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The Lost Man

Jane Harper. Flatiron, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-10568-4

Australia’s outback, with its brutal climate and equally bruising isolation, looms as large as any character in this stark standalone from bestseller Harper (Force of Nature). For years, the three Bright brothers—divorced dad Nathan, the eldest; family man and everybody’s favorite, middle child Cameron; and the mentally challenged youngest, Bub—have maintained an uneasy equilibrium on adjacent cattle ranches. That flies out the window the week before Christmas when Cameron goes missing; his desiccated corpse is subsequently discovered a few miles from his perfectly operational truck in the shadow of the eerie headstone known as the stockman’s grave. Absent any clear indications of foul play, the local authorities undertake a perfunctory investigation, leaving a troubled Nathan to start asking questions that no one wants to answer. In the grim journey that follows, the surviving members of the Bright family must confront some devastating secrets. Harper’s sinewy prose and flinty characters compel, but the dreary story line may cause some readers to give up before the jaw-dropping denouement. Author tour. Agent: Daniel Lazar, Writers House. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A Spy in Exile

Jonathan de Shalit, trans. from the Hebrew by Steve Cohen. Atria/Bestler, $27 (384p) ISBN 978-1-5011-7056-0

On orders from the Israeli prime minister, former Mossad agent Ya’ara Stein, the heroine of this middling spy thriller from the pseudonymous de Shalit (Traitor), assembles a crew of promising amateurs to form a secret strike team. Ya’ara believes that newbies will be effective, because they won’t fall into the predictable routines that come from the training of experienced spooks. After a few practice runs on low-stakes missions in Germany, the team steps into the big leagues with a plan to assassinate two Muslim radicals, one in London, the other in Brussels. Aided by Ya’ara’s chief recruiter, Amnon Aslan, the team carries out the two hits with stunning alacrity. Another mission, however, never materializes, and the rest of the story focuses on Ya’ara rebuilding past relationships and hand-wringing about her career and personal life. In between some exciting moments, readers will find themselves waiting around for something to happen. Those expecting to glean much inside knowledge of espionage from de Shalit, “a former high-ranking member of the Israeli Intelligence Community,” will be disappointed. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Killer Collective

Barry Eisler. Thomas & Mercer, $24.95 (416p) ISBN 978-1-5039-0426-2

In this crackling-good thriller from bestseller Eisler (The Night Trade), Seattle PD sex crimes detective Livia Lone, assassin John Rain, and former Marine sniper Dox form a testy alliance to combat a vile conspiracy involving corrupt and toxic government agencies. When Livia survives an assassination attempt while investigating an international child pornography ring, she learns that those behind the hit may work for the FBI. Livia recruits Dox, her partner from The Night Trade, to aid and abet her. Meanwhile, Rain—who originally was offered the hit on Livia—must come out of retirement to assemble a world-class team of black ops all-stars to battle a parallel threat. Persuasive action sequences lead to the merging of the two forces midway through the story. The feisty interplay among these killer elites is as irresistible as if one combined the Justice League with the Avengers, swapping out the superhero uniforms for cutting-edge weaponry and scintillating spycraft. By the satisfying conclusion, the world has been scrubbed a bit cleaner of perfidy. This is delightfully brutal fun. Agent: Laura Rennert, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Article 353

Tanguy Viel, trans. from the French by William Rodarmor. Other Press, $15.99 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-59051-933-2

Martial Kremeur, the narrator of this beguiling noir from French author Viel (Beyond Suspicion), isn’t surprised when the police arrest him a few hours after heaving Antoine Lazenac out of Lazenac’s fishing boat and leaving the man to drown miles off the Brittany coast. What follows is Kremeur’s explanation for his crime to the judge presiding over his case. Kremeur, a laid-off shipwright employed as a groundskeeper at a rundown château, gradually reveals how he got conned into investing all his cash in an ocean-view apartment in a building complex that Lazenac, a slick property developer, was promising to construct on the site of the château. After six years, Kremeur realizes that Lazenac has no intention of doing anything. Meanwhile, Kremeur’s 17-year-old son is feeling the strain his father is under and acts out. Arresting metaphors enliven the spare prose (when Kremeur signs the papers sealing the real estate deal, “it felt like I’d had the Shroud of Turin authenticated by Christ in person”). Viel should win new American fans with this elegant effort. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Things That Go

