Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Jemisin, Ehrenreich, Giddings, Kemp, Mandel, and More

March 24, 2020 | 6 books mentioned 6 min read

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of N.K. Jemisin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Megan Giddings, Marina Kemp, our own Emily St. John Mandel, and more—that are publishing this week.

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coverThe City We Became by N.K. Jemisin

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The City We Became: “The staggering contemporary fantasy that launches three-time Hugo Award-winner Jemisin’s new trilogy (following the Broken Earth series) leads readers into the beating heart of New York City for a stunning tale of a world out of balance. After hundreds of years of gestation, New York City is awakening to sentience, but ‘postpartum complications’ threaten to destroy it. An alien, amorphous force, personified by the Woman in White, launches an attack on New York. Five people—one for each of the city’s five boroughs—are called to become avatars dedicated to protecting the city. If they can combine their powers, they’ll be able to awaken the avatar of the city as a whole and defeat the Woman in White, but first they’ll have to find each other. While the Woman in White works to undermine them, the five avatars, whose personalities delightfully mirror the character of their respective boroughs (the Bronx is ‘creative with an attitude,’ Manhattan is ‘smart, charming, well-dressed, and cold enough to strangle you in an alley if we still had alleys’), learn the extent of their new powers. Jemisin’s earthy, vibrant New York is mirrored in her dynamic, multicultural cast. Blending the concept of the multiverse with New York City arcana, this novel works as both a wry adventure and an incisive look at a changing city. Readers will be thrilled.”

coverHad I Known by Barbara Ehrenreich

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Had I Known: “Activist and journalist Ehrenreich (Natural Causes) addresses numerous hot-button issues in this argumentative and passionate collection. She challenges the status quo throughout, while also including a healthy dose of self-questioning. The 40 selections—assembled into six categories (Haves and Have-Nots; Health; Men; Women; God, Science, and Joy; and Bourgeois Blunders) and published between 1984 and 2018—address race, class, and gender with admirable breadth. Writing on sexual harassment in 2017, Ehrenreich reminds the reader of how little focus has been accorded to abuses committed against working-class women. An essay from over a decade ago on immigration is notably topical, as is one written soon after the 2008 financial crash on the ‘criminalization of being poor.’ She is wittily satirical at times, as when skewering adherents to ‘the cult of conspicuous busyness,’ who feel ’embarrassed to be caught doing only one thing at a time,’ and bitterly Swiftian at others, proposing a combination of ‘welfare and flogging’ as an acceptably punitive compromise for opponents of government aid to the poor. Her most acerbic passages will be off-putting to some, but most will find this a gripping look at why ‘dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.‘”

coverLakewood by Megan Giddings

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Lakewood: “In Giddings’s chilling debut, Lena Johnson takes a leave from college after her grandmother dies and must find a way to financially support herself and her mother, who suffers from a mysterious but debilitating illness. Serendipitously, she receives an invitation to apply to the Lakewood Project, a series of research studies about memory. If chosen, Lena will receive a hefty paycheck and, crucially, insurance that would cover all of her mother’s health-care costs. After an invasive screening process that includes uncomfortable questions about race and being injected with strange substances, Lena is invited to participate. This involves moving to Lakewood, a nearby town in Michigan, and leading a double life. After signing an NDA, she’s instructed to tell her family and friends, through monitored communication, that she works for a shipping company. In reality, she and the other participants—all of them black, Indian, or Latin—must undergo grueling evaluations and take part in experiments (such as eye drops that change eye color, and being put on a diet of cream pellets only) that can have fatal consequences, all under the watch of ‘observers,’ all of whom are white. Though the book’s second half doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the first, Giddings is a writer with a vivid imagination and a fresh eye for horror, both of the body and of society. This eerie debut provides a deep character study spiked with a dose of horror.”

coverMarguerite by Marina Kemp

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Marguerite: “In Kemp’s stellar debut, a young nurse gets caught up in romance, jealousy, and gossip on a farm in the South of France. Having trained to become a nurse in order to help treat her sister’s meningitis, Marguerite Demers takes a job caring for the prideful, cruel Jérôme Lanvier at his dilapidated Saint-Sulpice farmhouse. There, she befriends Suki, an Iranian who wears a hijab, causing the townspeople to call her a ‘witch doctor.’ Both women provoke jealousy in Brigitte, who, along with her husband, Henri, works for Jérôme. Suki has long been picked on by gossipy and insecure Brigitte, who slanders her perceived rivals with abandon. Meanwhile, Henri, a handsome, sensitive farmer, is having an affair with Edgar, a writer, and is resigned to stay at the farm with Brigitte, where he tries to find contentment working in the dirt, enjoying ‘the day’s long accumulation of filth.’ As Henri stands up for Marguerite, the pair’s connection heightens. Eventually rumors, combined with Suki, Brigitte, and Edgar’s jealousy, threaten Marguerite and Henri. Precise, distinctive prose (train doors close ‘with a hiss like a punctured tyre’) and well-drawn characters make this satisfying tale all the more memorable. Expect Kemp to make a big splash.”

