Five Years of MCD
2022 marks five years of MCD books. We’re mostly busy working on the next five years, but we asked our authors, our current editorial crew, and a few former MCD staffers (AKA #deadtous) to write up a few words about an MCD book they did not write. The authors got to choose whatever book they wanted to write about in a highly disorganized process; sometimes another writer had beaten them to the punch, but mostly everyone got their first choice; sometimes we made a suggestion if they were having trouble choosing. (Trouble choosing? Not writers!) And the editors, who are not allowed to have favorites, mostly chose to write about their first MCD books (in one case, the first MCD book). We don’t really know how the former staffers chose; we don’t really talk to them or ever think about them (traitors).
As mentioned elsewhere, MCD does aspire to be some kind of weird community—of writers, of readers, all of us. We also hope that the books are in some kind of productive conversation with one another. We know it’s not programmatic or cleanly delineated, and we like it that way—but we do think the books make sense together, that it gradually becomes clear what an MCD book is (at least until the next crazy idea we have—and don’t worry, we’ve got some coming…there’s some good stuff to announce!). Anyhow, this seemed like the best way to show those conversations between the books, one author speaking to another’s ambitions and accomplishments.
The posts unfurl here in reverse chronological order—so the newest is on top, the first is on the bottom. Maybe we should have done it the other way? Well, if you want to read it like that, you can figure it out. We’ll be posting a new piece at least once a week at least until its clear that fall is here and it’s time to shut up about our fifth birthday. Time for kindergarten!
JUNE 24, 2022: Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon
Post by Nicola Griffith, author of So Lucky and Hild
We kick off the weekend by continuing our ongoing celebration of MCD’s fifth anniversary (and Pride!) with with another fab entry in our Authors on Authors series, this time diving into the weird and transformational world of Sorrowland by the author of So Lucky and Hild, Nicola Griffith:
I’d never met Rivers, but I knew of their work (An Unkindness of Ghosts, The Deep), and was delighted when their latest book was acquired by MCD. So when Sean asked if I would read Sorrowland I agreed—even though I had no clue what it was about. Or even what genre. There again, I don’t give a flying fig for genre, as reader or writer. As a writer, genre is just the kind of vehicle you choose to cross a particular story terrain—you wouldn’t want to cross a desert on a scooter or an ocean in a Subaru—you just have manage genre-specific reader expectations. And one of the things I love about MCD is that they seem to think the same way. (Insert gleeful paean to how refreshing—for my career, life-saving—that is.)
Anyway, when I picked up Rivers’ book, I was expecting…anything. Even so, I was amazed by it. If ever you want to experience how it is to be a woman who has everything in life arrayed against you simply blow through obstacles like a gale through a spore-drift, read this book. It will give you confidence that there’s always a way to not only handle what life throws at you but find the joy.
Sorrowland is a raw, powerful, and visceral read. With Vern, Rivers Solomon has created a woman who simply side-steps her damage and level after level of difficulty―young, Black, queer, blind, alone in the woods with two newborns, and pursued by monstrous government agents―to assume her own strength. The book burns with physicality, exploring, even revelling in, nature, science, belonging, human metamorphosis, generational oppression, joy, and sheer lust for life. If Toni Morrison, M. Night Shyamalan, and Marge Piercy got together they might, if they were lucky, produce something with the unstoppable exhilaration of this novel; it is sui generis.
And that is what MCD does: finds the books that do what no other books do. It ignores the rules of genre. And hey, because this is about what makes MCD MCD, I’m going to ignore the rules, too, and write about another book that is like nothing else I’ve ever read…
(Stay tuned!! We’ll share Nicola’s second MCD pick in our next post!)
JUNE 8, 2022: 100 Boyfriends by Brontez Purnell
Post by Jaime Lowe, author of Breathing Fire
Our Authors on Authors series continues, kicking off Pride Month celebrating the work of the “gay punk messiah,” the one and only Brontez Purnell. For all the good, queer vibes, feels, and philosophy on life, we have a deep dive into Purnell’s 100 Boyfriends by author of Breathing Fire, Jaime Lowe:
On the front cover, a penis, a bridge, a tongue, a mountain, a wave, a heart; on the back cover, a shirtless Brontez, the author, staring down the lens, hands resting on jean pockets, but not in them. Standing there, naked as he can be and still selling copies in Barnes & Noble.
