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August Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

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We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!
Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.
The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty: In Gunty’s debut novel, four teenagers formerly in the foster care system live in a run-down apartment building nicknamed the Rabbit Hutch. The novel expands and contracts temporally and spatially as Gunty delves into the lives, desires, dreams, and fates of the building’s residents. Mark Z. Danielewski says: “The Rabbit Hutch aches, bleeds, and even scars but it also forgives with laughter, with insight, and finally, through an act of generational independence that remains this novel’s greatest accomplishment, with an act of rescue, rescue of narrative, rescue from ritual, rescue of heart, the rescue of tomorrow.” (Carolyn)

The Women Could Fly by Megan Giddings: The Women Could Fly is set in an oppressive society in which witch trials occur and the State mandates women to marry at 30 or relinquish their autonomy. Josephine Thomas is almost 30 and ambivalent about marriage, but more concerned about her mother who disappeared more than ten years ago. The Women Could Fly has been compared to work by Octavia E. Butler, Shirley Jackson, and Margaret Atwood. As Alexandra Kleeman describes, “Born of a radical imagination and executed with piercing elegance and skill, The Women Could Fly recalls legendary works of dystopian fiction but casts a spell all its own. Giddings is a rare and utterly original voice bridging the speculative and the all-too-real.” (Zoë)

Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah: Nobel laureate Gurnah’s latest is a multi-generational exploration of colonial violence and displacement in east Africa through the lives of three young people: siblings Ilyas and Afiya—who are endlessly brutalized by family, country, and war—and Hamza, a fellow townsperson who, upon his return from war, falls in love with Afiya. Phil Klay says: “A work of extraordinary power, giving us a colonial world with utmost intimacy, capturing its cruelties and complexities, immersing us in vividly evoked characters, showing us moments of incredible tenderness and beauty, and quietly reordering our sense of history.” (Carolyn)

A Map for the Missing by Belinda Huijuan Tang: After years of living in the US, Tang Yitian receives a phone call from his mother: his father has disappeared from their native rural village in China. Yitian’s homecoming results in not only revealing the mystery of his family, but also a confrontation with a choice he made in his youth. Both he and his childhood friend Tian Hanwen made great efforts in trying to attend university in the city. But while Yitian successfully rose to a professorship in the US, Hanwen was left behind, becoming the housewife of a local bureaucrat. A Map for the Missing delves into China’s political landscape in recent decades and examines the price of making your own life decision. (Jianan Qian)

A Career in Books by Kate Gavino: In this graphic novel, recent NYU grads Silvia Bautista, Nina Nakamura, and Shirin Yap are roommates and friends who work in the publishing industry. They discover that Veronica Vo, their neighbor, is a Booker Prize winner whose books are out of print, and they take action to reissue her work. Booklist praises A Career in Books, stating that “While Gavino empathically showcases independent APA women in search of fulfillment, she also lovingly celebrates Asian American publishing with clever inclusions…Presented in delightful four-part, black-and-white panels, Gavino’s memorable characters manage the quotidian, dissect challenges, navigate change, and celebrate triumphs—together.” (Zoë)

Properties of Thirst by Marianne Wiggins: Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist Wiggins returns with a novel about the Rhodes family. Set against the backdrop of World War II, Rocky Rhodes, the patriarch, mourns the death of his wife, protects his California ranch, and his children, Sunny and Stryker. When the war brings itself to their front door, the Rhodes family must navigate their ways through love, loss, and personal and national tragedies. Kirkus’ starred review writes: “This majestic novel will satisfy those thirsting for an epic saga of love, family, and the complexities of the American way.” (Carolyn)

Bonsai by Alejando Zambra (translated by Megan McDowell): This latest addition to the translated work of the author of the fabulous “Chilean Poet” is described by the Chilean press (Capital) as “Brief as a sigh and forceful as a blow.” Deceptively simple, this profound tale of ephemeral love will, despite the brevity of the telling, haunt you. (Il’ja)

The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid: A speculative imagining of widespread racial “turnover,” the novel takes its inspiration from Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and adapts/shapes it for our times: “One morning Anders, a white man, woke up to find he had turned a deep and undeniable brown.” It turns out Anders is not alone. Havoc and reckonings of all kinds–– interpersonal, societal, psycho-emotional – ensue. (Sonya)

Dogs of Summer by Andrea Abreu (translated by Julia Sanches): This lyrical novel is set in a working-class neighborhood in Tenerife, far from the Canary Islands’ posh resorts. During one oppressively hot summer, the 10-year-old narrator and her best friend Isora experience changes in their bodies and their volatile emotions — from love to jealousy, admiration, obsession and submission. The story, laced with Canary Islands dialect and bachata lyrics, builds to a crescendo when desire and violence fuse. (Bill)

Bad Fruit by Ella King: In her debut novel, King follows 18-year-old Lily is spending her last summer before Oxford under the control and surveillance of her abusive mother May. As May’s mental health worsens, Lily begins to have traumatic flashbacks that don’t belong to her—and begins to unravel the secrets that shrouded their family. Lidia Yuknavitch calls the novel “breathtaking” and says “Ella King opens up the fraught space between mother and daughter to reveal both the unbearable weight of inherited traumas as well as the uncontainable desire of a heart reaching for life.” (Carolyn)

Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra: The newest novel by National Book Award nominee and NBCC John Leonard Prize Winner Marra (The Tsar of Love and Techno) follows Maria Lagana, a young woman who leaves Italy for Los Angeles with her mother in the decade before World War II. When the United States enters the war fifteen years later, Maria—who has carefully crafted a life free of her family’s transgressions—works as an associate producer at Mercury Pictures,  and soon finds her past, present, and future colliding in life-changing ways. Celeste Ng says: “Crackling with wit and suffused with insight, Anthony Marra’s new novel is as epic in sweep as a movie set yet delineates the inner workings of the human heart with a miniaturist’s precision.” (Carolyn)

Acceptance by Emi Nietfeld: Writer and software engineer Nietfeld’s memoir offers an absorbing and clear-eyed view into her dysfunctional childhood—including living with her mother, who was a hoarder; navigating homelessness and foster care; and her own mental health struggles—and how she made her way out (for better or worse) onto the other side to achieve societal “success.” Kirkus’ starred review writes: “The author offers a complex meditation on desperation, leveraging personal pain, and how the drive to achieve can be a gift and a pathology simultaneously.” (Carolyn)

Diary of a Void by Emi Yagi (translated by David Boyd and Lucy North): Winner of the Dazai Osamu Prize, Yagi’s debut novel follows 34-year-old Shibta as she comes up with a clever way of getting out of doing women’s labor in the workplace: She tells everyone she’s pregnant. As time goes on, Shibta becomes lost in the attention, relaxation, and routine of her fake pregnancy—and soon the lines between reality and fantasy become increasingly, and hilariously, blurred. Publishers Weekly’s starred review writes: “Absurdist, amusing and clever, the story brings subtlety and tact to its depiction of workplace discrimination—as well as a touch of magic.” (Carolyn)

Cat Brushing by Jane Campbell: In her debut collection, Campbell explores the desires, ambitions, intimacies, regrets, and struggles of thirteen older women, who—at the end of their lives—show us how much more they have to give, love, and live. Darcey Steinke writes: “Jane Campbell’s Cat Brushing is the debut of the decade, an eighty year old woman laying out the physical and spiritual struggle of life at its very end. I was haunted by these stories of older women falling, having strokes, dying–subjects often flattened into sentimentality–but in Campbell’s hands made both elegant and transgressive. We are striving creatures of intense desire, Campbell insists, until we are not.” (Carolyn)

Enjoy Me Among My Ruins by Juniper Fitzgerald: Fitzgerald’s experimental debut memoir defies genre as she crafts a bricolage of her life from conjured childhood memories, excerpted childhood letters to Gillian Anderson, and her life as a sex worker, mother, and queer academic. Chris Belcher writes: “Haunting and powerful, Enjoy Me among My Ruins traverses the American West and Midwest, conjuring the women and queers who have been forces in Fitzgerald’s life, and asking them to come along on her journey to destroy the contradictions of heteropatriarchy and dance upon its grave.” (Carolyn)

Ex-Members by Tobias Carroll: Writer, critic, and Vol. 1 Brooklyn managing editor Carroll’s (Political Sign) newest novel is about a hardcore band, northwestern New Jersey, friends-turned-enemies, the underground punk scene, unearthed secrets, and the hometowns that equally repeal and reel us back in. Chris L. Terry says: “Tobias Carroll has crafted a touching, quietly devastating novel about the triumphs and tragedies of chasing your dreams with your friends.” (Carolyn)

Autoportrait by Jesse Ball: The first memoir from ever-prolific writer and poet Ball (The Divers’ Game) shares a name with and is inspired by French writer Édouard Levé’s Autoportrait. The slim yet deeply alive book flows from one idea to the next—from the ordinary to the extraordinary—in one unbreaking and unflinching paragraph. Kirkus calls the memoir “a hypnotic personal reflection penned with clockwork discipline.” (Carolyn)

Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2022 Book Preview

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In what has proved to be an endlessly trying year, we hope this list—which contains more than 175 books—will provide opportunities for you to be delighted, excited, and surprised. The second half of 2022 brings new work from Anuradha Roy, Mohsin Hamid, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Marianne Wiggins, Annie Proulx, Namwali Serpell, Ling Ma, Percival Everett,  Andrew Sean Greer, Yiyun Li, Kamila Shamsie, Celeste Ng, Lászlo’ Krasznahorkai, George Saunders, Ian McEwan, Orhan Pamuk, and Cormac McCarthy (who is publishing not one, but two new books; what an overachiever!). We also have anticipated debuts by Morgan Talty, Tess Gunty, Jonathan Escoffery, and Zain Khalid. There’s also new books by two Millions staffers: Kate Gavino and Anne K. Yoder. We hope you’ll find a book, or two, or ten to keep you company amid all of this.
While we try our best, we miss books every single time we put this list together and, as usual, we will continue with our monthly previews, beginning in August. Let us know in the comments what you’re anticipating in the second half of 2022.
Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.
July
How to Read Now by Elaine Castillo: The author of the acclaimed novel America is Not the Heart now publishes a volume of criticism, essays destined to become classics–covering the lies told about fiction and empathy, the response to what Castillo calls “unexpected reader,” and the imperial and colonial ideas that undergird works of art and readings of them. Gina Apostol calls the collection, “a powerful punch in criticism’s solar plexus: Castillo’s take as the ‘unexpected reader’ is what literature needs now, both an absolute bomb and a balm—a master class in the art of reading. Her art is a corrective and a curative but also just a joy—humorous, insanely erudite, and absolutely necessary for our times.” (Lydia)
The Pink Hotel by Liska Jacobs: The perfect summer read just showed up on my doorstep and I can’t wait to dive in. The Pink Hotel is Jacobs’s third novel, and like her debut Catalina, she returns her sharp gaze and pleasing prose to Southern California. In this case, to a landmark hotel in Beverly Hills where small town newlyweds Kit and Keith have come for a honeymoon—as well as a possible job offer. When fires and protests engulf the city, chaos is unleashed. Kirkus calls the book a “sharp social satire” and Janelle Brown says it’s “heady and dark and dangerous.” (Edan)
The Great Man Theory by Teddy Wayne: Paul, a flailing New York academic, is writing a book entitled The Luddite Manifesto: How the Age of Screens is a Fatal Distraction, but his life goes south when he’s demoted into the adjunct ranks-and has to pick up Uber shifts to make ends meet. By turns funny and angry, with a healthy dose of poignant thrown in, this is the book for people who only think they’ve read all they ever want to read about the Trump era. (Michael)
1,000 Coils of Fear by Olivia Wenzel (translated by Priscilla Layne): Set during the 2016 U.S. prudential election season, playwright Wenzel’s debut novel follows an unnamed Black German woman splitting her time between Berlin and New York. Through memories, reflections, and an interview, the woman reveals much about her childhood, trauma, and her feelings about class, racism, and capitalism, as well as the dangers lurking internally and externally. Kirkus calls the debut “a prismatic novel, thoughtful and unsettling.” (Carolyn)
Brother Alive by Zain Khalid: When his closest confidantes leave behind their sons, imam Salim Smith adopts the three unrelated boys and they live above a Staten Island mosque. Despite their differences, the boys are held together by secrets, belief, and loyalty—which, in the end, may not be enough. “A novel with the polish and warmth of a stone smoothed in the hand after a lifetime of loving worry—original, darkly witty, sometimes bitter, and so very wise,” says Alexander Chee. “And certainly the debut of a major new writer.” (Carolyn)
Keya Das’s Second Act by Sopan Deb: New York Times reporter Sopan Deb’s debut novel is set in the world of Bengalis living in the New Jersey suburbs. Shantau Das is a man in exile — divorced from his wife, estranged from his traditional Bengali neighbors, no longer speaking with his elder daughter and, worst of all, tortured by regrets that he failed to accept his late daughter Keya after she came out as gay. The discovery of the unfinished manuscript of a play Keya was writing could release Shantau from his exile. By staging the play, the members of this splintered family realize they can pay homage to Keya while discovering new meanings of family, creativity and second chances. (Bill) 
After the Hurricane by Leah Franqui: From the author of America for Beginners, a woman leaves her life as a success story in New York to return to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, in a search for the father she hasn’t seen in years, a family mystery that interrogates success and explores family ties. (Lydia)
The Empire of Dirt by Francesca Manfredi (translated by Ekin Olap): Your first period often feels like the start of a curse; for 12-year-old Valentina, it may actually be one. The walls of the house she shares with her mother and grandmother start to bleed, the first of several plagues to descend on the family, as Valentina’s world falls into chaos. Maybe it’s a generational curse, as Valentina’s grandmother believes. Maybe it’s the fruit of decades of family secrets. Maybe it’s just what it feels like to grow up in a world hostile to women and girls. The English language debut of Italian author Francesca Manfredi, The Empire of Dirt is as elegant and precise as it is haunting. (Kaulie)
Bad Thoughts by Nada Alic: Alic’s sharp and funny debut story collection follows women—who party, obsess, dream, desire, and cope—within and against the confines of the modern world. T Kira Madden writes: “Alic offers a collection tracing the brutal and hilarious contours of humanity, with every sentence engined on the current between the two. Astute and unpredictable without ever veering into kitsch, Alic is a vital voice of our time.” (Carolyn)
Hawk Mountain by Conner Habib: A single father finds himself playing host to an old classmate who used to bully him back in high school. As they become reacquainted he learns that bullies don’t change much and that the impulse behind their behavior is quite often something other than hatred. This is the debut novel by the Dublin-based American author, a story the publisher calls a “tense story of deception, manipulation, and murder.” (Il’ja)
Calling for a Blanket Dance by Oscar Hokeah: A young Native American man is intent on finding “a place for himself” (author’s website) in a world seemingly bent on giving him anything but that. Drawing on a wealth of Indigenous tradition, Hokeah has produced in his debut a novel that underscores the quiet strength that arises when a family is true to its identity and the too common tragedy that results when identity is suppressed. (Il’ja)
Amanat edited by Zaure Batayeva and Shelley Fairweather-Vega: Amanat is a Kazakh word that refers to a promise, a moral commitment, and a cultural legacy to be cherished and protected. Likewise, the same-titled anthology introduces the most representative yet diverse voices from post-Soviet Kazakhstan. Together, they piece out the intergenerational history of a country that has been reshaped by politics several times in recent decades. In these stories, the wisdom, struggles, and resilience of the real people never cease to inspire us. (Jianan Qian)
Self-Portrait with Ghost by Meng Jin: Self-Portrait with Ghost is the first story collection by Meng Jin, the acclaimed author of Little Gods. Written during the recent years of political turbulence and social isolation, these stories teeter on a fulcrum between past and future, US and China, self and society. Compared with other times of human history, the contemporary age seems to reward us with generous access to knowledge and information. But Jin’s stories, in smart and unique ways, also remind us of the other side of the coin: we are constantly inventing and reinventing our self-images, and, despite seemingly more vehicles to express our thoughts, we do not have much real power. (Jianan Qian)
The Burning Season by Alison Wisdom: America is often spoken of as the “city on a hill,” a utopian refugee and site of spiritual yearning, yet very often the communities born from that Edenic vision are more like Jonestown or the Manson Family than they are paradise. Alison Wisdom, the author of the acclaimed novel We Can Only Save Ourselves, presents a particularly American fable in her latest book about married couple Rosemary and Paul, and their residence with an ultraconservative and misogynistic cult led by the charismatic Papa Jake in Dawes, Texas. Paul takes to the confines of the community with relative ease, while Rosemary is appropriately disquieted, especially as a series of symbolically fraught wild fires break out, and threaten to immolate those who’ve sought sanctuary in this potentially dangerous place. Papa Jake promises “Traces of heaven – the glory of God falling like light, feathers of the angels. Evidence of the presence of God, a miracle,” but Dawes is another American nightmare. Here in this community where women delete their period apps and wild fires threaten to burn the world, Wisdom provides a trenchant parable for our moment. (Ed Simon)
Crying in the Bathroom by Erika L. Sánchez: In her memoir-in-essays, Sánchez (I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter) writes about growing up the daughter of Mexican immigrants, her journey to becoming a bestselling writer, and everything in between with heart, humor, and vulnerability. About the essay collection, Sandra Cisneros says: “It’s only after you’ve laughed that you understand the heartbreak beneath the laughter. I relished especially the stories she shares about being a wanderer savoring her solitude, a rare gift for a woman, but absolutely essential for any writer.” (Carolyn)
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin: A chance subway encounter between childhood friends leads to video game design stardom. Set over the course of thirty years, the novel follows these lifelong friends navigate love, loss, and fame in Massachusetts, Los Angeles, and all the real and virtual places in between. Publishers Weekly’s starred review calls the novel “an exhilarating epic” and “a one-of-a-kind achievement.” (Carolyn)
Sister Mother Warrior by Vanessa Riley: Riley’s (Island Queen) newest novel reimagines the true stories of two women during the Haitian Revolution: Marie-Claire Bonheur, the first Empress of Haiti, and Gran Toya, a free West African-born warrior. The two women, fights in their own right, meet when a war breaks out on Saint Domingue—and they both make their mark in the revolution that led to Haiti’s independence. Myriam J. A. Chancy calls the novel “richly imagined, meticulously researched, and fast-paced” that “encourages us to rethink history through fresh eyes.” (Carolyn)
The Earthspinner by Anuradha Roy: Booker Prize nominee Roy’s newest novel follows Elango, a Hindu potter, who becomes obsessed with rendering an image that came to him in a dream: a terracotta horse. Once the horse is complete, Elango struggles with heartbreak, religious violence, and an ever-changing community that may no longer accept him. Narrated by his student Sara, a lonely woman on the cusp of adulthood, the novel explores themes of love, loss, art, myth, nature, and the tension between the East and West. Publishers Weekly’s starred review says that this “novel of small tragedies” is “Roy’s best to date.” (Carolyn)
An Honest Living by Dwyer Murphy: Murphy, a former litigator and the editor-in-chief at CrimeReads, has produced an engaging noirish debut novel. A freelance lawyer in mid-aughts Brooklyn is approached by a mysterious woman calling herself Anna Reddick who offers him $10,000 cash to track down her missing husband, who, she believes, is pilfering rare true-crime books from her collection. Cue Chinatown. When the real Anna Reddick shows up, the story ricochets through a series of deceptions involving unscrupulous book sellers, a possible suicide, a sleazy real-estate developer and an eccentric female novelist. The writing is brisk, never showy, and Murphy delivers a loving snapshot of a New York that existed not so long ago but is already long gone. (Bill)
Kaleidoscope by Cecily Wong: The second novel from Wong, Kaleidoscope follows Riley Brighton, second daughter of a rag-to-riches Chinese American family who found their fortune in a “globally bohemian,” culturally appropriating shopping chain, as she tries to make sense of a staggering loss and her own place in the Brighton story. Celeste Ng calls it “a moving portrayal of the tangled knot of sisterhood and the dizzying spiral of grief. Cecily Wong’s dazzling second novel deftly explores the complex push-pull of family and ambition, and the ways we learn to define ourselves in—and out of—our loved ones’ orbits.” (Kaulie)
Harry Sylvester Bird by Chinelo Okparanta: Harry Sylvester Bird is a young white man from Pennsylvania with racist parents who embarrass him, leading him to mount a project of personal redemption in adulthood that involves a “Transracial-Anon group” and eventually goes awry. Kirkus calls it a “tart, questioning exploration of how deep racism runs.” (Lydia)
Sirens & Muses by Antonia Angress: Sirens & Muses, Angress’s debut novel, is already drawing glowing comparisons to that famous campus-novel debut The Secret History, if The Secret History had the art fascination of The Goldfinch. “An intriguing exploration of art and wealth spearheaded by messy, engrossing characters” (Kirkus), Sirens & Muses follows four artists through a year at an elite art school and then into the heart of New York City during Occupy, raising and upending questions of beauty, class, money and artistic identity along the way. For fans of Tartt, obviously, but also of Writers & Lovers, The Interestings, and all stories of art, desire, and the search for an authentic self. (Kaulie)
Shmutz by Felicia Berliner: The great masculine, priapic enfant terrible of Jewish American literature was Philip Roth, whose sexual foibles and neuroses came in for ample investigation across his corpus. All those shiksas, the STD anxieties, that scene with the liver in Portnoy’s Complaint. And yet Jewish women were often made the punchline of that formidable canon, the jokes about overbearing mothers and nagging wives. Now, in a voice evocative of Erica Jong, Felicia Berliner answers the Rothian tradition in Shmutz, with a cover evoking the erotic congruencies of Purim hamantaschen. Unlike Roth, Berliner takes religious seriously, exploring the intersection of the physical and spiritual in the story of Raizl, a young Hasidic college student who is awaiting for her arranged marriage but in the meantime becomes increasingly addicted to internet porn. “But the videos imprinted in her memory will not be erased and sealed shut. No angel will come to wipe away her knowledge.” Desire and guilt, faith and ecstasy – Berliner proves that such human categories are never diametrically opposed, but rather always enmeshed together in the throes of their own combative passion. (Ed Simon)
Gods of Want by K-Ming Chang: National Book Award “5 Under 35” honoree Chang (Bestiary) returns with a story collection—steeped in feminism, queerness, and fabulism— that focuses on the lives, loves, memories, myths, and secrets of Asian American women. About the debut collection, Dantiel W. Moniz says: “Full of mythic desire, joy and pain disguised as the other, and navigating the precarious balance of how to belong to a land while still belonging to oneself, Gods of Want is bursting with language and images so striking, so sure of their own strength, I found myself stunned.” (Carolyn)
The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories by Jamil Jan Kochai: From the Pen/Hemingway finalist Jamil Jan Kochai, comes a stunning new story collection that captures contemporary Afghanistan and the Afghan diaspora in America. A young man’s video game adventure mutates into an investigation of his father’s war memories. Two married medical doctors choose to take care of their fellow countrymen despite the disappearance of their own son. A college student in the US launches a hunger strike against the Israeli violence against Palestine. Jamil’s stories blur the line between fantasy and reality, and even comedy and tragedy. He breathes new life into the narratives of war and displacement. (Jianan Qian)
Fire Season by Leyna Krow: A suicidal banker sees opportunity in an illegal scheme. A new-to-town con man’s time may finally be running out. A future-seeing woman entertains both these men with her power. In her debut novel, Krow (I’m Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinking) follows these three people as their lives converge and are irreparably changed when a fire devastates their town. Anna North says the novel is “an arresting take on magic, science, disaster, and salvation that’s eerily resonant with the fire seasons we find ourselves living through today.” (Carolyn)
Total by Rebecca Miller: As a fan of Miller’s previous short story collection, Personal Velocity, published way back in 2001, I was happy to learn that her new book is a return to short fiction. Almost all the stories center on women, exploring desire, infidelity, motherhood, and technology. Publishers Weekly calls the collection “alluring,” while Kirkus describes it as “a beautifully constructed, acutely felt, morally honest collection.” (Hannah)
Life Ceremony by Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori): Murata’s (Earthlings) first collection to be translated into English features 12 stories about what it means to be human here and now, in the future, and in alternate realities only the author can dream of. In a starred review, Kirkus calls the collection “beautiful, disturbing, and thought-provoking.” (Carolyn)
Briefly, a Delicious Life by Nell Stevens: Creative inspiration is a kind of haunting. The sudden appearances, the inexplicable coincidences, the deep mystery of where the voice you’re hearing is actually coming from. Nell Stevens’ novel Briefly, a Delicious Life investigates such creative hauntings, literal and otherwise, in the story of Bianca, the ghost of a fifteenth-century girl who inhabits the Charterhouse, a former monastery in Mallorca. Almost four centuries after her death, and Bianca falls in love with a new resident, the beautiful nineteenth-century French novelist George Sand who has arrived with her lover, the composer Frederic Chopin. “I died in 1473, when I was fourteen years old, and had been at the Charterhouse ever since,” Bianca says, yet “After I died, I found myself in a time of beautiful women,” with one spectral eye towards the oblivious Sand. Stevens provides a haunting (in all senses of the word) and evocative magical realist account of creativity and gender, sexuality and inspiration, a ghost story both gothic and beautiful. (Ed Simon)
Dirtbag, Massachusetts by Isaac Fitzgerald: Fitzgerald publishes a memoir in essays about the many lives he has lived, inculding time in a Boston homeless shelter in his youth. The big-hearted Fitzgerald explores masculinity, self image, self-acceptance, and life in what Marlon James calls “A heart on the sleeve, demons in check, eyes unblinking, unbearably sad, laugh-out-loud funny revelation.” (Lydia)
Half Outlaw by Alex Temblador: Temblador’s first novel for adults follows Raqi, an orphaned girl, now woman, who receives a call that the addict uncle that raised her is dead and his motorcycle club has invited her on his Grieving Ride. Though she wants to decline, the club leader dangles a promise: if she attends, he will give her the address of her paternal Mexican grandfather. Desperate to have familial connection, Raqi agrees and sets off on cross-country trek where she will discover more about herself, her family, and her upbringing than she ever could have imagined. Tarfia Faizullah says: “With tender rigor, Temblador takes on the complexities of both chosen and inherited family and culture, while also taking us on a thrilling heroine’s journey.” (Carolyn)
The Man Who Could Move Clouds by Ingrid Rojas Contreras: This memoir by Contreras (Fruit of the Drunken Tree) looks back on her childhood in a politically-fraught Colombia in the 1980s and 1990s. After suffering a bout of amnesia in her young adulthood, she returns to Colombia to reacquaint, reorient, and rediscover her familial history. “The Man Who Could Move Clouds is a memoir like no other, mapping memory, myth, and the mysteries and magic of ancestry with stark tenderness and beauty,” raves Patricia Engel. “A dreamlike and literal excavation of the powers of inheritance, Ingrid Rojas Contreras has given us a glorious gift with these pages.” (Carolyn)
Other Names for Love by Taymour Soomro: A novel about masculinity, family, and desire following a 16-year-old Fahad during a summer in rural Pakistan, where a connection with another boy will haunt him through adulthood in London and then an eventual return to the scenes of the past. (Lydia)
Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty: A collection of 12 linked stories following David, a boy growing up in the Panawahpskek (Penobscot) Nation of Maine in the present day, detailing incidents funny, painful, traumatic, and formative to its characters. A review in the New York Times Book Review raves “Talty forms a rich and vast picture of what it is to be alive, with stunning clarity, empathy and unwavering honesty.” (Lydia)
Denial by Jon Raymond: “Hopeful” isn’t a word typically associated with cli-fi, and yet, John Raymond’s fourth novel, Denial, defies expectations in this way. Set in the year 2052, Denial depicts a world ravaged by climate change but that has avoided the catastrophe that it could have been due to a global protest movement that broke up the fossil fuel corporations and placed former executives on trial for crimes against the environment. The twist in this story comes when a journalist tracks down and plans to confront one of the most notorious executives who fled the country and escaped punishment in Mexico. As Jenny Offill praises: it’s “as fast-paced as a thriller, but the mystery at the heart of it is not who committed the crime but how to live in its eerie aftermath.” (Anne)
Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield: The first novel from the author of salt slow, Our Wives Under the Sea follows Miri as she struggles to understand what has happened to her wife, Leah, fresh back from a deep sea mission gone wrong. In a starred review, our sister site Publishers Weekly describes it as “a moody and intimate debut… both a portrait of a marriage and a subtle horror fantasy;” Kristin Arnett calls it “one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s not only art, it’s a perfect miracle.” (Kaulie)
The Poet’s House by Jean Thompson: Claire, a woman in her twenties, begins working for Viridian, a poet whose career has been defined by her work and love affair with Mathias, a prominent poet. As she spends time within this insular literary circle, Claire considers Viridian’s life choices and compromises and develops her own relationship with words. Julia Alvarez describes The Poet’s House as “a coming-of-age novel, a novel of manners (Jane Austen, make some room on that big bench, dear), a page-turning narrative with laugh-out-loud scenes, and ultimately a hopeful, affirming book about how words can stir the mystery in us, help us find ourselves, and maybe even make us, however reluctantly, bigger versions of ourselves.” Jean Thompson’s most recent book has received starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist. (Zoë)
