A Dark Road, Indeed

Ma Jian’s 2014 novel, The Dark Road, is a haunting literary indictment of China’s one-child policy as described through the lives of one family. A painter turned award-winning writer, Jian is a creative and vocal critic of the Chinese state. He has such a compelling voice, in fact, that cannot live in the country safely. The the Chinese government has confiscated and destroyed his works. Now in London, Jian and his partner have a family of four children.

China’s one-child policy was enacted in the late 1970s after decades of a two-child rule. Designed to rein in population growth, the policy was about more than family planning. Formally it permitted families one child and should they have a second pregnancy, mandatory contraception, fines, forced abortions and sterilization. In practice, those with money and political connections were often able to by-pass the strictures. For those with less agency, like the family in The Dark Road, the lived experience was horrific and more encompassing.

Jian’s research for the novel took him to the countryside, where he posed as a reporter and asked everyday people how they coped with the government, the changing economy, and the impact of the one-child rule. The consequences were devastating. They collectively fold themselves into an omnipresent state that grinds the hope and humanity out of its citizens. Beyond the horrors of forced contraception, abortions, sterilizations and the systemic eradication of people’s interior life, the book offers a window on the caustic transactional society costs. If you cannot own your own body, what rights and hope are possible? Jiang gets this, and is able to describe it with a sense of immediacy – often with the dark humor that gives people the strength to shoulder on in the face of impossible conditions.

The hero of the novel is Meilin, a young and intelligent peasant woman without an education who marries Kongzi, a school teacher. They have a daughter, Nannan. Kongzi wants a male heir, though, and the resulting pregnancy leads the family to seek an alternative life on the Yangtze River. Jobs and family lost, the family struggles, with misfortune, some joys, and everyday life proving ever more difficult.

At the heart of the book is Meilin’s sense of agency, and her ownership – and lack, thereof – of her body and womb. She suffers mightily through the book. It reminded me of Zola, in naturalistic style, spelling out the contrast between what lives inside a person and what society allows. It is a terrible thing to contemplate, yet Jian’s storytelling skills carry us along to what we know will cannot be resolved positively.

David Potash

Great House – Reflected, Refracted, Refined

Nicole Krauss is an immensely talented novelist, a writer with a passion for language and exceptional skill. She does not so narrate so much as paint with words; the flow of her language is poetic. Yet her narrative is not unduly performative. Krauss writes stories that have a relationship with their audience.

In 2010, she published Great House, her third novel. The book received critical acclaim, awards, and cemented Krauss’s reputation as a top-tier author. It is a carefully crafted work, a jewel box of five different narratives and primary characters that, over time, come into focus, offering high-level understanding and meaning. The threads running through are historical (the violence of government against its people), philosophical, emotional, and interpersonal. There are recurring questions of identity, of remembering (and forgetting), and the presence of a much-traveled desk. Each of the key characters are struggling with loss. That may sound complicated, but it’s not unduly complex in Krauss’s hands. I was aware, while reading it, of her direction, structure and choice. There’s nothing sloppy or untethered in the book.

All of that is on the positive side of the ledger and good reason for the novel’s critical successes. And yet – and I’ve been wrestling with the “and yet” – I cannot assert that the novel moved me emotionally. I admire it and find much to praise – and I yet can’t state that it has stayed with me.

It might be because Krauss does not strike me as fully invested with her characters in this effort. I’m not sure, though; there are more than a few novelists whose work moves and whose relationship with their characters is at arm’s lengthy. George Elliott is a fine example, a brilliant novelist whose characters are sometimes less than fully realized.

My emotional distance from The Great House also might be that characters’ traits and internal dialogue are often seem to drive the novel more than plotting or action. It is a book of thoughts and feelings in different cities and over time. However, there are again many outstanding novels that are light on action. Then again, I was wondering if my coldness might be the absence, save the horrors of a Pinochet or Holocaust, of every day life’s concerns in the book. The characters, sketched in particular situations, sometimes struck me as transcendent or any one time or place.

Or it simply might be the wrong novel at the wrong time for me.