I told Sean that was the vibe I wanted in my author photo. He said Brontez would show up to marketing meetings shirtless. I said, damn, maybe I should too, making everyone uncomfortable since my shirtlessness would incite an HR meeting. I regretted making the joke, but Brontez’s nakedness is what 100 Boyfriends is about. His nakedness on display through clarified writing. The writing is so clear, so precise, not one word out of place, not one word gratuitous. Linked vignettes of scenes and portraits braided with desire and body and fluid and power, tenderness and messy raw sex, sometimes broken, sometimes orgasmic, sometimes both.
I read the book, needed to read it, devoured it really.
I was so hungry for this titillation, these extreme human interactions in a time when I was siloed, the world was siloed. Boyfriends came out in February of the first Covid winter, before the vaccine, and provided this portal to humor, to touch, to flesh, to want, to a little bit of frivolity AND THAT IT WAS OK TO BE FRIVOLOUS. Important even, life sustaining.
I needed to hear from the Brontez Purnel, the artist, his gogo dancing, his steam baths, his fucking, his loving, his cumming, his gazing, grazing, ball gagging, blind folding, petting, putting out, putting in. To read about his bodies, many bodies. All the dirty details in a swirl of love, care, feeling, numbness. Memory and sensation. All of it. Blurry but clear. Real but maybe fiction? Fiction but maybe real? It didn’t matter. It was a riotous bouquet of humor, terror, cattiness and love.
Boyfriends is a gateway drug. I watched Brontez Zoom readings, went into a deep dive — Brontez punk, Brontez dance, Brontez Instagram live, Brontez in a metallic g-string, Brontez gyrating, Brontez grinding, Brontez face tattoos, Brontez pool parties, most recently Brontez fully naked getting a buzz cut. He advertised a room for rent in his house in the Bay Area and for a second I thought maybe I should leave my life and bask in the glory of Brontez. Join the cult of Brontez.
Why was I so taken with this book, these stories, this voice, this person? This person aptly known as a “gay, punk, messiah”?
Cloaked in fiction, he seemed to also offer himself whole, seemingly unaltered, absolutely clear about who he was, how he lived and what he wanted. The book has been described as transgressive, and maybe it is in some ways, but it follows a traditional narrative structure. Each sentence, finely crafted, each story, deftly edited. Pulling you in with details and emotional resonance about his characters, about him, his world, his life, what the flap copy describes as the “unexposed queer underbelly.” The book is not really about the one hundred boyfriends, it’s about the Brontez. Whoever Brontez is, the small sliver revealed in those 177 pages is enough to know the world needs more. And also, please, maybe start that cult?
MAY 13, 2022 (Friday the 13th!): String Follow by Simon Jacobs
Post by Chris Harding Thornton, author of Pickard County Atlas
Chris Harding Thornton, author of Pickard County Atlas, decided to write about the eerie and hilarious String Follow, by Simon Jacobs. We asked Chris to describe her experience reading the book, and, well, she delivered.
Here, we are lucky enough to get an inside look at Chris’s evolving thoughts on String Follow, and what makes it such a trippy, thrilling tale.
WARNING: EXPLICIT ACCOUNTS OF DRUG ABUSE AHEAD. MCD DOES NOT ENDORSE OR CONDONE THE USE OF ANY DRUGS. NOTE: WE DON’T NOT ENDORSE IT EITHER, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT’S FUNNY.
I had a massive allergy attack and wound up writing like 2k words, but I honed it down. Let me know if it works–if you had something else in mind, let me know, and I probably wrote it!
When I try to describe String Follow (and I find myself doing it a lot), I tell people it mixes horror and (maybe) supernatural suspense as it follows a huge cast of angst-y teenagers who find kinship (and don’t) in being outcasts. But that description is way too simple for a really complex and ambitious book.
First things first, if you grew up in an underground music scene, especially one that fell under the huge umbrella of “punk rock” or that held tight to “DIY ethos”—if you know what a “zine” is—this is a must-read. If you’d laugh at someone saying, “The Misfits were more of a Hot Topic brand than a band at this point,” just go buy the book right now.
