Jenny Bitner’s stories, essays, and poems have been published in The Best American Nonrequired Reading, PANK, Fence, Mississippi Review, The Fabulist, and The Sun. She works as a hypnotherapist and writing teacher and is a member of the Writers Grotto.

Here Is a Game We Could Play

Jenny Bitner

A dreamlike novel set in Pennsylvania in the 1990s, Here Is a Game We Could Play is the story of Claudia, an intelligent eccentric trapped in the rundown industrial town she grew up in—a place plagued with troubling memories and hidden threats. Seeking escape from tedium, loneliness, and her obsessive fear of poisoning, Claudia retreats into books. . . and into a fantasy life with her perfect lover, to whom she addresses letters about her life, all the while imagining outlandish sexual scenarios.

​In each fantasy, her lover takes a different form, ranging from a prison guard in a world where metaphor is forbidden, to a more-than-brotherly Hansel from the Grimms’ fairy tale, to a tentacled mind-reading space alien. All share a desire for a deep intimacy that eludes Claudia, even as she forms new real-life relationships and reconsiders her sexual identity—building a rapport with an elderly volunteer at the library, striking up a friendship with a wily temp at her dead-end job, and embarking on a passionate affair with Rose, the town’s new librarian. When paranoia threatens to ruin her relationship with Rose, Claudia is forced not only to combat her anxiety but to face the unresolved trauma in her past—the disappearance of her father on a night she has long repressed.

Funny, dark, inventive, and moving, Here Is a Game We Could Play is an original debut novel recalling the work of Aimee Bender, Angela Carter, Rebecca Brown, and Margaret Atwood.

232 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN 978-1-946724-40-3 (pbk)

ISBN 978-1-946724-41-0 (ebook)


“Capturing just how much belonging shapes a person, in its absence as much as its presence, the novel strains between those two poles; like any true connection, it is a “terrible and beautiful thing.” —Letitia Montgomery-Rodgers, Foreword Reviews (starred)

“The fast pace, visceral imagery, and endlessly endearing protagonist make this book a must-read for fans of Alissa Nutting and Melissa Broder.”— Courtney Eathorne, Booklist

“Tender, yearning, and dangerously imagined . . . A book to pluck you out of your cage and reintroduce you to the wild.” —Ben Loory, author of Tales of Falling and Flying

“A piercing and poignant novel with an unforgettable narrator. A haunting debut.” —Vanessa Hua, author of A River of Stars

“This is a beautiful and deeply honest book. Claudia is that innocent voice lost inside each of us, the one that speaks the truth about the unknowable weirdness of our desires. I loved her, and I cheered for her on every page.” —Rachel Howard, author of The Risk of Us

“Smart and playful, candid and inventive, this debut novel set in the 1990s brims with desire and unexpected plot twists. I fell deeply in love with the main character. As a child, Claudia liked to spend time in her closet. Now, as a 23-year-old, she feels confined in the small Pennsylvania steel town where she was born. She isn’t particularly interested in boys or babies. Is she a lesbian? She’s not sure. The label, any label, seems too confining for her. Elaborate sexual fantasies become Claudia’s secret super-power: they allow her to seek pleasure outside the narrow heteronormative model, and to build relationships to her own taste. Claudia embodies a long-standing feminist dream of empowerment and liberation, and yes, there’s a darker side to her story too.” —Olga Zilberbourg, author of Like Water and Other Stories

“Funny and strange, frank and incisive, Here Is a Game We Could Play circles deep fears and desires with the intimacy of a discovered diary. In a small town poisoned by industry, Claudia keeps a list of peculiar games to play with a potential lover, until these hypotheticals give way to a very real love affair set charmingly in a library, and a revelation about Claudia’s fascination with poison.” —Katie M. Flynn, author of The Companions

“It is often the downfall of a debut novel’s narrative structure that plot points are separated by lengthy stretches of filler exposition, unnecessary description, or other tangential material. In Bitner’s debut, the plot points are indeed separated by lengthy stretches, but these are the heart and soul of Here Is a Game We Could Play, the mother lode from which we mine the vignette gems that inform the reader’s understanding of this honest and anxious narrator. It is here, in the interstices, that we become aware of the granular backstory of Claudia’s idiosyncratic fears and obsessions, leavened with unexpected doses of humor.”
—R.P. Finch

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