Maria Hummel

Still Lives


The LA art scene sets an eerie scene for Maria Hummel’s crime novel, Still Lives. This book driven by murder, art, and societal commentary that not only leaves the reader with a good story, but a lot to think about as well.

Maria Hummel tells this story through Maggie Richter. Maggie is the in-house editor for the esteemed but struggling Rocque Museum. As the museum prepares for the impending, provocative show “Still Lives” by artist Kim Lord, Maggie’s narration leaves the reader with a sense of tension: as we soon learn, her long-term ex-boyfriend has been dating Kim Lord. Maggie squeezes into a too-tight dress borrowed from a co-worker and attends the gala anyway, despite her intense desire to flee the scene. Both the notion of seeing her ex, Greg, and Lord’s paintings of female murder victims puts Maggie on edge. Everyone anxiously awaits the artists’ arrival at the party but are eventually let down by her absence. The next day it is discovered that Kim Lord is missing.

Hummel’s poetic language and imperfect narrator propel the story forward, making the reader feel as though they too are solving the sudden disappearance of a notoriously unpredictable artist. One can not help but be suspicious of every character, including Maggie.

Readers of Still Lives will be suspicious as well as a bit unnerved as Hummel expertly describes the paintings of Kim Lord. The artist poses herself in the positions of infamous murder victims. Maggie questions Lord’s work through the book: “I hate this artwork. I hate the powerlessness it projects. I hate it because it reminds me there is an end for women worse than death. I will not look at it again.” Hummel paints a picture even better than the artists of her book, using a language unique to L.A. and the back-of-the-gallery experience, which Hummel knows first hand as a writer and editor for L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

Hummel’s examination of society’s reoccurring habit of fetishizing female homicide victims will leave readers questioning the media and themselves.


Reviewed by Jessica Powers.

Counterpoint. 2017.
IBSN: 9781619021112.
277 pages.


Nina LaCour

We Are Okay


Life is made of transitions; of countless moments that carry us from one point to the next. More often than not, stories focus on these transitions, because transitions incite change, and from change comes tension. In her fifth novel, We Are Okay, author Nina LaCour (Hold Still, You Know Me Well, Everything Leads to You) cultivates a particularly strong sense of tension that ebbs and flows over the course of only 234 pages. This tension is possible because of the state of transition in which LaCour has placed her characters—both mentally and physically. The story is subtle and relatively reserved, allowing those various, emotional states of transition to accentuate the unstoppable nature of change; though there are some constants that even a complete metamorphosis can’t shake.

We Are Okay follows Marin, a Freshman at an unnamed East coast college, as she spends her first winter break alone in the dorms. Though we are in Marin’s point of view, the details as to why she has no one to stay with on Christmas are fuzzy—all we know is that she can’t stay with her grandfather, whom she lived with back home in Los Angeles. She won’t be completely alone, however. Marin’s best friend from California, Mabel, is coming to stay for three days, but Marin’s relationship with Mabel is even more complicated and clouded than her relationship with her grandfather. Over the course of these three short days, we are exposed to the emotional toll that isolation and major changes have on Marin and, through seamless jumps in time, we learn why so much has changed in the first place.

At the novel’s start, Marin finds herself in a classic state of transition: grief.

Moving from a life with something into a life without it. Marin grieves for her home, her relationships, and the way her life used to be. LaCour expresses Marin’s grief through isolation; isolation not only from other people, but from Marin herself. She is in denial, unable to face the things that she grieves. But what has happened to her—the secrets that are kept from us—pulls at Marin constantly, and it forces her to acknowledge her past piece by piece. This isolation and silence allow Lacour to keep valuable information from the reader until it is time for the story—and Marin—to reveal it. The result is an exquisite push and pull of tension. Her readers are tantalized by the dramatics of the story, but we aren’t allowed to actually understand them until the last possible moment.

