Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Indie Book Buzz: Rose Metal Press

It's a great day for some Indie Book Buzz here at TNBBC. It's back again and we're inviting members of the indie publishing houses to share which of their upcoming 2015 releases they are most excited about!

This week's pick is brought to you by Abigail Beckel and Kathleen Rooney, 
co-founders and editors of Rose Metal Press

Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genres 
Edited by Marcela Sulak and Jacqueline Kolosov

Release Date: November 4, 2015
ISBN 978-1-941628-02-7
Available in print and as an e-book
Available for pre-order here and free shipping w/ coupon code HYBRIDFREESHIP

What It’s About: It’s about what we talk about when we talk about hybrid genres!  Unprecedented in both its scope and approach, Family Resemblance is the first anthology to explore the family tree of literary hybrids, providing craft essays and examples of eight hybrid genres, including lyric essay, epistolary, poetic memoir, prose poetry, performative, short-form nonfiction, flash fiction, and pictures made of words. Introductions and an afterword discuss the importance and current popularity of hybridity in literature and culture and offer methods for teaching hybrid works. Intended for both scholarly and general readers, this seminal collection sparkles with inventiveness and creative zeal—an essential guidebook to a developing field.

Why You Should Read It: Because as Nicole Walker, author of Quench Your Thirst with Salt, puts it: “If there is one way to contain all that hybrid texts can be, this book does it. With open arms, Family Resemblance brings together video, napkins, electrons the size of gnats, Hot Wheels, Yvor Winters, Laura Petrie, chess, homebirth, the color blue, a guy named Jason, a woman named Mary, Santa Claus, Malcolm X, card catalogues, perfect heavens, graphics, and maps. The plentitude of subjects embodies the plentitude of form. This book creates its own hybrid, binding discourses, making them snap with electricity.”

Plus, it has essays and excerpts from 43 diverse and cutting edge hybrid authors, including: Kazim Ali  Susanne Paola Antonetta  Andrea Baker  Jennifer Bartlett  Mira Bartók  Jenny Boully  Julie Carr  Katie Cortese  Nick Flynn  Sarah Gorham  Arielle Greenberg  Carol Guess  Terrance Hayes  Robin Hemley  Takashi Hiraide  Tung-Hui Hu  Mark Jarman  A. Van Jordan  Etgar Keret  Joy Ladin  Miriam Libicki  Bret Lott  Stan Mack Sabrina Orah Mark  Brenda Miller  Ander Monson  Maggie Nelson  Amy Newman  Gregory Orr  Julio Ortega  Jena Osman  Kathleen Ossip  Pamela Painter  Craig Santos Perez  Khadijah Queen  David Shields  Mary Szybist  Sarah Vap  Patricia Vigderman  Julie Marie Wade  Diane Wakoski  Joe Wenderoth  Rachel Zucker

Family Resemblance is full of thoughtful essays and fascinating cross-genre work—it will challenge your conceptions of genre and form, and inspire you to read (and write) more hybrid genre literature.

Abigail Beckel, co-founder and publisher of Rose Metal Press, has worked professionally in the publishing industry for more than 11 years. She is also a published poet.

Kathleen Rooneyco-founder and editor of Rose Metal Press, is the author, most recently, of the essay collection For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs (Counterpoint, 2010). Her second solo poetry collection, Robinson Alone, will be published in Fall 2012 by Gold Wake Press. 

So what do you think guys? Doesn't that book sound all sorts of awesome? Help TNBBC and Rose Metal Press spread the buzz about this book by sharing this post with others!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Lindsey Reviews: Humanly

Humanly by Stevie Edwards
Pages: 113
Publisher: Small Doggie Press
Released: 2015

Dog Eared Review by Lindsey Lewis Smithson (review contributor)

While I’m not a fan of the phrase trigger warning, I feel like I need to start with that when discussing Stevie Edwards new book Humanly, out from Small Doggie Press. Trigger for what you may ask? Basically everything, at least everything that can be held “deep behind the heavy velvet drapes of Klonopin,/Lamictal, Lexapro, Abilify, Propranolol—“ (83). This is an emotionally challenging collection of poems that face down suicide, rape, abuse, neglect, death, hospitalizations and more. Few punches are dodged and no details are spared. The speaker reads like the friend you have always wanted to ask the hard questions of, but never had the courage to do so; Edwards brings readers to the face of what so many try to hide from.

