Today, we are pleased to bring you reviews of two books out this month. First up, Jeremy Klemin reviews Stephen O’Connor’s experimental novel about the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings. Klemin writes: “The most redeeming part of the book, I think, is how carefully O’Connor chronicles Jefferson as perpetually lying to himself; smart people who do horrific things have an uncanny ability to logically justify their actions.” Next, Augusto Corvalan reviews Melissa Goodrich’s debut collection Daughters of Monsters, out from Jellyfish Highway Press. In Goodrich’s short stories, a girl’s mother is transformed into an orange, a toxic fog devastates the country, and a man’s past selves are the guests at his birthday party. You’ll want to read both of these April releases.
Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings is a novel by Stephen O’Connor, released April 5th by Viking Books, an imprint of Penguin. It is a lengthy book with an experimental format, containing excerpts from essays, dream-like sequences, diaries, and factual information situated amidst the primary story of Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings. O’Connor deftly fills in “the gaps between facts,” imagining the nuances of a relationship that, save a few hundred words, is almost completely absent from primary sources on Jefferson. At turns playful and poignant, Thomas Jefferson Dreams of Sally Hemings is an in-depth look at what the literal process of a life of cognitive dissonance entails, about the repeated, daily failure to reconcile one of the most glaring hypocrisies in the history of the United States.
Like the opening shot of a late-night, science-fiction horror flick, Melissa Goodrich’s debut short story collection Daughters of Monsters crash-lands into our planet from a universe not quite like our own. Pairing hypersaturated sentences with high-concept surrealism, Goodrich has managed to tweak the parameters of our reality to present a world transformed. This idea of constant change hums through each story in the collection—the ways we morph and adjust in our unsteady universe, and the ways we try to hold on.
Characters are in states of turbulent flux in most of the manic little pocket universes Goodrich constructs. In “She Wants, She Gets,” Cinderella turns to ashes every midnight. She has no idea what she’ll become the next morning—a bucket, a mop, fire. In “Anna George,” a teenage girl must readjust to life after her mother comes back from vacation transformed into an orange. “Super” details a small boy’s reincarnations after his brother accidentally drowns him—a cabbage, a theater ticket, intestines.