Recent Books I’ve Clutched In My Hands With Joy: February 2020
I think I’ve said before that this is the grand age of women finally writing plainly about sexual assault and/or suppressed anger. Just as we have whole classes on, say, Soviet Science Fiction that teach us about political dissent in Stalinist Russia, we will soon have more classes on The Cathartic Fiction of Women’s Anger that teach us (an overdue) revisionist history of the last half-century. And oh, the juicy books the professors will get to choose! The tears and stunned looks that will be shared in those classrooms—and the high fives. Below are just a few prime examples of the category, plus a few other gems.
Trust Exercise by Susan ChoiYou will read this book. This book will mess with your head and then your heart in the best possible way, if you’re patient enough to trust it (hence the title). I was tempted to put down Choi’s masterpiece a couple times in the first section despite the completely on-the-nose descriptions of the world of high school theater and high school Feelings. I wasn’t sure where it was going or why I wanted to put myself back in the emotional state of a teenage girl navigating the mercurial waters of a high school drama program and a sexual relationship that never gets off the ground. I’m so glad I didn’t turn away, though. There are three layers/sections to this book, all dependent on the previous one, and each an amazing whirlwind of craft and mindf*ckery. I laughed out loud a few times. Why don’t more women speak up when we’re assaulted? Where does that hurt go and how does it resonate across time and people? I’m not doing the story justice. You will read this book. Emotional.
Whisper Network by Chandler BakerWhisper Network is the closest you can get to the opposite of Trust Network. It is overtly transparent about being a story about sexual assault and discrimination in the workplace, to the point that I initially wondered if it could possibly be any good. It is, though, in a much more commercial writing style than Choi’s literary fiction. It’s the story of five fairly different women navigating a workplace predator at a corporation in Dallas. It’s a buddy story but also a little bit of a mystery, with corporate politics thrown in to ratchet up the tension. You know the conflict is going to be bad, but you don’t yet know quite how bad (or cathartic). If you enjoyed The Morning Show, you’ll also enjoy this (much briefer) story. They’re absolutely homages to a moment—or, hopefully, the beginning of a new world—and fun.
The Grace Year by Kim LiggettI went into this book thinking it would be something like The Power. It’s not. It’s written from the perspective of a relatively sheltered teenager in a repressive society who is forced onto a gated island with all the other girls who’ve come “of age” that year, ostensibly to rid themselves of their harmful feminine magic. If you’re looking for an immediate feminist empowerment story like The Power, don’t. This is a very literal Lord of the Flies experience meets M. Night Shyamalan, with a lot of heart, and it’s that heart that ultimately makes this story work. I cried at the end despite myself. So yeah, you got me, Kim. I particularly liked the bit about people in the society buying bits of the murdered girls to consume. Weird and horrific, but hey, kind of on the nose.