cover image The New Naturals

The New Naturals

Gabriel Bump. Algonquin, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-1-61620-880-6

Bump (Everywhere You Don’t Belong) delivers a wry and astonishing sophomore novel centered on a pair of Black academics who flee their posts at a Boston liberal arts college to establish a utopia of sorts in western Massachusetts. Rio and Gibraltar both teach “Black people to white children,” until Rio, pregnant and weary of campus racism, starts obsessively marking a global map with X’s where such grim events as police killings, violent protests, and immigration crackdowns have occurred. “Tell me what you need,” Gibraltar asks her; “Get me the fuck out of Boston,” Rio replies. The pair secure an unnamed, wealthy benefactor searching for something “world-changing,” and in a year’s time, the subterranean utopia dubbed the New Naturals is carved into a mountain, with state-of-the-art classrooms, laboratories, a garden, and filtered air. Those drawn to the facility, including a young journalist in existential crisis and a former college soccer player, now broken and angry, are all searching for clean, safe living in a world on fire. Meanwhile, the utopia’s growing pains spark tensions with the surrounding community that threaten its survival. Brisk dialogue and flashes of mordant humor pay off, and Bump cannily grapples with such issues as gentrification, microaggressions, and environmental racism. This is a scalding study in human nature. (Nov.)