Outlandish Lit

Pull Me Under by Kelly Luce :: Review

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Pull Me Under by Kelly Luce :: Outlandish Lit Review
Pull Me Under by Kelly Luce
Publisher: FSG. November 1, 2016.
Pages: 272
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Publisher



Kelly Luce's Pull Me Under tells the story of Rio Silvestri, who, when she was twelve years old, fatally stabbed a school bully. Rio, born Chizuru Akitani, is the Japanese American daughter of the revered violinist Hiro Akitani--a Living National Treasure in Japan and a man Rio hasn't spoken to since she left her home country for the United States (and a new identity) after her violent crime. Her father's death, along with a mysterious package that arrives on her doorstep in Boulder, Colorado, spurs her to return to Japan for the first time in twenty years. There she is forced to confront her past in ways she never imagined, pushing herself, her relationships with her husband and daughter, and her own sense of who she is to the brink. -Goodreads

If you've been to Japan, you will enjoy reading this book. If you want to feel like you've been to Japan, you will also enjoy reading this book. At the beginning, you're immediately drawn in. Half Japanese, half American girl Chizuru kills her school bully - SO JAPANESE. We see her at that time and we see her later as a pretty well-rounded, stable adult. But when she learns that her father who abandoned her has died, she decides to go to Japan by herself. And that's when all sorts of pent up stuff bubbles up to the surface. Rio/Chizuru has a lot of stuff to figure out about herself that she has been ignoring. Even though this book is about someone who murdered their school bully, the vast majority of it felt like a road trip book (on foot). Luce is excellent at capturing how it feels to be in Japan. It was a complete delight for me, because I went there so recently. And there are some pretty interesting characters that are introduced once Rio arrives.

My mom hated the misogyny she witnessed in Japan. She'd ranted about Miura-san ogling her in his office to Hiro, who only shrugged. It didn't seem like a big deal to me at the time--I'd have loved to be thought pretty like my mom was. I noticed the stereotypes when I got older, for a different reason: people were always surprised when they learned that Tomoya's killer was female. As if a girl couldn't feel rage, couldn't be brutal.

Because I was having so much fun vicariously being in Japan again, I had to force myself to take a step back and see how the book was actually doing plot-wise. And, to be honest, much of it felt just like things were just happening for things to happen. Often there were strained interactions between characters that seemed unrealistic. Like a character bails on a planned dinner with Rio to go on a pilgrimage to different temples and Rio runs into her before she gets a chance to bail. What does she do? Insists she go with her. I get that the intent was to show how awkward and unaware Rio was being, but there are a lot of strangely motivated choices like this. Things sometimes felt like they were coming out of nowhere, because we didn't get as close to the characters as we could have.

I think Pull Me Under edged into some really important and interesting questions about personal identity and whether or not people can change - and what that change could look like. It dealt with some dark themes that I would've liked a deeper look at. I wanted to know more about Rio's mother's suicide. I wanted to know more about what was going through Rio's head during a death that happens halfway through the book. There were a ton of moments that looked like opportunities for big things to be revealed, but sometimes there was no follow through. Like we walked up to the gates of this potential new information, then we walked away randomly. It was a little jarring a couple of times. Though the pacing and plot structure were both a little uneven, Kelly Luce is quite a good writer and at no point did I want to stop reading. Not bad for a debut novel.

5 Books To Look For This December

Friday, December 2, 2016

5 Books To Look For This December :: Outlandish Lit
You won't have to look very hard. The year is ending and book publishers are basically in hibernation for the next few weeks before January hits us with a million great books. If you're looking for a holiday gift for the friend who has read everything, they probably won't have time to read these five!!

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: Stories by Kathleen Collins (December 6)

Now available in Ecco’s Art of the Story series: a never-before-published collection of stories from a brilliant yet little known African American artist and filmmaker—a contemporary of revered writers including Toni Cade Bambara, Laurie Colwin, Ann Beattie, Amy Hempel, and Grace Paley—whose prescient work has recently resurfaced to wide acclaim

Humorous, poignant, perceptive, and full of grace, Kathleen Collins’s stories masterfully blend the quotidian and the profound in a personal, intimate way, exploring deep, far-reaching issues—race, gender, family, and sexuality—that shape the ordinary moments in our lives.

