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 — 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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Popisho by Leone Ross

Popisho is an extraordinary novel, and one of the most singular stories I’ve read in a long time.

It’s hard to know where to begin with Popisho because it is a novel that is so utterly brimming with life. And if it’s a novel defined by its vitality, then its characters are its lifeblood. There is no shortage of complex, empathetic, and human characters here. There are younger characters and older ones, brothers and sisters, parents and children, lovers and exes. They all come with their own personal histories and narrative voices, and you get to watch them develop beautifully over the course of the novel. Part of why Ross’s characters work so well, I think, is because this novel is so polyphonic. Ross is able to masterfully embody the voices of her characters, whether they are major or minor, and even if they are just mentioned in passing and never heard from again. Her voices have real verve, a kind of energy and buoyancy that I so rarely encounter in the novels I read.

One of the most remarkable things about Popisho is also how vivid it is. Popisho as a setting is almost technicolour in its vividness. I distinctly remember reading one scene in this book and having to pause for a second because I was just so taken aback by how evocative the writing was, how palpable it made this world feel. Reading about the world of Popisho isn’t reading about it so much as it is about being in it.

Frankly, I could go on and on about this novel: its humour, its empathy, its poignancy. It’s just that good.

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

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