Heartland by Ana Simo [in Booklist]
Although the inaugural Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing went to Deepak Unnikrishnan’s dazzling Temporary People (2017), the judges were so enthralled by the “insane and brilliant” Heartland by Cuban-born, New York-domiciled lesbian activist Simo that it, too, went to press, enabling the 73-year-old to enjoy her literary debut.
At age 11, Heartland’s unnamed narrator wins a Blue Ribbon at the Elmira County Fair for writing “an inadvertently anti-Semitic fable,” which condemns her to become a “[w]riting-made-me-want-to-puke” writer. While supporting her “writing curse” with menial jobs and often masquerading as someone else, she falls for Bebe, the “love of [her] loveless, licentious life.” Losing Bebe to Mercy McCabe sets the spurned narrator on a mission-to-kill, luring McCabe back to Elmira, where murderous intentions go awry, hindered by frostbitten limbs, disappearances, unreliable staff, an insatiable librarian, and a return of the dead.
Eschewing labels and defying expectations, Simo slyly confronts race, sexuality, multigenerational duty, immigrant dislocation, and even dirty politics while spinning a bizarrely spectacular, outlandishly disorienting (not-)love-story of lost, searching souls.