In “The Uncle,” a young girl who idolizes her handsome uncle and his beautiful wife makes a haunting discovery about their lives. In “Only Once,” a woman reminisces about her charming daredevil of a lover and his ultimate—and final—act of foolishness. Collins’s work seamlessly integrates the African-American experience in her characters’ lives, creating rich, devastatingly familiar, full-bodied men, women, and children who transcend the symbolic, penetrating both the reader’s head and heart.

The Wood for the Trees: One Man's Long View of Nature by Richard Fortey (December 6)

From one of our greatest science writers, this biography of a beech-and-bluebell wood through diverse moods and changing seasons combines stunning natural history with the ancient history of the countryside to tell the full story of the British landscape.

‘The woods are the great beauty of this country… A fine forest-like beech wood far more beautiful than anything else which we have seen in its vicinity’ is how John Stuart Mill described a small patch of beech-and bluebell woodland, buried deeply in the Chiltern Hills and now owned by Richard Fortey. Drawing upon a lifetime of scientific expertise and abiding love of nature, Fortey uses his small wood to tell a wider story of the ever-changing British landscape, human influence on the countryside over many centuries and the vital interactions between flora, fauna and fungi.

The Ornatrix by Kate Howard (December 6)

Cursed from birth by the bird-shaped blemish across her face, Flavia spends much of her life hidden from the outside world. Lonely and alienated even from her family, she sabotages her sister’s wedding in a fit of jealous rage and is exiled to serve in the convent of Santa Giuliana. Soon she finds that another exile dwells in the convent: a former Venetian courtesan named Ghostanza whose ostentatious appearance clashes with the otherwise austere convent and sparks gossip throughout the town. When Ghostanza claims Flavia as her ornatrix—her personal hairdresser and handmaid—Flavia is pulled into a world of glamor and concealment where admiration is everything and perfection is the ultimate, elusive goal. And she soon finds that with beauty in her grasp, in the form of the poisonous but stunning white lead cerussa, Flavia will do anything to leave her marked face behind.

A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex, and the Mind by Siri Hustvedt (December 6)

A compelling and radical collection of essays on art, feminism, neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy from prize-winning novelist Siri Hustvedt, the acclaimed author of The Blazing World and What I Loved.

Siri Husvedt has always been fascinated by biology and how human perception works. She is a lover of art, the humanities, and the sciences. She is a novelist and a feminist. Her lively, lucid essays in A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women begin to make some sense of those plural perspectives.

Divided into three parts, the first section, “A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women,” investigates the perceptual and gender biases that affect how we judge art, literature, and the world in general. Among the legendary figures considered are Picasso, De Kooning, Jeff Koons, Louise Bourgeoisie, Anselm Kiefer, Susan Sontag, Robert Mapplethorpe, the Guerrilla Girls, and Karl Ove Knausgaard.

The second part, “The Delusions of Certainty,” is about the age-old mind/body problem that has haunted Western philosophy since the Greeks. Hustvedt explains the relationship between the mental and the physical realms, showing what lies beyond the argument—desire, belief, and the imagination.

The final section, “What Are We? Lectures on the Human Condition,” discusses neurological disorders and the mysteries of hysteria. Drawing on research in sociology, neurobiology, history, genetics, statistics, psychology, and psychiatry, this section also contains a profound and powerful consideration of suicide. - I had to post the vast majority of this long description, just because it sounds SO INTERESTING. Also, best title.

Lumberjanes, Vol 5: Band Together by Noelle Stevenson (December 16)

The Lumberjanes meet rock n' roll mermaids!

Excited for the annual Bandicoot Bacchanal, Ripley recruits her friends to help her get ready for the dance. But before the Lumberjanes know it, something mysterious begins to bubble to the surface of the lake near camp! Will the Lumberjanes be able to bring peace to the lake in time for the Bacchanal? - Oh god, this release will make me 2 volumes behind.

