Maybe I just have overly rosy memories of Winter in Sokcho, but this was really…underwhelming. Lots of interesting themes and moments here (I especially loved the ending), but the story was missing those important interstitial bits that make a narrative feel cohesive. I understand that Elisa Shua Dusapin’s writing is like this: that what distinguishes it is precisely that stop-and-start quality that makes every sentence or sentence fragment feel very punctuated and striking. I get that, and at times that quality does work; I don’t need every novel I read to have flowery, lyrical prose. At the same time, though, I feel like where Dusapin’s writing worked for me in Winter in Sokcho, it didn’t quite work for me here. I wanted more from the story, but the writing style seemed to constantly hold me at arm’s length.

Thanks to Restless Books for providing me with an eARC of this via Edelweiss!

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I honestly have no idea how to write this review because I didn’t really “get” this book, or like it. I understand it’s a story about grief and identity and race, but beyond that, I can’t really tell you much. It’s an experimental novel, but I’m not sure that its experimentation with form is successful. The story is split into two parts, and none of those parts really work: the first is quite repetitive, and then the second feels so different that it doesn’t end up feeling connected to the first part at all. I don’t categorically hate experimental novels, and I don’t need to fully “get” a novel in order to appreciate what it’s doing, or to even like it, but I’m just so lost when it comes to The Furrows. On a more fundamental level, I just did not get along with the writing in this book. The first couple of pages led me to believe that it was going to be lyrical and moving, but really the more you read the more the writing becomes stiff and tonally jarring. Sometimes it’s nice, but other times it’s weirdly grandiose and philosophizing. At one point during a sex scene where the narrator is taking her clothes off the text reads, “the absurdity of this drapery we all wear, the slapstick comedy of removing it.” Little lines like that where the book’s attempts to be Deep end up feeling forced and especially cliched.

I can only speculate, but The Furrows felt to me like a novel that shaped the story around its ideas rather than the other way around, more invested in the ideas it was trying to communicate instead of the story it was using to convey those ideas. All of this is to say, the characters were more a tool for the story’s themes and not actual developed characters. I love novels that have at their heart certain themes/ideas that they’re trying to explore, but when those themes/ideas aren’t actually grounded in the characters and their stories, then chances are I won’t be invested. And I wasn’t: The Furrows went completely over my head, both in the sense that I didn’t get it, but even more in the sense that it was utterly forgettable to me.

Thanks to Hogarth Press for providing me with an eARC of this via NetGalley!

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The Genesis of Misery and I didn’t exactly gel together.

On both a narrative and craft level, I struggled with The Genesis of MiseryNarratively, it is just too insular. For almost 50% of the book, the only character that’s developed in any kind of capacity, who we get any insight on, is Misery. During that span of the novel, other characters only exist for Misery to react to: to agree with, or act against, or listen to, or speculate about. They are not, in any real sense of the word, developed characters. It’s only after we get past that first 50-60% of the novel that other characters start making a place for themselves in the narrative (i.e. start actually being developed), but by that point it was just too little too late for me. To put it simply: there weren’t enough developed characters in this novel, and by the time we did get some, it was too rushed and just not enough.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked Misery. She has a very strong narrative voice, a fallibility and a rolling-with-the-punches kind of attitude that makes it easy to be endeared to her. Thing is, we were in her head–and only in her head–for so long. It got to be a little frustrating: I wanted her to do something that wasn’t just thinking or speculating or ruminating or dreaming. It’s why I was desperate for more characters, an opportunity to let us get to know Misery through her interactions with other characters, who could then be developed themselves. Also, none of this was helped by the fact that the plot of the book is very sequential: Misery talks to some people, Misery goes to a new location, Misery trains, Misery does a mission, Misery is given another mission, etc. etc. It made me restless, especially because, like I said, all of this was heavily focused on Misery with very little development from other characters until much later on in the story.

In terms of craft, I struggled a bit with the writing of this novel. On the one hand, I liked how colloquial Misery’s voice was (she swears a lot, uses a lot of slang, etc.), and I also didn’t mind the way Yang incorporated some internet lingo throughout the story (there is, in fact, a “yeet” in this book). The thing about The Genesis of Misery, though, is that it operates on two kinds of registers: the super personal, colloquial one, and the super grandiose, larger-than-life one. At a certain point, some things happen in the book that change Misery’s perspective, and that’s when she starts looking at her world with a much grander scope, and where that grandiose register starts popping up. And it’s not even that I didn’t like it, or that it was badly written–it was just so repetitive. We have to read the same kind of super grandiose, over-the-top language over and over and over again, and frankly it started irritating me by the end of the novel.

The Genesis of Misery was the kind of novel that structurally did not work for me–and that in fact could not have worked for me. A novel whose story is primarily invested in only one character, a novel that only substantially develops that one character, is just not the kind of novel that I, personally, enjoy reading. I’m a reader whose investment lies in the interpersonal moreso than anything, and at the end of the day that’s really what I was missing from The Genesis of Misery.

Thanks so much to Tor for providing me with an e-ARC of this via NetGalley!

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