Laura Eve Engel. Octopus, $16.95 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-0-9861811-8-4

Engel traces intricacies and inaccuracies of memory in her nimble, philosophical debut. Shades of difference and nuance of feeling, as well as the vast chasms that can exist between two people, feature as prominent themes. In “The Field You Weren’t,” Engel astutely draws a line between fantasy and reality, noting the temptation to look back on a relationship with rose-colored glasses when the desire to reminisce “sits/ like a magnet sits nearby another magnet trembling.” Meanwhile, she amusingly describes falling in love as “Like finally finding inside a haystack/ there’s a more beautiful/ haystack.” Weather patterns and trains are constant touchstones, as when Engel describes how “A girl may not be meant/ to think of her mouth/ as a smokestack but insists// are you sure we’re still moving is a feeling/ and that feeling chuffs like a train/ until delay.” In a series interspersed across the collection, Engel speaks for Lot’s wife, capturing the plaintive voice of one rendered inert for eternity: “what will grow up/ around me will certainly/ die or else learn/ to live by my salt.” Recording and examining the minutia of emotional response, Engel offers moments of deep insight and quiet revelation that should prove relatable to anyone overwhelmed or mystified by their own wild feelings. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Pungent dins concentric

Vanessa Couto Johnson. Tolsun, $14.95 trade paper (82p) ISBN 978-1-948800-06-8

From its synaesthetic title to its closing poem, this complex debut from Johnson shows that surrealism remains alive and swell. The Brazilian-born Texan poet offers a new manifesto—“No need to order, but a desire to, with take out”—and regales readers with puns (“Hippocratic oaf”; “I skid you not”) as well as vertiginous shifts of voice, tone, and register. Postmodern juxtapositions (“Captain Kirk with Plato’s stepchildren”; “A baby in line for a burrito”) and copious parentheticals—”(sp)rang,” “c(lock),” “peri(met)er”—announce that neither rhyme nor reason need apply. Johnson also tells narrative and lyric conventions to take a hike: “We watch Canadian cultists sleeveless undershirted ski-masking with machetes in a forest chasing the coated.” At such moments, one may think of Wallace Stevens’s critique of surrealism, that it invents without discovering. And yet, the charge of frivolity does not stick here. A skin-shedding lizard may be both this book’s totem and a symbolic figure for the reader; when the speaker imagines rearranging a pet gecko’s tank, “She soundlessly scrapes the glass to learn new vertices.” “Walls are made to be stroked,” Johnson reminds readers, as those surfaces are but another locus of bewilderment and discovery: “Laugh until full, until body itself is a world.” (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Lord of the Butterflies

Andrea Gibson. Button, $16 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-943735-42-6

Propelled by all that is raw, heartfelt, and confessional, this fifth collection from Gibson (Take Me With You) is a tour de force of performance poetry. Gibson is a natural storyteller and delivers with gumption, whether narrating a visit to an ex-lover’s new ivy-coated apartment or digitally editing a sister’s mug shot. Recounting the Orlando nightclub shooting, where first responders “walked through the horrific scene/ of bodies and called out,/ If you are alive, raise your hand,” Gibson’s speaker recalls being in bed hundreds of miles away, imagining that “in that exact moment/ my hand twitched in my sleep,/ some unconscious part of me aware/ that I had a pulse,/ that I was alive.” The book’s subject matter ranges widely, with Gibson delivering a tongue-in-cheek ode to public panic attacks (“You found me at Disney World,/ in line for The Little Mermaid/ Slow Moving Clam Ride”) between tackling Tinder dating and gun violence, and confronting issues that affect the greater LGBTQ community. Despite Gibson’s storytelling prowess, some of these poems feel a little too familiar while simultaneously falling flat on the page. Though this work lacks the vivacity of Gibson’s stage presence and live performance, the book is notable for its energy and diverse array of voice-driven poems. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Fire Season

