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“Matrix,” “Damnation Spring,” “Love Lockdown,” and “Freedomville.”
September 13, 2021
Matrix, by Lauren Groff (Riverhead). The author, whose previous fiction has probed contemporary American communities, sets this novel in an impoverished twelfth-century English abbey, where the protagonist, Marie, is sent at the age of seventeen to be prioress. A half-royal orphan used to court life, she looks upon the role as a living death but becomes adept at eliding medieval strictures of faith and gender. Wrestling with a multifaceted devotion—tenuous piety, thirst for power, love for her sisters in the abbey—she creates an “army of nuns” who undersell male scribes and rout unscrupulous tenants. Through Marie, Groff explores how a society’s religious and gendered constraints can be turned on their head to create a utopia. Damnation Spring, by Ash Davidson (Scribner). Taking place in a small town in Northern California’s redwood country, this novel shifts perspectives among members of the Gunderson family. Rich comes from a logging background and hopes to fulfill his father’s dream of owning the land with the largest redwood in the area. His wife, Colleen, a midwife and a mother of one, longs for a second child but has had multiple miscarriages. When environmentalists question the effects of the logging industry’s herbicide use, the household is torn; logging is Rich’s heritage and livelihood but may offer an explanation for Colleen’s miscarriages. With great empathy and care, Davidson demonstrates how competing values play out against a backdrop of climate change in America. Love Lockdown, by Elizabeth Greenwood (Gallery)
. A sobering statistic opens this exploration of dating and marriage in American prisons: the U.S. has not only the highest incarceration rate in the world but also the highest rate in the country’s history, with some 2.3 million people “inside.” Greenwood, following five couples over five years, shows what it takes to maintain a relationship when one or both partners are incarcerated: enduring years of separation; saving up for privately operated, price-gouging e-mail services; and so on. Moving seamlessly between the intimate and the institutional, she remains alert to the injustices of the system while capturing the romance of her subjects’ stories, like that of Sherry, an incarcerated trans woman who spends all day talking through an air vent with her fiancé, Damon, the boy in the cell next door.
Freedomville, by Laura T
. Murphy(Columbia Global Reports)
. In 2000, enslaved miners from the Kol tribe, in Uttar Pradesh, freed themselves by winning a lease for their own rock quarry. In the human-rights community, the story of this nonviolent, survivor-led “slave revolt” became central to thinking about strategies that might help free the estimated forty million people still enslaved worldwide. But a significant, and violent, detail of the story was missing. By the time that Murphy, an academic, heard the full story from the Kols, she had been teaching the incomplete narrative for years. She now sees that version as romanticized and believes that the truth must be known, lest we saddle the marginalized with unrealistic moralism.
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