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book review

The Ghost Network

By Catie Disabato, Melville House, 288 pages, $16.95

Newly vaulted to the empyrean of pop stardom, Molly Metropolis (think Lady Gaga meets Janelle Monáe) is due on stage at a major performance when she vanishes without a trace. After the police fail to turn up any leads, Molly's personal assistant and an obsessive would-be music journalist become unwitting private eyes in the search for Molly – a search that will lead them into Chicago's abandoned subway lines and an equally underground intellectual network. Suspenseful, conspiratorial, digressive: This is Pynchon territory. As with Pynchon, Catie Disabato's world is slightly off-kilter, but by a connect-the-dots logic it could be real. And as with Pynchon, Disabato mixes high and low: a premise that could fuel a potboiler, set within an intricate frame several removes from a simple retelling, washed in a deep sense of foreboding. The style might be familiar, but this wildly inventive, remarkably assured debut is entirely Disabato's own.

The Mystics of Mile End

By Sigal Samuel, Freehand, 290 pages, $21.95

So often writing about a spiritual experience, especially in fiction by a woman, receives the adjective "breathless." It's meant as a compliment, but it can also be used to dismiss. Let's get this out of the way: Sigal Samuel's novel does inspire a sense of wonder at a well-ordered and meaningful world, but there is nothing superficial or overexcited in her treatment. The Mystics of Mile End concerns the Meyer family: siblings Lev and Samara and their father, David, a professor of Jewish mysticism whose work is strictly academic. A skeptic, David raises his children in but not of Montreal's Hasidic Jewish community. Soon, though, each of the Meyers turns to faith in unexpected ways, leading to a physical and spiritual crisis. Told in four parts – one for each of the Meyers, plus the denouement, "Mile End" – Samuel presents in equal measure the agonies and ecstasy of faith, a mysticism inadvertent and hard-won.

What You Need

By Andrew Forbes, Invisible, 224 pages, $19.95

This collection's title might seem to boast, but it arrives by way of a question posed in its first story: You got what you need? Our next question, then: What is it? That question permeates these stories, in some cases explicitly, though more often implied. What motivates a man to dig up his buddy's grave, leave his wife with the roofer he met earlier that day, construct a thermonuclear bomb in his garage? It's a largely gendered question. There are two female narrators among 15 boys and men here, which is not wrong, though those two women feel out of place when so outnumbered, especially in a collection with manhood as its major theme. So, too, do the two works of flash fiction trip up the book's pace among stories of more conventional length. These are criticisms of story selection, though, not the writing, which is well-crafted. What You Need is compelling reading.