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A Critical Look

Reviewer Niko Maragos, writing for The Millions, describes What's Left of the Night by Ersi Sotiropoulos (tr. Karen Emmerich, New Vessel Press) as "a lyrical and erotic reimagining of the gay Greek-Alexandrian poet C.P. Cavafy’s three-day trip to Paris in 1897. The dizzying, fevered and beautiful, and very, very horny. It’s also chimerical: Like Cavafy himself, it exists at a nexus of concepts—identity, queerness, modernity, making art, and Greece’s tortured relationship with Europe, which has come full circle since 1897, when foreign powers commandeered the nation’s finances."
Nikki Darling's debut novel Fade Into You (Feminist Press) is a "raw, rollicking" coming-of-age story, according to Margot Kahn who writes "more of a love letter than a review" in Bust. "If you need a reason to still be reading coming-of-age novels, Nikki Darling delivers it. These years contain the crushing weight of the world—the expectations and disappointments of the people who created you; the love you think you do or don’t deserve; the throbbing, painful, terrifying thrill of becoming."
"Tamara Faith Berger is one of the "finest and most daring literary writers of the erotic," according to Zoe Whitall writing in Quill & Quire. Whitall goes on to describe Queen Solomon (Coach House Books) as focusing "on the sadomasochistic dynamic between an upper-class Jewish-Canadian teen and the exchange student his family brings to Canada. If that doesn’t sound risky enough, it’s also about the racial politics of Israel, victimhood, abusive dynamics, and the way power can corrupt the formerly powerless." 
In his poetic review of While You Were Gone by Sybil Baker (C&R Press), Barton Smock, writes for Pank: "As a storyteller, Baker knows revelation is the consoler of plot and that time exists to mourn chronology. As an artist, Baker casts a bite-mark on that vividly tragic fruit as one awed into suddenness and then as three in the twilight of playing dress-up. As a voice, Baker quotes shadows beyond the reach of comment. I pray you will love this book for its commemorative absences and for its overlapping obscurities. I believe you will for how it navigates so visibly that it trades being spotted for being seen."
An Inside Look
Most Anticipated Small Press Books of 2019 It's going to be an amazing year in small press publishing! It was a thrill and an honor to see Besotted included on Big Other's Most Anticipated Small Press Books of 2019 among so much exciting new work. The list below reflects some of the books I'm looking forward to reading this year. Stay tuned to find each of these in the "Critical Look" section. Know of a forthcoming small press book you think I should know about for the newsletter? Email me
Meander, Spiral, Explode by Jane Alison (Catapult Press)
“For centuries there’s been one path through fiction we’re most likely to travel—one we’re actually told to follow—and that’s the dramatic arc: a situation arises, grows tense, reaches a peak, subsides . . . But something that swells and tautens until climax, then collapses? Bit masculo-sexual, no? So many other patterns run through nature, tracing other deep motions in life. Why not draw on them, too?”
The Skinned Bird by Chelsea Biondolillo (Kernpunkt Press)
From award-winning essayist Chelsea Biondolillo, The Skinned Bird is about all the ways we break our own hearts. In lyric, fragmented essays—full of geological, ornithological and photographic interventions, with landscapes, loss, and longing—Biondolillo travels the terrain of leaving and finding home while keeping her sights fixed firm on the natural world around her. 
No Good Very Bad Asian by Leland Cheuk (C&R Press)
“Leland Cheuk’s wacky and wondrous novel follows Sirius Lee, the ultimate anti-hero, an Asian American comedian who overcomes all odds to become a star. With brio and humor, Sirius fights prejudice, substance abuse, and his own worst instincts, always striving for a world bigger than his own."
Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Díaz (Algonquin Books)
An unflinching account of growing up as a queer, biracial girl searching for home as her family splits apart and her mother struggles with mental illness and addiction. From her own struggles with depression and drug abuse to her experiences of violence to Puerto Rico’s history of colonialism, every page vibrates with music and lyricism. 
Psychopomps by Alex DiFrancesco (Civil Coping Mechanisms)
"A collection of essays that examines not just the ways in which we are torn apart, but more importantly, the ways we knit ourselves back together. DiFrancesco has a deft hand with language and a keen insight into themself and others, and this collection captures what it means to be young and bent toward justice in this moment in time.”
Prince of Monkeys by Nnamoi Ehirim (Counterpoint Press)
“This compelling coming-of-age story is an incisive, beautifully written look into modern Nigeria, and offers unsettling insight into the ways in which we are so often at the mercy of powerful forces beyond our control. . . . This book vibrates with life, and is a fascinating, necessary read for anyone who has had to grapple with the ways in which the personal is political.”
The Truth Is by Avery M. Guess (Black Lawrence Press)
"An astonishingly powerful debut collection that holds the multiple facets of trauma up to the light with a piercing, rainbowed clarity. These are poems that sensitively unfold legacies of childhood sexual abuse and mental illness with fierce candor, while simultaneously performing the magical alchemies of transforming pain into riveting art."
Naked by Nastashia Minto (Eldredge Books)
“In Nastashia Minto’s Naked, you will witness the transformation of a girl sitting ‘quietly at the table eating [her] black-eye peas and cornbread with [her] grandma’ to a woman who stands up to police brandishing guns at a black man to a woman in love with a woman’s ‘laugh which … sounds like small streams running beside [her] face.’ And in her words, you will find your own naked truth.”
Volcanoes, Palm Trees & Privilege by Liz Prato (Overcup Press)
These essays explore what it means to be a white tourist in a seemingly paradisiacal land that has been formed, and largely destroyed, by white outsiders. Hawaiian history, pop culture, and contemporary affairs are woven with personal narrative in fifteen essays that examine how the touristic ideal of Hawai‘i came to be, and what it “is,” at its core. 
A Girl Goes into the Forest by Peg Alford Pursell (Dzanc Books)
“The ordinary lives of parents, daughters, husbands, wives, illness and grief are transformed in A Girl Goes Into the Forest. Here, the lucky reader enters a “forest” brimming with enchantments.... Assembled like a luminous mosaic of stained glass, these 78 tales read like prose poems—a pitch-perfect condensation of moments, inflected by Pursell’s uncanny ear for the lyric."

