Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter (available for preorder): You’ll want to get your hands all over this as soon as possible. Ugliness can only exist in the shadow of beauty, and this novel is a gut-slingshot of the rawest, finest sort of beautiful available. I remember learning about extremophiles in science, these organisms and bacteria that manage to thrive in severe conditions that would kill most living things. Now imagine that beauty is a bacteria, and think of how beautiful the most extremophile beauty that lives on the underside of ugliness would have to be. That’s like this book. Its characters relentlessly charmed me, just as much with their meanest faults and flaws as with their kind vulnerabilities. It’s nothing short of an instant classic. There’s a pain here for everyone, of the sweetest sort—in these close-third perspectives, you’ll find understanding and self-recognition in places you wouldn’t want to admit, and will feel good to know that your defects aren’t so rare. It will be a relief. It will be one of the thousands of reasons you’ll love this novel.
Flings by Justin Taylor (available for preorder): Taylor is one of my favorite contemporary storytellers—on the page I think I fear him as much as I revere him. I show up to read a story, all giggly-party-girl-with-a-six-pack-of-beer-like, playing my stereo too loud, and Taylor slaps me upside the head and says I have a lot to learn about life. Shit gets deep, fast, before you have time to prepare or cringe. Imagine being a kid and suddenly having to spend a weekend at your survivalist uncle’s house while your parents jet off to a B&B. It’s 4:30 in the morning; you’re warm in bed & fast asleep. Suddenly he’s waking you up, pulling you out into the cold. You’re trudging through snow and you can’t see a thing. Suddenly he tells you to stop everything—stop walking, stop breathing, stay completely fucking still. You feel like you’re going to freeze to death. You retreat so deep into your head that you hardly hear the gunshot. Next thing you know, he’s slitting a deer carcass with a knife and pushing your hands inside the warm blood; your hands are covered in blood and you’re kneeling in the snow and you aren’t even fully awake. This is Flings.
The Violet Hour by Katherine Hill (available, paperback pre-order available for August 12th release): Arguably, everything in this book is realism, but as an enormous disciple of fabulist fiction, I can’t help but read it that way—the lush imagery in this novel magically disguises and obscures the everyday, and soon all of life begins to look unfamiliar in a way that allows the very existence of these characters to appear as ridiculous, thrilling, and painful as it arguably should: the rug is lifted, everything that gets swept beneath notice in the day to day becomes exposed. Weaving between three generations, the present action of the book takes place in the wonderfully spooky context of the death of a mortician, and magically, synergistically, birds seem and yet do not seem to be involved. I return to this book all the time because I love its alchemy of making narratives that you expect to be straightforward into something else entirely that resists and complicates all your assumptions. I think about those incredible sidewalk chalk drawings that appear to be actual tunnels in the sidewalk. It’s like those, except you’d be able to enter the tunnel when you looked at the chalk lines really really closely, and once you were in the tunnel you’d realize that everything you thought was solid is actually an illusion and vice-versa and you’d get that dropping-elevator feeling in your stomach times a million.
Three Hundred Million: A Novel by Blake Butler (pre-order available): Nothing makes me know I love a book more than a physical response, and whenever I see this book mentioned anywhere (and you’ll be seeing it everywhere, soon) I feel planted, literally locked to the ground remembering the hold it had on me from the first pages until I finished. It’s a viral text on so many levels—the way it makes you feel, the velocity of its suspense, the intense intimacy with the complex and frightening characters, the vertigo-inducing way the narrative shows that arguably clear categories like “good” and “bad” can become unsustainable once a certain proximity is reached. As a true-crime junky, any novel involving a psychopath and the detective hunting him is an immediate must-read for me, and to get this tale in the hands of a writer whose genius, future-forward gift for innovation in style and form is like having a million dollars delivered to you in a car that is literally made out of stacks of money that would also add up to one million dollars.
Going Anywhere by David Armstrong (pre-order available): This debut collection is a line-up of hits, strong and transportative and original. Every situation Armstrong takes you to is completely engrossing; the premise alone of any one of these stories would be enough to base a feature-length movie on. Even the narrative connections within the stories link the highly unusual at the hip: a camel defecating in the woods finds an affinity with a government worker opening a manila folder; a tuba finds its way to a shooting lesson and a father coming out to his son. I think one of the best compliments writers can give about a book is to say that reading it made them want to go write, and this really did—in the same way that luminol makes hidden bloodsplatter visible to the naked eye, after reading these stories I was able to see so many unnecessary limitations I’ve always placed upon my own work but hadn’t been able to recognize until now.
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