If the cover of People of the Twenty-First Century makes an immediate visual statement, the rest of this book is the ensuing manifesto. Each page captures between fifteen minutes and three hours in the life of a variety of global street corners, during which time Dutch photographer Hans Eijkelboom does more than merely chronicle the parade of humanity. He observes very particular recurring forms with unnerving precision, from Parisian women in leopard-print coats to Amsterdam men in trademark "Rolling Stones tongue" t-shirts to Shanghai commuters biking in ponchos. Unlike in his precursor August Sander’s People of the Twentieth Century, Eijkelboom never defines these archetypes, as they’re not immediately meaningful categories that he creates. The arrangements of people do nag at you, though, whether that twinge is uneasiness or witty pleasure at the repetitions of collective, consumer life. Either way, the book is a remarkable act of hypnosis.
Nell Zink’s public debut might look small, unassuming, pastel, but it’s among the more caustic and lingering books you’re likely to encounter. A young woman named Tiffany weds a young man whom she barely knows, follows his environmental activist career to Switzerland, tries to “be young”, tries to “be married”, and, most of all, tries to maintain that certain strain of rebelliousness that takes exception to the very narratives of what it means to be a rebel. No character is safe from the scorn that results from such emotional gymnastics, least of all Tiffany herself, nor is anyone ineligible for reconsideration given the right circumstances. Without calling attention to broad shifts in perspective, Zink lets her lead grow in spite of, or maybe because of, her obstinate adherence to hilarious meanness, as time passes in a chapterless smear from paragraph to paragraph. The Wallcreeper builds to a final line that, banal on its own, is overwhelming in context, as the novel, in a move anticipated by every suddenly shattering event from the preceding 190 pages, drops out from under you.