Review: Ultraluminous

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Review for “Ultraluminous” by Katherine Faw (to be published on 5 December 2017)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I like Katherine Faw. I also liked this book.

No one in this short novel has a real name, including the narrator. Everyone she meets assumes she is Russian, so there are a series of Russian-influenced pseudonyms here (Katya, Karina, Katinka) that substitute for her identity. The narrator works as a prostitute, specializing in high end clients and girlfriend-experience type encounters. On constant rotation are her experiences with such clients such as “the junk bond guy,” “the calf’s brain guy,” “the art guy,” and “the guy who buys me things.” There is also “the ex-Army Ranger,” a man that she never charges, and “the Sheik,” a man she worked for in Dubai.

Not only does the narrator not tell you her name, she never reveals her thoughts either. We only witness her actions, a bizarre series of ‘patterns’ that the narrator adheres to like clockwork. In addition to her clients, she loves trips to Duane Reade for sushi, getting waxed, snorting heroin, trips to Duane Reade for sushi, getting waxed, snorting heroin…and so on. The sex and drug encounters are blunt and matter of fact, she simply moves from one event to the next. The silence between the printed words makes this story interestingly ambiguous until it comes into clear focus at the end.

Four stars. Read if only if you’re looking for an adventure or an experimental type story.

[A free, digital copy of this book was provided by NetGalley and the publisher, MCD, in exchange for an honest review.]

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Review: Young God

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Review for “Young God” by Katherine Faw Morris
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The reason I was drawn to this book was through hearing of its author, Katherine Faw Morris. She’s from a small county in northwest North Carolina, about 80 miles from where I live. The second thing that drew me in was its intriguing title. What could a book called “Young God” possibly be about? Within 10 minutes of reading this debut novel, my question was answered.

The protagonist of this book is 13 year old Nikki, the daughter of a notorious pimp and “the biggest coke dealer in the county.” We never get a proper backstory for Nikki, although it’s hinted that she has spent some time in a group home prior to the opening of the story. At the beginning of the novel Nikki witnesses her mother fall sixty feet into a swimming hole, her body slamming into sharp rocks on the long way down. Nobody cares about it or mourns her, it’s clear early on that emotions have no place in the bleak landscape of this novel. Several pages after her mother’s death, Nikki consoles herself by going home and having sex with her mother’s boyfriend.

It’s a sonorous start for a book, and it doesn’t take long for Morris to completely dismantle your moral center. In the eyes of 13 year old Nikki, events like murder, rape, prostitution, and drug dealing take place with the same normality and regularity as the morning paper. The bizarre father and daughter relationship between Nikki and her father, Coy Hawkins (he’s never addressed as “dad,” but called by his first and last name only throughout the entire book) is at the center of this novel. At one point in the book, Nikki brings her father another young girl, because, of course, virgins make more money. It’s the most horrific case of learning by example, and young Nikki picks up fast. She learns how to buy and sell heroin after seeing her father do it once. And, as we witness for ourselves, she becomes extremely good at it.

Morris does not portray Nikki as someone the reader should pity. Instead, you feel drawn into a connection with her, one that alternates between fear and a creeping sense of foreboding. You feel scared for her, because you know that she probably won’t live to see her fourteenth birthday, and scared of her and her dangerous efficiency. The ending offers the reader no comfort either. While Nikki ‘wins’ in the final pages you still get a sense that her future holds the certainty of more violence, drug dependency, and ultimately, death.

At only about 20,000 words it’s easy to read this book in one sitting. Scenes jump chaotically from one to the next and you’re left wondering what happened in the blank spaces. The writing is sparse and frenzied, with some vignettes going on for several pages and some only consisting of one sentence. The brevity of this book only adds to its raw power, not a single word is wasted here. Morris’ choice in making this book brief was a wise one, if it had been any longer I could not see myself continuing to go back to read it. It’s a one time punch to the gut. And man, I liked it.