In our monthly book club, we discuss whatever we happen to be reading and ask everyone in the comments to do the same. What Are You Reading This Month?
Underneath by Lily Hoang
The most apt comparison this critic keeps returning to, while dutifully turning the pages of Lily Hoang’s Underneath (October 11, Red Hen), is the old children’s classic The Monster At The End Of This Book. Much as in that colorful exercise in sadism, in Underneath you know what’s coming, because you’ve been told, repeatedly, by the dead 11-year-old unreliably narrating this story: Martha Johnson, mother of five, will kill her children, one after the other, without remorse, over the period of several years. The bleak and unrelenting prose hits you over the head with miserabilism and cruelty. It’s created both by the characters and you the reader, for continuing to turn the pages, knowing that your actions will do nothing but spur on inevitable death. There is no light peeking through the cracks, no moments of levity to break up the near-universal viciousness leveled toward Martha from her birth by everyone in her orbit, no pages that thank you for participating in this fictionalized true-crime death march. There’s only the darkness and the realization that Grover has been replaced by your internal moral compass, asking why you would willingly send these children to their deaths with the flip of your thumb. The reason is a search for reassurance: unyielding inhumanity is the monster here, not you. [Alex McLevy]
Dreaming Of You: A Novel In Verse by Melissa Lozada-Oliva
Subtitle aside, Dreaming Of You: A Novel In Verse (Astra House, October 26) is difficult to categorize. Melissa Lozada-Oliva’s oft-lyrical (occasionally haiku-strewn) book can at times be viewed as exceedingly irreverent fan fiction—or even a subversion of such works. The author’s appreciation of the late Selena Quintanilla-Peréz is palpable. Why else would she painstakingly create a ritual for summoning the Queen Of Tejano, or subject herself to an unseen group of chismosas, whose nitpicking would thwart a lesser mind/fan? Dreaming Of You is very personal, even as it becomes ensnared in some of its own literary tricks. But maybe that’s just the price of ambition: In her attempts to understand her childhood idol better, Lozada-Oliva sets off on an exploration of fandom at large. [Danette Chavez]
The Copenhagen Trilogy by Tove Ditlevsen
There’s a surprising lot to do with labor in Tove Ditlevsen’s The Copenhagen Trilogy, a compilation of the late Danish writer’s three memoirs—Childhood (1967), Youth (1967), and Dependency (1971)—released by Farrar, Straus & Giroux early this year. The young Tove and those around her are preoccupied with getting work, keeping work, getting paid for their work, joining the union. It’s a dreary existence. The writer’s mother is cold and obsessed with her daughter marrying someone with enough money so she doesn’t have to hold down a job; her father is kinder but ineffectual and often laid low by unemployment. There’s little money and England is about to declare war on Nazi Germany. But throughout Childhood and Youth, the two books I’ve read thus far, Tove’s compulsion to write poetry never ebbs, not even when she gets fired after publishing her first poem in a literary magazine. “‘[Y]ou apparently have other interests than the State Grain Office,’” Tove’s boss tells her with a straight face. Dependency, an account of the writer’s drug addiction, is said to be harrowing, with little in the previous books presaging its horror, but what comes before it is pretty brutal, too. [Laura Adamczyk]