Black Light

“All the sick, broken people begin to glow.” 

That’s in the first sentence of the first story in Kimberly King Parsons’s collection of short stories, Black Light

The glowing is not exactly literal, but it’s not exactly not—Sheila has just started dating a med student, an “almost-doctor,” and her body issues are spiraling through thoughts of Tim’s endless contact with endless bodies. She can’t stop asking him questions about his work. She can’t imagine how he can’t see what she now sees, all these bodies bursting with light and disease and need.

She asks him how he can stand doing what he does. She asks him about “hot cadavers.” Even though the dead may not be a threat, exactly, their cool contours represent another way to have looked, another way to have lived.

What I love about the story has to do with a weirdness that seeps. The language is beautiful and strange and in no hurry—sometimes we just sit with Sheila while she watches a movie, rides the bus in circles, or gets plastered, starts lying, and gets more plastered. 

Other stories, like the next one, “In Our Circle,” comet over a page and flare out, telling us in seven paragraphs all about a stay at the kind of institution that would employ an “art shrink,” and the feeling of the days after.

Then comes the forbidden, confounding relationship between two girls—rabble-rouser Bo (“I’ve seen strangers stop to watch her shake sugar into her tea”) and the narrator, who lives in a houseful of boys. “Every morning when I leave,” she says, “my mom says ‘Have fun’—the implication being that she can’t, so I might as well.”

Texas exerts a strange magic in these stories. Its characters struggle to find new ways of seeing the world, ways that could bring forth new worlds or merely provide new ways of understanding the traps they can’t escape. PLEASE READ

Black Light by Kimberly King Parsons, from Vintage


Normal People

Connell stands in Marianne’s kitchen, the last place he wants to be—her parents have money, and his mother is cleaning their floors, not quite ready for her ride home.

He’s ashamed, yet when they get together, it’s him, not Marianne, who wants to keep their relationship a secret at school.

He can’t quite articulate why—he’s vaguely popular, she’s vaguely weird, but it’s more complicated than that. She complies, though, and that formative shame pinballs between their bodies as they move through their years, never quite secure with each other but never fully extricated, either.

Normal People is one of those annual-ish books that became such a, what, a trend, that I, a surly contrarian, felt disinclined to read it. There was the book jacket that casually dropped its author Sally Rooney’s birth year (1991) in the first line of her bio, to ensure we understand how much more she has accomplished than certain surly contrarians who were very much not born in 1991. There were the rapturous reviews, there were the giddy counter-reviews, there were stories on “The Cult of Sally Rooney” and Interview’s piece about all the fancy (white!) waifs of Brooklyn loading this book and only this book into their totes. Was all this noise kind of sexist? Was the book just not my jam? Or neither? (Or both?)

I picked it up again one day when the two line-drawn faces on the cover stared at me in the library. I did still feel drawn to it, curious. I turned the book over and, wait: Elif Batuman loves this book? Sheila Heti? They’re two of the most interesting weirdos around. It was longlisted for the Booker? Zadie Smith is quoted about Rooney’s first book?

And now, this. I’ve fed into exactly what annoyed me about this book—I’ve perpetuated the talk about the talk about the book, the endless online spiral that winds further and further away from the center. It has nothing to do with the book. The book is good!

Colin and Marianne are two smart, self-aware, memorable young Irish people just adept enough at examining their own forlorn feelings to feel even more adrift on what they learn. PLEASE READ

Normal People by Sally Rooney, from Hogarth

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

It would feel rude to call her Janina. She resents her name, and she is now old enough (and often sick enough) that “I must always wash my feet thoroughly before bed, in the event of having to be removed by an ambulance in the Night.”

She dubs the few people in her rural life—in the blinding, frigid winter at the very edge of Poland—Big Foot, Oddball, Dizzy, Good News, and The Gray Lady.

On the night we meet her, Oddball is at her door. Big Foot is dead.

Oddball takes her to Big Foot’s cottage. To the taut, twisted body. Oddball was a hunter, and past the windows, the animals are watching.

The fields and forests are ravaged by hunters. And as local men keep dying their bizarre deaths—carnivores, hunters, the owner of a slaughterhouse—she hears rumors of mafia hits, deals gone wrong, but she believes the animals are exacting their revenge.

No one believes her, of course, the eccentric recluse who rails on about astrology and William Blake and the flurries of deer tracks surrounding each fresh body. She knows how she sounds to them. Still she writes her long letters to the police.