LaCour uses another classic transitional period to her advantage as the story is developed: going to college. Leaving home, starting a completely new phase of life, is something that everyone can relate to. Nothing creates more tension than taking a character out of their comfort zone and placing them somewhere completely new.

LaCour takes this transition and takes it a few steps further. Following the mysterious events that take place at the end of the summer, Marin drops everything and leaves for college without a single goodbye. She hasn’t even packed her things, arrives at school completely empty handed. Not only does LaCour take Marin out of her comfort zone, she takes away anything and everything that Marin could use for comfort. Additionally, she sends Marin to school on the opposite side of the country. The subsequent transition is jolting and does everything it can to take the readers out of their own comfort zones as well. Which leaves us completely open and susceptible to the profoundly strong variety of emotions that the story provokes.

When I read this book for the first time, I was so overcome with emotion that I didn’t quite know what to do. I found myself sitting on my bathroom floor late at night, crying uncontrollably for seemingly no reason at all. All I knew was that this book had struck every single chord that I could possibly have had. It left me feeling as though I had been violently scrubbed clean; everything in my head came pouring out at once. Months (and several rereads) later, I find it a bit simpler to articulate what this book has done for me. It is real in a way that I’ve never seen before. It perfectly translates the emptiness of depression and the strangeness of transition to the page. It is magnificently written—the pacing, details, and dialogue all working in seamless harmony. It is a million other things that I may not ever be able to write down. We Are Okay is equally striking and soft, simple and surprising; it takes its readers somewhere that I highly doubt they have ever been before.


Reviewed by Katherine Martin


Published by Penguin Random House 
ISBN: 9781524749941
234 pages


Saundra Mitchell

All Out


Saundra Mitchell edits an empowering and inclusive anthology of queer historical fiction in All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens throughout the Ages.


            Queer people have always existed, but their stories, lives, and loves are silenced and disregarded in most mainstream history teachings. Due to this erasure, countless queer figures have gone unrecognized. All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens throughout the Ages eases the pain of this loss. Featuring an impressive list of accomplished Young Adult authors from all across the queer spectrum, All Out aims to fill the hole in the hearts of queer youth who see nothing of themselves in history or in literature.

            This collection of short stories spans several hundred years and as many continents as it does genres. Varying in content, form, and length, this expansive anthology contains something for any reader of any age. Drawing from medieval witch trials, the death of Kurt Cobain, to the lesbian subculture of fifties Hollywood, All Out leaves no setting unexplored.

            Beginning with an interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood, “Roja,” written by YA author Anna-Marie McLemore, All Outreimagines the stories that consumed our childhoods. A trans male character takes the forefront of McLemore’s retelling, as well as in Elliot Wake’s “Every Shade of Red.” In Wake’s contribution, Robin Hood himself is a trans male. One of the most celebrated figures of English folklore is celebrated as a trans boy, giving power to the trans readers who are able to see themselves in the role of a legendarily masculine character.

            But not every story in the All Out anthology is a reimagining of fantastical tales. Some are painstakingly accurate. In Mackenzi Lee’s short story “Burnt Umber,” a young boy navigates homophobia as an artist’s apprentice in Amsterdam in 1638. Unable to act on his desires—and nearly outed when his longtime crush models nude for a study in anatomy—Constantjin struggles with the realities of his situation. Lee’s detailed observations of an artist’s environment in seventeenth century Amsterdam must have required extensive research in order to remain historically accurate, a fact which does not go unnoticed. Similarly, Malinda Lo’s “New Year” includes references to a very specific queer subculture outside of Chinatown in San Francisco where “male impersonators” performed. Lo even includes an author’s note, providing her source material and suggestions for further reading and research.

            From lesbian chambermaids in eighteenth century London to an asexual roller skater in Maryland in 1976, All Out is an inclusive anthology for any member of the LGBTQ+ community.

            The inclusivity and imagination in this anthology is immensely empowering to any queer reader, especially queer youth, who with this collection, can finally see themselves as a part of history. Saundra Mitchell’s masterpiece is a celebration of queer identities and proves the positive power of representation.

Review by Jerakah Greene


Published by Harlequin Teen
ISBN-10: 133547045X
ISBN-13: 978-1335470454
368 Pages

Twitter: @SaundraMitchell @LAAnnaMarie @themackenzilee @malindalo @HarlequinTEEN @HarlequinBooks


Ottessa Moshfegh

My Year of Rest and Relaxation


Ottessa Moshfegh is one of those writers whose stories stay with you long after you finish reading them. My Year of Rest and Relaxation, her second novel, is no exception.

In this novel, the narrator (she remains unnamed throughout the book) decides to take some time off from life by attempting to go into a year long hibernation aided by the many different pills she gets her psychiatrist to prescribe to her. On the outside, her life seems great. She’s thin, gorgeous, well-educated, and has tons of money thanks to the inheritance she received after her parents passed away. But on the inside, things are pretty dark, and she thinks that taking a year to reset will help her wake up from her hibernation renewed and ready for a fresh start.

“Sleep felt productive. Something was getting sorted out. I knew in my heart—this was, perhaps, the only thing my heart knew back then—that when I’d slept enough, I’d be okay. I’d be renewed, reborn. I would be a whole new person, every one of my cells regenerated enough times that the old cells were just distant, foggy memories.”

This novel is both dark and hilarious, unfiltered and relatable. We all have been at a place in life where we’re just so tired of going through the motions that we want to clock out for a while, to take a week long nap and escape the facileness of our everyday lives. It’s one of those common secrets that everyone experiences, but no one talks about. That’s the type of writer Moshfegh is, the type who is unafraid to talk about the things that no one else dares to shed any light on.

While there is some repetition in this novel (taking pills, blacking out, getting a visit from her envious best friend, Reva, going to see her psychiatrist to see what else she can prescribe her), it never feels monotonous or boring. In fact, the repetitiveness helps put you in the narrator’s state of mind, making it easy to get lost in the hazy world that Moshfegh creates for her.

There are many times in the novel when the narrator is portrayed as cold or crude or unlikable, but no one is pleasant all of the time. Showing this character at her darkest moments, showing how she behaves when no one else is around, is comforting in a strange way. It reminds us that we are all human and it’s okay to not be okay sometimes. Too many stories have a protagonist who is so easily likeable and so undeniably good. It’s refreshing to read about a protagonist who is just as imperfect and fucked up as the rest of us.

This isn’t one of those stories that is necessarily pleasant or lighthearted. However, it is one of those stories that grips you until the very end. It is honest and raw and does not hold back. If you do not want to read something that talks about shit or pubic hair or blowjobs, then this story may not be for you. But if you want to dive into something that does not play it safe or aim to be politically correct, then you should absolutely check this novel out.

Reviewed by Alexis Bowe

Published by A Perigee Book/Penguin Group
ISBN: 0525522115
304 pages


Joanna Demers

Anatomy of Thought-Fiction


Joanna Demers shows what a fictional future has to say about life in the 21st century with her newest novel, Anatomy of Thought-Fiction.

It has been said a nausea-inducing amount of times that hindsight is 20/20. This cliché is deeply rooted in individual self-reflection, the act of looking back at one’s own life to make some amount of sense of all those years. But what of collective self-reflection? What about the hindsight of society writ large? What does the future have to say about the present? Joanna Demers tackles these questions with her bizarre novel Anatomy of Thought-Fiction.

To fully unpack this piece of academic fiction, one has to first look at its construction. This book consists of a series of academic essays on the nature of popular music sandwiched between an editor’s introduction and a postscript. The editors, anonymous representatives of the Center for Humanistic Study, exist in the year 2214 and have graciously received the unpublished manuscript titled Anatomy of Thought-Fiction from a descendant of its author, Joana Demers. They have published it in its entirety and without editorial as part of their mandate “to study the discourse of the “humanities,” which apparently went extinct sometime around 2040. This information is all laid out in the introduction, while the postscript asks what might be learned from an academic long dead in a field “deemed to be ornamental and irrelevant”.

