Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Ford, Arnett, St. Aubyn, and More

June 1, 2021 | 1 book mentioned 7 min read

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Ashley C. Ford, Kristin Arnett, Edward St. Aubyn, and more—that are publishing this week.

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Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Somebody’s Daughter: “Journalist Ford debuts with a blistering yet tender account of growing up with an incarcerated father. She retraces her childhood in 1990s Fort Wayne, Ind., where she lived in a family anchored by her weary mother, whose anger bubbled over frequently, and a judgmental but loving grandmother. Felt throughout is the shadowy presence of her father, who was serving a 24-year sentence for rape. The moving narrative unfolds with tales of childhood misadventures with her younger brother, frequent library visits, and days spent anywhere but home: ‘I told myself being away was the only way we were going to make it out.’ Ford writes vividly of having to weather her mother’s rage (which ‘drained the light from her eyes’) and rotating cast of boyfriends, while navigating her own sense of shame and abandonment as a teenager fighting to be ‘loved ferociously and completely’ in a series of painful relationships. Though she rarely visited her father in prison, he wrote to her often, and ‘his letters were clues to where I’d come from.’ When they finally reconnected before his release, Ford describes their tearful reunion and reconciliation with devastating clarity. ‘Somewhere, in the center of it all, was my father’s favorite girl.’ This remarkable, heart-wrenching story of loss, hardship, and self-acceptance astounds.”

With Teeth by Kristen Arnett

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about With Teeth: “Arnett (Mostly Dead Things) paints a complex picture of a queer family in this well-sculpted drama. Protagonist Sammie and her wife, Monika, have a son, Samson, who proves to be an ornery and enigmatic child. (Among other things, he willfully lets a strange man attempt to abduct him at the age of four and later carries a school project doll of himself everywhere.) Sammie is the more anxious and hands-on of the parents; she works part-time as a copy editor, while laid-back Monika excels as a lawyer. In addition to doubting her fitness as a parent, Sammie misses the social life she had pre-Samson and ‘didn’t like the way other women looked at her wife, didn’t like the fact that no one looked at her that way anymore.’ By the time Samson’s 16, he has become a skilled swimmer and retains much of his inscrutable personality, Sammie and Monika have separated, and Sammie struggles with dating. Arnett’s prismlike prose is supplemented by vignettes focused on peripheral characters, such as Samson’s teachers, which add some maximalist flair to the domestic story. With its vividly rendered characters, this offers an intense rendition of a modern family.”

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Other Black Girl: “Harris debuts with a dazzling, darkly humorous story about the publishing industry and the challenges faced by a Black employee. Nella Rogers, an overworked editorial assistant, navigates white privilege and microaggressions as the only Black person in her department at New York City trade publisher Wagner Books. That is until the arrival of chic Hazel-May McCall. Nella withstands being mistaken for Hazel, ‘the Other Black Girl,’ and reviewing a problematic manuscript written by a bestselling white author with horribly one-dimensional depictions of a Black single mom. Many of the company’s higher-ups have the trappings of material success (Ivy League pedigrees, renovated summer homes), and their attempts to cultivate diversity fall flat, notably with the publisher’s ‘Diversity Town Halls’ and its sheepish attempts to deal with racism (‘the elephant in the room,’ Harris writes, ‘No one really knew what the elephant was. Or where the elephant was’). When Nella receives an anonymous note reading ‘Leave Wagner. Now,’ her hopes for a career at the company begin to crumble. Meanwhile, Hazel, seemingly undeterred by office politics, is not the ally she appears to be. While the novel overflows with witty dialogue and skillfully drawn characters, its biggest strength lies in its penetrating critique of gatekeeping in the publishing industry and the deleterious effects it can have on Black editors. This insightful, spellbinding book packs a heavy punch.”

Bewilderness by Karen Tucker

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Bewilderness: “Tucker astonishes in her devastating debut, a harrowing account of addiction, friendship, and loss. Irene, an isolated 19-year-old in rural North Carolina, meets Luce, a fellow server at a grimy pool hall. They form an intimate friendship that becomes nearly addictive: within hours of their meeting, Irene believes Luce ‘understood me better than anyone, maybe even my own mother.’ Both also battle an opiate addiction. They look at the moon and see an OxyContin pill, ‘a giant 30 just waiting for someone to reach up and snatch it.’ Throughout, they find themselves in scenarios that are equal parts devastating and funny, as they scam and grift to fund their pill habit by committing return fraud at Walmart and selling placebos from their birth control packs to college kids. But their bond begins to break after Luce meets Wilky, a sergeant at the nearby military base who is set on getting clean from a pill addiction of his own and moving with Luce to Florida for a fresh start. Tucker does a wonderful job locating Irene’s and Luce’s desire to live a better life beneath their tough exteriors, as when, while buying pills from an old woman, Irene offhandedly remarks, ‘Bodies are such fragile things.’ This keen awareness consistently adds depth and devastation. No matter the characters’ genuine longing to change, they are bound to their cyclical, unrelenting patterns. This is a stunning accomplishment.