Anyway, thought I’d recommend the newly translated Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead on the off-chance you haven’t overdosed on darkly funny, magnificently titled vegetarian-feminist Polish murder mysteries lately. This is a truly great one. PLEASE READ

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, from Riverhead

Everything Inside

A title can add a subterranean layer of suspense—when will we encounter it? what will it mean? how much heft will it insist upon?—or it can plainly get things moving. Over short stories like “Dosas,” “The Gift,” and “Hot-Air Balloons,” Edwidge Dandicat’s titles do both. 

The reference to the title of her new collection, Everything Inside, is to be found inside “Dosas,” the first story, on a defaced sticker on a door—and it feels like that when you read it, like the story is the opening door.

In that story, a young live-in nurse runs afoul of her dying patient’s daughter, who isn’t much impressed with her level of care, given all the phone calls the nurse is receiving—until the nurse gives in and explains that her ex-husband’s girlfriend has been kidnapped back in Port-au-Prince. 

Haiti feels like the heart or the mind or the guts of the book, whether the characters have made it to Miami or elsewhere. Haiti waits. 

Calling Danticat’s prose placid or calm or clear makes it sound, what, boring? So that’s not right. She has a way of calibrating emotion in a matter-of-fact way that somehow heightens the emotion. When the stories take wild turns—and they can, they do, one guy falls five hundred feet into a cement mixer—they nonetheless unfold with that prose I’m not describing well yet, with maybe implacable grace, like, This is what happens. This is what life is. It was only a matter of time. PLEASE READ


Everything Inside by Edwidge Danticat, from Knopf

Pretty Things

Claudine needs Pauline to come to Paris.

After years of trying to be famous, Claudine has decided to become a pop star. She knows she looks like a pop star, she walks down the street like a pop star—every part of her body, head to toe, screams pop star to the gaping people she passes, every part except her vocal cords.

It’s her twin sister, who renounces all oppressive standards of beauty and couldn’t imagine shaving her legs, who can actually sing.

Claudine and Pauline loathe each other, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help each other help themselves.

There’s a punky, grungy vibe to Virginie Despentes’s Pretty Things, published in France in the ’90s and recently translated for Feminist Press by Emma Ramadan.

The sisters need Claudine’s friend Nathan to pull off their little scam, Nathan who fancies himself a manager-type that can make everything happen. Pauline sees through him instantly, though that doesn’t mean he won’t be useful: When she calls him and asks him to come over after a pivotal moment past which no rational person would proceed, he agrees. “As she expected he would. As he will agree to all the rest. He’s that kind of guy, always incapable of doing the right thing, attracted to bad choices and fascinated by chaos. She understands perfectly what he’s like, what he can be used for.”

Part of the fun of this profane, campy-smart tale is in the twists, which are spoiled in even the most innocuous online summaries. (There’s just one line on the book cover itself: “A pulpy tale of mismatched twins struggling to embody the ‘perfect woman.’”)

Between the twists and trysts, Despentes has a lot to say about Pauline-as-Claudine stepping into femininity as drag, alternately aghast and moved by what she learns loping through the world in towering heels as her sister. PLEASE READ

Pretty Things by Virginie Despentes, translated by Emma Ramadan, from Feminist Press

Going Dutch

Adultery is difficult on a tiny island. No matter how many inhabitants flood the streets, the three of you are bound to find yourselves on the same street corner, staring. And then you must meet your fate, perhaps over the most excruciating brunch in all of space and time, considering, as you implode, who will pick up the check.

In James Gregor’s Going Dutch, Richard is pushing thirty in New York City, and the funding for his doctoral fellowship is in serious danger because for some time now he hasn’t actually been able to write anything. The dating apps don’t improve his life outside academia: Blake seems promising until he’s just another a one-night stand, an absence in Richard’s hand where messages should be.

Richard finds that shopping and eating with other people’s money seems to help, especially if the oft-swiped credit card belongs to Anne, who seems to have such a difficult dating life herself that she might be willing to overlook Richard’s quite transparent homosexuality. They’re both odd creatures, and they both like so many of the same things: medieval Italian literature, brunch, A.P.C. suede, alcohol, men.

Richard desperately wants love but he desperately needs money, and every moment of his social life is perched precariously over a river of questions: How much does this cost? Am I being treated? What kind of contract have I signed in exchange?

