Which is to say, you can read "A Fiction Roundup Both Painful and Poignant" and my celebratory (and self-serving) riffs on The Healing Circle by Coco Picard, Hollows by Tommy Dean, How to Adjust to the Dark by Rebecca van Laer and The Observant by Ravi Mangla at LitReactor here. You may also read some excerpt below. And please do most definitely read all these painful and poignant books, because they will most definitely change your life.
"What did I read?
"I’ll be happy to tell you. I’ll also be happy to tell you about my experience of reading the books, because that’s how I understand this to work, this literary review and riff thing LitReactor has invited me to do.
"Is that correct LitReactor?
"Here we go:
"The Healing Circle by Coco Picard is a lyrical novel—written in sketches and short chapters that feel like jabs—about dying, and much more, happening across past and present timelines, dipping in an out of family dynamics and trauma, the desire to somehow be, or at least feel whole, and always coming back to this: the protagonist, Mother, is dying, and wanting not to, which just may not be enough.
"Hollows by Tommy Dean is a collection of short stories, flash really, that spark like matches, quick with fire, and lingering. These are tales of small towns, violence, suicide and profound sadness, but also the inability to communicate about the feelings, hurts and trauma that underlie those decisions. These pieces are written by someone who seems to know something about all of it, and makes it all sing by packing so much feeling into such small spaces.
"How to Adjust to the Dark by Rebecca van Laer is the story about a poetry collection, or more accurately, a raw exploration of what those poems meant when they were written, and a looking back upon them from some place removed from their reality. Charlotte, the poet and storyteller in this story is forced to view themselves and how they tried and failed to form relationships, but also somehow matured along the way, growing in self-awareness and becoming a writer.
"The Observant by Ravi Mangla is something else, or is it? We again have a story about a storyteller, a documentary filmmaker in this case, written in short, tightly constructed sections, as the protagonist, Vasant, is imprisoned, released, for a price, and seeks to understand how he’s come to make the decisions he has, what went awry in his efforts to make the film he set out to make and his marriage, and who he even is at all, be that prisoner, protagonist, creative, human.
"Regarding my experience of reading The Observant, which has continued to linger for me as much as any: “Have you ever been so trapped that you felt you were suffocating?” (page 95)
"This line is expressed by the wife of Vasant’s captor, a sentiment that echoes on a variety of levels as both characters feel trapped and unsure how or when they will not feel this way.
"It’s not required of a reviewer to find a connective thread when we choose to read and discuss a number of books, and yet there is still the desire to do so, to craft a narrative arc and create a sense of connection between that which we read and choose to write about even when the books one is reading may feel as if they randomly found you at the same time."