Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2012 Book Preview

July 2, 2012 | 50 29 min read

2012 has already been a rich year for books, with new novels from Toni Morrison, Richard Ford, and Hilary Mantel and essay collections from Marilynn Robinson and Jonathan Franzen, to name just a fraction of what we’ve featured, raved about, chewed on, and puzzled over so far. But the remainder of this year (and the hazy beginning of next year) is shaping up to be a jackpot of literary riches. In just a few short months, we’ll be seeing new titles from some of the most beloved and critically lauded authors working today, including Martin Amis, Zadie Smith, Michael Chabon, Junot Díaz, Alice Munro, Ian McEwan, George Saunders, and David Foster Wallace. Incredibly, there’s much more than that to get excited about, but, were we to delve into it further up here, we would risk this introduction consuming the many previews that are meant to follow.

The list that follows isn’t exhaustive – no book preview could be – but, at 8,700 words strong and encompassing 76 titles, this is the only second-half 2012 book preview you will ever need. Enjoy.


coverBroken Harbor by Tana French: In French’s fourth Dublin Murder Squad mystery, Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy — the big jerk detective from Faithful Place — is assigned to a triple homicide in a half-built housing development in a north suburb of Dublin where (inevitably) he spent his summers as a child. As he waits for the fourth victim — who is alive but in a coma — to wake up, he deals with his rookie cop of a partner, a neighborhood of tight-lipped witnesses, and his younger sister’s fraught reaction to the case. French is known for creating detectives that are as complex as the mysteries they solve, and then showing the one case that could tear them apart. This is Kennedy’s case. (Janet)

coverDare Me by Megan Abbott: Set in the fiercely competitive world of high school cheer-leading, Megan Abbot’s new novel Dare Me is already being hailed as “a mesmerizing piece of prose” by The Independent and “truly menacing” by The Wall Street Journal. Taking her cue from the power politics of Shakespearean drama and the adrenal intensity of teenaged life, Abbott’s latest thriller should make for entirely captivating—dare I say, criminally compelling—reading. After last year’s The End of Everything, it seems like this book marks Abbot as a very strong contender in the role of head honcho of Suburban Noir.  (Emily K.)

coverA Million Heavens by John Brandon: Brandon’s first two novels — Arkansas and Citrus County — both focused on criminals, but with his third he turns his attention to a comatose piano prodigy. Lying in a hospital bed in New Mexico, he is visited by his gruff father while a band of strangers assemble outside, vigilants for whom he is an inspiration, an obsession, or merely something to do. They in turn are watched over by a roaming wolf and a song-writing angel (who can’t quite get to Heaven). In Brandon’s darkly hopeful and deadpan voice, this collection of the downtrodden become a community. (Janet)

coverOffice Girl by Joe Meno: Joe Meno set out to write about falling in love — void of angst, political uncertainty, tragedy, or the march of history. The result is Office Girl, a book (with illustrations and photographs) about Odile and Jack. Odile is an art school dropout, Jack is lazy 25-year-old who loves his tape recorder. They decide to start an art movement to counterpoint the banality of modern culture, and perhaps to make the fleeting feeling of being in your 20s and capable of anything last a little bit longer. (Janet)


coverSorry Please Thank You by Charles Yu: Yu, the author of the short story collection Third Class Superhero and the novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, provides more meta-science-fiction fun with this new collection.  Sorry Please Thank You includes such stand-outs as “Standard Loneliness Package,” about a firm where employees earn money for suffering other people’s pain, and “Inventory,” about a hypothetical version of Charles Yu. Yu’s work has been compared to that of Kurt Vonnegut, George Saunders and Gary Shteyngart. (Edan)

coverOur Kind of People by Uzodinma Iweala: In 2007, Uzodinma Iweala made Granta’s list of the 20 Best Young American Novelists for his debut novel, Beasts of No Nation. Deserved praise indeed, but doubly so considering Iweala’s not a full-time writer; instead, like Chris Adrian today and Anton Chekhov long ago, Iweala is also a practicing physician. In Our Kind of People, Iweala draws from his medical experience to craft a nonfiction on-the-ground account of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Nigeria. A well-known critic of what fellow Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole calls “The White Savior Industrial Complex,” Iweala focuses his book on the stories of the ill and the healthy alike to relay the honest, personal narratives—not the sensationalist headlines—of the people dealing with this unprecedented epidemic. (Nick)

coverYou & Me by Padgett Powell: Padgett Powell’s eighth work of fiction is a novel called You & Me that consists of a conversation between two middle-aged men sitting on a porch chewing on such gamey topics as love and sex, how to live and die well, and the merits of Miles Davis, Cadillacs and assorted Hollywood starlets. Since his 1984 debut, Edisto, Powell has won comparisons to Faulkner and Twain for his ability to bottle the molasses-and-battery-acid speech of his native South. One early reader has described You & Me as “a Southern send-up of Waiting for Godot.” Which is high praise indeed for Samuel Beckett. (Bill)

coverThe Investigation by Philippe Claudel: French author Phillipe Claudel and translator John Cullen, the team that won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the Translation Award for their work on 2010’s Brodek, return with The Investigation. This, Claudel’s sixth novel, set in the not-so-distant future, follows the Inspector, a balding everyman, in his search to uncover the cause of a string of suicides in the Enterprise. Before the Inspector can enter, he is dragged through a beurocratic hell of places and characters bearing names capitalized for genericism: the Psychologist, the Guard. Equal parts Kafka and Huxley, Claudel paints a nightmarish vision of a technocratic, dystopic future. (Matt)