And when Anne’s help with his academic becomes far more than help—and Blake reemerges as maybe the ideal husband after all—the question of what Richard will keep doing for money becomes the question that will define whether love with either of them can possibly be on the table. PLEASE READ

Going Dutch by James Gregor, from Simon & Schuster


In the 2016 movie Arrival, Amy Adams plays a mourning linguist recruited by the government to establish communication with the taciturn aliens squidging around inside their stark floating eggs. Are they a global threat, or are they just kind of emo?

As she begins to understand their language, in which time is less nonlinear than irrelevant, her entire worldview shifts, and we realize her flashbacks involving the death of her daughter are actually flash-forwards—she is about to conceive that daughter with Jeremy Renner, and she goes through with it, all of it, even though she knows the heartbreak will come.

Time, man. It’s complicated.

The movie is based on “Story of Your Life,” a short story by Ted Chiang, whose new collection of nine stories, Exhalation, arrives 17 years after his last.

In the first story, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” time travel becomes possible through a hoop in the backroom of a Baghdad merchant’s shop, and a love affair loops back onto itself.

In the second, an alien being builds a contraption that allows it to methodically dissect its own brain, and the secrets it unearths spool back to the origins of the universe.

There’s a warm intellectual care to a Ted Chiang story—this is a man who spent five years poking around at linguistics before writing “Story of Your Life,” so he could make you cry over a story about linguistics.

His fans tend to wish only that he would work faster, produce more. I do, too, but not really. What a rare thing it is, lately, to anticipate. PLEASE READ

Exhalation by Ted Chiang, from Knopf

Stay Up With Hugo Best

After a decades-long run, Hugo Best’s late-night talk show gig is over, which means a certain era of American TV is over. It also means 29-year-old June Bloom—a writer’s assistant “so low totem I was subterranean”—is unemployed.

After the wrap party, she wanders out into the night to find a stage for some half-hearted standup. In the hall, after her stint, is Hugo Best. It’s Friday night. He invites her to his house for the weekend.

Hugo Best—her icon, and until a few hours ago, her boss’s boss.

Hugo Best—notoriously unfaithful to his ex-wife, notoriously caught with a girl he swears he didn’t realize was only sixteen. He is, June tells him, “problematic.”

Stay Up With Hugo Best, by Erin Somers, takes place over one long Memorial Day weekend that will test June’s fortitude, identity, and liver.

You might think you know the terms of their weekend together, and you might be right. But it’s more complicated than that. It seems true—first unspoken, then dragged into the light—that an interlude might be currency that Jane could cash out for career help. But the choice is also up to her. Does she want this? Does she want to be that kind of person? And how exactly would she spend this currency?

Is Hugo predatory or lonely, too far around the bend from normal life to find anyone but those who want something from him?

The weekend is full of unanticipated guest stars, from the house staff to a shock jock to Stay Up With Hugo Best’s longtime producer, Laura, who has some choice words for June.

And when June meets Hugo’s son, Spencer, they have their own strange subcurrent between them. Something else is in danger of happening here, amid the piles of unwashed clothes in his bedroom. Spencer is seventeen. June may be prey, or she may be a predator—or she may make it out of this drunken, funny, dark, melancholic weekend as someone else entirely. PLEASE READ

Stay Up With Hugo Best by Erin Somers, from Scribner

The New Me

Millie’s supervisor approaches her desk and asks to see the “welcome packets”—junk mailers—she’s been compiling. They walk to the copy room. The supervisor holds the papers and sighs. After Millie’s mind wanders through other recent office horrors, her focus returns to the present moment to realize: “She seems to be showing me how to use a paper clip.” Small part on the front, large part on the bottom.

The supervisor demonstrates. 

The right way and the wrong way. 

“Oh, okay, that makes sense,” Millie says.

“It’s a matter of style,” the supervisor says.

This excruciating interaction could be said to drag on for an impossibly long time except anyone who’s worked in an office has been trapped in airless, endless, desperate conversations just like this.

As Millie hangs on to her latest temp job, her inner monologues are so dense with murderous disgust at everyone around her, these coworkers straining their voices high to compliment each other so they don't tear each other apart, that it’s easy to wonder if Halle Butler’s The New Me, now out in paperback, will become the kind of office satire that racks up a body count—even  as we relate to everything Millie is going through.

