‘Area X’ Meets ‘And Then There Were None’ In Abby Geni’s ‘The Lightkeepers’

the lightkeepers 2

Abby Geni’s The Lightkeepers is part Area X trilogy, with a swirl of And Then There Were None. It is a bit Jon Krakauer meets Alice Seobold. The novel takes place on the Farrallon Islands, a brutal and isolated archipelago off California’s coast. Nature photographer Miranda arrives to the islands, to join a small crew of biologists already living together in a small building, dorm-style.

The islands are a strange and foreign landscape, isolated and wild, adrift from the world. The biologists are single-minded and obsessed, as one would have to be to leave society behind and become completely immersed in nature.

As with Jeff VanderMeer’s Area X trilogy, the descriptions of the natural landscape here are intoxicating, delightful, both dangerous and wondrous. Pouring rain and scabbing rocks and diving, squawking birds are ever-present. Living on the island there is no way to escape its looming, wild nature. But those that found Area X too weird will appreciate The Lightkeepers, as its struggles, however powerful and awesome they feel, are all of this earth.

Some of the struggles are natural, and some are man-made. One of this book’s messages is that we, humanity, are also part of this wild world, just like the waves beating against the rocks. I’m not sure how much of a spoiler this, as the summaries seem to mention it, but if you want to go in a bit more cold, stop reading here. Still reading? Okay. Let’s continue.

I mention Alice Seobold because Miranda is raped by one of her fellow biologists shortly after her arrival to the island, after a night of hard-drinking. Geni crafts this plot delicately, chronicling Miranda’s very intimate struggle. The external aftermath of the incident, as well as the dramatic change to Miranda’s psyche, is explored.

This isn’t a cheerful book, but if you read the blog often, you know I’m not the biggest fan of the cheerful ones. It is lonely, haunting, and powerful. It reads like a quiet dream of an alien landscape, at once totally strange but totally familiar. Read it.

The Lightkeepers on’

In Laura Van Den Berg’s ‘Find Me,’ Forgetting Kills As It Saves

Find ME

The reviews are divided on Laura Van Den Berg’s first novel, Find Me. While the masses on Goodreads were unimpressed, Salon triumphantly declared Van Den Berg the best young writer in America, and the literati offered high praise. I’m torn between the two camps.

Find Me is the tale of a hospital, and the woman living within it. That woman, Joy, stands in opposition to her name. Before a man knocked on her door in a virus-shielding space suit, offering her a ride on a bus to the hospital, she chugged Robitussin and watched the world fall apart around her, as a mysterious illness ate away at people’s minds and their memories. Joy seems immune to the sickness, and takes the ride to the hospital, where she is studied and coddled and kept sequestered from the real world, or what has become of it.

The patients remember and recite random facts, assuring themselves and the nurses of their health. Pilgrims make way to the hospital, standing in front of its entrance and wondering about its search for a cure. There is routine, and there are disastrous breaks to that routine.

And then, Find Me isn’t the tale of a hospital at all. I didn’t read anything about the book before beginning, so I was surprised, but Joy leaves the hospital and delves more deeply into her history, swimming through memories as she journeys through surreal landscapes, looking for a mother she knows is hers but has never met. The book is cleaved into these two stories–one of stasis, and one of journey.

This isn’t a book about the big answers, but it is a book about the knife-stab into the gut of small ones. In a time when so many authors are writing about collective memory, like in J. and The Buried Giant, Van Den Berg has chosen to sweep all that aside. She’s drilling down to how memory serves us each or acts as a tormentor, a friend or foe, and how sometimes forgetting is the only thing that keeps us alive.

Some have compared this book to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and while I don’t think all these big build-ups serve Van Den Berg (as readers then pick up Find Me with wild expectations), I do think she manages to create a female character that is first, a vivid, broken, whole character, and second a woman. This is something Atwood excels at, making women people first, and what the world perceives they should be, second. Joy is surprising at every turn, often disappointing in her sheer humanness, feeling so solid I could touch her.

