Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Wayne, Okparanta, Chang, and More

July 12, 2022 | 5 books mentioned 10 min read

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Teddy WayneChinelo OkparantaK-Ming Chang, and more—that are publishing this week.

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The Great Man Theory by Teddy Wayne

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Great Man Theory: “Paul, the snippy academic protagonist of Wayne’s alternately crushing and tedious latest (after Apartment), is having a rough go of it. He’s toiling as an adjunct, has to move in with his mom in the Bronx, is being pushed away by his tween daughter, and is stalled on writing his book-length treatise, The Luddite Manifesto. Reduced to the indignity of having to buy a smartphone and work as a rideshare driver, he finds purpose after picking up Lauren, the producer of cable TV show Mackey Live (think: The O’Reilly Factor). He hits it off with her after claiming to be a conservative professor disgusted by lefty academia, and before long they’re dating. As Paul manipulates Lauren to try to get himself booked on Mackey’s show and sabotage it for the good of the country, his life further disintegrates. Wayne’s greatest feat is also something of an Achilles heel: he convincingly inhabits Paul, but Paul can be bloviating and vapid. The fact that swaths of his internal monologues are skippable may cause some readers to tune out. This would be a shame, because when Paul bottoms out, his hurt hits as deep and palpable, and, indeed, his ‘nothing to lose’ plan feels fittingly desperate. There’s not a dull sentence here, though it’s too bad there aren’t fewer of them before the sting in the tail arrives.”

Harry Sylvester Bird by Chinelo Okparanta

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Harry Sylvester Bird: “The inventive if messy latest from Okparanta (Under the Udala Trees) chronicles the coming-of-age of a young white man who is convinced he is Black. In 2016, 14-year-old Harry Sylvester Bird develops an enduring fascination with Blackness while on a safari in Tanzania. (Regarding a Black tour guide’s arm hairs: ‘I noted them and wished I could be them.’) Several years later and back home in Edward, Pa., Harry’s racist parents slide toward financial catastrophe as Harry graduates high school and Covid-19 takes hold, spurring vaccination checkpoints and a national ‘bubble registry.’ Eager to distance himself from his family, Harry moves to New York and starts to identify as Black, going by ‘G-Dawg’ and joining a ‘Transracial-Anon’ support group. After ambivalently accepting a scholarship from the Purists (an extremist white populist political party), Harry enrolls in college and falls in love with Maryam, a fellow student from Nigeria. Despite some disastrous early dates, the couple stays together for years until a study-abroad trip to Ghana compels Harry to grapple with his identity and puts his relationship with Maryam to the test. There are weighty ideas here, but Harry’s lack of self-awareness will test readers’ patience, and the satire sometimes gets lost in the scattered plot. This doesn’t quite stick the landing.”

Brother Alive by Zain Khalid

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Brother Alive: “In this auspicious debut, Khalid unfurls a beguiling story involving a Staten Island imam’s secrets. Salim Smith has adopted three boys, all sons of his inner circle of confidantes from his days at the Islamic University of Markab in Saudi Arabia. In their cramped apartment above Salim’s Staten Island mosque, the oldest son, Youssef, struggles along with his brothers to understand their father’s behavior, as Salim shuns human touch, locks himself in his room writing mysterious letters, and dramatically loses weight. Then as Youssef gets ready to start college at Columbia, he learns Salim had been thrust into a parental role he has no interest in. Salim’s story is fleshed out in the second section, which takes place decades earlier, with Salim living in Markab and being coopted by a powerful Saudi mufti, Ibrahim Sharif, into preaching to marginalized community members known as the ‘Unsettled.’ Meanwhile, Ibrahim conducts dangerous experiments on the castoffs. In the final section, Salim returns to Saudi Arabia in search of a cure for his lingering health problems from Ibrahim’s regimen, and finds that Ibrahim has built a luxurious futuristic city on top of Markab. Youssef and his brothers follow and are soon working for Ibrahim, jeopardizing their planned reunion with Salim. Khalid brilliantly reveals new shades of truth from each character’s point of view, and perfectly integrates the many ideas about capitalism and religious extremism into an enthralling narrative. It’s a tour de force.”

Total by Rebecca Miller

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Total: “In Miller’s alluring collection (after the novel Jacob’s Folly), protagonists search for connection and pleasure in strange, sometimes destructive ways. Daphne in ‘Mrs. Covet’ is a mother of two, pregnant with a third. The family hires a cleaning lady named Nat, hoping for some order, but after Nat moves in, something disastrous happens. In the speculative title story, people have transcendent phone sex on devices called Total Phones, and the force field of an early version of the phone leads to birth defects (most ‘Total children’ die from unknown causes by the age of eight or nine). Roxanne, 16, hatches a plan to break her younger sister, E, eight, from the Total Care Center where she’s lived since her infancy, and devastating consequences ensue. In ‘She Came to Me,’ Ciaran, an Irish writer who has remained faithful to his wife of 18 years, struggles with writer’s block and decides to seek out everyday stories in Dublin. He meets a young American woman who professes to be a romantic (and admits to having been a stalker). They go to her room, where he has second thoughts about having sex with her, though they do anyway. Miller brings a cinematic eye to her descriptions (a parking garage’s ‘final floor’ offers a ‘vivid sky’) and plenty of drama to the situations. These stories are full of surprises.”

Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Our Wives Under the Sea: “Armfield follows her collection, Salt Slow, with a moody and intimate debut novel, both a portrait of a marriage and a subtle horror fantasy. Miri and Leah are a married lesbian couple living in a British coastal city. Leah, a scientist with the Centre for Marine Enquiry, participates with her submarine crew in a deep-sea dive that is supposed to take three weeks but instead lasts six months, due to a malfunction, and Miri’s reactions range from helpless panic to anger to acceptance and mourning as she phones desperately to get answers from the Centre. (She even joins an online community of role-playing women who imagine their husbands are astronauts in space.) When Leah returns, she begins exhibiting such symptoms as the ‘silvering’ of her skin, sleepwalking, loss of appetite, and a need to be near or in water. She also spends hours in the bathroom with the taps running and a sound machine playing ocean surf sounds, and bleeds frequently: from her nose, gums, and through her skin. While Miri at first looks for a logical explanation for these maladies, their source remains mysterious. Meanwhile, the two have stopped communicating and sleep in separate bedrooms, and it begins to seem as if Leah is transforming into some nonhuman creature. With echoes of Jules Verne, Thor Heyerdahl (whose work inspired Leah), H.P. Lovecraft, and the film Altered States, Armfield anchors the shudder-producing tale in authentic marine science and a deep understanding of human nature. This is mesmerizing.”

The Empire of Dirt by Francesca Manfredi (translated by Ekin Olap)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Empire of Dirt: “Manfredi’s English-language debut is an evocative tale of one young woman’s coming-of-age in 1990s rural Italy. Valentina is 12, an only child living in an ancient crumbling farmhouse with her pious grandmother and troubled mother. Valentina wakes one morning to a spreading stain on her bedroom wall, which she believes corresponds to the shame she feels about having her first period. Terrified of her body’s changes and troubled by her grandmother’s references to a family curse and biblical retribution, Valentina decides she has brought on a plague. Hundreds of tiny frogs followed by mosquitoes, flies, and locusts then descend on the house and vegetable farm, and the sheep begin dying of a terrible disease, all of which Valentina tries to deal with by sacrificing a goat. Meanwhile, her mother is busy wooing a new boyfriend, her grandmother rapidly descends into terminal illness, and her best friend has broken off their friendship out of jealousy over a local boy. The melodious prose enhances the coming-of-age scenes and Valentina’s religious guilt (‘it came at night, when all terrible things happen, and like all terrible things, it decided to give me a choice,’ she narrates about her period), but too often the plot points are dropped or unexplained. Though it feels unresolved overall, the accomplished prose is a testament to Manfredi’s potential.”

Bad Thoughts by Nada Alic

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Bad Thoughts: “In Alic’s candid and humorous debut collection, women explore their darkest thoughts and fears. The narrator in ‘My New Life’ reflects on her alienation at a baby shower (‘I sometimes worry that motherhood is contagious, like a parasite or the way cohabitating women synchronize their cycles’). There, she finds a kindred spirit in Mona, who sets up a dating profile despite being married. In ‘Tug Spin Release,’ the narrator, a gym teacher, attends a bachelorette party in Cabo, where she holds out for an unlikely acceptance from a writing residency. In Cabo, she feels increasingly isolated from the others as they overshare about their lives. In ‘The Party,’ the narrator and her boyfriend take a quiz from a swank bedding company before selecting their pricey sheets, and face their ambivalence over whether they want children. Later, afraid she’s having a dangerous reaction to an ecstasy pill, the narrator calls a telehealth line and confides in the doctor about her life, a ‘conga line of disappointments’ in which she’s ‘getting less young and more old at the same time.’ As the characters wrestle with what’s missing from their lives, the author finds mordant hilarity. The more Alic leans into the weirdness, the more addictive this becomes.”

Sirens & Muses by Antonia Angress

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Sirens & Muses: “A quartet of artists negotiate love, ambition, and politics during the 2011 Occupy movement in Angress’s winning debut. Nineteen-year-old Louisa Arceneaux is a new transfer student at the fictional Wrynn College in New England, arriving from her native Louisiana. Her roommate, the icy and beautiful Karina Piontek, is everything Louisa is not: worldly, wealthy, and confident. Preston Utley, a senior, questions the school’s relevance in the modern age. The yin to Utley’s yang is Robert Berger, a teacher whose own art career, once white-hot, has atrophied. Angress nimbly embodies each of her characters, allowing her exceptional storytelling abilities to shine. When Louisa asks Karina to pose for a painting, the initial reticence between the two fades, and something more volatile emerges. Preston and Karina begin a romantic relationship on unequal footing, while Preston, a member of the school’s Occupy group, antagonizes an increasingly desperate Robert by excoriating his work in Artforum, and the novel’s first part ends with a major rupture. In part two, set over the following year, the characters have left Wrynn’s bubble for New York City, where Preston and Karina prepare for a joint debut show at Robert’s former gallery, and Angress sweeps everything toward a wonderfully complex conclusion. This is a standout.”

