‘Now is the hour’ is set in 1967, and opens on a highway with Rigby Klusener, seventeen years old, with a suitcase and a flower behind his ear, trying to hitch a ride to San Francisco. We know he’s left behind a pregnant friend, his best four-legged friend and that he has a broken heart. We realise that this is almost the end of the story, and there’s much to learn about why Rigby is there, and how he got to this point.
‘Little eyes’ is an exploration of the relationship between people and technology - a commentary on privacy, intimacy and loneliness. It leaves you unnerved with its striking familiarity. Now with the reality of tech having reached and surpassed the possibilities explored by old-school science fiction, this novel feels profound. Like science-fiction meets psychology; like Philip K. Dick but more insidious, and far more fluffy.
‘Whistle in the Dark’ was really a beautiful surprise. The premise is interesting from the get-go - Jen is a woman dealing with the lingering threat of her fifteen-year-old daughter Lana’s disappearance. In the first few sentences, we learn that Lana has been found alive after four days missing alone in the Lake District. She can’t (or won’t) tell anyone what happened or where she was, leaving her confused family to consider the worst.
The novel is painful to read; not only because it reflects the truth of oppression and racial division in this era (and the concern that many of us feel about Trump’s election and whether that shows a regression towards a more divisive society today too), but also because it expertly dangles hope in front of the reader.
It isn’t the plot that makes this novel special. It lacks much action at all, in fact - but this is a deliberate attempt to direct us alongside Jernigan as he makes a series of bad or passive decisions to draw out the repetitive, unfulfilling life that he admits he would much rather not be living. Instead of focusing on drama, Gates spends the majority of the book focusing on the intricacies of his character, showing redemptive compassion for his introspective, self-pitying protagonist, as he tries to rationalize his own terrible behavior.
The first refreshing element of this novel is that Maya is unlike any other female narrator I’ve ever read. Not only is she wholly unlikable, confusing and exhausting, but she also thinks and says whatever she wants. Still, her raw honesty and humor means that you respect her, even if you don’t like her. Sharma smears foul language and imagery across every page, in ways that typically only male narrators have ever been allowed to do. Which is pretty fantastic.
So, David Sedaris. Realised where I'd heard his name before - like millions others, I’ve clicked past his Masterclass ad a million times (still saving up for an annual pass - if anyone’s got a spare one, slide into my DM’s) and heard the distinctive, “If you’re writing about people, you have to be interested in people…”
The closest description I can give to the feeling that this novel gave me was the joyful uncertainty of IBS (and I'm sure that Reid will be psyched to know that I've made that comparison). But hear me out. You know something's wrong. You don't know what's causing it, you don't know how it's going to manifest itself - only that it will, and soon. You ain't gonna have any control, and you can't stop it. You feel a bit sick. This novel feels like a slow descent into that same feeling as it begins to spin uncontrollably away from you.
My favorite poets are the ones that deal with the raw shit - the bits that make your stomach squelch and ring in your head because you know that at some time, some where, you felt this poem before you read it.
'The new me' is undoubtedly one of the most depressing novels I’ve ever read - but in a way that is refreshingly realistic. Films and books do have a habit of making the depressive romantic, exciting, or thrilling. This novel gives us none of that - instead Butler takes on an intimidating task by weaving together a book that explores tedious monotony, a self-defeatist attitude and a steady decline into depression, all while keeping the readers’ attention. If it manages to catch you, it cuts much deeper than most other texts.