In some ways it feels odd, almost inappropriate, to be releasing an issue of Embark in the midst of the global crisis we’re now facing. Yet I’ve found enormous comfort in reading our submissions in the past weeks, and particularly the ten novel openings featured in this issue. Fiction, now more than ever, has an invaluable power—it sweeps us into other worlds, connecting us to people both familiar and strange, and reminds us of the struggles and triumphs that all humans share, no matter how far apart they are in time or space. In other words, fiction provides essential solace in times of high stress and anxiety. As importantly, it also makes us think, prompting us to analyze new ideas, our own perspectives, the world around us…and that too is an invaluable power.
The opening of T. R. Healy’s novel, SOME NEW COLD COUNTRY OF THE HEART, presents us with a valley about to be flooded, for a reservoir that will bring cheap hydroelectric power to the county; Healy’s protagonist has the job of persuading—or forcing—the residents to leave. None of the issues introduced have simple answers, and that complexity is fascinatingly mirrored in the humans’ interactions with animals in these first pages. Using a very different, more intimate context, Kimberly Hensle Lowrance also explores questions without easy answers in her novel THE LIMITS OF KNOWING, in which a grieving widow in New England discovers that her husband was hiding frightening secrets from her—secrets that reshape her image of him and reveal her own perceptions of her life and marriage to be far from accurate.
Sometimes knowing that all the questions facing you are new and unanswered can be exhilarating. This is the case in Amy Mattes’s novel LATE SEPTEMBER, which follows a young woman from British Columbia traveling alone to Montréal in order to start a new life. Ines’s determination, fear, and excitement are all palpable, and the descriptions of the bustling, crowded city, rife with possibility, are equally entrancing. The flipside of such freedom is an environment in which everything is regulated and proceeds according to strict laws, as is the case in Johara Alrasheed’s novel NAJMA. In this story, a young girl navigates the difficulties of living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Here too the city bubbles with life, but—particularly for women—their energy and exuberance must be channeled into private spaces or risk being met with oppression.
Oppression also shapes the life of the protagonist in Jo Anne Braithwaite’s work BLACK RANDALL, a historical novel about one of Braithwaite’s real-life ancestors. Born into slavery in Connecticut in the 18th century, John Randall ends up fighting in the American Revolution, one of many adventures that eventually take him to Australia. Randall’s journey to becoming a landowner is hard-won, and his story is both harrowing and inspiring. Katherine A. Sherbrooke, in her novel LEAVING COY’S HILL, also finds an effective mixture of inspiration and conflict in the life of Lucy Stone, one of the most important figures in the fight for women’s rights in 19th-century America. Like Braithwaite’s depiction of John Randall, Sherbrooke’s imagining of Lucy gives depth and complexity to a riveting story.
Sometimes a novel is transporting because of the sheer individuality that the author brings to the narrative. This is the case with Jonathan Page’s BLUE WOMAN, which introduces Rose, a young Welsh woman in the 1930s who views her world through the eyes of an artist. Forced to abandon her illegitimate child and molested by her employer, she endures terrible trauma, and yet she seems unstoppable, so strong is her—and Page’s—particular vision. Atmosphere can be similarly transporting: BRAVE IN SEASON, by Jon Volkmer, portrays the tension between the white residents of a small Nebraska town and the black railway workers who come to lay new track there in 1950. Jerome Wallace, out of place both in the town and among his fellow railway-workers, seems to step fully realized from the page, and the town, with its one main street and dusty grain elevators, is just as vivid.
Sheila Myers also presents an outsider in a small town with the opening of her novel, THE TRUTH OF WHO YOU ARE. In this case, the town is in Tennessee and the year is 1926. Young Ben Taylor, a farm boy from the mountains, feels dazzled by the cars and people of the town, but his father has shown him even more dazzling secrets on their acres of forested land, and Ben’s love of the valley influences the course of his future. Myers and many of the other authors featured in this issue emphasize the unknowability of people’s lives and hearts, so it is especially interesting to read E. A. August’s opening alongside them. In BOGMYRTLE, a fantasy, we discover a world in which specially trained Readers can learn the secrets of a person’s past, present, and future by interpreting drug-induced symbols on their skin. The conflicts and uncertainties that would arise in such a world are countless and absorbing: August’s opening, like all the others here, offers both food for thought and much-needed distraction from the catastrophe that currently surrounds us.
— Ursula DeYoung, Founding Editor
Table of Contents
NAJMA – Johara Alrasheed
BOGMYRTLE – E. A. August
BLACK RANDALL – Jo Anne Braithwaite
SOME NEW COLD COUNTRY OF THE HEART – T. R. Healy
THE LIMITS OF KNOWING – Kimberly Hensle Lowrance
LATE SEPTEMBER – Amy Mattes
THE TRUTH OF WHO YOU ARE – Sheila Myers
BLUE WOMAN – Jonathan Page
LEAVING COY’S HILL – Katherine A. Sherbrooke
BRAVE IN SEASON – Jon Volkmer