The Week in Books #74

3/14 ✅

NEW STACK! I’ve been dying to get to these books as they include a bunch of birthday books from my Mom that I’ve really wanted to read. It’s a stack of all recent fiction, most from 2020-2021 and I’m so juzzed.

1. Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam. Wow, this book was intense. I started reading and couldn’t stop… I finished it in one sitting. There isn’t much that happens, but it’s so atmospheric that I almost had an anxiety attack by the end 😅 I really enjoyed the writing style, and the premise is pretty cool (I’d call it Sci-Fi-Lite? Soft Science Fiction… So-Sci-Fi?) I don’t think it was quite what I was expecting but I did find it very engrossing. The fact that the setting, a modern home in a very rural and semi-isolated location, felt a lot like my own home made it feel even more plausible and spooky. It was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction in 2020.

Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation: a quiet reprieve from life in New York City, quality time with their teenage son and daughter, and a taste of the good life in the luxurious home they’ve rented for the week. But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older couple—it’s their house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it’s hard to know what to believe.

Should Amanda and Clay trust this couple—and vice versa? What happened back in New York? Is the vacation home, isolated from civilization, a truly safe place for their families? And are they safe from one other?

Harper Collins

2. Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters. This novel is one of the first by a trans woman author to be picked up by one of the big-five publishing houses, Penguin Randomhouse, and reach mainstream success. It was also long listed for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction. This is exciting for a novel that revolves entirely around transsexual characters and issues! I imagine it will be educational for many readers, and I certainly applaud it for that. What did I think? I thought it was good, the writing is intelligent and relevant, focusing closely on queer relationships and alternative family structures. That said, there were a couple things that stood out to me, one being the lack of resolution to the issue of Ames being outed at work by Katrina; Katrina used it as a way to get closer to Reese and her friends by asking them for advice, but in the end the thread was left loose and we didn’t see what Ames thought about it which struck me as a bit of a question mark. The entire premise of the novel, Katrina becoming pregnant by Ames (a detransitioned transsexual who believed he was sterile) and Ames’ effort to bring his ex girlfriend Reese into the parenting relationship was a little unusual to me… is it realistic? Of course these types of family structures exist, particularly in the queer community, but it felt a bit forced that someone would learn they are having a baby and then immediately try to bring the ex that they hadn’t spoken to in 2 years into a parenting triad with a fairly straight-laced woman who knew nothing about his past of living as a trans woman. If I suspend my skepticism of this situation existing in real life then yes, I enjoyed the story. I definitely recommend it to readers who aren’t familiar with the writing of trans women and what their lived experience is like. The characters in this story are all messy af but are ultimately ruminating on what motherhood means to them, providing a lot of interesting and insightful views on the experience.

Reese almost had it all: a loving relationship with Amy, an apartment in New York City, a job she didn’t hate. She had scraped together what previous generations of trans women could only dream of: a life of mundane, bourgeois comforts. The only thing missing was a child. But then her girlfriend, Amy, detransitioned and became Ames, and everything fell apart. Now Reese is caught in a self-destructive pattern: avoiding her loneliness by sleeping with married men.

Ames isn’t happy either. He thought detransitioning to live as a man would make life easier, but that decision cost him his relationship with Reese—and losing her meant losing his only family. Even though their romance is over, he longs to find a way back to her. When Ames’s boss and lover, Katrina, reveals that she’s pregnant with his baby—and that she’s not sure whether she wants to keep it—Ames wonders if this is the chance he’s been waiting for. Could the three of them form some kind of unconventional family—and raise the baby together?

This provocative debut is about what happens at the emotional, messy, vulnerable corners of womanhood that platitudes and good intentions can’t reach. Torrey Peters brilliantly and fearlessly navigates the most dangerous taboos around gender, sex, and relationships, gifting us a thrillingly original, witty, and deeply moving novel.

Penguin Randomhouse

3. Shut Up You’re Pretty by Tea Mutonji. This is a collection of stories from Canadian writer Tea Mutonji, the first to be published with the VS Books label under the Arsenal Pulp Press umbrella, curated by Vivek Shraya and featuring work by new and emerging Indigenous or Black writers, or writers of colour. This is a quick read of interconnected and likely semi-biographical stories about a girls experience of immigrating to Canada from Congo-Kinshasa and finding her footing as she comes of age.

In Tea Mutonji’s disarming debut story collection, a woman contemplates her Congolese traditions during a family wedding, a teenage girl looks for happiness inside a pack of cigarettes, a mother reconnects with her daughter through their shared interest in fish, and a young woman decides to shave her head in the waiting room of an abortion clinic.

These punchy, sharply observed stories blur the lines between longing and choosing, exploring the narrator’s experience as an involuntary one. Tinged with pathos and humour, they interrogate the moments in which femininity, womanness, and identity are not only questioned but also imposed.

Shut Up You’re Pretty is the first book to be published under the imprint VS. Books, a series of books curated and edited by writer-musician Vivek Shraya featuring work by new and emerging Indigenous or Black writers, or writers of colour.