Fire Season by Leyna Krow

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Fire Season: “Krow’s evocative debut novel (after the collection I’m Fine, but You Appear to Be Sinking) follows three misfits who prosper in the aftermath of a devastating fire in 1889 Spokane Falls, just before Washington gains statehood. Barton Heydale, 29, is the manager of the only bank within 100 miles; feeling lonesome and disliked, he’s considering ending his life when he sees the fire at Wolfe’s Hotel. In the chaotic aftermath, he enacts a plan to steal from the bank. He later runs into Roslyn Beck, a sex worker he’d engaged at Wolfe’s on the day of the fire, and invites her to stay with him. Barton plans to escape town with the money and Roslyn, but she and the money disappear. Then Quake Auchenbaucher arrives, identifying himself as a federal arson inspector to the police, who have taken Barton into custody on charges of usury and counterfeiting. Quake, a savvy con man, pins the fire on Barton and convinces the officers all the bank’s money is fake, and that he must transport it to the Treasury. After a series of twists, the three outlaws all converge. Krow pulls off a convincing last gasp of the Wild West with an appealing array of charlatans and schemers. The prose is marvelous, and Krow shrewdly shows via Barton, who pretends to be a ‘man in a fine, if not enviable state,’ how the riskiest con is against the self. Readers will be captivated.”

The Poet’s House by Jean Thompson

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Poet’s House: “Thompson (A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl) intriguingly explores the contours of the literary world through the eyes of an outsider. Carla Sawyer, a restless Northern California landscaper in her 20s, is stretched thin by conflicting advice. Her divorced mother urges her to either get a hospital job or grow legal marijuana, while her boyfriend remarks that her green thumb remains underappreciated. Carla’s world broadens when she begins work in the gardens of renowned poet Viridian Boone. Carla doesn’t know anything about poetry, but Viridian opens her home to the young woman, who winds up mingling with an eccentric coterie of poets, writers, and artists. As Carla grows closer to Viridian and the bohemian group, she develops a strong appreciation for poetry. Soon, Carla becomes caught up in conversations with Viridian about Viridian’s former lover, Mathias, who died by suicide many years earlier, after he became famous for his love poems about Viridian. Thompson’s talents for immersive storytelling and sharp characters are on brilliant display, particularly in her portrayal of Carla’s longing for something greater, and of Viridian’s conflicted feelings about Mathias’s work. The author’s fans will savor this.”

Big Girl by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Big Girl: “Sullivan (the collection Blue Talk and Love) charms in her stunning debut novel about a Black girl’s coming-of-age. While growing up in gentrifying Harlem during the 1980s and ’90s, Malaya Clondon is irrevocably impacted by other people’s perceptions and judgments of her weight. At eight, her mother, Nyela forces her to attend Nyela’s Weight Watchers meetings, and she endures cruel remarks from classmates at her predominantly white school. When she’s 16, Nyela and Malaya’s father, Percy, fight over the prospect of Malaya undergoing a gastric bypass. Throughout, Sullivan offers a nuanced portrayal of Malaya’s difficulties in navigating a world in which other people are unable to see her beyond her size, even after a terrible loss shakes Malaya’s world and reorients her family. All of Sullivan’s characters—even the cruel ones—brim with humanity, and the author shines when conveying the details of Malaya’s comforts, such as Biggie Smalls lyrics, the portraits she paints in her room, the colors she braids into her hair, and the sweet-smelling dulce de coco candies she eats with a classmate with whom she shares a close and sexually charged friendship. This is a treasure.”

Gods of Want by K-Ming Chang

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Gods of Want: “Chang (Bestiary) returns with a dazzling collection of stories within stories that draw on old myths to embody the heartache and memories of Asian American women. In ‘The Chorus of Dead Cousins,’ the unnamed narrator is constantly disrupted by the ghosts of her dead cousins and tries to escape them by traveling with her storm-chaser wife to record a tornado. In ‘Episodes of Hoarders,’ a woman nicknamed ‘little crab’ grieves over her dead hoarder grandmother. A wild mother-in-law repeatedly pretends to die and makes married life a living nightmare for the protagonist of ‘Xífù,’ who envies her lesbian daughter for being unattached to men. In ‘Anchor,’ a young woman struggles with the verbal abuse of her aunt, who raised her after her mother died during childbirth. She’s also haunted by the ghost of a girl her aunt accidentally shot many years earlier, has delicate conversations with a nun at a nearby temple, and searches for the old toy gun her brother lost before he left for the military. Chang’s bold conceits and potent imagery evoke a raw, visceral power that captures feelings of deep longing and puts them into words. This stellar collection will leave readers hungry for more.”

Also on shelves this week: Sister Mother Warrior by Vanessa Riley.

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

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