That thought – the right piece of literature for the right reader and the right time – has been bouncing around in my head for months. Reading in the pandemic is not, for me, like reading was two years ago. Reading in late 2020 has a different sense of urgency to it, a charged sense of relevance. One must choose to read and engage in a text, and when we can’t go outside, when the daily news brings new stresses and horrors, simply reading a novel is a weighted act of choice. It is consequential. That does not mean that everything that I read now has to be “important.” Goodness knows I crave escape fiction, too. Great House is not a diverting fluff. It it is serious and reflective. All that said, it was not substantial to me in a way that resonated.

Maybe – after covid, after the sheltering, when it’s possible to read a book in public or while traveling, I’ll have a different reception to Great House. For now – you’re welcome to borrow my copy.

David Potash

Arthur Fletcher and Republicanism

Simple history puts people and ideas in boxes, creating tidy narratives. Thoughtful history, based on close research, reveals complexities and contradictions. That kind of history is not necessarily flashy. Nor does it always receive due attention, either. It is more like a close reading of a text, revealing itself through concentration, study and time.

I was thinking about this while reading David Hamilton Golland’s biography of Arthur Fletcher, A Terrible Thing to Waste: Arthur Fletcher and the Conundrum of the Black Republican. It is a sturdily crafted traditional biography of a somewhat minor political figure. It is also an interesting study of the intersection of personal and national history, sketched out amid broader complex trends, that defies conventional expectations. Fletcher, a Black leader who led an extraordinary full life, is aptly described by Golland as “the most important civil rights leader you’ve (probably) never heard of.” Tracking the contours of Fletcher’s life makes for a valuable read, for it highlights the opportunities and constraints that smart, ambitious and talented Black men faced and still face as they navigate the evils of racism. Golland has done good work here, for it is a biography and more.

Born in 1924 to a hard-working single mother, Fletcher spent much of his early childhood in Los Angeles. In 1938 he changed his last name, reflecting new family stability. His mother married Andrew Fletcher, a master farrier in the Army. The family settled in Kansas for Fletcher’s high school, where he stood out as a stellar athlete and as a leader for Black students. He married his high school sweetheart, became a father, and was drafted into the Army by 1943. Fletcher tried to get into an officer program – choices were limited for Blacks – and by 1944 was in Europe. In March of 1945, Fletcher was shot and after five surgeries, was discharged. With a second child and more on the way, Fletcher balanced straight forward jobs – delivering ice and working as a doorman – with pursuing his academics and football aspirations.

Fletcher stood out as star for Washburn University’s football team, was scouted and recruited, and became the first Black player for the Baltimore Colts. His football career never fully materialized, though, and by 1953 he was teaching in Kansas and starting a lifelong connection with the GOP. The Republicans in Kansas at the time were the party most committed to providing jobs, protection and rights to Black Americans. Politics greatly appealed to Fletcher, a charismatic speaker, and so started a lengthy career.

Overcoming personal tragedy – his first wife committed suicide and employment opportunities were often elusive – Fletcher maintained optimism and an admirable entrepreneurial spirit. Moving to Washington, he started a community program and was elected to the Pasco City Council. Fletcher tried his hand at running for Lieutenant Governor of Washington, the first Black to head a state-wide campaign in the West. His visibility appealed to President Nixon, who tapped him as Assistant Secretary of Labor. Under President Nixon, Fletcher advanced affirmative action in hiring and contracts. His advancement, a testament to his skills and ambition, is truly impressive. With the White House role and accomplishment under his belt, the remainder of Fletcher’s professional life was in and about Republican political leadership. He ran for mayor Washington, DC, losing to Marion Berry. He headed chaired the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Close to George Bush, Fletcher was a frequent public speaker, a lobbyist, and a national Black spokesperson on issues of race and labor.

Fletcher’s patience with improving race relations in the US, always in conflict with the strictures of his party, were sorely tested with Lee Atwater’s campaign leadership and the Rodney King beatings and trial. He did not, though, abandon his fellow Republicans. Golland notes that Fletcher, never a conservative in the vein of so many of his colleagues, was trapped by his success. Fletcher died in 2005.

In the last chapter of the book, Golland tackles the conundrum of Arthur Fletcher and his career. Like some other Black Republicans, Fletcher found the party’s commitment to individualism, to labor and work, in alignment with his personal philosophy. Yet the broad message of the party shifted, becoming less concerned with the opportunities of Blacks and other minorities, leaving Fletcher and others without traction. Nor was moving to the Democratic party a viable option, at least in Fletcher’s mind. As the party abandoned his values, he was stranded – and distressed, too, for the more white-focused strategies of the Republican party garnered success at the ballot box.

