ANOTHER BROOKLYN captures adolescent friendship and coming of age in pristine prose-poetry

Another Brooklyn cover   Jacqueline Woodson AP tlc-tour-host

Another Brooklyn

By Jacqueline Woodson

Amistad/HarperCollins Publishers: Aug. 9, 2016

$22.99, 175 pages


Jacqueline Woodson is a legend in the YA literature world, with a long list of novels that have won every major YA and children’s literature award. Her last novel, Brown Girl Dreaming, won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2014. She has distinguished herself by respecting her readers’ intelligence and maturity, addressing issues like race and class, domestic abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, gender issues, and adolescent sexuality.

After 20 years, Woodson has written a novel for adults. And while Another Brooklyn retains her trademark concerns and powerful prose style, it digs deeper, pulls fewer punches, and features an adult protagonist looking back at her formative years.

When 35-year-old August returns to Brooklyn for her father’s funeral and to sort through his apartment, she has a brief encounter with an old friend on the subway. This launches her into an exploration of her early years in Brooklyn and the power of memory. It’s a useful framing device that carries readers into August’s life story and allows her both to describe her experiences and comment on them with the benefit of 20 years.

When August’s mother descends from depression into despair and serious mental illness her brother Clyde is killed in the Vietnam War, her father decides to flee their home in rural Tennessee and take August and her younger brother back to his hometown of Brooklyn. It is 1973 and August is 8; her brother is four. She doesn’t understand the nature of her mother’s condition and tells herself and her brother that their mother will be coming “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.” It is an ominous allusion.

Having landed in a dangerous new urban world, August and her brother are kept in the apartment by her father. They are on the inside looking out at the neighborhood and its denizens. August’s eye is caught by three seemingly inseparable girls. In her dreamy mind, they are like the Three Musketeers without D’Artagnan.

“Before they were mine,” August tells us, “I stared at their necks, watched their perfect hands close around jump ropes and handballs, saw their brightly polished nails. . . I watched them, wanting to have what they had. . . But as I watched Sylvia, Angela, and Gigi walk past our window, I was struck with something deeply unfamiliar–a longing to be part of who they were, to link my own arm with theirs and remain that way. Forever.”

In time she meets and is adopted by the trio, who decide August needs to be rescued because, among other things, she has no mother. Sylvia came to Brooklyn the previous year from Martinique, speaking French; she has lost the language but retained an accent. Her parents are intellectuals who want her to become a lawyer. Gigi, from South Carolina, is dark-skinned, with Chinese and mulatto ancestry, and wants to be not just an actress but a movie star. The light-skinned, melancholy Angela dreams of being a dancer.

Woodson  places us inside August’s mind as their circle of friendship and love develops in their pre-teen and teen years. Naive, sheltered August soon learns that Brooklyn is an often desperate place, with varying levels of poverty, wandering hallucinatory junkies, and verbally and physically abusive boys and men seemingly around every corner and in every dark stairwell.

“We had blades inside our kneesocks and were growing our nails long. We were learning to walk the Brooklyn streets as though we had always belonged to them–our voices loud, our laughter even louder. But Brooklyn had longer nails and sharper blades. Any strung out soldier or ashy-kneed, hungry child could have told us this.”

The girls share everything: their dreams, their frustrations, their fears, their family difficulties, their crushes on boys. They encourage each other with their words and physical affection ranging from hugs to braiding each other’s hair. The challenges of “adults promising us their own failed futures.” Temptation is everywhere, from junk food and cigarettes to drugs and boys with a lupine look in their eyes.

As they begin the transition to adolescence, August explains, “We tried to hold on. We played double Dutch and jacks. We chased the ice cream truck down the block, waving our change-filled fists. We frog-jumped over tree stumps, pulled each other into gushing fire hydrants, learned to dance the Loose Booty to Sly and the Family Stone, hustled to Van McCoy. We bought t-shirts with our names and zodiac signs in iron-on letters. But still, as we slipped deeper into twelve our breasts and butts grew. Our legs got long. Something about the curve of our lips and the sway of our heads suggested more to strangers than we understood. And then we were heading toward thirteen, walking our neighborhood as if we owned it. Don’t even look at us, we said to the boys, our palms up in front of our faces. Look away look away look away!

Woodson captures the 1970s and sense of place with exactitude. I was 14 in 1973 and I grew up 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles, but I know these girls; Woodson’s detailed descriptions of the adolescent life at that time ring true.

