Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Alvarez, Zhang, Scanlan, Lepucki, and More

April 7, 2020 | 2 books mentioned 4 min read

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Julia Alvarez, C Pam Zhang, Kathryn Scanlan, our own Edan Lepucki, and more—that are publishing this week.

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coverAfterlife by Julia Alvarez

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Afterlife: “Alvarez’s poignant return to adult fiction (after the young adult Tia Lola series) raises powerful questions about the care people owe themselves and others. Antonia Vega is reeling from the sudden death of her husband, Sam, who suffered an aneurysm on the day they’d planned to celebrate her retirement. As an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, Antonia is determined to embrace American values of self-preservation and independence, and she keeps a running dialogue in her head with Sam about the U.S. and D.R.’s conflicting values (‘We live in America, she reminds the disapproving Sam in her head, where you put your oxygen mask on first’). This outlook is challenged after she finds an undocumented and pregnant teenage girl from Mexico hiding in her garage, and when Antonia’s charismatic but unstable older sister Izzy disappears. As Antonia weighs the needs of others and her own, memories of Sam’s magnanimity and generosity of spirit guide her, along with sentiments from authors such as Tolstoy (‘What is the right thing to do?’) and Rilke (‘You must change your life’). Alvarez blends light humor with deep empathy toward her characters, offering a convincing portrait of an older woman’s self discovery. This will satisfy her fans and earn new ones.”

coverHow Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about How Much of These Hills Is Gold: “Zhang’s extraordinary debut, a beautifully rendered family saga, centers on a pair of siblings, Lucy, 12, and Sam, 11, who are left orphaned in the wake of the American gold rush. When their father—a former prospector and coal miner whom they call Ba—dies after a short, hard life of toil and drink, Lucy and Sam want to bury him properly, according to Chinese burial traditions. This means two silver dollars to cover his eyes, but it’s two silver dollars the two don’t have. Clever Lucy attempts to appeal to the townspeople’s sympathy, but it’s hotheaded Sam, armed with their father’s pistol, who understands that it takes force to make things happen. With their father’s decomposing body, the pistol, and a stolen horse, Lucy and Sam disappear into the hills. As they search for a burial site and look forward to a future for themselves, Lucy and Sam reckon with how gold, ambition, and desire shaped the lives of both their Ba and their beautiful, beloved, and long-departed Ma, whose womanhood never dampened her hunger and ambition, and how that greed has been passed down to them. Gorgeously written and fearlessly imagined, Zhang’s awe-inspiring novel introduces two indelible characters whose odyssey is as good as the gold they seek.”

coverStarling Days by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Starling Days: “Buchanan (Harmless Like You) traces the strain of depression on a marriage in this bleak and eloquent novel. Six months after 32-year-old classicist Mina Umeda marries her boyfriend of 10 years, she walks pensively across the George Washington Bridge amid a depressive episode. Confronted by the police, she’s unable to convince them she was just clearing her head. Oscar, her Japanese-British husband, picks her up and suggests they go to London to distract her from her depression. There, she ruminates on an unfinished project about Greco-Roman myths titled The Women Who Survived. When Mina’s decision to go off her antidepressants and birth control exacerbates her illness, Oscar grows casually cruel in his frustration (‘Nobody gets the life they thought they would’). He returns to New York City while Mina embarks on an affair with Phoebe, the sister of Oscar’s best friend. After Mina’s frantic fixation on Phoebe begins to push her away, Oscar returns to London and the married couple struggles forward. Buchanan sharply observes the confusing sensations of depression (‘Sometimes I want to die and sometimes I want to buy a box of tomatoes and stand by the fridge eating them out of a paper carton’). Readers willing to brave the darkness will find a worthy, nuanced portrait of a woman’s struggle for self-determination amid mental illness.”

coverThe Dominant Animal by Kathryn Scanlan

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Dominant Animal: “As with Aug 9—Fog, her adaptation of a real woman’s diary, Scanlan craftily makes the stuff of everyday life seem strange and rare in this collection. There are 40 very short stories, often only long enough to lay out a situation before it’s sneakily turned on its head. In ‘Florida Is for Lovers,’ a daughter goes through the objects left behind by her recently deceased parents, who were indifferent to her when living. A couple’s stay in a foreign city is interrupted by their digestive troubles in ‘Please.’ ‘Colonial Revival’ tracks a man’s expanding fortunes after he comes home from a war before, over time, the fortunes shrink back, the dwindling crystallized in a final image of a pile of unwanted furniture. ‘Master Framer’ follows a man who lies about his abilities for his advantage. Scanlan has a knack for subtly bending the ordinary into the uncanny, as when a narrator witnessing two boys chase each other around their yard with scissors wonders if it’s a dream, or letting the gently irregular seep into the everyday, as when a woman creeps into her basement with a knife to eat some of ‘a large, costly wedge of aged cheese’ while her ravenous partner is distracted upstairs. Reading Scanlan is akin to looking at two ‘spot the difference’ images, but not knowing what, exactly, is off. This is a delightful, mischievous, and mysterious collection that’s perfect for fans of Lydia Davis and Mary Ruefle.”

coverObit by Victoria Chang

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Obit: “The exceptional fifth book from Chang (Barbie Chang) does not open with death, at least not in the way its title might suggest. It opens instead with a father’s stroke and the assertion that grief ‘is really about future absence.’ The collection explores the newspaper obituary through prose blocks whose language moves between shuddering realism and more lyrical elaborations. One poem recalls: ‘After my father’s stroke, my mother no longer spoke in full sentences… Maybe this is what happens when language fails, a last breath inward but no breath outward. A state of holding one’s breath forever but not dying.’ The sparser tankas about children and the future offer some of the book’s most exquisite and painful moments: ‘My children, children,/ today my hands are dreaming/ as they touch your hair./ Your hair turns into winter./ When I die, your hair will snow.’ Chang’s poems expand and contract to create surprising geometries of language, vividly capturing the grief they explore.”

Also on shelves: Five Little Indians by Michelle Good and Mothers Before​ by our own ​Edan Lepucki, ed.

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

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