“Book Review: Mars by Asja Bakić”
Reviewed by Jaylynn Korrell
Asja Bakić’s Mars takes you on a trip that you won’t want to come down from.
Mars is a superb, out-of-the-ordinary debut story collection by Bosnian author Asja Bakić and translator Jennifer Zoble. With each story set in its own complex world, the reader is taken through landscapes and scenarios that are so uncommonly cool, you’ll feel like you’ve been missing out all this time by not being aware of them.
The collection starts with “A Day Trip to Durmitor,” where a writer struggles to write something that is worthy enough to get her to the second phase of the afterlife. As a writer, I’m sometimes skeptical of reading stories about other writers, but Bakić does it so genuinely and without pretentiousness that I couldn’t help but feel at ease and begin rooting for her. Writers are present in quite a few of her stories like “Heading West” and also in “Passion,” which turned out to be my favorite in the collection. The twists and mystery had me talking aloud to myself a few times: i.e. “shut up,” “nuh-uh,” and well, you might be able to guess the rest.
Sex is ever-present throughout the book, but I wouldn’t call it sexy. In “Buried Treasure” it’s the children who have the most interest in sex. Masturbation and porn pique their interest, even as they and their family process the loss of their grandfather. In “Asja 5.0,” sex is a thing of the past as men have lost the ability to get an erection and humans are unable to procreate on their own. Pornographic literature like magazines or ancient scenes and descriptions are used to teach these uninformed characters about all of the different forms of sexual pleasure. And in “The Guest,” characters grow new body parts when they are considered for sex by someone. As you can tell, your typical rules do not apply here, and I truly enjoyed the purposeful randomness of it all.
Just as you get into the groove of Bakić’s writing style, the stories sometimes end abruptly. That made me read the next even more feverishly, never knowing when I’d have to say goodbye to these intriguing ideas. I felt the most suspense in stories like “Carnivore” where a married man agrees to go to a strange woman’s house that he just met on the bus, or in “The Guest” where a journalist enters a cult village for a story. The stakes feel high from the beginning, and we don’t know if the ride is going to stay calm, or go ape-shit like our guts tell us it will. And the answer is always up to Bakić. She plays with our instincts and knows that she can move in whatever direction she likes. In doing it successfully so many times, she’ll gain your trust like she did mine.
Nearly every story in Mars is captivating and unique. There are so many directions that each one can go in, making me hope (read: beg) that they’ll be turned into individual novels. I ended this collection yearning for somebody, anybody to talk about it with. So make it your next book club pick and then invite me to your book club. Because I need to vent.
Mars comes out on March 19th, 2019.
Publisher: Feminist Press
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