These two points, the introduction and the postscript, are the only bits of fiction in this work. And all they really do is provide a scant amount of detail to why Demers’ manuscript is being published in the first place. This is what makes Anatomy of Thought-Fiction so brilliant: with a total of five pages, Demers is able to wholly construct an Orwellian and post-apocalyptic future world that seems just as unrelenting, bleak, and harsh as George Miller’s saga of the Road Warrior (that spans four feature-length films) or Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale. Her creation of this world resides solely in what representatives of a clearly totalitarian regime have to say and in the imagination of readers. She offers no long histories of how the present became this future, no long-winded passages about violent upheavals and civil unrest, and most important of all, no heroes riding in to save humanity from this.

There is a complete trust in readers on display in this work to be able to connect dots and extrapolate from very little data, a kind of trust that normally doesn’t show up in a lot of commercial fiction. This trust that Demers fosters between herself as a writer and her readers can be explained by her actual profession as a professor of musicology. She is a professional academic at the University of Southern California and expects readers to be up to the rigors of her research. The essays that make up the bulk of this book are well researched, well argued, and while they stray into philosophical inquiry at times, would no doubt find a good home in journals of musicology. Demers wasn’t trying to write articles in her main field of study, but was attempting to show that what holds up study in the humanities is a thought-fiction.

Demers defines a thought-fiction as a concept that serves a purpose even though it is known to be untrue. She applies to this term to a wide range of beliefs held by many in regards to popular music and how those beliefs, while helpful in some regards, can easily be argued away. She also acknowledges that nobody is immune to thought-fictions; from the get-go, Demers admits that she too believes in ideas she knows to be false, an admission that immediately endears her to readers because she implicitly states that it’s okay to believe these things. This concept of thought-fiction can be applied to so many ideas that are wholly outside of popular music and musicology, disciplines even outside of the humanities. As the editors ask in their postscript, “We, in turn, can ask ourselves by what thought-fictions we govern our lives.”

Joana Demers has done more than just craft engaging fiction or write academically about her own field of study. In Anatomy of Thought-Fiction, she has successfully married the research article with bleak totalitarian fiction in such a way that readers will have a hard time not believing in the future she has created.


Reviewed by Jay C. Mims

Published by Zero Books, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-78535-381-9
138 pages


David Sedaris



Calypso by David Sedaris is yet another hilarious recounting of his life with his partner Hugh, his abundant siblings, and all the strangers he judges. However, this time he puts his focus on times spent at his vacation home on Emerald Isle. Throughout these instances, Sedaris rocks the readers’ worlds with laughter, shock, and laughter again.

            The book starts with the story of how he came to buy the Sea Section, a stilted house on a resort island in North Carolina. As a child, his family would go to Emerald Isle every summer, and every summer, his father would wistfully suggest buying their own property instead of renting every year, but he would never follow through. Finally, after the tragic death of one of his sisters, Sedaris buys a house on the coast so that his family can come and be together on Emerald Isle whenever they want. Of course, for most people, this would be the “and they lived happily ever after” moment, but the Sedaris family isn’t that sort of people.

            Sedaris goes on to recount almost every gathering at the Sea Section since it was purchased, describing fights with his prudish mother-in-law, conversations that turn into naps with his father, and being crushed by his 12-year-old niece at Sorry, the board game. The stories become more outlandish and vulgar as they go on, especially the running storyline of Sedaris’s quest to feed his own (thankfully removed) tumor to a snapping turtle. Nothing is too taboo for this book, not even gastrointestinal viruses or the things one sees on Intervention, which gives this book the classic Sedaris voice.

