Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Anna Burns, Aravind Adiga, Brandon Taylor, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, William T. Vollmann, and more—that are publishing this week.
Little Constructions by Anna Burns
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Little Constructions: “Belfast native Burns’s raucous, exacting modernist crime novel (after the Booker Prize–winning Milkman) skewers men’s incomprehension of women. After a young woman named Jetty Doe confounds a gun shop owner in a town known as Tiptoe Floorboard by snatching a Kalashnikov rifle and throwing a pile of money at him in pursuit of a crime of passion, shop owner Tom Spaders, already traumatized from being stabbed by teenagers in a mugging the year before, copes with the shock by blubbering to a friend about the woman’s apparent ignorance over the type of gun she’d wanted. The story then zigs and zags through a wild chronicle of the Doe crime syndicate and its core members’ immediate family, whose similar-sounding names—Jotty, John, Johnjoe, Janet, Janine, etc.—belie their complex, distinct identities (on Julie Doe: ‘This fifteen-year-old was older than her mother’s thirtysomething friend’). Burns’s narrator is a garrulous raconteur who drops in damning characterizations of men (‘Why couldn’t she be quiet and just listen and remain quiet even after she’d listened?,’ one wonders about his wife) while unspooling the freewheeling account of the Doe family’s occult superstitions, their quirky sensitivity to noises, and the bloody brouhaha that follows the arrest of several gang members. While the narrator’s digressive woolgathering will test some readers’ patience, the acerbic gender commentary tightens the slack. Burns’s fans will find much to chew on.“
Amnesty by Aravind Adiga
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Amnesty: “Adiga (The White Tiger) briskly captures an undocumented immigrant’s moral dilemma over whether to help the police solve a murder or remain under the radar in this engrossing tale. After leaving Sri Lanka to attend college in Sydney, Dhananjaya ‘Danny’ Rajaratnam quits school, loses his student visa, and fails to gain refugee status, but he stays in Australia out of fear for his safety back home, where he was misidentified as a Tamil terrorist. He sleeps in a grocery storeroom and earns cash cleaning homes and doing odd jobs. For four years he escapes notice by authorities; even his leftist Vietnamese girlfriend, Sonja, doesn’t know he’s in the country illegally. After one of his clients—Indian-born Radha Thomas—is murdered, Danny deduces that her murderer is her lover, a violent man nicknamed the Doctor. Danny knows Radha and the Doctor frequented the creek where Radha’s body was discovered, and that the Doctor owned a jacket resembling the one wrapped around the body. Adiga recounts Danny’s thoughts, memories, doubts, and hesitation as well as his aborted phone calls with police and ominous contacts with the Doctor, all within a single day. With nuance and vivid faced by a range of Asian Australians while highlighting the dangers faced by the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Adiga’s enthralling depiction of one immigrant’s tough situation humanizes a complex and controversial global dilemma.”
Real Life by Brandon Taylor
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Real Life: “Taylor’s intense, introspective debut tackles the complicated desires of a painfully introverted gay black graduate student over the course of a tumultuous weekend. Wallace, a biochemistry student from Alabama at an unnamed contemporary Midwestern university, discovers his experiment involving breeding nematodes ruined by contaminating mold. Though distraught and facing tedious work, he reluctantly meets up with friends from his program to celebrate the last weekend of summer. He discloses to them the recent death of his estranged father, who did not protect him from sexual abuse by a family friend as a child. Wallace is perpetually ill at ease with his white friends and labmates, especially surly Miller, who unexpectedly admits a sexual interest in Wallace. Over the following two days, Wallace and Miller awkwardly begin a secret, volatile sexual relationship with troubling violence between them at its margins. As Wallace begins to doubt his future as an academic and continues to have fraught social interactions, he reveals more about his heartbreaking past to Miller, building toward an unsettling, unresolved conclusion between the two men. Wallace’s inconsistent emotional states when he’s in Miller’s company can be jarring; the novel is at its best and most powerful when Wallace is alone and readers witness his interior solitude in the face of the racism and loneliness he endures. Taylor’s perceptive, challenging exploration of the many kinds of emotional costs will resonate with readers looking for complex characters and rich prose.”
