Born into shame and illegitimacy during World War II and raised by an adoptive mother who took every opportunity to crush her spirit, the heroine of this novel, Molly Bolt, knows what she wants from an early age: to never marry, to get an education, to make movies, and to sleep with women. Rubyfruit Jungle follows her journey from bigoted poverty in rural Pennsylvania and Florida, through numerous setbacks, to her eventual graduation from university in New York.
Any consumer of media content of any kind will slot right into the opening of this novel. In a gritty urban setting, a grizzled and world-weary cop looks down on a dead body, possibly a prostitute. There’s a street-smart young beat cop standing nearby who knows the local working girls. There’s an incompetent subordinate who might have contaminated the crime scene. Techs are taking samples; witnesses wait nearby to be questioned. Then comes something unexpected: our detective notices a woman walking nearby, then “realises” she isn’t actually there, and unsees her.
A destitute daughter and parents bound together by genuine love, despite the father’s infidelity; a grandmother marked by the trauma of Communist China, snatching moments of freedom for her soul but unable to relate with honesty to her family; a girl born into a repeating cycle of emotional abuse, who is destined to repeat it; an increasingly horrific example of the over-sexualisation of pre-teens…all of them first-generation Chinese immigrants. Sour Heart is Jenny Zhang’s new collection of short fiction, and the first book to be published by Lena Dunham’s new Random House imprint, Lenny Books.
Margaret (Maddie) is the motorcycle-riding Mancunian granddaughter of Russian immigrants. Julia is the daughter of a Scottish lord, educated in Switzerland. Under normal circumstances, they may never have met. But when World War II creates new opportunities for women, they find that their skills can be put to uses that result in their worlds colliding, and a friendship forming. Maddie, handy with machines, discovers the thrills of aviation; Julia, gifted with languages, rises to an unusual challenge and learns she also has a gift for deception.
In a small village near Cambridge, in the 1950s, a parish vicar named Sidney Chambers finds himself embroiled in a series of mysteries. He teams up with his drinking buddy on the local constabulary to get to the bottom of them, quizzing witnesses under the guise of pastoral care and generally sticking his nose into the business of his parishioners.
In the mid-80s, in New York, a man is dying of AIDS. To most of the world he’s a famous artist, but to our fourteen-year-old heroine June, he’s her beloved uncle Finn. Before he dies, Finn paints once last painting, a portrait of June and her sister Greta; being the perfectionist that he is, he dies still dissatisfied with it. Then, at his funeral, June sees a strange man outside watching her and Greta.
At a high school in Southern California, five students are gathering for detention. They appear to fit into familiar categories: the loner geek; the honours student; the sports star; the pampered princess; the budding criminal. A noise draws them to the window: a car accident in the parking lot. When they turn back around, something has changed in the room which means that only four of them will leave it alive.
One Christmas Eve, a gentleman’s family amuses itself by telling ghost stories. He freaks out and wanders off by himself, then, encouraged by his infinitely patient wife, decides to write down the ghost story that has cast a pall over his entire life. Then he tells us about it, The End.
Borne is the new novel from Jeff VanderMeer, the David Lynch of literary sci fi. Don’t know what I mean? Let me give you an example by summarizing the events leading up to the action in this book. In a post-apocalyptic world devastated by climate change and other, unspecified man-made disasters, an unnamed, partially-destroyed city is dominated by a biotech company (known, of course, as the Company). It’s not clear exactly what the Company makes (drugs? weapons? designer pets?), but at some point it creates Mord, a thing which grows into a giant bear the size of a building (it’s described as being three storeys high lying down). Mord develops the power to levitate and escapes the Company, wreaking havoc and destroying what remains of civilization in the city. In this environment our protagonist, a black (yes!) woman (YES!) named Rachel (fine), pairs up with Wick, a disgraced former Company employee who now manufactures biological hallucinogens in the form of beetles you insert into your ear, in a converted swimming pool that he’s made into a kind of swamp teeming with artificial life. They live in an apartment complex camouflaged as a cliff face overlooking a toxic river, which they’ve booby-trapped with weaponised biochemistry and other deterrents against trespassers. To help Wick, Rachel works as a scavenger, searching for biotech that can go into his drug-swamp-brew. The most fruitful source of this is Mord himself, and while he sleeps, Rachel climbs around in his fur looking for anything salvageable. Then comes page one.
In suburban Detroit, a young person has been raised as a girl as far as puberty, when gradually she (as she identifies at the time) and her family begin to realise that that might not be what she is at all. As Calliope (“Cal”) begins to develop more masculine characteristics, she also begins to learn that she will have to create her own place in society as neither male nor female.
…is what I thought I’d be getting with this book. Continue reading Middlesex