... batters against the fixities of language like a moth at a windowpane ... Serpell writes in rhizomes—extended subterranean stems that send up shoots at unpredictable intervals ... The novel’s engine is epistemic as well as emotional, Serpell being one of those novelists who have metabolized the quirks and the canniness of literary theory ... though the novel’s story lines turn and twist, the precision of Serpell’s language remains under exquisite control ... a novel that embraces fretting and fondling alike ... Serpell reminds us on every page that nothing is less reliable than language—that every story is necessarily a betrayal...The result is a novel that reclaims and refashions the genre of the elegy, charging it with as much eros as pathos. Furrows are the tracks we make and the tracks we cover up, and the shifting ground of Serpell’s novel denies every certainty save that the furrows are where we all live.
... a success on the terms it set out for itself. But it is a further testament to Serpell’s abilities and alacrity as an artist that, this time, I was completely in the thrall of the thing she made. The bombast of The Old Drift has been replaced with intimacy, intense emotionality and specificity, but the ambition, the acuity of the intelligence, remains ... The solidity of these grounding facts is key to the book’s success. Serpell’s dexterity not only inside of sentences but inside the world, delivering just enough immutable truth to guide the reader along the wobbly tightrope, gives her that much more freedom to move balletically through different registers of feeling, space and time ... Serpell’s engagement with grief grows in its layering as Wayne slips trickily into the first person previously occupied by Cassandra ... As the voice shifts, the reader has to continually recalibrate her expectations, continually reinvest in and reconsider all these different Waynes, these different types of loss...This can be destabilizing and uncomfortable, but then so can grief; so can trying to situate all your conflicting histories and experiences into a single self. It is also stunningly intimate, always crystalline at the level of the individual sentences, which remain brisk, clipped, all image and solid, immediately inhabitable metaphor ... Serpell is clear when she needs to be, opaque only when it matches how Cassandra or Wayne feels ... seems to stand on the shoulders of Virginia Woolf and Toni Morrison. Above all, Serpell is working with a confidence in and commitment to her project and to the story form. She understands what it is to always have hold of the reader. She does not pander or explain. Instead, the genius is in the book’s bones, its DNA. There is a sort of palimpsest of thinking, reading: The ideas have been churning in the writer for years, but the agony of that work is nowhere to be found. Instead, Serpell gives exactly what she tells us at the outset, a stunningly acute depiction of how the endless layers of both grief and absence, the impossibly slippery act of trying to be a person, feel.
Serpell’s premise is a magnificent snare; you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better opening chapter this year ... far more intimate, a novel of skin pressed to skin ... a modern parable, or sociopolitical trauma made flesh. Told once, the story of Wayne’s accident is a tragedy; but told again and again and again it becomes a kind of elegy, a lament for broken Black bodies, and recurrent horrors ... In the second half of The Furrows (which is less riveting than the first, but tantalisingly cryptic), Wayne’s absence becomes a kind of shapeshifting presence ... shows how lucrative white guilt and trauma can be. And how easily it can slide into something darker ... Serpell is a terrific destabiliser, even at the level of the sentence ... There are no tidy moral lessons at the end of her dissonant and time-contorting fable – no bones to bury, no truth to pin, no mysteries solved – only the inescapable rhythms of loss.
Dynamic ... Grief...can seem unreasonable, and The Furrows captures its brain-scrambling, time-altering power ... Much of the book feels painfully, tragically accurate ... Its ambiguities and enigmas add up to not more eddying confusions but to a stark reminder that the only reasonable response to grief is 'life life life.'
... provocative ... The sort of grief Serpell depicts is complicated and unruly, which makes it feel tangibly real ... Serpell is less concerned with resurrecting her dead characters as she is with looking after the ones who survive ... is, overall, a triumph. Serpell’s deft prose and languid narration come through beautifully throughout the novel. Every once in a while, a passage is so visceral it leaves the reader breathless ... The mourning Serpell depicts is as deep and unpredictable as the sea. The pacing of the narrative — the tragedy of the death, the slow acceptance of loss, the surprising reunion, and then the rupture — mirrors the waves of grief rather than the linear path it is often made out to be. C’s continual grappling with her brother’s death is a powerful meditation on survivor’s guilt ... While the double narration makes sense for the novel thematically, it often confuses the plot in the latter half of the book. Where Serpell expertly portrays a young grieving girl in the earlier section, her depiction of the male psyche is not as believable and at times feels silly, like an exaggerated machismo. Too, the parallels she draws between Will and Wayne often feel vague or incomplete ... Though either plot could have driven the book compellingly, the narrative ambivalence ultimately feels unsatisfying. It’s possible that this dizzying noncommitment to character is precisely the point: Grief is nonsensical, as often are the connections made in its aftermath ... Death as inevitability is a provoking thesis, one that furrows into itself: Serpell’s cyclical plot of enduring death can either leave readers feeling helpless or hopeful. If grief is, as Serpell suggests, the expansive wave between another’s death and our own, perhaps it is a fortuitous privilege to know what’s waiting for us on the shore.
Enthralling...sinuous...a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma ... Details shatter like glass and then reassemble, but with key pieces of the puzzle in place ... What is real and what is not? Serpell blurs the delicate line between dreams and our waking lives ... She delivers on the daring promise of her prize-winning début, The Old Drift, while teasing out a jazzier, more intimate register, casting a spell that probes the fluid, disorienting flow of grief.
The novel’s second half is not as taut as the first, but it is weirder and darker as the story spins toward the void. As well as being a gifted fiction writer, Serpell is also a tremendous literary critic. Her subtle, intimidating intelligence powers these sibling talent ... Recognizing that it extends her ongoing artistic/intellectual project may help us better understand why she’s challenging readers to rearrange our ethical and emotional expectations for the novel. Admittedly, I expected and desired Serpell’s new fiction to work the same groove she dug with The Old Drift. But The Furrows — speculative, strange, and ambitious — has forcefully destabilized that desire and folded me into its wide open, ravenous black heart.