In terms of the writing itself the poems are worded precisely, with recurring turns of phrase, like “dread clothes,” wound throughout to create unity. The narrative of the collection, as it were, follows the speaker through the depths of depression, suicide attempts, hospitalization and recovery. The opening section struggles with the ideas of silence and connection, of wanting to look at (or rewrite) memories despite the emotional struggle to do so. Along the way, especially in the middle section, poets like Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Dylan Thomas make appearances both by name and in style and content. There is a great deal of the Confessional voice here, and tonally it reminiscent of W.D. Snodgrass’ Heart’s Needle or Robert Lowell’s Life Studies. The concluding section is still melancholy, but on the path of recovery. There is beauty and necessity in the normal and the mundane, “to be good/to our working lungs, our working/legs, our working hearts” (113).

I am of two opinions on the length of the collection. A part of me wishes the collection were shorter, since it was emotionally draining to read, but I also respect that it needs to be this long to create the full range of feeling that Edwards appears to want. For someone who wants to know what suffering and regrowth feels like, this book is amazing, or for a reader who has recovered and can find a kindred spirit in the speaker it is a must read. If you are in a difficult emotional state now, tread lightly; this may either give you the light that you need to recover, or prove to be a challenging mountain to climb. No matter where you are at in your life though, there is no doubt that there is a great deal of beautiful, carefully rendered craft here, and for that this book should eventually end up on most people’s To Read list.

Dog Eared Pages:

4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 23, 25, 27, 31, 33, 34, 35, 39, 40, 42, 43, 44, 55, 60, 62, 65, 67, 68, 75, 76, 79, 81, 82, 88, 92, 93, 94. 109, 113

Lindsey Lewis Smithson is the Editor of Straight Forward Poetry. Some of her poetry has appeared on The Nervous BreakdownThis Zine Will Change Your LifeThe Cossack Review, and Every Writer’s Resource: Everyday Poems.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Robert Kloss Recommends Moby-Dick

And so we continue our Writers Recommend - a newish series where we ask writers to, well, you know.. recommend things. Like the books that they've enjoyed. To you. Because who doesn't like being recommended new and interesting books, right?! Think of it as a PSA. Only it's more like an LSA -Literary Service Announcement.

Robert Kloss Recommends Moby-Dick

I will never forget the first and the second times I read Moby-Dick. The first reading came in the spring of 2003, the first season after I finished college and a few months before I entered graduate school, that period in my life where I dangled between worlds and histories— I was then working as a “dietary aide” at a retirement home, washing dishes, serving food, stocking shelves, etc., and waiting for the end of the summer when I would be married and on my way to Boston from Wisconsin, the only state I had ever known.

I was startled by Moby-Dick the way many new readers are startled. Melville’s book is unlike any other novel of “classic” literature; in fact, I would argue Moby-Dick is unlike any other novel, save maybe the assembled works of Melville. No other book combines such modernity and formal strangeness and exuberance of language with a story and characters and philosophical seriousness so ancient. I read it in a state of youthful ecstasy. And then the novel concluded and the fever subsided and I moved to other books and authors, since a writer’s earlier twenties are the best time to be a writer because you are old enough to have some sense of what you are interested in, but every style, every voice, every form and trick and technique is still more or less virgin, unexplored.

(I should mention that in the years to follow whenever the topic came up I babbled enthusiastically about Moby-Dick, and I often pulled my copy from the shelf and read and reread the opening pages in a breathless exultant state. And whenever we crossed paths with Melville’s ghost on trips throughout Massachusetts, I was lost again in the old awe. I gave copies away as gifts; I thought restlessly about the ocean; we went on a whale watch. Moby-Dick was always there, even when it was not.)

I next read Moby-Dick two years after I finished my MFA program. Here I found, again, all the greatness of my earlier reading, but a greatness enlarged and illuminated by my maturity and experience. And I began to understand that Moby-Dick is both a very modern book, because Melville perceived truths well beyond those of his time, and an ancient book, far older than its publication date. Melville was of his time and also beyond it and before it. His slightly older contemporary, Hawthorne, influenced him, yes, and Hawthorne’s stories helped free Melville from the constraints of experience and fact and allowed him to enter the realm of imagination. But Melville was insatiable in his ambition and curiosity, and he took into himself many of the greatest (and strangest) writers of literary history: Robert Burton, Sir Thomas Browne, Rabelais, Byron, Milton, Coleridge, and, most famously, Shakespeare and the King James Bible. Melville always was a writer outside of his time, and this was one of his many strengths.