Walking on Cowrie Shells by Nana Nkweti

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Walking on Cowrie Shells: “Nkweti’s beautiful and immersive debut collection challenges hackneyed depictions of a monolithic Africa through an array of dynamic stories that reflect the heterogeneity of Africans and the Cameroonian diaspora. The satirical ‘It Just Kills You Inside’ features a PR man who capitalizes on a fast-spreading zombie virus in Cameroon, which turns into a cash cow after refugee camps and the adoption of African zombie babies become Hollywood’s latest cause célèbre. In ‘The Statistician’s Wife,’ 40-year-old economist Elliot Coffin Jr.’s interview with two homicide detectives in the aftermath of Elliot’s wife’s murder is punctuated by disturbing statistics on the number of women in Nigeria who are murdered by their husbands. Other stories switch between diary entries and narrative, as in the heartrending ‘Dance the Fiya Dance,’ in which linguistic anthropologist Chambu evades her cousin’s attempts at matchmaking while grappling with her own ambivalence toward motherhood. Whether Nkweti is writing about water goddesses, zombies, or aspiring graphic novelists, she reveals and celebrates the rich inner lives of those who do not fit neatly into social and cultural categories. But the author’s prose shines the brightest; Nkweti’s sentences soar, enthralling the reader through their every twist and turn, and often ending with a wry punch (a fledgling church headquartered in a Brooklyn apartment is ‘still undergoing a slow renovation that has spanned from Easter Sunday the year prior into an unknown future—unto the end of days, perhaps’). This is a groundbreaking and vital work.”

How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about How the Word Is Passed: “Poet and Atlantic staff writer Smith debuts with a moving and perceptive survey of landmarks that reckon, or fail to reckon, with the legacy of slavery in America. Visiting Monticello plantation, Smith describes how Thomas Jefferson’s self-perception as a ‘benevolent slave owner’ often conflicted with his actions. On a tour of Angola prison, Smith discusses how nonunanimous jury verdicts fueled the “convict leasing system” that replaced slave labor in post-Reconstruction Louisiana, and notes that when the state switched from the electric chair to lethal injection in 1991, Angola inmates refused to build the prison death bed. At the Blandford Cemetery for Confederate soldiers in Petersburg, Va., Smith questions on-site historians about the ethical implications of preserving a place of honor for the defenders of slavery. He also checks in at the annual Juneteenth festival in Galveston, Tex., and takes an illuminating walking tour of underground railroad sites in New York City. Suffused with lyrical descriptions and incisive historical details, including Robert E. Lee’s ruthlessness as a slave owner and early resistance by Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois to the Confederate general’s ‘deification,’ this is an essential consideration of how America’s past informs its present.”

The Portrait of a Mirror by A. Natasha Joukovsky

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Portrait of a Mirror: “Set in the upper echelons of New York City and Philadelphia, Joukovsky’s droll if uneven debut reads like Gossip Girl all grown up. Young tech CEO and certified ‘golden boy’ Charles Wesley Range IV shares a sprawling Manhattan loft with his stunning, quick-witted enterprise architect wife, Diana Whalen, where the almost-happy newlyweds mount a series of passive-aggressive maneuvers against one another. Meanwhile, 30-something Vivien Floris, a poised visiting curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, prepares to marry Dale McBride, a dashing consultant and aspiring novelist who lives in Philadelphia. While Diana and Dale are assigned to work on the same project, grade school crushes Vivien and Wes reunite for a fateful night. As the drama unfolds, the characters’ affairs get predictably tangled. The author uses the backdrop of Vivien’s exhibition on Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the figure of Narcissus for astute observations on the core characters’ self-involvement, though the story feels weighed down by too many less-rewarding tangents about professional mishaps and exchanges between the peripheral players, who find their incestuous social world alternately beneficial and stultifying. In the words of a mutual friend of the couples, ‘The one percent is such a small place.’ While readers will enjoy the view of an insular, rarified world, they’ll also wonder what the fuss is about.”

Double Blind by Edward St. Aubyn

coverHere’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Double Blind: “St. Aubyn (the Patrick Melrose novels) expounds on epigenetics, rewilding, art, neuroscience, and philosophy in this sublime character-driven novel. With his usual elegant prose, St. Aubyn follows three friends—Francis, Olivia, and Lucy—through a transformative year. Naturalist Francis meets biologist Olivia at a ‘megafauna’ conference in Oxford and feels an instant ‘subterranean attraction.’ He later anxiously awaits her visit to the Sussex estate he has vowed to reclaim with its deer, pigs, cattle, and ponies, envisioning an ‘English savannah.’ Meanwhile, Olivia anticipates Lucy’s arrival from New York to London, where she’s taken a job with a venture capital firm headed by the scheming Hunter Sterling. Lucy’s also blindsided by unexplainable muscle spasms that lead to the ‘high tech phrenology’ of a graphically detailed brain biopsy. While she is recovering with Francis and Olivia in Sussex, Hunter helicopters in with caviar, blinis, and vodka. Add the sudden, unexpected appearance of 34-year-old schizophrenic Sebastian Tanner, whose true identity threatens to square the friends’ already fraught triangle and lends an element of mystery. The four embark on a pharmacologically fueled journey from England to Cap d’Antibes to Big Sur, leading to a surprising and enthralling moral and ethical dilemma. St. Aubyn brings off a seemingly effortless and provocative examination of the mind and its refractions. This one’s not to be missed.”

Also on shelves this week: What Makes You Think You’re Awake? by Maegan Poland.

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

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