Generally speaking, I am loathe to give up on books. The same content loyalty that drove me to read all the Sookie Stackhouse novels and to watch Gossip Girl and Glee to their bitter conclusions means that it takes a real nightmare of a novel for me to throw in the towel.
But I have tried, and failed, three times to get invested in Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire, a debut novel for which Hallberg received a $2 million advance. Set in 1970s New York City, COF follows an ensemble cast of characters whose lives serendipitously connect one New Year’s Eve. The novel careens forward and backward from that moment, detailing the first interactions of the various personalities—the young gay couple, the punk teenager and her doting best friend, the aging journalist and his gruff middle-aged subject—and how those interactions change and grow and are in many cases forever changed after that night. Also there’s an attempted murder.
A mere six months into my 30s, I find myself already looking back on college with the same abstract nostalgia one might apply to say…fax machines. Like, wasn’t that so neat at the time? How you could totally put a sheet of paper with stuff on it into a machine and then a machine somewhere else would, moments later, spit out an identical sheet of paper with identical stuff on it? That was cool. Good times were had. Documents were faxed. But now is better: We have email now. Cell phones. AirDrop. Dropbox. The cloud. And if all else fails, the NSA.
I loved college; I made some of my best friends there. College was the last time one could wear pajama pants in public, or don costumes for spontaneously invented themed drinking nights, or go for second helpings of frozen yogurt at no additional charge. But I also enjoy being an adult, and I know—in whatever corner of my brain isn’t penetrated by models and actresses and the implications of every movie and television show ever—that being young is for the birds. Being young is like fax machines: Wasn’t it neat when you could say “I’m going to hit up three different parties tonight” and then you would actually do it? That was cool. Good times were had. But now is better: Now it’s happy hour and then a good night’s sleep.
Gone are the days when a Scientology exposé had the impact of a classified document dump—defections from the notoriously insulated religion now occur with all the frequency of Justin Bieber meltdowns. In 2013, Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear documented the experiences of several formerly high-ranking Scientology members; Alex Gibney’s HBO adaptation aired in March. Jenna Miscavige Hill, niece of Scientology leader David Miscavige, wrote a memoir about her time in the church, as have a half-dozen other former practitioners. The secrets of a church that claims its secrets are too mind-blowing for the average person to know have long since been revealed.
Still, Leah Remini’s Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology was highly anticipated. A member of the church for more than 30 years—she joined as a child after her mother started dating a Scientologist—Remini had long been a committed, if not hugely vocal, Scientologist. Her defection was a blow even for a church that knows a lot about bad press.
“Leah Remini has become what she once declared she never wanted to be known as: ‘this bitter ex-Scientologist,'” the church wrote in a statement about the book. “She needs to move on with her life instead of pathetically exploiting her former religion, her former friends and other celebrities for money and attention to appear relevant again.”
Axl and Beatrice—”perhaps these were not their exact or full names, but for ease, this is how we will refer to them”—are an elderly married couple in post-Arthurian Britain, or rather a version of that time and place in which no one can remember anything for more than a few hours. Inspired by vague memories of their son, A&B set off to another village to find him and, as is wont to happen when one goes on journeys in post-Arthurian Britain, are confronted by a series of characters and challenges along the way (including but not limited to: a warrior, a knight, a dragon and a bunch of creepy old ladies). As they travel across land belonging to both Saxons and Britons—formerly warring factions since turned peaceful neighbors—Axl and Beatrice reflect on their lives together and vie to discover things forgotten.
In the Quest genre, TBG follows familiar patterns: misunderstood characters travel from their homes in pursuit of [insert maguffin here], and through a series of distracting but meaningful encounters discover truths that change their perception of themselves, reality or both. These journeys—see: Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland—are of course stand-ins for life itself, whose maguffin is a mix of happiness and meaning and whose distracting but influential encounters are hard to spot amid all the wearables and Bud Light ads. Seriously, if I saw Gollum reading a newspaper on the subway at rush hour I’m not sure I would bat an eye, let alone absorb a life lesson.
At first glance, Lauren Beukes’s Broken Monsters has one of the most WTF magnetic plot summaries I’ve read in recent memory: “Detective Versado has seen a lot of bodies. But this one is unique even by Detroit’s standards: half boy, half deer, somehow fused together.” YES, Law & Order superfan me thought to myself at the bookstore. Yesyesyesyes.
Broken Monsters begins with the discovery of deer boy, but he is not the last human/imal corpse to be found among the ruin porn, working-class families and upstart artistic communities that constitute post-recession Detroit. The novel unfolds from the alternating perspectives of several residents of this busted city: Detective Gabriella Versado and her teenager daughter Layla; aspiring freelance videographer Jonno and his artsy girlfriend Jen; and street-savvy and world-weary Thomas Keen (d.b.a. “TK”), a homeless man with a fierce loyalty and a sharp intuition.