But even if you’ve lived outside those things, the prose is intoxicating and hypnotic (I’ll come back to the hypnotism), and the characters, whether they make you cringe or break your heart or both, wind up being people you feel like you know. If you really like being creeped out, this book definitely does that, too.
But String Follow is also about way larger, all-too-relevant things. Take the “outcasts,” for instance. The book shows how thorny that whole notion is. Some of the characters can, to varying degrees, opt in or out of being an outsider, while others don’t have a lot of choice. They’ve been alienated, and they’re likely to stay that way. That’s one tiny slice of what makes the book fascinating—cutting deep into how our identities are shaped. For me, the book is also about the constraints of language, the necessity and risks bound up in empathy, the emotional fuel behind confirmation bias, and maybe most importantly: how a human need for understanding can make us see order and meaning that’s way too tidy or that simply isn’t there.
Getting back to the hypnotism thing—what I mean by that isn’t figurative. I almost always read novels in one sitting, and when I did that with String Follow, there was a point where I think the narrator actually hypnotized me and then flipped things around and made me aware of it. The book’s voice is intense, and there were times I felt like I, specifically, was being told this story (which is also part of what the story is about—it’s layers on layers on layers).
The best part, though, is String Follow does all of this without ever lapsing into a philosophical treatise that pounds the reader over the head. At its heart, it’s always a story that’s hilarious, horrifying, and deeply tragic.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Fifteen minutes later, Chris sent the following addendum
Here’s one of the Benadryl-driven outtakes (I think) I wrote. Maybe this is more what you had in mind?
All right, so, roughly thirty years ago, someone I’d known for only a day or two gave me a mixtape. I took the tape home and listened. I don’t remember anything about the songs. I remember there were only three of them, which I thought was weird—the rest of the tape was blank—and I remember very viscerally not liking those three songs. The next day, the person who made the tape called and asked, “Did you listen to it?” I said I had listened to it, yes, and then I went through the silent turmoil of trying to think of something grateful to say while not encouraging more mixtapes but also avoiding hurt feelings (music is such a personal thing and making a mixtape is a weirdly intimate gesture, even when the tape has only three songs).
Before I could say anything, this person I’d known for somewhere between twenty-four and thirty-six hours said expectantly: “Did you have strange dreams?”
Sirens and flashing lights went off in my head. I politely got off the phone and threw away the tape. But thirty years later, I navigate the world in a persistent state of anxiety: What were those three songs? Were they lyrically connected in some way? Did their combination symbolize something? Was the rest of the tape really blank? Intentionally? Could what sounded like blankness really have been encoded with subliminal messages?
String Follow completely freaked me out in the same exact way. It felt like hearing what might have been on the rest of that tape, embedded in the silence.
APRIL 25, 2022: Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
Post by Sean McDonald, Publisher of MCD
Five years ago today, we published Jeff VanderMeer’s Borne, the very first book on the MCD list. We were coming off the publication of the Southern Reach Trilogy, which had been a huge success for us on the FSG Originals list, but it was still before Annihilation had become the strangest movie to ever star two Star Wars stars. And Borne pioneered so much of what would become hallmarks of MCD: gleefully blending genre and literary ambition; an obsessive interest in themes of ecology and identity; mind-blowing design by Rodrigo Corral & team (Borne Illustrator Tyler Comrie has just returned for the paperback covers of Hummingbird Salamander and the Ambergris trilogy); a determination to push the boundaries of format and storytelling (the Borne universe would expand to include–in ebook, paperback, and hardcover originals–both The Strange Bird and Dead Astronauts); and, we hope, an abiding sense of generosity and community that would help the whole MCD list feel like an organic whole.
But five years ago, we were just trying to bring to the world a brilliant, beautiful novel about a little green shape-shifting lump of life, neither plant nor animal but exuding undeniable charisma…which at the very least gave some indication of how rational and normal this whole enterprise would be. For the next few months, we’ll be sharing our highlights from the last five years and, of course (mostly), trying to prime you for five more. Five years of MCD, and we’re just getting started.