Big Girl by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan: Set in Harlem, this debut coming-of-age novel follows a young girl growing up in Harlem in the ‘90s, navigating an Upper East Side prep school, exploring her artistic talents and hungers of all kinds, and facing intense maternal-line pressured to be thin and perfect. Starred review from Publishers Weekly – “A treasure.” (Sonya)
August
Mothercare by Lynne Tillman: Lynne Tillman has a way of perceiving and writing that’s both nuanced and incisive. Her philosophical memoir, Mothercare: On Love, Death, and Ambivalence, grapples with the challenges of caring for a dying parent, the innavigable US healthcare system, and a daughter’s ambivalence and grief—specifically in the context of the emotions that arise while caring for a difficult parent. As artist Gregg Bordowitz champions, “Only Lynne Tillman can write a clear-eyed account examining a topic that is anything but clearly comprehensible. This is a book about caring for the ill and dying, loss, regret, resentment, and contradictory emotions; all the mysteries of human attachments through their various transformations.” (Anne)
Mother in the Dark by Kayla Maiuri: A story about a family who moves from city to suburb and up the class hierarchy, throwing their family order in disarray and leading to a confrontation that tests the bonds between mother, daughters, and sisters. Daniel Loedel calls it “a gorgeous novel with profound insights into what keeps a family together and what it takes to shake off the stranglehold of the past.” (Lydia)
Paul by Daisy Lafarge: Poet Lafarge’s debut novel follows Frances, a 21-year-old British graduate student, who is volunteering on a farm in southern France. When she arrives, she meets the farm’s wildly charismatic and mysterious owner, Paul. As their physical and emotional connection deepens, Frances realizes what she stands to lose—and how she must save herself. Alexandra Kleeman writes, “Daisy Lafarge’s debut is a force to be reckoned with: all sinewy prose and sharp compulsion, with deep insight about the choreography of power and its eerie, unsettling flavor.” (Carolyn)
Bad Sex by Nona Aronowitz: Our historical moment is, once again, particularly in need of clear-eyed, unrepentant, and radical understandings of women’s identity and sexuality. Fifty years after Second Wave Feminism envisioned different ways of existing in the world, and the Supreme Court along with its fellow travelling prudes, scolds, and puritans have stripped women of their fundamental rights, the misogynistic and theocratic impulse still strong in the American psyche. A writer for Teen Vogue, which has surprisingly been one of the most consistent of progressive political voices during our revanchist age, and Nona Aronowitz calls upon the example of her own mother, feminist theorist Ellen Willis, to answer questions about “What exactly, do I want? And are my sexual and romantic desires even possible amid the horrors and bribes of patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy?” Within Bad Sex, Aronowitz introduces readers to fervent sluts and ambiguous wives, radical lesbians and liberationist lovers, all to discover how we reconcile ourselves and our desires in this time when both are under assault. (Ed Simon)
When We Were Bright and Beautiful by Jillian Medoff: Set on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Cassie, the only daughter to the uber wealthy Quinn family, returns home when her youngest brother, Billy, is accused of rape by his ex-girlfriend. As the family fights to get Billy acquitted and cleared of all charges, Cassie struggles with her privilege, belief in her brother, and the secrets in her past that threaten to unravel it all. Kirkus calls the novel “a layered and compelling peek into the darkest consequences of privilege,” while Publishers Weekly says “Medoff does a good job developing Cassie’s complicated feelings, and leaves readers reflecting on the family’s intergenerational abuse of power.” (Carolyn)
Witches by Brenda Lozano (translated by Heather Cleary): “The two narrative voices in Brenda Lozano’s Witches, Zoé, a journalist from Mexico City and Feliciana, an indigenous curandera, or healer, based in a small town, are connected by the murder of a third. Paloma was Feliciana’s cousin, as well as a curandera and a muxe, or trans woman, who mentored Feliciana in the curandera’s practices, a position usually reserved for men. Witches examines and intertwines a multitude of binaries– the two Mexicos, white and indigenous cultures, and femininity and machista masculinity. The result “is a story of the world’s repeated failure to control feminine power and the sheer magic of language itself,” proclaims Catherine Lacey. (Anne)
All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews: Sneha graduates into the worst days of an American economic recession. Fortunately enough, she finds an entry-level company job and starts to explore new friendships and romance. But life never goes as one expects. Before long, Sneha steps into deep trouble which jeopardizes her job and everything else. All This Could Be Different captures the authentic adventure of an immigrant: how she manages to forge a bond with the US through love and community. Sarah Thankam Mathews’s tender and beautiful prose renders the story unforgettable. (Jianan Qian)
Acting Class by Nick Drnaso: In a follow-up to his Booker-longlisted graphic novel, Sabrina, Drnaso’s newest follows ten strangers—including a bored married couple, a single mother, and an ex-con—who meet at a community center acting class and find themselves under the spell of their mysterious and dubious leader, John. Kevin Barry says: “”Masterfully told, artfully layered, and beautifully rendered, Acting Class shows again that Nick Drnaso is attuned to a particular American ennui and eeriness like no other artist currently at work.” (Carolyn)
Touch by Olaf Olafsson: In this quiet drama an aging Icelandic restaurant owner isn’t about to allow the global pandemic to stop him from seeing his first love again. Along the way he discovers that their 50 years of separation and the distance from his home to hers in her native Japan are but the least of the obstacles to be overcome in any quest for resolution. (Il’ja)
A Map for the Missing by Belinda Huijuan Tang: After years of living in the US, Tang Yitian receives a phone call from his mother: his father has disappeared from their native rural village in China. Yitian’s homecoming results in not only revealing the mystery of his family, but also a confrontation with a choice he made in his youth. Both he and his childhood friend Tian Hanwen made great efforts in trying to attend university in the city. But while Yitian successfully rose to a professorship in the US, Hanwen was left behind, becoming the housewife of a local bureaucrat. A Map for the Missing delves into China’s political landscape in recent decades and examines the price of making your own life decision. (Jianan Qian)
Dogs of Summer by Andrea Abreu (translated by Julia Sanches): This lyrical novel is set in a working-class neighborhood in Tenerife, far from the Canary Islands’ posh resorts. During one oppressively hot summer, the 10-year-old narrator and her best friend Isora experience changes in their bodies and their volatile emotions — from love to jealousy, admiration, obsession and submission. The story, laced with Canary Islands dialect and bachata lyrics, builds to a crescendo when desire and violence fuse. (Bill)
The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty: In Gunty’s debut novel, four teenagers formerly in the foster care system live in a run-down apartment building nicknamed the Rabbit Hutch. The novel expands and contracts temporally and spatially as Gunty delves into the lives, desires, dreams, and fates of the building’s residents. Mark Z. Danielewski says: “The Rabbit Hutch aches, bleeds, and even scars but it also forgives with laughter, with insight, and finally, through an act of generational independence that remains this novel’s greatest accomplishment, with an act of rescue, rescue of narrative, rescue from ritual, rescue of heart, the rescue of tomorrow.” (Carolyn)
The Ghetto Within by Santiago H. Amigorena (translated by Frank Wynne): French-Argentine writer Amigorena’s English language debut, which won the Prix des libraires de Nancy, reimagines the life of his Jewish grandfather and the guilty silences that echoed throughout his family for generations. A starred review in Kirkus’ calls the autobiographical novel (one in a series by the author) “a bleak, affecting portrait that points to immeasurable collateral damage.” (Carolyn)
The Hundred Waters by Lauren Acampora: Sometimes the suburbs aren’t so bad – nice yard, more space, settled feelings – but for Louisa, a semi-retired Manhattan photographer, they begin to feel like a stultifying “fairytale quicksand” sucking at everything she once lived for. Her efforts to revitalize her hometown’s art center help keep her head above water, but life only begins to regain some real interest when Gabriel, an intense young artist, comes to town and captivates both Louisa and her preteen daughter, Sylvie, to dangerous effect. The latest from Acampora, author of The Paper Wasp and The Wonder Garden, The Hundred Waters is “arresting,” “enjoyably offbeat,” (Publishers Weekly) and carried by the voice of Louisa, who’s many things but never your standard bored suburbanite. (Kaulie)
Mother of Strangers by Suad Amiry: Set in Jaffa between 1947 and 1951, architect and non-fiction writer Amiry’s debut novel follows a young couple, Subhi and Shams, falling in love while the Palestine as they once knew it—bustling, beautiful, and prosperous—falls apart around them. Booklist’s starred review calls the novel “a powerful story of love, loss, and the destruction of a nation.” (Carolyn)
The Women Could Fly by Megan Giddings: The Women Could Fly is set in an oppressive society in which witch trials occur and the State mandates women to marry at 30 or relinquish their autonomy. Josephine Thomas is almost 30 and ambivalent about marriage, but more concerned about her mother who disappeared more than ten years ago. The Women Could Fly has been compared to work by Octavia E. Butler, Shirley Jackson, and Margaret Atwood. As Alexandra Kleeman describes, “Born of a radical imagination and executed with piercing elegance and skill, The Women Could Fly recalls legendary works of dystopian fiction but casts a spell all its own. Giddings is a rare and utterly original voice bridging the speculative and the all-too-real.” (Zoë)
The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid: A speculative imagining of widespread racial “turnover,” the novel takes its inspiration from Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and adapts/shapes it for our times: “One morning Anders, a white man, woke up to find he had turned a deep and undeniable brown.” It turns out Anders is not alone. Havoc and reckonings of all kinds–– interpersonal, societal, psycho-emotional – ensue. (Sonya)
Stories from The Tenants Downstairs by Sidik Fofana: Set in a low-income Harlem high rise, where the threat of gentrification looms large, Fofana’s debut collection features eight interconnected stories about the tenants as they deal with personal struggles and find hope amid precarity. Mateo Askaripour says: “Yes, Stories from the Tenants Downstairs is funny, and yes, it is a collection that will make your jaw drop several times, but its true power lies in what it has to say about community, and how this road called life is more bearable when we walk it together. What a gift Fofana’s writing is, especially now.” (Carolyn)
The Fortunes of Jaded Women by Carolyn Huynh: Vietnamese American women in Orange County fall victim to an ancestral curse brought on by a witch, the result of which is havoc wreaked on the love lives of three sisters and even the next generation. What do you do to get rid of a curse? Consult a psychic and never give up. Nancy Jooyoun Kim raves of the book “sharp, smart, and gloriously extra, The Fortunes of Jaded Women pays homage to the counterfeit-Louis-Vuitton queens of the Vietnamese diaspora and West Coast witches everywhere.” (Lydia)
Cyclorama by Adam Langer: The past and present collide in a Chicago high school production of The Diary of Anne Frank, one in 1982 and one in 2017, where the longstanding abuses of power of the director finally surface, and the story at the heart of the play is interwoven with the grim dynamics of Trump-era America. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly calls the novel “an outstanding performance.” (Lydia)
Meet us by the Roaring Sea by Akil Kumarasamy: A genrebending novel set in the near future, when a young woman deals with the fallout of a family catastrophe through translating an old manuscript and getting involved with a strange AI project. Cathy Park Hong raves, “”Akil Kumarasamy is a singular talent. In her novel Meet Us By the Roaring Sea, Kumarasamy has braided together stories that are original, fresh, and breathtakingly imaginative as she reflects on the ethics of care in the age of digital capitalism. I love this book.” (Lydia)
Delphi by Clare Pollard: Prophecy has always appealed to the human mind because the terror of what comes next can otherwise only be satiated by the grueling process of just waiting to see. For those ancient Greeks who made their way to the Oracle at Delphi, there was the hope that those seers could answer appeals about what awaited the pilgrim. Madness, of course, also threatens the prophet and the pilgrim, for it’s easy for the required humility to be replaced by an understandable hubris regarding tealeaves, palms, or sheep livers. Clare Pollard’s ingenious novel Delphi acknowledges both the desire threat of prophecy in her tale of its unnamed narrator, an English classics professor writing about ancient oracles right as Covid-19 sequesters Londoners in their homes, the pestilence just beginning to unleash its sufferings upon the world. Plague and prophecy, two vestiges of the pre-modern world that Pollard shows can’t always be so easily repressed, for in Delphi there is a return to that March 2020 when all of us wished we could know how the days, weeks, and months ahead would unfold, though whether that would have made any difference or not is a question for Cassandra. (Ed Simon)
Haven by Emma Donoghue: Bestselling author Donoghue returns with historical fiction about three monks who travel to a remote island—whose presence came to their leader in a dream—off the coast of Ireland. Esi Edugyan writes: “This is a patient, thoughtful novel with much to say about spirituality, hope, and human failure, and about the miracle of mercy.” (Carolyn)
The Devil Takes You Home by Gabino Iglesias: The decorated thriller writer Gabino Iglesias (author of Zero Saints and Coyote Songs) may or may not have been channeling Walter White when he created his new protagonist Mario, a father who’s buried in debt due to his daughter’s cancer diagnosis. After agreeing to go to work as a hit man, Mario discovers, to his surprise, that he’s good at the job. This propulsive, gut punch of a thriller then teams Mario with an old friend and Mexican drug cartel insider who has a plan to snatch the cartel’s $2 million cash shipment. Mario accepts this suicide mission, figuring he’ll wind up rich or with a bullet in his head. (Bill)
Boulder by Eva Baltasar (translated by Julia Sanches): Baltasar’s (Permafrost) newest novel the narrator “Boulder,” a cook on a merchant ship, as she falls in loved with Samsa, a young Icelandic woman. Eventually the two women move in together and Samsa decides, at 40, that she wants to have a child—though Boulder finds herself wanting to flee. Kirkus’ starred review says: “A novel that lionizes the desire to be alone even as it recognizes the beauty and grace found within a family.” (Carolyn)
Moth by Melody Razak: Set during the Indian Partition in 1947, British Iranian writer Razak explores the devastation and tumult experienced by one Brahmin family. When their daughter Alma’s engagement is meddled with, their entire world—as a family, as a nation—is changed forever. Starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Kirkus call the literary debut “exceptional.” (Carolyn)
Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah: Nobel laureate Gurnah’s latest is a multi-generational exploration of colonial violence and displacement in east Africa through the lives of three young people: siblings Ilyas and Afiya—who are endlessly brutalized by family, country, and war—and Hamza, a fellow townsperson who, upon his return from war, falls in love with Afiya. Phil Klay says: “A work of extraordinary power, giving us a colonial world with utmost intimacy, capturing its cruelties and complexities, immersing us in vividly evoked characters, showing us moments of incredible tenderness and beauty, and quietly reordering our sense of history.” (Carolyn)
My Government Means to Kill Me by Rasheed Newson: The coming-of-age debut by television writer and producer Newsom (The Chi, Narcos, Bel-Air) follows Earl “Trey” Singleton III, a gay, Black teenager, who flees his wealthy family and travels to 1980s New York City where he has personal, political, and social awakenings. About the novel, Xochitl Gonzalez writes, “Newson’s Trey and his determination to live life on his own terms, even in the face of death all around him, brings into three dimension an era of New York Queer life that, too often, has been flattened and whitewashed by history.” (Carolyn)
A Career in Books by Kate Gavino: In this graphic novel, recent NYU grads Silvia Bautista, Nina Nakamura, and Shirin Yap are roommates and friends who work in the publishing industry. They discover that Veronica Vo, their neighbor, is a Booker Prize winner whose books are out of print, and they take action to reissue her work. Booklist praises A Career in Books, stating that “While Gavino empathically showcases independent APA women in search of fulfillment, she also lovingly celebrates Asian American publishing with clever inclusions…Presented in delightful four-part, black-and-white panels, Gavino’s memorable characters manage the quotidian, dissect challenges, navigate change, and celebrate triumphs—together.” (Zoë)
Bonsai by Alejando Zambra (translated by Megan McDowell): This latest addition to the translated work of the author of the fabulous “Chilean Poet” is described by the Chilean press (Capital) as “Brief as a sigh and forceful as a blow.” Deceptively simple, this profound tale of ephemeral love will, despite the brevity of the telling, haunt you. (Il’ja)
Perish by LaToya Watkins: A multi-generational, multi-perspective family novel set in Texas, about a Black family whose members gather at the death bed of their matriarch. Secrets, trauma, culpability, and forgiveness arise for each family member is various ways. The debut novel by Watkins, a Texas native. (Sonya)
All the Ruined Men by Bill Glose: In his new linked story collection, combat veteran Glose writes about American soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq—and the physical, mental, and emotional battles they faced once off the battlefield. For fans of Phil Klay, Kevin Powers, and Tim O’Brien, according to the publisher, Kirkus’ starred review says the collection contains “painfully honest and consistently empathetic glimpses of modern American soldiers in war and peace.” (Carolyn)
Bright by Kiki Petrosino: The first full-length essay collection from acclaimed poet Petrosino, a work of memoir, archival research, history, literary study, formal experimentation, and reflection on Petrosino’s experience of girlhood in a Black and Italian family in Pennsylvania. Ross Gay calls it “an astonishing lyric archive of the body—who it’s made of; what’s imposed upon it; what’s extracted from it—the result of which is one of the most moving, and incisive documents on the brutalizing fictions of race that I’ve ever read.” (Lydia)
Tomorrow in Shanghai by May-lee Chai: A new collection of stories by the author of, most recently, Useful Phrases for Immigrants, following characters from the present day to the future, from China to France to a colony on mars. Charles Yu says of the book, “May-lee Chai’s abundant gifts as a writer are on full display in this collection.” (Lydia)
The Performance by Claudi Petrucci (translated by Anne Milano Appel): All the world’s a stage…In this English-language debut, Claudia Petrucci provides a fresh take on an age-old issue: the blurred lines between art and life. In the novel, set in Milan, a woman working in a grocery store returns to the acting profession she once loved. She is an incandescent actor but soon suffers a complete breakdown, showing signs of life only when reading scripted scenes. What follows is a tangled Pygmalion story in which her boyfriend and her theater director conspire, each with his own motives, to shape her anew according to their own script. (Matt)
Dead-End Memories by Banana Yoshimoto (translated by Asa Yoneda): Debuting in the US for the first time, but published originally in Japan twenty years ago, each of the five stories in this volume focus on women who endure “sudden and painful events” and then “quietly discover their ways back to recovery.” (Nick M.)
Properties of Thirst by Marianne Wiggins: Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist Wiggins returns with a novel about the Rhodes family. Set against the backdrop of World War II, Rocky Rhodes, the patriarch, mourns the death of his wife, protects his California ranch, and his children, Sunny and Stryker. When the war brings itself to their front door, the Rhodes family must navigate their ways through love, loss, and personal and national tragedies. Kirkus’ starred review writes: “This majestic novel will satisfy those thirsting for an epic saga of love, family, and the complexities of the American way.” (Carolyn)
Water over Stones by Bernardo Atxaga (translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Thomas Bunstead): From the prolific author of Nevada Days, a new novel about a small village in the Basque country, spanning the 1970s to 2017, following boys whose lives are intertwined in an insular community in the shadow of Franco’s Spain. In a starred review, Kirkus calls it “a quietly remarkable offering.” (Lydia)
American Fever by Dur e Aziz Amna: To balance on the hyphen between the word “American” and whatever nationality, race, or religion which precedes it can often be a precarious position, as centuries of literature about immigration has shown. Dur e Aziz Amna does what every great writer within this tradition does – indeed whatever immigrant to America has done – to retell that familiar story of exile and prejudice, discovery and glory once again, but to make it indelibly and completely her own. Her debut novel American Fever follows sixteen-year-old Pakistani exchange student Hira as she acclimates to the alien land of rural Oregon during the Obama years, discovering both her own fissures and complexities, as well as those of the nation that she’s to reside in for this long year. In a review of another book, she explains that it contains “some of the most haunting passages on exile, displacement, and the impossibility of return that I have ever read,” which is also an appropriate description of American Fever’s singular poetics of estrangement. (Ed Simon)
September
Voices in the Dead House by Norman Lock: Set in Washington, D.C., field hospitals between 1862 and 1863, Lock’s newest novel explores the interior lives, thoughts, and conflicted feelings of Walt Whitman and Louisa May Alcott as they care for wounded Civil War soldiers. Kirkus’ starred review calls Voices in the Dead House—the ninth installment in Lock’s American Novel Series (published by Bellevue Literary Press)—“a haunting novel that offers candid portraits of literary legends.” (Carolyn)
Fen, Bog, and Swamp by Annie Proulx: Proulx brings her talents to nonfiction environmental writing and research, exploring the history of wetlands worldwide and how they have been maligned and drained, even while they are crucial to our planet’s survival. A book that travels from Canada to Russia to England and to other damp, crucial patches of the planet, taking us on what Bill McKibben calls “an unforgettable and unflinching tour of past and present, fixed on a subject that could not be more important. A compact classic!” (Lydia)
Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm by Laura Warrell: Circus Palmer, jazz trumpeter and old-school ladies’ man, is no stranger to the temptations of dangerous love. In her debut novel, Warrell assembles a lush orchestra of female voices to sing a story about passion and risk, fathers and daughters and the missed opportunities of unrequited love. When Circus learns that the woman closest to his heart, the free-spirited drummer Maggie, is pregnant by him, his reaction to the news sets the chorus of women to singing a song that’s soulful and gripping. The novel’s title comes from the great Jelly Roll Morton. (Bill)
Tell Me I’m An Artist by Chelsea Martin: Joey has just started art school in San Francisco, and she isn’t sure she’s supposed to be there – her emotionally abusive mother certainly doesn’t think she is. Her friend Suz, on the other hand, seems born to be an artist, due in part to her privileged, sophisticated upbringing. Over the course of the school year, Joey tries to find her own creative identity while remaking Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, a movie she’s never seen, and navigating a complicated web of talent, privilege, and ambition. “Anyone who has ever tried to do meaningful work in spite of the growing suspicion that nothing matters will find a home in this hilarious, heart-piercing book, and a memorable companion in its young but wise narrator,” writes Emily Gould. (Kaulie)
The Furrows by Namwali Serpell: At a beach in the Baltimore suburbs, a sister watches her brother disappear into the waves: “You were alone out there and the world took you back in, reclaimed you into its endless folding.” Serpell’s latest novel, which follows her expansive debut The Old Drift, begins with an epigraph from Marcel Proust: “People do not die for us immediately, but remain bathed in a sort of aura of life which bears no relation to true immortality but through which they continue to occupy our thoughts in the same way as when they were alive.” The Furrows chronicles the overpowering “aura of life” of the presumably drowned boy as he swims through the consciousnesses of those who mourn him. (Matt)
If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery: In the 1970s, when political violence swept over their native Kingston, Topper and Sanya moved to Miami. But before long, the couple and their two children witness the discrepancy between the American dream and the stark reality. They fight their way against racism and natural and financial disasters. In the family’s worst days, even their pet fish commits suicide perhaps out of despair. Delicately crafted with irony and love, these linked stories explore the home and a sense of belonging in an age governed by the caprice of whiteness and capitalism. (Jianan Qian)
Runaway by Erin Keane: A memoir by the poet and current EIC of Salon, telling the story of her mother’s experience as a teenage runaway, leaving home and ending up in New York at age 15, only to marry a man many years her senior, and exploring the cultural and personal currents that contribute to our formation. (Lydia)
The Means by Amy Fusselman: Amy Fussleman, the author of multiple nonfiction books such as Idiophone, Savage Park, and The Pharmacist’s Mate, has written her first novel. The basic plot: “Shelly Means, a wealthy stay-at-home mom and disgraced former PTA president, is poised to get the one thing in life she really wants: a beach house in the Hamptons.” The Means is such a fast-paced, breezy comedic novel that you may find yourself surprised that Fusselman deftly and directly leads you to existential dilemmas and the absurdity of capitalism and striving for more. The Means has received advanced praise from John Hodgman, Sarah Manguso, A.M. Homes, and more. (Zoë)
Broken Summer by J. M. Lee (translated by An Seon Jae): On his 43rd birthday, Lee Hanjo wakes up to find that his wife has disappeared. Moreover, she has secretly written a novel about the sordid true self of a famous artist who in every way resembles Hanjo. Upon the publishing of that novel, Hanjo has to reckon on a particular summer in his younger days when he chose to cover up a tragic event with lies. As one of Korea’s best storytellers, J. M. Lee is famous for creating twists after shocking twists. Notedly, the charm of Lee’s stories originates from not only a mastery of craft but also a deep understanding of human nature. (Jianan Qian)
The Backstreets by Perhat Tursun (translated by Darren Byler and Anonymous): To get away from the misery and poverty of the countryside, an unnamed Uyghur man moves to the Chinese capital of Xinjiang. However, his new life is rife with cold stares and rejections. While roaming the streets in the thick fog of winter pollution, his mind also wanders between desires and reality, memories and imaginations. Written by a leading Uyghur writer, poet, social critic, and a native of Xinjiang, The Backstreets is a sobering fable about contemporary society: how the halos of a major city gloss over political surveillance, social violence, and the racialization of ethnicity. Sadly, the astonishing absurdities in the story capture the stark realities. (Anonymous)
Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha: Once you learn about poet, filmmaker, and artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, it’s hard not to feel the pull of her presence and influence, still as strong as ever decades after the publication of Dictee. The restored edition of her groundbreaking work features the original cover and high-quality reproductions of the interior layout as Cha intended them, “faithfully [rendering] the book as an art object in its authentic form.” Whether you already have a beat-up copy of the book from college or not, this edition is worth getting for your shelf as yet another way to keep Cha’s unparalleled work alive, still here, still thriving. (Kate)
Concerning My Daughter by Kim Hye-jin (translated by Jamie Chung): A mother-daughter story told from the perspective of a socially conservative Korean mother who struggles to accept her daughter’s sexual identity and the idea of a nontraditional life & family. Those values come into question again as she cares for a female patient at the nursing home where she works — a professionally successful woman with no children. The world has changed, and everyone’s coping & evolving; this specific cultural & generational perspective surely has universal resonance and poignancy. (Sonya)
All That’s Left Unsaid by Tracey Lien: After her brother is murdered inside a crowded restaurant, Ky, a young Vietnamese-Australian woman, returns home to find out what happened and why. “All That’s Left Unsaid is a stunning debut, an unputdownable mystery combined with a profoundly moving family drama about the ways we hurt and hide from those we love most—and how we mend and strengthen those lifelong bonds,” says Angie Kim. (Carolyn)
How We Disappear by Tara Lynn Masih: A collection of stories about disappearance and absence that range from Belgium to the Siberian Taiga and even feature a cameo from Agatha Christie, a book that Claire Boyles calls “a powerful collection.” (Lydia)
What We Fed to the Manticore by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri: The debut collection from Kolluri, What We Fed to the Manticore is “a dazzling, daring bestiary” (Aimee Nezhukumatathil) and “a world of incredible imagination and daring” (Claire Comstock-Gay). Animals narrate these nine stories – there’s a hound in mourning, existential vultures, pigeons and donkeys and rhinos, oh my – but that doesn’t mean they’re Disney-cute. Instead, Publishers Weekly writes in a starred review, they weave together into an “exquisite” whole that explores climate change and natural disruption as well as human kindness and animal joy. (Kaulie)
Sacrificio by Ernesto Mestre-Reed: The first novel from Mestre-Reed (The Second Death of Unica Aveyano) in nearly two decades is set in Cuba in 1998, and follows a group of young, HIV-positive counterrevolutionaries who are planning to violently overthrow the Casto regime. Kimberly King Parsons says, “Compelling and sinuous, bleak and darkly funny, Sacrificio is a book about queer desire, the mutability of language, and layer upon layer of deceit: self-deception, family betrayals, and the disinformation of spies and governments.” (Carolyn)
On the Rooftop by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton: Award-winning novelist Sexton follows her luminous books A Kind of Freedom and The Revisioners with a novel of music, family, gentrification, and mid-century San Francisco, told via the story of a mother who dreams of musical success through her daughters’ girl group, The Salvations, as the landscape of the city shifts all around them. Kaitlyn Greenidge says of the novel ““On the Rooftop further cements Margaret Wilkerson Sexton as a deft chronicler of Blackness in America. A deeply felt, big hearted exploration of family, sisterhood and gentrification, this is the kind of expansive, lush novel that envelops with charm while provoking with its fierce intelligence.” (Lydia)
I Walk Between the Raindrops by T.C. Boyle: Titled after a 2018 story first published in The New Yorker, I Walk Between the Raindrops collects a number of the famously prolific author’s most recent works of short fiction. In the title story, a woman in a bar takes a seat beside a man trying to celebrate Valentine’s Day with his wife, then tries to convince him that she has ESP. In “Thirteen Days,” passengers on a cruise ship are quarantined off from the rest of the world, to disastrous effect. And in “Hyena”, Boyle introduces the reader to a zoological curiosity – a hyena living in the South of France. (Thom)
Bliss Montage by Ling Ma: This story collection, from the author of the brilliant novel Severance, offers eight tales with wild, fantastical premises. In one, a pregnant woman has an arm protruding from her vagina, and, in another, a film professor has a Narnia-like world inside his office wardrobe. Publishers Weekly says most of the stories are “enchanting, full of intelligence, dry humor, and an appealing self awareness.” In its starred review, Kirkus calls the collection “haunting and artful.” (Edan)
The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li: Yiyun Li is perhaps best known for her short stories, often published in the New Yorker, whose quiet elegance and emotional power recall the likes of another master of the form, William Trevor. But she’s an equally remarkable novelist, and returns in September with The Book of Goose, a moving story of female friendship. This intricate story begins in the postwar rural provinces of Paris, where Fabienne and Agnes develop a writing game: bold Fabienne will come up with stories and timid Agnes will write them out. Now, adult Agness is telling their story in The Book of Goose, a beguiling tale of intimacy and obsession from one of our most capacious and generous talents. (AOP)
Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson: London, 1926, in the glittering world of Soho nightclubs. A grand dame of this world, club owner Nellie Coker, mother of six, advances and defends both her empire and her clan. Fans of Atkinson (Life After Life, the Jackson Brody detective novels) will bask in her vividly drawn characters and intricate plot. (Sonya)
Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout: Rejoice! A new Elizabeth Strout novel. In her latest, the Pulitzer Prize winning author revisits her protagonists from My Name is Lucy Barton and Oh William! This time, it’s the COVID pandemic, and Lucy’s ex-husband William has taken her from Manhattan to a small town in Maine. In its starred review, Publishers Weekly describes it this way: “Loneliness, grief, longing, and loss pervade intertwined family stories as Lucy and William attempt to create new friendships in an initially hostile town.” (Edan)
Ti Amo by Hanne Ørstavik (translated by Martin Aitken): The unnamed narrator of Ørstavik’s newest novel takes care of her husband, who has late stage cancer, and meditates on their life together and apart. “A remarkably frank and finely sieved account of two people approaching the ultimate parting of the ways,” writes Kirkus’ starred review. (Carolyn)
Days Come and Go by Hemley Boum (translated by Nchanji Njamnsi): A chronicle about a rapidly changing Cameroon, this novel tells the story of three generations of women. Anna, a matriarch in Paris, Abi, her daughter, and Tina, a teen who comes under the influence of a militant terrorist faction. In different ways, they all confront, love and politics, tradition and modernity. “A page-turner,” says the publisher, “by way of Frantz Fanon and V. S. Naipaul.” And Radio France Internationale says it’s as epic as it is gripping, promising “something of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.” (Claire)
How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water by Angie Cruz: A new novel from the author of Dominicana, the life of a woman told through her required sessions of job counseling following her Great Recession layoff in middle age from the factory she had worked for years. Carolina De Robertis says of the novel, “This book is a miracle; prepare to be astonished.” (Lydia)
Lessons by Ian McEwan: In recent years, McEwan has specialized in short, sharply observed extended novellas (Nutshell, The Children Act, The Cockroach), but here the British Booker-winner goes big, turning in a 450-page epic spanning 70 years in the life of one man caught in the web of late 20th century history, from the Suez Canal Crisis to the Covid-19 pandemic. (Michael)
The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell: Able to pull off a memoir as well as contemporary fiction, O’Farrell continues with historical fiction. Her previous novel, Hamnet, was a The New York Times best seller and National Book Award winner, and now The Marriage Portrait travels to Renaissance Italy in the 1550s. Lucrezia de’ Medici is the third daughter to a grand duke. When her older sister dies, Lucrezia’s fight becomes not just for a kind of autonomy, but for her very survival. As the publisher says, it’s, “Full of … beauty and emotion.” (Claire)
Less is Lost by Andrew Sean Greer: If you, as I did, loved the Pulitzer-Prize winning Less, then you’ll be excited to learn that Greer has penned a sequel about the lovable writer, Arthur Less. This time, Less is on a road trip in the States with a famous science fiction author and his black pug named Dolly. Hilarity ensues. Publishers Weekly says, “Fans will eat this up.” (Edan)
Natural History by Andrea Barrett: In six interconnected stories, National Book Award winner Barrett’s (Ship Fever) new collection features cherished characters from other works and completes narrative arcs she began weaving decades (and multiple books) ago. Kirkus’ starred review writes: “Barrett depicts the natural world and the human heart with wonder, tenderness, and deep understanding. More superb work from an American master.” (Carolyn)
Three Muses by Martha Anne Toll: A debut by The Millions contributor and winner of the Petrichor Prize for Finely Crafted Fiction, Three Muses tells the story of John Curtin, a Holocaust survivor who was forced to sing for the kommandant at a concentration camp. His life intertwines with Katya Symanova, the Prima Ballerina of the New York State Ballet who is struggling with a controlling choreographer in her life. The novel is billed by the publisher as a, “love story that enthralls,” and Paul Harding says it, “captivates…from the first page to the last.” (Claire)
Stay True by Hua Hsu: A memoir from the brilliant New Yorker staff writer, who describes a formative friendship he had as a young man in the Bay Area–a friendship formed around what the two young men had in common and what they didn’t, and one that ended when his friend suffered a violent and early death. Rachel Kushner calls the book, “exquisite and excruciating and I will be thinking about it for years and years to come.” (Lydia)
The Family Izquierdo by Rubén Degollado: A story of family told through three generations of a Mexican American family suffering from misfortune that feels like a curse. Luis Alberto Urrea writes, “anyone with a family will find themselves in these pages.” (Lydia)
Lungfish by Meghan Gilliss: A mother takes her child to an uninhabited Island off the coast of Maine while her husband detoxes, forced to rely on the gifts and nature and her own memories to survive a period of exile. Paul Yoon calls Lungfish “a force of nature—a deeply felt marvel of a book that navigates grief, parenthood, and the mysteries of family with unrelenting power and precision. Here is a story about the islands we build and carry with us. Here is storytelling at its best.” (Lydia)
The Deceptions by Jill Bialosky: Plutarch claims that an ancient Greek fishermen, out for his day’s catch, heard a thundering proclamation delivered from the heavens – “The great god Pan is dead.” For early Christians it was taken as a sign of the obsolescence of the gods, that the oracles had fallen mute. Except those old gods never died, not really. In Jill Bialosky’s latest novel The Deceptions, her unnamed narrator discovers this only too well in her incantatory, hallucinogenic, and ecstatic perambulations through the white-marble halls of the Metropolitan Museums of Art’s Greek and Roman collections. A soon-to-be-published poet grappling with both the collapse of her marriage and the departure of her child, the narrator finds refuge in the echoing halls of the museum, the wells of Parnassus perhaps running unseen down Fifth Avenue. Poetry and inspiration, obsession and divinity, all come under Bialosky’s purview in her elegantly constructed fable of trying to create while everything else falls apart. (Ed Simon)
The Village Idiot by Steve Stern: Award-winning author Stern’s newest novel offers a luminous and extraordinary portrait of artist Chaim Soutine (1893-1943), whose artistic ambition was the fire he tended to, in spite of everything, his entire life. Kirkus’ starred review calls the book “poignant,” “richly colorful,” and “outstanding.” (Carolyn)
Kick the Latch by Kathryn Scanlan: Kathryn Scanlan’s voice is “original” (per master of the short story, Amy Hempel) and her writing both economic and innovative, as demonstrated in her third book, Kick the Latch, and her first to be published by literary tastemakers New Directions. Interviews with a horse trainer named Sonia forms the basis of this novel that captures the arc of the rough and joyous life of a trainer at the racetrack. In this feat of synthesis reminiscent of Charles Reznikoff’s Testimony, Scanlan “has performed a magical act of empathic ventriloquy,” according Lydia Davis. (Anne)
Best of Friends by Kamila Shamsie: The author Home Fire and winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction returns with a story of a relationship between two women that starts in youth in Karachi and picks up in London in middle age, when they must come to terms with an unresolved conflict of the past. Ali Smith calls the book, “A shining tour de force about a long friendship’s respects, disrespects, loyalties and moralities.” (Lydia)
The Complicities by Stacey D’Erasmo: The Complicities is a suspenseful, compelling novel that raises the questions: How do we reckon with corruption and our own complicity? Samantha Hunt describes The Complicties as a “gripping, human tale of our crimes—financial, environmental, self-delusional” and adds that “D’Erasmo weaves a thriller of a tale, exposing sticky webs of corruption that entangle our lives and fates, even those who fantasize about their innocence, redemption and escape.” (Zoë)
No Windmills in Basra by Diaa Jubaili (translated by Chip Rosetti): Prolific Iraqi novelist and short story writer Jubaili now publishes a collection of shorter flash fiction, set in southern Iraq and incorprating fantasy, magical realism, and humor to tell brief and dazzling stories that touch on the city’s long years of war. (Lydia)
The Logos by Mark de Silva: When a frustrated artist / jilted lover is offered a gig that’s too good to be true, he does what comes naturally and takes it. With the revelation that the line between creativity and exploitation (and obscurity and fame) is really not all that fine, the price of one’s soul seems fair. Coming in over 1,000 pages, the novel may depress your annual “I’ve read” count but will offer hefty insight on the limits of human perception and the limitlessness of human vanity the likes of which we haven’t enjoyed since William Gaddis was around to make us think. (Il’ja)
It Won’t Always Be Like This by Malaka Gharib: The growing landscape of Asian American literature is staking captivating ground within graphic novels, and this is no more apparent than in the work of Malaka Gharib. As the follow up to her irresistible debut, I Was Their American Dream, It Won’t Always Be Like This explores Gharib’s experiences growing up with her Egyptian father’s new family and her observations about language and culture, all told through her signature humor, specificity, and eagle-eyed reflections on identity. (Kate)
October
Pretend It’s My Body by Luke Dani Blue: A debut collection of ten short stories exploring dysphoria, transition, and life itself in a fantastic and surreal vein. A.E. Osworth calls the book “a twisted, tense triumph of a book that at once resists a cis gaze and insists that everyone, regardless of gender, has experienced moments of intense transition. The stories are imaginative, the characters idiosyncratic, and the sentences delicious.” (Lydia)
Home Bound by Vanessa A. Bee: Fans of Bee’s writing know her as a gifted, astute essayist on matters political and personal for Current Affairs and other outlets, but she is also a lawyer who has lived around the world in many different settings. Her debut, a memoir, explores these journeys through space, class, circumstance from babyhood in Cameroon, to life with her adoptive family in France, to life with her mother in London and then Nevada during the housing crisis, to Harvard Law school and a break with young marriage and evangelical Christianity. I cannot wait to read this. (Lydia)
Stroller by Amanda Parrish Morgan: Morgan’s entry in Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons series is about all things stroller: its history as both a parenting and status symbol; the ways strollers aid and impede parents; and how, as an object, the stroller has come under scrutiny by those who believe more firmly in baby wearing. The stroller, like most things associated with parenting, is deeply political and emotional and cultural. Lynn Steger Strong says: “Part object history, part capitalist critique, a consistently acute and deeply felt depiction of the pleasures, traps, thrills, and dangers of early parenthood, Amanda Parrish Morgan’s Stroller compellingly depicts the history and taxonomy of this most weighty and unruly device, ally, and antagonist.” (Carolyn)
Before All the World by Moriel Rothman-Zecher: Original, daring, experimental, moving, poignant, engaging – Moriel Rothman-Zecher’s Before All the World asks if since we can’t go home again, might it just be possible to build a new one? With shades of Tony Kushner and Cynthia Ozick, Rothman-Zecher envisions the denizens of the Philadelphia speakeasy Cricket’s at the tale end of Prohibition, an establishment catering to gay men. This is where the Jewish immigrant Leyb has an awakening from the torpor of his traumatic childhood, one of the few survivors from an eastern European shtetl destroyed by pogrom. Poetic and magical, Before all the World understands how our worlds are made by words, and in the altering of the later we may as yet redeem the former, a central commandment, axiom, and incantation being “ikh gleyb nit az di gantze velt iz kheyshekh” – “I do not believe that all the world is darkness.” (Ed Simon)