Golland’s biography is a well-written, well-researched account of an American political leader well worth our time and consideration.

David Potash

Rage, Dread and Love

Miriam Toews‘ novel, Women Talking, engaged me instantly, from the very first page. It stayed with me, leading to research on the web and a second reading. Days later, it is still with me, ready to summon a powerful mixture of feelings and sentiments. It is an intense work.

Women Talking is based on a horrific history: the serial raping of women in a Mennonite community in Bolivia. For years, women in the community would awake bleeding, disheveled and bruised, the victims of sexual attacks. Their complaints were ignored in their isolated, insular and extremely patriarchal world. Men called them imaginary “ghost rapes” or the work of devils. When women finally captured one of the rapists, they learned that they were being drugged by a spray and assaulted. Eventually, through years of investigation and trial, nine men were convicted of rapes. The trail cites 135 victims, from ages 3 to 65, but unofficially there were probably many more.

The sect’s misogyny enabled the crimes and compounded the harm. Most of the women had lives of limited opportunity, illiterate and in secondary status. The religion limited access and understanding of basic sexual health. A closed culture of shame made things worse, and the community’s faith and power structure bound the women further. The women were denied basic civil and human rights, like so many others in the world. But that does not mean that the women lack agency or have nothing to say.

From this horror Toews, herself a lapsed Mennonite, gives us a novel of women in this community talking. It is a novel of conversations. The women talk of options, of revenge, of harm, of their children, their families, and of love. Toews lets us listen to the women as individuals with strengths, weaknesses, ideas and fears – not as objectified victims – and that “reality” makes the evil they endured all the more terrible. It’s an extremely well-crafted work of intimacy and care, told in a situation of almost unimaginable evil. But the evil isn’t unimaginable – it happened. And that makes it all the more awful.

Women Talking is a powerful indictment of patriarchy. It gives voice to those that we might not hear. It is an extremely good novel.

David Potash

The Narrow Road

A brilliant big novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North won the Booker Prize in 2015 among many other well-deserved awards. It is an outstanding work, a book that will grab you, engage you and keep you thinking.

Richard Flanagan is the author. An Australian born in Tasmania, Flanagan has written non-fiction, novels, short stories and screen plays. He is prolific and if the critics and editors are to be believed, just about everything he puts his mind to, he does well. He is rightly considered one of the most important writers in the world today.

The Narrow Road is a story about love, betrayal, loss, fame, leadership, and above all else, the horrors that Australian POWs faced in World War II as slaves for the Japanese in the construction of the Burmese railway. Flanagan’s father was a POW who lived through it. It was his father’s stories, Flanagan has recounted, that inspired the novel. In real life and in every sense of the word, it was a truly awful history.

In Flanagan’s account, the bigger historical narrative is captured through the actions, reactions, and struggles of multiple characters. Reading it, I thought of Tolstoy’s description of the Battle of Borodino in War and Peace. That chapter famously retells the conflict through the “fog of war.” It is scary, confusing, and messy, giving the reader a powerful sense of just how incomprehensible “history” can be when experienced without a clear narrative. It is overwhelming and, in many ways, unknowable. Only later can it be comprehended, if at all. Flanagan’s characters, trapped in the jungle, live, work and die in just such an unknowable situation. When we are in history, we have little but our convictions to assure us of outcomes.

Flanagan does details with great care; they are haunting and revealing. Especially compelling is Flanagan’s commitment to his characters. He treats each with consideration and care, even the war criminals. I found myself thinking about them as “people” – and wondering, after I finished the book, about particular plot choices and actions. My sense is that Flanagan is most interested in a certain kind of authenticity, a fidelity to a character, a moment, and place. Plotting is important to him, too, but it is not an aggressively plotted work.

Flanagan’s narrative moves effectively across time, space and scope. The success and somewhat “ruined” life of our main character is the thread, the anchor, and reference point. However, the book is really about much, much more than the life of Dorrigo Evans and the tremendous tensions between his public life as a hero and his private pains.

Big picture questions and themes are very effectively explored, weaving together a novel that is memorable and expansive. It has all the heft and weight of literature with a capital “L.” All things considered, it is probably best characterized as a novel whose key theme is history, not people. In that it differs from Dr. Zhivago, for example, a love story set against a sweeping historical drama. Here, and probably much more truthfully, is history rearranging the lives of all that it touches. But the novel is not didactic. The Narrow Road is enough of a page turner that it could be comfortably found in a bookstore under fiction, or perhaps historical fiction. I had trouble putting it down.

