Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Erdrich, Enright, McBride, Unferth, Ripatrazone, and More

March 3, 2020 | 15 books mentioned 6 min read

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Louise ErdrichAnne EnrightJames McBrideDeb Olin Unferth, our own Nick Ripatrazone, and more—that are publishing this week.

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The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Night Watchman: “Erdrich (Love Medicine) returns to North Dakota’s Turtle Mountain Reservation for this stirring tale of a young Chippewa woman and her uncle’s effort to halt the Termination Act of 1953. Pixie Paranteau takes a leave of absence from her job at the Jewel Bearing Plant to search for her sister, Vera, who was last seen in Minneapolis. Though she fails to find Vera, sparks fly between Pixie and a promising young boxer named Wood Mountain. Pixie then travels with her uncle Thomas, chairman of the Turtle Mountain Advisory Committee, to Washington, D.C., where he testifies at a congressional hearing on a bill abrogating treaties with Indians and abolishing Indian tribes. Also accompanying them are graduate student Millie Cloud and the ghost of Thomas’s boyhood friend Roderick. Erdrich captures the Chippewa community’s durable network of families, friends, and neighbors, alive or dead, including Pixie’s alcoholic father and wise mother, who live in poverty. The heartbreaking conclusion to Vera’s story resonates with the pervasive crisis of missing Native American women, while Thomas, Wood Mountain, and his trainer rally to put together a match to raise funds for Thomas’s efforts to keep their land. Erdrich’s inspired portrait of her own tribe’s resilient heritage masterfully encompasses an array of characters and historical events. Erdrich remains an essential voice.”

Deacon King Kong by James McBride

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Deacon King Kong: “McBride (The Good Lord Bird) delivers a sharply compassionate shaggy dog tale of a heavy drinking Baptist deacon who shoots a drug dealer and becomes a ‘walking dead man.’ In the autumn of 1969, handyman and occasional baseball coach Deacon Cuffy Lambkin, known to his friends as ‘Sportcoat’ because of his colorful wardrobe or as ‘Deacon King Kong’ on account of his equal affection for a moonshine with that name, inexplicably shoots off the ear of Deems Clemens, Sportcoat’s former baseball protégé. This sets in motion a hunt for Sportcoat by Deems’s employers that draws in Tommy ‘Elephant’ Elefante, a sweetly melancholy Italian mover of ‘hot goods’ whose grip on the neighborhood is slipping, and scrupulous police officer ‘Potts’ Mullen, who is on the brink of retirement. As Deems’s crew ineffectually try to murder Sportcoat, Elephant follows clues left by his dead father to find a hidden treasure, and Potts tries to keep the neighborhood safe while falling for the wife of a preacher, McBride unravels the mystery of Sportcoat’s inexplicable ire against Deems. With a Dickensian wealth of quirky characters, a sardonic but humane sense of humor reminiscent of Mark Twain, and cartoonish action scenes straight out of Pynchon, McBride creates a lived-in world where everybody knows everybody’s business. This generous, achingly funny novel will delight and move readers.”

Longing for an Absent God by Nick Ripatrazone

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Longing for an Absent God: “Ripatrazone (Ember Days), culture editor at Image Journal, argues in this piquant analysis that the interplay between lapsed and practicing Catholic authors sustains ‘a unique and significant literary culture.’ For Ripatrazone, both groups engage in similar forms of storytelling—’corporal, messy, strange, and steeped in the sins of real people’—though he argues they do so to different ends. While the book’s analysis of well-known 20th-century authors who were Catholic, such as Flannery O’Connor and Andre Dubus, feels thin, chapters on Toni Morrison and Louise Erdrich are strong, exploring the ways that black and Chippewa cultures and ways of storytelling have differed or responded to Catholic writing. Though Ripatrazone builds his analysis around the differences and shared tensions between lapsed and practicing Catholics—where practicing Catholics used their faith to ground their fiction, lapsed Catholics approached religion through themes of identity and redemption—he leaves uninterrogated another tension that pervades the book: that between Catholics from birth and converts, whose ideas of storytelling were shaped outside of the Catholic tradition. His uneven analysis leaves this and many other tantalizing angles unexplored, but its articulation of a Catholic literature inclusive of—and more importantly defined by—practicing and lapsed Catholics is a valuable one. Scholars of modern American Catholicism will find much food for thought here.”