Is Mother Dead by Vigids Hjorth (translated by Charlotte Barslund): Hjorth has written a fascinating tale about the Norwegian postal system (Long Live the Post Horn!) and composed a best-selling work of autofiction revolving around incest that caused her sister (who also writes novels) to sue her. In her latest work to appear in English, an ex-pat artist returns to Norway to oversee a retrospective of her work and attempts to contact, and then stalks, her estranged mother. Publishers Weekly called this “a gripping tale of obsession about an artist and her frayed relationship with her family.” (Matt)
Singer Distance by Ethan Chatagnier: Ethan Chatagnier’s Singer Distance tells the story of Crystal Singer, a 1960s MIT grad student set on solving mathematical proofs some Martian intelligence has been carving on the surface of the red planet. With the help of her boyfriend, Rick, she intends to put her answer to the test, but her disappearance sets Rick on a different path. Singer Distance is the best kind of literary sci-fi, the kind of novel that makes the reader appreciate the mystery and beauty of our little, infinite universe. As Adrienne Celts says, “Singer Distance pulled me in from the very first page… this book is a love song to our desire for understanding, the scientific drive for progress, and the thread of faith that runs through both. An outstanding debut novel.” (AOP)
Lech by Sara Lippmann: Lech is the ambitious debut novel of an excellent new prose stylist. On one level, it’s about a woman recovering from an abortion at a vacation property in Sullivan County NY. But Lippmann expertly weaves together many voices—among them an eccentric aging landlord, a grief-stricken Hasid, a scheming real estate agent looking for her break, her dogged daughter longing for her way out, and her addict boyfriend—to explore themes of community, parenthood, and overcoming the legacy and burden of the past. No less of an expert in multi-POV novels set in the Catskills (me) blurbed Lech as following, “Sara Lippmann’s Lech is a superb Jewish gothic, an expertly pitched polyvocal tale of family, loss, and redemption. By turns funny, beautiful, lewd and heartbreaking, Lippmann delivers a literary performance with all the timing and energy of a great Borscht Belt comic.” (AOP)
When We Were Sisters by Fatimah Asghar: The debut novel from poet Fatimah Asghar is a lyrical Bildungsroman, tracing the lives of orphaned siblings raising themselves and one another as Muslims in America. (Nick M.)
The Visible Unseen by Andrea Chapela (translated by Kelsi Vanada): Chapela, one of Granta’s Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists of 2021, uses her scientific and literary background to explore the cultural schism between these two worlds. In this lyrical, formally-unique essay collection, she uses mirrors as a way to explore ideas of perception, meaning, and reality. Jazmina Barrera writes: “Andrea Chapela lends us her eyes—the clear, intimate gaze of a chemist and writer—to help us delve into the matter that we are made of and the mysteries surrounding us. Literature and science merge in the substance of these essays—these wise, beautiful, soulful, astonishing experiments.” (Carolyn)
The Hero of This Book by Elizabeth McCracken: The latest from the award-winning and compulsively readable author of Bowlaway and The Souvenir Museum, The Hero of This Book follows an unnamed narrator (McCracken?) as she wanders the streets of London and grieves her mother, who loved the city. It’s more than that, though – of course it is – and as the narrator tells story after story about her extraordinary, determined mother and the quirky family they shared, the novel expands, spiraling outwards and in to include meditations on memory, memoir, and all the complexity of a remarkable parent-child relationship. As Kirkus puts it – “Novel? Memoir? Who cares. It’s a great story, beautifully told.” (Kaulie)
Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng: This story is set in a world that is dystopian — a society being consumed by fear – and close to our own. A twelve-year-old named Bird lives with his father, who is a former linguist who now shelves books at Harvard University’s library. Bird’s mother, a Chinese American poet, seemingly abandoned the family three years before. A mysterious letter leads Bird on a search to find her. Ng barely needs an introduction as the author of the number one bestseller Little Fires Everywhere and the much-loved Everything I Never Told You. (Claire)
Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet: The National Book Award finalist builds a surreal and finely textured world in her new novel, which follows Gil, a man who walks all the way from New York to Arizona in a Hail Mary bid to recover from heartbreak. Not long after he arrives in the desert, new neighbors move into the (literal) glass house next door, kicking off a strange and unsettling process that sees Gil’s life begin to mesh with theirs. (Thom)
The Impatient by Djaili Amadou Amal (translated by Emma Ramadan): Author and activist Amal’s English language debut follows three women living in Cameroon who seek freedom from the cultural traditions that bind them—and the happiness they hope is on the other side of oppression. The Impatient was shortlisted for the 2020 Prix Goncourt and won the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens. (Carolyn)
Liberation Day by George Saunders: The Booker Prize winner (for Lincoln in the Bardo) is back with his first new collection of short fiction since 2015’s Tenth of December. In “Love Letter,” an elderly man in a dystopian, uncannily believable future sends a letter to his grandson urging him not to take righteous actions that might endanger him with the unnamed fascists running their country. In “Ghoul,” the author returns to amusement parks as a setting, bringing readers to a Hell-themed section of an underground park in Colorado. And in “Elliott Spencer”, an eighty-nine-year-old finds himself brainwashed and stripped of his memory so he can be forced to work as an astroturfed political protester. (Thom)
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver: The famed author of The Poisonwood Bible returns with an Appalachian story inspired by the Dickens classic David Copperfield. In a single-wide trailer, the protagonist is born to a teenaged single mother, bereft of any wealth apart from his late father’s good looks and scrappy talent for staying alive. As the novel follows his life, he moves through foster care, takes jobs that break child labor laws, tries to learn in crumbling schools, and runs into painful addictions familiar to anyone with firsthand knowledge of the opioid crisis. Throughout, the protagonist reflects on his own invisibility in a culture with a waning interest in rural life. (Thom)
Get ’em Young, Treat ’em Tough, Tell ’em Nothing by Robin McClean: In Robin McClean’s first novel Pity the Beast, an adulterous woman is beaten, raped and left for dead in a lime pit, after which she escapes and is pursued by her attackers across a sublime, pitiless Western landscape. The revenge plot may feel familiar but McLean’s language is anything but: antiquated, ribald, mythic, intense and always surprising. This second book is a collection of stories in which McClean deploys her unique orotund style in more concentrated doses. (Matt)
Hugs and Cuddles by João Gilberto Noll (translated by Edgar Garbelotto): In this posthumous genre- and gender-bending novel, Noll (1946–2017) writes about a man embarking on a transgressive journey of self-discovery while his nation is ravaged around him. “Noll is a hero of Brazilian literature who deserves to be widely known in the English-speaking world,” says Jenny Offill. (Carolyn)
Blood Red by Gabriela Ponce (translated by Sarah Booker): In Ponce’s English language debut, an unnamed narrator details the aftermath of her failed marriage— and the bloody, impulsive, and provocative nature of seeking autonomy above all else. Mónica Ojeda writes: “This book is savage. Ponce’s prose is full of passion, that is, full of desire and pain. That’s why it feels so alive, like a bleeding heart pumping inside your head.” (Carolyn)
The Consequences by Manuel Muñoz: A collection of stories set mostly around Fresno in the 1980s, telling the stories of Mexican and Mexican Americans in California, many of them farmworkers who feed the country while facing deportation, abuse, and poverty imposed by an inhuman economy. Muñoz tells both the large and the small struggles, and illuminates moments of love and care alongside pain and hauntings figurative and literal. Sandra Cisneros raves of the book “Haunting, powerful, humble, precise, this collection shook my being. Manuel Muñoz is a great American writer who sees with his heart—as great as Juan Rulfo in writing about the poor. I wish I had written these stories.” (Lydia)
Life Is Everywhere by Lucy Ives: Ives’ (Cosmogony) newest novel takes place on a warm November night in Manhattan 2014. In the midst of a breakup with her husband, Erin finds herself locked out of her apartment, so she goes to the next best place: the university library where she’s a grad student. Inside her bag, she has documents that may just change her entire life. Jesse Ball says, “The superb Lucy Ives slays enemy and friend alike in this multivalent successor to Jarrell’s Pictures from an Institution.” (Carolyn)
A Minor Chorus by Billy-Ray Belcourt: In Belcourt’s debut novel, an unnamed narrator returns to northern Canada intent on writing “an autobiography of his rural hometown.” In conversations with its ostensibly lonely, disconnected residents, connections are made, and secrets discovered. (Nick M.)
The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler: Nayler’s debut novel follows marine biologist Ha Nguyen, who has just received a career-changing invitation: to study a species of recently discovered octopus in the waters of the Con Dao Archipelago. These exceptionally intelligent and dangerous creatures hold the key to potential scientific breakthroughs and absolute fortunes for those that harness their powers—but those studying and hunting them may have underestimated their true capabilities. Kawai Strong Washburn writes: “With a thriller heart and a sci-fi head, The Mountain in the Sea delivers a spooky smart read. Artificial intelligence, nascent animal sentience, murderous flying drones: like the best of Gibson or Atwood, it brings all of the plot without forgetting the bigger questions of consciousness, ecocide, and scientific progress.” (Carolyn)
Nights of Plague by Orhan Pamuk (translated by Ekin Oklap): The Nobel Prize laureate, Orhan Pamuk imagines a plague wreaking havoc on the fictional island of Mingheria in the Ottoman Empire. To control the epidemic, the Ottoman sultan sends off his most trustworthy medical expert, an Orthodox Christian. But some of the residents of the island, because of their religious beliefs, refuse to follow the quarantine mandates. To make things worse, a mysterious murder happens. With themes that feel weirdly relevant, Nights of Plague helps us to reflect on our chaotic realities with a sobering distance and perspective. (Jianan Qian)
The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy: Now pushing 90, the poet laureate of American violence has written not one, but two new books for this fall. In the first, salvage diver Bobby Western finds a wrecked plane containing nine bodies still buckled into their seats, but missing the pilot’s flight bag, the plane’s black box, and the flight’s tenth passenger. How is this possible? It’s Cormac McCarthy, so the answer is likely to be terse, perverse, and quite bloody. (Michael)
The Singularities by John Banville: In this, his 20th novel, Banville brings back a character from an earlier read, convicted murderer Felix Mordaunt. Recently released from prison, the pseudonymous Mordaunt returns to his childhood home to wreak havoc on the idiosyncratic family with ties to his past now residing there. Throw in some highly imaginative esoteric physics and Banville’s stylistic gift and the menacing edge of this novel should prove a good accompaniment to when the heavy weather sets in this autumn. (Il’ja)
The Enhancers by Anne K. Yoder: Brilliant, longtime Millions staff writer Yoder publishes a dizzying, kaleidoscopic novel of three teenage friends navigating the journey to adulthood in a techno-pharmaceutical society that looks a lot like reality. Patrick Cottrell says of the book “The Enhancers asks, ‘How do I distinguish between what’s me and what’s chemical?’ Animated by the absurdity of a Yorgos Lanthimos film, The Enhancers is a wildly original and contemporary tale about chemical augmentation, memory, yearning, and loss. Imagine the fearlessness and wild imagination of Jenny Erpenbeck if she had a background in the pharmaceutical industry and you might come close to approximating the tremendous brilliance of Anne Yoder.” (Lydia)
The Revivalists by Christopher M. Hood: The Icelandic permafrost is thawing, the Shark Flu is decimating the planet, and a loving couple’s only daughter has joined a cult in far off California. There is no doubt about what to do: when the going gets tough, the tough go to California to save their girl proving that though the grid be shaky and the currency fragile, yet greater than these is love. (Il’ja)
Which Side Are You On by Ryan Lee Wong: A curator and bicultural writer & critic, Wong centers his debut novel on the relationship between an Asian American activist and his once-activist mother, during this current time of racially-motivated police brutality. A novel about family roots, Black-Asian relations, morality, and pleasure. Apparently it’s funny too. (Sonya)
Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro: After years of memoirs, Shapiro returns to fiction with her new book, a novel she revived from an old manuscript she started a decade ago. As befitting the host of the podcast, “Family Secrets,” Shapiro’s new novel circles around the hidden past of a constellation of characters who are haunted by a fatal car crash. We meet her characters at three pivotal moments in their lives: NYE 2000, on the eve of Y2K; December 2010; and early 2020, right before the pandemic began to take over. (Hannah)
Some of Them Will Carry Me by Giada Scodellaro: In her genre-, tone-, and style-defying debut collection, Scodellaro’s short stories center Black women in moments of change, upheaval, and disruption. Katie Kitamura writes: “This is a book of wonders, full of intricate beauty, and Giada Scodellaro is an extraordinary talent.” (Carolyn)
Entry Level by Wendy Wimmer: Winner of the Autumn House 2021 Fiction Prize, Wimmer’s debut story collection features 15 stories centered around people who are underemployed—and how they confront, subvert, and navigate the systems and forces hellbent on keeping them down. Deesha Philyaw, who selected the book for this prize, says: “The stories are, at turns, heartfelt and hilarious, wry and whimsical, full of magic and mayhem. These are well-crafted love stories, ghost stories, and stories of everyday people just trying to navigate life’s cruelties and impossibilities.” (Carolyn)
Weasels in the Attic by Hiroko Oyamada (translated by David Boyd): The acclaimd author of The Factory and The Hole, whose work Hilary Leichter called “surreal and mesmerizing” returns with a novel of marriage and gender roles in contemporary Japan, revisiting the same characters in different settings, including an exotic pet store and a home infested with weasels. (Lydia)
Seven Empty Houses by Samanta Schweblin (translated by Megan McDowell): Samanta Schweblin’s collection Seven Empty Houses announced her arrival in 2015 at the vanguard of a new generation of terrific Latin American writers, and in late-October it will finally be published in English. The proximity to Halloween is appropriate, given Schweblin’s idiosyncratic mode of tense and unsettling literary horror. As in Fever Dream and Little Eyes, two of my favorite books of the last two years, something is always creeping around these empty houses: a ghost, a fight, trespassers, a list of things to do before you die, a child’s first encounter with a dark choice or the fallibility of parents. In the words of O, the Oprah magazine, Seven Empty Houses is “A blazing new story collection that will make you feel like the house is collapsing in on you.” (AOP)
Cocoon by Zhang Yueran (translated by Jeremy Tiang): Cheng Gong and Li Jiaqi are childhood friends. After many years of separation, they reunite and find a shared interest in the stories of their grandparents’ generation. What happened on that rainy night in the deserted water tower in 1967? How did that event impact both families and the generations after? Zhang Yueran, one of the most renowned young writers from China, tells the story of the country’s past in a different perspective and with a unique insight. In her beautiful and meaningful prose, hope and love reside where trauma heals. (Jianan Qian)
On a Horse at Night by Amina Cain: “Without planning it, I wrote a diary of sorts. Lightly. A diary of fiction. Or is that not what this is?” writes author Amina Cain, in her first book of nonfiction and her second book with Dorothy, On a Horse at Night: On Writing. In a series of essayistic inquiries, Cain meditates on her own cannon of writers, which includes Marguerite Duras, Elena Ferrante, Renee Gladman, and Virginia Woolf, as well as topics like female friendship, so that encountering this book feels like an intimate conversation on books and reading and life. Turkish author Ayşegül Savaş compares the book to “light from a candle in the evening: intimate, pleasurable, full of wonder,” with Cain acting “as our generous, gentle guide.” (Anne)
November
Toad by Katherine Dunn: The previously unpublished novel of Katherine Dunn, a novelist and boxing journalist who died in 2016. Toad tells the story of Sally Gunnar, who is reclusive but keeps company with a goldfish, a garden toad, and a door-to-door salesman. It’s billed as the perfect precursor to Dunn’s Geek Love, which, published in 1989, was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Bram Stoker Prize. Toad has the “same keen observations, taboo-shirking verve, and singular characters,” the publisher says, “that made Geek Love a cult classic.” (Claire)
The Islands by Dionne Irving: A collection of stories of women in diaspora, leaving Jamaica and the effects of colonialism and looking for new places to set down roots, from 1950s London to 1960s Panama to the New Jersey of today, in a collection that Vanessa Hua calls “”By turns mordant and poignant…a deeply moving exploration of diaspora. Her dazzling cast of characters search for home and belonging. Incisive and impressive.” (Lydia)
They’re Going to Love You by Meg Howrey: Howrey’s (The Wanderers) newest novel oscillates between New York City during the AIDS crisis and present-day Los Angeles. Growing up, Carlisle would travel from Ohio to New York to spend a few weeks in the summer with her father Robert and his partner James in their Greenwich Village brownstone. Drawn to the ballet world, like her mother before her, Carlisle dreams of living with her father full time—until an affair irreparably changes their family dynamic forever. Chloe Angyal says: “Howrey’s moving, taut prose has captured the sacredness and profanity of ballet, family, and of life itself.” (Carolyn)
Aesthetica by Allie Rowbottom: An Instagram influencer past her prime at 35 considers a life-changing, life-altering new surgery to return her to original self in a novel that takes on mainstream aesthetics in the era of #metoo, and arrives not a moment too soon, from the author of the acclaimed JELL-O Girls. Samantha Leach says of the novel “Much will be made of how perfectly Aesthetica captures influencer culture, but the genius of this novel is how far it extends past our current moment. In biting yet empathetic prose, Allie Rowbottom explores the ethos of American image making.” (Lydia)
Small Game by Blair Braverman: From the author of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube, a memoir about learning to drive sled dogs in the arctic, comes a debut novel about a Survivor-style reality TV show. In this page-turner, Mara, a “survival school” teacher, is shocked when she is cast in a competition show in which she and three other strangers will have to survive on their own for six weeks in an undisclosed, wild location. There’s a big payday for her if everything goes right. When things go wrong, Mara can’t tell if it’s the producers’ doing, or if she’s wrapped up in something worse. (Hannah)
We All Want Impossible Things by Catherine Newman: You’re probably already familiar with Newman from her blogging, her memoirs, or her children’s books. If you’re a parent, someone has definitely emailed one of her essays to you. (“It Gets Better” is a classic.) We All Want Impossible Things is her first book for adults, a tearjerker about two lifelong friends, Edith and Ashley, who have known each other since they went to their first R.E.M. concerts. But now Edi is dying from ovarian cancer, and Ashley is trying to figure out how she’s going to get through the rest of her life without her best friend. KJ Dell’Antonia calls it “The funniest, most joyful book about dying—and living—that I have ever read.” (Hannah)
Now Is Not The Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson: In an interview for Entertainment Weekly, Wilson says that his fourth book is the one he’s been trying to write for years. It follows Zeke and Frankie, two teenaged kids who meet one summer in small-town Tennessee and forge a connection making art together. Years later, the events of that summer threaten to upend Frankie’s settled adult life. If you haven’t read a Kevin Wilson book, novelist and bookseller Emma Straub sums it up best: “just like all of Kevin’s books, Now Is Not The Time to Panic is totally its own thing: mysterious, hypnotic, wonderful. I love following his brain, wherever it goes.” (Hannah)
Flight by Lynn Steger Strong: Flight, the third novel by the author of the much-lauded Want, centers on a family reuniting for Christmas, their first holiday after the matriarch has died. Over three days they must face old conflicts and resentments, and figure out what to do with their mother’s house—and then a child from the town goes missing. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney promises, “You will want to gulp this down in one sitting,” and Rumaan Alam calls it, “Suspenseful, dazzling, and moving.” (Edan)
Participation by Anna Moschovakis: Author, poet, and translator Anna Moschovakis, in conversation about her first novel, Eleanor, or, the Rejection of the Progress of Love, asks, “What is the political value of a feeling? To feel bad about events in the world. To feel guilty. To feel implicated in the systems we participate in. What is the status of those feelings?” It seems that her second novel, Participation, is an elaboration upon these questions, as it examines communication in the time of rupture. Within, two reading groups, Love and Anti-Love, fall apart among political upheaval and environmental collapse and results in a mirroring and refraction of out current state of being. As Dana Spiotta says, “Moschovakis is a brilliant and singular writer with a terrific feel for this cultural moment.” (Anne)
Fourteen Days edited by Margaret Atwood: In this Atwood-edited serial novel, a cast of characters navigate the early days of the COVID-19 lockdowns in a Lower East Side apartment building together and apart. The twist? Each chapter is anonymously written by literary darlings including Meg Wolitzer, Luis Alberto Urrea, R. O. Kwon, and Louise Erdrich. (Carolyn)
Dr. No by Percival Everett: What’s it mean to be an expert on nothing? In my life, not much, but in mathematics, something cool. However it seems professor Wala Kitu can be manipulated—by a villain who wants convinces him to help break into Fort Knox and steal a box of nothing. Once attained, nothing is going to spread… but you’ll need to read Everett’s caper to see exactly how. (Nick M.)
Strega by Johanne Lykke Holm: A group of nine teenagers go to work in a Gothic Alpine hotel where things go awry and one of them disappear in a novel that was short-listed for the European Union Prize for Literature. (Lydia)
 
