Ilana Masad

Audacity in the face of great odds is a mesmerizing thing to watch. It is the kind of performance that ambitious women have always had to put on in their quest to achieve their dreams — just think of superstars like Janelle Monáe, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and others, all of whom project a confidence and strength onstage and in their work to such an extent that it's easy to forget that they are human beings with complex inner lives, insecurities, moments of weakness or doubt or shame. Fame discourages us from looking at icons as people, as if doing so will make them lose their power.

When I try to recall what mourning feels like — the immediate aftermath of a death, I mean, the days and weeks, and months that follow — I can only grasp the edges of memories. Grief can be a kind of deadening, a latching onto the past in order to fill in the gaps left by the person who has died or exited our lives. Yet life goes on, no matter how absent from it a mourner may feel. It's in this precarious emotional space that Kristen Arnett's debut novel, Mostly Dead Things, is set.

I have a theory. We, consumers of media in a capitalist, money-obsessed country, love a good fraudster. There's some compelling evidence, too.

It's been a minute since I've read a book whose narrator I didn't like at first. Maybe it's because some part of me, the perfectionist hungry to be loved and eager to be accepted, shies away from protagonists who don't care about such things. Maybe I just haven't been reading many narratives told in first person recently. Probably, it's a mix of both.

It's fitting that Lindsey Drager's third novel, The Archive of Alternate Endings, comes out so soon after Dr. Katie Bouman and her team took the first photograph of a black hole. After all, a black hole is the opposite of a story: The black hole pulls matter into it without letting it escape, effectively making it disappear, while a story can continue to radiate meaning and matter into the world long after it is first told — as long as there's someone left to tell it.

When the kerfuffle over the impending release of Harper Lee's Go Set A Watchman was cluttering up my news feeds in 2015, I confess that I didn't pay much attention.