The novel is mostly told in the first-person, and in the present tense, but in the windows between her live temp-to-perm excoriations, Butler shows us Millie’s blind spots.

Her mental health is slipping, her apartment is growing so squalid it’s basically fermenting, and she’s completely oblivious to the actual dynamic she shares with her only so-called friend, Sarah, who wants only to vent about her own life and career, and resents Millie’s complaints since Millie doesn’t seem to be trying very hard to build either thing for herself. And also, Millie’s parents cover her rent. Sarah can’t just walk out of offices she doesn’t like, as Millie has done, no matter what these jobs can do to a person’s soul. 

Millie’s twin struggles—will she pull it together? should she?—conclude with a happy-ending horror. PLEASE READ

The New Me by Halle Butler, from Penguin

The Nickel Boys

On the day Trump was spewing his latest racist bile (in this case directed toward Elijah Cummings and the city of Baltimore), I read these words, which open chapter six of Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys:

“The white boys bruised differently than the black boys and called it the Ice Cream Factory because you came out with bruises of every color. The black boys called it the White House because that was its official name and it fit and didn’t need to be embellished. The White House delivered the law and everybody obeyed.”

The book is fiction, but its setting, the Nickel Academy, is based on the Dozier School, a real state-run reform school for boys that operated in Florida for decades. In the novel as in reality, the White House was the little building on the grounds where the boys were horrifically abused. That one detail, Whitehead has said in interviews, he couldn’t bear to change.

The Nickel Boys follows Elwood, a thoughtful teenage boy in Jim Crow-era Florida. He listens closely to the words of Dr. King until he hitches a ride with the wrong guy and ends up at Nickel, where those words about loving your enemy quickly come to sound unfathomable. 

Some of the boys are there because of petty crimes, others are orphans with nowhere else to go. From the outside, Nickel looks lush and almost quaint. Inside, hundreds and hundreds of young lives are ruined before they might truly begin. The last third of this book is—well, friend of this email, I hope one day you and I can sit down together and talk about it. 

There are two graveyards at The Dozier School. One is filled with graves that were marked, the other is filled with graves that were not. This book adds grace to a country that is so often graceless. PLEASE READ 

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, from Doubleday

American Spy

Marie’s bully finds her at the local pool and shoves her under the water, holding her down until Marie’s sister finds the bully.

After that day at the pool, something strange happens—her sister befriends the bully. They have sleepovers together, they wander the streets of Queens. Until one day when her sister beats up the bully, seemingly for no reason at all.

“What happened? What did she do?” Marie says.

“Nothing recently,” her sister replies. “She tried to drown you though.”

Marie says she thought they had become friends, which her sister finds amusing. “No, I was practicing something. Spies have to get close to people, then turn on them.”

This is American Spy, Lauren Wilkinson's debut novel.

In 1986, Marie Mitchell is all grown up, a young black intelligence officer who isn’t getting promoted by the mediocre white men at the FBI. She ends up on a mission she might not have accepted in different circumstances—a mission to Africa, a mission that relies on her ability to be attractive for a man, to seduce a man, a man who is the Communist president of Burkina Faso.

Marie’s sister is dead, and someone is after Marie. She writes down her story while she can, so her sons will know, if anything happens to her, who their mother was and who she wanted to be. They will know what happened.

Also, there’s a dog named Poochini, so I mean, what are you going to do, not enjoy this book? PLEASE READ

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson, from Random House'

Certain American States

The first sentence of the first story in Catherine Lacey’s first collection of short fiction, Certain American States, is 547 words long. (Actually, 548—but this sentence is so epic that nobody caught a missing word before printing. Whoops. The paperback, in which the sentence, I imagine, will be its full self, is due on August 13.)

Anyway, that sentence in “Violations” starts with a neurotic man’s fear that his ex-wife will write about him—but to ask her not to do so would set off a lecture, which would require a rebuttal, which would require her rebuttal, and before long there will be nothing to be done except for her to question the very nature of the self as an essentially static and knowable thing, and if it’s not, which it doesn't seem to be, because he has been truly awful to her (which she had not seen coming), then how could she possibly write about him, since clearly she had never known him at all?

A sentence in the next story, “ur heck box,” ends this way: “…(or maybe it was just the heedlessness I’d felt since Rae died, that impulse I had to move toward chaos before it could surprise me))).)”

