Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Solnit, Nguyen, Russell, South, Mantel, and More

March 10, 2020 | 7 min read

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Rebecca Solnit, Kevin Nguyen, Kate Elizabeth Russell, Mary South, Hilary Mantel, and more—that are publishing this week.

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Recollections of My Nonexistence by Rebecca Solnit

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Recollections of My Nonexistence: “Author and activist Solnit (Whose Story Is This?) writes in this enlightening, nonlinear memoir of her life as a poor young woman in 1980s San Francisco and her development as a writer and feminist thinker. As a teen, Solnit fled a volatile home life to forge her path. She rented an apartment in a black neighborhood (‘I was the first white person to live in the building in seventeen years’) and acquired a writing desk from a friend who was nearly murdered by an ex (‘Someone tried to silence her. Then she gave me a platform for my voice’). While in graduate school, she worked at a museum—which informed the writing of her first book, Secret Exhibition—and struggled to be heard in a world that favored male writers. In fluid, vivid prose, she recalls the terror she experienced while walking the streets alone, not knowing if she’d be attacked or raped, and considers how negative representations of women in art affect creative output (‘How do you make art when the art that’s all around you keeps telling you to shut up and wash the dishes?’). Along the way, she highlights her publishing achievements, including the viral essay ‘Men Explain Things to Me,’ which inspired the term mansplaining. This is a thinking person’s book about writing, female identity, and freedom by a powerful and motivating voice for change.”

New Waves by Kevin Nguyen

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about New Waves: “Nguyen’s stellar debut is a piercing assessment of young adulthood, the tech industry, and racism. Margo, a 20-something black engineer, and Lucas, a 23-year-old Asian customer service rep, bond over the ingrained racism at their tech startup employer, a messaging app called Nimbus, in New York in 2009. When Margo’s strong opinions lead to her dismissal, she drunkenly convinces Lucas to help her steal the usernames and passwords of Nimbus’s users. Margo soon regrets this, but nevertheless apparently leverages the data to land her and Lucas jobs at Phantom, a rival startup with an app that immediately deletes read text messages. Margo dies in a car accident, and Lucas is distraught and afraid, wondering if the accident was really an accident or something more sinister. He steals Margo’s laptop and decides to contact Jill, a struggling writer whose work Margo spent hours providing feedback on. He and Jill stumble into a relationship while Phantom’s popularity among teenagers pushes Lucas into a new role implementing a monitoring process contrary to the lofty ambition of the founders. Lucas’s scramble to meet the growing intensity of his professional and personal lives, as well as his jealous conviction he knew Margo best, leads to a series of missteps with rippling consequences. Nguyen impressively holds together his overlapping plot threads while providing incisive criticism of privilege and a dose of sharp humor. The story is fast-paced and fascinating, but also deeply felt; the effect is a page-turner with some serious bite.”

So We Can Glow by Leesa Cross-Smith

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about So We Can Glow: “Cross-Smith’s rich collection (after Whiskey & Ribbons) follows women exploring desire, desperation, and despair. The brief opener, ‘We, Moons,’ an explosion of slam cadence (‘We’re okay, our hearts, dusted with pink’), serves as a battle hymn of self-determination and sisterhood that thematically unites the subsequent narratives. ‘Teenage Dream Time Machine’ unfolds as a texting conversation between two mothers worried about their young, wild daughters and remembering their own impetuous youth. In ‘Pink Bubblegum and Flowers,’ a young woman crushes on one of the men rebuilding the deck on her parents’ house and navigates a tense scene of toxic masculinity. In ‘California, Keep Us,’ a Kentucky couple, mourning the loss of their baby, retreats once a month for a weekend in California to assume different identities with one another and resolve not to ‘talk about death.’ The delightfully idiosyncratic prose (‘She felt guilty about lusting over Clint. It was lazy, like cold French fries’) distinguishes each of the narrator’s points of view within common themes of love, friendship, sex, and loyalty. These stories showcase the wide range of Cross-Smith’s talent.”

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about My Dark Vanessa: “Russell offers readers an introspective narrative that fully captures the complexity and necessity of the #MeToo movement in her powerful debut. In the year 2000, Vanessa Wye is a lonely sophomore at Maine’s Browick boarding school. The academically gifted 15-year-old professes not to mind her solitude, especially when her 42-year-old English teacher, Jacob Strane, begins to pay attention to her, remarking on her red hair and fashion sense, and lending her some of his favorite books—including Nabokov’s Lolita. Almost before Vanessa realizes what’s happening, the two have embarked on a sexual relationship, and Vanessa is convinced she’s been singled out as someone truly special—until, under threat of exposure, their relationship begins to go off the rails. Seventeen years later, Vanessa is still occasionally in contact with Jacob, but their relationship has grown tense, as another former student has gone public about his inappropriate advances. Russell’s novel, alternating between past and present, presents a damning indictment of sexual predation, as she starkly elucidates the ways in which abuse robbed Vanessa not only of her childhood but also of her own once-promising future. It also prompts readers to interrogate their own assumptions about victimhood, consent, and agency. This is a frighteningly sharp debut.”

