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Bookshelf – O.Henry Magazine

Bookshelf

Tick-ing Time Bomb

September’s new reads includes an environmental
dystopia by Greensboro’s Holly Goddard Jones

 

By Brian Lampkin

September is a great month for new books, and especially so this year in Greensboro. Novelist Holly Goddard Jones is a Greensboro resident (on the faculty at UNCG) and her third work of fiction, The Salt Line (Putnam’s, $26), is set to release on September 5. The novel reveals a nightmarish future in which the divide between the classes has become physical, and the authoritarian rule of the new powers is driven by an environmental fear.

The “salt line” demarcates the place where people are no longer safe from this very familiar and now deadly nemesis: the tick. Jones invents something called “Shreve’s disease,” which the miner tick transmits after the female “drills into your skin” with its “corkscrew shaped horn” and releases pinprick sized eggs that eventually erupt from your skin by the hundreds. But that’s not the bad part: Within 48 hours of infestation “blurry vision, nausea and loss of feeling in the limbs” will lead to total paralysis and death. Furthermore, this all plays out in the country between Greensboro and the Tennessee border—a land responsible for dozens of my own tick encounters. It’s all too familiar.

And it’s all convincing as political parable, as well as a frightening encounter with the natural world. Jones’s work has always been astute about class and gender/power dynamics (her previous novel The Next Time You See Me and story collection Girl Trouble are both set in rural Kentucky and bring nuance and character to the same terrain that the much-overpraised Hillbilly Elegy sensationalizes and in many ways this novel is similar to Don DeLillo’s latest book, Zero K. Both are set among dystopian environments that arise from openly classist policies but Holly Goddard Jones’s novel has more heart. You’ll care for these characters — even for the more despicable ones — and that care makes for a powerful reading experience, even as you realize you’re reading a possible future that looks mighty bleak.

Other September Releases:

Believe Me: My Battle with the Invisible Disability of Lyme Disease, by Yolanda Hadid (St. Martin’s Press, $26.99). In early 2011, Yolanda was struck by mysterious symptoms including brain fog, severe exhaustion, migraines and more. After much misdiagnosis, Lyme Disease was revealed to be the culprit. The dystopian future might be closer than we think!

Love and Other Consolation Prizes, by Jamie Ford (Ballantine, $28) “Only Jamie Ford could take a snippet of a true story about a child offered as a raffle prize at the 1909 Seattle World’s Fair and spin it into a dazzling tale of love and family and ultimately hope,” says writer Ann Hood. By the author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

How to Fight, by Thich Nhat Hanh (Parallax Press, $9.95). The latest in an elegant series of books by the Zen master. Learn how to relax the bonds of anger, attachment, and delusion through mindfulness and kindness toward ourselves and others.

The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home, by Denise Kiernan (Touchstone, $28). The story of Asheville’s Biltmore spans World Wars, the Jazz Age, the Depression and generations of the famous Vanderbilt family, and features a captivating cast of real-life characters including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Teddy Roosevelt, John Singer Sargent, James Whistler, Henry James and Edith Wharton. The Last Castle is the unique American story of how the largest house in America has flourished, faltered and ultimately endured to this day.

Complete Stories, by Kurt Vonnegut (Seven Stories Press, $45). Here for the first time is the complete short fiction of one of the 20th century’s most popular writers. Curated and introduced by longtime Vonnegut friend Dan Wakefield and Vonnegut scholar Jerome Klinkowitz, the Complete Stories puts Vonnegut’s great wit, humor and humanity on full display.  OH

Brian Lampkin is one of the proprietors of Scuppernong Books.

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