I’ve since read Moby-Dick another six times. I read it every year, along with Melville’s final novel, The Confidence-Man (if Moby-Dick is my favorite novel then The Confidence-Man is my 1B), and Billy Budd. I’ve read every book he published, whether story collection, novel, or poems, at least once and often at least twice. I’ve read the books he took as influences, and many such as the King James Bible and the works of Browne and Rabelais and Byron and Burton have become admired favorites. Melville as a source and inspiration is inexhaustible.

I wanted here to explain, as best I could, what Melville means to me. To say Moby-Dick is my favorite novel or Melville is my favorite writer simply does not measure to the truth. Melville’s fame during his lifetime was brief. The period of his obscurity and shame was far longer, and after he died a note was found pasted to his desk that read, “Stay true to the dreams of thy youth.” In the years after my MFA experience concluded, at a time when much of my ambition and joy and enthusiasm for writing had gone dormant, when I read books without interest, when I wrote, but no longer enjoyed writing for the act of writing was cluttered by insecurities and dread, boredom and self-loathing, then Melville’s example—his rise to greatness and his life long pursuit of greatness, even after publishers and the public refused him—as much as his literature, gave me strength and inspiration and, to some measure, hope for my own literary fate. I couldn’t begin to conclude where I would be without his example.


Robert Kloss is the author of the novels The Alligators of Abraham and The Revelator. He lives in Colorado.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Indie Spotlight: Theodore Carter

Hello dear readers! Are you enjoying the first few days of fall?

We've got a cool spotlight post for you today. I want you to meet Theodore Carter.

He's stopped by the blog to write a little bit about his evolution from author to artist. It's amazing to read about how it all came becoming a published author pushed him into a world of street art, which brought along recognition in a way he had never imagined....

Why Visual Art Keeps Invading My Fiction

            I rebelled by being conventional, by NOT going to art school. The product of three generations of visual artists, I studied Political Science, then moved from California to Washington, D.C. for internships. I wore ties. I went to press briefings.

            Of course, this lead to a quarter-life crisis to which my mom said, The problem is youre an artist, and youre going to have to figure out what to do about that.

            This statement rang true in the way that a lot of things your parents tell you when youre a teenager begin to ring true in your mid-twenties. I earned a graduate degree in Creative Writing and began writing fiction seriously. I published stories. I breathed easier.

            In 2004, a group of thieves stole Edvard Munchs painting The Scream from an Oslo museum. I couldnt stop reading about the heist and wondering who would steal a painting that could never be sold. It stuck in my craw, and when something sticks in my craw, I fictionalize it. I turned it into a novel. The main character is an obsessive aspiring artist who learns from the works of great masters and creates an art studio in his attic. During the years of writing the novel, I remembered things I thought Id forgotten like the obscure tools my mom kept in her studio and how my grandparents argued about their overworked canvases. I recalled attending gallery openings and going to museums though I could have sworn I was not paying attention. Of course, I also did my own art history research which blended together with what Id learned informally. 

            In the midst of writing the novel, I published a book of stories (The Life Story of a Chilean Sea Blob and Other Matters of Importance, Queens Ferry Press, 2012). I faced the happy problem of having to switch from author to marketer.

            I didnt have an advertising budget. After quite a bit a research, I realized street artists are masterful at creating a brand without paying for advertising space. I made my own sea blobs out of plaster and paper mache (though sea blobs are in fact real) and put them out around Washington, D.C. A lot of the print and online news outlets that werent interested in writing about my debut collection of stories now became interested in my sea blob invasion. Id become a street artist.

            The project proved effective and exhilarating. I read more and began experimenting with D.C. street artist Mark Jenkinss technique of tape sculptures. Then, using my wife as model/mold, I made a life-size tape sculpture holding a copy of my book, placed it around the city, and filmed the results.

            After about a year, I felt everyone who wanted to buy my book already had it. I ended the marketing campaign but could not stop seeing places around the city that could be enhanced by street art.

            I turned a traffic box into a robot, then, a year later, turned that same traffic box into The Empire State Building adorned with King Kong and biplanes. Both times I made the local news, not as an author, but as an artist and a father/disruptor.

            Ill take the father/disruptor title, but cringe at the title of artist. I do not have the expertise and skill of a visual artist the way my family has defined it for me through their training and hard work.

            However, my reverence for and fascination with visual art continues to grow. The novel, Stealing The Scream’” will  hopefully go to print in 2016. Im currently working on a new collection and several of the stories are about art in both concrete and abstract ways. Ive also begun interviewing visual artists for my blog ( and am discovering parallels between their creative processes and my own writing process.