Arsenal Press

4. Godshot by Chelsea Bieker. I loved this! Very feminist, very good pacing, and lots of emphasis on mother-daughter relationships. There is a mild dystopian vibe in the town of Peaches, California where residents are experiencing a severe drought and the cult leader Vern has convinced his flock that he will be the one to bring the rains and provide salvation. Things gradually get more and more out of control as Vern escalates his efforts to keep the flock under his spell, and he expels Lacey’s mom from the commune for sinful conduct, leaving Lacey alone and vulnerable under the care of her fanatical grandma Cherry. Lacey befriends some unlikely women as she tries to find her mother and bring her back into her life. I enjoyed so much about the characters and their vulnerability, the women are continually being victimized by the men they trust and struggling for their independence. All of the male characters depicted are pretty awful; Lacey’s mom’s past boyfriends, the man she runs away with, the boys of the church who do Vern’s dirty bidding, the man Lacey befriends as a means to rescue herself from the church, and the ultra manipulative Vern himself… they are all terrible. The women characters are strong and well developed, Daisy especially is a breath of fresh air for Lacey as she fights for her freedom. The rising action is excellent, leading to a real crisis point and then a satisfying conclusion. I loved this book so much.

Drought has settled on the town of Peaches, California. The area of the Central Valley where fourteen–year–old Lacey May and her alcoholic mother live was once an agricultural paradise. Now it’s an environmental disaster, a place of cracked earth and barren raisin farms. In their desperation, residents have turned to a cult leader named Pastor Vern for guidance. He promises, through secret “assignments,” to bring the rain everybody is praying for.

Lacey has no reason to doubt the pastor. But then her life explodes in a single unimaginable act of abandonment: her mother, exiled from the community for her sins, leaves Lacey and runs off with a man she barely knows. Abandoned and distraught, Lacey May moves in with her widowed grandma, Cherry, who is more concerned with her taxidermy mouse collection than her own granddaughter. As Lacey May endures the increasingly appalling acts of men who want to write all the rules and begins to uncover the full extent of Pastor Vern’s shocking plan to bring fertility back to the land, she decides she must go on a quest to find her mother no matter what it takes. With her only guidance coming from the romance novels she reads and the unlikely companionship of the women who knew her mother, she must find her own way through unthinkable circumstances.

Possessed of an unstoppable plot and a brilliantly soulful voice, Godshot is a book of grit and humor and heart, a debut novel about female friendship and resilience, mother–loss and motherhood, and seeking salvation in unexpected places. It introduces a writer who gives Flannery O’Connor’s Gothic parables a Californian twist and who emerges with a miracle that is all her own.

Amazon

5. The Seep by Chana Porter. This is a pretty amazing novella about a trans woman dealing with grief and loss in a futuristic utopia where aliens have infiltrated the world and connect everyone and everything. When humans discover they can use The Seep to transform themselves into whatever and whoever they want, Trina’s wife of 25 years, Deeba, decides she wants to go back to being a baby and start all over again, effectively leaving the marriage and ending her old life, even having a funeral before she transforms back into an infant. Trina struggles to accept that Deeba chose a life that didn’t have her in it, and blames The Seep for taking her away. The world building is pretty cool for such a short little story, basically capitalism is dead, money abolished, and everyone is “high” on The Seep and really happy living their most authentic lives. Hand gestures are used to indicate to a new person their preferred pronouns, everyone works together as a community and it all sounded really lovely, actually haha. I super enjoyed this one, it would make an amazing series.

Trina Goldberg-Oneka is a fifty-year-old trans woman whose life is irreversibly altered in the wake of a gentle—but nonetheless world-changing—invasion by an alien entity called The Seep. Through The Seep, everything is connected. Capitalism falls, hierarchies and barriers are broken down; if something can be imagined, it is possible.

Trina and her wife, Deeba, live blissfully under The Seep’s utopian influence—until Deeba begins to imagine what it might be like to be reborn as a baby, which will give her the chance at an even better life. Using Seeptech to make this dream a reality, Deeba moves on to a new existence, leaving Trina devastated.

Heartbroken and deep into an alcoholic binge, Trina follows a lost boy she encounters, embarking on an unexpected quest. In her attempt to save him from The Seep, she will confront not only one of its most avid devotees, but the terrifying void that Deeba has left behind. A strange new elegy of love and loss, The Seep explores grief, alienation, and the ache of moving on.

Soho Press
Oops I bought too many books again.

SOOOOO I bought more books… I just can’t be stopped. Justin gifted my friend and I some free time in Nanaimo together for Mother’s Day, and I hit Chapters (4 books from the bargain shelf and an LOL doll for Mavis), then I waited for my friend at Bestsellers used book store in downtown and bought another 2, then we went to VV and I found another million books I just needed to have. 🤦🏻‍♀️ I’ve already read one, so I’m hopeful they will all get read eventually. That said, here’s my TBR pile at the moment…

As of today I have read 54 books so far in 2021 (we are 135 days in, so that’s one book every 2.5 days) which puts me over half way to my goal of 104 for the whole year. At this pace I could actually get really close to finishing the books above by the end of 2021. Goals!

2 comments

    • Haha I get asked that a lot, I read pretty fast I suppose 🖤 also Shut Up You’re Pretty and The Seep were both pretty short. The more you read the faster you get, I think!

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