Books of the Year 2022
One of the great Francophone poets working today. Devi's verse is intimate yet epic, and elemental without neglecting the body. The four poems in this book (ably translated by Kazim Ali) make most other contemporary poets seem spectacularly unambitious.
No live organism can continue to exist compassionately under conditions of absolute fascism, even the birds in Italy under Mussolini were observed to take part in rallies and violence. [...] Silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of the house, and whatever walked there marched on Rome.
I have defied temporal dictates and declared a book that publishes 1/17/23 as my best of '22. To be fair, I read the UK release (10/28/21), and before that I read the first draft (c. 2020). I spent '22 waiting for it to wash up on this side of the Atlantic. Tell Me I'm Worthless is a thoroughly unpleasant book-- I mean that as a compliment!-- about the tacit cooperation between "gender critical"/trans-exclusionary feminism and fascism.Three girls enter a haunted house. Two girls leave. Alice and Ila can't comprehend what happened at Albion House or what they did(n't? do) to each other. Afterwards Alice scrapes by recording sissy porn, while Ila embraces gender-critical thought. Rumfitt cares deeply for her characters, writing Alice and Ila with equal tenderness and cruelty ("I have to believe that other people have also experienced impossible, horrible things," Alice thinks). But Albion still haunts them, Albion which is Britain, and fascism, and the kind of illusory safety from trauma you achieve only by declaring us vs. them.
Leech is one of those books that has a little something for everyone, yet is weird enough to be wholly unique in this world. Frozen north Gothic tragedies? Medical mysteries? Far-future archaeologies? Philosophical/ethical quandaries? A little body-horror and a LOT of delicious psychological horror?? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes! All told by perhaps the most interesting narrator I've ever encountered. Pick it up and let it into your mind!
In my undergraduate studies as a comics artist, fan-translations of Daisuke Igarashi's short stories were passed around surreptitiously in PDF format by students and professors alike. It's a joy to see the work of such a master in print at last. Right from the opening title spread, rendered painstakingly in the style of an illuminated manuscript, Witches seizes you with its uncanny beauty. This is not Disney magic -- this is cunning magic, chthonic magic, as beautiful, terrible, and inscrutable as the universe itself. These seven stories take us from the Amazon to the Alps to rural Japan, joined by a conception of the witch as bridge between the human and the cosmic. Igarashi's taste for striking, dreamlike imagery (occasionally veering into horror that would make Junji Ito jump) makes every splash page unforgettable.
Another Coffee House Press classic!! Beautiful and strange collection of poetry based on the life of boxer Bobby "Schoolboy" Chacon and his wife Valorie Ginn. These poems sing with the brutality of boxing and its physical/mental toll. Amezcua experiments with form and structure. Visually stunning -- wildly imaginative poems. The fights have never been written quite like this.
In the years between wars, the Seagrave siblings - Cristobel, Flossie, and Digby - grow up in a Dorset manse. Fueled by Cristobel's imagination, they establish a summer theater in the skeleton of a beached whale. As WWII looms, all three serve in one way or another as undercover agents. All in all, a whale of a book that touches every emotion.
Gut made me want to get my feet dirty in the muddy Mississippi riverbanks. It made me want to feel the Memphis sun on my forehead. It made me want to hug Mitzi (you'll meet her). Hutchinson explores life's ebb and flow through nature, the ritual of feasts, family traditions, and death, among other memories. Wise, humble, gritty yet delicate.
The book I read last year that I can't stop thinking about is My Tender Matador by the Chilean author Pedro Lemebel. Set during the final days of the Pinochet dictatorship, the novel tells the story of a flamboyantly gay man, eking out a living making dresses for the wives of generals and politicians. When he meets a handsome guerrilla, the two enter a relationship of mutual deception. Soon they're scouting locations for an assassination attempt, under the guise of a Sunday picnic in the country. Politics, love, fantasy, and denial swirl together in a complex story that is as funny as it is searing and caustic. The setting may be the other side of the world, but I know no better portrait of the moral and emotional complexity of life under duress--and the beauty to be found in the cracks of a crumbling system.