            Art is a pervasive part of my history and identity and its going to keep popping up in my work like ceramic sea blobs invading the sidewalks of Washington, D.C.  


Theodore Carter is the author of The Life Story of a Chilean Sea Blob and Other Matters of Importance (Queens Ferry Press, 2012). Hes appeared in several magazines and anthologies including The North American Review, Pank, A capella Zoo, The Potomac Review, Necessary Fiction, and Gargoyle. His street art projects, which began as book promotion stunts, have garnered attention from several local news outlets including NBC4 Washington, Fox5 DC, and the Washington City Paper. If you ask, Carter will send you a sea blob in the mail

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Lavinia Reviews: The Wanderer

The Wanderer by Timothy Jarvis
Pages: 328
Publisher: Perfect Edge
Released: August 2014
1.5 stars for storyline, 4 stars for writing ability

Reviewed by Lavinia Ludlow

Written by a talented author with a style and vocabulary beyond his time (perhaps centuries), The Wanderer could be an entertaining tale for anyone with a keen interest in the bizarre and who can stomach 328 pages (including the disorienting and long-winded end notes irritatingly peppered throughout the text,) of befuddling mystery, superfluous gore, and what seems to blend futuristic bizzaro sci-fi with magical realism.

The book begins intriguingly high in conflict, when a well-known London writer’s disappearance raises questions of foul play, suicide, and even the paranormal. All that’s left in his flat are belongings that depict a very solitary reclusive life, a smoldering cigarette, and a manuscript.

“It seems, then, Peterkin simply ceased to be, slipped out of existence, or passed into some other realm of being. Uncannily, certain of his macabre tales describe similar disappearances.”

But then we get into Peterkin’s manuscript, which depicts an immortal man haunted by an ominous presence that commits violent atrocities around town, and leaves a trail of gruesome remains for his discovery. From there, the story nosedives into eye-roll-able clichés. Suddenly, he’s chasing some woman to a mausoleum then following a rat to open a coffin that leads to a stairwell, which leads him underground where a congregation of old dudes in robes are standing around a fire in a barrel. Every scene thereafter is a guessing game of, “whose hacked up corpse is he going to stumble on now?” or “what random situation without explanation is he going to get himself into?”

The consistent hooks wear thin very early on. One can only be kept in suspense and question for so long without anecdote, especially when the details are so bizarre. There’s constant mention of a Punch and Judy show, then he’s inexplicably walking across a field of body parts, then he’s being eaten by cannibals but can’t die because he’s immortal, then he’s punching a lion, then he’s tangled in intestines, then there’s a monster in Hampston Heath eating kids.

The purpose of the vile imagery may pass over my realm of understanding, but I’m a firm believer that form must always have function. Sometimes it seems as if the author has some perversion for depicting the most gruesome atrocities for the sake of seeing how much he can get away with. 

Transitions are fast-paced and lack emotional development. The protagonist weeps, shutters, admits his derangement, but there is little exploration of his emotional state to prove such reactions believable. At times, he comes off as a mere sociopathic schmuck with antisocial tendencies.

I also detest the long-winded, list-like descriptions, as if he leaned on a few random pages of a thesaurus and rattled off 15 adjectives for the sake of having 15 different words to describe something. The stream of consciousness rambling and narrator retrospective gets annoying fast. I don’t need a chronic update on the protagonist’s thought process or storytelling. Every other segment seems to have something along the lines of:

“Perhaps the proper way to have started…”
“I decided simply to start at the beginning…”
“…lest I lose the momentum I’ve built up, press on.”
“I’ve neglected to tell this part of the story…”
“I must again apologise for a lengthy digression…”

Tell the story. Don’t fill the pages with fluff and waffling false starts.

A hauntingly unsettling read from the very start, particularly reading while living in Soho, London, Jarvis has an…interesting debut novel on his hands. He has a rare talent to slather on the drama, to narrate horrific images with an articulate and proper, almost haughty, narrative voice. Rare and in between, I enjoy the quieter moments when he puts down the blood and guts, and stretches his literary abilities in other directions. There are moments when I find his writing eloquently beautiful:

“…the lights of waterfront buildings reflected in the river below, gemstones strewn on a jeweller’s blackcloth.”

I am interested to see what other projects he has on his hands, ones with a lesser focus on the bizarre and violent. 

