Tuesday New Release Day: Starring O’Connell, Gould, Doty, Hershon, Jiles, and More

April 14, 2020 | 2 books mentioned 4 min read

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of our own Mark O’Connell, Emily GouldMark DotyJoanna Hershon, Paulette Jiles, and more—that are publishing this week.

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coverNotes from an Apocalypse by Mark O’Connell

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Notes from an Apocalypse: “The end of the world portends right-wing vigilantism and left-wing nihilism, according to this bleakly comic tour of doomsday ideologies. Consumed by fears of climate change and beset by self-criticism—’my [ecological] footprint is as broad and deep and indelible as my guilt’—journalist O’Connell (To Be a Machine) surveys several strands of apocalyptic foreboding. He treats the reactionary, survivalist varieties—including American doomsday preppers stockpiling food and ammo in anticipation of urban rioters, a real-estate developer peddling bunkers on a former South Dakota military base, and Mars-colonization enthusiasts who fondly invoke white settlers’ colonization of the U.S.—as pathological expressions of social paranoia, toxic patriarchy, and outright ‘fascism,’ and makes clear that his sympathies lie more with progressive doomsayers. On a camping trip with deep ecology pessimists who refute the ‘myth’ that humans are ‘fundamentally distinct’ from nature and welcome the climate change–induced collapse of civilization, O’Connell communes with grass and sky and finds talk of human extinction ‘strangely cheerful.’ Readers who agree that the U.S. is ‘a rapidly metastasizing tumor of inequality, hyper-militarism, racism, surveillance, and… terminal-stage capitalism’ will be equally terrified and bemused by O’Connell’s musings, while those who are less credulous about narratives of ecological apocalypse will find much to dispute. The result is a wryly humorous if somewhat overwrought rumination that’s more a symptom than a diagnosis of Western civilization’s apocalyptic discontents.”

coverPerfect Tunes by Emily Gould

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Perfect Tunes: “Gould’s sharply observant novel (after Friendship) follows an aspiring singer-songwriter on the fringes of New York City’s rock music scene. In the early 2000s, 22-year-old Laura moves from Columbus, Ohio, into her high school friend Callie’s East Village apartment, too late to catch the neighborhood’s ‘mythic version of itself that existed in her mind.’ While working as a greeter at a slick lounge, she dreams of a music career and begins dating and doing drugs with Dylan, singer and guitarist for an up-and-coming band. After Dylan dies in a drug-related accidental drowning, Callie and Laura are invited to replace Dylan in the band, but Laura, pregnant with Dylan’s child, opts not to. Callie joins, and later, single mom Laura moves to Brooklyn, teaches music classes, and settles down with a divorced father. By 2016, Laura’s baby has grown into a rebellious teenager and Laura continues to waver between making ends meet and pursuing her dream. While Gould falters when depicting emotional connections, she offers vivid glimpses of N.Y.C.’s recent past and impresses with striking language: a hangover makes Laura’s head ‘feel like a black banana,’ and her baby is a ‘bomb’ that requires ‘steady-handed defusing.’ Gould’s portrait of a would-be artist as a young woman offers fresh, poignant insights into the challenges faced by the city’s transplanted dreamers.”

coverSt. Ivo by Joanna Hershon

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about St. Ivo: “Hershon’s somber, murky fifth novel (after The Dual Inheritance) gradually reveals the unhappy secrets between floundering filmmaker Sarah and her adult daughter, Leda. Sarah, who hasn’t made a film for years, has recently, and uncertainly, reunited with her husband, Matthew, after a two-year separation. The novel follows the couple over the course of a weekend spent in upstate New York with their friends and fellow artists Kiki and Arman, who have just had a baby. Hershon slowly drags in clues to the source of Sarah’s suffering, and the circumstances surrounding her and Matthew’s estrangement from Leda, which Sarah tries to work through in a screenplay despite Matthew’s objections. Heading into the weekend, Sarah behaves in increasingly risky ways and gives her name and phone number to a ‘grandfatherly’ Czech man she meets on the subway. Upstate, she tempts danger in a swimsuit-clad encounter with Kiki and Arman’s gruff neighbor in the woods, stimulated by the sense that the man could overpower her after he touches the fringe of her suit. While Leda’s story of heroin addiction and betrayal is rather predictable, Sarah’s opaque emotional backdrop receives welcome bursts of illumination with brief, dialogue-driven cinematic scenes. Hershon explores with moving simplicity the complexities friendships and a marriage that has frayed but not yet died.”

coverSimon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Simon the Fiddler: “Jiles’s gritty and richly atmospheric seventh novel returns to the post–Civil War Texas she explored in News of the World. In the last year of the war, 23-year-old Simon Boudlin, an orphan musician from Kentucky who has avoided a stint in the Confederate Army, is rounded up by a couple of conscription men. After the war concludes, his body and fiddle still relatively intact, Simon and some friends are commissioned to play for a formal dinner for Confederate and Union officers at Fort Brown, Tex. There he is dazzled by Doris Dillon, the Irish governess for Colonel Webb of the Union Army, and determines that he will somehow buy some land and make her his bride. Simon and Doris trade letters over the next couple of years as he and his friends become ‘creatures of gaslight and shadows,’ traveling around coastal Texas for stray saloon gigs, and Doris works off her indentured servitude for the Webbs in San Antonio and fends off unwelcome advances from the colonel. When Simon finally makes his way to Doris, trouble ensues. Jiles immerses the reader in the sensory details of the era, with special emphasis on the demands and rewards of a ragtag Texas fiddle band. Jiles’s limber tale satisfies with welcome splashes of comedy and romance.”

coverWhat You Become in Flight by Ellen O’Connell Whittet

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about What You Become in Flight: “In this somber debut memoir, former ballet dancer Whittet reflects on her days as a young ballerina in California, the spinal injury that snuffed out her career prospects at 19, and her new life as a writer. Ballet had consumed Whittet from childhood: ‘As soon as I was walking I was dancing,’ she writes. The book’s first half details her rigorous classical dance training; the pain she routinely battled from sprains and tears; the psychological toll of being in the spotlight (she contended with anorexia); and the trauma that came after her dance partner dropped her during a rehearsal, an accident that resulted in a fractured spine. The book’s second half—about the author trying to find a new calling after injury and rehab—is less gripping. Whittet discusses going to graduate school for writing, seeing a therapist to help her get over a fear of snakes, and falling in love with her husband. Those looking for a memoir about ballet may feel short changed, as much of this book is not about dancing but rejecting the role of a ‘quiet, acquiescent ballerina’ who claims a ‘new voice’ as a writer. While Whittet’s memoir doesn’t fully satisfy, it certainly entices.”

Also on shelves: Five Little Indians by Michelle Good and What Is Grass by Mark Doty.

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

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