The Magic Kingdom by Russell Banks: Two-time Pulitzer finalist Banks returns with a novel about Harley Mann, a property speculator, who is recording his life story. As he remembers his past, Harley ruminates on his participation in a Shaker community in the Florida swamplands—and how his life was forever changed by the search for utopia. Paul Auster says: “Banks is still working at full blast, creating work as good as anything he has ever done and—is it possible?—perhaps even better.” (Carolyn)
My Pinup by Hilton Als: The electric critic, essayist, and Pulitzer Prize winner Als follows White GIrls with a two-part memoir, ranging over his own life and others, including Prince and Dorothy Parker, with scenes from queer nightlife and the AIDS crisis. (Lydia)
A Mountain to the North, a Lake to the South, Paths to the West, a River to the East by Lászlo’ Krasznahorkai (translated by Ottilie Mulzet): Described by the publisher as “an unforgettable meditation on nature, life, history, and being”, I can offer that this is the author’s most vatic work, which is saying something. It’s the simple story of a prince who sets off in search of the most sublime garden of all and indeed, may have found it in an ancient Kyoto monastery. In this brief novel, Krasznahorkai’s studied stream of consciousness narrative style is marked by the hermeneutic gaps characteristic of haiku and its requirements to read between the lines and devote time for silent contemplation of what is read. Quite beautiful. – (Il’ja)
The Age of Goodbyes by Li Zi Shu (translated by YZ Chin): The Age of Goodbyes explores how politics distort, erase, and scandalize personal memory. The novel contains three storylines: a conventional omniscient voice in the first narrative tells the fate of a woman—Du Li An—after Malaysia’s 1969 race riots; the second follows a close third-person narrative of a critic who investigates a writer also named Du Li An; the third thread is a second person narrative which assumes that “you” are trying to discover the truth of “your” family after “your” mother’s death. An acclaimed debut of one of Southeast Asia’s most renowned young writers, The Age of Goodbyes is an absolute gem that the Chinese literary world has to offer. (Jianan Qian)
December
Scatterlings by Resoketswe Martha Manenzhe: South African author Manenzhe’s award-winning debut novel is about an interracial family whose lives are upended by South Africa’s Immorality Act of 1927, which outlawed sexual and marital relationships between white and Black people. With their family now criminalized, they must come to terms with their past and struggle against their uncertain future. (Carolyn)
Stella Maris by Cormac McCarthy: In this second part of McCarthy’s surprise two-volume novel, Alicia Western – sister of Bobby, the salvage diver from the first volume, The Passenger – admits herself to the hospital carrying $40,000 in a plastic bag. A doctoral candidate in math at the University of Chicago, Alicia is a paranoid schizophrenic and she refuses to talk about her brother. McCarthy has long been knocked for the relative thinness of his female characters, so it will be interesting to see how he handles a complex, grieving woman in the grip of psychosis. (Michael)
Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion by Bushra Rehman: A Pakistani-American, coming-of-age queer love story set in Corona, NY in the 80’s, from the former poet laureate of Queens. From novelist Karen Russell: “Rehman’s storytelling shares the elliptical grace of poetry. Her deeply sensitive protagonist, Razia, comes into sharp-focus like a shaken photograph, and Queens rears off the page in all its glorious vibrancy and complexity… A stunning novel from a vital writer.” (Sonya)
No One Left to Come Looking for You by Sam Lipsyte: A punk rock mystery set in a bygone New York of 1993 by the author of The Ask. Steven Soderbergh says of the book “Reading this book is like being duct-taped to a chair with wheels and shoved down a steep hill into eight lanes of oncoming traffic.” (Lydia)
A Dangerous Business by Jane Smiley: Set in 1851 in Gold Rush California, as the country creeps toward Civil War, Smiley’s latest is a murder mystery that follows widow Eliza Ripple, who has turned to prostitution to make ends meet. Although Eliza enjoys the financial secucrity in her new line of work, she gets scared when young women start turning up dead outside of town and decides to look into the murders on her own with the help of her friend Jean. Does the title refer to Ripple’s investigation? Or is it just what it means to be a woman in America? (Hannah)

June Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

- | 1 book mentioned

We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!
Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.
Blithedale Canyon by Michael Bourne: The Millions’ own Michael Bourne publishes his debut novel, Blithedale Canyon, following the down-and-out Trent Wolfer who comes out of rehab and lands in his hometown near the San Francisco Bay, running into a beautiful woman he knew long ago, now a single mother of two. The novel chronicles the pull of home and the way a place changes over time, and it paints a portrait of a man trying very hard to get something right. Teddy Wayne says the novel “is an ode to the pleasures and pains of the return to the familiar, to the gravitational pulls of addiction, old friends, and Springsteen on a car stereo, but mostly of home. Blithedale Canyon is a tenderly nostalgic and page-turning portrait of a man who can’t control his worst impulses, written by an author in full command of his own tools.” (Lydia)

Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh: Since her debut in 2015 with the disquieting but darkly funny novel Eileen, Moshfegh has proven herself to be one of the most immaculate crafters of disturbed, unreliable first-person narrators. From the nameless performance artist in My Year of Rest and Relaxation who drugs herself into a coma to the disturbed widow investigating a murder that may or may not have happened in Death in Her Hands, Moshfegh’s voice is part Dostoevsky, part Poe, and entirely her own, as filtered through a jaundiced millennial sensibility. If anybody would be apt to get into the weird head space of our current moment it’s Moshfegh, who in her new novel, Lapvona, written during Covid lockdown, ironically imagines a medieval setting of depraved feudal lords and witchy, cunning women. Fantasy might seem more the realm of a Robert Jordan than Moshfegh (the title of the book is the imagined kingdom where the narrative is set), but as the author told Vox, “In a time where there has been so much trauma and loss…Humanity finds purpose where it can. It’s like flowers growing out of the cracks in the sidewalk.” (Ed)

Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine: A multigenerational western saga about a “wildly entertaining and complex family,” Fajardo-Anstine’s debut novel has been described as a “cinematic, epic story” written in “lyrical, unpretentious prose.” Set in 1930s Denver, the novel is centered around Luz Lopez, who becomes the seer and keeper of her Latinx and Indigenous family stories. (Sonya)

Cult Classic by Sloane Crosley: On a quiet night out with friends, Lola, a soon-to-be-married New Yorker, ducks out for cigarettes and runs into an old boyfriend. And then another. And … another. What at first seems like mere coincidence turns into something far stranger as Lola must contend not only with the viability of her current relationship but the fact that her former boss, a magazine editor-turned-guru, might have an unhealthy investment in the outcome. “Cult Classic is a romantic comedy set in a new age mind control cult on the Lower East Side,” Crosley told Entertainment Weekly. “My hope is that what sets it apart from every other romantic comedy set in a new age mind control cult on the Lower East Side is that it’s also a mystery.” (Michael)

Horse by Geraldine Brooks: Pulitzer Prize winner Brooks’ newest novel is based on the true story of Lexington, the record-breaking 19th century thoroughbred. The novel, which alternates between 2019 Washington D.C. and 1850s Lexington, Kentucky, follows Theo, a Black graduate student, discovers a forgotten equestrian painting. In writing about the artwork for Smithsonian magazine, the secret history of the horse and its enslaved stableman come to light. Kirkus’ starred review says: “Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.” (Carolyn)

One’s Company by Ashley Hutson: After a series of life changing tragedies, Bonnie seeks to escape her reality by obsessively watching reruns of Three’s Company, her favorite show, in her trailer. When Bonnie buys a winning lottery ticket, she knows exactly what to do with her winnings: build an exact replica of the Three’s Company apartment—and spend her days acting as the show’s main characters. About Huston’s debut novel, Amber Sparks writes: “This book is such a savvy, deadpan, moving meditation-unto-absurdity on obsession and trauma and throwaway television and the ways that our hobbies can hurt us and heal us and sometimes overwhelm us. I absolutely loved it.” (Carolyn)

Patricia Wants to Cuddle by Samantha Allen: In Allen’s (Real Queer America) debut novel, four women compete in a Bachelor-style dating competition on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest. As the finale creeps closer, there are sightings of a misunderstood, local creature named Patricia—and she begins to hunt for a connection all her own. About the horror comedy, Jacob Tobia says: “To die for. Samantha Allen has filled each page with unadulterated, unbridled, unhinged genius.” (Carolyn)

Fruiting Bodies by Kathryn Harlan: Blending the magical, gothic, and uncanny, the eight stories in Harlan’s debut collection explore characters—primarily queer women—who are navigating a world on the brink. “In the spirit of Shirley Jackson, Kathryn Harlan coaxes their characters’ secret feelings into the open, where they bloom into compelling dramas,” writes CJ Hauser. “A book as loving as it is eerie, full of queer love and queer longing, I so enjoyed my stay in the deep woods of Harlan’s imagination.” (Carolyn)

The Scent of Burnt Flowers by Blitz Bazawule: Guggenheim fellow and multidisciplinary artist Bazawule’s debut novel is set in 1960s America. After they have defended themselves from an attack by racists, Melvin and his fiancé Bernadette must flee the country with the help from friends. With the FBI hot on their trail, they travel to Ghana with the hope of receiving asylum. Yrsa Daley-Ward calls the novel “a colorful, delicious ride through the senses and beyond; a tale of danger, love, and all the small, true things that will not be named.” (Carolyn)

The Long Answer by Anna Hogeland: In her metafictional debut novel, Hogeland’s eponymous protagonist receives a call from her sister Margot who has just had a miscarriage. Anna, who is pregnant with her first child, begins having conversations with friends old and new about their own journeys with motherhood, abortion, menopause, and loss. Kirkus’ starred review calls the novel “a startling meditation on grief and family and betrayal and the stories we tell about ourselves.” (Carolyn)

Flying Solo by Linda Holmes: Nearly 40 and fresh off a broken engagement, Laurie returns to her hometown in Maine to settle the estate of her late great-aunt Dot. Enlisting the help of professional antique dealers and her former high school boyfriend, Laurie seeks to unravel the mystery behind a wooden duck she discovers among her aunt’s belongings. Carola Lovering writes: “Holmes’s sophomore novel is a wise, heartwarming story of family, unexpected romance, and shaping your own path in a world where it often feels next to impossible to do so.” (Carolyn)

The Girls in Queens by Christine Kandic Torres: Told in alternating timelines, Torres’ debut novel is a coming of age tale about two Latinx best friends, Brisma and Kelly, growing up in Queens. In present day, Brisma, Kelly, and Brisma’s boyfriend, Brian, are reunited, and sparks between old lovers begin to fly again. However, the women’s friendship is put to the test when Brian is accused of sexual assault—and one of them doesn’t believe in his innocence. Publishers Weekly’s starred review says “Torres hits every note perfectly” in her “incisive and keenly observed” debut. (Carolyn)

We Refuse to Forget by Caleb Gayle: Award-winning journalist Gale’s digs deep into the history of the Creek Nation, a native tribe that owned slaves but also extended citizenship to Black people, and Cow Tom, a Black Creek citizen who eventually became its chief. Unfortunately, the tribal leaders revoked citizenship from Black Creek members (including Cow Tom and his ancestors) in the 1970s; in this book, Gayle explores how and why this happened—and the ways white supremacy seeks to divide and damage above all else. About the book, David Treuer says, “[Gayle] tells a complicated story of the past and in doing so sheds light on the ways our fantasies of race endure and are, gradually, being undone.” (Carolyn)

God’s Children Are Little Broken Things is Out by Arinze Ifeakandu: A young woman reunites with her late father’s partner whom she resents. A rising musician must negotiate his identity in the face of fame. As their families and society threatens to tear them apart, two young men struggle to stay together. In the nine stories in his debut collection, Ifeakandu, A Public Space Writing Fellow, writes about queer love, joy, and sorrow in contemporary Nigeria. “Although he writes about queer lives and loves in Nigeria, Arinze Ifeakandu’s voice is sensually alert to the human and universal in every situation,” says Damon Galgut. “These quietly transgressive stories are the work of a brilliant new talent.” (Carolyn)

Exalted by Anna Dorn: Dorn’s sophomore novel (after Vagablonde) follows Emily, an uber-popular, millennial astrology Instagrammer, and Dawn, a lonely Gen-X lesbian and @Exalted superfan. Both women are yearning—for fame and love; for visibility and connection—and when their paths unexpectedly cross they learn the cost of getting (or not getting) what you want. Our own Edan Lepucki says, “Clear your schedule and consult your horoscope because Anna Dorn’s novel will make you cackle and gasp, and you won’t be able to put it down.” (Carolyn)

Another Love Discourse by Edie Meidav: Meidav’s (Kingdom of the Young) newest novel follows a writer as she sinks into an obsession with the life and work of 1960s French philosopher Roland Barthes. Set over the course of a year, she attempts to navigate her divorce, the beginnings of new love, grief, motherhood, and how to live in a world on the edge of collapse. Claire Messud writes: “Another Love Discourse shatters boundaries and expectations: Meidav’s narrative voice—urgent, lyrical, raw—compels the reader into uncommon and intense intimacy.” (Carolyn)

Papers by Violaine Schwartz (translated by Christine Gutman): Alongside hearing testimony, newspaper clippings, and bureaucratic paperwork, French novelist Schwartz gathers interviews with asylum seekers in France to reveal the brutality of systems and resilience of humanity. Nafkote Tamirat says: “We are introduced to a kaleidoscope of peoples and experiences, their stories building up and out to reveal a broader landscape of pain, disappointment, humor, and kindness, ultimately portraying the grave realities of this system as well as the victories that are possible if, and only if, we refuse to accept institutional and governmental indifference and bigotry.” (Carolyn)

Just by Looking at Him by Ryan O’Connell: After his memoir I’m Special, actor, writer, and director O’Connell’s debut novel follows Elliot, a gay TV writer with cerebral palsy (like O’Connell himself), as he navigates addiction, sexuality, disability, and Hollywood. He feels trapped by his relationship and job, which leads him down a path of self-destruction and ultimately self-discovery. Melissa Broder says the novel “explores the lessons that the vulnerable human body has to teach us, and he does so with humor, heart, and heat.” (Carolyn)

The Angel of Rome by Jess Walter: A young man studying in Rome meets the celebrity of his dreams. Two Ph.D. students compete for an academic job against the backdrop of climate change. A young man must put his aging father in a home. All of these and more are featured in Walter’s (The Cold Millions) newest story collection, which Publishers Weekly calls “perceptive” and Kirkus calls a “glorious addition to the oeuvre.” (Carolyn)

Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies by Maddie Mortimer: Mortimer’s debut follows Lia, a 43-year-old children’s author, wife, and mother, as she learns her cancer has returned and decides how to navigate her now uncertain future. Told through a series of flashbacks, the novel reveals the people, moments, and secrets that shaped her life. Daisy Johnson writes: “An extraordinary, kaleidoscopic dive into language.” (Carolyn)

May Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

- | 1 book mentioned

We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!

Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.

The Evening Hero by Marie Myung-Ok Lee: In the Millions’ own Lee’s long-awaited new novel, a Korean immigrant pursuing the American Dream must confront the secrets of the past or risk watching the world he’s worked so hard to build come crumbling down. Dr. Yungman Kwak has worked as an obstetrician for 50 years, treating the women and babies of the small rural Minnesota town he chose to call home. But a letter arrives, and Yungman faces a choice—he must choose to hide his secret from his family and friends or confess and potentially lose all he’s built. The Evening Hero is a moving and darkly comic novel about a man looking back at his life and asking big questions about what is lost and what is gained when immigrants leave home for new shores. (Adam P.)

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt: In the midst of compounding grief, 70-year-old Tova Sullivan takes a night shift custodial job at the local aquarium. In between mopping the floors and wiping glass enclosures, she meets Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus, who she forms an unorthodox but remarkable friendship with. Their relationship becomes interwoven with the mystery at the heart of Tova’s life: the disappearance of Erik, her 18-year-old son, thirty years earlier. Kevin Wilson writes: “Shelby Van Pelt makes good on this wild conceit, somehow making me love a misanthropic octopus, but her writing is so finely tuned that it’s a natural element of a larger story about family, about loss, and the electricity of something found.” (Carolyn)

Patience is a Subtle Thief by Abi Ishola-Ayodeji: In Ishola-Ayodeji’s coming-of-age debut, 18-year-old Patience Adewale is the eldest daughter of her politically powerful and influential father, Chief Kolade Adewale. After her mother’s mysterious disappearance years earlier, Patience is determined to figure out what happened to her. When Patience leaves for university in Lagos, she reunites with her cousin Kash and becomes increasingly enmeshed in her petty criminal activities. Kirkus’ starred review calls the novel “a poignant, revealing, and rueful tale of how much the political can affect the personal.”(Carolyn)

Holding Her Breath by Eimear Ryan: With what Marie-Helene Bertino calls “patient and searing storytelling,” Banshee Press co-founder Ryan’s debut novel follows Beth Crowe, a competitive collegiate swimmer who begins to redefine herself after a breakdown. As the granddaughter of Benjamin Crowe, a famous poet who died by suicide at 43, Beth must navigate the attention of the campus’ literature department and Justin, a flirtatous postdoc lecturer, who may have ulterior motives. As she navigates a secret affair, an identity crisis, and unearthed familial secrets, Beth must come to terms with who she is and who she could be. (Carolyn)

The Premonitions Bureau by Sam Knight: New Yorker staff writer Knight writes about the 1960s “premonitions bureau,” which was a joint venture between psychiatrist John Barker and science reporter Peter Fairley at the Evening Standard in London. The two set out to collect dreams, visions, and inklings from the public in order to better understand the scientific probability of correct premonitions. Early praise for Knight’s first book include Patrick Radden Keefe (“an enveloping, unsettling book, gorgeously written and profound”); Hilary Mantel (“beautifully ordered, humane, capacious”); and Robert Kolker (“prepare for amazements on nearly every page”). (Carolyn)

Either/Or by Elif Batuman: This novel is a continuation of the story of Selin, Batuman’s protagonist from The Idiot, which was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in the UK. It’s 1996 and Selin, the one in her family who got to go to Harvard, is now in her sophomore year. Guided by her literature syllabus and more worldly peers, she tries to figure out how to live a worthwhile life. (Claire)

How to Be Eaten by Maria Adelmann: Adelmann’s (Girls of a Certain Age) feminist debut novel takes the classic fairy tales of our youth and turns them on their head. Brought together by experimental group therapy, five women begin to process the trauma undergone during each retelling—and consider why they really have been brought together. About the darkly whimsical novel, Rachel Yoder says, ““Even better than it sounds, How to be Eaten presents vividly real women haunted by their fairy tale pasts in this deliciously angsty debut. Pure fun pulsing with a dark  heart.” (Carolyn)

Moldy Strawberries by Caio Fernando Abreu (translated by Bruna Dantas Lobato): A collection of eighteen stories from one of Brazil’s most influential writers appears in English for the first time. The late Abreu explores the lengths people will go to find connections, stifle loneliness, live wildly, and spite death in the face of the AIDS epidemic and a military dictatorship in 1970s and 1980s Brazil. Lucy Ives says: “Lending an almost painfully humane eye and ear to his characters, Caio Fernando Abreu constructs scenarios of staggering psychological depth from everyday gestures and occasions.” (Carolyn)

