I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You
Mallory: Courtney Maum’s debut novel is not what you’d expect from a girl who lived in Paris promoting parties for Corona, and who regularly contributes to hip literary publications like Tin House and Electric Literature. It’s a full-fledged valentine to the age-old establishment of marriage, complete with a male anti-hero who has an affair and bumbles – quite pitifully – through his attempts to make amends.
Sell-out artist and dallying husband Richard is a present-day Candide if there ever was one. Everything he does is painfully wrong. He carries on a seven-month long affair with an American girl so skilled in manipulation that she gets him seriously thinking about leaving his wife, and then leaves him to marry someone else. After his wife finds out and gives him the boot, he tries to win her back through a series of romantic and artistic gestures that seem to be just as much about his own ego as they are about her. In short: he’s a total mess. But while his actions might seem to put him on a tragic path to failure, the tone of the book – humorous, irreverent, and even lighthearted – assures you that all will, somehow, end well.
Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky
Justin: Leah Shepherd runs a shelter for victims of domestic abuse in a small Kentucky town. One day, a man claiming to be her long lost brother appears, and Leah is forced to confront memories she’s long suppressed. Despite having a hook that belongs to a thriller, Ancient Oceans unfurls as languidly as a Southern summer. Like Paul Harding’s Tinkers, it’s a book about time, memory, consciousness, and the interplay between them. Like life itself, there’s no conventional plot here, but rather a series of imperfect memories and vivid impressions. The Kentucky landscape is a major character as well, and Nahm’s meditative descriptions both celebrate and animate his native ground:
Summer comes to Kentucky as a shock, as though it was impossible for the land to ever be green and full again. Magnolias with swollen white petals sway in warm breezes, record-high humid air fills lungs like warm water and the invisible mechanism that animates everything slows as summer’s heavy thumb rests on its ancient belts.
Hairstyles of the Damned
Ashley: Hairstyles of the Damned is about punk music from the 1970s and ’80s, featuring teens in the early ’90s, written by Joe Meno in the mid-00s, and read by me in 2015. Whereas our protagonist Brian Oswald languishes over what tunes to put on the mixtape he wants to give to his best friend and crush, Gretchen, we can look up all the songs in the book and make YouTube playlists in just a few minutes. Which is great for me, because many of the songs featured in this book, by bands like Guns n’ Roses, Black Sabbath, and The Ramones, I only know from playing Guitar Hero.
Not to say that Hairstyles feels outdated. Far from it. Though occasionally playing on nostalgias real or imagined, Meno’s story is really about the political power of music. Set in Chicago’s South Side, Hairstyles frequently touches on Chicago’s (fraught) racial politics. According to Brian: “Mt. Greenwood was full of the homes and families of white Chicago firemen and Chicago cops, who always had a real bad reputation for being racist. But it wasn’t just a reputation … I don’t know how they did it, honestly, besides intimidation and threat of force. Maybe that’s all they needed.”
Unfortunately, the description eerily echoes events of today.
The Wild Inside
Alex: I was hooked from the first scene of Christine Carbo’s incredible debut thriller. A mystery in which the murder weapon is a mauling Grizzly—yes, murder; this was no accident or twist of fate—and set in the gorgeous Montana mountains, our introduction to the protagonist and the novel’s central phobia is viscerally terrifying, without ever feeling gratuitous. That nuanced approach makes it difficult to believe that this is Carbo’s first book; she writes with the gravitas of a veteran, and knows her characters well enough to suggest the continuation of a series. Combine all of this with Audie-award winning narrator RC Bray, whose voice perfectly captures the gristle of a classic noir antihero without treading into cliche, and you’re left with the ideal thriller to listen to on your way to a campsite.