coverLionel Asbo: The State of England by Martin Amis: The late Christopher Hitchens would have been pleased to know that his partners in literary bromance Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, and Ian McEwan all have major work coming out this fall. First up to bat is Amis, whose last novel, The Pregnant Widow, signaled something of a return to form. The eponym of his new one, Lionel Asbo, is a classic Amis creation – an id-addled criminal who takes his last name from a British court document called an Anti-Social Behavior Order. In a Dickensian twist of fate, the novel shackles Asbo together with a more sensitive nephew, Desmond. The subtitle is “The State of England.” What more do you need to know? Oh, yes: the jacket design is one of the best of the fall. (Garth)

coverWinter Journal by Paul Auster: The title of novelist Paul Auster’s second work of memoir refers to the author’s sense that, at age 64, he has entered the winter of his life.  This is Auster’s second memoir (his first, The Invention of Solitude was published 30 years ago) and Publisher’s Weekly, in a starred review, describes it as a “quietly moving meditation on death and life.”  The PW review goes on to say, “From the vantage point of the winter preceding his 64th birthday, Auster lets his body and its sensations guide his memories. There is no set chronology; time and place bleed from one year to another, between childhood and adulthood.” (Kevin)

coverThe Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle: In a mental institution in Queens, a motley crew of four inmates, led by a mostly sane, rabble-rousing “big man” named Pepper, sets out to kill the devil-monster that all four of them swear is stalking the halls.  Other characters include “Dorry, an octogenarian schizophrenic who’s been on the ward for decades and knows all its secrets; Coffee, an African immigrant with severe OCD, who tries desperately to send alarms to the outside world; and Loochie, a bipolar teenage girl who acts as the group’s enforcer.”  In this fourth book, LaValle – who, among other honors like the Guggenheim and the Whiting, was given the key to Southeast Queens – is sure to break our hearts, make us laugh, and freak us out, as he has with his previous two novels and story collection. (Sonya)

coverAftermath: On Marriage and Separation by Rachel CuskAftermath has been positioned as kind of sequel to A Life’s Work, Cusk’s controversial memoir about motherhood, which she published over ten years ago.  Her new book examines the breakdown of her marriage:  “My husband believed that I had treated him monstrously,” she writes.  The Telegraph admires the book very much, saying, “If her probing is sometimes clinical, it is also full of beauty – the beauty of language struggling to reveal an experience which is complex and scored with doubts and pain.”  The Guardian says:  “It’s not a congenial place, this Cuskland, with its low mephitic cloud of complex melancholia…What detains us is her cool, clinical examination of the remains, the truths that are returned when she scrapes at the marrow of experience.” (Edan)

coverThe Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison: Evison follows up his bestselling West of Here with a tale of an unusual roadtrip. There is nothing that you cannot lose, and Benjamin has lost most of it: his wife, his family, his home, and his livelihood. Short on options, he enrolls in a night class called The Fundamentals of Caregiving and finds himself responsible for nineteen-year-old Trev, an angry and stubborn boy in the advanced stages of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. A friendship develops, and they set out together across the American west to visit Trev’s ailing father. (Emily M.)


coverThe Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling: Oh me! Oh my! J.K. Rowling has a new book out—a novel for adults. Publisher Little, Brown describes the book as “blackly comic” and offers this glimpse of the plot: “When Barry Fairweather dies unexpectedly in his early forties, the little town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty facade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents…Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?” (Kevin)

coverNW by Zadie Smith: Smith’s first novel since On Beauty (2005), NW follows a group of people from Caldwell–a fictional council estate in northwest London whose buildings are named for English philosophers–and documents the lives they build in adulthood.  Smith (who since 2005 has become a mother, NYU professor, and Harper’s columnist) has variously called this a novel of class and a “very, very small book” (highly unlikely).  Smith’s own deep roots to London, and this particular corner of London, were most recently aired in her stirring defense of London’s local libraries for the New York Review of Books blog. (Lydia)

coverTelegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Chabon turns his verbal dexterity to the left coast with this novel set in 2004 in the Flatlands neighborhood of Oakland, California. The tale centers on two families, one white, one black, whose fathers jointly own a small used-record shop threatened by a new music megastore on Telegraph Avenue. Called “High Fidelity for smart people” in one early review, the book features pop culture riffs on Kung Fu, ’70s Blaxploitation films, vinyl LPs, jazz and soul music, and a certain newly elected senator from Illinois headed for higher office. See our excerpt. (Michael)

coverThis Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz: Díaz, who made readers wait eleven years between his first book of stories, Drown, and his Pulitzer-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, now returns after only five years with a new book of stories, many of which first appeared in the New Yorker. According to his publisher, the stories “capture the heat of new passion, the recklessness with which we betray what we most treasure, and the torture we go through – ‘the begging, the crawling over glass, the crying’ – to try to mend what we’ve broken beyond repair.” Word is Díaz is also working on a new novel, titled Monstro. If he keeps to his usual pace, we only have six more years to wait. (Michael)

coverThe Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver: Silver, author of the political prognostication blog (which now makes its home on the New York Times site), knows more than most on prediction. Before turning his attention to politics and pretty much acing the 2008 election, he developed the groundbreaking PECOTA system for forecasting baseball talent while at Baseball Prospectus. With his first non-baseball book, Silver broadens his scope to look at the science and art of predictions, visiting “the most successful forecasters in a range of areas, from hurricanes to baseball, from the poker table to the stock market, from Capitol Hill to the NBA.” (Patrick)

