cover image Everything Under

Everything Under

Daisy Johnson. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-1-55597-826-6

Johnson’s harrowing, singular first novel (following the story collection Fen) retells the myth of Oedipus Rex, putting a modern spin on a familiar tale. Gretel, a lexicographer in her early 30s, has finally been reunited with her mother, Sarah, after a long search. Sarah, now suffering from dementia, is far from the woman who left Gretel to the foster care system 16 years ago. Gretel’s childhood prior to that had been carefree but insular, spent primarily with Sarah—“a wildish girl and her wilder mother”—on a houseboat in the canals of Oxford, where they spoke in a private language and were stalked by the Bonak, a monster that lived in the river by their home and represented, as Gretel defined it, “what we are afraid of.” For a time, they’d been joined on the houseboat by a transgender boy named Marcus who had left the only home he’d ever known to escape a prophecy, crafting a new identity in the process. As secrets are uncovered (such as the truth of the prophecy that compelled Marcus to flee his home) and the consequences of past decisions reverberate into the present (such as the choice Sarah makes regarding her first pregnancy, before Gretel), Gretel realizes how close the Bonak they feared has been all along. This story about motherhood and self-determination is a stunning fever dream of a novel. (Oct.)