Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Krauss, Cárdenas, and More

November 3, 2020 | 11 books mentioned 4 min read

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Nicole Krauss, Mauro Javier Cárdenas, and more—that are publishing this week.

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To Be a Man by Nicole Krauss 

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about To Be a Man: “This triumphant first collection from Krauss (Forest Dark) crisscrosses the globe in 10 ambitious stories written over two decades that wrestle with sexuality, desire, and human connection. In one of the greatest stories, ‘Seeing Ershadi,’ a dancer believes she spies the star of the Iranian film Taste of Cherry while in Japan for a performance, and believes she must save the actor from the suicide he commits in the film. After a friend tells her of her own unique encounter with the actor years earlier, the dancer faces the depth of her fanatic and obsessive state. Another highlight, ‘Future Emergencies,’ is set shortly after 9/11 and remains timely as its female protagonist navigates a New York City where gas masks are distributed for free and local governments warn of vague threats. ‘I Am Asleep but My Heart Is Awake,’ another standout, concerns a woman visiting her dead father’s apartment in Tel Aviv, only to find a stranger living in a back room, and the collection’s title story breaks a woman’s interactions with several men into four parts to ruminate on gender norms and expectations. Krauss’s style is marked by a willingness to digress into seemingly superfluous details, yet the minutiae helps the author conjure a series of realistic environments, allowing each story feel lived in. This is a spectacular book.”

Bring Me the Head of Quentin Tarantino by Julián Herbert (translated by Christina MacSweeney)

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Bring me the Head of Quentin Tarantino: “The playful, surreal collection from Mexican writer Herbert (Tomb Song) evokes a version of contemporary Mexico where pretentious critics and conceptual artists rub up against ultra-violent drug cartel leaders. In the title story, a cheerfully verbose film scholar and Tarantino fan is kidnapped by a drug lord who looks exactly like the director and wants Tarantino dead, but not before learning as much as he can about Tarantino from the narrator. Those who know how to manipulate words and ideas tend to come out on top, such as the ghostwriter in the wry and scatological ‘The Ballad of Mother Teresa of Calcutta’ who conceives a fiendish plan to punish the clients who neglect to pay him. Herbert ventures into fantasy in several of the stories, including the dark ‘Z,’ in which most of the population of Mexico City—apart from the narrator and a few others—is in one stage or another of turning into ‘nascent vegetal man-eaters in a perpetual and pestilential state of putrefaction.’ While not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, Herbert’s stories use a light touch to explore the dilemma of the intellectual enmeshed in a crudely vicious world. This provocatively cerebral volume should amuse those with a taste for literary horror.”

The Harpy by Megan Hunter

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Harpy: “An unquenchable thirst for revenge drives Lucy, a wife and mother, to the brink of madness in Hunter’s sleek, supernatural thriller (after The End We Start From). Things begin as Lucy makes a consensual razor cut on husband Jake’s thigh. The story then flashes back to a phone call from Lucy’s acquaintance David Holmes, who says Jake is having an affair with his wife, Vanessa, who works with Jake. Short italicized sections charting Lucy’s obsession with, and evolution into, the mythical half-bird harpy creature alternate with a tightly controlled chronological narrative. Jake tearfully declares he will end the affair, but he doesn’t, while Lucy grows passive, observing how their relationship has become ‘a series of non-communications’ and fights. A détente is reached by Lucy and Jake in a mutual desire to protect their sons, and eventually Jake reignites the couple’s sexual relationship. When David asks Lucy to persuade Jake to seek another job, she cuts David off abruptly, unable to share that she’s designed her own course of punishment for Jake. Shortly after, Lucy catches Jake in a lie, which propels the novel to its dark conclusion. Lucy’s narration is irresistible, though the harpy sections, which suggest Lucy is physically transforming, are underdeveloped by comparison. Hunter maintains suspense until the final act of her satisfactory tale.”

Collected Stories by Shirley Hazzard

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Collected Stories: “The early work of late Australian writer Hazzard (1931–2016), winner of the National Book Award for The Great Fire, makes for an outmoded collection, propelled by themes of mid-century bourgeois disillusionment—affairs, arguments, disappointing relationships, time spent at country houses, and trips to Europe. Despite the heavy emotional atmosphere, Hazzard’s prose has the restraint and polish of glossy magazine writing, offering crisp, easy descriptions of her desperate characters. Unfortunately, the stories never quite achieve the depth they seemingly aim for, especially in those about the staff of an international peacekeeping organization from People in Glass Houses (1967). Mildly irreverent depictions of petty pensioned bureaucrats—like Achilles Pylos, who seeks to replace his plain-looking secretary for a more charming one in ‘The Story of Miss Sadie Graine’—may have caused a stir when originally published, but they aren’t sharp enough to resonate in an era where unsatisfactory working conditions are standard fare. Meanwhile, ‘Vittorio,’ about a wizened Italian professor who discovers his female tenant might return his romantic interest, ends with a thudding banality: ‘He could scarcely breathe, from the stairs and from astonishment. He had never been so astonished in his life.’ These stories feel like quaint antiques from a bygone time.”

Aphasia by Mauro Javier Cárdenas

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Aphasia: “Cárdenas follows up his wild and intelligent The Revolutionaries Try Again with an exercise in extreme navel-gazing narrated by Antonio Jose Jiménez, a Colombian immigrant to the U.S. who is described by his sister as ‘a moron who allowed himself to be conned by my mother.”’Antonio’s ex-wife has left for the Czech Republic with their two young daughters, spurring Antonio into a long reconsideration of his circumstances. He’s an analyst at an investment company, and lately he’s been using a dating website for would-be sugar daddies as a way to meet women. He also has to deal with his mentally ill sister, who is convinced her family is conspiring against her with Barack Obama. But mostly, Antonio reads to keep his mind off of things: Bruno Schulz, László Krasznahorkai, and Thomas Bernhard, a cavalcade of writers’ writers that leads Antonio to transcribe their sentences and even attempt a style parody here and there. Finally, he hopes to unravel the story of his parents and childhood in Bogotá, but new memories complicate what he thinks he knows of his past. Few if any of these potentially intriguing plotlines are resolved, leaving the reader with what feels like notes toward a novel. Cárdenas’s literary experiment never quite coheres.”

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

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