John Keene

John Keene


Fiction by John Keene

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Fiction by John Keene

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Keene’s story collection is truly radical—in its politics, in its stylistic restlessness, in its rethinking of the myths we tell ourselves about race and sexuality in the history of the Americas.

—Anthony Domestico, The Boston Globe

In Counternarratives, John Keene undertakes a kind of literary counterarchaeology, a series of fictions that challenge our notion of what constitutes “real” or “accurate” history. His writing is at turns playful and erudite, lyric and coldly diagnostic, but always completely absorbing. Counternarratives could easily be compared to Borges or Bolaño, Calvino or Kiš.

—Jess Row, author of Your Face in Mine

A book of such richness that it’s hard to know where to begin. Keene fights, and does so with grace, an agile and often vicious wit, and a stubborn, cracking beauty.

—Ben Ehrenreich, The Nation

Genius – brilliant, polished and of considerable depth.

—Ishmael Reed, author of Mumbo Jumbo

Exquisite, and unlike anything I’ve ever read.

—Eula Biss, author of On Immunity

We have become accustomed in recent years to the revisionary spirit of much postcolonial fiction, but the ambition, erudition and epic sweep of John Keene’s remarkable new collection of stories, traveling from the beginnings of modernity to modernism, place it in a class of its own. His book achieves no less than an imaginative repositioning of the history of the Americas … Keene is that rarest of things today, a writer whose radicalism connects the politics of history to the politics of fiction.

—Katie Webb, TLS

Counternarratives is a work of great distinction, a once in a generation work of short form fiction, moving the form on, deepening it. Few works of fiction operate on this kind of intellectual and textural level and still remain rooted in the human experience and a pleasure to read. […] Few novels are works of art and few works of art are moral acts – this is one of them.

—Neil Griffiths

Richly conceived and brilliantly executed, the most original set of fictions to be released so far this year.

—Jonathan Sturgeon, FLAVORWIRE

This new story collection carves daring paths through the Western canon, reviving Jim and Huck Finn, Langston Hughes and Xavier Villaurrutia, sorcery, slavery, and colonialism. Keene’s blend of history and narrative, the familiar and the strange, reads like a furious Ishmael Reed channeling his inner Borges: careful yet caustic. Fans of “Annotations,” Keene’s brief, brilliant study of home, have waited a long time for his next offering. It is here, and it is brilliant and biting.

—Hal Hlavinka, Community Bookstore, Brooklyn Paper

Counternarratives is a work of great distinction, a once in a generation addition to short form fiction. It moves the form on; it deepens it. Few works of fiction operate on this kind of intellectual and textural level and still remain rooted in the human experience.

—Neil Griffiths, Review 31

Who knows what book of spells Keene used to conjure these hypnotic, quasi-historical tales involving mystical convergences?

—Katrina Dodson, The Millions

Protean in style, erudite in reference, uncanny in effect, these stories and novellas inhabit, conjure, and invent characters written out of history by slavery, racism, and subordination.

—Mark Sussman, Slate

Practically every sentence in the book perforates, stretches out, or pries open literary modes designed to be airtight, restrictive, and racially exclusionary…An expert generator of suspense, Keene also turns out to be a skilled humorist, a mischievous ironist, a deft, seductive storyteller and a studied historian.

—Max Nelson, Bookforum

Counternarratives proffers a series of stories in which religion and spirituality, art and language, violence and subjugation, homosexuality and eroticism, may shine through a panoply of voices.

—Patrick Disselhorst, Full Stop

Keene’s collection of short and longer historical fictions are formally varied, mold-breaking, and deeply political. He’s a radical artist working in the most conservative genres, and any search for innovation in this year’s U.S. fiction should start here.

—Christian Lorentzen, Vulture

Queering the script, defying the imperative to be silent, however, does not require confidence or a vision of what progress means. It is, rather, in all its uncertainty and risk, the most basic stuff of—the very matter of—life. It is also the crowning achievement of one of the year’s very best books.

—Brad Johnson, Quarterly Conversation

Of the scope of William T. Vollmann or Samuel R. Delany, but with a kaleidoscopic intuition all its own, Counternarratives is very easily one of the most vividly imagined and vitally timed books of the year. I haven’t felt so refreshed in quite a while as a reader.


Keene exerts superb control over his stories, costuming them in the style of Jorge Luis Borges…Yet he preserves the undercurrent of excitement and pathos that accompanies his characters’ persecution and their groping toward freedom.

—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

Keene finds inspiration in newspaper clippings, memoirs, and history, and anchors them in the eternal, universal, and mystical.

Vanity Fair

Only a few, John Keene among them, in our age, authentically test the physics of fiction as both provocation and mastery. Continuing what reads like the story collection as freedom project, in Counternarratives, Keene opens swaths of history for readers to more than imagine but to manifest and live in the passionate language of conjure and ritual.

—Major Jackson

Keene’s masterful prose smoothly transgresses traditional lines of representation and description

Publishers Weekly

Suspenseful, thought provoking, mystical, and haunting. Keene’s confident writing doesn’t aim for easy description or evaluation; it approaches (and defies) literature on its own terms.

Publishers Weekly

Genius—brilliant, polished and of considerable depth.

—Ishmael Reed

Annotations moves jaggedly, lightninglike, with speed and with wrought metonymic aplomb. It conduces to quick reaches of insight and accretion, unexpected lyric heft, quick elliptic dilation. In this book which achieves moment and range well beyond what its relative brevity leads one to expect, John Keene makes an auspicious debut.

—Nathaniel Mackey

The work of a gifted writer who seeks to immerse himself in the body of language so that certain ruling assumptions may open themselves up to an inner dialectical scanning.

—Wilson Harris

When I first read John Keene’s fiction, almost a decade ago at Harvard, I knew immediately that I was in the presence of genius. With his work Annotations, Mr. Keene, after years of woodshedding and apprenticeships, has fulfilled that early promise. These poetic meditations about private lives and public events are brilliant, polished and of considerable depth.

—Ishmael Reed
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