Fiebre Tropical by Juliana Delgado Lopera

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Fiebre Tropical: “Lopera’s moving and hilarious debut novel (after the essay collection Quiéreme) switches seamlessly between Spanish and English as it follows a 15-year-old Colombian girl who moves to Miami and becomes swept up in a church and with the pastor’s beautiful daughter. Francisca, whose mother brought them to the U.S. for economic opportunity, is skeptical of religion and would rather be back in Bogotá, smoking cigarettes and reading Sylvia Plath, than join the youth group at church or indulge her mother’s obsession with baptizing her dead infant brother, gone before Francisca was even born. As Francisca’s mother becomes more involved with the local Christian congregation, Carmen, the pastor’s daughter, decides to take on Francisca as her personal salvation project, bringing her along to hand out fliers and evangelize in neighboring communities. The more time the girls spend together, the more Francisca realizes that her feelings for Carmen are not strictly platonic. Along with understanding her burgeoning sexuality, Francisca must also deal with her mother’s increasingly tenuous grip on reality and the process of assimilating into her new home and culture. Lopera convincingly renders Francisca’s adolescent insecurities and awkward obsessions, and the spirited bilingual prose (‘Immigrant criolla here reporting desade Los Mayamis from our ant-infested townhouse’) will engage readers. This feisty coming-of-age tale introduces a funny, fresh, and indelible new voice.”

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Sharks in the Time of Saviors: “Washburn’s standout debut provides a vivid portrait of Hawaiian identity, mythology, and diaspora. This family chronicle opens in 1995 Honok’a as the seven-year-old Nainoa Flores falls from a ship, only to be rescued and returned to his parents by sharks. This seminal event in the lives of the Filipino-Hawaiian Flores family marks Nainoa for life as the ‘miracle boy,’ even as his parents struggle to turn a profit on their sugarcane plantation. As things become more desperate, Nainoa and his violent older brother, Dean, and adventuresome younger sister, Kaui, leave the island to seek their fortunes on the mainland. Dean embarks on a promising career as a basketball player in Spokane only to wind up in trouble with the law, while Kaui discovers her sexuality in San Diego, and Nainoa becomes an EMT in Portland, Ore. Poised halfway between their cultural upbringing and hopes for the future, the family is riven by a horrific tragedy that will test them to the breaking point. Though perhaps overlong, Washburn’s debut is a unique and spirited depiction of the 50th state and its children.”

Barn 8 by Deb Olin Unferth

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Barn 8: “Unferth’s fresh heist caper (after her collection Wait Till You See Me Dance) features a most unusual quarry: 900,000 hens. After a disappointing search for her absent father maroons rebellious teenager Janey in rural Iowa, she takes a job as an auditor for the United Egg Producers and finds a kindred spirit in the disillusioned head auditor, Cleveland Smith, who can no longer consent to the grim conditions in which chickens are bred and slaughtered. Conceiving a madcap brand of ecoterrorism, the two women embark on a mission to liberate the birds. They recruit a wide array of conspirators, including the embittered animal inspector, Dill; a vengeful farmer’s daughter, Annabelle; lovelorn egg salesman Jonathan Jarman Jr.; and Cleveland’s faithful pet hen, Bwwaauk. After weeks of preparation, the gang are on the verge of realizing their fowl-focused emancipation when a botched effort causes more damage to the farm than they’d bargained for. In this outrageous piece of rural noir and pitch-perfect characterization, Unferth recalls Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang with a dose of vegan-minded quirk. This entertaining, satisfying genre turn shows off Unferth’s range, and readers will be delighted by the characters’ earnest crusade.”

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about We Ride Upon Sticks: “Quan (She Weeps Every Time You’re Born) takes a playful, nostalgic run through 1980s suburbia in this tale of witches and field hockey. In 1989, the Danvers Falcons, a high school field hockey team, are on a losing streak. After a depressing defeat, and thinking of the women who were tried for witchcraft three centuries earlier in nearby Salem, Mass., the members pledge allegiance to the devil in exchange for victory. They write their names in a notebook bearing the likeness of Emilio Estevez and wear a raggedy blue tube sock around their arms to mark their pact to an ‘alternative god’ (as termed by team member Heather Houston), which also includes an agreement to follow ‘any urges you might get all the way to the end no matter what.’ As the season proceeds, with the team racking up wins at every game, the 10 girls and one boy begin to act on their desires, leading to several losses of virginity, a book burning, bouts of naked dancing in the woods, delusions of grandeur inspired by Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, and Heather’s crisis of conscience. Barry handles a large cast of characters nimbly and affectionately, allowing each to take a turn or two in the spotlight. Readers with fond, or even not so fond, memories of the 1980s are bound to be entertained.”

Also on shelves: Actress by Anne EnrightSansei and Sensibility by Karen Tei Yamashita, and Separation Anxiety by Laura Zigman.

Bonus Links from Our Archive:
What It Is to Be Alone: The Millions Interviews Anne Enright
Robert Birnbaum in Conversation with Anne Enright
A Year in Reading: Nick Ripatrazone
The Post-Apocalyptic Present: On Quan Barry’s ‘She Weeps Each Time You’re Born’
Unhappy Trails: Deb Olin Unferth’s Revolution
A Year in Reading: Deb Olin Unferth
— Black and Proud: James McBride on James Brown
— The Stories of James McBride

is a staff writer for The Millions. He lives in New York.

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