Lucas Palmer

FAMOUS MEN WHO NEVER LIVED

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FAMOUS MEN WHO NEVER LIVED BY K CHESS

They shouldn’t be here. They shouldn’t even exist. UPDs, or Universally-Displaced Persons, are the refugees from an alternate world destroyed by acts of terrorism against nuclear plants who have crossed over into our world in hopes of survival. K Chess’s Famous Men Who Never Lived follows Hel and Vikram, two of the 156,000 UPDs that make it through before contact with their world mysteriously vanishes. Hel, a former surgeon, left behind an ex-husband and young son, while Vikram mourns not his family, but that he could not bring more books with him. Hel and Vikram wrestle with how to integrate into our strange world and they create a space for remembering their own, a museum. The words on these pages now belong to the men and women who’ve never before existed in our world. Chess’ reflections on choice, survival, and fate illuminate her characters’ decisions: how they will live in a world that does not want them, a world that worries they have shown up to ruin this world’s timeline as well. The debut novel is absorbing and quick-paced, full of loss and surprising reversals, and with it, K Chess has crafted a story that is universally relevant.

Tin House.

—Review by Lucas Palmer

WAYS TO HIDE IN WINTER

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WAYS TO HIDE IN WINTER BY SARAH ST. VINCENT

In her debut novel, Sarah St. Vincent creates a compelling mystery set against the wider concerns of the War on Terror. In a national park in Pennsylvania’s Blue Ridge Mountains, nearly abandoned in winter except for the locals, a few hunters, and then a stranger whose presence warrants explanation, this novel unfolds. Kathleen works at the park’s only store and develops a careful friendship with Daniil, the stranger from Uzbekistan. Ways to Hide in Winter drifts through the snow-covered scenes of its rural concerns—an aging grandmother, Kathleen’s dead abusive husband, her distant parents—but it also presents the secrets of its characters in sudden and unexpected moments of violence and betrayal, eventually involving Kathleen in a manhunt for her new, mysterious friend. The author’s experience as a human rights attorney informs the drama of the novel in a convincing way, filling each page with global implications without losing the immediate suspense, as well as the sense that in what should be a quiet, small town, there is someone watching, a secret left unsaid.

Melville House.

— Review by Lucas Palmer

SCRIBE

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SCRIBE BY ALYSON HAGY

Set in an alternative history where civil war and epidemics have brutalized America into an unfamiliar, sparsely populated, ghost of itself, Scribe is a novel that leaves readers hungry for more details about its compelling world. The protagonist, an unnamed woman, barters in letter writing—the written word now holds powerful spiritual significance—and lives in Appalachia, in her family’s old farmhouse. Regarded as a witch by the Uninvited, a nomadic tribe that stays on her land, as well as her distrustful neighbors, the protagonist meets Mr. Hendricks—a man with a past perhaps as dark as her own. They soon strike a deal, and thus begins a series of events which force the unnamed scribe to confront a past that she has desperately avoided and journey to a mysterious crossroads.

Alyson Hagy’s Scribe is rich with mythology and appeals to readers of southern literature and folklore and fans of paranormal alike. Hagy’s descriptions of an abandoned rural south unsettle in their familiarity, yet are laced with warmth. Her characters are survivors burdened with sin and guilt, which bears them to further action. An original addition to the post-apocalyptic genre, Scribe reaffirms the power of the pen and the surviving quality of the human spirit.

Graywolf Press.

—Review by Lucas Palmer

ONCE AND FOREVER: THE TALES OF KENJI MIYAZAWA

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ONCE AND FOREVER: THE TALES OF KENJI MIYAZAWA BY KENJI MIYAZAWA, TRANSLATED BY JOHN BESTER

Reminiscent of the anthropomorphic animals that inhabit Aesop’s fables, Kenji Miyazawa’s tales in Once and Forever are set in a world where some animals talk, wear clothes, and interact with humans on a regular basis. Miyazawa, though considered a popular children’s author in Japan, is very much a fable writer for adults. Since his death in 1933, his popularity has continued to rise, with much of his work adapted into film and anime. His stories, while whimsical, often leave readers to navigate their dark endings—there are no didactic morals attached to these tales, though the ghost of some unlearned lessons may haunt the characters, as well as readers. “The Bears of Nametoko” is one such tale. Here, Kojuro doubts his need to kill the bears for their healing livers, and the bear who kills Kojuro questions his own act of preservation. Or in another story that haunts, “The Restaurant of Many Orders,” two starving hunters find an unlikely restaurant, in the depths of the woods, but when the orders posted on the restaurant’s door ask them to remove their clothes and then season themselves, they begin to wonder who the clientele of this establishment actually is . . . Translated from the Japanese by the late John Bester, Miyazawa’s tales are modern fairy tales that will interest readers of all ages.

