Printz Honor-winning author A.S. King’s novels (Please Ignore Vera Dietz, Still Life With Tornado) are in another solar system entirely, so it can be hard to give readers a taste of what her stories are like without just handing them the books.
In Dig, her latest work of surrealist fiction, she follows five teenagers. A boy throws himself into snow shoveling and house painting in an attempt to save for a car that will help him find his dad. A girl works the drive-thru at an Arby’s and deals drugs from the window. The Freak—but what exactly is she?—moves between worlds and tries to tie a family together. These are just three threads in this tangled root ball of a story. There’s also First-Class Malcolm, who’s taking care of his terminally ill dad, and Loretta the Flea-Circus Ring Mistress.
These teens are the grandchildren of Gottfried and Marla, a couple who made their wealth developing subdivisions and are now pretty miserable. They cut off their kids and left them to their own devices, and now a traditional family gathering threatens to finally expose the extent to which their legacy of harm has eaten away at them all.
King brings an intense surrealism to Dig’s discussion of racism and respectability politics. Plot points like the grotesque flea circus and the Freak’s magical ability to “flicker” from place to place don’t seem so exotic when placed next to scenes in which a suburban mom polishes her antebellum souvenir. Each generation hopes the next will improve; in Dig, that hope feels more urgently needed than ever.