Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

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“Always it was the same, Furlong thought; always they carried mechanically on, without pause, to the next job at hand. What would life be like, he wondered, if they were given time to think and to reflect over things? Might their lives be different or much the same – or would they just lose the run of themselves?”

A gentle, moving novella about the small moments that make up a life, and that have the power to change it as well. I enjoyed this, but I can’t say much more than that. It’s the kind of story you read, and enjoy while you’re reading, but not really the kind of story you’re likely to think about after you’ve finished it. I found this forgettable, yes, but that doesn’t mean that that will be the case for you too. I’d still recommend this, and I will definitely read whatever Claire Keegan comes out with next.

Thanks so much to Grove Press for providing me with an e-ARC of this in exchange for an honest review!

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

I think my biggest impression of this novel is just how full of love it is. Casey McQuiston poured their heart and soul into this story and it really shows. πŸ’–πŸ’–πŸ’–πŸ’–

Casey McQuiston is just so good at creating a sense of community. Of course the romance is great–Jane is such a charismatic character, it’s virtually impossible not to love her as much as August does–but the side characters bring so much life and vitality to this novel. It’s testament to how well McQuiston develops them that you become as invested in them as you are in the main characters. Also, where I found Red, White and Royal Blue too plot-heavy for my taste, I thought One Last Stop had just the right amount of plot: just enough to give the story momentum, but not so much that it detracted from the romance.

I loved this a lot, and I’m sure a lot of people will, because it’s just really, really good.

Thanks so much to Macmillan Audio for providing me with an audiobook ARC of this in exchange for an honest review!

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Cursed Bunny

These short stories are fucked up in the best possible way.

In trying to describe this collection, I find myself continually going back to the language of surgeries, operating rooms. Bora Chung’s stories are razor sharp in more ways than one. Her writing is exact, pared back, seemingly sanitized–but what it narrates is anything but. A story (“Snare”) will begin with a simple, “This is a story I once read long ago,” and then, couched in this fable-esque beginning, will proceed to give you a narrative about capitalism, greed, cannibalism, and abuse with almost surgical precision. It’s a testament to Chung’s control and skill as a writer that despite the seeming simplicity of her writing, her stories are not lukewarm but chilling. It’s the kind of writing that just works so well for a collection like this because it doesn’t try to adorn the story with what it doesn’t need; it instead lets each story stands on its own two feet, allowing it to effectively deliver whatever twisted, horrific, unsettling, or disturbing narrative it’s trying to present.

And let’s be clear, these stories are unsettling (to say the least). If we’re still going with the surgical imagery then: some stories nick and some stories slice; some dispense with just enough detail for the narrative to unnerve and then linger, and some are just full throttle, no holds barred. Regardless of how dark they are, though, Chung’s stories approach darkness in different ways, and they’re not all tragic, per se. Some stories–“Snare,” “Scars,” “Ruler of the Winds and Sands”–read like fables, like some dark fairytales lost in time. Others narrow their focus on the interpersonal, especially “The Head” and “The Embodiment,” which both foreground how women relate to their own bodily autonomy, or lack thereof. More broadly, though, I think these stories are interested in the ways that the supernatural–widely understood as encompassing things that are “not real,” whether magical beings or hungry monsters or ghosts–can interact with and distort already distorted human relationships. The supernatural in Cursed Bunny highlights the overlooked by making it literal, exaggerating it, placing it in unexpected contexts.

(Favourite stories include “The Embodiment,” “Cursed Bunny,” “Snare,” and “Scars.”)

Basically: this is an excellent and incredibly compelling short story collection. Bora Chung might be a new favourite author, and I can’t wait for more of her work to be translated into English (as it was Anton Hur’s translation of this was pitch perfect).

Thanks so much to Honford Star for sending me an e-copy of this in exchange for an honest review!

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Homesick by Nino Cipri β€” Dzanc Books

Everyone needs to put Nino Cipri’s work on their radar because it’s damn good.

What I love about these stories is how gentle and humane they feel. There are poltergeists and flying trees and disappearing houses and time travel, but in every one of these stories the fantastical never overtakes the human; Cipri’s work reminds me of Kij Johnson’s At the Mouth at the River of Bees and Sofia Samatar’s Tender in that regard. The first story in this collection, I think, encapsulates everything that Homesick embodies. It’s titled “A Silly Love Story” and it is indeed a love story, just with a poltergeist thrown in. And it’s a wonderful way to begin this collection, which is all about the many ways in which characters respond to ruptures in their world, whether minor or major, simply inconvenient or profoundly transformative. “Not the Ocean, But the Sea,” for example, begins with this paragraph,

“Nadia found the ocean behind the Swedish assholes’ couch during her weekly cleaning. She had followed a small trail of sand to the eastern wall with the vacuum, and when she’d moved the couch to vacuum underneath it, there was the ocean, snuggled right up to the wall. A fresh wind blew off it, stirring the curtains: the smell of salt and mud.”

Cipri’s stories are so clearly invested in the humanity of their characters, and it is for that reason that they are in the end so moving. The collection’s longer stories stand out in particular, impressive in how fleshed out and substantial they feel within such a relatively short span of pages. I’m thinking especially of “The Shape of My Name” and “Before We Disperse Like Star Stuff,” the latter of which acts as such a kickass and poignant end to the collection.

I’d also be remiss not to mention Cipri’s writing chops here. All of Homesick‘s stories are well written, but where Cipri always shines is in the dialogue. “Dead Air” in particular is a tribute to Cipri’s skill with dialogue, as it’s a story written entirely as a transcript of voice recordings from two characters who start dating each other. Even outside that story though, the dialogue is always pitch perfect: organic, funny, and current without feeling like it’s trying too hard.

(Favourite stories include “A Silly Love Story,” “Dead Air,” “The Shape of My Name,” and “Before We Disperse Like Star Stuff,” which was by far the best of the collection.)

Carmen Mario Machado calls these stories “deliciously queer and dark and playful,” and there’s little more that I can add to that, really. She’s right on the money.

Thanks so much to Dzanc Books for sending me a review copy of this in exchange for an honest review!

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