THE NIGHT SWIM - Megan Goldin
I don't think I'll be forgetting this book any time soon. "Haunting," is one word for it. "Piercing" is another.
Cultural relevancy: ★★★★★
The Night Swim is a novel that feels sharply of its time—and that's not a good thing for our modern world. In my opinion, this book shouldn't have to exist. But I'm glad that Megan Goldin decided to tell it, because it's poignant, important, and aches with past and present bruises.
Rachel Krall is now a household name. After starting her extremely successful cold-case crime podcast, Rachel has become something of an amateur detective, jury, and public figure all in one. Now in her third season of her podcast, Rachel decides to go into uncharted territory: covering a current, ongoing court case.
A small town is in the midst of a rape trial.
Immediately, your expectations can supply some of the details as—and I hope you can feel the angry in my words through the screen--this is not a unique injustice in our society.
A golden boy, a pillar of the Neapolis community, destined for a shot at the Olympic swim team when he graduates, perfect in every way according to the world and his parents and society--he's been charged with rape and assault. How could such a nice boy have done this? The town cries for this boy who's been "wronged."
The girl, of course, is living in a different kind of hell and hasn't been looked on as fondly by the town. Her family is hounded by the press, her name becomes synonymous with "asking for it," and her trial has been hijacked in the court of public opinion by her predator.
Rachel Krall is here to find out the truth behind this current rape trial. But what Rachel doesn't expect to find is a series of letters addressed to her, begging her to look into the "accidental" death of a teenage girl 25 years ago in the same small town. The town slut, the town's shining example of a girl gone wrong. That girl's fate was also determined by the court of public opinion, and her death was pushed under the rug.
With pulse-pounding suspense, lingering coastal atmosphere, and a social commentary as sharp as glass, The Night Swim is a great mystery/thriller. I hope its place in the canon does its subject matter justice, and I hope it sparks more conversations. As a woman, it made me rage and ache and want to not have daughters. As a reader, it made me appreciate Goldin's talent for the written word, and her bravery for tackling a topic that, as her own protagonist states, is somehow not a black and white issue.
If we can all agree that murder is wrong, indefinitely, irrefutably—why is rape somehow different? Like Rachel Krall's podcast concludes with, it's time for you, the audience, to decide for yourself who is right, and who is wrong.
Thank you to St Martin's Press via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Four men discover that things they buried in the past don't stay buried in this multi-layered cultural horror novel by master writer Stephen Graham Jones.
Potential to linger in your mind forever: ★★★★★
Execution of plot: ★★★★★
This was stellar. That seems to be an odd opinion as I don't see too many 5 stars rolling around, but this horrific tale of past sins, cultural obligations turning into traps, cyclical identity horror, and more was amazing.
The Only Good Indians is a different kind of horror novel. Oh, it goes there with its horror—extreme trigger warnings for horror inflicted on animals being a main example. But it's also a layered look at what it means to be Indian/Native American/Indigenous in today's America—and the cultural identity, cyclical injustices, and lingering wounds of the past that refuse to heal both within the community and in the country at large.
Ten years ago, four friends decide to break the laws of the land and hunt for elk in the elders' only zone. While there, they find a herd of elk and take them down in a glorified slaughter. One of their kills is a young female. And she was pregnant. (Killing young/pregnant targets is taboo for hunters.)
Now ten years later, those four men all live different versions of a modern Native experience. Two are still on the reservation, struggling with their own pasts and present within the constant social chains of familial obligation and tribal identity. One man fled the reservation after the OD of his brother and escaped to North Dakota to work on a oil rig. One man fell in love with a white woman and pretends he's made his own choices to be away from the reservation as opposed to hiding from the sins of his past.
But the past draws long shadows, and the Elk Head Woman is coming to avenge the slaughter of the land. Who will be the first man to fall?
Presented in sections dedicated to the different men and their encounters with the horror stalking them, this novel kept me on the edge of my seat from the first page to the last. Jones' talent for ominous atmosphere delivered through distanced writing was fantastic. It speaks to the talent of the writing that something with relatively little jump scares and/or action was able to keep my muscles so tense for so long, ready for the next jump. This book was terrifying, its progression toward its only conclusion ceaseless and inevitable.
I don't think this kind of horror novel will be for everyone, and as my friends' ratings suggest, that is clearly the case. If you come to this novel with an expectation, expect it to be ignored. The Only Good Indians stands alone in its pacing, its plot, and its ability to have each action and reaction exist not only as concrete points of the surface horror novel but also reflections of horror in myriad forms of the Indian/Native American/Indigenous experience.
Thank you to the publisher and Libro.fm for my audiobook copy in exchange for an honest review.
HIS & HERS - Alice Feeney
I was bored silly for 75% of this book, but the very very end did surprise me more than I expected it to, so I bumped the rating up a star.
