By Ilana DeBare (Oakland)
Hypatia Press (July 5)
“Shaken Loose” by former San Francisco Chronicle business reporter Ilana DeBare is not your typical quest novel. DeBare’s first published fiction after a career focused on nonfiction, centers on a young San Francisco underachiever who goes to a party and unexpectedly wakes up in Hell. Anna Maple doesn’t understand what she did to deserve to be relegated to a world of fire and brimstone. She vows to escape and teams up with an unusual cast of historical characters along the way.
Trade magazine Publishers Weekly called the novel an “intense and challenging existential horror debut” and said “DeBare leavens this fast-paced and often brutal tale with subtle wit and thought-provoking existential dilemmas.”
A Local News Matters conversation with Ilana DeBare about her new novel, Shaken Loose
Why did you set your novel in Hell?
I always go into writing a novel with a “what if” question. In this case, it was “What if everything you knew about the world was wrong?” Since I’m a liberal, science-oriented, secular person, that abstract “what if” question got fleshed out into “What if the fundamentalists are right and we’re all going to Hell?” It’s a great setting to explore issues of belief and justice. Of course, it’s also a fantastic place to set an adventure story.
Who is Annie Maple and what is her quest?
Annie is a 29-year-old Bay Area college dropout living in the shadow of her genius older brother. Then she dies and goes to Hell—a place she never imagined might truly exist. But the systems that govern Hell are running down, which gives her a chance to escape. At first Annie’s only goal is to find a way back to life, but over time that morphs into a mission to redeem her past failures and rescue someone important to her.
How is Hell falling apart? What does that mean for the characters?
Annie and a small number of other souls are inexplicably “shaken loose” from eternal torment in a sea of fire. They don’t understand why, but they suddenly have agency and freedom within the barren deserts and fiery lakes of Hell. Annie meets other shaken-loose souls from very different eras and places—a Hun from the outskirts of the Roman Empire, a Chinese revolutionary from 20th-century Shanghai, a precolonial West African farmer, and others. Some are truly evil, but others are average people who simply weren’t Christians. One thing I loved about writing this book was throwing these vastly different characters together. There were lots of opportunities for humor in how they misunderstand each other. There were also opportunities to create moving scenes of deep human connection.
Satan and other devils are engaged in a civil war in Shaken Loose. Is this “Game of Thrones” set in Hell?
Definitely not! The devil civil war is just a backdrop, another threat that Annie and her allies must navigate. The real focus is on the humans and their efforts to understand what happened to them—why they were sent to Hell, what kind of god (if any) is in charge, whom to trust, and what to do with their unexpected release. To me, that’s more interesting than power struggles among devil generals. It has more in common with [the television serial] “The Good Place” than with “Game of Thrones,” but it does have some of the dark grittiness of “Game of Thrones.”
Do you believe in Hell? If not, what are you trying to show your readers?
I don’t believe in Hell but I’m fascinated by its long history in myth, religion, and art. The Hell in “Shaken Loose” is my own creation but it draws on various versions of Christian Hell throughout the centuries. Like our own world, it’s a deeply unjust place: People are sentenced to an eternity of torment for big sins like murder but also for simply being the wrong religion. I hope “Shaken Loose” provokes discussion (hello, book groups!) on issues like whether any religion has a monopoly on virtue and how a supposedly just god can tolerate such an unjust world.
More new books, from Bay Area and Northern California authors, listed by release date
By Hannah Michell (Berkeley)
One World/Random House (July 11)
Sae, a former journalist, is at home with her two toddlers in Seoul, South Korea, frustrated that her husband, Jae, is late coming home from work and can’t help put the boys to bed. Then the phone rings. “Turn on the television,” her upstairs neighbor barks. When Sae does, she sees devastating news: Aspiration Tower, the highrise where Jae is working, has collapsed. When answers about the building’s destruction are not forthcoming, (Was it a structural collapse? A terrorist event?), Sae dusts off her rusty reporting skills and sets off to find out what happened. The journey takes her into the underbelly of Seoul. The author, Hanna Michell, teaches about Korean pop culture at UC Berkeley.
The Bridge on Beer River
By Terry Tierney (San Francisco)
Unsolicited Press (July 11)
Curt, a scarred veteran who lives in Reagan-era Binghamton, New York, struggles with drinking, love, and work. In The Bridge on Beer River, a novel-in-stories, Curt tries to help himself and his friends get by in a decaying town but finds that his efforts fall short. Tierney wrote his first short story about Curt while in graduate school 40 years ago and has returned to him time and time again. Those are the stories gathered in this collection.
By Cristina Garcia (Berkeley)
Knopf (July 18)
Cristina Garcia follows up her National Book Award-nominated novel Dreaming in Cuban with Vanishing Maps, which revisits the del Pino family 20 years later. It’s 1999 and Celia del Pino, the 90-year-old matriarch, resides in Havana, where she is still loyal to the ideals of Fidel Castro’s revolution and Gustavo, a lover with whom she spent four days in 1934 but remains lodged in her heart. Her five grandchildren have moved elsewhere — Berlin, Moscow, Los Angeles, and Miami. Cut off from, yet missing their Cuban roots, the younger del Pinos struggle to make sense of their lives. Their worlds collide at an unexpected family reunion in Berlin.
By Yael Goldstein-Love (Berkeley)
(Random House, July 25)
“Part thriller, part psychology, part quantum physics—all fun.” That is how Kirkus ends its glowing review of Yael Goldstein-Love’s second novel, The Possibilities. Set in the Berkeley Hills and featuring a successful novelist, The Possibilities is a mind-bending thriller that explores maternal angst and alternate universes. Hannah Bennett’s son Jack didn’t breathe for the first ten minutes of his life, and Hannah can’t ever shake the fear that he might die. And then he disappears. Hannay must set aside her fears and plunge into different versions of her life to save him.