I heartily recommend The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

David Potash

History, Leadership and War

Andrew Roberts is a successful and prolific British historian. Almost as much a journalist as a scholar at this latter stage in his career, Roberts is probably best known for his biography of Winston Churchill. He writes with confidence, vigor, and a conservative perspective.

In his 2019 work, Leadership in War: Essential Lessons From Those Who Made History, Roberts presents the reader with nine short biographic sketches of well-known leaders, focusing on their traits in conflict. Emphasizing that leadership is value-neutral – it can be for the good or the bad – Roberts wrote the book as an outgrowth of a series of lectures he had given at the New York Historical Society. That helps to explain the particular kind of leaders looked at here; stated simply, they are of interest to the author. Leadership in War offers very few historical surprises in its examination of Bonaparte, Nelson, Churchill, Hitler, Stalin, Marshall, de Gaulle, Eisenhower and Thatcher. If you have read a short biography of any of these figures, you would be familiar with the outlines of their lives and the leadership in war.

Roberts brings something different to the task: an appreciation and understanding of the profound sense of self-belief exhibited by these figures. Coupled with that self-reliance, each of the leaders yoked their efforts to a larger cause. Each thought that their people, their team, their nation, was inherently better than that of the enemy. All of them were mostly lucky. Each, too, had surprising success at crafting, selling and reinforcing an understanding of circumstances that at the time of the conflict, might not align with the fact. Roberts goes into detail about this trait with Churchill, who convinced England that it was not in defeat during the early years of World War II. Roberts points out, too, that truly great leaders did not just craft and insist on a new reality; they were also disciplined and focused in ways to achieve it.

Roberts does not engage much with the really interesting questions about the distinctions between their leadership in battle and their leadership in campaigns, in diplomacy, and it regular domestic politics. His sketches made me wonder if there are some fundamentally different skills involved – and how and when they are accessed and employed.

Clausewitz’s dictum that war is politics by other means hovers throughout this book. War is a particular kind of conflict, a zero-sum game with awesome immediate consequences. Successful politics away from the battlefield is rarely zero-sum and sustainable – especially if we evaluate it with the criteria of improving lives. Reading more of Roberts’ thoughts of these kinds of questions would have been welcome.

David Potash

Texas: Lone Star History

There’s an old-school kind of history book, sweeping and opinionated, that when done well often finds its way to the shelves of more than a few non-historians. These are big and heavy tomes, hundreds upon hundreds of pages, usually about complicated topics or places that defy simple categorization. While appearing to be encyclopedic, if only because of their heft, these histories are in truth idiosyncratic. They tend to drive professional historians, who make qualified and careful arguments, nuts – and not just because of their out-sized sales. These big histories can shape popular understanding and convey arguments about mood, culture and the zeitgeist. They simplify and clarify. This is quite difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in traditional academic history.

It would be difficult to find a better representative of the genre and phenomenon than T.R. Fehrenbach’s Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans. It’s massive, unabashedly biased, and beautifully written in many sections. Proudly subtitled “From Prehistory to the Present; The People, Politics, and Events That Have Shaped Texas,” Lone Star is really about the frontier and the “spirit” of white settlers. Theodore Reed Fehrenbach was a Texan, educated at Princeton, who made a career as a writer, columnist, and journalist. The book, written in 1968 and reissued in 2000, is comprehensive in its coverage but its heart is the Republic of Texas in the early 1800s to the closing of the frontier.

Fehrenbach is unconcerned with sources. He avoids charts and historical data, instead telling stories, mostly about men and acts of violence and courage. Maps are few and so, too, are traditional chronologies. This is not the work to ground one in facts or numbers. Instead, Ferhrenbach is after something ephemeral – the historical memory that binds and animates Texans as Texans. He envisions it as a particular kind of ethnic-racial identify, grounded in opportunity, self-reliance, and toughness. For him, these are mostly white Anglo-Celts. Fehrenbach locates this special “Texas-ness” in places and people, and especially at the battle of the Alamo and in the Texas Rangers. It may not be an accurate history of the state, and at times it is frustrating, particularly if you are trying to sort out facts or look at wider issues. The book truly only emphasizes one perspective, and accordingly is missing differing experiences and histories. It is, though, filled with memorable stories and characters.

