Shelf Life


Do you ever get the urge to blow up everything in your life, go far away and start over again? I do, so I completely relate to the opening character in Ron Tanner’s captivating new novel, Missile Paradise. Cooper, a 30-something man, sails from his home in the Bay Area to a spot in the Marshall Islands—in the Central Pacific. He’s leaving behind a fiancée and her teen daughter, who sabotaged the relationship best she could. Also blowing up his life is Jeton, a Marshallese teenager who’s madly in love with an American. Jeton is both heroic and tragic, a character to be loved more than pitied. But if these two riveting stories weren’t enough, Tanner throws in Alison, an American so grief-stricken, she can’t bring herself to leave the island until she finds exactly what she’s looking for.

It’s all so real and engrossing that after reading this book, I no longer felt the need to blow up my life … Until I read Matthew Norman’s laugh-out-loud new novel, We’re All Damaged. Norman’s story opens with 30-something Andy Carter, who has run off to New York City after severing or imploding every hometown connection he had. With his grandfather careening toward death, Andy returns home to Omaha, Neb. (honestly, this is the first book I’ve ever read that takes place in Omaha), where he is forced to reconnect to his Fox News wannabe pundit mother, his paintball manic father, and his ex-wife and her ultra-foxy paramedic lover. It’s hilarious, believable wackiness, the crazy stuff that actually does happen in real life, though we’re often too embarrassed to sit down and discuss it.

Never one to be embarrassed, however, is James Magruder, whose new novel, Love Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall, blissfully and unabashedly dives into the lives of a diverse and entertaining group of graduate students at “Yale … the queerest of the Ivies since the Louisiana Purchase.” The story covers the academic year of ’83-’84, when “the gay cancer” hits the scene and everyone’s entangled lives are upended by love, illness, death and academia.

Magruder is so clever and witty, the only thing that will stop you from finishing this book is the time you take to underline or highlight his prose, which perfectly expresses all the ways we struggle in life and love.

If you don’t have time for a novel (and even if you do!), I urge you to pick up Andria Nacina Cole’s beautiful and electrifying short story “Men Be Either Or, But Never Enough.” Here, we follow 8-year-old Leeza as she navigates a world so torn apart by grown-ups and kids alike, nothing, not even her stepmother’s legs, seems to come out straight. Cole’s moving prose packs entire painful universes into one girl’s poignant life—a life that doesn’t veer much farther than a few blocks from her home on Baltimore’s 25th Street.

Even those who don’t read poetry should start now that Elizabeth Hazen—whose work has appeared in places like Best American Poetry—has published her first book. Chaos Theories gathers all the damaged, pulsating shards of the heart, mind and soul, and neatly and elegantly crochets them together onto the page. Hazen’s words swoosh and dive from motherhood—bodies bursting out of bodies—to adolescence, sexual exploration, love, sex, divorce, death and every messy bit in between. Within each heartbreaking stanza, Hazen manages to take your breath away.

All books can be found at Atomic Books and the Ivy Bookshop. Cole’s short story is available online at Ploughshares.

Jessica Anya Blau’s new novel, The Trouble with Lexie, hits stores June 28. Read our  interview with Blau



This appears in the May/June 2016 issue of STYLE.

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