On the reverse of this, if you aren’t wooed by Van Den Berg’s even, enchanting prose, which zips you seamlessly into a foggy frame of world just two or three days of sleep removed from our own, if you are a big plot eater hoping to sit down to a big plotty dinner, then you might get a tad frustrated here. Find Me doesn’t tie up all its ends, it takes the ties out of the shoelaces and goes barefoot. It ties up ends you didn’t know it had. It walks right into Donnie Darko territory. I’m talking bunnies. I’m talking sexual abuse. Luckily, those two plot points never meet. But be prepared for the tragic, the weird, and most of all, the lack of a storybook ending.

Find Me on’

Further Reading:

In Cartwheel, Jennifer DuBois Builds An Amanda Knox Rorschach Test

Jennifer DuBois disclaims that Cartwheel is “loosely inspired by the story of Amanda Knox.” DuBois mirrors facts of the Knox case in her own plot: when the young, beautiful American Lily is accused of murdering her roommate in Buenos Aires, her DNA is on the knife and the bra strap, there’s a local boyfriend, and a job at a bar recently lost. And there is, of course, the cartwheel, which Lily does during a break between interviews just after her roommate’s death.

Love Is Lost and Found in Peter Stamm’s All Days Are Night

This is a book about how life goes on, about how the clock ticks past moments both brilliant and brutal.

Review – Young God by Katherine Faw Morris

young god

Reading Young God is like being punched in the face over and over. It’s like eating sour candy until your tongue feels raw and your stomach aches but you just keep eating the candy anyways, knowing it isn’t fun anymore and it has possibly turned into a quite negative experience but dammit, there’s half a bag left. This book has few redeeming qualities but that doesn’t make it easy to put down.

We meet Young God‘s heroine Nikki, thirteen, in an opening scene that sets the tone for the rest of the novel: her momma falls off a diving cliff the wrong way, high on attention from a guy and who knows what else, and splits her head open. Nikki quickly runs from the scene of the accident with her mother’s lover and his backpack full of drugs, and the book is off and running at the pace of an adrenaline high. Nikki seems to be the girl the adage about years alone not truly measuring how much one has lived was made for, and this isn’t a tale of redemption as much as it is one of survival of the fittest and the maddest in a mad mad world.

Constantly fearing child services, just a call away, Nikki fights or flights her way from druggie guy to druggie dad, without the luxury of self-analyzation or insight surrounding the desperation of her situation. Things go from bad to worse, and from icky to really really icky, so if you can’t handle to darker stuff then this isn’t the book for you. It reminded me a bit of Tampa by Alissa Nutting in its breezy, un-analytic writing style of the most horrible aspects of human nature. Sometimes the murderers and rapists and pimps aren’t carrying on intense internal dialogue about life and ethics as they go about their dark business, these books seem to say. Sometimes people are just acting and reacting, bouncing off each other and feeding their animal drives and fleeing from consequences. A jarring statement to make, which leaves protagonists with little room for development, and even littler opportunity for us as the reader to comprehend any of their behavior. But hey, that’s life. To me this style of writing about this sort of subject is scarier than any horror novel.

I’m not sure how I feel about country noir as a genre in general. I haven’t read enough of it to make any sort of judgement, but I certainly hope we don’t see the emergence of Appalachian horror stories of poverty and blight as amusing simply because of the locale. The most intriguing characters aren’t stereotypes but the opposite, asking us to challenge our preconceived notions about the world and the way we see it. I became interested in this story after seeing a blurb shared on Elle’s Facebook page which declared the book a mix of Winter’s Bone and Breaking Bad. It feels to me as more a mix of Spun and Go Ask Alice. But Morris is a child of Appalachia herself, and she dated older men as a young rebellious thing trying to figure out her place in the world.

In the Elle interview, Morris says she cut down the novel from a longer version, and I would love to see the original story. I understand the purpose in editing it down to something brutally short for effect, but I need a bit more of a character’s internal dialogue to relate to their world. Young God is a story of drugs and violence, but its purposeful lack of depth makes it pulpy and a bit too grotesque for my taste.

If you like Young God, check out these books: 

Further reading:

Review – Me Before You by Jojo Moyes


I didn’t know too much about Me Before You before I picked it up and started reading.  I thought the cover was fun and funky, and had a vague recollection of a positive blurb in a magazine.  I’m glad I stumbled into this book without knowing too much about the plot–I’m not too much of a romance buff, but I was pleasantly surprised by this story.  Instead of the usual boy-meets-girl, the concept here is that girl (Lou) is hired to look after quadriplegic man (Will), paralyzed when a motorcycle struck him as he crossed the street.  Lou and Will must interact for 8 hours each day as it is her job to keep him company and assist him with daily activities.  Emotions ensue.