The Gringa by Andrew Altschul

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Gringa: “Altschul’s rousing and complex third novel (after Deus Ex Machina) follows an impassioned American who spends years in prison in Peru for her involvement with a group of revolutionaries. Inspired by the true story of late-20-century activist Lori Berenson, Altschul recasts Berenson as Leonora ‘Leo’ Gelb, a Stanford student sick of capitalist America who travels to Lima in the 1990s to fight injustice. After witnessing the bulldozing of a shantytown by government forces and the arrests of protesters whom she later realizes have been forcibly disappeared, Leo falls in with the Cuarta Filosofía, Marxist insurgents for whom she leases a house that serves as the group’s headquarters. In 2008, 10 years after Leo’s imprisonment, her story is told by an ex-pat novelist named Andres, who’s been tasked with writing a profile of the ‘Gringa Terrorist’ for a news website. As Andres chronicles Leo’s emotional trajectory into violent collaboration, imagining her angst and self-doubt, he begins to second-guess his efforts and confesses he’s made some things up. Blending historical details with literary allusions, Altschul successfully creates a postmodern, Cervantes-like labyrinth (‘Everything is narrative,’ one of Leo’s professors declares. ‘Thus, history is impossible’). Amid the clever games, Altschul’s stirring portrait of the strident yet earnest Leo poses a salient question about the value of personal sacrifice.”

First, Catch by Thom Eagle

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about First, Catch: “In this gorgeously written debut, London chef Eagle reflects on the foods, customs, and histories that come into play in selecting and serving a multi-dish lunch. Twenty-four essays guide readers in meal preparation while offering curious tidbits, cultural insights, and moral arguments on food (he disdains modern poultry farming). Eagle challenges the notion of recipes as ‘scientific sets of instructions,’ instead proposing ‘they are more like short stories… told in a curious imperative.’ While the chapter titles sound instructive—’On curing with salt,’ ‘On almost frying’—he educates while contemplating such topics as Italy’s tolerance for bitter flavors, as well as meringues made out of sugar and blood (a little-known thickening agent) whipped ‘into a pinkly clouded mass.’ He explains how brining ‘alters the structure of muscle cells’ so they retain moisture, but he also waxes rhapsodically while preparing soup stock: ‘It is easy to believe that bones, lying as they do in the depths of ourselves, are the repository of the soul, or at least of special, vitally animal instincts: we know things, as they say, in our bones.’ The recipes themselves are rewarding, including one featuring a wild-caught rabbit (which Eagle suggests one first blanch to get rid of the ‘grass excrement, of musk’) that becomes the centerpiece of a ragù. This wonderfully indulgent, pleasurable compilation of culinary meditations will thrill food lovers.”

You Will Never Be Forgotten by Mary South

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about You Will Never Be Forgotten: “South debuts with a playful, astute collection about modern alienation. In ‘Keith Prime,’ a nurse devastated by her husband’s death works at a ‘Keith Fulfillment Center,’ where she goes against regulations by becoming attached to one of the Keiths, clones born and put into perpetual sleep before being harvested for body parts, ‘scooped out like ice cream from a bucket.’ In ‘The Age of Love,’ elderly men at an assisted living center begin calling phone sex lines, affecting the lives of the staff, including complicating the relationship between the narrator, who works at the center, and his girlfriend. ‘Frequently Asked Questions About Your Craniotomy’ takes the form of a q&a in which a neurosurgeon’s unsettled personal life bleeds into her answers. In the title story, a woman who works at ‘the world’s most popular search engine’ killing offensive and violent content begins to follow—first online, then in the real world—a man who raped her. In ‘Not Setsuko,’ a woman raises her second daughter as an exact replica of her first child, who died at nine years old, down to killing the family’s cat on the day the first daughter lost her cat (‘She loved the cat the second time as much as the first’). South’s stories are both funny and profound, often on the same page, but perhaps her best skill is plumbing the intricacies of loneliness, expertly dissecting what that term means in a technology-driven world. This is an electric jolt from a very talented writer.”

In the Lateness of the World by Carolyn Forché

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about In the Lateness of the World: “In her first collection in 17 years, Forché (Blue Hour) powerfully weaves poems of witness, a travelogue steeped in elegiac contemplation of life in Finland, Italy, Russia, and, most affectingly, Vietnam. These 41 poems vibrantly catalogue human artifacts and those of the natural world. In ‘Hue: From a Notebook,’ she writes: ‘There was then the whir of stork wings, and bicycle chains ringing./ It is still now the way the air is still just before the mine explodes.// Once we fired at each other. Now we pass silence back and forth.’ Throughout, the speakers are meditative but unflinching in the face of war’s aftermath and ecological crisis: ‘From here a dog finds his way through snow with a human bone… Even the clocks have run out of time.’ ‘Museum of Stones’ displays a delightedly crackling verbal texture reminiscent of poems by Seamus Heaney (‘stone of cromlech and cairn, schist and shale, hornblende,/ agate, marble, millstones, ruins of choirs and shipyards’). Such weights anchor Forche’s genuinely moving consideration of ‘ours and the souls of others, who glimmer beside us/ for an instant… radiant with significance,’ communicating an urgent and affecting vision.”

Also on shelves:The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel.

Bonus Links from Our Archive:
Telling Stories Keeps Us Alive: Rebecca Solnit’s ‘The Faraway Nearby’
Writers to Watch: Spring 2020
A Year in Reading: Kevin Nguyen
Character Assassin: An Interview with Hilary Mantel

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

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