More importantly, Woodson captures the deep adolescent yearning to become. . . something, someone, and the sense of being lost at sea in the act of trying to create oneself. August never quite grasps that her mother’s absence is permanent, and her ghost haunts her youth and this novel. And there is a sense of foreboding about the girls’ relationship, set off by the adult August’s uncomfortable and purposely brief encounter with Sylvia at the start of the book. There are a thousand things that can cause teenage relationships to go awry and only a handful that hold them together into adulthood with its manifold changes.

August finds a way to navigate through high school and into college and a career, both of which were beyond the younger August’s capability to dream. She becomes someone she never envisioned but seems in many senses to have been destined for. Returning to “another Brooklyn” twenty years later, at age 35, doesn’t quite bring her or the story full circle, for life is not quite that neat and Woodson not that superficial a storyteller.

Like Brown Girl Dreaming, which is written in verse form, Another Brooklyn is as impressionistic as memory; the narrative moves back and forth in time and place through August’s stream of consciousness. Ann Patchett correctly describes Another Brooklyn as “a sort of fever dream.” Woodson’s writing is prose-poetry of the highest order; it begs to be read repeatedly, and aloud. Woodson told NPR’s Lynn Neary in a recent interview that her words have to look and sound a certain way. “I love playing with form, I love playing with sounds,” Woodson said. “I love music and I love writing that has musicality to it. The book does have this kind of jazzy feel to me.”

With Another Brooklyn, Woodson has given us a much-needed look into the lives of four young black girls in 1970s Brooklyn that is universal in its message and appeal. This white, 50-something man who grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles found it a deeply affecting read. I suspect that, like its YA predecessors, it will soon be considered a contemporary classic among coming-of-age novels.


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You can find the other reviews in the Another Brooklyn blog tour at the following blogs:

Tuesday, August 9th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Wednesday, August 10th: I’d Rather Be At The Beach
Thursday, August 11th: 5 Minutes For Books
Friday, August 12th: Books Without Any Pictures
Monday, August 15th: Helen’s Book Blog
Tuesday, August 16th: Sarah Reads Too Much
Wednesday, August 17th: Lit and Life
Thursday, August 18th: Staircase Wit
Friday, August 19th: A Soccer Mom’s Book Blog
Monday, August 22nd: As I Turn the Pages
Wednesday, August 24th: A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, August 25th: Olduvai Reads
Monday, August 29th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, August 30th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Wednesday, August 31st: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
Thursday, September 1st: Ageless Pages Reviews
Friday, September 2nd: Life By Kristen
Saturday, September 3rd: The Book Diva’s Reads
Monday, September 5th: Starting Fresh

L.E. Kimball’s SEASONAL ROADS takes readers into the hidden world of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Seasonal Roads

By Lisa Lenzo


Seasonal Roads: Stories

By L.E. Kimball

Wayne State University Press: April 1, 2016

256 pages, $18.99

 

Seasonal Roads is L.E. Kimball’s impressive new book of stories. The title refers to roads that are unplowed and therefore unpassable in winter. Kimball guides you down some of these roads in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – into cabins, forests, and rivers, and into the lives of three women.

I fell in love with these three female characters. In the opening scene, Aissa is steeling herself with alcohol in order to shoot her dead mother’s sick dog. Watching Aissa take aim is her daughter, Jane, ten years old and delicate-seeming but actually clear-eyed and tough. When Aissa’s first shot hits the dog, but misses its heart, Jane tells her mother, “Shoot her again, Mom.”

And then there is Norna, Aissa’s mother and Jane’s grandmother. She’s perhaps the most rugged of these women. Although Norna loves the kind couple who found her in a dump as a baby and brought her home, she is tied more closely to the sun, moon, earth, and rain, which served as her first parents when she lay abandoned on the ground.

This is Hemingway country, inhabited by women. Norna’s cabin is on the river Hemingway reinvents as the “the Big Two-hearted” in his fiction, but which Kimball and her characters call by its true name, The Little Two-hearted River. As the disparity in these names implies, Kimball’s women are as courageous and conflicted as Hemingway’s men. But the women’s bravery involves less braggadocio.

These women hunt, trap, and fish as skillfully as men. They cook trout and venison, rabbit and grouse. They sleep in wigwams and cabins and cheap motels. These women make love on air mattresses and hard beds … on sand, dirt, and rocks. And they challenge and bedevil the men in their lives. In “Deadfall,” Norna ties up Sam, her Indian lover, because she suspects he has a twin and they are taking turns with her. In the collection’s title story, while Aissa is gathering her courage to shoot her mother’s dog, she holds sips of beer in her mouth, hoping to rot her teeth and thereby aggravate her downstate, dentist husband.