... mesmerizing and endlessly thought-provoking ... Despite the story’s blurred but precisely chiseled layers of reality, The Furrows remains sharply focused, even when, midway through, this new Wayne suddenly takes over as narrator ... Turbulent, poetic and haunting, The Furrows is a stellar achievement.
... the book is so laden with odd convergences and there are so many brushes with demons that it does leave you feeling tiny and weird ... This book review is going to have a disappointed tone that probably isn’t fair to Serpell. She so thoroughly raised expectations with her first novel, The Old Drift (2019), that The Furrows can’t help but seem to follow halfheartedly in its wake ... an atmospheric literary novel not so different from others of its kind ... Serpell is interested in effects here more than in truth dealing. With its scrutiny of doubles, of doppelgängers, of déjà vu, of parallel existences, of the transmigration of souls, of hints of incest, of shifting points of view, the book is a mind-twist (The word I am after isn’t printable) ... It may make you think of the work of filmmakers such as Christopher Nolan and Jordan Peele and, in her latest, Olivia Wilde — alas, not always in a good way ... Serpell intelligently appraises race and class ... These spaces are emotional amphitheaters; they turn me into an eager groundling, waiting to see what news a writer has to bring. In the case of The Furrows, I was let down every time, doubly so because I know what a shrewd observer Serpell can be ... has stuck with me for three years. The Furrows mostly vanished a few hours after I put it down. But I can’t imagine picking up her next one with any less eagerness.
... knotty, prismatic ... Her response makes sense in our era of alternate realities—movies and television shows depict characters who slip from one realm to another; conservatives and liberals no longer seem to share any meaningful understanding of the truth; the metaverse will soon present us with digital worlds of our own choosing (or so we’re meant to believe) ... a more concise affair, both in its narrative scope and its page count. Yet it is a robust tale, especially in its treatment of Wayne, who dies but never really seems dead ... Serpell code-switches with ease, an ultimately crucial skill in a story that abounds with fluctuating realities. The book swerves from a realistic chronicle that bears all the markers of a grief tale to one that seems infused with magic, from standard-English dialogue to a pitch-perfect rendering of African American Vernacular English. Serpell also references and builds upon pop culture’s alternate-reality obsession, and the narrative vertigo that these stories induce in us. When I began reading the novel, I knew that Wayne had drowned in the ocean—but the power of Serpell’s storytelling was such that as the narrative progressed, I stopped being so sure.
... strangely unclassifiable. In addition to being an elegy, it’s also a mystery novel, a psychological thriller and a portrait of a family falling to pieces. Admittedly, the effect is somewhat jarring. The first half of the novel is pure poetry and emotion as Cee contends with guilt at her role in Wayne’s death and its lingering effects on her family. The second half, told from the perspective of this new Wayne, is a plot-driven thriller, providing more questions than answers. As jarring as this shift in tone and style is, it’s also exciting. Just when you think you know where Serpell is going, she takes you down a different path. Highly recommended.
Midway through the book, what began as a straightforward literary novel about grief morphs into something more like a suspense thriller ... the blend is far from seamless. The plot device that connects the first and second halves of The Furrows is flimsy and one gets the distinct sense that at least two very different works have been awkwardly grafted together. (Indeed, a note in the acknowledgments confirms that parts of the book had previously been published as short stories) ... Serpell is a poised and technically skilled writer at the sentence level, but the overarching edifice just doesn’t hang together. The measured elegance of the early sections sits uneasily alongside the made-for-TV hamminess of the latter half, which sails dangerously close to cliché ... What’s striking — and impressive, in a way — about The Furrows is the exhaustive efficiency with which Serpell has managed to cram into a mere 250-odd pages just about every big theme that has been fashionable in anglophone literary publishing over the past couple of years ... It’s as though the novel has been laboratory-engineered to float the boat of a hypothetical, painfully au courant reader. The result feels too self-aware, and too altogether effortful, to convince.
... impressive ... Being inside Cee’s head as she imagines glimpsing Wayne in everyday locales can be disorienting, though this effectively evokes the complex mourning process. Then Cee meets a man who takes the plot in a surprising new direction. Employing language in creative ways and upending reader expectations, Serpell continues to expand the possibilities of what literature can accomplish.
... brilliant ... The second half of the novel is dedicated to the question of Wayne’s possible survival, and the storytelling is engrossing on the plot level, featuring terrorist attacks, homelessness, identity theft, racial code-switching (Cassandra's mother is White and her father, Black), seduction—all of which Serpell is expert at capturing. But each drama she describes also speaks to the trauma Cassandra suffers, which makes the novel engrossing on a psychological level as well. It opens questions of how we define ourselves after loss, how broken families find closure, and the multiple painful emotions that spring out of the process ... If The Old Drift was an epic effort to outdo Marquez and Rushdie, this slippery yet admirably controlled novel aspires to outdo Toni Morrison, and it earns the comparison. It’s deeply worthy of rereading and debate ... Stylistically refreshing and emotionally intense, cementing Serpell’s place among the best writers going.
... brilliant and impressionistic ... With the steadiness of water seeking its level, Serpell explores the parallel but distinct realities Cassandra and her parents inhabit ... In a breathtaking maneuver, Serpell resets the novel again and again, cycling through possible accidents that convey Cassandra’s shock ... In a series of shocking twists, Serpell shatters comfortable ideas about grief and melds Cassandra’s glittering narrative shards into a searching, unforgettable story. It’s a considerable shift from the huge canvas of her previous work, and no less captivating.