Underneath by Lily Hoang
Over a five-year period, Martha Johnson murders her four children, one by one, in order to punish her husband when they argue, but Martha is no ordinary serial killer. She murders her children by using the bulk of her 250-pound body to suffocate them. Unlike other fictionalized true-crime novels, Underneath neither valorizes nor focuses on the specific acts of violence. Instead, it attempts to understand how feelings of powerlessness, the residue of trauma, and the need to find justice in a world that refuses to give a fat body justice finds its only respite through murder.
Somewhere on a continuum between Donald Barthelme’s The Dead Father to A. M. Homes’s The End of Alice, Lily Hoang appears armed to the teeth, ready to slay. Her playful innovation of the depths of remorse, humiliation, desperation, and other states of degradation where lesser authors fear to tread proves once again that not only is this high priestess capable of anything, but you had better look alive because you’re about to be bewitched. Fearless, brilliant, and incessant, Underneath is both a page-turner and a beast, one that gets you high on the terror of being alive.—Blake Butler, author of Alice Knott
“Lily Hoang’s novel, Underneath, is the searing tale of an abusive mother/daughter relationship. Told from the point of view of the murdered daughter, in prose that is part rant and part poetry, the novel draws its power from an unflinching examination of the monstrous parts of human nature.”—Cai Emmons, author of Weather Woman
In this story, the television is forever broadcasting the game show, Press Your Luck. “No Whammies!” our story’s murderer often reminds. The Technicolor game of chance backgrounding the drama snaps into its divinatory mode as the question of who gets to survive and who doesn’t saturates the frame. Lily Hoang’s masterful writing in Underneath creates a haunted house inside of which we confront not only the tyranny of bad mothers, but the systems that aid in their creation.—Selah Saterstrom, author of Ideal Suggestions and Slab
Lily Hoang is the author of five books, including A Bestiary (finalist for a PEN USA Nonfiction Book Award) and Changing (recipient of a PEN Open Books Award). She has been a Mellon Fellow at Rhodes University in South Africa, a Distinguished Visiting Writer at Cornell College, and a Cultural Exchange Faculty Fellow at Wuhan University in China. To date, she has taught creative writing on five continents. She currently teaches in the MFA Program at UC San Diego. She lives in San Diego, California.