Glance through the .gifs featured on Goodreads reviews of Me Before You, and it appears to be the most devastating novel ever written. Although I didn’t find it that heartbreaking, there were some times I chose to put the book down and take a break; it is some seriously heavy reading material, confronting moral issues and human emotions with the same brutal honesty of a Jodi Picoult story.

All the love aside, what I really appreciated about this book was its broach of a topic I haven’t often encountered in popular fiction, the day-to-day experience of a quadriplegic man in our world.  As Lou began to see the world from Will’s perspective, I did too.  Lou points out: “There are things you don’t notice until you accompany someone with a wheelchair.  One is how rubbish most pavements are, pockmarked with badly patched holes, or just plain uneven.  Walking slowly next to Will as he wheeled himself along, I saw how every uneven slab caused him to jolt painfully, or how often he had to steer carefully around some potential obstacle.”  Moyes does a great job of describing the discomfort people have when interacting with someone who is paralyzed or immobile.  There are failed handshake attempts, people obviously attempting to avert their eyes, and others noticeably staring.

Me Before You was similar, in some ways, to The Dive From Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer.  In that book, a young man is paralyzed after a dive into a shallow lake, and his fiancé chooses to flee the situation.  The Dive from Clausen’s Pier shows us the significant other’s perspective.  In Me Before You, Will’s girlfriend has already tried to make it work and left him; we see the aftermath of this from his perspective rather than hers.  Both books are worth checking out.

This was the first book by Jojo Moyes I had read.  Her latest novel is called The Girl You Left Behind and sounds to be in the same love-through-history vein as Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, which was a hit.

Me Before You on Amazon

Me Before You on Indiebound

Jojo Moyes webpage

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Review – Virgin Soul: A Novel by Judy Juanita


Call it the sunny side of the Bay, call it the town.  Whatever name you give it, Oakland has the rich and revolutionary history expected from a city bridging to San Francisco and bundled up against Berkeley. Oakland is also uniquely its own city, with its own successes and struggles.

Originally a port city built up with the business of railroads, folks called Oakland the “Detroit of the West” by the 1920’s for its automotive factories and booming economy.  During World War II, Oakland built ships and canned foods, and the exodus of Southern workers to the area created a melting pot of cultures and belief systems.  Post-WWII, Oakland (and the rest of America) witnessed white flight, as wealthier citizens fled further East to the suburbs.  Once a shining star of productivity, post-WWII Oakland began to feel its economy slow and its racial tensions rise.

And this brings us to Virgin Soul, a novel by Judy Juanita based on Juanita’s own experiences growing up in Oakland.  Geniece Hightower, the novel’s star, is a snappy and smart African American woman on the cusp of revolution.  She enrolls at Oakland City College in 1964 and is surrounded by activists and intellectuals.  Geniece soon learns about the black power movement, and her activism eventually leads her to the Black Panther Party.  The novel is broken into four parts:  Freshman, Sophmore, Junior, Senior.  We follow Geniece as she gets an education, but classes are rarely mentioned – confronted with inequality from all sides, meeting men and women both inspirational and heartbreaking, navigating a world not yet equipped to handle an empowered black women – Geniece’s education is of a different sort.

Virgin Soul reads lyrical and very much like poetry – it doesn’t surprise me that Juanita is also a successful poet.  On going to Oakland City College:  “But we called it City, a raggedy, in-the-flatlands, couldn’t-pass-the-earthquake-code, stimulating, politically popping repository of blacks who couldn’t get to college any other way, whites who had flunked out of University of California, and anybody else shrewd enough to go free for two years and transfer to Berkeley, prereqs zapped (3).”  Juanita creates a perfect voice for her protagonist, a balance of the questions running through Geniece’s mind, funky lingo of sixties, and moments of brilliant clarity.

I imagine Juanita has captured the tone of the time perfectly – I wasn’t there, but she was, and she’s built a magical, mad world around Oakland’s past.

Virgin Soul: A Novel by Judy Juanita at Barnes &

Judy Juanita’s web page