It’s not a book that I would recommend for everyone. It’s too long and its idiosyncrasies can be jarring to the point of distraction. And yet – even with the bias, racism, cynicism, and sweeping opinions, there is much to admire in Ferhenbach’s prose. He writes with style and confidence. And, as suspect as he may be when it comes to questions of causality and context, the book does put its finger on something different and unique. I am in no position to affirm that he’s accurate, but the book does go far in helping to explain that particular mythos of Texas.

David Potash

Longstreet, Leadership, and the Judgment of History

The United States Civil War was, by far, the nation’s bloodiest and greatest challenge. Any serious engagement with the history of the war underscores how horrific – and important – it was to our nation’s history. Reading about the war and its history, which has long been disputed and argued, reminds me that the Civil War’s outcome was not foreordained. It was the consequence of choice, leadership, determination and contingencies.

Reading James Longstreet: The Man, the soldier, the Controversy underscores those observations. A solid volume of essays edited by R. L. DiNardo and Albert A. Nofi, the book is more than twenty years old and retains its relevance. Leadership, on and off the battlefield, is a vital topic of interest and concern today. So, too, are the ways that scholarship, advocacy and politics can shape history and our collective understanding.

Longstreet was one of the Confederate Army’s most prominent generals. Born in South Carolina and raised in Georgia, he attended West Point and had a successful military career in the US Army until the start of the Civil War. He resigned his commission and became a key figure in the south’s military effort. Longstreet was known for his defensive tactics. He fought in multiple key battles, gaining greater responsibilities and eventually working directly under Robert E. Lee, who headed the Confederate military effort. Lee called Longstreet his “old war horse” and consistently supported him. Longstreet was responsible for a key attack at Gettysburg that failed, leading many in the South to blame Longstreet for the loss and, eventually, much more. Lee was a consistent supporter of Longstreet, even after the battle of Gettysburg. Through the course of the war, Longstreet’s reputation and overall effectiveness were widely affirmed.

After the Civil War, Longstreet preached cooperation with the north and the Union. Like many who held leadership roles in the Confederate military, he sought leadership as a civilian. Unlike almost all other southern military leaders, Longstreet joined the Republican party. It was this, and his subsequent commitment to working with the union and with blacks, that made him a target in the south, in the public eye, and in historical analysis.

A group of former Confederate military commanders, all associates to Lee, targeted Longstreet after Lee’s death. Longstreet became a scapegoat for the loss of the confederacy. They labelled him incompetent during the war and worse, a villain who contributed to the loss of southern dignity during Reconstruction. Truth was ignored and history was “rewritten” to serve political ends. Longstreet’s poor judgment in how he defended his military record compounded the situation. In the century plus that followed the conclusion of the Civil War, Longstreet was the only Confederate general to have no statue or memorial tribute in the South. It is telling evidence of how post-war interpretation shaped collective understanding.

DiNardo and Nofi’s volume emerged from a conference on Longstreet, supported by the New York Military Affairs Symposium. The scholars who attended focused on Longstreet’s career and his legacy. Essays in the volume examine Longstreet’s pre-Civil War career, his leadership style, which was more “modern” than most of his contemporaries, battlefield tactics, and broader historical questions of interpretation. It is accessible, even for someone who is not deeply attuned to the history of the Civil War. Taking the heroism and horrors of the war as a given, the essays collectively provide a good understanding of a professional soldier’s career before, during and after the Civil War. One cannot read about what Longstreet and his contemporaries wrestled with, though, and not be affected by the violence and loss. Further, the essays reinforce what we already know about popular historical understanding: it is contested, politicized, and always suspect to manipulation. Truth and truths may not emerge immediately, but with careful consideration and scholarship, we may get there eventually.

David Potash

Favorites Places, Different Time

Studying history can be a delightful exercise in disciplined imagination. It requires us to summon forth in our minds – critically, with data and evidence – what happened in a different time in a different place. More than assembling sources and crafting arguments, fully immersed historical study is transcendent. It whisks us away while we stay at home.

