The best Speculative Fiction lives up to its name. It invites us to speculate: on how things are, why they are like that, how they might get worse, and what we might have to be willing to do to make them better, all while telling an engaging story with relatable characters that the reader cares about.
That’s what I’m hoping for from this week’s books. One tells the story of a town where black girls regularly go missing and no one pays any attention. The other tells the story of how laws built from fear can undermine the humanity both of the people the laws are targeted at and the ones that they’re meant to protect.
‘Jackal‘ by Erin E. Adams (2022)
I bought this after reading an ARC review by CHAR that contained this quote about the difference between danger in a city, which is to be found around every corner, and danger in a small town that has no corners or dark shadows on the streets.
“Danger didn’t need a place to hide, it preferred to fester. First, it would smile and bring you German chocolate cake. Then it would wait out in the open on your front porch until it felt good and ready.”
For me, as a Brit, the American small town is a place of myth. I’ve been to a few but only as a tourist. The smallest place I’ve ever lived was a village of 5,000 people and it was surrounded by other villages and had a town of 50,000 people a few kilometres away. I struggle to imagine what it’s like to be in a small town where there is little or no anonymity and where you grew up with the people who are now your neighbours. Trying to imagine what it’s like to be one of the only black families living in a small town is beyond me.
I’m hoping that this book will work both as a piece of no-holds-barred dark fiction and as a confrontation of all the ways in which small towns exclude, restrict and sometimes threaten, those who don’t fit in because they’re the wrong colour.
‘Our Missing Hearts‘ by Celeste Ng (2022)
Celeste Ng is on my ‘Buy Whatever She Publishes’ list. I read her first book ‘Everything I Never Told You’ back in 2016 and I was blown away. I thought it was as close to perfect as a novel can get. This is how my review started.
I’ve never read a novel quite like “Everything I Never Told You”. I was completely engrossed in it from the opening sentence:
“Lydia is dead, but they don’t know this yet.”
I wanted more and more of it, even though it was so unbearably sad that I could not listen to it without finding myself in tears, time and again. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to know what happened next – Lydia is dead. I’ve known that from the first sentence – but I wanted to deepen my understanding of what that death and that life had meant
Two years later, I read ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ and found myself thinking about it for a long time, trying to decide what it meant. The story was clear and engaging and the characters were so strongly written that they began to feel like family but the book was full of controversial issues and I couldn’t see whose side the authorial voice was on. I eventually figured out that the authorial voice was offering me difficult questions and asking me to consider my answers.
I’ve waited four years for the next book to come out and, now that it’s here, it looks ambitious and challenging and I’m looking forward to getting into it.