In our monthly book club, we discuss whatever we happen to be reading and ask everyone in the comments to do the same. What Are You Reading This Month?
Recursion by Blake Crouch
Dark Matter, Blake Crouch’s last novel, was one of The A.V. Club’s favorite books of 2016. With Recursion, Crouch cements his status among the best writers of broadly appealing sci-fi mind-benders. The Wayward Pines author has a knack for fusing heady conceits with simple, accessible prose—but unlike the many Michael Crichton wannabes of the world, he does it without sacrificing heart or humor, creating page-turning beach reads that never feel lightweight or insubstantial. Recursion bifurcates its story: There’s Helena, a scientist in 2007 who gets a too-good-to-be-true offer from a tech billionaire to live on his opulent refurbished offshore oil rig and design her dream project, a chair meant to identify and record memories, as a means of helping to treat or even cure Alzheimer’s sufferers like her own mother. Simultaneously, we follow Barry, a detective in 2018 New York who is investigating a strange new condition known as FMS, or False Memory Syndrome. People are suddenly experiencing memories of entirely different lives than the ones they’ve lead—and worse, the illness appears to be contagious. To say the narrative goes in unexpected places is to do a disservice to Crouch’s wildly entertaining story. This is another winning novel from an author at the top of his game. [Alex McLevy]
Age Of X-Man: Prisoner X, #1-4 by author Vita Ayala and artists German Peralta and Mike Spicer
When it comes to the vast, sometimes intimidating ocean of comics, I tend to cling to my favorite writers like buoys. Since I read Black Mask Studios’ The Wilds, writer Vita Ayala has catapulted to the top of my list of favorite comics creators with their killer command of engaging dialogue, intimate character relationships, and genuinely gasp-inducing twists. They have taken their talents to Marvel and teamed up with artists German Peralta and Mike Spicer for Age Of X-Man: Prisoner X. Part of a Marvel special event, Prisoner X follows the imprisonment of Bishop, whose greatest crime was engaging in a romance with Jean Grey. To call his transition bumpy would be a gross understatement: Bishop is immediately reviled by some of his fellow mutant inmates and he’s not even cognizant as to why. As flashes of another life—his existence on Earth 616—trickle in, he has to figure out how to reconcile his past life with his current hell.
Ayala takes great care with one of the X-Men’s most undervalued (or, at best, underused) characters while providing an interesting, balanced narrative. Based on the sheer amount of characters alone, X-Men has always stood on fecund ground for potentially innovative storytelling. As we remain subjected to the same recycled mutant heroes in cinema, Ayala and their team are taking advantage of some of the more intriguing elements of less visible X-Men in order to give us something fresh. [Shannon Miller]
Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett
Kristen Arnett’s debut novel, Mostly Dead Things, tells the story of the Mortons, a family of Florida taxidermists trying to move forward after the patriarch commits suicide right in the shop. The tale is narrated by daughter Jessa-Lynn, who is trying to keep her father’s business going while trying to get over Brynn—her brother’s wife, and the only person she’s ever been in love with. Meanwhile her mother is rearranging the shop’s dead animals into a variety of compromising positions in the display window (like a panther having sex with a goat), catching the eye of an attractive art dealer. There’s a lot of grief to wade through in Arnett’s story, which she relays in poetic terms, as descriptive as the ones she uses to explain how to skin a deer or a feral pig. (“I could see where the tanned hide would fit over the preparation: a strong, hardy deer, head uplifted, sniffing the wind.”) Jessa-Lynn is trying to reposition her family as easily as she makes a boar look like it’s still alive. It’s a futile mission, but one she finds impossible to give up on, making Mostly Dead Things an atypically dark summer read. [Gwen Ihnat]