Lavinia Ludlow is a musician, writer, and occasional contortionist. Her debut novel alt.punk can be purchased through major online retailers as well as Casperian Books’ website. Her sophomore novel Single Stroke Seven was signed to Casperian Books and will release in the distant future. In her free time, she is a reviewer at Small Press ReviewsThe Nervous BreakdownAmerican Book Review, and now The Next Best Book Blog

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Robin Raven's Would You Rather

Robin Raven's
Would You Rather

Would you rather start every sentence in your book with ‘And’ or end every sentence with ‘but’?
Oh, that’s a tough one. I’m going to go with the “And” scenario. I’m cringing, though, let me tell you.

Would you rather write in an isolated cabin that was infested with spiders or in a noisy coffee shop with bad musak?
Oh my, anything but spiders! I’ll take the noisy coffee shop. Bring on the musak. I’ll even sing along. It’s noisy in there anyway, right?

Would you rather think in a language you could understand but write in one you couldn’t read, or think in a language you couldn’t understand but write in one you could read?
I had to think hard about that one, but I will go with think in a language that I could understand even if it meant writing in one I couldn’t read. I’d hope that others could read my work, and I’d hope I could read others’ writing.

Would you rather write the best book of your career and never publish it or publish a bunch of books that leave you feeling unsatisfied?
Well, not to cheat out of a real answer, but I’d choose to publish a bunch of books that left me unsatisfied as long as they were actually good. I can be insecure, so I could imagine that, even if I wrote a masterpiece, I may not be fully satisfied.

Would you rather have everything you think automatically appear on your Twitter feed or have a voice in your head narrate your every move?
I’ll go with the voice in my head narrating my every move. I’m pretty patient, and I’d hope that wouldn’t get on my nerves too badly. Maybe it would feel like I was in the middle of a movie. Perhaps a boring movie, but, ya know. What can you do?

Would you rather your books be bound and covered with human skin or made out of tissue paper?
I would choose the tissue paper for sure!

Would you rather read naked in front of a packed room or have no one show up to your reading?

I’ll choose the latter. I hope and pray that never happens, though! That’s one of those things every writer fears, I think. Ask me this again after I’ve been lifting weights for a few months. I’m just getting started with that.

Would you rather your book incite the world’s largest riot or be used as tinder in everyone’s fireplace?
I’m going to go with the riot as long as it’s non-violent and for a great cause.

Would you rather give up your computer or pens and paper?
Although I wrote exclusively with paper, pens, and pencils for a long time, I’d go with giving up pens and paper. I rely on my computer so much now as a writer.

Would you rather have every word of your favorite novel tattooed on your skin or always playing as an audio in the background for the rest of your life?

I will go with having each word tattooed on my skin. I don’t have any tattoos at the moment, so that would be a first experience.

Would you rather meet your favorite author and have them turn out to be a total jerkwad or hate a book written by an author you are really close to?
I’ll go with the second scenario. I’ve been very lucky to meet some of my heroes, and luckily none have turned out to be jerkwads.

Would you rather your book have an awesome title with a really ugly cover or an awesome cover with a really bad title?
I’ll go with having an awesome cover with a bad title. Contrary to what they’re advised, people do have a way of judging a book by its cover.

Would you rather write beautiful prose with no point or write the perfect story badly?
I’d choose to have the perfect story that’s badly written.

Would you rather write only embarrassingly truthful essays or write nothing at all?
I pretty much have written embarrassingly truthful essays, so I will go with that one. I am pretty open and honest. I also embarrass myself on a regular basis, so I have lots of potential material.

Would you rather your book become an instant best seller that burns out quickly and is forgotten forever or be met with mediocre criticism but continue to sell well after you’re gone?

I’d go with a book that continues to sell well after I’m gone. I’d love to write a book that resonates with people beyond my lifetime. One of the biggest thrills that I’ve experienced from the publication of my first novel is hearing from people who were touched by it. So I would love it if people would continue to read it and get something out of it.

