Scotland Yard’s Ward was stunned. He couldn’t recall a burglary like this anywhere. The thieves, as if undertaking a special-ops raid, had climbed up the sheer face of the building. From there, they scaled its pitched metal roof on a cold, wet night, cut open a fiberglass skylight, and descended inside—without tripping alarms or getting picked up by cameras. “Dangerous work,” he says. “This is not something ordinary burglars try to accomplish.”
Then there was the loot. In a warehouse laden with valuables coming in and out of Heathrow for customs clearance, the thieves had taken their time in the darkness, more than five hours, to select from among hundreds of books—choosing the most precious ones. They made off with nothing else from the vast freight building except for some nearby tote bags—heavy satchels that they snatched from another shipping container. Ward tells me on a call from London, “You must have a lot of patience, strength, and ingenuity not to trigger the sensors and to get the books back through that hole in the roof.”
These tidbits of personal medical history — the odd diet and the maternal anxiety — “made their way into the story,” said the 39-year-old author, journalist and artist. That story is “Eat the Mouth That Feeds You,” about a young daughter who bites chunks of her own mother’s flesh. “It is her right,” says the mother in the short story. “She must take those things. She must take from me what she needs.”
It’s a fitting title piece for Fragoza’s debut collection, released in late March but already widely acclaimed. “Eat the Mouth That Feeds You” includes fantastical, intimate, strange and often supernatural stories set on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border about Latinas navigating a male-dominated world — and leaning on one another for support.
She knew nothing about owning a business, or selling books, and she didn’t have any credit. She saved $2,000 from bartending and a local bank loaned her another $2,000. It was utter nonsense for a 23-year-old woman in 1972 to open her own store, so she called it “The Nonsense”—The Jabberwocky was born. When in 1974, after meeting all her payments to the bank, she asked to borrow another $4,000 to move The Jabberwocky to a larger space, she was told that as a young woman in the 70s she’d be “doing other things soon” and was declined.
Undeterred, she eventually moved the store to an old tannery in 1986, expanding from 650 square feet to over 7,000. The fact that it’s a bookstore not situated anywhere near a university, or in a major city, but in a town with a population of less than 20,000, makes this especially impressive for anyone who knows this industry well.
“I hurt my teeth biting into it, and it was so sour, so astringent. I was shocked,” Lebo said recently. “I’d had these expectations of what a fruit was supposed to be, and this fruit tricked me into consuming it. Then I came to realize some scholars think the quince is the (Biblical) fruit of knowledge, not the apple.” It became a perfect metaphor — that sweet, beckoning lure hiding painful truths and betrayal.
The encounter helped catalyze “The Book of Difficult Fruit,” a new book of essays from the Spokane author, poet and pie maker and an abecedarian account of “the tart, tender and unruly (with recipes).” Dining from “a” (aronia berries) to “z” (zucchini) meant unlocking stubborn family mysteries, unsnarling adult relationships and childhood dreams, addressing everything from an abortion that “is none of my business and not my story, except I was there” to the thorny reasons why the wild huckleberry should never be domesticated.
All fiction is magic. That’s the thought that occurred to me often as I read “First Person Singular,” the brilliant new book of stories by Haruki Murakami, author of international best sellers.
Here, secrets are revealed, skirmishes ensue, and at the book’s end the story lands more Patricia Highsmith than Agatha Christie: a maze of identity and desire that has an ending, but not a solution. Every piece of the puzzle falls into place, but the picture is never made whole. Perhaps this is Oyeyemi’s point: To be at peace with the vagaries of human connection, you have to learn to find the wholeness in every part.
Today’s pace of extinction is hundreds if not thousands of times greater than the natural extinction rate. Humans are, of course, profoundly implicated in this loss of life and biodiversity. Jeff VanderMeer’s 20th book, the ambitious ecological thriller “Hummingbird Salamander,” asks us to engage with this reality, and with the possibility that Homo sapiens too could be on the path to extinction, thanks to the species’ “destroying its own habitat.”
The result is a novel of Indian magic and modern technology, a parody of New World ambition and an elegy of assimilation. Looking up from the pages of this sparkling debut, I experienced something like the thrill the luckiest 49ers must have felt: Gold! Gold! Gold!
Some fine writers, granted the luck of long lives and clear minds, go on publishing after it would have been kind for someone to tell them to stop, but a precious few report with wisdom, kindness and intelligence from the end to which we shall all come — travel of a different kind. This is such a book.