Despite their strength and toughness, Kimball’s women are vulnerable. In the story “To Give Thanks,” 12-year-old Aissa is so upset by her mother’s attempts to turn her into a hunter that she vomits. In a separate scene, Norna feels so anguished and alone that she stifles her own howls with her fists. And in “The Things They Ate,” the darkest and most chilling of these tales, one of Kimball’s women is the fatal victim of a psychopath.

But not every story in this collection is stark or serious. There is also humor and absurdity. In “Spinner Falls,” as Aissa acts out her mild (yet no-less-sweet) revenge upon her deceitful husband, I felt the same wicked smile stretching my face as when I read Margaret Atwood’s stories of gender-based retribution.

These 14, inter-linked stories are arranged in non-linear fashion, shifting between past, present, and future, which the prescient Jane sees flashes of and calls “alternate realities” and “migrations.” Rather than coming off as new-age-y, Jane’s visions seem to fit with the ancient and mysterious power of Michigan’s northern wilderness.

By the time we reach the culminating story of Seasonal Roads – and I do suggest, despite their roaming nature, that you read these stories in order – Aissa has discovered that she is more similar than not to her brave daughter and her rugged mother, whom she strives to understand but never fully does. Like them, Aissa realizes it is here in the north, in the U. P., where she belongs. We leave this tale with Aissa and her red-haired lover fishing without end, hoping to land the monster brook trout they once saw up close and almost caught. This lovely story, and this inspired collection, reach a conclusion that is both satisfying and uplifting, with these two hopeful humans forever hip-deep in the fiercely-cold but life-giving waters of the Little Two-Hearted River.


Lisa Lenzo is the author of two award-winning collections of short fiction. Her latest book, Strange Love, was the recipient of a Michigan Notable Book Award for 2015. She lives in Saugatuck, Michigan. This review originally appeared in broadcast form on “Michigan Bookmark,” a segment on Stateside, a daily program about life in Michigan, produced by Michigan Public Radio.

http://michiganradio.org/post/michigan-bookmark-seasonal-roads-hemingway-country-inhabited-women#stream/0

 

SHINING SEA deftly explores the life of an American family amid a half-century of social upheaval

Shining Sea  Anne Korkeakivi 2016

Shining Sea

By Anne Korkeakivi

Little, Brown & Company: Aug. 9, 2016

276 pages, $26.00


In only two novels, Anne Korkeakivi has become one of my favorite writers. Her debut, An Unexpected Guest, was an unexpected literary delight in 2013, a novel that managed to combine deep insight into characters and relationships, a surprising level of suspense, and supple, sensual prose into a stunner of a book. Much was made of the book’s re-vision of Virginia Woolf’s day-in-the-life classic, Mrs. Dalloway, butAn Unexpected Guest stood on its own two Ferragamo heels just fine.

Korkeakivi returns in August with a completely different sort of novel, a family saga set in varying locales ranging from California and Arizona to the UK and Africa and spanning the years between World War II and 2015. Across five “books” she immerses us in the life of the Gannon family, starting in 1962, when 43-year-old Michael Gannon, a WWII vet, suffers a fatal heart attack while painting the house. He leaves behind his beloved wife Barbara, four children, and an unborn baby girl. Death is the unexpected guest in Shining Sea, which explores the seemingly endless ripples Michael’s death — and war generally — causes in the following decades.

The story moves in leaps and bounds through the years, using key social events to shade in the context of the family members’ lives and effective flashbacks to fill in key details from the intervening years. Barbara holds both the family and the story together with her unfailingly generous spirit. We learn how she and Michael met in a California military hospital when she nursed him through his recovery from the Bataan death march in the Philippines. Their love undergirds the family and the story even long after Michael has died. Korkeakivi uses his death and that of two other characters in and shortly after the Vietnam War to explore the long-term effects of war and the grief experienced at the loss of loved ones.

Korkeakivi moves the plot across time and space as the story shifts focus from Barbara, who eventually remarries, to middle son Francis, a sensitive soul cast adrift by loss. We follow him to Woodstock, seven years after his father’s death, and later to London’s late 60s “groovy” scene and then to the Inner Hebrides islands off Scotland.

