By Liska Jacobs
Farrar, Straus and Giroux/MCD, 224 pages, $26
Liska Jacobs’s work captivates in the present because it reflects the trauma of the past. Take Pricilla Messing, who narrates Jacobs’s second novel, The Worst Kind of Want. She’s 43, single and childless, and faced with her mother’s declining health. But when Pricilla flies to Italy to look after her teenage niece, Hannah, the specter of death—evoked by the ruins of Rome, as well as the absence of her sister, Emily, Hannah’s late mother—unmoors her. As she becomes entangled with Hannah’s 17-year-old neighbor Donato, Pricilla’s past, which includes her own underage relationship with an older family friend, crowds the present. Jacobs takes us on a wrenching journey into the catacombs.
By Sergio Troncoso
Cinco Puntos Press, 224 pages, $16.95
Chicano literature began with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, when a sizable Latino population was separated from its land and heritage. Sergio Troncoso has written brilliantly of this disruption and its pull. In his new book of stories, he is sharp in “Rosary on the Border,” where a New Yorker returns to the El Paso–area village of Ysleta for his father’s funeral, and “New Englander,” in which an intellectual Chicano must fight a redneck. Less successful are speculative fictions like “Library Island,“ in which immigrants must read endlessly to stay alive. When Troncoso writes of Ysleta and the life left there, he is moving and assured.
By Jon Roemer
Dzanc Books, 182 pages, $16.95
Jon Roemer swaps the bohemian Greenwich Village of Rear Window for tech-
frenzied San Francisco in his quick-paced novel Five Windows, which offers a nod to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller. In this recasting, the unnamed narrator, a small-press editor, doesn’t suspect murder. Still, when not “chained to his desk,” he indulges his curiosity about the mysterious malfeasances on his block. Explosions rattle nerves and windows; fires rip through old buildings; neighbors collect in jagged standoffs. Suffused with unease, Five Windows casts its sharpest light on alienation and its spoils. The book’s quiet strength comes from the details of a city shifting beneath the feet of its inhabitants—and the irreparable fissures this creates.
By Xuan Juliana Wang
Hogarth, 240 pages, $25
Story collections often fall into one of two categories: demonstrating cohesion or range. The first stakes out a writer’s obsessions; the latter points to a youthful energy. Xuan Juliana Wang’s debut straddles both territories. It’s narrated in a conversational tone and centers on young Chinese and Chinese American people. At the same time, the stories vary in structure, technique, and point of view. Wang’s book isn’t experimental—the 12 efforts here are, on the whole, traditionally constructed—but she is uninterested in doing the same thing again and again. The result is a beautiful arrangement of narratives that moves from the mundane pressures of family life to the stranger fantasies of domestic science fiction.