Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
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Experiences with place are sometimes so subjective, so complicated, that they can be hard to explain. But a good fiction writer can take the reader along for a visit.
So this week, instead of the usual round-up of articles and essays from CityLab and beyond, we’re bringing you some short and long pieces of fiction that explore themes of geography. This list is by no means comprehensive—it’s culled from recommendations by folks on staff and Twitter—but we think you’ll like it. If you’ve got your own favorites, send ‘em in! We might include some in the next edition of this newsletter.
For now, happy reading!
Fiction on CityLab:
CityLab’s Gracie McKenzie spoke with Tommy Orange, the author of There There. The title of his novel references a famous quote by Gertrude Stein describing changes in her hometown of Oakland, which is also Orange’s hometown:
… one of the first things that struck me about that Gertrude Stein quote, more so than the modern-day experiences of gentrification: The idea of having a place that is yours—land that you have a relationship to—then being removed and what that does to you, as a Native experience.
Read the rest of the interview here.
Fiction from elsewhere:
Short fiction online:
“You haven’t understood Kashmir until you’ve tasted her tea.” (Guernica) ¤ ”’What do you know about what really happens around here, mamita? You live here, but you’re from another world.’” (Electric Lit) ¤ “I forgot books I had loved and lyrics to Farsi songs, and started to dream about having my own apartment in a big city.” (Guernica) ¤ “It was as if, on the first morning of that holiday in Florence, Cecilia simply woke up inside the wrong skin.” (The New Yorker) ¤ ”Bangkok that year became a graveyard of office towers and housing projects. I had taken to skipping classes.” (Catapult) ¤ “Just me and these walls. A sliding door keeping me from the rain. Sink/toilet. This mattress that tries to hug me at night.” (Oblong) ¤ “There are mirrors everywhere in this city.” (3:AM Magazine) ¤
In Alexia Arthurs’ How To Love A Jamaican,“geography may forge a people’s destiny, but it also shapes individual human beings in concert with a whole set of personal characteristics.” (The Atlantic) ¤ “Everyone in [Tanwi Nandani Islam’s] Bright Lines aches for some kind of home they've never been to.” (NPR) ¤ Halsey Street by Naima Coster “chronicles all the ways the machinery of gentrification gets jammed by unruly human lives.” (The Paris Review) ¤ In Florida, Lauren Groff “is pursuing a psychogeography of Florida, exploring both a state in the union and a state of mind…” (The New Yorker) ¤ Richard McGuire’s Here is “a lovely evocation of the spirit of place.” (New York Times) ¤ Archipelago by Monique Roffey “travels to new, intoxicating latitudes.” (The Guardian) ¤ Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li “explores the disorienting routine of the Beijing Duck House. Hot oil splashes. Orders are botched. Waiters disappear. And familiar bonds form…” (Entertainment Weekly) ¤
In Stephen Markley’s Ohio, four classmates return to their (fictional) hometown of New Canaan, Ohio, a decade after high school. Though New Canaan is small, it has suffered from the biggest forces at play in 21st century America: Friends and neighbors have been injured or killed in war, gutted by an unforgiving economy, swept up in the opioid crisis, or otherwise trapped in the hopelessness that surrounds them. The individual tragedies, told through the lens of the four classmates, converge on revelations that should have shaken the town to its core a long time ago, but instead lingered for years as rumor, folklore, or indifference. The result is a powerful portrait of anger and desperation in a certain kind of small-town America—or, depending on your experience, America itself. — Adam Sneed
In 10:04, Ben Lerner’s unnamed narrator has a lot in common with the author himself at the time of writing: enormous critical success with his first novel, the prospect of fatherhood, and an apartment in Brooklyn. But the through line of this novel is the dread that inflects any thinking person’s experience of the 21st century city: the knowledge that our climate change future will upturn society as we know it. But how much, and for whom? And how do we face it? If you’ve ever felt alienated from your present by the ghosts of the future, read Lerner—not for comfort, but for comradeship. — Laura Bliss