My review of Charles Bock’s ALICE AND OLIVER at Electric Literature

Charles Bock’s cancer novel is at its best when it’s not about Alice or Oliver


It would be easy to characterize Charles Bock’s Alice and Oliver as just another cancer novel. The book is inspired by Bock’s late wife, Diana Joy Colbert, who battled AML (acute myeloid leukemia) in her thirties. She underwent two stem cell transplants and passed away two-and-a-half years after diagnosis. As a stem cell transplant patient myself (twenty-one months later, I still hesitate to even consider uttering the word “survivor”), I was tempted to read Alice and Oliver as a detailed chronicle of the rigors of enduring one of the most harrowing and risky medical procedures in existence — just to connect with someone else who went through it.

As such a chronicle, Bock’s novel does not disappoint.

Read the rest here.


My review of Catie Disabato’s THE GHOST NETWORK

This urban conspiracy meta-thriller relives the pop of the early oughts


Why are works about pop ephemera not considered literary? Perhaps MFA programs are brainwashing writers into tackling only what is ‘timeless,’ for the fear that work will become dated and easily forgotten. But what if a work is actually about one’s love of pop ephemera? Isn’t love timeless?

Catie Disabato’s novel, The Ghost Network, doesn’t shy away from peppering the reader with many, many pop culture references that conjure what it’s like to live in the 21st century in all its social-media-saturated, Pitchfork-reading glory. Famous pop singer Molly Metropolis (think: Lady Gaga, M.I.A., Sia) disappears, and a journalist named Cyrus Archer pens a manuscript about the search for her, only to disappear himself.

Read the rest over at Alternating Current.


My review of Amina Gautier’s collection at The Rumpus


Fiction writers are often told by agents, editors, and even fellow writers that contemporary readers are not interested in short story collections, and that if one intends to write stories and assemble them into a book, they must be linked and resemble a novel. What is lost in this stampede towards the novel-in-stories is breadth. The great short story writers demonstrate range—exploring themes through an array of characters from a multitude of backgrounds, ethnicities, social classes, and education levels without having to grasp the handrails of a unifying narrative throughline.

Amina Gautier is fast becoming one of those great short story writers. Her first collection about troubled teens, entitled At-Risk, won the Flannery O’Connor Award. Now We Will Be Happy, a collection about the lives of Afro-Puerto Ricans, won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize. And now, Gautier returns with The Loss of All Lost Things, the winner of the Elixir Press Fiction Award. The most impressive aspect about the collection is not its theme, or the deftness with which it’s handled—it’s Gautier’s range.

Read the rest at The Rumpus.

My review of Ryan W. Bradley’s collection at Heavy Feather Review


The title of Ryan W. Bradley’s eighth book, Nothing but the Dead and Dying, pulls no punches. Set in Alaska, these two-dozen stories are about a dead and dying part of the world, thanks to climate change, and the dead and dying white working class men that have become a media talking point in this year’s election. Bradley’s characters work the pipelines, drive the oil tankers, and dig giant trenches in mud and ice. They work long hours, separated from their wives and children. They are dying, from overwork, from cancer, from a lack of opportunities. They are melting, like Alaska’s glaciers, so quickly that they barely have the language to describe their dissolution.

Read the rest at Heavy Feather Review.

At Kenyon Review: My Review of Books by Tania James and Amina Gautier


One of the most exciting freedoms that literary fiction offers is the elbow room to blend or hop genres in a single work. David Mitchell comes to mind as an author who seamlessly integrates the historical, contemporary, and speculative. To genre-blend is a skill. The writer must win the trust of the reader several times over—for each genre attempted—and then one final time for the entirety of the work, which must cohere and address the author’s thematic concerns. In Cloud Atlas, for instance, Mitchell’s statement about the connectedness of human nature across epochs and geographies is first and foremost what we remember about the novel. The adventures in the nineteenth century and the post-apocalypse are instruments that amplify this overarching theme.

In The Tusk That Did The Damage, Tania James attempts a similar genre-blending high-wire act. Set in South India, the novel is at once a fable, a behind-the-scenes look into the world of elephant poaching, and a love triangle between Western do-gooders abroad.

Read the rest of the review at Kenyon Review Online.