What book are you looking forward to this December? Probably no book, because there are basically no books.

When Things Go Wrong

Thursday, December 1, 2016

I did not anticipate vanishing off the face of the internet for the majority of November. I also did not anticipate the outcome of our election. I’ve had friends become subject to harassment, I’ve had children hesitantly tell me that they are afraid, and I’ve found myself mostly despondent.

The night of the election, when things were looking really bad, I started up a bath and cried. I sat there for a long, long time. The optimist in me was sure that we’d see at least a couple typically red states turn blue to show that they were not going to put up with Donald Trump. I did not expect to see my own state of Minnesota, the only state that was blue during the 1984 Reagan election, a light blue. It was so fucking close. That is horrifying and heartbreaking.

The next couple days I had a lot of difficulties keeping myself from spontaneously crying. I cried at work, I cried at home. But Twitter was getting me amped up. There are so many people there who are also upset and ready to put up a fight. So many people compiling helpful resources and actionable things you can do to help. It was exciting, but I also think I jumped into it too soon. Obviously, we should not ever stop fighting for equality and protecting the environment, and all sorts of other things that are more pressing now than ever. But perhaps I should have given myself more time. A number of days after the election, I had the thought, “It’s good that nobody can really tell I’m of Jewish descent by looking at me.” Let’s read that again. It’s good that nobody can really tell I’m of Jewish descent by looking at me. It stopped me in my tracks. Nobody should ever have to think anything like this in a supposedly free country. We have come too far.

After that, I could hardly get myself to do anything. And, to be honest, I’m still struggling. I genuinely don’t think I’ve experienced feelings similar to this since my father died. I’m not trying to be hyperbolic, I’m just trying to say that this despondency and hopelessness feels so much like grieving a loved one. I’m grieving the progress I thought we were making and I’m grieving all the potential steps backward our country could take and I’m grieving for the feeling of safety my friends and family have lost here.

I want to apologize to my readers for not being present and for not responding to comments. I read and appreciate them all. I want to apologize to publishers & authors who have given me copies of books to review. I haven’t read more than 50 pages in the past 3 weeks or so.

I had every intention of following along with the routines I had finally put in place for myself. Everything just sort of fell apart this month. I haven’t read, I haven’t written (sorry, NaNoWriMo), I haven’t exercised, I haven’t talked to you wonderful bookish people, I haven’t done many of the things that make me feel good and enrich my life. I’ve spent WAY too much time playing Animal Crossing (if you want to visit my town, hit me up). Now, I’m left to slowly rebuild everything I had made for myself, but now I have to navigate with some new priorities. I don’t know if I’m ready, but I want to be. I have some relatively big ideas and goals now. I’m beginning to realize what’s really important and what I’ll regret not doing in my lifetime. I’m just going to take it a day at a time, making sure to do something for myself and something for somebody else each day. It’s time to rebuild and go further.

When people say, “Don’t just sit there, do something,” they’re urging you to act. But if the quality of your being is poor—if you don’t have enough peace, understanding, and equanimity, if you still have a lot of anger and worries—then your actions will also be poor. - Thich Nhat Hanh, "How To Sit"

I’m going to get myself back to a state of normalcy and health, but only to create a strong base within myself. I will never stop fighting. I refuse to let any of this be normal.

The Red Car by Marcy Dermansky :: Review

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Red Car by Marcy Dermansky :: Outlandish Lit Review
The Red Car by Marcy Dermansky
Publisher: Liveright. October 11, 2016.
Pages: 208
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Publisher



Leah is living in Queens with a possessive husband she doesn’t love and a long list of unfulfilled ambitions, when she’s jolted from a thick ennui by a call from the past. Her beloved former boss and friend, Judy, has died in a car accident and left Leah her most prized possession and, as it turns out, the instrument of Judy’s death: a red sports car.

