By Gregory Bertrand Copy Editor
As people around the world experience lay-offs and a reduction in hours, most of us, whether by choice or government policies, are stuck in our homes for the foreseeable future.
As a result, and in an effort to stay productive and even thrive, a routine, coupled with a few distractions, is needed. However, what happens after you run out of things to watch on Netflix? Most sports are completely canceled, and you can only listen to so many podcasts before you drive yourself sick.
Well, if your New Year’s resolution was to read more, now is the time. If you have been missing from the literary scene for some time, here are eight books curated by Polo Lifestyles' Copy Editor Gregory Bertrand to catch you up on what is going on in modern fiction.
“My Year of Rest and Relaxation” By Ottessa Moshfeg
The unnamed narrator of this uncomfortably hilarious novel is in a period of self-isolation… or, at least, that is what she’s trying to do.
She is an upper-middle-class WASP living in New York City off her family’s trust fund, and after losing her job at an art gallery, she resolves to sleep for an entire year, to “reset her life”. With the help of a less than stellar psychiatrist and enough sedative medication to sedate dozens of wild animals, our narrator leaves one world and a set of problems for something new entirely.
Winner of the 2016 Hemingway Foundation/Pen Award for her novel, “Eileen,” which was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in the same year, Moshfeg is a notorious writer on the literary scene. The imagery in her fiction can often tread on the gross side, and her look at female characters and their femininity runs counter to what society tells us a woman should be like. “My Year of Rest and Relaxation” is a must-read for any introvert but can be enjoyed by anyone.
“The Answers” By Catherine Lacey
You would be hard-pressed to find another author like Catherine Lacey. She is a writer’s writer.
Her prose is tightly woven, intricate and loving. Lacey is a fascinating young author, and her 2017 novel “The Answers” is proof.
Mary, the book’s central character, suffers from extreme pain, the source of which is unknown. She is in desperate need of money, as her bookkeeping job at a New York City travel agency will not afford her the luxury of entering an experimental medical procedure called “PAKing.”
That’s when Kurt Sky enters the scene. He is running an experiment of his own, this one called, “The girlfriend experiment.” Mary finds herself a part of a collection of women, all of them serving a different emotional need: the motherly type, the intelligent type, the independent, the clingy, sex kitten and many, many more. With a smart undercurrent of feminism, Lacey’s novel will leave you in awe of the characters and the concept of love itself.
“Black Leopard, Red Wolf” By Marlon James
Marlon James said he wanted to write an African Game of Thrones, and that is just what he did with his 2019 novel “Black Leopard, Red Wolf”—with all the blood, guts, sex and violence you would expect from such a comparison.
The Jamaican author is perhaps most famous for his seminal, multi-perspective novel, “A Brief History of Seven Killings” (winner of the 2015 Man Booker prize and numerous other accolades), a book about Bob Marley, the CIA and the turbulent Jamaican politics of the 1970s.
In “Black Leopard, Red Wolf”, James trades the real world for a half-fictionalized Africa of a distant, maybe alternative past. The novel, the first in the “Dark Star Trilogy,” follows a man called Tracker, who is hired to track down a missing child from the mysterious North Kingdom. Soon, the normally independent Tracker finds himself a part of a motley crew of characters that evoke creatures, shape shifters and shamans from African tales, proverbs and the recesses of James’ deepest imagination. “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” is a welcome addition to a genre that has long-ignored voices of color.
“Everything Inside” By Edwidge Danticat
Much of Danticat’s writing holds a sense of elsewhereness. It takes a while to put a finger on exactly why, the places are real—Miami, New York City, Haiti—but these familiar locals feel foreign in Danticat’s stories. Perhaps it is because they reflect the reality that many immigrants face when they come to this country.
The Haitian author returns with her 2019 short story collection “Everything Inside,” which is made up of eight awe-inspiring, tragic and haunting stories.
If there is one central theme here, it is grief, grief from the loss of a parent you barely knew like in the story “In the Old Days” to self-grief, in what is the collections best and final story, “Without Inspection,” in which a man plummets to his death from a construction site. As the man falls, he comes to terms with his grim fate and ruminates on the events that brought his life to that particular moment.
What makes short story collections great is the variety. Each tale places you in a new world, and every story in “Everything Inside” is a gem that is sure to delight readers.
“Queenie” By Candice Carty-Williams
Billed as a Modern “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” “Queenie” is Candice Carty-Williams debut novel that everyone is raving over. Queenie, the eponymous main character, is a deeply relatable figure. She is a Jamaican-British woman living in London trying to find a place as a Black woman in a White society.
Queenie is 25, a millennial facing all the problems many millennials face, including extreme loneliness in a world where you can connect with humans at your fingertips but rarely face-to-face, and struggles to find true love.
Long-listed for the 2020s Women’s prize in fiction, “Queenie” is a marvel of modern writing.
“Temporary” By Hilary Leichter
Gig-workers, freelancers, temp and contract-workers, these are the people sure to relate to and love Leichter’s debut novel about an unnamed woman looking for permanence, not only in the workplace but in her personal life.
“Temporary” makes for a jarring and abrupt read but is done so purposefully as to evoke the feeling of constantly jumping from one job to another and to the next. Leichter’s writing is deceptively absurd, as the jobs in “Temporary” become increasingly complex and outlandish.
The young woman goes from working on a pirate ship to shining a seemingly infinite number of shoes in a closet large enough to house an entire family. But it does not stop there; our narrator has a collection of boyfriends to juggle along with her many roles. Slightly satirical in nature, but nevertheless pertinent to today’s economy, “Temporary” is worth the read whether you are in a rock-solid position or not.
“There There” By Tommy Orange
With 12 different narrators and shifting between first- and third-person perspectives, Tommy Orange’s debut novel is a spellbinding affair. Set in Oakland, Cali., the story follows a set of Native American characters attending an urban Powwow. Throughout the book, we learn about the often tragic lives of the characters and what ultimately binds them together as a people, from a young man who learned to dance traditional Native dances from YouTube to a newly sober woman trying to piece her life and family back together.
A subversion of expectation for setting in Native American fiction, “There There” is the winner of the 2018 National Book Critics Circle and the 2019 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award.
Orange’s debut will pull you into a world often invisible and underrepresented. It will break your heart, awe and inspire you.
“Lot” By Bryan Washington
For being the 4th most populous city in the U.S., Houston is strangely invisible in the literary canon.
Bryan Washington changes that with his short fiction collection “Lot,” which is as sprawling as the city it centers on. It is H-town from cover to cover, with each of the stories titled after a place in the city; “Alief” a working-class neighborhood in Southwest Houston, “610 North, 610 West,” locally known as “the loop” 610 is a notoriously congested highway.
The latter of these stories centers around a recurring character in the collection, a bi-racial Afro-Latino who is “too dark for blancos, too Latin for blacks.” For those who have never set foot in Houston, the settings may seem strangely exotic, but the themes in “Lot” are universal: sexuality, gentrification, identity and coming of age.
Washington’s collection is one that we will be talking about for years to come.