coverMarrow and Bone by Walter Kempowski

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Marrow and Bone: “Kempowski (All For Nothing) offers an astute and ever-surprising comedy of the cultural divide between East and West in 1988. At 43, war orphan Jonathan Fabrizius halfheartedly pursues a life of the mind in Hamburg, where he works as a sometime journalist. After Frau Winkelvoss, a representative of the Santubara car manufacturer, offers Jonathan an opportunity to document a trip across Poland for an upcoming rally, Jonathan readily accepts out of interest in his birthplace in former East Prussia. Jonathan takes ironic pride in a painful past (“As far as suffering was concerned, this guaranteed him an unparalleled advantage over his friends”) and adopts a wry attitude toward the way he’ll be perceived as a German abroad (‘When you’d started a world war, murdered Jews and taken people’s bicycles away (in Holland) the cards were stacked against you’). On the road in Poland with Winkelvoss and a famous race car driver at the wheel of the flashy V8, Jonathan plays the part of arrogant Western intellectual as their adventure turns picaresque, complete with a car jacking. As Jonathan tunes in to the wreckage of war, Kempowski’s unsparing, dagger-sharp prose leads Jonathan to face the loss of his parents and homeland. This hilarious, deeply affecting exploration of postwar dichotomies successfully channels the satire of Confederacy of Dunces and the somber reflectiveness of Austerlitz.”

coverWe Inherit What the Fires Left by William Evans

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about We Inherit What the Fires Left: “Evans (Still Can’t Do My Daughter’s Hair) poignantly addresses in this vulnerable collection his experience raising his daughter in the suburbs while reckoning with the memory of his own father and childhood. In three titled sections—’Grass Growing Wild Beneath Us,’ ‘Trespass,’ and ‘Aging Out of Someone Else’s Dream’—Evans recounts the mundane moments of pride and learning that come with fatherhood, as well as the larger systemic threats and legacies of violence that underlie his experience as a black American. In ‘Waves,’ his daughter asks a question about the ocean, which brings to mind the slaves forced to cross the Atlantic. The poem closes with acknowledging another threat: ‘On the ride home, after I have/ quieted the bark, an officer/ pulls us to the side of the road/ and asks me whose car I am driving/ my family home in.’ In ‘Pledge to Raising a Black Girl,’ he asks, ‘How do you know what you have a taste for// if you’ve been told never to show your teeth?… The elders want us to raise// girls with a song in their heart, but we only respect/ the classics if they respected us, which is why// if you ask me how I’m doing, I say still breathing.’ These poems offer sensitive portraits of race and fatherhood and richly explore the past while providing hope for the future.”

coverThe Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Glass Hotel: “Mandel’s wonderful novel (after Station Eleven) follows a brother and sister as they navigate heartache, loneliness, wealth, corruption, drugs, ghosts, and guilt. Settings include British Columbia’s coastal wilderness, New York City’s fashionable neighborhoods and corporate headquarters, a container ship in international waters, and a South Carolina prison. In 1994, 18-year-old drug-using dropout Paul Smith visits his 13-year-old half-sister, Vincent, in Vancouver. Vincent has just lost her mother and acquired her first video camera. Five years later, in the wilderness north of Vancouver, Vincent tends bar at a luxury hotel where Paul works as the night houseman. Paul leaves after writing on a window in acid marker a message even he doesn’t understand. Vincent relocates to the East Coast and what Mandel calls the kingdom of money to play trophy wife for investor Jonathan Alkaitis. When Jonathan’s Ponzi scheme collapses, he goes to prison, where his victims’ ghosts visit him. Finished with Jonathan and the affluent lifestyle and ignored by her best friend, Vincent takes a job as assistant cook on a container ship. Paul, meanwhile, has set Vincent’s old videos to music. The videos have helped Paul, despite a lifelong drug problem, tap into his creative gifts. Using flashbacks, flash-forwards, alternating points-of-view, and alternate realities, Mandel shows the siblings moving in and out of each other’s lives, different worlds, and versions of themselves, sometimes closer, sometimes further apart, like a double helix, never quite linking. This ingenious, enthralling novel probes the tenuous yet unbreakable bonds between people and the lasting effects of momentary carelessness.”

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

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