Genre fiction and poetry each tend to serve their own niche audiences. This week’s new releases come from indie publishers that offer their takes on mysteries, sci-fi, fantasy, and poetry, offering potential introductions to those outside the niches.
Isolate. Compartmentalize. Control. This is the motto of Amanda Sinclair, who used to belong to a cult—a cult that rears its ugly head again just when Amanda felt sure she had put the past behind her. Dark and charged from the start, Cover Me in Darkness is a thriller that explores the depths of the psychologies of its characters, from Amanda’s mother, a troubled woman who took her own son’s life and ended up in a mental ward, to Amanda herself, who has wrapped herself in a veil of normalcy at a job in a cosmetics company in order to hide from the ugly secrets of her past.
While Amanda was growing up, she and her family were followers of Patrick Collier, a charismatic gentleman who led what seemed like an innocent cult, Children of the Greater God. Years later, when Amanda’s mother commits suicide, Amanda grows suspicious that her mother’s death has something to do with the legal trouble that Collier has found himself in, as Collier has recently come up for parole after a stint in jail for mishandling the cult’s money. Fearing that Collier is trying to hide something, and doesn’t care about any collateral damage in his efforts, Amanda launches her own investigation that digs up dark secrets from her past.
Cover Me in Darkness is about family, loyalty, and trust. Rendahl’s writing is light and sharp, perfect for a story that moves quickly—from initial crime to deep investigation—while handling intense subject material. Amanda’s descent into her own conspiracy theories, and her confusion about what to believe and whom to trust, grow more and more urgent over the course of the novel, finally reaching a crescendo with a riveting, brief conclusion. Perfect for fans of quick-moving thrillers, Cover Me in Darkness is an excellent new novel by a confident writer.
STEPHANIE BUCKLIN (November 28, 2016)
With crystal, complete sentences of fully developed ideas, Catherine Pierce explores wreckage and destruction, and the sense of surprise one feels after surviving another day of modern existence. The author of two previous collections, Pierce’s work has been published in Boston Review, Ploughshares, FIELD, and numerous other journals. She teaches creative writing at Mississippi State University.
Imaginary Vacation Scenario #4
You have a headlamp and a knapsack
of buffalo jerky. You will hike up the dark
mountain into the darker pine, you will pitch
your tent below a sky as thick with stars
as the air is thin. You are the only human
for miles, and this knowledge just makes
your legs stronger, your lungs more capacious.
You know how to skin a rabbit. You know
how to scare off a bear. The sea-level land
you’ve left behind glows radioactive and wants to know
your mother’s maiden name, your preferred
birth control method, your views on organic
milk and GMOs. Here, your brain space is filled
with field knowledge: how to calculate distance
between you and the coyote’s mournful yip;
the proper way to eat the pith of fireweed.
You know snakes can still bite hours after
they’ve died. The animals call and call,
their voices echoing through the rattling aspen.
You don’t answer because they’re not
calling you. You keep climbing. With each step,
the mountain grows and for this you love it more.
You will never reach the top. There is no top,
it spills upward and out forever. You could
climb forever. You will climb forever.
MATT SUTHERLAND (November 28, 2016)
A wild ride through a bleak future casts a harsh, thought-provoking light on today’s decisions.
John Feffer paints the gritty portrait of an all-too-believable future dystopia in his novel Splinterlands.
Feffer brings a unique blend of experience and insight to what what might first seem a common-variety, cautionary science-fiction tale. Serving as director of the Foreign Policy in Focus project at the Institute for Policy Studies, Feffer doesn’t just imagine the world of 2050, he extrapolates from his encyclopedic knowledge of the state of affairs in 2016, incorporating political, technological, and social trends to create a vivid and convincing world full of mistakes that, in real-life 2016, mostly have yet to happen.
Feffer leads this tour of the world through the eyes of the fictional Julian West, a scientist and author of the hugely impactful book Splinterlands. While a bit confusing at first, it’s an artful touch, and, combined with footnotes by a separate narrator that often cast doubts on West’s version of events, the result is a book that reads like an engaging mystery that just happens to take place in the future.
West seeks out his family members in Europe, China, Africa, and a commune in Vermont, looking for some form of reconciliation for past wrongs, but with a hidden agenda that reveals itself only in the final few pages of the book.
At times, West’s excursions, undertaken through virtual reality, can seem less interesting than the ideas and fictional causes of the situations he steps into. But Feffer is usually able to weave the drama, the projections, and the imaginings into a cohesive whole: a world where the European Union no longer exists, and CRISPR genome-editing technology plays a prominent role.
Splinterlands serves as entertainment, but also as provocation; toward the end of the book, West muses:
Thirty-five years and endless catastrophes later, on a poorer, bleaker, less hospitable planet, it’s clear that we just weren’t paying sufficient attention.
Feffer’s book is a wild ride through a bleak future, casting a harsh, thought-provoking light on that future’s modern-day roots.
PETER DABBENE (November 28, 2016)
A lovely patchwork of stories, this novel explores human relationships via magical realism.
Philip Ridley’s In the Eyes of Mr. Fury is a fantastical and profound exploration of relationships.
Witnessing the gruesome suicide of Judge propels Concord Webster, an aspiring filmmaker, on a journey through stories. Psychic midwife Mama Zepp serves as Concord’s guide through the past. Mystical visions draw together younger versions of his parents and other outsiders, until Concord begins to understand the real circumstances behind Judge’s demise. He plumbs the true depths of his own individuality, learning how he fits into the narrow-mindedness of The Street.
A lovely patchwork of stories, the novel spans space and time via the delightful Mama Zepp. Enigmatic and of mystical proportions, she eschews typical modes of magic, summoning the past selves of the novel’s actors through biscuits or strangely enchanted film reels. Concord walks the line between times, situating himself within the truth of Mama Zepp’s stories and struggling to accept his situation, even amidst a torrent of judgment.
Mr. Fury is a tangential piece of the overarching story, a string puppet Concord encounters far into his pursuit of revelation, that testifies to the great power stories have on their audience: “He’s been cursed. Whatever he touches turns into a mirror. So he keeps seeing himself in everything. All the time.”
The novel is written in a unique voice, and at first glance seems to be straightforwardly minimalistic. This dressing disguises a vast underbelly of emotion. Concord wrestles with himself, and the way others regard him, in beautiful lines of poetry that elicit inescapable empathy and sympathy.
The experiences of LGBT people are rendered in heartbreaking starkness, and though there are obvious clashes between Concord and his parents, as well as between characters in Mama Zepp’s stories, almost no one is painted in broad strokes.
In the Eyes of Mr. Fury elevates perceived profanity into higher realms, insisting on every individual’s inherent humanity.
MEAGAN LOGSDON (November 4, 2016)
Seth Dellon is director of audience development at Foreword Reviews. You can meet him or hear him speak at most of the events Foreword attends, and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.