February Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

February 5, 2020 | 14 books mentioned 8 min read

We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month—if you want even more to look forward to in 2020, check out our First-Half Preview. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!

Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.

coverThe Resisters by Gish Jen: In Jen’s dystopian future of America, AutoAmerica, people are divided into two different social classes: the Netted, who monopolize the access to technology and wealth and political rights, and the Surplus, who are forced to live on Basic Income and are denied any human rights. Gwen, the novel’s protagonist, receives an express ticket to rise from the Surplus into the Netted. But that promising future also means betraying the people she loves. The Resisters is more serious than Jen’s previous works, which glisten with humor. But the probing and calibrated narrative that Jen chooses for this novel captures a comprehensive yet disturbing picture of how totalitarianism speeds back to the center stage of human history. (Jianan Qian)

coverWeather by Jenny Offill: Offill’s new novel, Weather, tells the story of Lizzie Benson, a librarian enlisted by famous podcaster Sylvia Liller to answer the mail she receives, from climate-change worriers on the left and right-wingers fearing the downfall of Western civilization. As Lizzie becomes increasingly doomsday-obsessed, she tries to save her troubled mother and brother, all the while managing the political chaos of Sylvia’s world. In a starred review, Kirkus says, “Weather is clever and seductive…the ‘weather’ of our days both real and metaphorical, is perfectly captured in Offill’s brief, elegant paragraphs, filled with insight and humor. Offill is good company for the end of the world.” (Adam P.)

coverReal Life by Brandon Taylor: Taylor has been a prolific member of the literary community via Electric Lit, LitHub, Kimbilio, Iowa Writers’ Workshop, et alia; Real Life is his debut novel. Bits of autobiography form the scaffolding of this story about a group of friends, a summer weekend in the midwest, and an introverted black man from Alabama working toward a Ph.D. in biochemistry. Writes Roxane Gay: “[Taylor] writes so powerfully about so many things—the perils of graduate education, blackness in a predominantly white setting, loneliness, desire, trauma, need. Wallace, the man at the center of this novel, is written with such nuance and tenderness and complexity.” (Sonya)

coverVerge by Lidia Yuknavitch: In her new short story collection, Verge, Lidia Yuknavitch displays the same gift for exploring the borderland between art, sex, and trauma that readers have come to expect from the author of The Book of Joan and The Small Backs of Children. Whether it’s an 8-year-old transporting frozen organs through the streets of Eastern Europe, a child fighting off schoolyard bullies with invented religion, or a young janitor creating a miniature city from refuse, Yuknavitch turns her powers toward life on the margins in a collection Vogue describes as “brutal and beautiful,” and no less than Kelly Link calls “vertiginous and revelatory.” (Adam P.)

covertrans(re)lating house 1 by Poupeh Missaghi: This debut novel is set in the turbulent aftermath of Iran’s 2009 election, when a woman goes looking for the statues that are disappearing from Tehran’s public places. As she scours the city’s teahouses, galleries and hookah bars, her search leads her to actual victims of state violence. This blurring leads the narrator to note that in Persian “both ‘testimony’ and ‘martyrdom’ are expressed with one word.” Missaghi, a writer, translator, editor and teacher, uses a fragmented style, veering from journalism to magical realism, to tell a fragmented story that produces no answers, only questions: “Will the trauma ever stop being inherited? Will humans ever change?” (Bill)

coverLittle Constructions by Anna Burns: In 2018, Burns’s third book, Milkman, a novel about the Troubles that never mentions the Troubles, in which no one is named and everything is both familiar and out of a dream, won the Man Booker Prize. But before Milkman there was Little Constructions, the Northern Irish author’s second novel. Here everyone has not one name but several—Jesse Judges and JanineJuliaJoshuatine Doe, I mean—and a woman steals a Kalashnikov before terrorizing the town of Tiptoe Floorboard. There are gun shops and gun shop owners, calculated killers and victims caught in long cycles of violence, and throughout it all runs Burns’s surrealist prose and pitch black humor. (Kaulie)