Patrick Coleman. Tupelo, $16.95 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-946482-15-0

“Every morning I drive past wild horses on the way to work,” writes Coleman in a superb debut composed via audio recording during his commute to and from his job at the San Diego Museum of Art. The book features a rich mix of ekphrastic, landscape, and self-reflective prose poems. “I need distance, loss, or its possibility; I need the world to cede to mind and memory,” Coleman writes; this sentiment runs through the collection and complements his interest in the movement of thought through conversation and wordplay. Throughout, he muses and observes in understated lines: “Can it be childlike when it comes from a child? But childish isn’t right either.” Each poem is paired in loose conversation with a color image of a painting or sculpture from the San Diego Museum of Art. This added visual dimension expands each poem’s universe, created as they were in small pockets of time between the attentions of new fatherhood and work meetings and against the backdrop of California wildfires that smolder on the horizon. “I think of my wife and daughter, at home now, waiting for me only five minutes away, and how all distances are now measured as time.” Coleman artfully captures the transcendent moments within a busy life when “unfocused desires squeeze through the seams.” (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Twenty-Ninth Year

Hala Alyan. Mariner, $15.99 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-328-51194-2

The past never truly dies in this searing fourth collection from Alyan (Salt Houses), it merely resurfaces in the form of battle scars and familial wounds. The Palestinian-American poet, novelist, and clinical psychologist weaves an ever-shifting narrative that chronicles the personal history that shapes and informs her present. These kaleidoscopic flashes of former lives share the feeling and act of displacement, the way in which the body can store the mental, emotional and psychological traumas long after the inciting events have transpired. “We inherit everything. Especially questions,” Alyan writes in “The Honest Wife.” Throughout her work the theme of displacement elicits more than emotion; it’s a recurring memory. In “Aleppo,” Alyan describes “how a lone bomb can erase a lineage: the nicknames for your mother, the ghost stories, the only song that put your child to sleep.” People do not merely inherit memories, they also inherit the accompanying pain; the book’s prevalence of couplets may attest to this kind of pairing. In “Armadillo,” where Alyan recounts family memories, she asks and answers, “What do we do with heartache? Tow it.” The inheritance of displacement is pervasive, as Alyan describes, and her lines are prone to linger in the minds of readers just like the ghosts that haunt the work itself. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Only as the Day is Long: New and Selected Poems

Dorianne Laux. Norton, $26.95 (128p) ISBN 978-0-393-65233-8

Featuring selections from five books augmented by 20 new poems, this generous volume from Laux (The Book of Men) reads something like a life story: notably, one that begins with familial fear, incest, and abuse. Travelling through confusion, adult sex, motherhood, love, fatigue, and redemption, Laux ends where she begins: with her mother, who is, to the last, a troublesome nurse. In spite of everything, the poet can’t help but celebrate the self’s mistakes and triumphs. When Laux welcomes readers into a personal moment, she speaks for humankind: “We’ve forgotten the luxury of dumbness,/ how once we crouched naked on an outcrop/ of rock, the moon huge and untouched/ above us, speechless.” Concrete places abound: bedroom, trailer, hospital psychiatric ward, a porch. There is a lot of sex; for example, “Vacation Sex,” an aroused version of a travel tour, revels in its own obsessive pleasure. Some of the best poems here appear toward the chronologically organized collection’s end, where humor arrives despite a mother’s growing dementia. And in the long biographical poem “Arizona,” Laux writes lovingly of that same mother’s face as “a map of every place she’d been.” This is a catalogue of honest work, from beginning to end. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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