The characters in these stories have a lot to figure out, but their efforts at introspection feel less like scaling a grand peak of revelation than falling down a well. PLEASE READ

Certain American States by Catherine Lacey, from FSG

If You See Me, Don't Say Hi

A young interior designer is nervous about her date with an engineer. She drinks some wine while getting ready, and a cocky cable guy arrives to fix her wifi—she’s so late for her date. Too late, turns out. Her date waited, but not quite long enough.

When she returns home, she realizes the cable guy left his tool belt behind. It’s very late now, but she calls him anyway. He comes over.

A young blond guy meets a 45-year-old Indian man, Ashwin, at the Babylon nightclub. The blond guy is in a tank top and jeans. Ashwin wears a pink ascot and fancy shoes. They meet in a restaurant on the outskirts of town, they meet in motel rooms. The young man asks Ashwin if he has a boyfriend. Ashwin says he has a wife. But that’s not Ashwin’s secret. 

In Neel Patel’s first collection of short stories, If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi—just out in paperback—queer and/or Indian-American characters make choices they regret, and then they hurtle forward in time to meet their consequences. Or to find there are none. They may find cathartic reunions, or they may find they’re not remembered at all.

Samir takes an Urban Groove dance class to get out of gym. He just wants to move to Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time”—until Jordan shows up. Jordan from school, who seems seductively oblivious until he kisses Samir like the thought just occurred to him. Meanwhile, Samir’s father disappears, and reappears, as does his father’s mistress, Lisa. 

Two brothers come completely, completely apart. One says seven words to the other. The titular words. PLEASE READ

If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi by Neel Patel, from Flatiron Books

The Great Believers

Yale Tishman needs to go upstairs for a minute to pull himself together. He’s at the wake slash house party for his friend Nico, his latest friend to die—it’s 1985, and AIDS is decimating the Boystown area of Chicago. When Yale returns downstairs, everyone is gone. All his friends are gone.

In 2015, in Paris, Nico’s loyal sister Fiona, a mother now, meets the detective she has hired to help her find her adult daughter, whom she hasn’t seen in years.

In Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers, now out in paperback, the relationship between the two refracting storylines—AIDS circling in on Yale, Fiona circling in on her daughter—quickly becomes clear, then deepens, then blurs when reader eyeballs get wet and can’t see the pages.

There exists an alternate universe in which this novel—written by a straight woman (as Makkai addresses in the acknowledgements) with a plot that funnels the story of the gay men down through time and into the story, years later, of another straight woman—lands with a woo, the literary equivalent of a bachelorette party at a gay bar. We live over here, though, in the universe housing an elegant, well-researched story about the wide-ranging effects of cataclysmic destruction for the men, yes, and also for their unheralded caretakers like Fiona. PLEASE READ

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, from Viking

Fleishman Is in Trouble

A writer sits in Gwyneth Paltrow’s upsetting, perfect kitchen. Gwyneth is preparing an upsettingly perfect dinner, while—upsettingly, perfectly—sipping some whiskey.

That writer is Taffy Brodesser-Akner, who wrote for GQ before moving on to The New York Times, where she writes brilliant, funny, thoughtful profiles—Paltrow, Bradley Cooper, Melissa McCarthy—that singe the tired edges of the profile format and then set the internet ablaze.

When I heard her first novel, Fleishman Is in Trouble, was about a rich Manhattan guy, a newly divorced doctor learning to meet randy women on dating apps, I remember feeling disappointed that her chosen subject matter wasn’t somehow deeper or richer. Which, of course, it is.

As Toby Fleishman rages (and rages) at his ex-wife, Rachel, who drops the kids at his place under cover of night and then promptly disappears, his tale, we soon learn, is narrated not by an omniscient author but by Toby’s old college friend Libby, and she…has written profiles for a prominent men’s magazine. And experience has taught her that one tricky, effective way to write about women—to write about herself—is to write about a man.

“He wondered if there was a version of this story in which he was the villain,” she narrates early on, between Toby’s screeds. “He wondered if Rachel was sitting in some ashram somewhere telling anyone who would listen what a victim she was.”

First Toby lets his guard down and lets in an insight, then reshapes the thought into another insult and his screed continues—it’s a pattern. But Libby keeps watch on his story, shining light into its dark corners. PLEASE READ

Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, from Random House


Two Albanian boys run down the street with plastic bags. They can’t stay in their lives, can’t stay in their country as it lurches out of communism, so they run away from home. Together. They’ll be together forever. Bujar doesn’t have many clothes, or any money. Agim stole his dad’s money, and has packed many, many more clothes—he needed some of his mom’s and sister’s, too.

