If perception is reality, the loss of perception is nothing short of an existential crisis. But it is inevitably more than that, it is an entirely new reality of heightened sense, an uncovering what was so often overlooked or ignored.
So when an entire city in Portugal goes blind – an epidemic of sorts, the country fears – what is uncovered? What new city rests darkened underneath the lights of the old? Enter the world of José Saramago’s Blindness, a neutered apocalypse, a plague without name, as simple in its onset, as it is devastating and meticulous in its effect.
The novel, in which the blindness experienced by many is not the absence of light but an all shrouding whiteness, feels like a sci fi tale reeling from a paucity of fantasy —it is terrifyingly positioned squarely within the bounds of possible, but so far from everyday imagination that it tugs at the foundations of being.
The story starts out with a simple enough car accident and slowly beings to weave together a hodgepodge of characters— the ophthalmologist, the prostitute, the car thief, the dog of tears — around an connected fate.. And soon too, the blindness spreads to the reader.
There are no breaks or syntax unique to each character’s speech in Saramago’s prose. Dialogue flows in and out of the runaway paragraphs with no discerning attributes to identify speakers other than its content—its sound. But reader makes do much easier than characters, for whom each cacophony is an expanding maze, to be painstakingly bartered inch by inch.
The survival tale is raw, it is disturbing, but you do not turn your head and look away, because you already know what comes next. Blindness contains no new insights about human nature, it just more clearly defines the indelible contours of our limits, our strengths, our weaknesses. It works as a reminder that we still too intimately know the depths and heights of our most primordial instincts even if we do our best to mute them, to forget them.
Where Blindness’ allegorical brilliance succeeds, modern humanity and society spectacularly fail. And what is left, what is stripped away, is a sight to see.
|Recommended by Rhys Dipshan||Wednesday, September 7th, 2016||No Comments »|
Fifteen Dogs is a hard book to sell. In words, its premise sounds silly: a bunch of dogs are given human intelligence via a wager between two Greek Gods. The wager? If dogs have the same intellect as humans, would they live happier lives? Typically “what if dogs were as smart as humans” is a hypothetical scenario more fit for Disney than literary adult fiction. But Canadian author André Alexis takes a more philosophical approach, exploring morality, depression, and our perceived “places” in society. Oh yeah, and there’s lots of doggy deaths, too.
Although there are fifteen dogs in the book, the novel focuses on just a core handful: Prince, the poet; Majnoun, the fair leader; Atticus, the religious enemy; and Benji, the conniving Beagle. The fifteen initially start off as a pack, even inventing their own language that only they can understand. But when a rift splits the pack in two sides, the dogs quickly realize that this new consciousness might be more a curse than a blessing.
For dogs lovers expecting some kind of fictional look at behavioral theory, this book is not for you. However, for those who like experimental fiction, particularly ones that gut punch you in your dog-loving heartstrings, Fifteen Dogs is a novel quite unlike any other.
|Recommended by Tiffany White||Wednesday, July 27th, 2016||No Comments »|
The blurb for Lara Vapnyar’s upcoming novel Still Here says the book is about an app that will keep digital profiles alive after the owner has died. The app will do this by searching for patterns the original poster used and applying those patterns to the account after death. Actually, that’s about as far as I got in the blurb before I knew I had to read this novel.
And yes, this story is about digital personas, how we craft our online identities, how we make our lives seem happier and fuller online, and how much our technology knows about us. And, yes, it’s about what happens to those personas when we die. But it’s also an unsentimental look at the relationships between exes and romantic near-misses.
|Recommended by Meg Stivison||Friday, July 15th, 2016||1 Comment »|
Anxiety is one of those subjects that innately resonates with creative people. I’m not sure why the two go hand-in-hand, but if Gemma Correll’s The Worrier’s Guide to Life taught me anything, it was that this problem affects a lot more people than anyone realizes. Maybe it’s society’s relentless nature to make us work more and rest less that makes us seek solace inside our minds. Whatever the case, it’s a subject that’s hard to put your finger on in words, which is why Catherine Lepage‘s Thin Slices of Anxiety takes a different approach.
|Recommended by The Absolute Staff||Friday, June 10th, 2016||No Comments »|
Many historical fiction novels that take place on the ill-fated maiden voyage of the R.M.S. Titanic try to re-create James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster hit of the same name. There’s usually a love story between two young adults that often ends in tragedy, and lots of clichéd romance. After a while, these tired old conventions become boring for fans of historical fiction.
However, David Dyer’s novel The Midnight Watch abandons those conventions, and weaves a heartbreaking story about how more of the doomed passengers could have been saved.
|Recommended by Amanda Ferris||Wednesday, June 8th, 2016||1 Comment »|
Mike Meginnis’s debut novel Fat Man and Little Boy begins with an unusual premise: the two atomic bombs Americans dropped on Japan during WWII are personified and emerge from the wreckage as real people. Little Boy rises after hitting Hiroshima, and Fat Man after Nagasaki. The two find each other and realize they’re brothers. Together they journey through Japan, observing its destruction while feeling guilty about what they have caused. Their journey takes them to France and then Hollywood, leaving a trail of carnage and crime behind them as they try to figure out their sense of self and live some semblance of a real life.
Meginnis’s novel is as beautiful as it is odd. The novel dips in several genres–magical realism, crime, historical fiction–but never fully stays in either of them. Instead, the novel is less interested in constructing a fast-paced narrative and more focused on creating an allegory about historical calamities and our complacent role in them. Most importantly, it shows how destruction, however in denial we are, inevitably comes back to us. Fat Man and Little Boy might capture the ugliness of war, but its poetic attention to flawed characters and existential angst makes it a novel that sticks with you.
|Recommended by Tiffany White||Sunday, March 20th, 2016||No Comments »|
In Meg Syverud’s action-packed fantasy Daughter of the Lilies, three mercenaries-for-hire find themselves with much more than they bargained for when they hire Thistle, a mysterious but immensely talented mage, who for unknown reasons can never show her face.
All Thistle wants is to keep a low profile, help people, and stay out of trouble, something that repeatedly proves much more difficult than she’d like. Things only get more complicated when she joins a quarrelsome band of adventurers: the stoic and long-suffering orc Orrig; Lyra, a boisterous elven archer; and Brent, a (mostly) human fighter with a tragic past and heavily scrutinized parentage. Though a tight-knit group, our heroes keep finding themselves in a world of trouble in the form of demons, cannibals, and infernal (or perhaps divine) otherworldly forces. Plus, perhaps most troubling of all, Brent is falling in love with Thistle.
Daughter of the Lilies is a gorgeous take on epic fantasy, with all the lush worldbuilding and none of the usual rules. Syverud’s writing and art, along with beautiful color work by Jessica Weaver, bring together elements of magic, horror, religion, romance, and human drama to create a richly detailed story while maintaining a tight, character-driven narrative.
At its core, Daughter of the Lilies is about learning to be kind to yourself. It deals with topics of anxiety, abuse, neglect, prejudice, and self-loathing, while also exemplifying the myriad ways in which love redeems and empowers us. Best of all, Thistle is unlike any other fantasy protagonist you’ve ever seen, and despite the fact that we’ve yet to see her face, you can be sure she will captivate you all the same.
Daughter of the Lilies is currently four chapters long and updates Tuesdays and Thursdays.
|Recommended by Marie Anello||Thursday, March 10th, 2016||No Comments »|