Living Weapon by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Living Weapon: “In his dazzling third collection, Phillips (Heaven) explores social ills while celebrating poetry’s ability to provide solace and sense during times of upheaval. Two prose poems anchor the book: the first, the standout of the collection, is ‘1776,’ in which Phillips imagines himself as a winged angel standing atop the Freedom Tower in New York City, observing the city below: ‘Lit streets run from it, electric arteries and veins. Manhattan’s never seemed so empty, so narrow, a pupil of a cat’s eye.’ Phillips imbues the book with the divisiveness and violence of the present moment: ‘We are all in prison./ This is the brutal lesson of the slouching century,// Swilled like a sour stone/ Through the vein of the beast.’ In ‘Mortality Ode,’ he narrates a scene in which several police officers enter a cellphone store and browse casually. Nothing dramatic occurs, but the simple presence of the officers conveys a tension born from the speaker’s subtle understanding that the police are a threat to his safety. In ‘Thoughts and Prayers,’ Phillips addresses the subject of gun violence directly, declaring that the refusal to take action to stop the epidemic is the real evil: ‘the end of endings; the death/ Of change.’ Phillips’s latest is lyrical, imaginative, and steeped in a keen understanding of current events.”
Home Making by Lee Matalone
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Home Making: “Rumpus columnist Matalone’s heady, lyrical debut overlays an adopted woman’s journey into motherhood with her daughter’s story of making a home for herself as an adult. Born in Tokyo to a Japanese mother and French father, Cybil is adopted by an American couple in Arizona in the 1950s and eventually has a daughter, Chloe, who, in the present, struggles to make a home out of a sprawling house she buys in Virginia while estranged from her husband, Pat, contrasting their old house with Le Corbusier’s aphorism, ‘A house is a machine for living in’ (‘machines break, become defunct’). In spare chapters, Mantalone moves back and forth in time to trace the shapes of Cybil’s and Chloe’s identities through their relationships to domestic spaces. As Chloe wanders from dining room to kitchen to closet in her new house, she ruminates on the varied meanings of home, reflecting on her childhood and contemplating a future with her best friend, Beau, a gay man who glibly encourages her, ‘As the great sculpture of pirouetting steel, Richard Serra, said, space is material.’ In measured prose, Matalone draws out connections between past and present to illuminate the mother and daughter’s shared sense of ambiguity toward motherhood. Matalone’s cool reflections on art and architecture will appeal to fans of Chris Kraus.”
The Lucky Star by William T. Vollmann
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Lucky Star: “Vollmann’s sprawling and provocatively playful novel revisits the sordid setting of his early collection The Rainbow Stories, where sexual desire shapes characters’ self-expression and pursuit of love, power, and human connection. A circle of friends is bonded by their relationship to a character named Neva, often referred to as ‘the lesbian.’ They meet at a San Francisco spot called the Y Bar in 2015, where they find support in their collective company and become a de facto family. Among them are the matriarch, a bartender named Francine; Shantelle, a transgender prostitute; the largely unnoticed hard-drinking barfly Richard, who provides florid narration; and the starry-eyed Frank, who has renamed himself after his icon, Judy Garland. Vollmann elaborately researched the tumultuous life of the real Garland, lending passion and credence to Richard’s extensive knowledge of the late singer. As Neva evolves from an innocent to an icon on par with Marlene Dietrich, at least in the eyes of the Y Bar circle, she guides and mentors their sexual self-discovery, helping define their boundaries and gain confidence. The Y Bar crowd’s otherwise static plotlines are tightened by the interweaving of their common experiences. Vollmann’s challenging novel is full of memorable moments.”
Also on shelves: Where You’re All Going by Joan Frank.