Rebellious older daughter Patty Ann struggles with the consequences of repeated poor judgment but gives her mother a grandson whom she adores and who provides light at the end of this often dark novel. Ultimately, the family is spread across the world, from the California coast to the desert of Phoenix (where Barbara’s life is reborn through her marriage to a good but surprisingly complex man), from Europe and Africa to a secluded farm in rural Massachusetts.

Shining Sea reminded me of a compressed version of Jane Smiley’s recent Hundred Years Trilogy (Some Luck, Early Warning, and Golden Age). While the latter covers twice as much time, concerns many more characters, and is written with far more detail, Shining Sea has a similar impact. In particular, the novel surprised me with its emotional punch. I was skeptical that Korkeakivi could write a family saga with serious issues at its core in less than 300 pages, but to a large degree she has succeeded. I cared about the key characters (and still do, as they wander around in my mind). The plot is compelling, with mysteries at the heart of a few subplots, and her prose is seamless and elegant without calling attention to itself.

The key to the artistic success of Shining Sea is Korkeakivi’s ability to move the plot and develop her characters by implication; she displays a deft hand at knowing when to move quickly and allow the reader’s general knowledge to fill in the background and when to slow down and focus on the moments in the characters’ lives that will define them and affect us.

Shining Sea probes the unpredictable and often inexplicable nature of the lives we lead. Barbara gives voice to the novel’s theme when she says, “The thing about life is that it is so damned confusing. Such a web, each piece of it dependent on something else, something that can be as tiny as a smile from a stranger or as huge as heart disease. The good all tangled up with the bad.”

Christine Sneed on Rachel Cusk’s OUTLINE: A master class in voice, tone, insight

Christine Sneed -- Adam Tinkham Rachel Cusk Outline

By Christine Sneed

Rachel Cusk, where have you been all my life?

Admittedly, that’s a ridiculous question because she’s been on the planet a few years longer than I have and has nine or ten well-regarded books to her name, some of them winners of or finalists for prestigious prizes.  If I’d been paying closer attention, reading more reviews or browsing more adventurously in bookstores, I would have known to pick up one of her novels or memoirs before last winter.

It was after looking over the New York Times Book Review’s list of the 2015 ten best books of the year list that I bought a copy of Rachel Cusk’s most recent book, Outline.  I read it in two days, but many readers might finish it in a few hours; I had to resist the urge to read it quickly, and I kept thinking that here was a book I’d have to assign to one of my writing classes, even if assigning a cherished book often ends in disappointment—the response from students is rarely what I’m hoping for.  Reading might be a solitary activity, but it is lodged so firmly in community—both the real and the imagined.   When I read a book I love, I want everyone I know to read it and love it too.

Cusk’s ability to establish an almost hypnotic intimacy with the reader was one quality that immediately drew me into Outline, as was the voice of the first-person narrator, which manages, somehow, to seem both detached and confiding.  Outline is also often very funny; the humor that characterizes many of the observations and exchanges throughout the book is skillfully deadpan.

The main character, an Englishwoman who travels to Athens to teach a summer writing workshop, has recently gone through a divorce and is the mother of two small children who are back at home in England. Their pull—both the children’s and the divorce’s—on the narrator’s consciousness is one of the many undercurrents that heighten the book’s feeling of suspense and immediacy, though Outline is not a thriller in any traditional sense.

As the many incandescent review excerpts featured on the dust jacket of the FSG hardcover edition of Outline attest, it is a book that defies categorization.  As Julie Myerson stated in her review for The Observer, “This has to be one of the oddest, most breathtakingly original and unsettling books I’ve read in a long time…Outline is a triumph of attitude and daring, a masterclass in tone.”

The novel is organized into ten chapters, each featuring an extended conversation between the narrator and another character, sometimes more than one.  Characters are often in transit—on a plane, in a speedboat, on foot, and the book’s own narrative momentum is, in a sense, mirrored by the characters’.

As I read Outline, W.G. Sebald’s novels frequently came to mind—also difficult to categorize (due most especially to their merging of historical fact, autobiography, and fiction).  Austerlitz and The Emigrants in particular were in my thoughts, but all of Sebald’s books feature journeys of some kind.  Other similarities between Outline and Sebald’s work that I noted were the restlessness and enquiring tone of the often-displaced narrators, the melancholy, despite the subtle flashes of humor, and the ghostly, just-off-stage presence of the author.

