Liquid Snakes: A Novel (Hardcover)
On Our Shelves Now
What if toxic pollutants traveled up the socioeconomic ladder rather than down it? A Black biochemist provides an answer in this wildly original novel of pollution, poison, and dark pleasure
In Atlanta, Kenny Bomar is a biochemist-turned-coffee-shop-owner in denial about his divorce and grieving his stillborn daughter. Chemicals killed their child, leaching from a type of plant the government is hiding in Black neighborhoods. Kenny’s coping mechanisms are likewise chemical and becoming more baroque—from daily injections of lethal snake venom to manufacturing designer drugs. As his grief turns corrosive, it taints every person he touches.
Black epidemiologists Retta and Ebonee are called to the scene when a mysterious black substance is found to have killed a high school girl. Investigating these “blackouts” sends the women down separate paths of blame and retribution as two seemingly disparate narratives converge in a cinematic conclusion.
Liquid Snakes is an immersive, white-knuckle ride with the spookiness of speculative fiction and the propulsion of binge-worthy shows like FX’s Atlanta and HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness. Transfiguring a whodunit plot into a labyrinthine reinterpretation of a crime procedural, Stephen Kearse offers an uncanny commentary on an alternative world, poisoned.
About the Author
Stephen Kearse is an editor at Spotlight PA, and a contributing writer at The Nation, where he covers music, movies, and books. His criticism and reporting have been published in The New York Times, The Atlantic, GQ, and Pitchfork among other outlets. His debut novel, In the Heat of the Light, was published in 2019 by Brain Mill Press. Originally from Atlanta, he now lives in metro Washington, DC with his family.
The Boston Globe, A Best Book of the Summer
The Millions, A Most Anticipated Book of the Year
Kirkus Reviews, A Best Book Club Fiction Book of the Year
“Liquid Snakes is a strange, disorienting puzzle; a mocking eulogy; a bitter, self-lacerating exercise in what one character calls 'vivid ideation'; a long look into a sinkhole of grief. It twists in your hands and in your heart before biting down." —Noah Berlatsky, Los Angeles Times
"Tangled and disentangled at once, Stephen Kearse’s Liquid Snakes is both a diabolical thriller and wicked political satire set in, and unleashed upon, Atlanta. It’s a swinging beaker-bubbler, for sure, so far out-of-the-ordinary that it tests the limits of comprehension, moving at such speed there’s hardly time to consider the cosmic amorality of its main player, a 'former chemist' named Kenny Bomar, the book’s tragic fiend . . . Liquid Snakes [...] is a stratospheric bolt shot in the general direction of the James Webb Telescope. As a joker, he’s deadly serious, acquiring more than adequate command over the formulas necessary for his narrative purpose." —Jeff Calder, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"The best sci-fi allows us to see our own world through new, more awake eyes; it’s safe to say that Stephen Kearse understood the assignment." —Charley Burlock, Oprah Daily
“In his new novel Liquid Snakes, Stephen Kearse turns this concept on its head, offering a bold speculative vision of a world reckoning with crises both personal and societal.” —Tobias Carroll, Vol 1. Brooklyn
"An immensely engaging read—clever and nimble in its narration, pointed in its critiques—with a chorus of interesting voices and arresting images." —Jake Caselle Brookins, Chicago Review of Books
"In Liquid Snakes, Octavia Butler and Toni Morrison meet Stephen King for a jarring story of agency and autonomy in a world hell-bent on snuffing out both . . . It’s certainly a read that will lurk in the corners of your mind long after the book closes." —Jennette Holzworth, Southern Review of Books
"Liquid Snakes is a compelling dystopian novel that rewards careful reading and uses the structure of a criminal investigation to channel righteous anger and explore weighty questions." —Molly Odintz, CrimeReads
"An espresso-dark saga of retribution, addiction, hard science, racial justice, toxic death—and black coffee—plays itself out quirkily in and around contemporary Atlanta . . . Kearse’s enigmatic narrative [...] deadpan tone and sudden eruptions of bizarre violence often evoke the allusive, baleful essences of J.G. Ballard’s grimly visionary speculative fiction but with wittier dialogue and robustly seasoned with a rapier-keen perception of the collective psyche and complex aspirations of the Black intelligentsia. A dry, devilish amalgam of science fiction, whodunit, horror, social satire, and cautionary tale." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"A dazzling pharmacological thriller that dances on the knife’s edge of satire . . . Written with incisive wit and studded with references to Black popular culture [...] and troubling incidents from recent history, this entertains even as it deeply disturbs." —Publishers Weekly
"Stephen Kearse is a fearless writer who has created an endlessly entertaining cast of characters. Liquid Snakes sits at the timely and unsettling intersection between public health and crime, and I was furious that it had to come to an end." —Kashana Cauley, author of The Survivalists
“What if the communities poisoned by Big Chem turned their enemy into a weapon, wielding molecular magic for revenge—and maybe also liberation? Kearse takes this clever premise and, with his distinctive style and low-key humor, crafts a story that will grab hold of your brain and blow it to bits. Like nothing else I've read, in the best possible way.” —Nicola Twilley, Co-host, Gastropod; co-author, Until Proven Safe: The History & Future of Quarantine
“Who poisons who in Stephen Kearse’s inspired Liquid Snakes? A slippery, satirical, quick-witted trip through the lives of misfits forced to find the line between clarity and revenge, annihilation and release—frequently hilarious, unexpectedly tender, and resolutely of our time.” —Geoff Manaugh, New York Times-bestselling author of A Burglar’s Guide to the City (and/or Executive Producer, We Have A Ghost)
"Restless, searching, and totally gripping. Kearse has written a brilliant novel that manages to be, among other things, a pharmacological thriller and an incisive meditation on the poison-pen letter." —Hannah Gold, critic and author