Judy was the mentor Leah never expected. She encouraged Leah’s dreams, analyzed her love life, and eased her into adulthood over long lunches away from the office. Facing the jarring disconnect between the life she expected and the one she is now actually living, Leah takes off for San Francisco to claim Judy’s car. In sprawling days defined by sex, sorrow, and unexpected delight, Leah revisits past lives and loves in search of a self she abandoned long ago. Piercing through Leah’s surreal haze is the enigmatic voice of Judy, as sharp as ever, providing wry commentary on Leah’s every move. -Goodreads

The Red Car was totally not what I expected. Honestly, the publisher blurb makes it sound like a borderline Eat Pray Love journey of self discovery featuring a constant soundtrack of Natasha Bedingfield. Luckily for us, that is SO not what this book is. It is much weirder than that. If you like the straight forward, quirky, honest sense of humor of Miranda July and/or the sparse, powerful writing of Lydia Davis, this is the book for you. And that's exactly why it was the book for me.

The mechanic leaned over and tried to kiss me.
I took a step away. I realized I was in a high place. I could actually fall. I sadly shook my head. It seemed unfair. After Lea. After Diego. But I did not want to kiss the mechanic.
"A guy has to try," he said.
"No, you don't," I said quiety.

I don't want to say much about the plot. Leah had a boss who she had a close bond with, then Leah moved away. Her boss, Judy, wanted her to succeed. Leah ends up married to an awful guy who seems benign and she is mostly complacent. She hadn't spoken to Judy in years, and one day she is shocked to find out that Judy is dead. And Judy left her the red car that she loved and that Leah hated (also the car that Judy died in), in addition to something else. A thing happens that makes Leah 100% decide to fly to San Francisco by herself. And then some weird stuff goes down. I WISH I could say more, but I can't. Just know that it is a tightly written story and a quick, enjoyable read. I laughed a lot, I also cried. It's dark. And, again, it's WEIRD. There were some sexy times in the book which is normally horrifying for me (I'm not a prude at all, but sex scenes make me blush too much), but it was done perfectly and never felt gratuitous.

The writing is the best part of this book, and I don't mean that in a bad way like as if other things were lacking. I mean that it was well written on all fronts. Real emotion and thought was evoked. Intelligent, contemporary, and completely on point. I need to read every other word Marcy Dermansky has ever written.

11 Books To Look For This November

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

11 Books To Look For This November :: Outlandish Lit
Goodbye, OctNOber. Hello, DearGodPleaseNOvember. I love the fall and the impending winter!! What's worse than that? How publishing is about to grind to a halt for a month. Here are pretty much the only books coming out in November. Ok, there are some other books coming out, but these are the interesting ones. Featuring: some good Christmas presents (aka things that aren't actually "new" but are being published this month in special editions).

Pull Me Under by Kelly Luce (November 1)

Kelly Luce's Pull Me Under tells the story of Rio Silvestri, who, when she was twelve years old, fatally stabbed a school bully. Rio, born Chizuru Akitani, is the Japanese American daughter of the revered violinist Hiro Akitani--a Living National Treasure in Japan and a man Rio hasn't spoken to since she left her home country for the United States (and a new identity) after her violent crime. Her father's death, along with a mysterious package that arrives on her doorstep in Boulder, Colorado, spurs her to return to Japan for the first time in twenty years. There she is forced to confront her past in ways she never imagined, pushing herself, her relationships with her husband and daughter, and her own sense of who she is to the brink. - I'm 10 pages into this, but I already know it's great. Just trust me.

Invisible Planets by Ken Liu (November 1)

Award-winning translator and author Ken Liu presents a collection of short speculative fiction from China. Some stories have won awards; some have been included in various 'Year's Best' anthologies; some have been well reviewed by critics and readers; and some are simply Ken's personal favorites. Many of the authors collected here (with the obvious exception of Liu Cixin) belong to the younger generation of 'rising stars'. In addition, three essays at the end of the book explore Chinese science fiction.

Fish in Exile by Vi Khi Nao (November 1)

How do you bear the death of a child? With fishtanks and jellyfish burials, Persephone's pomegranate seeds, and affairs with the neighbors. Fish in Exile spins unimaginable loss through classical and magical tumblers, distorting our view so that we can see the contours of a parent's grief all the more clearly.