Because my feelings for this one are so meh, this review is going to be short and sweet.
I think that fans of Alice Feeney may enjoy this one, but as this was my first Feeney novel I can't say that for certain. I CAN say that this novel didn't have the same polarizing negative representation that I Know Who You Are seemed to have. (I heard about the ending to that book - yikes.)
This was just... a seriously standard dual POV thriller. There's a dead body, and a male perspective and a female perspective. The man and woman are obviously linked together, and a third, "murderer" POV thrown in that could be anyone. There's enough shocks, red herrings, and twisted secrets for 10 lifetimes.
As you can probably tell from my lackluster phrasing—I'm so sorry to this book, it's not really its fault—I just didn't enjoy reading it. The writing seemed like it kept trying to reel me in, but the endless vague sentences, dual-meaning scenes, and flashbacks conveyed to be as sinister-yet-vague as possible all kept me from feeling like this was a real story with real stakes. It felt very fourth wall, very staged. And, despite its pulse-pounding premise, I was also extremely bored. I could have handled one or two of the above issues and still enjoyed the ride, but all of them? No dice.
Oh well. On to the next!
Thank you to Flatiron via NetGalley for my giveaway ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
What do you have when you add Salem Witch Trials, plagues, cursed witches, polygamy, oppression of women, fantasy settings, racial commentaries, and religious allegories together? This book.
Enjoyment: ★★★ 1/2
In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. A biracial girl in a town of only white people, her very existence brings shame to her family as it reminds the settlement of her dead mother's sins—and witchcraft.
The Prophet is a man (I bet you guessed) and the town of Bethel exists as a small, settlement-type town in the middle of Nowhere, Nowhere. Their town is surrounded by the Darkwood, and the Prophet's religious teachings warn of the wood's dangers and temptations. Lilith and her coven of witches live in the Darkwood and they live in sin, and if you let them tempt you you'll be lost forever.
Or at least, that's what the man says.
Like so many tales of oppressive male-dominated religious regimes, The Year of the Witching is highlighting issues of gender, power, and control—and how many of those bindings go hand in hand with some extreme conservative religions. The Prophet may be in charge and he may call himself holy, but his many many underage sister wives tell a different story by the bruises on their skin.
Combining issues of female agency and power, race and poverty, and a heavy dose of critical notes on religion, this tale was extremely representative and often sacrificed world building and plot for the sake of allegory. I'm not saying that it wasn't done well, but I definitely want to highlight that fact for other readers.
At the end of the day, I thought this was a solid debut. As someone who likes fantasy/horror speculative novels that go there and push the reader, I thought this fell short. The messaging was fantastic, but the plot itself stopped its own progress by keeping it from going to that extra level. Things felt predictable—with the heart of the novel focused on the lofty concepts it was harder for the characters to authentically reach their goals.
Without spoiling this particular novel, a good example of this would be like a book to movie adaptation. It's hard to be surprised when you go the theater to view an adapted movie from a book that you've read. You know the main plot points, you've read the book, so it's really a matter of relying on the adaptation to still surprise you with something new within the framework of something that you already know.
The Year of the Witching didn't have that extra oomph for me, but I think it did for other readers.
Thank you to Ace - Berkley via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
A quiet tale focused on the rebuilding aspect of a post-apocalyptic reality, this novel was a memorable addition to the genre.
Plot: ★★★ 1/2
First off, I'm not usually a reader of post-apocalyptic fiction. I don't like novels focused on the end of times, death, destruction, and the lack of hope—I tend to like more escape in my fiction, and to me the plot tends to not outweigh the personal stress I feel while reading it!
The Lightest Object in the Universe isn't about destruction though. It's about hope, and new growth.
Carson is a former school principal and history teacher on the East Coast, witnessing the breakdown of normal as the electrical grid shuts down, the world collapses, and his neighborhood, students, and city fall into the grim reality of "after." The only thing he can think of is his lover, Beatrix, who lives in California. Is she safe? Is she alive? Carson decides to go to her, and that decision sparks a cross-country trek the old-fashioned way: on foot.
Beatrix is dealing with her own end of the world life in California, and she wonders about Carson—is he safe? Is he alive? Does her remember the promise he made to her that he would cross the country to be with her? Learning how to live with her neighbors and friends in the new version of the world, Beatrix discovers what it means to carry on.
This is a quiet tale. I have to admit, at times I wished it was a little faster in its pacing...but at the same time, that was kind of the point. In our current world of technology, immediacy, electricity, and the grid, time spent on the quiet moments is seen as something extremely slow and often unnecessary. But for Carson and Beatrix, time flows differently because there is no option to do it faster. It is what it is. Over the course of the novel, I found myself slowing down to match their speed, and once I did that I was able to enjoy the novel more.
Recommended for those who like the quiet, and are willing to spend some lingering time with this radically different post-apocalyptic tale.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.