I took such a trip to one of my favorite places when I read John Kasson’s 1978 history monograph, Amusing the Million: Coney Island at the Turn of the Century. I don’t know how many years ago, probably decades, that I first encountered this slim and well-written study. It is a smartly crafted work that cast a long shadow in the study of popular culture. Kasson’s writing is accessible and scholarly, good with details and theory. He is a reliable and caring guide.

Coney Island, for the uninitiated, was the nation’s first mass amusement area. A Brooklyn beach-side resort in the 1800s, Coney Island grew rapidly in the latter quarter of that century. Accessible and affordable, Coney Island sat at the intersection of New York City’s massive population growth, the rise of the middle and working classes with disposable income, and the creation of mass production entertainment. It offered opportunity for socialization, pleasure and wonder within a short train ride of the city’s apartments and tenements. It was and remains to this day a special place, close to the city, of the city, and apart from the city.

Dreamland

Kasson situates Coney Island’s development within the broader historical context of the New York City’s Central Park, created after the Civil War, and the 1893 Colombian Exposition in Chicago, one of the most important cultural events of the latter half of the century. He explains what trends the entrepreneurs in Coney Island followed and where they established their own paths. Sensitive to issues of race, ethnicity and gender, Kasson recounts how Coney Island represented an alternative cultural space for its millions of visitors.

As one of those regular visitors – I’ve riding the Cyclone and Wonder Wheel annually for decades – the book truly comes to life when it goes into detail describing the ambitious amusement parks built in the years before the first World War. Steeplechase Park, Luna Park and Dreamland, each in their own way, created immersive alternative realities for day-tripping New Yorkers. Fantastic architecture, cutting-edge technologies, and shows designed to amuse, entertain and amaze shaped these extraordinary spaces. The photos alone can transport me.

When casting about for a read in these challenging times, consider dipping into well-written history. And if you pick up a copy of Kasson’s Amusing the Million, I’m sure that you’ll find it engaging.

David Potash

Right Stories, Wrong Time?

Determined to unplug for a short spell, I recently sat down with Ted Chiang’s latest collection of short stories, Exhalation. Chiang is an extremely talented writer, perhaps best known for “The Story of Your Life”, which was the basis for the movie Arrival. He has garnered several awards, too; he is an author that we’ll be reading for many years.

Chiang is sometimes described as a fiction writer and sometimes as a science fiction writer. One can be both of course – and fitting within a genre’s expectations is no recipe for success. My interest was piqued by curiosity and convenience. When one shelters in place, tethered to phones and screens, maintaining long-term focus can be a challenge. I thought that short stories were a safe hedge in a time when focus can be elusive.

Turns out that my plan was both wrong and right.

The stories in Exhalation are well-written and creative. Chiang is a writer who is interested in an idea, a speculation, and from that spins a tale. His ideas, too, are mostly very intriguing. Themes of free will, cognition, meta-cognition and what it means to be human are recurring questions that drive these stories. Chiang explores them with focus and clarity. There are no tricks, no narrative sleight-of-hand gimmicks, or even experiments with the prose itself. Instead, he writes with sense of purpose. It is though he wants to sort something out.

All well and good, and yet, I found myself less than fully engaged in the book while reading it. While I liked the ideas and found them provocative, there was little about the stories that stuck. Initially, I had difficulty figuring out why. I re-read, skimmed, and started to obsess, ever so mildly, about why I wasn’t all that engaged. Bear in mind, too, that I clearly was engaged since I was thinking about the stories quite a bit. It took some time to gather what was going on.

Chiang, I propose, is more focused on his ideas than plot, and more interested in plot than the development of his characters. His ideas are consistently intriguing. His plots are mostly strong. His characters, on the other hand, are less than fully developed. Chiang, to my reading, does not give them love or even all that much care. More often than not they seem to be vehicles for delivering his ideas.

Had Chiang stayed within the strictures of genre – hero/antihero; boy meets girl, loses girl, gets girl; stranger comes to town – the thinness of his characters would not be noticed. Without the well-worn clothing of genre, however, all aspects of the story are equally exposed. My reading was, as a consequence, probably more intense than necessary. Engagement indeed! Added to that, of course, that I’m reading them in a time of social distancing. My underlying hope was not to find ideas; it was connection, the kind of connection that can only come through fiction.

Exhalation is a thought-provoking collection of short stories that I’m confident will make you think. However, I am equally confident that I cannot predict what it will make you think about.

David Potash