I’ve paid insufficient attention to contemporary fiction as I’ve aged out of the demographic. I recently chose to read a batch of new fiction because of recommendations and references; in many cases these were eye-opening lollapaloozas, elegant debuts, starred reviews, short list that, finalist this and winner of the prestigious other, often hilariously funny, flawlessly composed, and at times astonishing in artistic experiment and daring.
I’m not always looking for what most people would think you’d read a novel for, the story, the characters, the setting. I’m looking for language, how it is used by the writer either in description or dialogue, to learn what the author knows, and how good the author is. Sometimes I follow the plot. And the sexy parts.
Oreo by Fran Ross, for example, about a young, contemporary Black-Jewish woman in New York City in the last quarter of the 20th century. Had clever lines, some excellent laugh out loud vernacular, puns and wordplay. And raw jaw sex writing.
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. This writer often gets cited by other writers as an influence in their work. I expected identity fireworks but no, it’s pervasive and always in the air but muted. Softly written, so you have to listen closely.
Freshwater by Akwaeke Ezemi, is centered in Nigeria but Malaysia. England, and other areas come into play. This book was to my liking as far as using literary devices, spirits arguing with each other in the person’s soul was a nice touch, for example, and specific in describing the medical journey toward sexual realization.
The Affairs of the Falcóns by Melissa Rivero. Immigrants from Peru in New York City late in the 20th century. The most interesting character is not the protagonist; and the best character, an Ecuadorian, disappears halfway through. Plus the 21st century happened. But I’d read another one. She created a vibe.
© 2020 Randy Stark