Hard month. Here’s what I read.

  1. Pluto vol. 1 by Naoki Urasawa
  2. Pluto vol. 2 by Naoki Urasawa – These two were lent my by Janalyn Guo. It’s a science fiction manga, a murder mystery set in a future populated by both humans and robots, some of which have human-level AI. It’s also a reimagining of an Astro Boy story by Osamu Tezuka. I’ve never read any Tezuka; he’s an author I’ve long intended to binge on, but just never gotten around to. So reading these was enjoyable, but I was constantly feeling they were relying on allusive plot points and images which were lost on me. For example, the ending notes of both volumes are introductions of new characters whose design and name are clearly intended to thunder with recognition of their famous antecedents. As I’m not familiar with the source material, the effect didn’t land. But I’m still finding the story interesting, and will likely read more.
  3. The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson – Naomi was a classmate at Iowa, and having read many pieces of her short fiction I was excited for her debut novel. It’s a story of four women–two sisters from Brooklyn, their grandmother, and their mother–over a summer in Barbados when the relationships between all four oscillate, solidify, shatter. The book is written in a fluid POV that illustrates each facet of the characters’ shared emotional experience so that the reader has access to the whole, just as perpendicular shadows, though flat, can reveal a three-dimensional shape. It’s a very effective technique, pulled off with a sure and sympathetic hand. Naomi’s writing is evocative throughout, and frequently piercing, as in this passage that I particularly loved.
  4. Vox by Nicholson Baker – I get why people like this book. It’s a novel all in dialogue between two strangers on a sex chat line; a structurally interesting exercise in playfully obsessive eroticism. I understand why sexy fiction pursued with a joyous, intellectual abandon is attractive to people. But as with House of Holes, I had to struggle to finish this. It’s one-note, and once I’d grasped the algorithm of its experimentation, I just got bored. While it’s laudably enthusiastic and uninhibited, I found the book neither arousing nor surprising, and so had little to keep me invested. Baker’s fiction may just not be for me.