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Staff Picks: Exes, Hexes, and Excellence

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Joss Lake. Photo: J. Aharonov.

Part sci-fi, part fantasy, part trans Brooklynite millennial saga, Future Feeling revels in its own chaos. Joss Lake’s debut novel kicks off when Pen, a trans man who works as a dog walker, enlists his roommates, the Witch and the Stoner-Hacker, to place a hex on Aiden, a trans influencer whom Pen resents. Rather than falling on its intended target, the hex sends Blithe, an adopted Chinese trans man raised by white parents, to the Shadowlands, a dark landscape one goes to when they have “completely lost their shit.” The Rhiz, a highly elite underground queer organization, enlists Pen and Aiden to bring Blithe back from the Shadowlands, where he’s struggling emotionally with his transracial upbringing and gender transition. Am I doing the plot justice? Not really—I told you this book revels in its own chaos, and chaos and coherent narrative summary don’t tend to mix. But I love how Future Feeling lingers in the mayhem. More than linger, Lake embraces it, forgoing the neat narrative of before and after in favor of the messiness of process and becoming. Plus, this book is fun: hexes, moonlit rituals, a pet plant named Alice the Aloe, and well-placed critiques of gender, capitalism, and the alienating nature of advanced technology all abound. I’m still not sure how to classify Future Feeling—but defying neat categorization is kind of the point. —Mira Braneck 

There are doubtless as many ways to write about motherhood as there are writers on the subject. Iman Mersal, whose crisp, incisive prose poems have appeared in this magazine, offers a loose and intimate instruction manual in How to Mend: Motherhood and Its Ghosts, translated from the Arabic by Robin Moger. A contribution to Kayfa ta, a series of how-to books, this pocket-size text is without agenda, reporting the thoughts passing in and out of a woman working through what an identity as mother looks like by studying photographs, keeping diary entries, footnoting staid academic essays, and composing verse. —Lauren Kane



Still from Alien on Stage, 2020, directed by Danielle Kummer and Lucy Harvey.


I have a special appreciation for amateurs. While attempting to woo my now fiancée, I signed us up for Swede Fest—a film festival for low-budget re-creations of popular movies, after the film Be Kind Rewind. We put together a cringe-worthy low-budget remake of Jurassic Park and fell in love in the process. Now, when a work of art feels amateurish, we say it has swede energy, which is another way of saying we can feel the love that went into it. The documentary Alien on Stage has major swede energy. The film follows a crew of English bus drivers who ditch their annual pantomime traditions to put together a stage adaptation of Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror classic, Alien. The homegrown ambition, feats of low-budget engineering, and genuine passion that went into this creative undertaking are wholly inspirational, and the resulting camaraderie—onstage, backstage, in the crowd, and behind the camera—is so kinetic that you might just be moved to join the crew. Last year, my fiancée and I made our own low-budget Alien remake, so I’m admittedly biased when I tell you this is the best documentary you’ll see all year, but it has to be the best film made by and about amateurs. The word amateur is often used to mean nonprofessional, but it’s rooted in the Latin for “love.” In this sense, Alien on Stage is every bit the work of amateurs. Feel the swede energy and show them some love—streaming until June 20 with the San Francisco Documentary Film Festival—Christopher Notarnicola

Chet’la Sebree’s Field Study is a book in fragments, “an investigation,” she writes, “of the effects of the world on one woman’s desire and identity formation.” In a series of meditations drawing from her own relationship history as well as tweets, observations, and quotes from literary and pop culture figures including Audre Lorde, Lupita Nyong’o, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Maggie Nelson, and others, Sebree analyzes desire, interracial relationships, and what it means to be a Black woman in the contemporary U.S. “Am I a tourist to my own existence?” she wonders as she grapples with the lines between history and the present day, fiction and reality. How should the artist approach rendering her own life in a work of art? “In the failing light of summer, forgive me,” Sebree writes poignantly toward the end, addressing her unnamed former lovers. “I’ve cannibalized you.” —Rhian Sasseen

This week, Naomi Osaka was in the news for a series of reasons no one can quite agree on. It is safe to say she is one of the most talented athletes alive today; that she knows it seems to have become a problem. Those on earth who are more talented, more driven, and more self-defined than the rest of us are often given a confusing welcome. The memoir Dear Senthuran, Akwaeke Emezi’s fourth book in as many years, is, among other things, a chronicle of the kind of ambivalence with which most of us react to the extraordinary. Structurally, it is a thing of great beauty. Each chapter is a letter. Some recipients reappear; some don’t. The letters form a mesmerizing, page-turning account of Emezi’s feelings about going from being a relatively unknown M.F.A. student to a celebrated writer—as of this week, they appeared on the cover of Time magazine, and they signed a seven-figure deal with Amazon Studios earlier this spring. Their identity as an embodied nonhuman entity/an ogbanje/a deity’s child interrupts certain social expectations, but Emezi’s talent interrupts them all. Emezi writes magnetically about encountering rejection from their M.F.A. cohort upon announcing that they had landed an agent and a book deal (“the awkwardness … their lack of excitement for me even though this was the thing we are all here for, all supposed to be helping each other toward”) and about their family’s desire to hear that while “big things were happening around me, flashy and powerful, the kind of things that make other people happy … that I wanted them there, that I wasn’t leaving them behind, that I was still available, I was still accessible.” There are a lot of stories in this memoir—it is also a book about suicide, love, and houses—but this week I am considering how Dear Senthuran is about powerful excellence, especially the excellence that appears in bodies that aren’t white and aren’t male. Emezi is changing the world and our reaction to this kind of power. They know there are others who have it—“people can do such spectacular things if you forget to tell them it’s impossible”—and maybe the world is almost ready. —Julia Berick



Akwaeke Emezi. Photo: © Kathleen Bomani.

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Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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