In The New Naturals, Gabriel Bump (Everywhere You Don't Belong) offers a surprisingly tender story about grief and hope packaged within a rollicking series of darkly funny, quixotic journeys. After the loss of her infant son, a young Black mother named Rio persuades her husband, Gibraltar, to help her form a new utopian community underground. While at first Rio's dream seems too far flung, a mysterious Benefactor swoops in and makes it a material reality.
Soon, many people find themselves inexplicably drawn to their spot. Two men, Elting and Buchanan, whose only home is each other, attempt to piece together a trip there from Chicago by bus. A jaded but headstrong journalist stumbles into the spot and finds she never wants to leave. A disgraced professional soccer player, now infamous for surviving what should have been a fatal accident, wonders if Rio's place is the only one left for him. Soon, the price of idealism becomes a bit too high, and both the Benefactor and Rio begin to wonder what kind of salvation is possible.
Bump's prose--crisp, clipped, and urgent--whisks readers down his rabbit hole from the start, leading them through spirals that feel as stylistically assured as they are narratively unpredictable. Elting and Buchanan are held narratively apart from the rest of the cast of characters, but by the novel's end they act as its center. Through them, the truth of the simplicity of living together reigns over convoluted plans to achieve unified perfection. To Buchanan, it is this existence that "felt natural" even in a world that Bump shows to be ridiculously and terrifyingly broken. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor