Science writer Eugene Linden’s fiction debut Deep Past is an intriguing, science-minded thriller.
When anthropologist Claire Knowland receives a new assignment in Kazakhstan to study domesticated horses, she’s less than thrilled. Not only is she headed to a harsh steppe climate, but going there means pausing her study and training of elephants, a project that she loves.
The seemingly dull assignment takes an exhilarating turn, though, when large bones are unearthed by the strong winds. When Claire examines them, she believes they are elephant bones. Her geologist colleague estimates them to be more than five million years old, from a time when neither elephants nor any other large mammals inhabited the area. What’s more, the bones seem to have been arranged by an intelligent life-form.
Claire’s efforts to investigate are blocked by the powerful Delamain Foundation. They’re the ones funding her research, and she is forced to outsmart them at every turn to discover the truth. With the assistance of an unlikely ally—mysterious Russian geologist Sergei Anachev—Claire works toward a potentially life-changing discovery.
Linden’s knowledge of geology, anthropology, and speculative science shines through on every page. In addition to fascinating scientific features, the book also deftly handles political machinations and international academics, resulting in a wholly unique blend of fact and fiction.
Colorful, well-developed characters make the book even more enjoyable. Claire is a complex and believably motivated heroine, and supporting characters, especially Sergei, are realistic and lively. Each adds impressive depth to the subject matter. The setting also plays an important part, enhancing the peril at every turn.
Entertaining, educational, and absolutely original, Deep Past is a fascinating debut novel.
ANGELA MCQUAY (April 27, 2019)
The Things We Cannot Say
“The conversation hobbles on,” Harriet Shawcross observes at a camp for children with selective mutism. “Without daily practice, they grasp at topics like leaves in a stream, exchanging information, but never quite conversing.” These children represent one kind of silence among many in Shawcross’s Unspeakable, a musing and sensitive work that endeavors to give voice to the things that so many of us are unable to say.
Shawcross herself experienced a period of something like selective mutism in her youth, brought on by her discomfort with reconciling her boarding school life with the challenges she faced at home. The awful period in which she found herself unable to speak birthed later curiosity in silence as a phenomenon. She explores it across disaster zones and accounts of sexual trauma, internal snags, and the work of her favorite poet, George Oppen.
Silence emerges in a distressing but thoughtful array. Selective mutism is shown growing or dissipating as children struggle to articulate their internal commotion. Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues becomes a vehicle for addressing women’s sexuality, as well as the aftermath of assault.
Methods of healing others just by letting them speak are explored—but so are their cultural limitations. Just outside of Kathmandu, Shawcross witnesses populations grappling with post-earthquake trauma in a place where mere words are not medicinal. Across each situation, Shawcross also untangles the second instance of extended silence her life—this time, around her evolving understanding of her sexual orientation. What’s hard to say is written down anyway, and Shawcross’s refusal to go mum again—even regarding her own situational clumsiness—is part of what makes the book so compelling.
Incisive when it comes to airing often inexpressible burdens—including surviving assault, death and disaster, depression and loneliness—Unspeakable is a keen and important literary investigation.
MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (April 27, 2019)
In Lynn Lurie’s Museum of Stones, a woman experiences parenting as a cross between profound love and constant, only sometimes low-grade terror. Swinging between the past and the present, the novel moves from the mother’s rough birth of her son to her time with him in Peru when he is an adult. This work crosses genre boundaries, employing the lyricism of poetry with the character development of a novel.
Told in short paragraphs that are almost like prose poems, the book begins with the mother looking at her newborn: “I see his face suctioned beneath transparent wrap, like meat.” Fear permeates the text: fear that the baby will die, that the boy he becomes will never be accepted, that the mother will not be able to handle the many and varied demands of raising a child with atypical needs. The mother exists almost solely as a mother, whether her son is a boy or a man. Over and over, love and duty nearly subsume her identity and self-worth. She judges herself on the wellness of her child, both physical and mental.