            Sedaris takes a lot of time in his book to talk about family and how the dynamic has changed throughout the ages. At the start of the book, he expresses how when his family visits him in England, he often leaves them be for long stretches, afraid that they’ll get sick of him if he lingers too long. After the purchase of the Sea Section, however, he seemingly spends more and more time with his sisters, his brother, and even his father. The biggest show of growth comes at the end, when Sedaris visits his father, the person he was never close to as a child, at his childhood home. Sedaris also discusses his regrets concerning his family, such as never confronting his mother’s alcoholism, and his relationship with his sister Tiffany.

            Overall, Sedaris charms his readers with his stark prose and wit, and he wins us over with his relatable experiences and emotions. If you’ve ever had a partner, a family, or a bad thought about the person in front of you in line at the grocery store, you’ll like Calypso, and if you felt physically ill after the election, sometimes do good things just to look good, or enjoy learning how people in different countries express their road rage, then you’ll love Calypso. Grab a copy today and prepare to experience the snarky, honest world that is David Sedaris’s life.


Reviewed by Danielle Uppleger


Published by Little, Brown and Company, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-39238-9 (hc) / 978-0-316-39236-5 (large print) / 978-0-316-39239-6 (international tpb) / 978-0-316-52482-7 (signed edition)
259 pages


Instagram: @david_sedaris
Facebook: David Sedaris


Luis Alberto Urrea

The House of Broken Angels


Big Angel is gathering everyone for one last birthday party, and your invited!

Pulitzer Prize Finalist Luis Alberto Urrea begins The House of Broken Angels by simply thrusting the reader into the world of the de La Cruzes without much context, but within the first few pages, we learn that Big Angel, the family patriarch, is on his way to bury his one-hundred-year-old mother the day before his seventieth birthday, which will be his last as his body withers from cancer. The de La Cruzes family tree is then explored throughout Big Angel’s final birthday party–a setting that dominates a majority of the novel–as he has invited everyone who he possibly could. In order for one to see the family tree though, the reader must be highly attentive–in a way one would be if surrounded by strangers in an unknown area–of every character, their dialogue, and interactions with one another. While Urrea tasks the reader with puzzling various names and relationships together, he sums up how long the La Cruz family has lived in the United States early on, when Big Angel and his family drive past a “Build the Wall” sign.

“…the de La Cruz family has been around here since before your grandparents were even born.”

As the family tree of the de La Cruzes begins to unfold, so do the problems that come along with each character. Many of the problems and encounters that are explored begin with the issues of border-crossing back and forth between Tijuana and California, but move toward issues that are contemporary and of high importance to Mexican-American families. For instance, there are two characters who find themselves ostracized for long periods time for reasons that are still common today. Little Angel finds himself ostracized from his half-brother, Big Angel, and others in the de La Cruz family because he is biracial: he is half-white and half-Mexican. Little Angel is often considered too white, a gringo, to Big Angel and the elders of the de La Cruz family; on the other hand, Little Angel is viewed as simply Hispanic by all others outside of the family. For example, Little Angel is involved in a scene with a Target shopper telling Little Angel that he will be deported soon. All the while, Yndio, Big Angel’s oldest step-son, disappears from the family for many years after Yndio’s non-cisgender identity is revealed to Big Angel and the rest of the de La Cruz family.

Other issues explored by Urrea involve military recruitment practices and assimilation to unknown aspects US culture. Lalo, another one of Big Angel’s children, is solicited to enlist in the military with the promise of a pathway to US citizenship but is deported to Mexico after serving in Iraq, having to reenter the US by crossing the border. This leads to drug-abuse and other outbreaks of symptoms related to PTSD that neither Lalo nor his family seem to be aware of. Big Angel’s American born nephew Marco, a metal-head who goes by the alias of The Satanic Hispanic, doesn’t interact much with the de La Cruzes at Big Angel’s party, but is smitten with a blind girl named Lily.

