Monday, September 6, 2021

Three Rooms by Jo Hamya

Against the backdrop of Brexit, the narrator of this thought-provoking novel struggles to find a job and a place of her own. Hamya captures the rootlessness of the millennial generation — carving a space for themselves out of hollowed structures as they navigate the gig economy and the dumpster fire of capitalism. “There had been no place I could have dragged a sofa into, painted the walls whatever color I wanted, stayed in long enough to find inviting colleagues over for dinner and drinks, a worthwhile task,” the narrator says. It’s enough to make you scream: The “kids” are not okay. 


Saturday, September 4, 2021

Skinship by Yoon Choi

Immigrants from Korea make their way through the novel landscape that is the United States, even as the past continues to haunt them. This remarkably brilliant collection might tread familiar ground but it is especially successful in its subtle acknowledgment of the minor triumphs of the new transplants. That even these achievements might be a step down from life in Korea makes their accomplishments even more noteworthy. The most moving stories feature aging and dying in a foreign land, characters clinging to a past that is fuzzy even in memories. The collection spotlights life in its high-definition beauty and complexity. 

Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson

It takes an assured hand to take a classic Pacific Northwest loggers’ fight for survival and not turn it into an us-versus-them story. Colleen is still reeling from her eighth miscarriage when her husband Rich boldy buys a patch of redwood trees he can’t afford. As the environmental damage wrought by chemicals and logging takes its toll, the community faces slim choices. This is an unforgettable novel saturated with languorous yet memorable prose — a salad is filled with “horseshoes” of celery, a character’s laughter fills the air like “confetti,” — and a slow-burn of a plotline. An absolute stunner.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart


What happens when six friends, fueled by plenty of alcohol, are together during lockdown? We’re far from placing the pandemic in the rearview mirror but the immensely talented Shteyngart studies what could go wrong (and right) under such a pressure cooker environment. Alternatively funny and pithy, the novel gives off Big Chill-esque vibes. The story displays a powerful grasp of  class divides and the pressures on progressives seething in the Trumpian era. Overall though, the novel feels half-baked, the bows too neatly tied together in the end. A worthy addition to an impressive body of work but not my favorite.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead


The “great circle” is the path that fictional pilot Marian Graves wants to trace — from the North to the South Pole. In reading the story of her accounts, we realize that the collective arcs of our individual stories turn out to be equally stunning. In mapping Marian’s “great circle” of life, from early abandonment as a baby, to life with her twin brother, growing up in the ruggedness of Montana, and serving in World War II, Shipstead paints a sweeping and majestic portrait of an unforgettable and spunky heroine. This is a novel to sink into and savor slowly.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Ghost Forest by Pik-Shuen Fung


After her family moved from Hong Kong when the city became a part of China, the protagonist of this haunting story has only truly known Vancouver as home. Yet her “astronaut” father travels back and forth to Hong Kong for work, the only place he truly considers home. In crisp vignettes the narrative details the pain of rootlessness and her struggles with making peace with her father’s brand of love. Choosing just the right details to populate every page, Fung has delivered a spectacular debut. The Ghost Forest is her special painting, a metaphor for the lingering ache of regret.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen


Single women making their way in the city. A villager using technology to find a seat in the Communist Party. These (and many other) stories gloriously portray the vibrant faces of China, as economic growth delivers bewildering riches to a generation still grappling with what it all means. “It was good, she thought, to be young, to have a weekend, to be free,” Bayi, thinks, even if her work as a “Hotline Girl,” answering calls for the Government Satisfaction Office is joyless. It’s still hers. Chen is especially gifted at exploring the very essence of China, even in far-flung America.