Robin Raven is the human who once belonged to the greatest dog that ever lived. "Next Stop: Nina" is Robin's debut novel. She has several other works of fiction that she hopes to share in the near future. Born in Mobile, Alabama, Robin grew up in a nearby town called Saraland, and her hometown is a lovely place that still inspires her. As an adult, Ms. Raven has mostly lived in Los Angeles and New York City, so she also considers those cities to be home.
Robin blogs at and often has her nose in a book. If she's not reading or writing, you can probably find Robin daydreaming about adopting a rescue donkey. Delicious vegan food rocks her world. So does effective altruism. In addition to being an author, Robin has worked as a professional actress. She loves to connect with fellow writers and readers, so feel free to say hi to her on social media.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Leland Reviews: Preparation for the Next Life

Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish
3 Stars
Pages: 417
Publisher: Tyrant Books
Released: 2014 

Guest reviewed by Leland Cheuk

Few indie press novels last year were as celebrated as Tyrant Books’s Preparation for the Next Life. The New York Times said it was “the finest and most unsentimental love story of the new decade.” Kirkus Reviews called it “a sledgehammer to the American dream.” I felt very much like the target reader for Atticus Lish’s novel. When I read, I don’t allow myself guilty pleasures. When I surf through Netflix titles, I’m the type of person that goes straight to Critically Acclaimed Independent Movies. I want sledgehammers. I want to read life-changing fiction—books that help me prepare for the next life.

Perhaps my expectations were too high.

Preparation for the Next Life is the literary version of a motion picture made expressly for the purpose of competing for a Best Picture Oscar. It’s a love story of Zou Lei, an illegal Uighur immigrant from China, and Skinner, a traumatized war veteran back from three tours in Iraq. Zou Lei and Skinner are bonded by desperation and a mutual love of exercise. When we meet Zou Lei, she’s getting arrested after her border crossing goes awry. When we meet Skinner, he’s homeless and cleaning himself in the bathroom of a McDonald’s. Soon after they meet each other, they’re living together in a tiny room in Queens. To Lish’s credit, Zou Lei’s story is the most convincing aspect of the book. Her plight seems well-researched and authentic, as exemplified by this passage when she meets a fellow Chinese migrant:

America is a good country, an older woman said. We took a fishing boat across the ocean. The ocean police caught us and closed us up on an island near San Francisco. I almost died on the voyage and that was what saved me. That was lucky. The others were forced back home, thirty people, but not me. My cousin applied me for asylum. Some of these other sisters have been departed once already. Now they come back, once becomes twice, twice becomes three times.

Skinner mostly sits at home, drinking and popping pills while being tormented by the horrors he experienced in war. His narration is also convincing, but familiar. Anyone who has read Redeployment or Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, or seen the slew of war films that has been released in recent years will not find much new about Skinner’s character.

Together, they try to build a life, though it’s unclear what they see in each other. Perhaps Zou Lei empathizes with Skinner’s trauma. Skinner definitely thinks Zou Lei is hot. Because the novel is trying to Say Something Important, it’s clear almost from page one that there’s zero chance that Zou Lei and Skinner are going to get what they want.

The main shortcoming of Preparation for the Next Life is the intentional omission of Zou Lei and Skinner’s inner lives. In this passage, they do what they do best together: exercise. But what they don’t do is get specific about their feelings.

The last exercise they did was flutter kicks. He and Zou Lei lay down on the floor and moved their legs like goose-stepping soldiers. They got to fifty and her feet fell on the ground. One hundred, he said. No, she said. But she pulled her feet up again. They continued kicking and counting together, chanting the way everyone does in group calisthenics. At one hundred, both of their sets of feet fell on the ground. She groaned and held her stomach. When they stood, they left behind sweat patterns in the shapes of themselves. She stared down at their spirit-patterns on the ground. The intensity of the exercise make her think strange things.

What strange things? His star-crossed lovers never get deep, and consequently never feel like real people. They are just symbols in a rather obvious commentary that America has broken its promise to the poor and those who have served the country to preserve the precious freedom to have the homeless congregate in the wee hours at McDonald’s and violent sociopaths set loose from prisons. Lish’s characters are averse to self-awareness and reflection, but they’ll spend paragraphs passively observing urban decay in the outer boroughs so that the reader can’t miss the big takeaway that America Is In Decline.

The novel’s climax is predictably devastating, and there are many passages of sparkling writing throughout, particularly Zou Lei’s encounter with an imam late in the book. If you’re in the mood for a despairing muckraker like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle or Hubert Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn, I would recommend Preparation for the Next Life. But as a compelling love story, like Zou Lei and Skinner, in this life, the novel falls short.

Three stars out of five.

Leland Cheuk’s novel THE MISADVENTURES OF SULLIVER PONG is forthcoming in 2015 (CCLaP Publishing). He is a MacDowell Colony fellow, and his short fiction has appeared in publications such as Valparaiso Fiction Review, Tahoma Literary Review, and Lunch Ticket. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University and lives in Brooklyn.