Fiction, December 7, 2018 | Xpress Reviews

Chen’s debut novel is a welcome addition to the time travel genre; Farah, an exile himself, explores the Somali diaspora; Snyder’s collection is bizarre and delightful; Swinson depicts the streets of DC as knowingly as George Pelecanos; noir times two; MeToo fiction

Week ending December 7, 2018

Anonymous. Slender Man. Harper. Oct. 2018. 336p. ISBN 9780062641175. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062641199. HORROR
An anonymous author crafts a story around a popular and infamous urban myth, with mixed results. The tale is told through various ephemera: an online journal, chat conversations, emails, transcripts of voice recordings, and more. While this helps shake up the narrative and keep readers guessing, the author is unable truly to create an environment of dread and suspense, and, instead, the plot and pacing become tedious and predictable. The story centers on Matt, whose friend Lauren disappears. Matt and his classmates talk with detectives assigned to the case, but Matt, doing some amateur sleuthing, believes the Internet-created monster Slender Man is responsible. He decides to accept help from a person he connects with online who continually admonishes him not to tell the authorities that they are working together. Matt eventually plans to confront Slender Man and find out what happened to his friend.
VERDICT An average take on an urban myth. The descriptions are unconvincing, and too many characters lack substance. An additional purchase for devoted fans of modern urban legends.—Ryan Claringbole, Wisconsin Dept. of Pub. Instruction, Madison

redstarChen, Mike. Here and Now and Then. Mira: Harlequin. Jan. 2019. 336p. ISBN 9780778369042. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781488099588. SF
[DEBUT] Kin Stewart knows he is a time traveler with the Temporal Crimes Bureau and that an aborted mission stranded him in the past 18 years ago, but with little memory of his former life, he has adapted to 1990s San Francisco, found love, and raised a family. He is worried about normal things: his daughter’s soccer team, his lasagna recipe, and what TV show to watch next. Then TCB finds him. It restores his memory and forcefully returns him to the future—to a job, friends, and girlfriend just days after he left them. Lonely and confused, Kin finds a way to contact his daughter illicitly and watch her grow up from afar. He must be able to stay in the present and yet save his daughter from his mistakes in the past.
VERDICT Chen’s debut novel is a welcome addition to this well-traveled genre, with the theories and mechanics of time travel not getting in the way of the character- and plot-driven story. Highly recommended for readers both new and familiar with the genre, and for fans of Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife or books by Connie Willis.—Catherine Lantz, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago Lib.

redstarFarah, Nuruddin. North of Dawn. Riverhead. Dec. 2018. 384p. ISBN 9780735214231. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780735214248. F
When a suicide vest explodes in a crowded Somali marketplace, ripple effects are felt in Oslo, where the bomber’s parents, Gacalo and Mugdi, have lived and thrived as secular Muslims for decades. Now Gacalo, fulfilling a promise to her dead son, is sponsoring his widow, Waliya, and her children, Naciim and Saafi, causing a rift in a family concerned by the burgeoning anti-immigrant sentiment in Norway. Reclusive Waliya, fully cloaked in a niqab and strongly influenced by a local imam, is reluctant to submit her bright, inquisitive children to the available educational opportunities, and they are torn between loyalty to their mother and the exciting freedoms offered by their grandparents. Then a terrorist strikes closer to home, and Farah asks if we are ever truly safe in a world where fear of “the other” prevails. Though he sometimes lapses into didacticism, the author is passionate when delving into the conundrum faced by victims of brutality forced to emigrate to a foreign, often frightening country, no matter how welcoming.
VERDICT Internationally renowned and perennially rumored for a Nobel, Farah, an exile himself, explores the Somali diaspora, examining the aftermath of violence and posing questions about identity and assimilation. A timely, necessary addition to his body of work. [See Prepub Alert, 6/10/18.]—Sally Bissell, formerly with Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Myers, FL

Feltman, Amy. Willa & Hesper. Grand Central. Feb. 2019. 304p. ISBN 9781538712542. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781538712566. F
[DEBUT] Willa is sexually assaulted outside her synagogue, where previously she had found comfort and happiness. Still reeling, she meets Hesper, a fellow MFA creative writing student at Columbia, and they begin a relationship. Willa falls deeply in love, but her self-view is muddled. She worries that she’s not a good Jew because she’s a lesbian and doesn’t follow traditional practices. Hesper begins to feel suffocated by Willa’s desperate love and breaks things off with her. After the breakup, they both go on healing journeys: Willa takes a tour of Germany for descendants of Holocaust victims; Hesper travels to Tbilisi, Georgia, to learn more about her senile grandfather’s heritage. This novel is an intimate look not only at the challenges faced as a member of the LGBTQ community today but also the heavy guilt of navigating religion, family, heartbreak, and depression. Chapters alternate between each woman’s perspective, but they interrupt the flow as Willa’s chapters are overlong and, at times, lacking momentum. Willa, especially, is an unlikable character, until readers see her growth in the final pages.
VERDICT A promising novel, but recommended only for patrons interested in extremely cerebral and dense material.—Brooke Bolton, Boonville-Warrick Cty. P.L., IN

Snyder, Lucy A. Garden of Eldritch Delights. Raw Dog Screaming. Oct. 2018. 184p. ISBN 9781947879089. pap. $14.95. HORROR
This collection of short stories plumbs the darkness in every person that both repels and attracts. Readers discover how to live—literally—with a broken heart in “That Which Does Not Kill You,” encounter the unexpected dimensions of reality in “Executive Functions,” explore the true power of the bond between twins in “Fraternal,” and follow one woman’s journey to find her true self in “The Gentleman Caller.” Bram Stoker Award winner Snyder gives readers everything they could wish for from the genre—from Lovecraftian horror to dark fantasy to creepy sf. Each story is expertly written and designed not only to bring the strange and unusual to light but to highlight the human condition through realistic and relatable characters.
VERDICT Bizarre and delightful.—Elisabeth Clark, West Florida P.L., Pensacola

Swinson, David. Trigger. Mulholland: Little, Brown. Feb. 2019. 352p. ISBN 9780316264259. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780316264242. MYS
Retired cop–turned–private investigator Frank Marr returns in the third novel of this promising series (following The Second Girl andCrime Song), which will appeal to fans of Don Winslow’s The Force. Newly clean after an all-consuming cocaine addiction and unhappily alone after his girlfriend Leslie kicked him out, Frank spends his time robbing the drug houses of Washington, DC, and fighting his urges when he hears that his best friend Al Luna fatally shot an African American teen when he thought the victim raised a gun—but no gun was found. In order to help clear his “brother cop,” Frank recruits as his personal assistant a young man once involved in the drug trade, who almost got Frank killed. Despite the short chapters, punchy dialog, and Frank’s frenetic present-tense narration, the action occasionally lags and leads to a surprisingly underwhelming conclusion. The mystery of Al’s situation ultimately takes a backseat to the burgeoning relationship between Frank and his protégé Calvin, who struggles to reconcile his new job with his fear of being perceived as a snitch, likely setting the table for future installments.
VERDICT Swinson, a former police detective, depicts the streets of DC as knowingly as George Pelecanos, and his flawed but loyal hero will be welcomed by readers who miss Nick Stefanos. [See Prepub Alert, 7/21/18.]—Michael Pucci, South Orange P.L., NJ





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