Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Lacey, Johnson, Dickey, and More

July 21, 2020 | 9 books mentioned 5 min read

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Catherine Lacey, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Colin Dickey, and more—that are publishing this week.

Pew by Catherine Lacey

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Pew: “Lacey (Certain American States) sets an ambitious, powerful fable of identity and belief in the contemporary American South. An unnamed person with no sense of gender or race (‘Anything I remember being told about my body contradicts something else I’ve been told. I look at my skin and cannot say what shade it is’) is found sleeping in a church pew by Steven, Hilda, and their three boys. The family decide to house the mute stranger, whom they name Pew. The action, which takes place over one week, mostly consists of Pew’s interactions with the town’s residents, who offer one-sided monologues to Pew about their Christian beliefs and believe Pew is their ‘new jesus.’ Pew’s indeterminate features and the townspeople’s habit of projecting onto Pew lead them to see what they want to see, and here Lacey showcases a keen ear for the lilting, sometimes bombastic music of human speech that reveals more than her speakers intend. Pew, meanwhile, bonds with Nelson, a teenage refugee from a war-torn country whose intelligence his caretakers underestimate. Lacey’s incisive look at the townspeople’s narrow understanding draws a stark contrast with Pew’s mute wishes, imagining a life in which ‘our bodies wouldn’t determine our lives, or the lives of others.’ The action builds toward a mysterious Forgiveness Festival and a memorable climax with disturbing echoes of Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’ unveiled in a harrowing crescendo of call and response. Lacey’s talent shines in this masterful work, her best yet.”

coverTrouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Trouble the Saints: “This sumptuous fantasy from Johnson (Love is the Drug) splits focus between three uncannily gifted characters as they struggle against their fates and the pervasive racism of America on the cusp of WWII. Phyllis LeBlank is mixed-race but passes for white to mingle with New York City’s mobsters, using her supernatural knife throwing skills to kill people her boss assures her are worthy of death. But when Phyllis reunites with her ex-boyfriend, half-Indian police informant Dev Patil, she questions her line of work. Dev, who can foretell threats against anyone he touches, and Phyllis flee the mob to Dev’s childhood home upstate. There, the couple become enmeshed in the disagreement between a white family and an erratic young black man with powers of his own. As racial tensions explode into violence, Phyllis discovers she’s pregnant and Dev gets drafted into war. Phyllis’s best friend, clairvoyant Tamara, helps Phyllis through her difficult pregnancy with a fetus capable of sending visions of the future. But Tamara’s own visions lead her to a challenging choice. With a sweeping but overstuffed plot, dynamic characters, and style to spare, this alternate history demands the reader’s full attention. Fans of challenging, diverse fantasy will enjoy this literary firecracker.”

coverThe Lives of Edie Pritchard by Larry Watson

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Lives of Edie Pritchard: “Set mostly in eastern Montana, Watson’s vibrant character study (after As Good as Gone) reads like a trio of scintillating novellas, each set 20 years apart. In the late 1960s, young bank teller Edie Linderman is married to Dean, a domineering sporting goods clerk. Their wobbly marriage is beset with maybes and ifs. Maybe she should have married Dean’s more ambitious twin brother, Roy, a flirtatious furniture salesman. If she hadn’t gone with Roy to buy a pick-up, maybe he wouldn’t have had the crippling accident, the murky circumstances of which ignited Dean’s jealousy, and maybe she wouldn’t have left town with a one-way bus ticket west and married smarmy insurance agent Gary Dunn, as she does in the second part of the novel, set in 1987. Edie and Dean have a daughter who, by 18, wearies of her dull life. Edie leaves Gary, hoping to develop a better relationship with her rebellious teenager. In 2007, now 64, Edie relies on her life experiences to rescue her self-absorbed adolescent granddaughter who becomes embroiled with yet another set of battling brothers. Like in the best works of Richard Ford and Elizabeth Strout, Watson shows off a keen eye for regional details, a pitch-perfect ear for dialogue, and an affinity for sharp characterization. This triptych is richly rewarding.”

coverGrove by Esther Kinsky (translated by Caroline Schmidt)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Grove: “German writer and translator Kinsky (River) offers an exquisite and elusive diaristic work comprised of entries analogous to a researcher’s field notes. Kinsky follows an unnamed narrator who has sought refuge in Northern Italy after the death of her husband, M. The narrator’s references to M. are scant, and come to her in flashes of grief-laden memory. She heals by grounding herself in the present, detailing her excursions through Italian villages. Her observations of the landscapes are vivid and historicized (after seeing a Mussolini poster in a shop, she is unnerved by distant blasts from a construction site, which no one but her and the birds seems to notice), but the narrator’s descriptions of people, in particular a portrait of the narrator’s late Italophile father, are the most moving. By revisiting memories of her father, a jovial and troubling figure, the narrator is able to prepare herself for the more difficult acceptance of M.’s death. To call this a plotless novel would be a misunderstanding: Kinsky is a photographer’s novelist; her prose unravels like a roll of film as visual meditation. The true beauty of this work emerges with patience and contemplation.”

coverRiding with the Ghost by Justin Taylor

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Riding with the Ghost: “A writer grapples with the legacy of his father’s depression and his own shadow self in this lucid memoir of connection, family, and loss. Taylor (The Gospel of Anarchy) kicks off with a riveting account of his father Larry’s attempted suicide in 2013 at a parking garage, which reverberates with pity, helplessness, and sarcasm (‘he was pretty sure [the parking garage roof] was tall enough to do the job’). From there, Taylor shifts to the story of his family in southern Florida, where his parents’ ‘working-class romance’ turned problematic as the intensely intelligent Larry’s career prospects narrowed due to his belligerence and a ‘massive, killing pride.’ Describing his own halting passage from being a squatter punk to an inconsistently employed but generally content writer, professor, and husband, Taylor finds more empathy for Larry’s depression as he sees its longer arc and parallels to his own life. Though the subject matter is weighty and knotty, Taylor’s approach is light; he has a knack for unobtrusive description (referring to staying at a chain hotel as being ‘like falling asleep inside a piece of clip art’) and sudden flashes of cutting insight (‘How do you save a drowning man who doesn’t want a life preserver?’). This is an astute and balanced memoir that finds grace in appreciating another’s pain.”

coverThe Unidentified by Colin Dickey

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Unidentified: “Dickey (Ghostland), a National University creative writing professor, leads readers on a fascinating expedition through fringe belief and theory. Conducting extensive research into cryptozoology, UFOlogy, and other pseudoscientific fields, he investigates myths throughout the U.S., from Northern California’s Mount Shasta, inside which the possibly extraterrestrial Lemurians are said to dwell, to the ‘southern New Jersey creature of note,’ the Jersey Devil, a fusion between Lenape myth and Puritan folklore reborn in the early 20th century as a ‘money-making hoax’ when a kangaroo was passed off to paying crowds as the captured Devil. Dickey posits various ideas about why unproven and outlandish stories exert such a hold on the imagination: conspiracy theories upset the divide between science and religion, while the concept of humanlike animals such as the Bigfoot ‘trouble[s] the line between human and nonhuman’ and ‘interrupts the categories we make to make sense of the world.’ With a wry tone and incisive analysis, Dickey explores how these stories have developed alongside the country through scientific innovations, evolving frontiers, changing ideas about race, and more. Readers will find this to be a thought-provoking and deliciously unsettling guide into the stranger corners of American culture.”

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

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