Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Khakpour, Sittenfeld, Zambreno, and More

May 19, 2020 | 7 books mentioned 4 min read

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Porochista Khakpour, Curtis Sittenfeld, Kate Zambreno, Stephanie Danler, and more—that are publishing this week.

Brown Album by Porochista Khakpour

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Brown Album: “In this wonderful essay collection, novelist Khakpour (The Last Illusion) passionately and wittily explores the writing life and the Iranian-American experience. Not surprisingly, political concerns abound; Khakpour recalls, early in the Trump presidency, hearing of deportations in her majority-Muslim apartment building and encountering rumors that naturalized citizens such as herself—her family left Iran soon after the revolution—would be targeted. She threads memoir throughout, touching on her family life and on her years as ‘he only Iranian not only in my grade but in the whole elementary school, middle school, and high school.’ In recounting the writing of her first novel, Sons and Other Flammable Objects, Khakpour offers a revealing set of reflections on the travails and joys of being a writer, as she finishes the manuscript and submits it to the publisher, hits assorted prepublication snags, and embarks on the reading and book festival circuit. She also shares the pitfalls of being known as an Iranian-American writer, or, due to her novel’s themes, a ‘9/11 author.’ Lovers of the essay and those interested in immigrant literature will be particularly delighted, but any reader can enjoy Khakpour’s passionate and enlightening work.”

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Rodham: “In this entertaining political fantasy, Sittenfeld (Eligible) imagines Hillary Clinton’s personal and professional life if she and Bill had gone their separate ways instead of marrying. The novel begins with an intimate perspective on historical events: At Wellesley’s 1969 graduation, Hillary feels the exhilaration of speaking her mind in public. Two years later, she meets Bill at Yale Law School. He is handsome, larger than life, proud of his Arkansas roots. She is ambitious, smart, hardworking, and opinionated. They fall in love and discuss marriage, but break up because of Bill’s philandering. Bill runs for president in 1992 but drops out of the race. Hillary, meanwhile, is a year into her first term as senator from Illinois. When she runs for president, in 2016, Bill is one of three primary challengers. Scenes with cameos from Donald Trump prove livelier than familiar elements like Hillary’s chocolate chip cookies, which she brings to a Yale potluck. Still, Sittenfeld movingly captures Hillary’s awareness of her transformation into a complicated public figure (‘The feeling was in the collapse, the simultaneity, of how I seemed to others and who I really was’) Readers won’t have to be feminists (though it would help) to relish Sittenfeld’s often funny, mostly sympathetic, and always sharp what-if.”

Drifts by Kate Zambreno

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Drifts: “Zambreno’s immersive, exciting experiment in autofiction (after Book of Mutter) features a writer setting out to write a book called Drifts. The narrator, beholden to a contract, describes herself ‘filled with an incandescence toward the possibility of a book.’ She meditates on the life of Rilke, reads Wittgenstein, and, in photo-studded accounts of walks around New York, patterns her work after those of Robert Walser and W.G. Sebald. But mostly, the narrator describes her time spent not writing: she cares for her dog, Genet; makes notes while on walks; emails her friends; and procrastinates by surfing the internet. Thus, Zambreno offers an enticing chronicle of how a book might actually be written—dramatizing how a writer’s work affects her life, and vice versa—filled with small moments of magic (‘Today, after writing about my lost raccoon cat, I spy her’). After the narrator discovers she is pregnant, she turns toward developing a portrait of a writer contending with her own body. Zambreno succeeds at capturing her narrator’s experience of time and the unavoidable transformations it brings. The result is a captivating deconstruction of the writer’s process that will reward readers in search for meaning.”

Stray by Stephanie Danler

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Stray: “Novelist Danler (Sweetbitter) returns to her hometown of Los Angeles and comes to a reckoning in this forceful, eviscerating memoir. Her three-part narrative—Mother, Father, Monster—creates a domino effect of abandonment and humiliation as those she loves topple her. ‘People often act against common sense when they’ve fallen in love with a fantasy,’ she writes, describing both the tumbledown Laurel Canyon cottage she rents with the advance on her first novel and her disillusionment with her parents and the married lover she calls the Monster. Danler, writing in precise, elegant prose, outlines her family’s disintegration: her father left his wife, Danler, and her sister as young girls; her mother worked and raised the children as she slid into alcoholism and began to physically abuse her daughters. Sent to live with her disinterested father in Colorado, Danler quickly realized ‘he couldn’t love anyone’ yet ‘was charmed by his cruelty.’ Self-destructive relationships followed, including the unavailable Monster, ‘a colonizer… who declares ownership without concrete investment in the country.’ As the publication date of her debut novel drew near, a friend’s comment—’You fought so hard for this life and now you won’t let yourself have it’—propelled her to sever connections with all three and instead establish ‘tiny building blocks of trust’ in loving, enduring relationships. The result is a penetrating and unforgettable tale of family dysfunction.”

Here We Are by Benjamin Taylor

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Here We Are: “Taylor (The Hue and Cry at Our House) begins his loving ‘partial portrait’ of his best friend and ‘chosen parent,’ author Philip Roth, in 2018, when the ailing literary lion, nearing death, comforts Taylor: ‘I have been to see the great enemy, and walked around him, and talked to him, and he is not to be feared. I promise.’ He meditates on Roth’s virtues and vulnerabilities: he had ‘insatiable emotional appetites… he seethed with loathing or desire,’ Taylor writes. He was passionate about his beloved hometown of Newark, N.J., which he ‘endlessly rediscovered through [his] alchemical imagination.’ One of Roth’s more curious vulnerabilities, Taylor notes, was that, though hailed as a great sexual libertine of 20th-century literature, Roth was plagued by fears of disapproval ‘as acutely as any itch in the loins.’ His irritants included bitterness about not winning a Nobel Prize, and disliking George Plimpton’s ‘supreme self-assurance.’ Taylor weaves many of the pair’s lighter moments throughout, including their ritual Sunday night Chinese dinners and their spirited movie nights (Taylor preferred Hollywood classics; Roth was a Kirosawa and Fellini fan). ‘I’m not who I’d have been without him,’ he concludes. This tender-hearted and eloquent paean to long-term friendships will hold special appeal among Roth fans.”

Also on shelves: Things You Would Know if You Grew Up Around Here by Nancy Wayson Dinan.

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

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