A Free, Unsullied Land, by Maggie Kast

1st Place Winner for Fiction in the Wordwrite Book Awards 2016
Reviewed by Amalia Cabral

41rlyjbwjl

Fomite Press, 2015

A Free, Unsullied Land is a fully-fleshed rendering of a historic period, 1927-1933, a time of Jim Crow racism, a virulent form of panic about communism, Prohibition, and the Great Depression.  Kast does not use the period as mere window dressing but instead recreates the uncertainty, fear and rather fraught exploration of the freedoms of the time – like a franker expression of sexuality, experimenting with roles of women, political activism.

The main character, Henriette Greenberg, is a perfect vehicle for channeling the stresses and opportunities of the era.  She is a puzzled seeker, a restless and dissatisfied young woman from Oak Park, Illinois finding her way through parlous times.  She is a reluctant academic, a confused sexual seeker, an untried political activist. One of the strongest parts of the novel is her naïve journey to Scottsboro to protest the conviction of innocent black men accused of rape, a journey that frightens her more than she’d expected yet at the same time anneals her growing interest in fighting injustice and oppression.

Continue reading

Delicious Foods, by James Hannaham

Reviewed by Jennifer Spiegel

41pzpblcj1l

Back Bay Books, 2016

I waited till the very end of 2016 to read it, though I picked up the paperback in January (it came out in hardback in 2015). I don’t know why. Nestled on my shelf between must-reads and supposed-to-reads, Delicious Foods remained unread throughout the year: missing the havoc of the election, skipping the annual list-making season in which readers formulate their Top Ten Books of 2016. My own book-reviewing gig, Snotty Literati, made its list. And, well, Delicious Foods is not on it.

It should’ve been. While not necessarily as large in its philosophy or cultural commentary as my 2016 pick for Best Book (which remains my first pick)—Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad—this one was among my favorite novels of the year. Delicious Foods is a great book. It’s an original story with a—dare I say?—suspenseful plot, soulful characters, and amazing language.

Start with the cover. Such a lovely cover. I love that cover.

Continue reading

The Girls by Emma Cline

Review by Jennifer Spiegel

When was the Summer of Love again?

Sixty-seven.

I don’t really know what’s going on with me, but I seem to be hovering in my bookish ways around a certain era. I found myself listening to Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. West Coast hippie-splendor. Some Joan Baez, a little Haight-Ashbury. Right now, I’m into Patti Smith’s Just Kids, which is but one step ahead, but on the East Coast. Andy Warhol, the Chelsea Hotel, punk rock.

I took a fictional reprieve with Emma Cline’s The Girls (published this year), which takes place mostly in Northern California in 1969. After the Summer of Love, we had Charles Manson. Irony, yes? What’s going on there? This debut—Cline’s first novel!—imagines the girls in a Manson-like cult, moving towards murder. Though the cult, with its creepy/sexy leader, is fascinating, Cline’s girls are the real focus. An exploration of girlhood, of females on the brink of being women. Vulnerability on the brink. Continue reading