While the main story focuses on the de La Cruz family and many of the challanges they face, there are moments of beauty that may go unnoticed, such as Big Angel’s lifelong marriage to his wife Perla, a couple that seems to remain in love with each other as if there were teenagers after decades of marriage, or the way that the de La Cruz family is able to find some level of reconciliation amongst each other without any more dignity ravished from one another.

The House of Broken Angels is a novel that appropriately veers between heavy moments of disaster and beauty, with small dashes of humor, to serve as a testament to the struggles that many Mexican-American families face–many of which that are hardly discussed, but are all too real and common. This novel provokes the discussions ignored, while at the same time, finding a way to humanize the perceptions of immigrants, immigration, non-cisgender identities, and those attempting to balance a multiracial identity.

Reviewed by Carlos Joshue Reyes

Published by Little, Brown and Company on March 6, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-0-316-15488-8
336 Pages


Chelsey Johnson

Stray City


Chelsey Johnson tells the story of a lesbian living in 90s Portland who has a straight fling that leaves her pregnant. 

How does a lesbian get pregnant in the first place? And what does she do with the pregnancy? 

Andrea is just a shell of a good child from Nebraska who goes to church with her family and bides her time being who they want her to be. She turns 18, moves to Portland for college, goes by “Andy,” and is finally able to be herself: queer. She becomes a part of the lesbian community in the city and finds a home here, staying even after dropping out of school. 

Set in Portland in the late 90s, Chelsey Johnson describes a place and time many of us want to go back to – even if we were never there. There is a community of queer punk kids who become queer punk adults and make families with each other when they no longer have support from their own. Stray City moves because it is told through many ways: first person narrative, third person, letters, voicemails, internet search history, and other forms.

Andrea becomes Andy and finds herself in the thick of the “Lesbian Mafia,” going to shows and swapping girlfriends in their ever-small circle. Reeling from a fresh, passionate breakup, she sleeps with a man . . . a few times. 

Andy is a lesbian that has a straight experience. This is a counter narrative where the straight experience is the weird venture, the one-off thing. At its core it is a story about community, learning who we are, and that life is not always a linear journey. 

Chelsey Johnson tells a story of navigating sexual experience in a real way. Andy is a lesbian at a time and place where “bisexual” is a way to stay in a safe gray space without fully coming out. She is not bisexual, she says, but she has to reconcile her feelings about Ryan, the one straight man she likes enough to sleep with. 

Sleeping with Ryan leads to a pregnancy that Andy ultimately decides to keep. She then has to navigate social expectations in queer communities as well as learning how to be a queer parent in a straight-parent society. Andy faces real fears like: what if her straight parents decide they want to fight for the right of the child? What if the home she has built in the lesbian community is broken with the news of her heterosexual activity? 

Andy brings us through how she deals with these new experiences, how curiosity and insecurity plays into sexuality and how we are not always our labels, even if we’ve used them to define ourselves in the past. Stray City is for anyone feeling a bit like a stray.


Reviewed by Emma Givens


Published by Harper Collins, 2018
ISBN: 9780062666680
Pages: 432


Tim Taranto

Ars Botanica: A Field Guide


Ars Botanica is a Bittersweet Memoir Through Letters to an Unborn Child

Ars Botanica is Tim Taranto’s first book. Part poetic memoir, part field guide, and written as letters to his unborn child, this book is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, oftentimes in the same sentence. 

The book is broken up by Taranto’s drawings: of flowers, of skulls, of packs of cigarettes, of Patsy Cline and fortune cookie fortunes and something that looks oddly like a diver’s helmet, but with feathers adorning its top. Each drawing comes with a Latin naming on the opposite page and a short definition. The accompanying description ebbs and flows into vignettes that go hand-in-hand with the narrative progressing through the story’s letters. 

Next to a drawing of a feather is the title “Barred Owl (Strix Varia)”. Below, Taranto writes:

Lacks ear tufts, large dark eyes, mottled brown “barred’” plumage. Native to the eastern United States, but range has expanded to include the Midwest, Iowa. Caterwauling call sounds like, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?”

