Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Murakami, Oyeyemi, Wideman, and More

April 6, 2021 | 13 books mentioned 7 min read

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Haruki Murakami, Helen OyeyemiJohn Edgar Wideman, and more—that are publishing this week.

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First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami (translated by Philip Gabriel)

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about First Person Singular: “Murakami’s engrossing collection (after the novel Killing Commendatore) offers a crash course in his singular style and vision, blending passion for music and baseball and nostalgia for youth with portrayals of young love and moments of magical realism. The one thing shared by the collection’s eight stories is their use of the first-person-singular voice. Murakami’s gift for evocative, opaque magical realism shines in ‘Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova,’ in which a review of a fictional album breathes new life into the ghost of the jazz great, and ‘Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey,’ wherein a talking monkey ruminates with a traveler on love and belonging. Murakami finds ample material in young love and sex, showcased in ‘On a Stone Pillow,’ in which a young man’s brief tryst with a coworker, unremarkable in itself, takes on a degree of immortality after she mails him her poetry. In ‘The Yakult Swallows Poetry Collection,’ the collection’s one nonfiction piece, Murakami recounts how baseball and writing, the twin passions of his youth, grew together in the stadium of his beloved Yakult Swallows. These shimmering stories are testament to Murakami’s talent and enduring creativity.”

Peaces by Helen Oyeyemi

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Peaces: “Curious characters, strange events, and mysteries abound in Oyeyemi’s delightfully bonkers latest (after Gingerbread). After hypnotist Otto Shin takes the surname of his boyfriend, Xavier, the couple, both 38, celebrate their ‘non-honeymoon honeymoon’ with a train trip arranged for them by Xavier’s aunt and with help from a young man named Yuri who inexplicably claims to know them. Accompanied by their pet mongoose, Árpád XXX, Otto and Xavier begin their journey to a destination unknown to them and soon meet the train’s operators and its enigmatic owner, Ava Kapoor, who is about to come into a grand inheritance. But Ava’s bequest is threatened by the appearance of a mysterious passenger, one they will all soon recognize as part of their respective pasts, and the trip becomes stressful for the couple as Yuri’s interventions in their lives grow suspicious. Though capped by a somewhat disjointed and confusing finale, the narrative is bolstered by its underlying blend of humor and suspense, as well as Oyeyemi’s ability to skillfully thread together the lives of her characters and show how they’ve been shaped into the people they are today. Despite its problems, this exciting and inventive novel brims with unusual insights.”

Subdivision by J. Robert Lennon

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Subdivision: “In Lennon’s deliriously inventive novel (published simultaneously with the collection Let Me Think), a woman suffers from a bout of amnesia while staying in a strange town known only as the Subdivision. The unnamed narrator doesn’t know how she came to be the houseguest of kind if eccentric retirees Clara and the Judge, and, unable to remember her name or why she is here, she sets out to create a new life, accompanied by her digital assistant, Cylvia. But things in the Subdivision aren’t as they appear. Strangers are alternatively too familiar or too hostile; the ruins of a church feature scenes of biblical pageantry acted out behind stained glass; empty properties host “probability wells” that warp time; and perhaps most distressingly, her steps are haunted by the ‘bakemono,” a shape-shifting, malevolent spirit intent on seducing her. Lennon strikes a delicate balance, and the surreal story is only occasionally weighed down with overwriting. As the narrator dives deeper into the Subdivision, its true nature comes into focus, but with an apocalyptic storm on the horizon, can she complete her journey of self-discovery in time? This is an impressive marriage of a vibrant, tortuous fever dream and an unsentimental meditation on life and death.”

Paradise, Nevada by Dario Diofebi

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Paradise, Nevada: “Diofebi’s sprawling, eloquent debut follows four characters whose lives converge in Las Vegas. On the night of Friday, May 1, 2015, a bomb goes off in the Positano Luxury Resort and Casino. Six months earlier, four people separately arrived in Las Vegas: Ray, a professional poker player from one of those ‘rare American households where moneymaking was not considered of value in and of itself’; Mary Ann, a depressed cocktail waitress from Mississippi; Tom, an Italian tourist who came to play poker after letting his tourist visa expire; and Lindsay, a Mormon journalist for whom storytelling has been ‘the one constant in her ever-changing set of ideas about her future.’ All four characters are at the Positano during the explosion, having desperately pursued their hustles to varying degrees of success (Mary Ann learns to count cards; Tom’s fear of U.S. Customs reaches a fever pitch; Ray’s skills plateau). Rather than a central plot, Diofebi pieces together a revealing mosaic of the city. In between he lays bare the cold machinations of casino operators, such as a series of layoffs of nonunion female employees revealed in an exposé by Lindsay, the fallout described by Diofebi with scathing precision. With intelligence and empathy, Diofebi delivers a powerful and unapologetic slice of Americana.”

