Tuesday, December 30th, 2014
Jeva Lange, reader:
I had a slower year in reading than usual, in part because I spent the bulk of my summer combing through manuscripts for work. I’ve been using the past few weeks to try to catch up on some of the big books of 2014; Claudia Rankine’s phenomenal Citizen and Ben Lerner’s close-to-home 10:04 have particularly moved me. And while 2014 holds many great runner-ups, one of my favorite discoveries from this year actually belongs to 2015: Kirstin Valdez Quade’s forthcoming debut, Night at the Fiestas.
I had the opportunity to read Quade’s collection of short stories last summer and I was blown away – I don’t think I’ve stopped talking about it since. With prose that consistently chills to the bone, Night at the Fiestas casts themes of girlhood, religion, and race against the unsettling landscape of New Mexico. But beyond being a collection that so perfectly paints a place (I’ve never been to New Mexico, but I can practically feel it in Night), Quade is an author fascinated by character – especially young women who are caught in the limbo between daughterhood and adulthood. And unlike other short story collections, where there are clear standouts and clear duds, every single piece in Night at the Fiestas is gripping, essential, and original; it’s impossible for me to pick a favorite. I can’t recommend it enough.
Rose Gowen, reader
A few weeks ago, I read the NYBR selection of Tove Jansson‘s stories, The Woman Who Borrowed Memories. I read her novels The Summer Book, Fair Play, and The True Deceiver last year, and The Summer Book and Fair Play especially have continued to live in my mind, so I was happy to have more Jansson. Many of the stories in this volume are good; “The Squirrel” is excellent. An older woman, a writer, lives alone in a tiny cottage on an island. She is alone until a squirrel appears. She watches the squirrel, and watching the squirrel, watches herself, and sees her loneliness and the precariousness of her self-sufficiency.
Emma Bushnell, associate editor
Deena Drewis, editor
I hadn’t read any of Helen Oyeyemi’s work prior to picking up Boy, Snow, Bird but after coming across an interview in the London Review of Books titled “Helen Oyeyemi: ‘I’m interested in the way women disappoint one another’” I was already half in love. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the novel, though I’ve always been wary of fairy tale re-tellings—a (perhaps unfounded) concern that the story or novel will defeat itself by getting too clever or cute. But Oyeyemi’s novel is so smart and subtle, her characters so engaging and deeply flawed, and it interacts with the original story in a tremendously powerful way.
Speaking of women disappointing one another, I recently finished Chloe Caldwell’s WOMEN. A really moving, bold piece of work. And I loved every component of it—not only the text itself but the cover, the way it feels in your hands. Plus, it’s a novella published by an indie press!
Lastly, to join in on the chorus of praise: Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. It’s heartbreaking and funny; the precision is astounding. It’s a book for people who believe in marriage and people who don’t, easily consumed in a single sitting or two (which is becoming all the rage, we hear!)