Virgin and Other Stories by April Ayers Lawson (November 1)

Set in the American South, at the crossroads of a world that is both secular and devoutly Christian, April Ayers Lawson’s stories mine the inner lives of young women and men navigating sexual, emotional, and spiritual awakenings. In the title story, Jake grapples with the growing chasm between him and his wife, Sheila, who was a virgin when they wed. In “Three Friends in a Hammock” the tension and attraction is palpable between three sexy, insecure young women as they tug and toe the rope of their shared sack. “The Way You Must Play Always” invites us into the mind of Gretchen, young-looking even for thirteen, as she attends her weekly piano lesson, anxiously anticipating her illicit meeting with Wesley, her instructor’s adult brother who is recovering from a brain tumor. - I avoided this at first bc sex makes me blush, but after hearing about it on the All The Books podcast, I need to read it.

The Weaver by Emmi Itäranta (November 1)

Eliana is a model citizen of the island, a weaver in the prestigious House of Webs. She also harbors a dangerous secret—she can dream, an ability forbidden by the island’s elusive council of elders. No one talks about the dreamers, the undesirables ostracized from society.

But the web of protection Eliana has woven around herself begins to unravel when a young girl is found lying unconscious in a pool of blood on the stones outside the house. Robbed of speech by her attackers, the only clue to her identity is one word tattooed in invisible ink across her palm: Eliana. Why does this mysterious girl bear her name? What links her to the weaver—and how can she hold Eliana’s fate in her hand? As Eliana finds herself growing closer to this injured girl she is bound to in ways she doesn’t understand, the enchanting lies of the island begin to crumble, revealing a deep and ancient corruption.

The Voynich Manuscript by Who Knows??? (November 1)

Many call the fifteenth-century codex, commonly known as the “Voynich Manuscript,” the world’s most mysterious book. Written in an unknown script by an unknown author, the manuscript has no clearer purpose now than when it was rediscovered in 1912 by rare books dealer Wilfrid Voynich. The manuscript appears and disappears throughout history, from the library of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II to a secret sale of books in 1903 by the Society of Jesus in Rome. The book’s language has eluded decipherment, and its elaborate illustrations remain as baffling as they are beautiful. For the first time, this facsimile, complete with elaborate folding sections, allows readers to explore this enigma in all its stunning detail, from its one-of-a-kind “Voynichese” text to its illustrations of otherworldly plants, unfamiliar constellations, and naked women swimming though fantastical tubes and green baths. - This one goes out to all the weirdest fucking weirdos (me). But, come on, this is the first COMPLETE authorized version from Yale University!! And the back has some essays about it. Too cool.

The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun by J.R.R. Tolkien (November 3)

Unavailable for more than 70 years, this early but important work is published for the first time with Tolkien’s ‘Corrigan’ poems and other supporting material, including a prefatory note by Christopher Tolkien.

Set ‘In Britain’s land beyond the seas’ during the Age of Chivalry, The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun tells of a childless Breton Lord and Lady (the ‘Aotrou’ and ‘Itroun’ of the title) and the tragedy that befalls them when Aotrou seeks to remedy their situation with the aid of a magic potion obtained from a corrigan, or malevolent fairy. When the potion succeeds and Itroun bears twins, the corrigan returns seeking her fee, and Aotrou is forced to choose between betraying his marriage and losing his life. - A perfect gift for your nerdiest friend.

Orphans of the Carnival by Carol Birch (November 8)

Julia Pastrana is the singing and dancing marvel from Mexico, heralded on tours across nineteenth-century Europe as much for her talent as for her rather unusual appearance. Yet few can see past the thick hair that covers her: she is both the fascinating toast of a Governor's ball and the shunned, revolting, unnatural beast, to be hidden from children and pregnant women.

But what is her wonderful and terrible link to Rose, collector of lost treasures in an attic room in modern-day south London? In this haunting tale of identity, love and independence, these two lives will connect in unforgettable ways. - Helloooo Geek Love vibes.

Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada (November 8)

Three generations (grandmother, mother, son) of polar bears are famous as both circus performers and writers in East Germany: they are polar bears who move in human society, stars of the ring and of the literary world. In chapter one, the grandmother matriarch in the Soviet Union accidentally writes a bestselling autobiography. In chapter two, Tosca, her daughter (born in Canada, where her mother had emigrated) moves to the DDR and takes a job in the circus. Her son―the last of their line―is Knut, born in chapter three in a Leipzig zoo but raised by a human keeper in relatively happy circumstances in the Berlin zoo, until his keeper, Matthias, is taken away...

Happy or sad, each bear writes a story, enjoying both celebrity and “the intimacy of being alone with my pen.”

Beyond Earth by Charles Wohlforth & Amanda Hendrix (November 15)

We are at the cusp of a golden age in space science, as increasingly more entrepreneurs Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos are seduced by the commercial potential of human access to space. But Beyond Earth does not offer another wide-eyed technology fantasy: instead, it is grounded not only in the human capacity for invention and the appeal of adventure, but also in the bureaucratic, political, and scientific realities that present obstacles to space travel realities that have hampered NASA's efforts ever since the Challenger fiasco. In Beyond Earth, the authors offer groundbreaking research and argue persuasively that not Mars, but Titan a moon of Saturn with a nitrogen atmosphere, a weather cycle, and an inexhaustible supply of cheap energy; where we will be able to fly like birds in the minimal gravitational field offers the most realistic, and thrilling, prospect of life without support from Earth. - I LOVE SPACE!

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (November 15)

Trevor Noah's unlikely path from apartheid South Africa to the desk of The Daily Show began with a criminal act: his birth. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Living proof of his parents' indiscretion, Trevor was kept mostly indoors for the earliest years of his life, bound by the extreme and often absurd measures his mother took to hide him from a government that could, at any moment, steal him away. Finally liberated by the end of South Africa's tyrannical white rule, Trevor and his mother set forth on a grand adventure, living openly and freely and embracing the opportunities won by a centuries-long struggle.

What book are you looking forward to this November?

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? [Oct 31, 2016]

Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween, everybody! I've had a very spooky week of "being too sick to do anything" and "stepping on nails." I did no Halloween things this October, oops. I got some reading done during my sickness, but only through forcing myself because Hex was 10 days overdue and I was determined to finish it. Am I glad I did? Not particularly.

This is one of the imperfect iterations. It looks even better now!!

 Also I've been working on designing a knitted object for the first time. I decided to make a pair of socks despite having only made two pairs of socks in my life. I just love a challenge I guess. It's been a very humbling experience. I've had to undo it entirely three times. There are just so many different things to factor in and so much math to do. Good knitting takes supreme hesitancy, for real.

In other news, Nanowrimo starts tomorrow! I've participated in National Novel Writing Month 5 years now and won each time. I almost wasn't going to participate for a sixth year, but I can't help myself. I'm going to be working on the novel I started last year, which will admittedly mostly be rewriting it from scratch. I haven't done any creative writing in probably a year actually, so I'm pretty excited/horrified. Anybody else participating?? My username is ulianne if you want to add me as a writing buddy. I love word wars.

In case you missed it, I did a post last week that I loved and I want more people to read. It's 8 interesting new & upcoming books from Minnesota presses. I PROMISE you will want to read one, if not all, of them! Check out the list here.

  • Zero K by Don DeLillo (during the 24 hour readathon)
  • Saga Vol. 6 by Brian K. Vaughan (24 hour readathon)
  • The Red Car by Marcy Dermansky (24 hour readathon)
  • Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt


I'm at the beginning of Stony River by Tricia Dower, a novel set in the 50's, and it's VERY unsettling. I am not 100% clear what is going on with these strange characters, but I kind of like it.

Kelly Luce!! Her first novel, Pull Me Under, is coming out tomorrow. I meant to read it this week, but being sick kind of destroyed my schedule for reading and for work. So I'm starting it tonight and I CANNOT WAIT. I'm still not over how good the cover is.

What are you reading this week?



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