Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from George Saunders, Samanta Schweblin, Barbara Kingsolver, and more—that are publishing this week.
Liberation Day by George Saunders
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Liberation Day: “Booker winner Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo) returns to the short form with a wide-ranging collection that alternates his familiar fun house of warped simulations with subtler dramas. In ‘Ghoul,’ actors playing demons at an Inferno-esque attraction called ‘Maws of Hell’ succumb to workplace rivalries under the watchful eye of their managers. ‘Love Letter,’ set in a Trumpist dystopia where ‘loyalists’ report dissenters for infractions, takes the form of a man’s cautionary letter to his defiant grandson. The title story imagines a sinister company whose employees, little more than programs, are forced to recreate Custer’s last stand. Other stories probe loss, regret, and hopefulness. ‘The Mom of Bold Action’ follows a frustrated writer and housewife facing turmoil when her son is attacked by at least one of two identical old creeps. ‘Mother’s Day’ explores the inner life of a once feisty elderly woman now living at a remove from the world after her daughter runs away from home. ‘Elliot Spencer’ combines futurism and pathos as a mind-wiped counterprotester suddenly recovers his identity. Saunders’s four previous collections shook the earth a bit harder, but he continues to humanize those whom society has worn down to a nub. Despite the author’s shift to quieter character studies, there’s plenty to satisfy longtime devotees.”
Seven Empty Houses by Samanta Schweblin (translated by Megan McDowell)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Seven Empty Houses: “International Booker Prize finalist Schweblin (Fever Dream) centers her undercooked collection on families defined by an absence, whether physical or of intimacy, memory, or sanity. In the eerie and propulsive opener, ‘None of That,’ a young woman and her disturbed mother get stuck in a wealthy neighborhood. After the mother connives her way into the landowner’s house, she compulsively tidies and catalogs the woman’s belongings. In ‘Out,’ a woman flees her apartment wearing a bathrobe during a fight with her husband, only to have a disconcerting night on the town with a man who claims to be the building’s ‘escapist.’ Unfortunately, Schweblin’s stories are far more evocative than substantive, and their sense of uncanny weightlessness—told in brisk, nondescript prose, featuring nameless and indistinct narrators and aimless plots—diminishes intrigue and leaves the reader hungry for deeper imaginative leaps. The exception is ‘Breath from the Depths,’ which follows Lola, a retiree, as she descends into dementia and feuds with the young mother across the street. Schweblin can evoke a mesmerizing, eerie tone, but too often does little more than that.”
The Consequences by Manuel Muñoz
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Consequences: “Obligations fall heavily upon the characters in Muñoz’s deeply affecting collection (after What You See in the Dark). Set in and around Fresno, Calif., in the 1980s, the stories center on farmworkers drawn to—and frequently expelled from—the Central Valley and their Mexican American children. In ‘Anyone Can Do It,’ a young mother whose husband was swept up in an immigration raid begins working in the fields, where she faces a shocking betrayal. In ‘The Reason Is Because,’ a teenage mother spends her days caring for her baby and longing for the boredom of high school, back when ‘her daydreaming didn’t seem so pointless.’ In ‘What Kind of Fool Am I,’ a young woman realizes the contours of her life are largely set and will revolve around taking care of her younger brother, who pursues his own escape from familial burdens with dangerous, older men. The future is similarly straitened in ‘Compromisos,’ in which a husband and father tries to return to his household after his lover shuts down any dreams of a future together. By making subtle connections between the stories, Muñoz adds texture to characters even if they’re not at the center, and throughout, Muñoz delivers breathtaking views into his characters’ hardscrabble world, and evokes the heat of their yearning. This packs a hell of a punch.”
Lech by Sara Lippmann
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Lech: “Lippmann takes a vivid look at the Catskills in her charming debut novel (after the collection Jerks). The paths of several lonely characters intertwine in rural Sullivan County in summer 2014. Noreen, a real estate agent, grew up there, and reflects on her Borscht Belt glory days, when her parents worked at a series of long-gone hotels. There’s also Beth, who is holed up in a rental while emotionally recovering from an abortion; Noreen’s 19-year-old daughter, Paige; and a 60-something local divorcé named Ira ‘Lech’ Lecher. The characters seek comfort in different ways. Beth strikes up an affair with Lech, who occasionally sleeps with Noreen, while Paige dreams of leaving for Florida. The various threads sometimes feel scattered, and there’s not much of a plot, but Lippmann has a knack for punchy dialogue (when Beth says her car is ‘bigger than a Smart car,’ Lech responds, ‘Can it do my taxes?’), and maintains a steady stream of commentary on the flailing region and the characters’ mixed feelings about outsiders (while Noreen would welcome gentrification, Paige scorns the ‘invad[ing]’ tourists: ‘plastic shells humping roofs like suspicious growths’). Lippmann’s amiable writing makes for great company.”
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Demon Copperhead: “Kingsolver (Unsheltered) offers a deeply evocative story of a boy born to an impoverished single mother. In this self-styled, modern adaptation of Dickens’s David Copperfield, Demon Copperhead, 11, is the quick-witted son and budding cartoonist of a troubled young mother and a stepfather in southern Appalachia’s Lee County, Va.; eventually, his mother’s opioid addiction places Demon in various foster homes, where he is forced to earn his keep through work (even though his guardians are paid) and is always hungry from lack of food. After a guardian steals his money, Demon hitchhikes to Tennessee in search of his paternal grandmother. She is welcoming, but will not raise him, and sends him back to live with the town’s celebrated high school football coach as his new guardian, a widower who lives in a castle-like home with his boyish daughter, Angus. Demon’s teen years settle briefly with fame on the football field and a girlfriend, Dori. But stability is short-lived after a football injury and as he and Dori become addicted to opioids (‘We were storybook orphans on drugs’). Kingsolver’s account of the opioid epidemic and its impact on the social fabric of Appalachia is drawn to heartbreaking effect. This is a powerful story, both brilliant in its many social messages regarding foster care, child hunger, and rural struggles, and breathless in its delivery.”
Also out this week: Helen House by Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya.