cover image Savage Tongues

Savage Tongues

Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24 (288p) ISBN 978-0-3583-1506-3

The narrator of Whiting Award–winner Oloomi’s uneven cerebral latest (after Call Me Zebra) reconsiders a relationship she had as a teenager with an older man. Writer Arezu returns from the U.S. to an apartment in Marbella, Spain, where she lived 20 years earlier, when she was 17. During that “strange, wild summer,” she had an all-consuming sexual relationship with the 40-year-old Omar, whom she describes as “my lover, my torturer, my confidant and enemy.” Her best friend, Ellie, flies in to help Arezu process her emotions (as with the friends’ past “recovery journeys,” the pair seek to “reverse the language-destroying effects of unbearable pain”). The plot mostly stays put—Arezu swims, the women go out at night, Ellie does a tarot reading—with the narrative focused on Arezu’s inner turmoil. While her self-analysis effectively conveys her anguish and Omar’s manipulation and emotional abuse, the prose is often stilted (“The injustices he’d assailed against me... could not be contained in a single temporal dimension”). Musings on Middle Eastern politics, including a trip to Israel and occupied Palestine with Ellie, add insight, but in the end, the weighty themes are sunk by portentous delivery. Readers can take a pass. Agent: Molly Atlas, ICM Partners. (Aug.)