Josh Wardrip’s debut novel Forum begins with an epigraph from Pindar’s First Pythian Ode. In it, the Theban poet recalls the ill repute of the sixth-century despot Phalaris, “who burned men in his bronze bull. . .” We learn some hundred pages after this epigraph that a similar “brazen bull” stood in the center of a forum in […]

McMullen Circle

The vivid stories of McMullen Circle by Heather Newton take place at the fictional McMullen Boarding School in the fictional town of Tonola Falls, Georgia. But readers familiar with north Georgia will recognize in McMullen the real-life Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School, which faces US-441 from a mowed hillside. When Newton writes of McMullen that “The school’s […]

What if We Were Somewhere Else

In Wendy J. Fox’s latest story collection—What If We Were Somewhere Else—Fox conjures up a contemporary focal point, a start-up in Denver, Colorado, as a nexus from which multiple avenues of modern life intersect and propagate drama in the lives of the all-too-flawed characters. With stylistic panache, Fox grapples with modernity pre- and post-Trump, without […]

In the Event of Contact

My partner asked recently what I look for most when reading short story collections. What’s most compelling? Is it character? Playfulness in form or structure? The cohesive whole created by the range of stories? It’s never just one thing, is it? The voice and humor in Bryan Washington’s collection Lot blew me away. The granular […]

The Annotated Mrs. Dalloway

There is something quite private about annotating a book. Without thought to publication, writing in the margins is an act of confidence; there is the possibility of glibness, or pretention, or completely banal questions that we wouldn’t typically offer up in public. We are able to argue with every page of Plato, if we so […]

The Silk Road

The characters of Kathryn Davis’ The Silk Road read as metaphorical appendages to one body. In a yoga studio called “the labyrinth,” the eight practitioners move through their poses in unison, cautious not to draw the ire of their enigmatic instructor. While rousing from a final, collective meditation, the group encounters a problem: one of […]

The Clarity of Hunger

Cheryl Pappas’s debut flash fiction collection, The Clarity of Hunger, explores longing of all kinds. The sixteen stories range from traditional narratives, to fables, to hermit crab fiction—each with striking images and uncluttered, lyrical prose. While some of Pappas’s characters yearn quietly, others seethe before taking radical action to reclaim their lives. All endure the […]

Alien Stories

In Alien Stories, Nigerian-born E. C. Osondu collects playful parables of immigrants and exotic cultures, all of which orbit a vague idea that there might be something “else” out there, a life somewhere that’s different from our own. While the title is an easy bit of wordplay (Osondu not-so-subtly captures the overlay between the “aliens” […]

The Perfect Nine

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o is, by both artistic and political measures, one of the most important writers of the last fifty years. A novelist, playwright, and essayist, he is often cited as the first East African writer to be published in English, but the most revolutionary aspect of his vast body of work was his turn, […]