Like poetry, this book requires close reading. It rarely uses linear time; instead, the stages of the boy’s life give insight into the setting and periods. The structure reinforces the way a parent’s sense of failure and fear can coexist across memory, present time, and future, anticipated missteps. Lurie resists transitions, relying instead on white space to signify shifts in the story. It is a tense book, full of punishing details of guilt and the honesty of a parent who sometimes wants to run away from the burden she asked for.
Without a name, the mother labors for her son, protecting him from bullies, guarding his papers and inventions, and touching him only with rubber gloves. Lurie articulates clearly and painfully the overwhelming burden of such love. Somewhere between prose poetry and fiction, this book asks much of the reader, but it rewards in its complexity.
CAMILLE-YVETTE WELSCH (April 27, 2019)
The Untold Stories of Captives in the Aftermath of the U.S.-Dakota War
In Dakota in Exile, Linda M. Clemmons tells the little-known story of the Dakota from their perspective: how their men were executed and imprisoned while their women and children were sent to a distant, barren land. Clemmons examines the Dakotas’ relationship with the US government, Protestant missionaries, the press, and the public.
Focusing on the four-year “postwar hysteria” that began after the US-Dakota War of 1862, the book recalls how government retribution began with the largest mass execution in US history and continued with the demonization and forced separation of Dakota families, eviction from their ancestral lands to country that “white people will never desire,” and punishment, including a bounty on scalps, that brought on starvation, disease, and death to hundreds.
This is history best told by a scholar like Clemmons, whose first book, The Conflicted Mission, delved into the missionary project to convert and “civilize” the Dakota. With Dakota in Exile, her point of view shifts to the Dakota themselves. Her research for this project, involving museums, archives, and private sources, results in a source list including newspaper articles, government documents, manuscript collections, and letters, many of them written by Dakota people in their own language.
The great-great-grandson of a Dakota survivor is credited as a valuable primary source of both oral and written Dakota lore. The stories of his ancestors, Robert and Sarah Hopkins, help to illustrate the severe hardships that the Dakota endured, especially since Robert was a Christian convert who was sentenced to hang after the war but was pardoned by Lincoln.
Students and citizens alike will appreciate Linda Clemmons’s Dakota in Exile, a history text with a personal edge. From its “precipitating event” to its aftermath, this is a heartbreaking story of westward expansion.
JOE TAYLOR (April 27, 2019)
K. P. Kyle
Allium Press of Chicago
Softcover $18.99 (270pp)
Plumbing the possibilities of travels through the multiverse, K. P. Kyle’s science fiction thriller Sync sets two ordinary people against powerful and nefarious forces.
On a dark expanse of New England road, Brigid is so caught up in her own sadness that she narrowly avoids hitting a young hitchhiker. To assuage her guilt, she offers him a ride. It’s an act of kindness that forever alters the course of her life.
The young man, Jason, is on the run from a government facility where he was among the first humans sent travelling between universes. His innate gifts when it comes to shifting to parallel planes are only part of the reason why the facility wants him back—no matter whom they have to trample to secure him.
As their ride into Boston turns into offers of dinner, a shower, and a clean bed, Brigid unwittingly tangles herself up in Jason’s conflict. A murderous mercenary at her door sets the duo on the run, with Brigid’s dog, Lithium, riding shotgun. They prove more formidable than expected against the bloodless agents of the lab. From one hiding place to the next, Jason reveals his story to Brigid. It includes the loss of his love, Molly, and the biological consequences of invading parallel universes. As it turns out, syncing with the known universe isn’t easy. Neither is the action Jason, Brigid, and one of the original researchers plan against the lab.
Kyle’s adventure moves fast, ably handling both the science of multiverse theories and the thrilling dangers represented by the lab’s goons. Some questions remain open at the end, particularly around why the lab’s biggest villain is so obsessed with a baby in a parallel universe, but they don’t diminish the book’s fun and excitement. Sync is an engrossing multiverse adventure.
MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (April 27, 2019)