Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Coates, Jamison, Patchett, Krasznahorkai, Ware, Smith, and More

September 24, 2019 | 7 min read

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of  Ta-Nehisi Coates, Leslie Jamison, Ann Patchett, László Krasznahorkai, Chris Ware, Patti Smith and more—that are publishing this week.

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The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Water Dancer: “Coates (We Were Eight Years in Power) makes his ambitious fiction debut with this wonderful novel that follows Hiram Walker, a boy with an extraordinary memory. Born on a Virginia plantation, he realizes at five that he has a photographic recall—except where it concerns his mother, Rose, who was sold and whom he can only reconstruct through what others tell him. Born to Rose and Howell Walker, master and owner of Lockless, the land Hiram works, Hiram is called up at age 12 to the house to serve Maynard, his half-brother. When the novel opens, Hiram is 19, and he and Maynard are on their way back to Lockless when the bridge they’re traveling over collapses. Deep in the river, Hiram is barraged with visions of his ancestors, and finally a woman water-dancing, whom he recognizes as his mother. After he wakes up, mysteriously saved even as Maynard dies, Hiram yearns for a life beyond ‘the unending night of slavery.’ But when his plans to escape with Sophia, the woman he loves, are dashed by betrayal and violence, Hiram is inducted into the Underground, the secret network of agents working to liberate slaves. Valued for his literacy and for the magical skill the Underground believes he possesses, Hiram comes to learn that the fight for freedom comes with its own sacrifices and restrictions. In prose that sings and imagination that soars, Coates further cements himself as one of this generation’s most important writers, tackling one of America’s oldest and darkest periods with grace and inventiveness. This is bold, dazzling, and not to be missed.”

Make it Scream Make it Burn by Leslie Jamison

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Make it Scream Make it Burn: “These illuminating and ruminative essays from Jamison (The Recovering) explore obsession and alienation, combining reportage, memoir, and philosophy. The first (and most successful) section is largely focused outward, beginning with a profile of ’52 Blue,’ a blue whale with an extraordinarily high-pitched song who never found a mate, but did garner many human admirers who identified with his (perceived) loneliness. Jamison moves on to considering reincarnation, through uncanny cases of children seemingly remembering past lives, taking an approach ‘skeptical of knee-jerk skepticism itself.’ In Part II, Jamison progresses into aesthetics and literary theory, discussing an exhibit of Civil War photography and James Agee’s sociological tome about Alabama tenant farmers, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, which notably ‘documents the process of documentation itself.’ Part III is decidedly more personal, as Jamison details struggles with intimacy and a series of doomed relationships, hitting a high note with her consideration of the evil stepmother archetype in the light of becoming a stepmother herself. Jamison is positively brilliant when penetrating a subject and unraveling its layers of meaning, such as how 52 Blue represents ‘not just one single whale as metaphor for loneliness, but metaphor itself as salve for loneliness.’ Fans of the author’s unique brand of perceptiveness will be delighted.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Dutch House: “A 1920s mansion worms into the lives of the broken family that occupies it in another masterly novel from Patchett (Commonwealth). In 1945, Brooklyn-born real-estate entrepreneur Cyril Conroy purchases the Dutch House in Elkins Park, outside Philadelphia, and presents it, complete with Delft mantels, life-size portraits of the original owners, a ballroom, and staff, to his wife. She hates it. She runs away to serve the poor, abandoning her 10-year-old daughter, Maeve, and three-year-old son, Danny. Five years later, Maeve and Danny meet Conroy’s second wife. The second Mrs. Conroy adores the house. When Cyril dies, she keeps it, dispossessing Maeve and Danny of any inheritance except funds for Danny’s education, which they use to send Danny to Choate, Columbia, and medical school. Grown-up Danny narrates, remembering his sister as an unswerving friend and protector. For Patchett, family connection comes not from formal ties or ceremonies but from shared moments: Danny accompanying his father to work, Danny’s daughter painting her grandmother’s fingernails, Maeve and Danny together trying to decode the past. Despite the presence of a grasping stepmother, this is no fairy tale, and Patchett remarkably traces acts of cruelty and kindness through three generations of a family over 50 years. Patchett’s splendid novel is a thoughtful, compassionate exploration of obsession and forgiveness, what people acquire, keep, lose or give away, and what they leave behind.”

The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Shadow King: “Mengiste (Beneath the Lion’s Gaze) again brings heart and authenticity to a slice of Ethiopian history, this time focusing on the Italian invasion of her birth country in 1935. While Hirut, a servant girl, and her trajectory to becoming a fierce soldier defending her country are the nexus of the story, the author elucidates the landscape of war by focusing on individuals—offering the viewpoints (among others) of Carlo Fucelli, a sadistic colonel in Mussolini’s army; Ettore Navarra, a Jewish Venetian photographer/soldier tasked with documenting war atrocities; and Haile Selassie, the emperor bearing the weight of his country’s devastation at the hand of the Italians. In Hirut, Mengiste depicts both a servant girl’s low status and the ferocity of her spirit—inspired by the author’s great-grandmother who sued her father for his gun so she could enlist in the Ethiopian army—which allows her to survive betrayal by the married couple she serves and her eventual imprisonment by Fucelli, captured with horrifying detail by Navarra’s camera. Mengiste breaks new ground in this evocative, mesmerizing account of the role of women during wartime—not just as caregivers, but as bold warriors defending their country.”

Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming by László Krasznahorkai (translated by Ottilie Mulzet)

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming: “Krasznahorkai establishes his own rules and rides a wave of exhilarating energy in this sprawling, nonpareil novel, which harkens back to early works such as Satantango but with the benefit of the Man Booker International Prize winner’s mature powers. In a small Hungarian town, an eccentric and isolated genius known only as the Professor occupies a specially designed hut, ravaged by uncontrollable thoughts and trying to rid himself of ‘human imbecility’ while keeping unsavory watch on his daughter. There will soon be more to watch: the ruined Baron Bela Wenckheim is returning home by train, in flight from his extensive gambling debts, only to fall in with a colorful collection of locals, all looking to take advantage of the Baron by one means or another. There’s the roughneck regulars of the local pub, the scheming town mayor looking to gin up excitement over the Baron’s return for his own visibility, and the con man Dante of Szolnok, whom the Baron encounters casually only to find he has his fingers in any pie from which he can extract a profit. The one bright spot in this Greek chorus of rogues is Marika, the Baron’s childhood sweetheart, whose romantic desires to reunite with the refined boy she remembers will be tested by corrosive new realities. This vortex of a novel compares neatly with Dostoevsky and shows Krasznahorkai at the absolute summit of his decades-long project. Apocalyptic, visionary, and mad, it flies off the page and stays lodged intractably wherever it lands.”

The Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Liar: “Lies take life in this excellent novel about a young Israeli girl who finds power in deceit. Nofar Shalev is 17, exceedingly unremarkable, and stuck in the shadow of her beautiful younger sister, Maya. She spends her summer evenings working at an ice cream parlor and hopes to be noticed by her high school crush. Instead, she encounters Avishai Milner, a winner of a televised singing contest who is now washed up and without future prospects. After Avishai lashes out verbally at Nofar, the teenage girl flees to the alley behind the shop, and Avishai follows and grabs her, causing Nofar to scream. When asked by police if she had been assaulted, Nofar says yes. This lie snowballs into an unstoppable force, garnering media attention and sweeping up friends and family members along with it as Nofar battles between her building guilt and her fear of rejection if she comes clean. Though some characters fall to the wayside and leave the reader curious as to their purpose in the story, Nofar’s internal journey makes up for it. This tender and satisfying coming-of-age story leads readers to question how a split second can change lives.”

Rusty Brown by Chris Ware

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Rusty Brown: “Ware (Building Stories) delivers an astounding graphic novel about nothing less than the nature of life and time as it charts the intersecting lives of characters that revolve around an Omaha, Neb., parochial school in the 1970s. Third-grader Chalky White and his high schooler sister, Alice, are new students. Chalky finds his outcast status concretized when he tries to make friends with the bullied Rusty Brown and gets embroiled in recess humiliation. Alice attracts both friendly attention and leers, including from stoner Jordan Lint and (secretly) from her English teacher, Woody Brown (Rusty’s father), and her art teacher, Chris Ware. The narrative then shifts to Woody, dropping into the world of a sci-fi story he publishes in a pulp magazine, about an astronaut who becomes unhinged on Mars, before revealing Woody’s own youthful heartbreak. Next, the birth-to-death trajectory of toxic Jordan is intimately portrayed, including profound childhood loss, youthful rebellions, brief redemption, and restless middle age. Finally, Ware focuses on teacher Joanne Cole, a black woman who grows up in poverty, then stoically perseveres as an educator despite racism at the wealthy, predominantly white academy—and loves to play the banjo. Ware’s dazzling geometric art—pointillism for Woody’s eyesight sans glasses; close-ups of Joanne’s face through the decades—has never been better. Through this winding narrative, resonant echoes are drawn between characters inside their loneliness, adversity, and frustrations (such as two different characters, decades apart, placing a flower in a bowl of water). Ware again displays his virtuosic ability to locate the extraordinary within the ordinary, elevating seemingly normal lives into something profound, unforgettable, and true.”

Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Year of the Monkey: “As she wanders between waking and dreaming in a year filled with the death of a close friend and the political turmoil of the 2016 election, musician and National Book Award–winner Smith (Just Kids) contemplates dreams and reality in this luminous collection of anecdotes and photos. In light of her 70th birthday, Smith writes lyrically on various subjects: she describes Allen Ginsberg’s poetry—which she carries along her travels­—as an ‘expansive hydrogen bomb, containing all the nuances of his voice.’ On the ‘terrible soap opera called the American election,’ she declares that ‘the bully bellowed. Silence ruled… All hail our American apathy, all hail the twisted wisdom of the Electoral College.’ Watching a Belinda Carlisle video, she’s caught up in Carlisle’s infectious beat, and she imagines a ‘nonviolent hubris spreading across the land.’ At one point, Smith learns from a stranger that, in dreams, ‘equations are solved in an entirely unique way, laundry stiffens in the wind, and our dead mothers appear with their backs turned.’ Smith discovers that her most meaningful insights come from her vivid dreams, and she feels a palpable melancholia over having to wake up from them. Smith casts a mesmerizing spell with exquisite prose.”

is a staff writer for The Millions and an MFA candidate at Johns Hopkins. Prior to coming to Baltimore, he studied literature and worked in IT while living in Dublin, Ireland. You can find him on Twitter at @tdbeckwith.

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