You Feel It Just Below the Ribs
reviewed by Fiona Cook
Every book is a construction, to some degree, between the author(s) and their reader; it’s part of why we react so strongly when the movie adaptations get things “wrong.” You Feel It Just Below The Ribs is a beautiful example of how just the right amount of ambiguity can pull the reader into engaging more completely with the story.
It starts almost simply; the introduction explains that we’re reading the autobiography of Dr. Miriam Gregory, mind behind some of the core tenets of the somewhat ominously named New Society. There are frequent footnotes accompanying the text, explaining concepts or providing further context on locations and people. But it’s not too long before all the familiar frames start to slip – the cities have the same names as we’re familiar with in reality, but it’s clear history took a different course; the academic footnotes turn defensive, critical, even outright mocking at times; and the narrator herself seems to be telling us only parts of what’s going on.
Through it all, however, there is the consistency provided by some beautiful writing – not flowery, straightforward, but still containing some sentences that just felt like simple perfection. Readers already familiar with the authors’ works, or the Within the Wires podcast which created the universe this novel is based in, won’t be too surprised by that. Deceptively deep simplicity – backed by moments of horror both existential and plausible – is a trademark of both Jeffrey Cranor and Janina Matthewson; working together seems to bring out the very best in both of them. If you’re not up to date, or completely new to their podcast, you won’t need to be current to get into this book; I went in deliberately blind and had no problem keeping up.
You Feel It Just Below The Ribs is thought-provoking, more than a little melancholy, and ultimately one of the most intriguing novels I’ve read this year. What a quietly wonderful book.
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