Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Flanagan, Kawakami, and More

May 25, 2021 | 5 books mentioned 4 min read

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Richard Flanagan, Mieko Kawakami, and more—that are publishing this week.

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The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Living Sea of Waking Dreams: “Man Booker winner Flanagan (The Narrow Road to the Deep North) shines in his fierce, surrealistic look at a family’s dissolution in a recognizable if dystopian Australia that’s ravaged by wildfires. Amid the fires, 56-year-old Anna, an award-winning Sydney architect, makes reluctant trips to Hobart, Tasmania, to check on her mother, Francie. After Francie suffers a catastrophic brain hemorrhage, Anna’s older brother Tommy, an unsuccessful artist who has been shouldering Francie’s care, hopes to let her die in peace. Guilt-ridden over her earlier neglect of her family and unprepared to face her mother’s mortality, Anna instead sides with their younger brother, Terzo, and orders aggressive treatment. Francie begins hallucinating as the increasingly invasive interventions fail, and despite Francie’s delusions, which come through when Francie musters the energy to speak, Anna finds new tenderness in her time with her mother. Meanwhile, Anna’s left ring finger painlessly but inexplicably vanishes, soon followed by a kneecap and a nipple. Though she sees the body parts of others disappearing, too (her 22-year-old son gradually fades away to a few fingers), no one comments or reports on the eerie phenomenon. Amid all of these losses, her complacency about her once rewarding life vanishes. Juxtaposing measured prose with passages that jolt and tumble, and realistic depictions of medical issues with Francie’s phantasmagoric visions (‘the mountain plains outside her window full of fires and sandstorms where, nightly, women queued in one area for abortions and in another for orgies, where fleeing people turned into plants only to perish in flames’), Flanagan’s novel illuminates the dangers of taking the world and one another for granted. Its intensity, urgency, and insights are unforgettable.”

Revival Season by Monica West

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Revival Season: “West’s explosive debut charts the spiritual reckoning of a Baptist faith healer’s daughter. Fifteen-year-old Miriam Horton accompanies her family on an annual summer revival tour centered on evangelical conversion and healing throughout the present-day Midwest and South. As in years past, her father, Rev. Samuel Horton yearns to break the ‘two-thousand soul mark,’ his ever-elusive goal for a successful revival season. Her father’s tour of perfunctory healing ends in Bethel, N.C., where a drunken man confronts the reverend, accusing him of fraud. Horton rebukes the man, then beats him in an uncontrollable fit of rage. Miriam surreptitiously watches the confrontation and its aftermath, and as a result her relationship with her father and her own views about spiritual healing are irrevocably altered. After returning home to East Mansfield, Tex., Miriam makes her first attempt at healing prayer with her best friend, Micah, who has become seriously ill with diabetes. More secret healings ensue, as Miriam’s personal spiritual awakening runs counter to the biblical injunctions stressed by her father and the Church. West does a fantastic job illuminating the struggles faced by women and girls in the Southern Baptist evangelical movement, and the change in Miriam is palpable and moving. West’s deep understanding of her characters and community makes for essential reading.”

Cheat Day by Liv Stratman

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Cheat Day: “Stratman debuts with a sweet, smart account of one woman’s attempt to add some spark and direction to her humdrum everyday. Kit, 34, is stuck in a rut: she can’t muster the nerve to quit a job managing her sister’s bakery in the same Brooklyn neighborhood where she grew up; she’s ambivalent about having kids; restless in a marriage to her well-intentioned, workaholic husband; and still mourning the death of the grandmother who raised her. To snap out of it, she reaches for a solution she’s tried many times before: a diet. This time she embarks on the 75-day Radiant Regimen, her most ambitious wellness overhaul yet. But as she starts to master her food cravings, she begins to indulge in her attraction to a carpenter, leading to an intense affair, and the derailment of her self-makeover. Soon, Kit, realizing the ‘lucky’ life she leads, must acknowledge her failures and open up about impulses if she want to save her marriage: ‘What I know now is there is no recipe for a clean marriage.’ The uneasy relationship Kit has with her various appetites is at the heart of things, and the narrative’s success rests on her wry, insightful narration, which expounds on the inanities of the daily calculus of diet planning with hilariously cringy detail. This is a treat.”

Heaven by Mieko Kawakami (translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd)

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Heaven: “Kawakami (Breasts and Eggs) returns with a searing account of bullying and adolescent angst. In the vast, violent wasteland of middle school, the 14-year-old unnamed narrator endures horrific physical abuse from a group of sadistic classmates, assuming it’s due to his lazy eye. In graphic detail, Kawakami describes the escalating harm brought to him, from his being made to ingest toilet water, a goldfish, and scraps of food from a pet rabbit’s cage, to having chalk stuffed up his nose, being shoved into a locker, and an excruciatingly brutal confrontation in a gym, leaving him with the heartbreaking ‘desire to disappear.’ When he receives an anonymous note in his desk seeking friendship, he suspects it’s a prank, but discovers it’s from a female schoolmate who is also being humiliated. They meet in the school stairwell to share stories and later take summer excursions out of town, and suffer a stunning final encounter with their adversaries, during which one of the culprits explains the unexpected and startling reasons behind the attacks. This incident is particularly harrowing, and Kawakami unflinchingly takes the reader through the abyss of depraved, dehumanizing behavior with keen psychological insight, brilliant sensitivity, and compassionate understanding. With this, the author’s star continues to rise.”

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

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