coverNice Weather by Frederick Seidel: Frederick Seidel, age 76, belongs to the last generation of poets who could assume that people cared what they had to say. Late in life, he’s turned that into a self-fulfilling prophecy. His singular voice – urbane, seductive, nostalgic, lucid, lusty, rich, visionary, and ruthless – has as much to tell us about the way we live now as the best novels. For those of us who couldn’t afford his Collected Poems in hardcover, Nice Weather offers a more manageable selection of new work. (Garth)

coverEvery Love Story is a Ghost Story: The Life of David Foster Wallace by D.T. Max: Six months after David Foster Wallace’s suicide, The New Yorker published a novella-length piece by journalist D.T. Max on Wallace’s last difficult years and his encompassing effort to surpass Infinite Jest.  That article started the drumbeat for two books: The first, The Pale King, was released last April; the second, Max’s biography of Wallace, debuts this August.  The biography was written with the cooperation of Wallace’s family and promises to be the first definitive treatment of the author’s life. (Kevin)

coverSan Miguel by T.C. Boyle: Boyle follows his 2011 novel, When the Killing’s Done, with a second novel set on the Channel Islands off the California coast, focusing this time on the most remote of the eight islands, San Miguel. In an interview last year with Untitled Books, Boyle, known for his fondness for narrative bells and whistles, called his new book “a straightforward, non-ironic, historical tale of two families who lived in different periods alone on this particular island, the farthest one out, the most wind-blown, the most difficult.” (Michael)

coverJoseph Anton by Salman Rushdie: The iconic figure Salman Rushdie cuts owes more to early triumphs, bravery in the face of death threats, celebrity antics, and sheer chutzpah than to recent brilliance. Since about The Moor’s Last Sigh, his work has been hit or miss – almost always within the same book. In this doorstopper-sized memoir, however, Rushdie turns his eye on the fatwa itself, and on his own years in hiding. The title comes from the code name he chose for himself: Joseph (after Conrad), Anton (after Chekhov). Neither of those writers were known to substitute substance for flash, and if their spirits preside over the book, it’s may well mark a turning point in Rushdie’s career. (Garth)

coverReinventing Bach by Paul Elie: Paul Elie knows how to pick ‘em: his first book The Life You Save May Be Your Own, winner of the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction, and a NBCC nominee, delved into the intertwined lives of four famous Catholics – Flannery O’Connor, Dorothy Day, Walker Percy, and Thomas Merton.  His second book is a study of Bach; specifically,  “the ways that numerous musicians have rendered Bach’s music through the years through various technologies.”  From PW’s starred review:  “Reading Elie’s stately and gorgeous prose is much like losing oneself in Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations, for his study convincingly demonstrates that the music of Bach is the most persuasive rendering of transcendence there is.” (Sonya)

coverMay We Be Forgiven by A.M. HomesJason Rice of the book blog Three Guys, One Book calls May We Be Forgiven Homes’s “triumph, her masterpiece, and crowning moment.”  Dennis Haritou, of the same blog, says it’s “about 480 pages of suburban insanity.”  There’s a Nixon scholar, there’s an F-ed up family, there’s an act of terrible violence, there’s that dark, vicious suburbia that Homes depicts so well. (Edan)

Canvas by Benjamin Stein: Benjamin Stein’s novel, translated from the German by WNYC fixture Brian Zumhagen, involves a mysterious suitcase, a missing psychoanalyst, and a Holocaust memoir that might be a fake. Equally compelling is the structure, which recalls Mark Z. Danielewski’s Only Revolutions. It consists of two different versions of the story, told by two competing narrators. Each starts from one end of the book, and they meet in the middle. To switch from one to the other, the reader flips the book over and upside down. (Garth)

coverScientists: A Family Romance by Marco Roth: “The contemporary memoir is a bastard genre, neither truth nor art,” claims n+1 editor, literary critic, and reluctant memoirist, Marco Roth, whose first book–a memoir–debuts from FSG this fall. In spite of the short shrift he gives the genre, Roth’s material doesn’t stray terribly far from his usual terrain as a literary and cultural critic. In Scientists: A Family Romance he meditates on loss, of the Jewish intellectual tradition he was raised within and of his father, who died of AIDS in the early ‘90s, and he speaks of coming to the world through books. Despite his protestations, Roth might just make an art of the form. (Anne)

coverLaura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub: Bookcourt Bookseller and Rookie contributor Emma Straub debuts this fall with her decades-spanning novel about a young woman from Wisconsin who becomes a movie star.  Barnes and Noble has selected the book for their Discover Great New Writers program, and Jennifer Egan says, “At once iconic and specific, Emma Straub’s beautifully observed first novel explores the fraught trajectory of what has become a staple of the American dream:  the hunger for stardom and fame.” Now you can pre-order a signed and personalized copy from WORD Bookstore. (Edan)

coverThe Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli: Tatjana Soli broke out with The Lotus Eaters, her sad and emotionally resonant debut novel from 2010. Now in The Forgetting Tree, Soli traces many of the same themes such as love, loss, and darkness to conjure the story of Claire Nagy, a young woman who marries into a notable California ranching family. Quickly, Nagy settles into her new life on the farm, peacefully adapting to its particular charms, but it’s not long before fate intervenes, followed closely by tragedy. Riven, Claire finds herself disconnected from her family, her husband, and the life she’s come to know, and when she’s finally at her most vulnerable, tragedy strikes again. Soli demonstrated her gift for emotional storytelling in her debut, so when critics describe this effort as “haunting” and “triumphant,” you should pay attention. (Nick)

coverMy Heart Is an Idiot by Davy RothbartFOUND Magazine began in 2001 after Davy Rothbart found a note to some dude named Mario on his car windshield. “I fucking hate you,” it began, and Rothbart was hooked. Each year since, Rothbart (a contributor to This American Life) has released a new magazine of “found” items that captures the raw, honest emotion of everyday life, and he’s traveled far and wide in order to promote it. Such rapid obsession is also emblematic of Rothbart’s sudden infatuations with women, and the “terminally romantic” Rothbart has pursued with gusto his share of (often uninterested) flames—so many, in fact, that in 2011, a documentary was made about his journeys. Now, in his collection of essays, Rothbart describes his feelings in a comic, honest, and altogether relatable way. (Nick)

