Reviews

‘What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours’ by Helen Oyeyemi

‘What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours’ by Helen Oyeyemi

what_is_not_yours_is_not_yours_9781594634635_4748dHelen Oyeyemi’s stories are like hedge mazes. As soon as you begin to anticipate a direction, a destination, and an ending, there’s a turn, and another turn, then before you know it, the story is about someone or something else. What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours uses such labyrinthine structures in only the best ways, subverting folk tales, upending traditional narratives, and unfolding backstories as if outside of time.

The tales are mostly set within the same landscape and feature some recurring characters and related events, though they stand up well on their own. They’re not woven together into one large tapestry, like the stories Anthony Marra’s The Tsar of Love and Techno, but rather exist as distinct entities shot through with the same shimmering thread. This is an idealized world, though one much like ours, where diversity is not only common but barely questioned; where comrades take up for one another at the slightest hint of danger; where (and this is the engine of the book’s best wonders) anything and everything can be haunted, possessed, made sentient, or imported from an alternate reality.

The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie

ThePortableVeblen9781594206856_3b03aWhether this quirky, gently postmodern novel is a book you will love or hate depends largely on how you feel about whimsy. It tackles a host of serious topics–the military industrial complex, the marriage industrial complex, whether we owe our families a debt and to what degree we’re obligated to pay it down–but often in distinctly unserious ways. Conversational squirrel, anyone?

I don’t imply that The Portable Veblen is shallow or has nothing to say, or that it name-drops the titular noted economist (and other cultural greats like William James and Richard Rorty) without reason. No, subjects like the deeply conflicted attitudes about money and success held by many millennials and the meaning of marriage in contemporary American culture actually form the backbone of this novel. It is, however, also very character-driven, and the main character knows no end of whimsy. Her perspective seeps into McKenzie’s imagery and turns of phrase, so that a squirrel’s markings resemble Victorian finery and potted flowers become cancan skirts.

‘The Weight of Things’ by Marianne Fritz

‘The Weight of Things’ by Marianne Fritz

TheWeightofThingsYou probably haven’t heard of Marianne Fritz, but she was one of Austria’s most adventurous authors. Thanks to Dorothy, a publishing project, her first novel became available in English translation this winter.

The Weight of Things is a war story by way of horror novel, or more precisely, a novel about World War II that is set almost completely after the fact. It’s soaked in nightmarish imagery, the darkest of humor, and foreboding symbolism. At the same time, many of the grimmest acts unfolding in its pages are skimmed lightly; we understand what happens without the gruesome play-by-play we may be accustomed to from more detail-oriented fiction. This skirting, in a way, makes these passages more shocking. The saving of a life, the taking of a life, domestic, minutiae, and a parent-teacher meeting each merit about the same number of paragraphs.

‘Breaking Wild’ by Diane Les Bouquets

BreakingWild_9780425283783_50f46In her first adult novel, Breaking Wild, Diane Les Bouquets marries a fast-paced thriller with a quiet, psychological profile of two women, Amy Raye Latour and Pru Hathaway, who are lost and searching for meaning and themselves in the mountains near Rio Mesa, Colorado.

Amy Raye, on an elk hunting trip with her friends, wakes up early to hunt on her own and gets lost in the mountains. Pru, who works for the Bureau of Land Management as an archaeological law enforcement ranger, heads up the search for Amy Raye. Heading into the mountains with her trusted search-and-rescue dog, Kona, Pru combines a mountain search and rescue with an investigation into Amy Raye’s life to try to find clues to bring her home alive.

Les Becquets alternates between Amy Raye’s and Pru’s narratives, a storytelling tactic that reveals how both women ended up in the mountains and leads the reader through a suspenseful mountain search and rescue. By the end of the book, Les Becquets makes the reader question whether Pru and her team will find Amy Raye, either alive or dead, while exploring the depths to which will, determination and knowledge drive people to stay alive under dire circumstances.

This book has a lot to offer readers, which makes it hard to categorize. On one hand, it is an adventure mystery set in the stunning mountainous landscape of Colorado, reminiscent of Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon mystery series. Les Becquets incorporates her extensive knowledge of mountaineering and hunting into both Amy Raye’s and Pru’s stories, making both women strong, capable and complicated people.

On the other hand, underlying this strength, Les Becquets slowly reveals that both women have messy pasts filled with secrets, lies, betrayals, redemption and a shared search for self that make them more comfortable being alone in the wilderness or in the company of animals than with people. This latter point makes Les Bouquets’ novel more than an adventure or mystery, but really an intriguing psychological novel about two women striving for a fulfilling life lived on their own terms.

There are slower moments about life in Rio Mesa that distract from the mounting tension driving the book, but overall it kept me interested, curious and on my toes. By the end, readers realize that the search and rescue took place in the woods, the mountains, and within Amy Raye and Pru.


Breaking Wild by Diane Les Bouquets (Berkley | 9780425283783 | February 9, 2015)

“The Widow” by Fiona Barton

The Widow - coverWhen books are compared to runaway hits like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, I almost wonder if it’s more of a disservice to the new title rather than a positive. When I started reading The Widow by Fiona Barton, it had those comparisons attached. While I initially scoffed at any comparisons to those blockbusters, The Widow can handle it.

As I was reading, I wasn’t sure sure if early readers and blurb providers were trying to indicate that Jean Taylor, the “widow” in the title, is an unreliable narrator, or if this was another “what-happened-to-this-person” book.

But Jean is reliable, right? I mean, being so innocent and trusting in her husband doesn’t make you unreliable; it makes you gullible. But a kernel of doubt introduced in the jacket copy (“The truth–that’s all anyone wants. But the one lesson Jean has learned in the last few years is that she can make people believe anything…”) has the reader second-guessing everything throughout, assuming that Jean Taylor is indeed an unreliable narrator.

You see, The Widow is about a little girl, Bella Elliott, who was abducted from her Southampton garden, and the subsequent investigation into her disappearance. It’s told through a trio of voices: the detective, the reporter and the widow.

Not one to pay attention to chapter headings, I had to change my ways with this one. Not only does each chapter change perspective, but they also jump around in time, visiting different scenes of importance between 2006 and 2010. And each chapter is identified by The Detective, The Reporter, or The Widow along with the date of their narration.

But Jean Taylor isn’t unreliable. She’ll tell you that her husband, Glen, just happened to be delivering a package in the area when the child was taken, and now the police are trying to entrap him with internet porn and child trafficking. And the fact that the couple can’t have children, so she kept an album of baby pictures from a magazine, was just a coincidence. It doesn’t mean she had anything to do with Bella’s disappearance.

Or did she? The question of reliability throughout actually made this a fantastic read. So do you hand-sell it with the Gone Girland The Girl on the Train comparables? Sure–if it helps. But it can also stand on its own merits, too.


The Widow by Fiona Barton (NAL |9781101990261 | February 16, 2016)