After finishing Outline, I read Cusk’s 2012 memoir about her divorce, Aftermath, which I’d heard from a friend was the subject of some controversy upon its publication—Cusk was excoriated by critics for invading her family’s privacy (she and her ex-husband have two young daughters) and predictably, for narcissism.  Despite knowing from Outline that Cusk writes with restraint and wasn’t likely to resort to melodrama, I was curious to see if Aftermath would deliver any incendiary or salacious details about the author’s divorce.

I’ll put it this way, if I’d been assigned to review Aftermath, my one complaint would have been about the very restraint I so admire in her writing.  By the end, I wasn’t sure why Cusk and her husband decided to divorce, except for what in a general way must account for most, if not all, divorces: as with any of our most intimate and formative relationships, outside forces inevitably arrive and exert hostile pressure, and eventually, it changes us, along with the terms of our relationships, despite any attempts we might make to protect them.


Photo of Christine Sneed: Adam Tinkham

 

Summer recommended reading: Four novels to help you defeat the dog days of August

Summer’s not over yet! Here are four books being published in August that you should investigate.


a-wife-of-noble-character

Yvonne Georgina Puig — A Wife of Noble Character (August 2)

Inspired by Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, Puig’s debut novel is set among the wealthy Houston oil set. Vivienne Cally, now 30, is a big fish who has been swimming in these protected waters until she is challenged intellectually and emotionally by Preston Duffin, who has long known and admired Vivienne from a social and cultural distance. A recent architecture grad, he draws Vivienne’s interest, at which point matters become complicated. Puig’s pointed social commentary elevates A Wife of Noble Character beyond what might otherwise be a stock comedy of manners.

The Book That Matters Most

Ann Hood — The Book That Matters Most (August 9)

Hood, the author of An Italian Wife and The Red Thread and the recipient of awards for her writing on food, travel, and spirituality, this time out pens a tribute to the power of books to save us. When Ava’s 25-year marriage ends, she joins a book group for company. Assigned to share “the book that matters most” to her, she revisits a childhood favorite that helped her through the deaths of her mother and sister. The book, and her search for the obscure author, lead her to revelations that lead Ava and her daughter Maggie, struggling with romantic disillusionment in Paris, to rebuild their lives.

Shining Sea

Anne Korkeakivi — Shining Sea (August 9)

Korkeakivi demonstrates that a gifted author can tell an epic family saga in 300 pages, something about which I was initially skeptical. As in her debut novel, An Unexpected Guest, she writes beautifully and with compassion and insight into the relationships and events that shape our lives. Spend some time with the Gannon family and experience family and societal change and growth from 1962 to 2015 (with flashbacks to WWII). Shining Sea is like Jane Smiley’s Hundred Year Trilogy (Some Luck, Early Warning, Golden Age) in one book.

Another Brooklyn

Jacqueline Woodson — Another Brooklyn (August 9)

Woodson, among our best YA writers for the past two decades (with many awards to her credit), moves into adult fiction with Another Brooklyn, which examines that time in one’s life when friendship and neighborhood are all. Woodson’s young protagonist, August, moves toward adulthood as she learns that there is another Brooklyn, the other, grimier, side of the shiny coin that is her childhood.

THE NATURAL WAY OF THINGS imagines a world in which misogyny is taken to a new extreme

Summer is seen as a time to read lighthearted, romantic novels or thrillers. But just as some moviegoers seek out serious dramas during the summer special effects blockbuster season, some readers still crave serious fiction with something important to say. The Natural Way of Things fits the bill. Australian novelist Charlotte Wood has written a novel set in the near future that is nevertheless a story of and for these times.

Source: THE NATURAL WAY OF THINGS imagines a world in which misogyny is taken to a new extreme

THE NATURAL WAY OF THINGS imagines a world in which misogyny is taken to new extremes

Natural Way of Things

The Natural Way of Things

By Charlotte Wood

Europa Editions: June 28, 2016

$17.00, 230 pages


Summer is seen as a time to read light-hearted, romantic novels or thrillers. Something to read on the plane or at the beach. But just as some moviegoers seek out serious dramas during the summer special effects blockbuster season, some readers still crave serious fiction with something important to say. One cannot live on genre fiction alone (can one?).

The Natural Way of Things fits the bill. Australian novelist Charlotte Wood has written a novel set in the near future that is nevertheless a story of and for these times. It is in the narrowest sense a dystopian novel, in that it describes a circumstance that does not yet exist but that requires very little suspension of disbelief to accept. It is this close to being plausible. It has already made a big impression in Wood’s home of Australia, where it was awarded the 2016 Stella Prize as the best novel by an Australian woman.