Between Heaven and Here by Susan Straight: In the final novel of her Rio Seco trilogy, Straight explores the aftermath of the murder of Glorette Picard, found dead in the alley behind a taqueria.  Ms. Straight is beloved for her soulful, lyrical, unflinching and compassionate evocation of place: namely, the Inland Empire (and its fictional town of Rio Seco), and this book, which Publisher’s Weekly billed as a “novel-in-stories,” should be no exception.  For a literary amuse-bouche, read Straight’s moving piece in the Los Angeles Times about giving away her books. (Edan)


coverThe Twelve by Justin Cronin: 2010’s The Passage told of a North America 100 years after it had been destroyed by deadly “virals” (the virus in question being one that makes you a vampire), and the colonists who had managed to survive. The Twelve, the second installment of the planned trilogy, picks up the characters of The Passage where we left them, goes back in time to the virus’s outbreak, and introduces other pockets of survivors around the continent. As it turns out, scrappy survivalism isn’t the only way to go about a post-apocalyptic life, and attacks by the virals aren’t the only threat to the colonists’ life. (Janet)

coverBuilding Stories by Chris Ware: Big-time American comics and cartoon artist Chris Ware (RAW contributor, anthologizer, anthologizee, creator of the Acme Novelty Library series which produced Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth), is collecting the entirety of his Building Stories strip in a volume for publication by Pantheon.  The strip first appeared as a monthly feature in Nest Magazine, and wound up as a weekly strip in The New York Times Magazine from 2005-2006. (Lydia)


coverBack to Blood by Tom Wolfe: Wolfe does Miami in his new book Back to Blood–not the “wet” kind, according to Wolfe, but like the (questionable) term “bloodlines.” The ones in question are those of the immigrant population of Miami, which Wolfe told those assembled at a Little, Brown party “is the only city…in the whole world where people from another country, speaking another language and from another culture have taken over a vast city at the ballot box in one generation.”  Wolfe can be seen cruising the city in the trailer to Blood Lines, a documentary about Wolfe’s research stint in Miami set to release concurrently with the book.  (Lydia)

coverIn Sunlight and In Shadow by Mark Helprin: Mark Helprin’s 1991 novel A Soldier of the Great War may be the most swashbuckling tale ever inspired by the First World War.  For his sixth novel, In Sunlight and In Shadow, Helprin shifts to the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, when paratrooper Harry Copeland returns to New York and falls in love with a ravishing young actress, singer and heiress named Catherine Thomas Hale.  Skipping from Sicily to Maine to the Sacramento Valley to London during the blitz, this is, first and last, a love story drawn in broad strokes against the dawn of our age. (Bill)

coverElsewhere: A Memoir by Richard Russo: Richard Russo won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for his novel Empire Falls, which was suffused with the claustrophobia and sweet sorrows of life in a small, fading New England mill town.  For his first work of non-fiction, Russo takes us back to his boyhood in Gloversville, the small, fading New York mill town where he grew up in the 1950s.  (For another take on this once-thriving glove-manufacturing hamlet, see Philip Roth’s novel American Pastoral.)  As economic decline and illness shadow Russo’s childhood, his mother, an affectionate echo of Grace Roby from Empire Falls, urges her son to train his gaze beyond Gloversville’s confining horizon.  (Bill)

The Fifty Year Sword by Mark Z. Danielewski: House of Leaves author Mark Z. Danielewski returns with another bout of suspenseful storytelling coupled with innovative formatting, with the wide release of his novella The Fifty Year Sword. He’s also a master of limited editions, as volumes from the novella’s initial print run sold for up to $1,000 apiece. The Fifty Year Sword is an homage to oral storytelling and ghost stories. Five narrators retell the story of a man telling five orphans the tale of an invisible sword whose wounds appear suddenly in the victim’s fiftieth year. Danielewski has held readings of the novella on Halloween for the past two years in L.A. This new edition will be available in October, making for perfect Halloween reading that won’t break the bank. (Anne)

coverHeroines by Kate Zambreno: Intensity and intelligence forge the baseline current that runs through and characterizes most of Kate Zambreno’s written work. Zambreno, who was just named one of Jezebel’s 25 “game-changing women,” has already published two novels, Green Girl, which as Jezebel says, “has been almost universally praised in thinky literary circles,” and O Fallen Angel, a book that Bookslut’s Jessa Crispin says should have been nominated for the Guardian First Book Award. Zambreno’s third book, Heroines, is a critical memoir, borne from her blog Frances Farmer Is My Sister, that takes on myths of modernist writers and their silenced wives, mistresses, and muses. (Anne)

coverAncient Light by John Banville: Like most of his novels, John Banville’s latest book forms part of a larger subgroup of works within his oeuvre. Although it can be read as a standalone narrative, it belongs to a trilogy that includes 2000’s Eclipse and 2002’s Shroud. It revisits Eclipse’s narrator, the aging actor Alexander Cleave, as he recalls an affair he had at age fifteen with the mother of his best friend – a plot/narrative combo that might be described as The Reverse Lolita. It’s a much lighter affair than its dark and sometimes inscrutable predecessors. Banville’s trademark self-reflexivity, though, is at its most elaborately involuted here. A subplot involves Cleave’s playing the starring role in a film essentially modeled on the story of Shroud, the screenwriter of which is “a somewhat shifty and self-effacing fellow” referred to as JB.  (Mark)