Pigs by Johanna Stoberock (Red Hen Press)
Four children live on an island that is the repository for all the world’s garbage. Garbage arrives, the children sort it, and then they feed it to a herd of pigs. When a boy washes ashore in a barrel, the children must decide what to do with him—is he more of the world’s detritus, meant to be fed to the pigs, or is he one of them? 
Dear Scarlet by Teresa Wong (Arsenal Pulp Press)
In this intimate and moving graphic memoir, Teresa Wong writes and illustrates the story of her struggle with postpartum depression in the form of a letter to her daughter Scarlet. Equal parts heartbreaking and funny, Dear Scarlet perfectly captures the quiet desperation of those suffering from PPD and the profound feelings of inadequacy and loss.
 “An absorbing, nuanced debut about belonging, desire, and the frustrations that surface in an atmosphere of isolation. Besotted is a love story that pulses with heat and light, glitter and grit.” 
“An exquisite tale of desire, longing, love, and reinvention. Duclos’s brilliance lies in her painstaking renderings of heartaches large and small, and the particular pain of struggling to find connection on the other side of the world. Besotted is a head rush—a sexier, smarter, more genuine coming-of-age story you will not find.” 

"Duclos's tender, vital community of Shanghai expats are—sometimes in the space of a single, lyric sentence—both impulsive and calculating, passionate and standoffish, at home and as far from home as they can possibly be. Besotted is an exuberant, sexy tango of a novel that unpacks the ways desire and reality are both closer together and farther apart than they ever initially seem."

Preorder Besotted
In the Inside Look column I'll share with readers a bit about my own writing life and experiences publishing my debut novel with the small press 7.13 Books. I'll also be reaching out to other writers, publishers, cover designers, book reviewers, and independent literary magazines and journals to learn more about the small press landscape. If you have an idea for the column, please feel free to reach out! 
Another Look
I usually read slowly, but I read most of Forgive Me If I've Told You This Before by Karelia Stetz-Waters (Ooligan Press) in two sittings, sneaking in surreptitious pages here and there because I never wanted it out of my hands. I gulped it down like I was so hungry for it, even when I was trying to slow down to better savor it. I didn't love everything in this book, but the writing, characters, pacing, story, and message so far outshine any of the minor issues that I had that when I finished reading I almost immediately forgot what those issues were. Stetz-Waters's writing is stellar—funny, serious, moving. The politics of the intensely homophobic Ballot Measure 9 in Oregon in the early 90s is woven in to the narrative perfectly. The main character is strong, but doesn't really know it because she's unsure of and still discovering herself. She is so well drawn, as are all of the characters we see much of. Stetz-Waters also does an excellent job of evoking that time period; no matter the type of high school student you were you will see yourself in this book. And being seen, and understood, with compassion while reading a well written and compelling story—well it hardly gets better than that.
Each month, Another Read Through owner Elisa Saphier will choose a small press book released a year or more ago for our Another Look column. Based in Portland, Oregon, Another Read Through ships, so if you want to order any of the books featured in Magnify, follow the links to order them from Elisa
Thanks so much for reading Magnify! If you have a review of a recent small press book you'd like to see included in our Critical Look, questions about life as a small press author,  or a suggested pairing for our Double Take column, feel free to contact me. See you next month! 

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Copyright © 2019 Melissa Duclos, All rights reserved.

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