The Lightness and Death in Her Hands
Credit: William Morrow; penguin press

The Lightness by Emily Temple

Cool, dark, and pretty as a clear night sky, Lightness delivers a coming-of-age suspense tale that starts out familiar — ominous warnings, unreliable narration — before forging its own path. With great momentum, debut novelist Emily Temple follows Olivia, a 15-year-old who begins to find herself after her father goes missing. She rushes off to the Buddhist retreat where he was last seen (feigning interest in its summer camp for teen girls), only to fall into a cult-like clique that turns sinister.

Attempts at flourish (dictionary definitions, theological musings) break the prose’s flow, but they’re also playful — further proof that Temple is just getting started.

Grade: B+

The Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh

An elderly widow finds a cryptic note about a dead girl in the woods near her home, but “no body. No bloodstain. No tangle of hair caught on the coarse fallen branches.” If a murder mystery sounds far too straightforward for a writer as masterfully strange as Ottessa Moshfegh (My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Eileen), it is; what Death delivers instead is a sort of fractured portrait of madness, a woman slowly unraveling in the corners of her own mind.

Without stakes in any real world outcome, though, it’s hard not to feel cornered, too; caught up in an intellectual exercise unworthy of Moshfegh’s prodigious talents.

Grade: B-

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