We are excited to welcome J.S. Breukelaar, author of the recently released The Bridge (Meerkat Press).
I was one of those who read nothing during the pandemic and was glued to cable instead, shamefully sucking at the teat of limited-series escapism while those around me wrote their quarantine masterpiece or became a Zelda Grandmaster or built smokehouses on their balcony. I’ve emerged to find so many amazing novels and short story collections published by some of my favourite authors and friends and can’t wait to catch up. I’ve managed to blurb or preview a couple of them—Michael Cisco’s Antisocieties opens with a story that is little short of perfect and continues on the same vein. Angela Slatter’s All the Murmuring Bones is storming out of the gates, and deservedly so. But otherwise, this will be the year of catching up. Meanwhile, here are five recommended reads which I selected at random from the untidy bookshelf nearest my desk, which is where I keep my desert-island books, and which is just going to get untidier by the time I stack it with all of 2020-21’s gems.
We are all Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler
Karen Joy Fowler, We are all Completely Beside Ourselves. This book about a girl raised with a chimp as her sister gutted me in all kinds of ways, and I bought a bunch of copies and gave them to my friends. It’s a next-level relationship novel—brother-sister, mother-daughter, daughter-father, human-animal—a story about the worst kinds of betrayals, in other words.
Head Full of Ghosts – Paul Tremblay
Yeah yeah I know. Paul’s become a household name, but for me it all started with this book, which immersed me so fully in its dread ambiguity that I was able to break through my debilitating shyness at World Fantasy Con and approach him purely to tell him how and why it changed my life. More than the metafiction, more than the Exorcist work-up, more than any of that for me was depiction of sisters, and the family itself—Marjorie and Merry’s relationship haunts me still.
Tainaron: Mail from Another City – Lena Krohn
Because we are all visitors to the insect-city of Tainaron. Because the city is all there is. If it wasn’t, we’d be able to remember how we got there, right, or at least we’d want to?
The Only Good Indians – Stephen Graham Jones
This is a big dog in a small dog’s body. Its bite will never heal. You will pick at the scab and remember being a teenager, and how brave the sixteen-year-old you was, brave enough, scared enough to risk everything when you had the most (it seemed) to lose and you’ll pick at that wound some more and taste pennies. Four Blackfeet friends yeah, stalked by a vengeful elk mama from their past, doesn’t get much better than that except for the high school b-ball champ daughter Denorah, hell-bent on enough is enough.
Grendel – John Gardner
Before Maria Dahvana Headley’s magnificent The Mere Wife, written from Grendel’s mother’s viewpoint, there was John Gardner’s Beowulf-inversion written from the monster’s point of view and it is anguished, acerbic, a blood thirsty howl, filled with non-verbal gibberish and look-at-me-mommy vengeance, and you totally buy it. It’s hard to write a being who, at first blush, seems totally alien to you. It’s a hell of a lot more than inventing a language, or mating habits, or a penchant for sour milk. The door into writing the other is to other yourself. To sever the ties between you and whoever you think you are. I’m pretty sure from reading Grendel that John Gardner had the inside running on self-alienation, and by extension everything we think we know about ‘us’ – as a culture, a species, and a monster.
THE BRIDGE by J.S. Breukelaar
Meera and her twin sister Kai are Mades—part human and part not—bred in the Blood Temple cult, which only the teenage Meera will survive. Racked with grief and guilt, she lives in hiding with her mysterious rescuer, Narn—part witch and part not—who has lost a sister too, a connection that follows them to Meera’s enrollment years later in a college Redress Program. There she is recruited by Regulars for a starring role in a notorious reading series and is soon the darling of the lit set, finally whole, finally free of the idea that she should have died so Kai could have lived. Maybe Meera can be re-made after all, her life redressed. But the Regulars are not all they seem and there is a price to pay for belonging to something that you don’t understand. Time is closing in on all Meera holds dear—she stands afraid, not just for but of herself, on the bridge between worlds—fearful of what waits on the other side and of the cost of knowing what she truly is.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: J.S. Breukelaar is the author of Collision: Stories, a 2019 Shirley Jackson Award finalist, and winner of the 2019 Aurealis and Ditmar Awards. Previous novels include Aletheia and American Monster. Her short fiction has appeared in the Dark Magazine, Tiny Nightmares, Black Static, Gamut, Unnerving, Lightspeed, Lamplight, Juked, in Year’s Best Horror and Fantasy 2019 and elsewhere. She currently lives in Sydney, Australia, where she teaches writing and literature, and is at work on a new collection of short stories and a novella. You can find her at thelivingsuitcase.com and on Twitter and elsewhere @jsbreukelaar.