Sarah Gailey: Unsettling Stories in Imaginative Settings

I first came to Sarah Gailey's work when I read their debut novel, River of Teeth (St. Martin's, $15.99). The premise seems far-fetched at first: the story is set during an alternate American Civil War; the government bred hippos in the marshlands of Louisiana, failing to account for their brutality and resulting in bayous overrun with feral hippos by the late 19th century. (This was an actual plan presented to Congress as a possible solution to food shortages during the Civil War, though it was never implemented.) The novella reads something like an old western, with Winslow Houndstooth and a ragtag crew of assistants contracted to take back the hippo-run bayou. In Upright Women Wanted (Tordotcom, $20.99), Gailey once again proves an ability to pack a slim tale with outsized action and adventure, this time in an imagined future America in which Librarians run state-sanctioned materials between territories--and smuggle a few contraband items along the way.

Gailey's genre-defying imagination once again shines in Magic for Liars (Tor, $17.99). It reads like a fast-paced whodunit combined with all-too-familiar high school drama. Except this high school is for magical teenagers, and the down-on-her-luck private investigator sent to look into a murder on campus is decidedly not magic. In their latest novel, The Echo Wife (Tor, $24.99), Gailey once again straddles genres in a story of a woman who discovers her husband has been having an affair--with her clone. A little bit sci-fi, a little bit domestic thriller, the novel poses questions about responsibility and creation: not only when cloning but also when crafting a life, for ourselves and for others. Shelf Awareness's reviewer called it "unsettling"--a quality that could be applied to any of Gailey's imaginative works of fiction, and not a bad thing in the least. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

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