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Joseph Peschel

Joseph Peschel, a freelance writer and critic in South Dakota, can be reached at [email protected] or through his blog at

Ross Barkan’s Demolition Night

Demolition Night, Ross Barkan’s first novel, tells the story of a not-too-distant, dystopic future so terrible for most people that a young woman and her friend go back in time to change the future by killing the woman who gave birth to America’s despot president.

Ian Frisch's Magic is Dead

Ian Frisch, a young Brooklyn freelance journalist, expected only a long article about the "mind of a magician" to emerge from his contacts with underground magic performers. Frisch has written for The New Yorker, the New York Times, Playboy, and Wired.

Colson Whitehead's The Nickel Boys

Whitehead’s newest novel The Nickel Boys, is a realistic depiction of another era in African-American history: the post Jim Crow era in Florida, and it’s set primarily in the 1960s and 1970s.

T.C. Boyle's Outside Looking In

Few living, serious novelists know more about magic mushrooms and LSD-25 than T. Coraghessan Boyle. The author of Drop City (2005) and a trove of other fiction even looks the part.

Karen Russell's Orange World and Other Stories

With her third story collection, Orange World, Karen Russell continues to create a fictive world where fantasy, horror, humor, science-fiction, and realism co-exist.

Run Me To Earth

Paul Yoon’s new novel, his second, Run Me to Earth, takes place during the Laotian Civil War. While the Vietnam War rages on, Laos is engaged in a civil war between the Soviet-supported, communist Pathet Lao and the American-backed Royal Lao Government throughout the 1960s and early 1970s.

Lily Tuck’s Heathcliff Redux: A Novella and Stories

The collection’s best story is “Carl Schurz Park,” which concerns a murder and one of the murderers. In other stories, a woman finds a dead swan; people pictured in a 1950s photograph inspire a character study; and a fellow called Yann Johansen harasses a woman, once a Rajneeshee cultist, with odd and accusatory emails.

Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind

Rumaan Alam, a Brooklynite himself, begins his third novel, Leave the World Behind (2020), as if it were a domestic comedy of manners about a Brooklyn family on vacation in Long Island. Alam transforms the story, with its serious and witty commentary on social class and race relations, into a psychological thriller—a dystopian tale about the end of the world.

Danielle Evans’s The Office of Historical Corrections

Danielle Evans is a superb short-story writer whose first story collection Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self (2010), published 10 years ago, was a co-winner of the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for fiction, the Paterson Prize for Fiction, and an honorable mention for the PEN/Hemingway award.

John Banville’s April in Spain

You don’t need to have read or even know of the late Benjamin Black’s previous Quirke novels, set in the 1950s, to understand and enjoy April in Spain. It’s an exciting page turner with plenty of dark and quirky characters. The cranky Irishman’s crime fans will consider this the eighth novel in the Quirke series of crime novels, even though it’s written by the fellow who shut Black “in a room with a pistol, a phial of sleeping pills and a bottle of Scotch.”

Charles Baxter’s Wonderlands: Essays on the Life of Literature

“The hardest part of being a writer is learning how to survive the dark nights of the soul,” Charles Baxter writes about halfway through his new book, Wonderlands: Essays on the Life of Literature. This isn’t Baxter’s first book about writing and the life of the writer as an artist.

Richard Bausch’s Playhouse

Richard Bausch’s thirteenth novel, Playhouse, takes place in Tennessee as the Globe Shakespeare Theater of Memphis undergoes a major building renovation while the theater folk get ready for their fall season. Bausch’s characters face more professional and personal problems than you can shake a playbill at, but the theater staff and the cast deal with adversity with varying degrees of success.

Joshua Henkin’s Morningside Heights

Henkin’s latest novel Morningside Heights, delayed from publication for one year because of COVID-19, is a tragedy in which a family copes with one member’s early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a gracefully written book, Henkin’s best so far, that manages to be emotionally moving, without being cloying or so overwhelmingly depressive as to be unreadable.

Where We Come From by Oscar Cásares

“Every morning there’s a long line of women on the bridge coming over to work, and then at night they go back across to their families in Matamoros. Right or wrong, legal or illegal, seen or ignored, that’s how things work here.”

Jim Shepard’s Phase Six

A tightly-written, well-researched, and suspenseful novel, Phase Six is set about five years after COVID-19.

Steve Yarbrough’s Stay Gone Days

Steve Yarbrough&rsquop;s eighth novel, Stay Gone Days, follows the lives of two girls, the Cole sisters, Ella and Caroline, who grow up in Loring, Mississippi. After high school, they go their separate ways, and, for the most part, stay gone.

Claudia Durastanti’s Strangers I Know

Claudia Durastanti may be a new novelist as far as most Americans are concerned, but Strangers I Know is actually the Italian author’s fourth novel, her first to be published in translation in America. Originally published in 2019 as La straniera in Italy, the book was a finalist for the Premio Strega.

Caleb Azumah Nelson’s Open Water

Caleb Azumah Nelson’s first novel is a short, introspective love story told around the conflict bubbling inside a young Black man who tries to examine and understand love, fear, and trauma amid the racism in south-east London.

Lauren Groff’s Matrix

Lauren Groff’s latest novel Matrix is a lyrical blend of historical fiction and myth-making that takes place in a nunnery during the mid-12th and early 13th centuries, the time of the Crusades.

Transcendent Kingdom

Yaa Gyasi’s second novel, Transcendent Kingdom, blends science and religion, the past and present, in a story about a small Ghanaian family that immigrates to Alabama.

Jonathan Lethem’s The Arrest

A sense of the communal persists in Jonathan Lethem’s fiction, but, within these imagined and would-be idealized communities, anarchy, the threat of violence, and violence itself percolates and sometimes even thrives.

Rachel Cusk’s Second Place

How do you resist reading a story that begins with its narrator talking about meeting the devil on a train leaving Paris?

Megan Mayhew Bergman’s How Strange a Season: Fiction

Over the last ten years, Megan Mayhew Bergman has proven to be a damn fine short-story writer. Her stories have appeared in such literary magazines as AGNI, the Kenyon Review, and Ploughshares, and, more recently, the Sewanee Review, Narrative magazine, and even O, The Oprah Magazine, and they’ve been collected in The Best American Short Stories

Red Pill

Hari Kunzru's sixth novel is loaded with pop-culture allusions, political buzz phrases, and snippets of writing from historical characters, all hovering around a backdrop of far-right social manipulation.

William Boyd’s TRIO

Trio is a fine, well-tuned novel with plenty of perfectly-paced drama, wit, and intriguing plot twists that accompany its more serious themes about privacy, secrecy, and Camus’s one fundamental philosophical question from which all questions follow.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2023

All Issues