks to a receptionist who recommends a nearby hike.
Out on the sun-scorched trail, the woman encounters a towering cactus whose size and shape mean it should not exist in California. Yet the cactus is there, with a gash through its side that beckons like a familiar door. So she enters it. What awaits her inside this mystical succulent sets her on a journey at once desolate and rich, hilarious and poignant.
This is Melissa Broder at her most imaginative, most universal, and finest. This is Death Valley.
A good deception never hurt anyone, right? How could pretending to be pregnant in an all-male office to avoid being stuck with the worst duties possibly go wrong? Turns out it takes a surprising amount of time and effort to fake a pregnancy, which unfortunately has a very specific end date with a hugely anticipated result. The premise alone is already entertaining, the execution even funnier and more endearing. Yagi’s debut won the Dazai Osamu Prize in Japan and very much deserves all its praise.
I can’t get enough of Philip K. Dick’s speculative and thought-provoking writing, and thankfully there are many books to choose from. FLOW MY TEARS, THE POLICEMAN SAID is one that really stuck with me, though the title can be a challenging one to remember! Jason Taverner is a celebrity; that is, until he wakes up one day and he’s not. No one knows his name, and no one is willing to give preferential treatment. With no identification cards, he must live on the run, avoiding cops and slipping into the shadows, all the while trying to decipher what happened to him. What I love most about Dick’s works are the layers within layers, the realities that become slightly ajar, made questionable and uneasy. The relationships too are incredibly strong, situational partnerships often built on deceit and urgency that develop into the most interesting character studies.
Switching bodies is never as easy as it’s made out to be. If Adam’s brain is now surgically inside a younger body, does that mean he can retain his personality but begin an entirely different life? The line between physical and mental limitations has been broken, charting new territory both known and unknown. His family and past still exist, sure, but there’s boundless energy for a new future, one where Adam is unrecognizable as the man and playwright he used to be. With his family believing he’s on sabbatical, Adam is free to explore the world as a younger man of his choosing, repeating years already lived with a completely different perspective. Conscious of the body, of relationships, of established meaning and alternative beginnings, Adam finally has the space to reflect, reignite, and choose how to interact with loved ones and the world around him.
"After a bit you realize there's only one invaluable commodity. Not gold or love, but time."
How far are we willing to go to stay young? Hanif Kureishi -- acclaimed author of The Buddha of Suburbia and Intimacy -- explores the possibilities in this provocative story of an older man whose brain is surgically placed in a younger man's body by a network of underground doctors.
Adam is offered the chance to trade in his sagging flesh for a much younger and more pleasing model. He tells his wife and son that he is going on an extended vacation. He immediately embarks on an odyssey of hedonism, but soon finds himself regretting what he left behind and feeling guilt over the responsibilities he has ignored. Sinister forces pursue him, wanting possession of "his" body, and he soon finds himself with nowhere to turn.
"A fluent, socially observant writer whose sentences move with intelligence and wit" (The New York Times Book Review), Kureishi presents us with both a fantastically vivid tale and hard-hitting questions about our own relationships with our minds and bodies -- and with time that is running out.
Aliens, you say? In a book called THE HUMANS, an alien reigns supreme. That is, an alien disguised as a human named Professor Andrew Martin, doing all of Martin’s humanlike things with a sense of confusion, practicality, and isolation. Alien Martin can’t just do Martin things without questioning their relevance; he can’t eat and drink and read and write without fully tasting and absorbing and experiencing. And then there’s Martin’s family and work and those relationships that are expected of him, paired with the very large task the alien was originally sent to accomplish. Plenty, then, for mayhem and misunderstandings and reveals.
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