Pajtim Statovci’s beautiful new novel, Crossing, is emblazoned with a crest of eagles entwined around a human face who looks to be passing from one plane to another.

Friendship and love, truth and fiction, violence and fallout, present and past, man and woman—each two states share borders to be crossed. And we will be told wild old stories of animals, of eagles, fluttering through the pages, soaring. PLEASE READ

Crossing by Pajtim Statovci, translated by David Hackston, from Pantheon

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

Little Dog writes a letter to his mother who cannot read. 

The letter is On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeousthe first novel from poet Ocean Vuong.

The letter is about where they’ve come from—Vietnam, violence, poverty—and who he is becoming. He has lain between his mother and his grandmother under a purple sky, and he has lain in a barn under drying tobacco leaves with a boy named Trevor. He has helped his mother in the pungent nail salon, and he has come out to her inside a Dunkin’ Donuts. And she has replied, “Now I have something to tell you.”

There’s no traditional plot here, no jewel heist, no murder mystery uprooting Hartford, Connecticut—just the mystery of a long, looping life. Justin Torres wrote that this book “pays attention not to what our thoughts make us feel, but to what our feelings make us think.” 

And maybe one day, in another body, Little Dog thinks, his mother will find this book on a shelf. And she will open it. PLEASE READ

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, from Penguin

A Lucky Man

“I’m ready to talk about it if you are,” a man says to his brother, “and if you’re ready to hear it.”

They may or may not ever talk about their past, about the secrets that drove them apart, but tonight they will step into the circle, bow their heads, and reach for one another in a grapple that is also a dance.

In A Lucky Man, Jamel Brinkley’s short-story collection now out in paperback, it’s easier for a man to inflict new wounds than to examine old ones.

My favorite story is the last one, “Clifton’s Place,” about a regular in a Bed-Stuy bar whose increasingly white customers reflect the gentrifying neighborhood. The bar is named by its owner, Sadie, after a man she hoped would return to her. Her mind has deteriorated as the neighborhood has changed, and Ellis could bring her solace or unspool her. PLEASE READ

A Lucky Man by Jamel Brinkley, from Graywolf

The Unpassing

A beached whale waits for its fortune to change. Gavin’s mother brings him close. She pushes on the whale, trying to help. It does not move.

The Challenger explodes. A tree falls, but not all the way. A sister disappears, a sealed attic fills with loud life, a slick of mud churns and pulls strong legs down into the earth. Strange lights streak across the sky.

In Chia-Chia Lin’s new novel The Unpassing, the outside world is a bizarre and threatening place. So is Gavin’s cold, narrow house, filled with boxes of junk. 

Gavin is ten, and his family of six, then five, is Taiwanese. Somehow they’ve ended up in a swab of wintry Alaska, muted and sparse. We see his impoverished life like Gavin saw it then—his mother’s swerving fury, his father’s withdrawn guilt, his neighbor’s unimaginably stocked dinner table—and we understand connections he didn’t yet fathom. He is living through the pivot of his family’s history, but he doesn’t know it yet. 

The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin, from FSG

Speak No Evil

“Everything is always life threatening,” Meredith tells Niru.

She means to be dismissive toward the weatherwoman on her television, the D.C. snowstorm outside. It’s just a storm. The storm passes. Ahead lies spring, track meets, graduation, Harvard, destiny.

But Niru has finally admitted to himself, and to Meredith, that he is probably gay, a fact that will not be accepted by his conservative Nigerian parents but remains inconveniently true. Meredith disappears in the dark house.

In Uzodinma Iweala’s novel Speak No Evil, now out in paperback, the storm’s effects are not immediate—spring arrives, and the track meets—but they are catastrophic.

Meredith tries to nudge Niru into dating by installing Tinder and Grindr into his phone, but he chickens out on coffee, and his father sees some notifications on his phone—then opens the browsing history on Niru’s computer. After Niru’s father splits his lip, they board a plane back to Nigeria, where a bishop at a lawn table will initiate a vigil. Niru must purge his sinful thoughts. 

But this is only part of the story of Niru and Meredith. Part One is titled “Niru.” Part Two is titled “Meredith.” PLEASE READ

Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala, from Harper Perennial