Darwin discovered that evolution proceeds with neither direction nor purpose. The natural world is largely indifferent to plan or plot. Yet we, story-seeking creatures that we are, see the world around us as more completed, more accomplished, than what came before. Tom Comitta’s The Nature Book explores these tensions by stitching together hundreds of fragments in the history of literary writing about the natural worldthis excerpt alone is a collage of ninety-seven novels ranging from Hawthorne to Arundhati Roy. Though the text of The Nature Book is a polyphonic effort of writers, humans are absent from the actual story. In this seamless anthology, we forget that the experience of reading about nature is mediated by human voices and, when suspended in the text, succumb to the magical illusion that we are perceiving the world in itself.
Deep in the mountains of Pennsylvania, a sixty-six year old woman named Jean welds scrap metal into massive sculptures. These works, which she dubs her Manglements, assert themselves into the foreground of the story with the same haunting force of Louise Bourgeoiss workswhich makes sense given that Bourgeois is Jeans greatest influence and the central source of reflection on the artistic impulse in Idra Noveys superb new novel, Take What You Need. Amid the sawdust and machine oil, theres a whiff of distrust. The novel deeply examines the intersection of art and trust, which is a central, if quiet, conversation often overlooked in the sensationalist depictions of art monsters in contemporary fiction. Novey relates an outsider artists life, and her step-daughters reckoning with that life, with resonance and connection to the broader world beyond the workshop.
Maylis De Kerangals Eastbound relates a Russian soldier, Aliocha, attempting to evade military service by hiding aboard a Trans-Siberian railcar venturing from Moscow to Vladivostok. Aliochas determined flight, given the militarys endless reach, has proven to be the only rational response to the dysfunction and brutality of his corps. More than a prescient one-sided tale, Eastbound also depicts a young French woman, Hélène, fleeing an unsatisfactory relationship. In order to successfully flee, each must trust the other, difficult given a strict language barrier. The novels relentless pace is matched by De Kerangals beautiful lyricism. Simple acts, like preparing to step outside from a train car, are written with masterful, close attention.