           “I want to cook for you.”

           “Yeah, cook what?” 

           “Anything. I’m learning how to make ostrich sausage. I’ve been candying lilacs.”

Though the flaura, fauna, and other knick-knacks have their own pages, they are also integral to the story. Ars Botanica begins with a peek into Taranto’s head-over-heels romance with his ex-girlfriend. His ex is never named in the book, only referred to as ‘she’ and ‘her’, despite their unborn child’s name, Catalpa, heading up each section in a ‘Dear’-form address. Together and apart, they collect flowers, acorns, and the occasional flat, round pebble as sacred ornaments to decorate and declare their love for one another. 

Taranto expertly navigates through what he calls the ‘Blissed Out Era’ of their relationship, allowing the reader to feel the warmth of their love through the page as they sing Fetty Wap, bake a lamb’s head, and make out in Clark’s. The reader catches glimpses of the doom to come, the unplanned pregnancy that will result in the dissolution of their relationship. 

Though the book is letters to their unborn child, there is no judgement cast on the topic of abortion. In the book, Taranto allows his girlfriend to make the decision and supports her. There is no bitterness to the melancholy sadness as Taranto looks back on the ended love affair. At times, the book is darkly humorous, using dialogue to highlight the painful obliviousness of acquaintances as lookers-on. In looking back, Taranto is reflecting through his writing and by the end of the book it seems to be helping him to move forward, to understand through feeling fully what the experience was to him. 

Reviewed by Zoe Raines


Scott McClanahan

The Sarah Book


           In the audiobook version of The Sarah Book, Scott McClanahan reads like he can’t wait for his novel to be over. He doesn’t rush, stumble, or falter, but instead adopts a distanced, impersonal numbness, letting his beautifully amateurish language and West Virginian accent breathe authenticity and life into his lonely world of Walmart parking lots and empty apartments, strip clubs and childhood homes. There’s an unshakeable malaise that comes with McClanahan’s reading that’s understandable; this book, and much of his writing, appears to be largely autobiographical (though he’s quick to deny this), and the lengths he goes to in order to reveal himself are at once shocking and absolutely refreshing. 

This novel finds McClanahan in new territory, plumbing the depths of loss, divorce, fatherhood, and every type of love one can think of. In The Sarah Book, the narrator, known as Scott McClanahan, ruminates on his relationship and eventual divorce with the titular Sarah, the mother of his two children and one of his only close relationships. The story jumps backwards and forwards in time (he’s cited Alejandro Inarritu and Saul Bellow as influences, though Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine also jumps immediately to mind), crashing together scenes of giddy, early-romance selflessness and genuine love with later scenes that are stark and heartbreaking. This bipolar, kaleidoscopic technique is not as rigid as one might think. For example, in one of the lowest emotional points in the novel, there’s a sudden appearance of sentient chicken wings. 

Scott McClanahan’s unending fascination with the ordinary fuels every layered, intricate moment; from the beautiful and meaningless conversations he and Sarah share to the mundanities of cleaning up after an incontinent dog, there’s a raw, diary-entry quality to the writing. The bare-bones prose is confrontational and the overarching themes are laid bare. McClanahan understands exactly what he needs to share and what he doesn’t. For the first time in McClanahan’s career, there’s a feeling of restraint, of things left unsaid, of stories unincluded propelling the stories that are. This creates a dizzyingly quick, fast-forwarded version of the lives of Scott and Sarah, the reader only catching the blur. 

The Sarah Book is Scott McClanahan’s most honest and astonishing work to date. It captures a complete world of fully-realized characters, their complexities and psychological trip-wires plotted out exactly. It is both a lightning-fast read and a heavy, difficult endeavor. No wonder McClanahan sounds exhausted.


Reviewed by Tom Ronningen


Published by Tyrant Books. 2017. 
ISBN 13: 978-0-9885183-9-1. 
233 pages.