coverThe Silent House by Orhan Pamuk: Orhan Pamuk’s second novel The Silent House, published in Turkey in 1983, is finally slated to appear in English.  The novel describes a week in the lives of three siblings who visit their grandmother in the fictional village-turned-spa town of Cennethisar on the outskirts of Istanbul.  It is told from the perspective of five separate characters–the grandmother, her manservant, and the three children–and details their various family intrigues and the turbulent Turkish sociopolitical climate in the months leading up to the 1980 coup. Upon its publication in Turkey, this sophomore effort won the prestigious Madaralı Award, whose previous recipients included literary lights like Yaşar Kemal and Adalet Ağaoğlu. (Lydia)

coverThe Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg: Jami Attenberg’s fourth novel concerns Edie and Richard Middlestein, who have charted a steady course through suburban married life for three decades. But Edie has become enormous. She is obsessed with food—eating it, dreaming of it—and if she doesn’t change, she won’t live for much longer. Attenberg explores the nuances of marriage, the strength and the limits of family bonds, and our culture’s dangerous, fascinating obsession with food. (Emily M.)


coverThe Round House by Louise Erdrich: Continuing on with the trilogy she began with A Plague of Doves, which Michiko Kakutani called  “supple and assured” in the New York Times back in 2008, Louise Erdrich’s The Round House promises to be among the highlights of the fall literary season. The book follows a young man coming of age in trying times on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. Judging from the beauty of Erdrich’s previous novels—Tracks is one of my personal all time favorites—you can expect The Round House to deliver a heart-breaking story through brutally gorgeous prose. (Emily K.)

coverHave You Seen Marie? by Sandra Cisneros: The author of The House on Mango Street and Caramelo returns with a “an illustrated fable for grown-ups,” a story about a grieving middle-aged woman’s search for a friend’s cat, lost following the death of her mother.  The book is illustrated in color by the San Francisco artist Ester Hernández, and depicts the two protagonists’ journey through the San Antonio streets, looking for the wayward Marie. (Lydia)


coverThere Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra by Chinua Achebe: The focus of Chinua Achebe’s long-awaited memoir is the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-1970, when the Biafran people of Nigeria attempted to form their own state in the southeast of the country.  Achebe, who was an established novelist when the war began (Things Fall Apart was published in 1958 and swiftly became the major “African novel” known to American students), was an itinerant representative of the Biafran people during the war years.  He spent the subsequent decades in the United States, and this is his first published comment on the horrors he witnessed during this painful interlude in Nigerian history. (Lydia)

coverMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan Three years after its inception as on Sloan’s website, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore has blossomed into a full-length novel. First time novelist and media-guru Robin Sloan tells of Clay Jannon, a web-designer recently out of work, who finds a new job working at a mysterious bookstore. Soon, Clay discovers that behind the unassuming titles on the shelves lie a cult and a code and a bizarre cast of characters. With his wildly imagined libraries and playful take on the future of books, Sloan brings to mind an online Borges. (Matt)

covercoverWe Are What We Pretend to Be and Letters by Kurt Vonnegut: In the league table of posthumous productivity, Kurt Vonnegut ranks somewhere between Biggie and Bolaño; for a dead guy, he’s no slouch. Since he passed away in 2007, we’ve had three collections of unpublished fiction, and we’re about to get a fourth. We Are What We Pretend to Be is a volume that yokes together two texts unpublished in his lifetime: Basic Training (already available as an ebook), an early satirical novella which is thought to date from the 1940s, and If God Were Alive Today, which he never managed to finish before his death. Probably more significant for serious Vonnegut readers will be the publication, three weeks later, of his letters. The 464 page collection, edited by his friend Dan Wakefield, spans sixty years and contains mostly unpublished correspondence. (Mark)

coverAstray by Emma Donoghue: Donoghue has the unenviable task of following a literary mega-hit, her acclaimed bestseller Room. Perhaps the confinement of Room led Donoghue to dream of traveling, as Astray is a story collection “which brings together fourteen fact-based fictions about travels to, within and from North America, from the 1630s to the 1960s.” The collection includes several stories already available or soon to appear, including “The Widow’s Cruse,” which will appear in One Story in August. (Patrick)

coverObject Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story: Who needs an MFA when there’s The Paris Review? The magazine’s author interviews have long been the go-to toolkit for aspiring writers looking for nuts and bolts (as well as juicy tidbits). And their latest anthology has a didactic intent that promises to pleasure while it imparts. Object Lessons features favorite stories from the Review selected by some of the best fiction writers scrawling today, and pairs the stories with “lessons” on what makes a short story great. With writers like Lydia Davis, Lorrie Moore, and Amy Hempel at the helm, and selections from the likes of Jane Bowles, Leonard Michaels, and Jorge Louis Borges, this is a surely a winning match for The Paris Review school of writing. (Anne)

coverIt’s Fine by Me by Per Petterson: It’s Fine by Me is actually an older novel, first published in Norway in 1992. It tells the story of Audun, a teenage boy who has recently moved to Oslo from the country. Out in the UK since December, the reviews have been strong. Writing in The Guardian, Tim Parks calls it an “edgy bildungsroman,” while Martin Chilton of The Telegraph says it’s “a gripping and subtle coming-of-age story, ripe with melancholy.” (Patrick)