coverMinor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong: As an acclaimed poet, Hong is constantly creating new language and interrogating existing narratives, particularly in Dance, Dance Revolution (Norton 2017), and here strikes out on a different vector with this memoir/essay collection that’s hard to define with its intimate looks at micro-moments, sweeping narrative arcs, and deep-dives into philosophy and cultural criticism. The title hints at the way Asian-American narratives have often been dismissed or marginalized in mainstream culture. Publishers Weekly calls it a “blistering essay collection.” (Marie Myung-Ok Lee)

coverToo Much by Rachel Vorona Cote: Cote, a former Victorian scholar, laces together cultural criticism, history, memoir, and theory in her debut work of nonfiction. Spanning everything from Jane Eyre to Britney Spears, the book explores the ways women’s excesses (whether physical, mental, or emotional) can both bind and potentially liberate them. Author Esmé Weijun Wang says the book “spills over: with intellect, with sparkling prose, and with the brainy arguments of Vorona Cote, who posits that women are all, in some way or another, still susceptible to being called too much.” (Carolyn)

coverApartment by Teddy Wayne: In his fourth novel, Wayne returns to the theme of male loneliness he explored in two earlier novels, Loner and The Love Song of Jonny Valentine. This time, his unnamed narrator, a young writer studying in the Columbia University MFA program in the 1990s, offers to let a fellow student stay for free in his rent-stabilized apartment, gaining a rare friend, and then, slowly, losing him. “Underneath the straightforward story, readers will find a careful meditation on class and power,” says an early review in Publishers Weekly. (Michael)

coverThe Lost Book of Adana Moreau by Michael Zapata: If you’re a fan of the art-within-art genre, Zapata’s debut novel may be for you. There’s a lot going on here—a jam-packed elevator pitch if ever there was one: “The mesmerizing story of a Latin-American science fiction writer and the lives her lost manuscript unites decades later in post-Katrina New Orleans.” The eponymous science fiction writer was a Dominican immigrant, her novel is called Lost City, her son Maxwell is a theoretical physicist living in New Orleans, and Moreau’s manuscript is discovered by a Jewish immigrant in Chicago. Novelist Laura van den Berg writes: “A stunner—equal parts epic and intimate, thrilling and elegiac.” (Sonya)

coverAmnesty by Aravind Adiga: The Booker Prize-winning author’s new novel depicts the plight of an illegal immigrant and refugee in Australia. The protagonist, Danny (short for Dhananjaya), flees his native Sri Lanka for Sydney, where he takes up residence in a grocery stockroom and works as a cleaner to support himself. He gets by and saves up money, inching himself closer to a stable life. But then one of his clients is murdered, and Danny is forced to make a choice: stay silent and let the killer go free, or say what he knows and put himself at risk of deportation? (Thom)

coverShuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart: In his debut novel, Stuart follows the life of Hugh “Shuggie” Bain and his family in Glasgow, Scotland, in the 1980s. Agnes—his extremely flawed, well-meaning, and beautiful mother—struggles to stay sober while caring for Shuggie, who is trying to come to terms with his sexuality. A portrait of a working class family dealing with poverty, infidelity, addition, and violence during the Thatcher era. Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo says the novel “will knock you sideways.” (Carolyn)

coverHome Making by Lee Matalone: Matalone’s debut novel laces together the lives of three people: Cybil, an adopted woman who journeys into motherhood; Chole, Cybil’s daughter who attempts to make her house a home; and Chole’s best friend Beau, a gay man in love with a man on the internet. The woven narrative explores mothering, grief, loneliness, and the idea of home. Weike Wang calls the novel “An intricate exploration of family and home, of mother and child, of friends, of women and written with both precision and style.” (Carolyn)