Astrid Sees All by Natalie Standiford

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Astrid Sees All: “Standiford (The Secret Tree) makes her adult fiction debut with an infectious if overwrought tale of obsessive friendship and identity set in the gritty Lower East Side of 1980s New York City. Phoebe Hayes moves to the Upper West Side to be near Carmen Dietz, a girl from her college whose cavalier attitude and cosmopolitan sensibility instantly captivates Baltimore-bred Phoebe. Phoebe becomes enmeshed in Carmen’s life, and they move downtown to be near the nightclub scene. After Phoebe’s father dies of leukemia, she takes a job at the hip club Plutonium as a fortune-teller named Astrid, and her life revolves around partying with Carmen. But then young women from the neighborhood begin to go missing and Phoebe feels like she’s being followed. Carmen’s approval is crucial to Phoebe, though after Phoebe hooks up with Carmen’s artist boyfriend, their friendship fractures. A bizarre plot turn will leave readers scratching their heads, and stilted metaphors don’t help (‘My immune system was fighting off an infection of grief’), but Standiford evokes the setting with spot-on details, including cameos by John F. Kennedy Jr. and Andy Warhol, and she does a good job developing the friendship between the two women. Unfortunately, the missteps undermine Phoebe and Carmen’s engaging dynamics.”

Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Gold Diggers: “Sathian’s dazzling debut centers on the Indian American community of Hammond Creek, Ga., where the high-achieving children of immigrants compete for top grades and pageant titles. In 2006, 15-year-old Neil Narayan is part of the debate team at school, though he has always been unremarkable compared to his Duke-bound older sister and his best friend, Anita Dayal. But things change when Neil discovers the secret behind Anita’s triumphs: a spellbinding concoction made from gold, which Anita’s mother, Anjali, brews using jewelry swiped from their more successful neighbors’ homes. After Neil drinks the potion, he becomes smarter and sharper, but his newfound ambition soon leads to a tragic event that forever changes the lives of Hammond Creek’s residents. A decade later, an aimless Neil—now a struggling history PhD candidate at Berkeley—is shocked when Anita reappears with a plan that will once again test just how far he is willing to go to create the life he desires. While the stakes feel a bit lower as the final ploy plays out, the sharp characterizations bring humor and contemplation in equal measure, touching on the pressures Neil and Anita face to produce a legacy that honors their parents’ sacrifices. Sathian’s bildungsroman isn’t one to miss.”

Caul Baby by Morgan Jerkins

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Caul Baby: “Jerkins (Wandering in Strange Lands) makes her fiction debut with the rich if didactic story of the Melancon family and the shadow they cast over present-day Harlem. Dominated by hard-hearted matriarch Maman, the Melancons are female healers notorious for selling fragments of the rare, skinlike caul they were born with to wealthy white buyers looking for protective amulets to ward off disease and misfortune. Indifferent to the woes of ailing Black folks in their own neighborhood, the Melancons have long scorned supplicants like Laila Reserve, who suffered a miscarriage and lost her mind after she was ejected from the Melancon brownstone, a spectacle that has reverberated throughout the community for decades. Now, only the youngest Melancon, Hallow, can uncover the truth behind her origins and the relationship between her family and the Reserves. While Jerkins effectively blends folk legend with contemporary details such as references to the Black Lives Matter movement and gentrification in Harlem, the premise is restricted by occasionally prosaic writing (‘strands of hair roamed throughout her scalp’) and the heavy-handed moral of the story, which implies that Black women who fail to support other Black women will pay a price. Still, it’s vividly conceived, and the strong plot will carry readers to the end.”

Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Hummingbird Salamander: “Set in a world far along the path to ecological and political breakdown, this striking mix of thriller and biotech speculative fiction from VanderMeer (Dead Astronauts) charts a seemingly mad quest by its anonymous narrator, who suggests the reader call her Jane Smith. One morning at a coffee shop in an unspecified city in the Pacific Northwest, where Jane does somewhat nebulous work at a security firm, a barista hands Jane an envelope with a storage unit address, a key, and a note. In the storage unit, Jane finds a box containing a preserved hummingbird and a note with the words Hummingbird and Salamander, signed Silvina. Thus begins Jane’s quixotic effort to discover the whereabouts and fate of probable ecoterrorist Silvina Vilcapampa, as well as the salamander mate to the hummingbird. Jane’s traveling to New York City in search of Silvina alerts mysterious foes. Attacks on Jane and her work colleagues as well as surveillance of her home prompt her to abandon her husband and teenage daughter and embark on a yearslong, possibly fruitless quest to discover the truth. Exquisite prose pulls the reader deep into the labyrinthine plot. VanderMeer reinforces his place as one of today’s most innovative writers.”

You Made Me Love You by John Edgar Wideman

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about You Made Me Love You: “This career-spanning collection of work by Wideman (Brother’s Keeper), with a revelatory foreword by critic and scholar Walton Muyumba, offers a stunning showcase of Wideman’s range. In stories selected from 1981’s Damballah up through 2018’s American Histories, Wideman conveys a mastery of gritty realism, freewheeling blues, erudite autofiction, and African American mysticism, often grounded in a semi-fictional version of the Homewood section of Pittsburgh, the historically Black neighborhood where Wideman grew up. ‘Solitary’ chronicles a mother’s daylong ordeal to visit her son in prison, while in ‘Daddy Garbage,’ an iceball vendor’s dog is hell-bent on eating from garbage cans: ‘Strayhorn knew it was less holding on to puppy ways than it was stone craziness, craziness age nor nothing else ever going to change.’ Wideman shines brightest in pieces that tunnel through history or the narrator’s consciousness as they build to their reveals, such as ‘Maps and Ledgers,’ in which a writing professor ruminates on stories such as that of an ancestor who escaped from slavery. Muyumba convincingly encourages close reading of ‘Damballah,’ about an unnamed enslaved boy who honors the severed head of a man punished for practicing West African rituals: ‘listen to the head,’ Muyumba writes. If there were any doubts Wideman belongs to the American canon, this puts them to bed.”

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