New York Review Books.

—Review by Lucas Palmer

THE LAKE ON FIRE

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THE LAKE ON FIRE BY ROSELLEN BROWN

Rosellen Brown’s The Lake on Fire is a stunning work of historical fiction, filled with the sights and sounds of the Gilded Age in Chicago. The novel begins just as Chaya and her family arrive, with other Jewish immigrants, tentatively hopeful for a better future in this new land where they might become Amerikaners. Instead, the families find themselves with little money. Stuck on a hardscrabble farm in Wisconsin, Chaya and her autodidact, thieving, younger brother, Asher, begin to yearn for the possibilities of an education and the vivid worlds found in Chaya’s books. After the siblings escape the bleak life to which their family has surrendered, they arrive by train in Chicago and the novel breaks open into the diverse bustle of the city.

Brown’s story rotates between Chaya’s precise, colorful perspective of the world and Asher’s quick, computational observations of the events and the places around him. The Chicago of Brown’s imagining comes alive in the movements—swishing skirts and bobbing hats. Her young characters’ perspectives absorb and enrich the reader at each interaction, as they juggle new English words and their old language, and calculate the expectations of strangers. The Lake on Fire is a coming-of-age story filled with compelling characters all trying to navigate their own shifting identities.

Sarabande Books.

—Review by Lucas Palmer

THE CHILDREN’S WAR

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THE CHILDREN’S WAR BY C. P. BOYKO

C. P. Boyko proves the broad reach of his talents in The Children’s War, a collection of six stories that range from novella to play to traditional short-story. His characters here are often intelligent and emotional, resulting in explosive conflicts; whether the setting be an oppressive school, an ever-busy factory, or the frontlines of a war between the armies on an unnamed island and its interfering super-power neighbor. From the thoughts of a sleep-deprived Army doctor, comes her gruesome play-by-play of that day’s casualties—or was it yesterday’s? She can’t quite remember. Meanwhile, bullets twang and whistle like snapped cables over the head of an ambulance driver who cons and lies his way into a war he cares nothing about. In “The Takeover of Founders’ Hall,” students bear witness in a journalistic fashion to their march and occupation of the university president’s office.

Tackling the theme of power and the struggle for authority, Boyko’s characters fight against superiors real or imagined, as in the case of Lord Admiral Whiskers The Most High, the feline king over a land of talking cats. Though the choices these characters make are not always effective, it is clear that Boyko understands this truth: action is always human and, even in failure, is often beautiful.

Biblioasis.

—Review by Lucas Palmer

THE PRE-WAR HOUSE AND OTHER STORIES

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THE PRE-WAR HOUSE AND OTHER STORIES, BY ALISON MOORE

Alison Moore’s collection, The Pre-War House and Other Stories, is threaded by a sense of unease that speaks to the uncertainty of life’s calm patterns. Moore’s stories often upend suddenly by danger, like the steady tow of an undercurrent that should have been evident from the first sentence. Her characters, mainly young women, carry spotty histories and face precarious futures. They navigate the emotional conflicts of childhood and the domestic, and time and again find themselves the recipients of unwelcome knowledge. In “Wink, Wink,” one character’s return home prompts her to consider the role that secrets play inside her parent’s intricate relationship and leaves her questioning how well she even knows them.

Throughout The Pre-War House and Other Stories, readers are met with curious neighbors that wander into sudden violence behind closed doors: murderers, and what might be the paranormal. Moore’s writing is surprising and exact and culminates in the title story, the novella which brings the collection to a powerful crescendo.

Biblioasis.

—Review by Lucas Palmer