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Kenyon Review calls REPTILE HOUSE 'energetic and lyrical'

Calling Robin McLean's BOA Short Fiction Prize-winning collection a "fabulous debut," Nathan Goldman of the Kenyon Review delves deep into the unique qualities of Reptile House: "McLean’s prose unites Carveresque minimalism and Pynchonian—even Biblical—maximalism to create stories that, at their best, press past the human and court the limits of the knowable."

Focusing on fascinating characters and stories from the book, Goldman observes, "McLean both complicates an anthropocentric understanding of the cosmos and troubles the conception of nature as reducible to determinant, efficient causes. She thus allows us to grasp the interdependence of living and nonliving entities and, perhaps, to understand the dichotomy between freedom and determinism as insufficient. By writing the world as a play of physics in which all beings move and are moved in intertwining ecosystems, McLean underpins her stories with a strange, compelling sort of metaphysics."

The review compares McLean's work to that of Flannery O'Connor, saying, ". . . like O’Connor’s work, Reptile House is rife with moral ambiguity and extreme violence—elegantly written, abruptly erupting, and starkly moving—as well as other forms of human and inhuman darkness. But while O’Connor’s work is always eligible for a theological reading, severe and pessimistic though her Catholicism might be, the stories of Reptile House tend toward nihilism.

"But there is unadulterated joy in Reptile House, and it lies in the inventiveness of McLean’s language. Her prose is energetic and lyrical without excising ugliness . . . This skill with language makes possible the stories's portraits of human beings, so revealing in their unsentimental bleakness, and it is in this unique style that the worldhood of Reptile House emerges. . . . To read Reptile House is to dwell in a broken, funny, frightening, possibly doomed world—a world that may help us to read and live in our own."

Click here to read the full review: "'Like A Planet Forming Its Own Orbit': Robin McLean’s Reptile House."

Reptile House is available now at the BOA Bookstore.

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