GRACE NOTES - FEBRUARY 2022

 

This month - celebrating fiction and poetry by trans writers and the best of recent Black literature. Read on -

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

Detransition, Baby is, in the best way, a tangled mess of a book. Tackling issues of gender, race, status, and motherhood, it glories in the complexities of living in the 21st century.

Reese is a trans woman with a bad habit of picking the worst men - married, abusive, immature. The last reasonably healthy relationship she had was with her ex, Ames, who was Amy when the two were together. Ames has since detransitioned and is on the verge of fatherhood, as the result of a fling with his boss, Katrina. Feeling unprepared for parenthood, he broaches the possibility of enlisting Reese’s help in raising the child. As may be expected, this idea meets with serious consternation from Reese and Katrina, though motherhood is Reese’s longtime dream. Katrina is unsure that she even wants to go through with the pregnancy.

Peters maneuvers around these complications with the finesse of a figure skater. It would be easy for the reader to pass judgement on any of the characters’ motivations, but Peters writes so many layers of nuance into each of them that we can’t help but empathize and root for them all. Ames wants to be a parent, but not necessarily a father. Reese has taken on a mothering role in the trans community around her, but has doubts about her ability to mother an actual child. Katrina has experienced a miscarriage  in the past, so her trepidation is understandable, even without the baggage of the trio’s unconventional circumstances. 

The dialogue sizzles, simmers, and explodes. Arguments escalate to a fever pitch, laced with acerbic humor. When Reese and Katrina enroll in a baby registry at an upscale shop, the descriptions of consumer excess are hilarious. There is an equally side-splitting account of a Tupperware party-like essential oils gathering that includes some next-level mansplaining from a “celebrity acupuncturist.” 

Peters has taken what could be viewed by some as a niche subject and made it universal. The book leaves us with more questions than answers, wanting to know more about these complicated characters. The view inside this little  community is warm, compassionate, and fierce, making it relatable on an all-embracing level.

 

Happy Black History Month! So much great literature by Black authors was released in 2021. Here are some of my favorite reads of last year - 

A Litte Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib

Hands down one of the best books I’ve read in the past several years. Abdurraqib’s collection of essays on Black performance in America is wise, compassionate, deeply thoughtful, and shot through with a profound sense of mourning. My clumsy words are completely inadequate to describe his elegant ones. Just read it.

Dear Miss Metropolitan by Carolyn Ferrell

This blazing debut is loosely based on the case of three young women who spent years in captivity in a Cleveland basement in the early 2000s. Ferrell moves the action to New York in her novel. Told in fragmented bursts by multiple voices, the rage and terror of the victims is laid bare, daring the reader to look away.  A formidable first work from a powerful, singular voice.

On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed

So much history packed into such a small package! Gordon-Reed gives us a history of Texas told through multiple lenses, including enslaved Blacks, Indigenous people, and her own experience growing up in the Lone Star State. The significance of Juneteenth is clearly and convincingly posited. A little gem.

The Love Songs of W. E. B. DuBois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers

This colossus of a book is a multi-generational saga that reaches back beyond the history of slavery and conquest and examines the echoes of those institutions in  present day America. This is poet Jeffers’ first novel, and it is an ambitious debut.

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson

A fierce sense of defiance and a yearning for social justice permeates these searing short works. Johnson plays with form and genre with the dexterity of a dancer. My Monticello is a  fast-paced, wholly relevant collection.

Worldly Things Michael Kleber-Diggs

Michael Kleber-Diggs’ poems are a scream against injustice and a cry for kindness without barriers. With knife-like precision, this debut challenges us to embrace compassion. (see selection below.)

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton

Opal Jewel & Nev Charles are an unlikely pair - an Afro-punk goddess and a ginger Brit singer/songwriter. The two form a seminal duo in the early ’70’s at the dawn of punk. An incident at one of their performances makes them legends but changes the trajectory of their careers. Told through snippets of interviews with Opal, Nev, and the kaleidoscope of people who figured in their lives, it’s an engaging story, touching on themes of fame, race, and family. 

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

Sharply observed and thoroughly entertaining, this triptych tells the story of a furniture salesman skirting the law to hang onto his business. It is a joyous ode to Harlem. Whitehead’s keen eye for place and nimble use of language is unparalleled, as always.

The Man Who Lived Underground by Richard Wright

Written at about the same time as Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, The Man Who Lived Underground has only existed in bits and pieces up until now. The harrowing story of a man unjustly accused of murder has now been published in its entirety. The story itself is, unfortunately, as timely as today’s headlines. The twisted narrative is Kafkaesque, packed with irony, tragedy, and outrage. It is a howl against injustice that will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned.

 

Poetry!

Salutations from the Storm 

Sometimes I wonder

if I’m really the best

person for this body.

 

“Sometimes” means 

daily. “Body” means

cage. “Person” means

 

nothing at all, unless

you count this ghost, or

this storm. You can see

 

my haunt in the tired 

eyes. In the limbs struck

like exploding oaks

 

as you assume you know

what this body holds—

which is never me

 

which may never be me.

 

I’d like to see my body 

with someone else in it.

I just want to see it happy. 