coverThe Illness Lesson by Clare Beams: Set in 1870s Massachusetts, Beam’s debut novel follows Samuel Hood, a widowed essayist, and his daughter Caroline open a progressive school for young women. After a flock of red birds touches down in town, the girls begin to experience mysterious illnesses. When Caroline begins to experience the same symptoms, she must step out of her father’s shadow and trust herself—in order to save everyone. A starred review from Kirkus calls it “A satisfyingly strange novel from the one-of-a-kind Beams.” (Carolyn)

coverUntamed Shore by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: In 1979 Baja California, 18-year-old Viridiana feels like she’s wasting away in her seaside hometown. While watching fisherman pull dead sharks from their nets, she dreams of a bigger, better, and more glamourous life—until she meets three American strangers. After one of the tourists dies, Viridiana becomes a suspect and her life is upended. Author Gabino Iglesias says Moreno-Garcia’s first thriller “moves forward with the power and grace of a shark.(Carolyn)

coverThe Regrets by Amy Bonnaffons: It’s the classic “girl falls in love with boy” story except for one little thing: The boy is dead. Stuck on Earth for 90 days due to a clerical error, Thomas ignores the rules that say he cannot interact with the living and begins an intense relationship with Rachel, a reference librarian, during his final weeks. With starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, Bonnaffon’s erotic and strange debut chronicles a sexy, somber, and ghostly love affair. (Carolyn)

coverThe Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson: Larson, the author of bestsellers Dead Wake and The Devil in the White City, has a penchant for making history feel immediate, gripping, and vivid. His newest book offers a portrait of Winston Churchill, his officials, and his family during the Blitz, and the ways the personal informed the political during London’s most destructive and turbulent time. Kirkus‘s starred review calls it a “captivating history of Churchill’s heroic year.” (Carolyn)

coverShit Is Fucked Up and Bullshit by Malcom Harris: Taking its title from the sign of an Occupy Wall Street protestor, Harris’ (Kids These Days) essay collection contains 30 pieces about our current political, cultural, and economic landscape and what it means for the future. About the collection, writer Jenny Odell says “The provocations in these essays add up to something we sorely need: a diagnosis of the present that hasn’t given up on the future.”(Carolyn)

coverUnfinished Business by Vivian Gornick: Acclaimed writer and critic Gornick’s newest collection features nine slim essays about her love of reading and rereading. While writing about books she repeatedly returns to (like Marguerite Duras‘s The Lover and Colette’s The Vagabond), she explores the ways literature informs her life and how her relationships with certain books change and grow throughout the years. (Carolyn)

coverWhere You’re All Going by Joan Frank: Winner of the 2019 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, Frank’s quartet of novellas follow ordinary people who are dealing with love, loss, loneliness, and the intimacies—small and large—that connect us all. Writer Aimee Bender says “every paragraph begs to be read aloud, to be heard” and that “the stories are, line after line, brimming with a brisk freshness.” (Carolyn)

coverSomething that May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel M. Lavery:  An essay collection from Lavery, The Toast cofounder and Slate’s “Dear Prudence” columnist, that upends genre to create something wholly new and unique. Honest, vulnerable, and hilarious, Kirkus‘s starred review says: “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, often both at once. Everyone should read this extraordinary book.” (Carolyn)

coverYour Never Forget Your First by Alexis Coe: Historian Coe breaks with tradition of previous George Washington biographers (mostly male) to present a uniquely humanizing portrait of America’s first president, a man of mythic proportions. “A bewitching combination of erudition and cheek, You Never Forget Your First is a playful, disruptive work of history,” says Jennifer Egan. (Carolyn)

coverMy Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland: While interning at the Harry Ransom Center, Shapland discovers love letters between McCullers and a woman—and takes it upon herself to give McCullers (and herself) the story they deserve. R.O. Kwon writes, “Captivating and trenchant and moving, Shapland’s genre-mixing debut will stay with me a long time.” (Carolyn)

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