coverThe Fun Stuff: And Other Essays by James Wood: New Yorker literary critic James Wood’s last book, 2008’s How Fiction Works, was a short and, in many ways, very simple exposition and defence of the realist tradition in fiction. It was nonetheless hugely divisive, and set off any number of debates about his perceived conservatism and antagonism toward the literary avant garde. Wood is now unquestionably one of the most influential voices in contemporary literary criticism, and those debates will likely be sparked off again with the publication of this new collection. The Fun Stuff contains essays on Tolstoy, Lermontov, Edmund Wilson, Cormac McCarthy, Lydia Davis, Aleksander Hemon and Michel Houellebecq. The title piece is a 2010 New Yorker essay on The Who’s Keith Moon, and on Wood’s own love for pounding the skins. While we’re on the topic, might I suggest this quietly amazing video as the basis for a book trailer? (You’re welcome, FSG marketing department.) (Mark)

coverThe Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira by Cesar Aira: Cesar Aira has published so many short novels in his native Argentina that people seem to have lost count (50? 70?), and, slowly but surely, New Directions is bringing them into English. His brilliant and peculiar method – a simple version of which is that he never returns to a previous day’s writing – has, perforce, produced some oddities (see, e.g., The Seamstress and The Wind) as well as some classics (see, e.g., Ghosts, Varamo). But as one can devour an Aira novel in an afternoon, one walks away from even the misses weirdly invigorated, as from an unforgettably incoherent dream. Time will tell which category The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira falls into, but, if you’re an Aira fan, does it matter? Getting there is most of the fun. (Garth)

coverThe Heart Broke In by James Meek: Meek, journalist and author (of, among other things, the beautifully-written People’s Act of Love) has written a family novel that his agent called a “21st-century Anna Karenina.”  The novel tells the story of siblings whose father is assassinated by Northern Irish guerrillas–one turns to rock ‘n’ roll and reality television, the other sets herself to finding a cure for malaria.  The novel is said to ask its readers “what conscience means” in our current day and age. (Lydia)


coverDear Life: Stories by Alice Munro: A collection of new short stories from a master of the form. Munro’s thirteenth short story collection is set in the countryside and towns around Lake Huron, and examines, with her signature clarity and simplicity, the strangeness and danger and beauty of ordinary life. (Emily M.)



coverSweet Tooth by Ian McEwan: Ian McEwan’s last outing, Solar, failed to find an American audience to match that of his Very Serious books of the early Aughts, perhaps because McEwan, while often funny, witty, clever, and ironic, isn’t naturally a comedian. His newest, Sweet Tooth, looks to split the difference with its campus setting and cloak-and-dagger set-up: in 1972, a lissome Cambridge student (and MI5 recruit) falls in love with the target of an intelligence operation – a young fiction writer. Shades of LeCarre, shades of Atonement. (Garth)

coverBoth Flesh and Not by David Foster Wallace: As far as internet book hype goes, it doesn’t get much easier than this: David Foster Wallace + 15 essays never published in book form = Yahtzee! Novices and devotees alike should appreciate this collection, which will house what many consider to be Wallace’s masterpiece, the eponymous “Federer: Both Flesh and Not,” a piece on the tennis player so earth-shatteringly good that its reverberations are still being felt in the sportswriting world—to say nothing, at that, of the Times’ copy desk (Ctrl + F in that article for Josh Dean’s write-up). In addition, readers will get The Great Bandana’s analysis of Terminator 2, a look at how television had begun to influence a younger generation of writers, and twelve more. As I said, Yahtzee! (Nick)

coverWoes of the True Policeman by Roberto Bolaño: Roberto Bolaño continues to lay claim to the title of World’s Most Prolific Dead Author.  The latest addition to his posthumous avalanche is Woes of the True Policeman, a novel Bolaño worked on for some 30 years prior to his death in 2003 at age 50.  Like 2666, his grueling exploration of the disappearance of hundreds of women in Mexico’s Chihuahua state, the new novel is set in a northern Mexico border town called Santa Teresa that is also haunted by the unsolved killings of women.  Both novels give credence to Bolaño’s claim that he wished he’d been a homicide detective rather than a writer.  This is believed to be his last unpublished novel. (Bill)

coverFairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version by Philip Pullman: It’s been two hundred years since the publication of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s collection of Children’s and Household Tales, and what better way to celebrate than with the author of His Dark Materials 400-page tribute? For two years, Pullman has worked on retelling fifty of his favorite tales in a manner “clear as water,” and as a means of refreshing his own creative cache. “Rather as a pianist relishes playing Bach’s preludes and fugues,” Pullman told The Guardian last March, the Grimm’s project has acted “as a sort of palate-cleansing discipline.” Readers will find many of the classics in the new volume, but also such unfamiliar ones as the extremely creepy “Hans-my-Hedgehog” and “The Girl Without Hands,” as well as Pullman’s personal favorite, “The Juniper Tree.”  (Nick)

coverFlight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver: Flight Behavior details an awakening for its 29 year old protagonist: After marrying at 17, raising three children, and abandoning her more worldly ambitions, Dellarobia Turnbow suddenly takes leave of her failing farm in her small town to start a self-destructive affair with a young man. From the publisher’s copy, it seems like things don’t turn out the way she imagines they might, and given Kingsolver’s deftness in the nearly surreal mode, plus her arborist’s eye for compellingly strange horticultural minutiae, I think that it’s fair to anticipate a surprise or two for the reader as well. (Emily K.)

