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Review: Debut fiction from Zachary Thomas Dodson, Rebecca Jones-Howe and David Hull

Bats of the Republic

By Zachary Thomas Dodson

Doubleday, 445 pages, $35.95

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Bats of the Republic is a wildly ambitious novel on the subject of inheritance – familial, national, and ecological – following parallel stories set in 1843 and 2143 Texas. It's historical and dystopian speculative fiction all at once. It's also been dubbed "an illuminated novel," meaning the visuals, including page design, have almost equal storytelling footing with the text – Zachary Thomas Dodson is author-designer. That might sound gimmicky or twee, but while Dodson's depictions of past and future are certainly stylized, they aren't affectedly quaint. What the illumination brings to the book is an elaboration on the novel's themes. Bats of the Republic is about history and surveillance – documents and documentation are at its core. There's something about a book that asks you to complete the story by opening a sealed envelope and making a Mobius strip of its contents. It's the pleasure of a novel that so clearly loves being a physical book.

Vile Men

By Rebecca Jones-Howe

Dark House, 186 pages, $21.95

"I've been with far more vile men than you," a woman tells a man in one of the 14 stories in Rebecca Jones-Howe's debut collection. "You seem like a nice guy." The irony is that the reader knows the man is a monster – we know this because he's the one telling the story and we're privy to the anger bubbling under his skin. Jones-Howe works within the realms of noir, dark fantasy, and horror – genres that presuppose a seedy, corrupt world, examine the underbelly of human desire and trace transgressive, if not outright criminal, behavior. Noir, in particular, is characterized by being outside the law: It's typically narrated by a perp or a victim and Jones-Howe plays with the gender dynamics of these categories. Not all the men in Vile Men are particularly vile – some are much worse, others relatively benign. A nuanced collection taking a smart twist on dark genres.

The Man Who Remembered the Moon

By David Hull

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Dumagrad, 65 pages, $9.95

Released this summer through Amazon's curated Kindle Singles program, in print only this fall, The Man Who Remembered the Moon says something about publishing today. Its publication history is interesting not only for being digital-first but also because, outside poetry and pop-culture series, you rarely see such a slim book in print nowadays: 65 pages, 51 dedicated to the title story. Not every book has to be a multicourse meal, though; sometimes, what you want is a quick bite, and as the latter, this one is thoroughly satisfying. Beginning from the Kafkaesque premise that the moon disappears from the sky and only one man remembers it ever existed, the story proceeds to cover a surprising array of subjects from psychiatry to the language of loss to whether we can really know anything. A great start as one of the first books from Dumagrad, a new small press out of Toronto.

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