        ~John Elizabeth Stintzi

 

 

Source of My Confidence 

Vast sky, sky blue. Placid dry ocean

sky. I count four cirrus clouds.

I open every window I have

wide. Spring air races through rooms:

a joyous child. My neighbor battens 

down for an imminent storm.

She winds in her awnings. She won’t

water her garden. This continues

for more than a week. Every day

we have the same conversation.

 

Get ready, she says,

I feel it in my bones.

I usually respond with mathematics.

They don’t know, she says, they don’t

know. Night allows me 

the smallest violence. I fill

a watering can near to overflowing.

I stand in her dark yard and minister

to her flowers. A gentle wind

surrounds me like a robe.

        ~ Michael Kleber-Diggs

 

 

Lately, I've become accustomed to the way

The ground opens up and envelopes me

Each time I go out to walk the dog.

Or the broad edged silly music the wind

Makes when I run for a bus...

Things have come to that.

And now, each night I count the stars.

And each night I get the same number.

And when they will not come to be counted,

I count the holes they leave.

Nobody sings anymore.

And then last night I tiptoed up

To my daughter's room and heard her

Talking to someone, and when I opened

The door, there was no one there...

Only she on her knees, peeking into

Her own clasped hands.

        ~Amiri Baraka

 

 

Coming in March - 

Uncommon Measure by Natalie Hodges

The intersection between music and science has been documented frequently, but rarely with as much poetic sensibility as in Natalie Hodges’ debut. Hodges examines music from two perspectives - that of a former concert violinist and that of a seeker into the mysteries of quantum physics and neuroscience. This is not a scientific “how music works” text, but rather a way of trying to define the physics behind how music flows in  the individual musician, within a musical ensemble, and between musicians and dancers. Hodges, who is half Korean, fearlessly relates her growth as a musician, spurred on by her mother, who put aside her own musical aspirations to focus on her children. In her explanation of the “tiger mom” stereotype, she strikes a fine balance between defense and debunking. Chapters on the mysteries of improvisation and on the magnetic connection between tango dancers show a writer with a breathless sense of wonder and a firm commitment to her arts, both literary and musical.

 

Small Odysseys: Selected Shorts Presents 35 New Stories

Edited by Hannah Tinti, Forward by Neil Gaiman

Published in partnership with the literary radio show Selected Shorts, this eclectic collection features an all-star cast of authors, including Edwige Danticat, Dave Eggers, Lauren Groff, Carmen Maria Machado, and many more. The stores range from dystopian futurism to family drama to surrealism, so there’s something for everyone here. Namwali Serpell writes of a pandemic world in which people lose their noses. Luis Alberto Urrea’s fictionalized reminiscence of riding in a bread truck with his father is as warm as their wares. Jess Walter’s updated take on the noir trope of the beautiful but troubled woman hiring a hard-boiled detective is spot-on. Small Odysseys is a rich and varied sampling of some of today’s best writers.

 

If you're as big a Jeopardy geek as I am, you were awestruck by Amy Schneider's 40 day run. Click here to read Jennifer Finney Boylan's article on the "radical normalcy" of Schneider's participation in the game.

Mac's Backs had the pleasure of co-hosting an event with writer and culture critic Lucy Sante recently. Click here to read about her transition and growth as a trans woman. 

We mourn the passing of the inimitable bell hooks in December. Click here to read Niela Orr's tribute to her. 

The spectre of book-banning has been rearing its head in recent months. Click here to read about a group of women of color fighting book-banning in their home state of Texas.

Books: 
Detransition, Baby: A Novel Cover Image
$18.00
ISBN: 9780593133385
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: One World - October 5th, 2021

A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9781984801197
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Random House - March 30th, 2021

Dear Miss Metropolitan: A Novel Cover Image
$27.99
ISBN: 9781250793614
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Henry Holt and Co. - July 6th, 2021

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois: An Oprah's Book Club Novel Cover Image
$28.99
ISBN: 9780062942937
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Harper - August 24th, 2021

My Monticello: Fiction Cover Image
$26.99
ISBN: 9781250807151
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Henry Holt and Co. - October 5th, 2021

Worldly Things Cover Image
$22.00
ISBN: 9781571315168
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Milkweed Editions - June 8th, 2021

On Juneteenth Cover Image
$14.36
ISBN: 9781631498831
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Liveright - May 4th, 2021

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev Cover Image
$27.00
ISBN: 9781982140168
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: 37 Ink - March 30th, 2021

Harlem Shuffle: A Novel Cover Image
$28.95
ISBN: 9780385545136
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Doubleday - September 14th, 2021

The Man Who Lived Underground: A Novel Cover Image
By Richard Wright, Malcolm Wright (Afterword by)
$22.95
ISBN: 9781598536768
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Library of America - April 20th, 2021

Uncommon Measure: A Journey Through Music, Performance, and the Science of Time Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9781942658979
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Bellevue Literary Press - March 22nd, 2022

Small Odysseys: Selected Shorts Presents 35 New Stories Cover Image
By Hannah Tinti (Editor), Neil Gaiman (Foreword by)
$19.95
ISBN: 9781643751993
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Algonquin Books - March 15th, 2022