coverThe Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín: Tóibín, whose career has been characterised by a long-standing preoccupation with relationships between mothers and sons – see, for example, the stories of Mothers and Sons and the recent non-fiction collection New Ways to Kill Your Mother – seems like he has been building up to this topic for a while now. The Testament of Mary tackles the mother of all mother-son stories. In this short novel, Mary deals with her grief in the aftermath of the execution of her son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Living in exile in the wake of his death, she attempts to piece together the events that led to his betrayal and crucifixion. Mel Gibson, we can assume, will not be attached to any potential film adaptation. (Mark)

coverProsperous Friends by Christine Schutt: “I can be very bold and brave and nasty on the page,” Christine Schutt says of her writing, which has been praised by Gary Lutz and Gordon Lish alike. Schutt’s prose is nothing if not taut, and, as she suggests, her writing pushes boundaries in spite of her subject’s seemingly everyday terrain. Her previous novel, All Souls, depicts a class of high school seniors at an elite private school, where the central character has a rare form of cancer. Her latest, Prosperous Friends, takes on ideas of art and love, by following two artistic couples, one who revels in their love and the other who suffers because of it. (Anne)

coverMagnificence by Lydia Millet: Brainy, funny, artful, and ambitious, Lydia Millet is one of America’s most underrated novelists. That’s despite being a Pulitzer Prize finalist. A few years ago, after reading from her novel How the Dead Dream, she told me that William Gaddis’ JR had been an inspiration for its protagonist, T. Her last outing, Ghost Lights, opened with T. MIA in Central America, and sent IRS functionary Hal in after him. The new one, which completes the trilogy, finds Hal’s widow Susan wrestling with her grief in a California mansion. What better way to follow up this summer’s #OccupyGaddis read-along than by tackling all three? (Garth)

coverThese Things Happen by Richard Kramer: Kramer has had a successful career as a television writer, with credits including thirtysomethings and My So-Called Life. These Things Happen is his debut novel, a masterfully executed domestic drama set in an elite upper-class liberal milieu. Wesley is in the tenth grade. His mother is an editor married to a doctor; his father is a gay activist whose long-term partner is a restaurateur. A shocking act of violence forces all of them to consider who they are, what they stand for, and their relationships to one another. (Emily M.)


coverMe and the Devil by Nick Tosches: Any writer who has the nerve to refer to Jesus Christ as “the kike in diapers” gets points for audacity.  Over his long and multi-faceted career, Nick Tosches has been unapologetically audacious and scabrous, sour and sage, foul and funny – virtues now in sadly short supply.  So it’s fitting that his new novel features an aging New York writer named Nick who discovers that drinking human blood has remarkable restorative powers – and even darker consequences.  One early reader called Me and the Devil “as raw and blazing an account of a descent into hell and return that you will ever read.”  It’s scary too, according to its author.  As Tosches told an interviewer, “This is the only one I’ve written that’s scared even me.” (Bill)

coverRaised From the Ground by Jose Saramago: Originally published in 1980, Saramago’s third novel — in which, according to the Paris Review, he “at last established his voice as a novelist” — will be translated into English for the first time (a posthumous Christmas morning for Saramago fans!).  Written in the wake of Portugal’s Carnation Revolution, Raised From the Ground follows three generations of agricultural laborers from the Alentejo region and won the City of Lisbon Prize.  Incidentally: Saramago published his first novel at the age of 24, and then did not publish another novel for 30 years; he was 59 when Balthasar and Blimunda launched him onto the international stage.  Look out for him in our Post-40 Bloomers series! (Sonya)

January 2013:

coverTenth of December: Stories by George Saunders: In an interview with the New Yorker’s Book Bench about the title story of his fourth collection, Saunders said that what he’s trying to do in fiction these days is to “create a representation of consciousness that’s durable and truthful, i.e., that accounts, somewhat, for all the strange, tiny, hard-to-articulate, instantaneous, unwilled things that actually go on in our minds in the course of a given day, or even a given moment.”  Two other New Yorker-published stories – “Victory Lap” and “Home” – will also appear in the new collection, and Saunders fans can expect, as always, stories that are “vividly and lovingly infused with Saunders’s signature blend of exuberant prose, deep humanity, and stylistic innovation.” (Sonya)

coverHis Wife Leaves Him by Stephen Dixon: This is the first novel in five years from the prolific Stephen Dixon, an American treasure of the small presses whose had two of his books, Frog and Interstate, nominated for the National Book Award. His Wife Leaves Him is, according to the author himself, about a lot of things: “love, guilt, sickness, death, remorse, loss, family, matrimony, sex, children, parenting, aging, mistakes, incidents, minutiae, birth, music, writing, jobs, affairs, memory, remembering, reminiscences, forgetting, repression, dreams, reverie, nightmares.” The novel is narrated by a man mourning the death of his wife, and was excerpted in the The Three Quarter Review earlier this year. (Emily K.)

February 2013:

coverSee Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid: For the first time in over a decade, Jamaica Kincaid, author of stunners like Annie John, has a new novel on the horizon.  This time her subjects are the Sweets–parents and two children–a family in turmoil who inhabit the Shirley Jackson house in Vermont.  Several excerpts of See Now Then appeared in the premier issues of Little Star Journal last year. (Lydia)

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell: Karen Russell’s fiction animates unlikely worlds–of Floridian alligator wrestlers, of sleep-away camp for disordered dreamers, of a home for girls who were raised by werewolves. Her novel, Swamplandia!, made many a year-end list as a best book of the year (including our own), and was one of three shortlisted for the Pulitzer prize, alongside books by literary heavyweights Denis Johnson and David Foster Wallace. If her new collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, is anything like her previous, then prepare a good dose of heartbreak laced with humor and a bevy of fantastical subjects whose tribulations, fascinations, and adventures resonate as both unusual and authentic. (Anne)