The story begins as two young women, Yolanda and Verla, awaken from a drug-induced sleep to find themselves prisoners of some sort. They have no idea where they are, who is responsible, or how they got there. Nor do they know why they are in this silent place. Before long, they discover that they are on an isolated, abandoned sheep station in the Australian bush, along with eight other girls in their late teens and twenties. They begin to recognize a few of the girls from sex scandals involving powerful and influential men in the government, organized religion, and business world.

What follows is an experiment in punishment and degradation that seems to have been concocted by modern-day sadistic Puritans. The girls are forced to wear old-fashioned farm-type clothing made of coarse materials, including a bonnet and stiff, ill-fitting leather boots. They are given food that would make convicted murderers go on a hunger strike, and suffer near-constant verbal and physical abuse from two young male guards who seem to have little idea what they are doing and no supervision. A young woman prepares the meals. No one appears to be in charge. The girls overhear something about a crew from Hardings returning later. This corporate entity, with which they are unfamiliar, is evidently in charge of the prison camp.

Verla soon realizes the truth of her situation when she recalls the head guard’s misogynistic rant soon after her arrival.  “Boncer’s words return. In the days to come she will learn what she is, what they all are. That they are the minister’s-little-travel-tramp and that-Skype-slut and the yuck-ugly-dog from the cruise ship; they are pigs-on-a-spit and big-red-box, moll-number-twelve and bogan-gold-digger-gangbang-slut. They are what happens when you don’t keep your fucking fat slag’s mouth shut.”

The ten girls face their desperate circumstances in varying ways, some believing their families will find them and release them, others soon concluding that no one knows what has happened to them–that they have essentially disappeared–and unsure of whether escape is even possible. Early on, they are marched across the compound, up a long incline through a thicket of trees until they reach a steel fence. Its steady drone can both be heard and felt coming up from the ground. Boncer demonstrates vividly its effect on anyone who tries to escape.

Over time tenuous friendships and fierce rivalries develop. Verla and Yolanda recognize a similar seriousness of purpose in each other and share a mutual acknowledgment that they are the only two who are capable of figuring out a solution to their dilemma. Their responses differ, but their grudging respect for each other leads to a distant, almost wordless partnership based on their determination to survive. The other girls alternate between supporting and terrorizing each other in a situation reminiscent of Lord of the Flies. Thoughts of escape are thwarted by various methods. The situation becomes even more desperate when Hardings does not arrive as expected. The tension is ratcheted up as the guards realize they too are trapped on the station and rapidly running out of supplies.

Wood’s narrative is taut and unrelenting; we experience the dire circumstances along with the girls, as both the characters and reader slowly discover what they are dealing with. The Natural Way of Things is a riveting read, as you charge through the book seeking answers to several burning questions. Who is behind the corporation that runs the prison? How long has this been going on? Are they the first girls or just the latest cohort? Will they be released? When, and what will determine that? Will conditions improve or worsen? What is the point of it all? What is going on in the outside world at the same time?

Wood uses the allegory of this group of young women imprisoned for their sexual escapades to explore the contemporary landscape of widespread misogyny, in which victims of rape and sexual assault are put on trial in the media and in the courtroom, and in which reality TV culture is so omnipresent that even a presidential campaign can feel like a bizarre and interminable episode of Punk’d. It is a world where people seem more fully engaged on social media than in their actual lives and where faceless corporations are an inextricable part of our lives, often knowing more about us than we could imagine. But resentment of the gender double standard has reached critical mass and women–and their male allies–are fighting back.

Wood’s prose has a spare, poetic beauty that matches the austere beauty of the Australian bush setting, which is palpable. One can feel the blazing heat, see the dust in the air, and hear the oppressive silence from the isolation. In The Natural Way of Things Wood has created a world that is equal parts Mad Max: Fury Road and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. In the last 50 pages, the narrative increases in pace and intensity, hurtling toward its literally stunning conclusion. Having reached the end, you will sit there slack-jawed, processing the final images and extending them to create your own epilogue.

The Natural Way of Things is a novel that is not easily forgotten. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea–this one has a bit of arsenic in it–but those who crave a gut-punch of a book with crisp writing, memorable characters, and thought-provoking subject matter will find it an immersive and disturbing reading experience.