April Staff Picks: Our Wives Under the Sea, Daniel Rossen, and graphic novels!
Words By F(r)iction Staff
Our Wives Under the Sea has to be one of my favorite reads this month. Following her gothic short story collection, salt slow, Our Wives Under the Sea is Julia Armfield’s debut novel. This queer horror story is told from the split perspectives of Leah, a deep-sea explorer, and her wife, Leah. When a routine mission goes wrong, Leah is left stranded on the ocean floor while Miri struggles to cope with her absence on land as days turn into weeks turn into months. When she miraculously returns, Miri is overjoyed. But Leah is not the same person she was when she left, and it seems like something has come back from the ocean with her.
Armfield does an excellent job of building up a sense of claustrophobia and dread as Leah undergoes a physical and emotional transformation causing her relationship with her wife to slowly unravel. The novel switches from the present, as Miri struggles to find answers and desperately tries to salvage their relationship, to uncanny flashbacks of Leah’s time under the sea, plagued by the oppressive darkness outside the submarine windows and the strange noises that taunt the crew. A story of love, grief, and horror Our Wives Under the Sea is an excellent, eerie tale that promises to haunt you.
Heartstopper by Alice Oseman! I have been dipping into graphic novels again, and this series showed up out of nowhere for me. I am glad it did though because this is such an enjoyable read. Without giving away too much, our two main characters are Charlie Spring and Nick Nelson. One is shy and quiet, while the other is a rugby player. They become friends, though that friendship soon develops into something more for Charlie. The series deftly showcases the growing relationship between the two as they deal with high school, friends, coming out, and their own personal growth. The thing I loved most about this is how real the characters felt. I honestly believe it’s because there are ups and downs to any relationship, platonic or romantic, and this series doesn’t have any of the characters shy away from issues they need to work through. There is drama and tension, but also softhearted fluffy moments that makes this such a lovely read. I’m currently waiting to read the next installment, but if the first three volumes are any indication, I’m going to absolutely love volume four.
On April 8, Daniel Rossen’s long-awaited solo record, You Belong There, finally dropped. Rossen is the co-lead vocalist of the band Grizzly Bear. His last solo output was the excellent EP Silent Hour / Golden Mile ten years ago. Rossen spent the better part of ten years slowly developing this project. For an album composed mostly with acoustic instruments, You Belong There is dense. It’s layered with horns, pianos, and the expert drumming of Christopher Bear—also of Grizzly Bear. The record almost verges on prog-rock with its complex arrangements but these songs aren’t showy displays of skill just to flex. They’re much more focused on experimentation or the beauty that is possible in complexity. For an album that varies so widely in sound, and given Grizzly Bear’s lush production, I’m impressed how little effects are used on You Belong There. Due to the pandemic, Rossen was forced to do most of the recording himself. He even taught himself how to play stand-up bass and woodwinds. You Belong There was well worth the wait. If you’re a fan of folk-rock, jazz, or Grizzly Bear’s Yellow House I can’t recommend this album enough.
The comic book Arrowsmith has returned after last being seen as a single-issue comic in 2003. This is a comic about dragons, wizards, and World War I—it feels like the old magic is back. When the original miniseries hit the shelves, it was from the Cliffhanger imprint of Wildstorm. The original team of writer Kurt Busiek and artist Carlos Pacheco are back and the only thing that feels different is that the book is at Image Comics. The new miniseries Arrowsmith: Behind Enemy Lines does an excellent job of introducing new readers to its blend of WWI fought in a fantasy world, even though it has been almost twenty years since the series came out.
Busiek is a master at world building and sets believable, grounded rules for magic during The Great War. Also, Pacheco’s artwork is awe-inspiring while holding weight in a 2D reality, just like in superhero work. Pacheco’s artwork makes you not only believe in these magical creatures but that they live, work, and fight alongside the humans in this world. However, the magic doesn’t overshadow the military aspects of the book, as all these creatures and countries feel the impact, loss, and call to service of a world war. Arrowsmith doesn’t let magic take over the spotlight and keeps its storytelling sights on the global and regional impacts of war.
The original miniseries Arrowsmith: So Smart In Their Fine Uniforms is also being released this month in a new trade from Image Comics.