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What We’re Reading

Victoria Savanh (Editorial Intern, Tin House Books): I finished Hotel Iris by Yoko Ogawa in one sitting. The narrator, seventeen-year-old Mari, is working the front desk of her mother’s crumbling seaside hotel as usual when she witnesses an altercation between a middle-aged man and a prostitute. Mari is deeply drawn to his cello-like voice, and when she sees him in town later, she follows him. He’s a nervous man who never takes off his suit, a translator of Russian works living just off the coast on a small island. The relationship that develops between them is unsettling, to say the least. Yet the violent manifestations of what Mari believes to be love do not disturb me so much as Mari’s voice. It never wavers. Her controlled world is reflected in the sparse, tight but distant, prose. And even as tension gathers, the story never feels rushed. This is a dark and beautifully rendered novella.

Holly Laycock (Tin House Marketing Intern): Following Pamela Erens’s successful second novel, The Virgins, Tin House will actually be publishing her first, The Understory (Spring 2014), and it is this story that I’ve been immersed in as of late. It’s about Jack Gorse, a man who’s appropriated his deceased uncle’s apartment, and the very particular life he leads in New York City. Particular because every day is centered around his routine–a walk to Central Park, a visit to the local bookstore, a lunch served by Mariam the waitress every day. Until his living situation is threatened and an attractive stranger begins to disrupt his meticulously planned life, Jack is just your average harmless introvert, but his neuroses begin to play out in unexpected and captivating ways. The observations of this thoughtful character are quite lovely at times: “In the spring and summer I watched my plants flower, but it was, perhaps, in winter that I loved them best, when their skeletons were exposed. Then I felt they had more to say to me, were not simply dressing themselves for the crowds. Stripped of their leaves, their identities showed forth stark, essential.” This stripping of layers happens to our narrator as well, making his unraveling all the more fascinating, and frightening.

Lauren Perez (Tin House Marketing Intern): Kevin Sampsell’s This is Beteween UsI devoured this book in a night—it combines guilty, voyeuristic pleasure with great prose. You ride in the narrator’s head through the beginning of a relationship, its near dissolution and ultimate tenderness. Sampsell writes so honestly it feels reckless.

Molly Dickinson (Editorial Intern, Tin House Books): There is nothing slow about getting to know This is Between Us. One moment it is foreign, and the next you are dunked full body and naked into freezing water with the characters. The narrator is entirely frank and unmediated: sometimes I hated him and oftentimes I was just as baffled as he was by his partner and kids. Having these polarizing experiences with the narrator made me love the book even more. He doesn’t try to win you over like I sometimes feel characters are in books. But part of what makes this book so great is the episodic style. The vignettes are so easily accessible and so very personal because they are not contextualized in any greater narrative. What remains with me days after finishing the book, however, is how much this portrait of a relationship is based in the physical. Even when the couple is apart their interactions are rooted in their physical connection: touching a tree together, the feeling of the phone on his chest as her thoughts flow out of her head, riding a cow together in Sandy. The ending is just a simple and frank as the rest of the book: the narrator simply stops for a moment to breathe. There is no triumphant feeling of having witnessed something happen when you close the book. It is more simple and beautiful than that. It is the feeling that for a brief while your life overlapped with the characters’, and that’s that.

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