cover image Self-Portrait with Nothing

Self-Portrait with Nothing

Aimee Pokwatka. Tordotcom, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-82084-6

Pokwatka’s speculative debut straddles the line between sci-fi thriller and literary fiction. Enigmatic painter Ula Frost is missing and the only clues to her disappearance are the portraits she left behind, which are said to manifest an alternate version of the sitter from their universe into this one, often with tragic consequences. Forensic anthropologist Pepper Rafferty was abandoned on a doorstep as a baby and the consequences of that moment echo into Pepper’s present day: she’s “so terrified she’d inherited an instinct to abandon people that she tried to make them abandon her first.” After Pepper mysteriously inherits property from Ula, she follows the painter’s trail first to London and then Wrocław, Poland. Unlike most stories incorporating Many Worlds theory, Pokwatka focuses not on exploration or the mechanics of branching universes but on the emotional ramifications; Pepper spends much of the novel wondering about alternate, “better” versions of herself. But as she delves deeper into Ula’s disappearance and discovers a world of art heists and shady millionaires, Pepper learns to embrace her imperfections. The result is a deeply felt, introspective meditation on motherhood and the nature of the self. (Oct.)