A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee: Author of The Privileges, a pitch-perfect portrait of life among the hedge fund set in the Naughty Aughties, Dee returns with another tale of family strife in the upper reaches of New York society. When her husband loses his job as a partner at a white-shoe law firm, Helen Armstead lands a job at a PR firm, where she discovers she has an almost magical, and certainly lucrative, gift: she can convince powerful men to admit their mistakes. But this is a novel, so her professional success does not necessarily translate into success in her personal life. (Michael)

Give Me Everything You Have: Notes on a Crisis by James Lasdun: Renowned English poet, author, and academic James Lasdun’s memoir promises to be, like the rest of his writing, a lucid and affecting affair. As both a Guggenheim Fellow and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Lasdun is no stranger to praise and acclaim, so in lieu of providing more here, consider the following an amusebouche: his 2009 Paris Review story, “The Hollow;” the opening credits to Besieged, a film written by and based on Lasdun’s novel of the same name; and “It Isn’t Me,” one of Lasdun’s poems. (Nick)

How Literature Saved My Life by David Shields: Titles of David Shields books read like the song titles of a highschool emo band; Take his New York Times bestseller: The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead, or 2010’s Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. Luckily, the books themselves are provocative, and his latest is no exception in name-scheme or quality. Employing the technique he pioneered in Reality Hunger—equal parts manic personal-essay and literary mash-up—Shields tackles the question, “What is literature’s power?” He finds literature aspires and fails to assuage loneliness, but through admitting defeat, literature’s true value shines. “Literature doesn’t lie about [failing]—which is what makes it essential.” (Matt)

March 2013:

coverThe Book of My Lives by Aleksander Hemon: The brilliant Aleksandar Hemon has evidently completed his fifth book and first collection of non-fiction pieces (the translation rights have been sold, the manuscript alleged to exist). The title, The Book of My Lives, alludes to, and will presumably include, his 2000 New Yorker essay of the same name–a short, powerful description of his mentoring literature professor turned war criminal Nikola Koljevic. This will be Hemon’s first book since the familial tragedy documented in his heartrending 2011 essay “The Aquarium,” also for The New Yorker. (Lydia)

coverThe Fun Parts by Sam Lipsyte: Lipsyte follows his brilliant and hilarious novel The Ask with his first collection of stories since his debut, Venus Drive. There isn’t much information available yet about this title, other than that it contains a story about “a grizzled and possibly deranged male birth doula” and another that offers “a tawdry glimpse of the Northern New Jersey high school shot-putting circuit, circa 1986.” It will presumably feature several stories that have appeared in the last few years in The New Yorker, including (hopefully) his marvelous “The Dungeon Master.” (Patrick)

Middle C by William H. Gass: William H. Gass is a giant of American letters, with nine essay collections, five novellas, and one of the all-time great books of short stories to his name. Yet he’s published only two novels in forty-five years, largely because the second, The Tunnel, took a quarter century to write. The gestation period for Middle C isn’t that long – not quite – but one can be glad that Gass, 87, will finally be publishing it in 2013. It concerns a music professor of European provenance in exile in the Midwest with his daughter, and presumably
contains a great deal of Gass’ beautifully figurative and alliterative prose. (Garth)


Subtle Bodies by Norman Rush: Rush’s third novel is a companion piece of sorts to Mating and Mortals, both of them (in my judgment) contemporary masterpieces. Where they tackled courtship and marriage, respectively, Subtle Bodies focuses on agape love, a.k.a. friendship. Michiko Kakutani is bound to kvetch about how the geographic setting – the Catskills – offers none of the shimmering magisterial blah blah of Rush’s Botswana (you can take that to the bank, friends), but the temporal one – the run-up to the Iraq War – offers an ample field of play for the author’s bristling political intelligence. (Garth)

The Dying Grass by William T. Vollmann: Speaking of long in the making…how about Vollmann’s Seven Dreams series? These books tell of the seven different encounters between Native Americans and European settlers, and collectively, they will make a fictional edifice to rival Vollmann’s 3,000-page essay on violence, Rising Up and Rising Down. The first volume, The Ice-Shirt, appeared in 1990; then came volumes II (Fathers and Crows) and VI (The Rifles). The most recent addition, volume III (Argall), came out a decade ago. Now Viking is bringing out volume V, The Dying Grass, concerning the fate of the Nez Perce tribe of Plains Indians in the 19th Century. The manner here is said to be closer to the (relatively)
pared-down The Royal Family than to the baroque Argall, but, Vollmann being Vollmann, there’s bound to be some clunkiness and repetition amid the passages of visual intricacy and visionary intensity. Still, would Vollmann-ites want it any other way? Come on, Bill! Only two
more to go! (A volume of “ghost stories” called Last Stories is also slated for publication.) (Garth)

Necessary Errors by Caleb Crain: Caleb Crain is a journalist, critic, and academic…and also, with Steamboats Are Ruining Everything, one of the bloggers who has most fully realized what the form can do. Or maybe the word is feuilletoniste. His first book, American Sympathy, seems to have been an influence on Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding. Now a novel, Necessary Errors, is being published by Penguin Press. All we know for now is that, like The Art of Fielding, it concerns “youth.” But Crain can really write, so it’s one to look out for. (Garth)

Your Name Here by Helen DeWitt: This series has for some time been keeping track of DeWitt’s star-crossed and exuberantly unorthodox follow-up to The Last Samurai. For a while, you could buy it from DeWitt’s website as a .pdf; now, the independent Noemi Press has the print rights. When last we checked, the publication date had been changed from “forthcoming” to “Summer 2012” to “forthcoming 2012.” It’s hard to say if the book’s release is getting closer or farther away. (Garth)

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