Trust by Hernan Diaz: The Pulitzer Prize finalist follows up his brilliant western In the Distance with Trust, a story of the Wall Street tycoons of the Gilded Age with a reality-bending literary mystery at its heart, in keeping with the postmodern historical beauties of In the Distance. Of the novel, Rachel Kushner said, “Its plotlines are as etched and surreal as Art Deco geometry, while inside that architecture are people who feel appallingly real. This novel is very classical and very original: Balzac would be proud, but so would Borges.” (Lydia)

The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas: Set after the Mexican War of Independence, recently orphaned and destitute Beatriz accepts the proposal of Don Rodolfo Solórzano and goes to live on his estate, Hacienda San Isidro. She quickly begins to hear strange voices, see things, and feel as if she’s being watched, but her concerns are ignored by the staff. Beatriz knows the hacienda is not what it appears and that this dream home is actually a nightmare. In their starred review, Publishers Weekly calls the debut “Mexican Gothic meets Rebecca,” and says that “Cañas clearly knows the genre, alternately deploying and subverting haunted house tropes. The result is a brilliant contribution to the new wave of postcolonial Gothics.” (Carolyn)

Saint Sebastian’s Abyss by Mark Haber: The unnamed narrator of Haber’s newest finds himself on a flight to Germany to be beside Schmidt, his estranged best friend who is on his deathbed. Thinking back on their decades-long friendship, he remembers how they were brought together—and then torn apart—by their mutual obsession and fascination with Dutch Renaissance painter Count Hugo Beckenbauer’s masterpiece, Saint Sebastian’s Abyss. Hernan Diaz says, “Aesthetic value, history, institutions, criticism, authorship, material conditions—these are only some of the terms in the critical constellation that emerges in Haber’s beautiful, elegant novel.” (Carolyn)

Constellations of Eve by Abbigail Nguyen Rosewood: Rosewood’s experimental literary triptych offers three different versions of one couple’s relationship. The narrative variations build and converge to show the ways Eve and Liam remain in each other’s orbit despite different timelines, partners, and life decisions; the novel explores the simultaneous pain and pleasure found in the lives we choose in relation to the ones we don’t. Binnie Kirshenbaum writes: “With each discrete episode chronicling Eve’s life, Rosewood unflinchingly exposes the disturbing complexities, conundrums, and fears that accompany love, marriage, and motherhood.” (Carolyn)

We Do What We Do in the Dark by Michelle Hart: In the midst of grieving her mother, college freshman Mallory strikes up an all-consuming affair with an older, married, and enigmatic woman. Unsure of who she is and what she wants, Mallory must come to terms with how the relationship upended her life and who she wants to become in the aftermath. About Hart’s debut novel, Meg Wolitzer says: “Michelle Hart’s first novel is a haunting study of solitude and connection, moving and memorable.” (Carolyn)

Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance by Alison Espach: Espach (The Adults) returns with a novel about a woman thinking back on the tragic summer that changed her life forever. Moving in and out of time, Sally remembers her older sister Kathy, who died tragically as a teenager, and reunites with Billy, her sister’s ex boyfriend, who she should avoid but is drawn to nevertheless. About the novel, our own Emily St. John Mandel says: “Espach is an immensely talented writer, and her prose unfolds with a devastating lightness of touch. This novel is deeply moving, always excellent, and often unexpectedly funny.” (Carolyn)

Ill Feelings by Alice Hattrick: Hattrick’s debut book chronicles the illness they share with their mother—ME, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome—by blending memoir, history, biography, and literary nonfiction. Exploring case studies, diaries, and letters from ill women and about ill women, Hattrick reveals how sickness and illness narratives defy temporal, genre, and bodily definitions. “Ill Feelings defies neat conclusions as well as easy categorization of the book itself, so that attempting to describe it here seems like misdiagnosis, and to try and name the paradox at its heart seems like a betrayal of its rewards,” writes Olivia Sudjic. “But the thrill of Alice Hattrick’s writing stems from its struggle to be free of its constraints, communicating with unspooling fury the mutability of lived experience rather than presuming to define it.” (Carolyn)

Six Days in Rome by Francesca Giacco: Giacco’s debut novel follows Emilia, a heartbroken American artist, wandering the sights and streets of Rome looking for a way to escape her present and make sense of her past. When she meets American expat John, she begins to rebuild herself and break free from the men who always seemed to overshadow her. Paul Beatty writes: “An ode to funky wine labels, good taste, and true inspiration, Francesca Giacco has penned a stunningly cool and stylish debut.” (Carolyn)

I Who Have Never Known Men by Jacqueline Harpman (translated by Ros Schwartz): With a new afterword by Sophie Mackintosh, Harpman’s post-apocalyptic feminist novel is back in print for the first time since 1997. Living in an underground cage, 39 women and one girl live alone with few memories of the past, no sense of time or space, and uncertainty and fear for the future. About the first edition, Le Nouvel Observateur wrote: “The delirium of I Who Have Never Known Men suggests the work of a feminine Kafka.” (Carolyn)

Jameela Green Ruins Everything by Zarqa Nawaz: Writer and filmmaker Nawaz’s (Laughing All the Way to the Mosque) debut novel follows the eponymous Jameela on her quest to become a New York Times bestselling author. When her imam chides her shallow desires, he challenges her to perform a good deed—which unintentionally leads her into an absurd and dangerous scheme involving terrorists and the CIA. Canadian magazine Maclean’s says, “Nawaz’s understated humour shines in this lovely comedy of errors—and faith.” (Carolyn)

Teenager by Bud Smith: Sightseeing, car stealing, and run-ins with townies litter the pages of Smith’s (Double Bird) debut novel. When lovesick teenagers Kody and Tella learn that Tella’s parents are sending her to Rome (and away from Kody), the two teens run away from their homes in New Jersey and toward the open road. Publishers Weekly writes: “Evokes the surreal contrasts of the American landscape in smart, jittery prose. Smith makes this a trip worth taking.” (Carolyn)

Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov (translated by Angela Rodel): Award-winning Bulgarian author Gospodinov’s newest novel follows an unnamed narrator (an amateur novelist) and ageriatric psychiatrist as they work together to build a new therapy technique focused (perhaps dangerously) on the power of nostalgia. Claire Messud writes: “In equal measure playful and profound, Georgi Gospodinov’s Time Shelter renders the philosophical mesmerizing, and the everyday extraordinary. I loved it.” (Carolyn)

You Have a Friend in 10A by Maggie Shipstead: A decades-long love affair takes place on a ranch in Montana. A former child star leaves her life inside a cult. A young woman searches for her lost lover in a desolate ski resort. Booker Prize nominee Shipstead (The Great Circle) returns with her sweeping debut story collection—which Publishers Weekly’s starred review calls “daring, wide-ranging” and “formally inventive and emotionally complex.” (Carolyn)

Family Album by Gabriela Alemán (translated by Dick Cluster and Mary Ellen Fieweger): In a follow-up to her English language debut Poso Wells, Alemán’s eight-story collection explores present-day South America by blending forgotten history, pop culture, folklore, and cultural heritage. Pilar Quintana says: “Gabriela Alemán’s stories unravel a rich and intriguing universe in which nothing, and no one, is what it seems.” (Carolyn)

You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi: National Book Award finalist Emezi (The Death of Vivek Oji) tackles a new genre in their romance debut. Five years after the love of her life died, Feyi is ready to date again. After she meets Nasir at a party, they begin a whirlwind summer romance full of wonder and possibility except for one little complication: she can’t stop thinking about Nasir’s father. (Carolyn)

April Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

- | 1 book mentioned 1

We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!
Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel: Another twisty, intellectually meaty novel of the uncanny and otherworldly from Mandel, longtime Millions staffer and bestselling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel. This one spans 500 years, from 1912 to 2401, and features a bestselling author visiting Earth from her moon-based colony on a book tour, where she must field a million and one questions about her novel about a “scientifically implausible flu,” while the news warns of a mysterious new virus. That Mandel herself found herself answering a million and one questions about her own pandemic novel during the present pandemic no doubt lends this plot element some verisimilitude. (Michael)

Binding the Ghost by Ed Simon: Simon’s essays are some of the true hidden gems in our contemporary literary world. After the deconstructionism and with the rise of cultural studies, literature is often used as a vehicle to form a political conversation. “Art for art’s sake” seems to be a tradition that we now consider not only outdated but also narrow-minded. Binding the Ghost helps restore our pure pleasures in reading literature as what literature actually is. Simon’s essays are never dogmatic. He guides us through a theological perspective and inspires us to meditate on the many significant, yet often neglected, literary evolvements: the development of the alphabet, the mystic power of punctuation, how the novel and Protestantism construct a relationship with people. Binding the Ghost sings a genuine, beautiful hymn to the magic and wonder of poetry and fiction. (Jianan)

The Age of Astonishment: John Morris in the Extraordinary Century―From the Civil War to the Cold War by Bill Morris: Our own Morris (Motor City Burning, American Berserk) is back with a work of nonfiction that mixes the personal with history and traces the life of his grandfather, John Morris, who was born into a slave-owning Virginia family during the Civil War and died at the peak of the Cold War. In a starred review, Kirkus, hailed the book—which covers everything from Reconstruction, women’s suffrage, and Prohibition to the horrors of Jim Crow, two World Wars, and the advent of nuclear weapons—as “An entertaining combination of domestic and world history,” adding “[Morris] does a superb job of recounting a life amid a series of significant decades. His imaginative ‘mongrel’ approach—a mix of…biography, history, reportage, memoir, autobiography, and, when the record runs thin, speculation that flirts with fiction—is successful. An entertaining combination of domestic and world history.” (Adam B.)

Let’s Not Do That Again by Grant Ginder: Ginder’s (The People We Hate at the Wedding) newest novel follows Congresswoman Nancy Harrison as she runs for the U.S. Senate. Everything seems to be going well on the campaign trail until her daughter Greta is caught at a violent political protest in Paris. Crackling with humor and heart, Emily Gould says, “Grant Ginder is not afraid to ask what it means to fight for what’s right—for the country you serve, the world at large, and the flawed and impossibly complicated people you are bound to love.” (Carolyn)

Things They Lost by Okwiri Oduor: Caine Prize for African Writing winner Oduor explores a complicated mother-daughter relationship in her magical debut novel. Ayosa, the young protagonist, is deeply lonely, pained by past memories, and looking for an escape from her mother’s intoxicating yet detached presence. Onyeka Nwelue writes: “A narrative so profound, its humour shining so bright, that you’d think the author had written hundreds of books to have mastered the art of perpetual storytelling.” (Carolyn)

When Women Kill by Alia Trabucco Zerán (translated by Sophie Hughes): Illuminating the transgressive and disturbing nature of violence by and against women, International Booker Prize finalist Trabucco Zerán (The Remainder) explores four homicides committed by Chilean women during the twentieth century. About the genre-blurring new work, Giuseppe Caputo writes: “Equal parts essay, detective story, diary, and feminist discourse, its most moving and brilliant moment may be when Trabucco Zerán dramatizes the only case not yet depicted in art: the portrait of a new Medea, tragic and unsettling, but more than that, transgressive, hungry for another life.” (Carolyn)

Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel: In her debut novel, Patel reimagines the life of the titular Kaikeyi, the queen from the Indian epic, Ramayana. Born the only daughter of Kekaya’s kingdom, Kaikeyi looks to the Gods for guidance after her mother is banished—but it’s within the books of her youth that she discovers a life-changing (and reality-threatening) magic that was within her all along. Publishers Weekly’s starred review says: “Readers familiar with the source text will be wowed by Patel’s reimagining, while those new to the story will be won over by its powerful, multilayered heroine and epic scope.” (Carolyn)

I’ll Be You by Janelle Brown: Identical twin sisters and former child stars Sam and Elli were once close enough to be nearly one person, but their lives have drastically diverged in adulthood. When Elli goes missing, Sam must piece together the broken bits of Elli’s life and look back on the secrets that bond them. Angie Kim calls Brown’s (Pretty Things) newest novel a “powerful and moving portrait of the fiercely tenacious bonds of familial love.” (Carolyn)

The Lonely Stories edited by Natalie Eve Garrett: Garrett, who previously edited Eat Joy, compiles a 22-essay collection about the beauty, struggle, and universality of loneliness and solitude. Contributors include literary luminaries including Anthony Doerr, Yiyun Li, Megan Giddings, Jesmyn Ward, and Lidia Yuknavitch. “Surprising, sly, heart-stopping, celebratory—the essays in The Lonely Stories evoke the gamut of emotions, in the way of isolation itself,” says Claire Messud. (Carolyn)

Bomb Shelter by Mary Laura Philpott: In a follow-up to her bestselling memoir-in-essays, I Miss You When I Blink, Philpott’s newest collection explores the extraordinary and the mundane with humor, anxiety, and hope. Poet Maggie Smith writes: “At the heart of Bomb Shelter is a truth parents know deeply: ‘I felt the universe had entrusted me with so much more than I could possibly keep safe.’ I put this book down feeling less anxious as a mother and more inspired as a writer.” (Carolyn)

Indelible City by Louisa Lim: Journalist Lim (The People’s Republic of Amnesia) uses reporting and memoir to sketch a vivid portrait of her native Hong Kong’s past and present. Often hidden from its own citizens, Lim uncovers the inspiring, complicated, and rebellious history of her city and its citizens. “The best book about the indelible city to date,” says Ai Weiwei. “Irresistibly real and emotionally authentic, it shines with a shimmering light rarely seen in political narrative. A truly extraordinary elegy.” (Carolyn)

Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black by Cookie Mueller: Initially published as the first volume of Semiotext(e)’s Native Agents series, a new edition of Mueller’s 1990 classic is being republished in full alongside two dozen additional stories and essays. Olivia Laing’s introduction grounds the work in its historical, social, and personal contexts, while the collection at large offers a fuller understanding of the life and work of Mueller, the legendary underground actress, artist, and East Villager. (Carolyn)

The Sign for Home by Blair Fell: Fell—a playwright, television writer, and two-time winner of the Doris Lippman Prize in Creative Writing—publishes his debut novel about Arlo Dilly, a DeafBlind Jehovah’s Witness, who falls in love with a mysterious girl at boarding school only to lose her. Years later, Arlo uncovers the lost memory and goes on a journey with his friends to find the love he lost—and, perhaps more importantly, who he can be. (Carolyn)

New to Liberty by DeMisty D. Bellinger: Set in rural Kansas, Bellinger’s debut novel in three parts follows three women living decades apart—but connected nonetheless. In 1933, Greta falls in love with a woman from a nearby farm. In 1947, Greta begins a secret interracial relationship with a white man. In 1966, Sissily makes an unexpected stop in Liberty, Kansas and stumbles upon long held secrets. Chris Harding Thornton says: “The novel’s imagery, whether steeped in beauty, horror, love, or terror, stitches itself into your own fabric, becoming a part of you long after you’ve turned the last page.” (Carolyn)

A Revolution of the Mind by MV Perry: Ellen “Boo” Harvey is caught in a depressive spiral that leaves her isolated from her friends and family, and alone with a manic mind she no longer recognizes. Boo’s mental and physical illnesses feel totally inescapable and all-consuming until she meets Jude, a mental illness advocate who teaches her how to advocate for those who are often left behind. In the Independent Book Review, Audrey Davis calls the direct and unsparing debut “a provocative, emotional novel unafraid to bare its teeth.” (Carolyn)

Burning Butch by R/B Mertz: In their coming-of-age memoir, Mertz explores growing up in a divorced, ultraconservative, Catholic household in the early aughts. Clinging to Catholocism while exploring their sexuality and queerness, Mertz wonders if they will have to choose between their selfhood and the community they’ve always known. “Mertz’s extraordinary and stunning debut memoir extends and deepens the tradition begun by Feinberg for ‘butch’ life, butch recognition, gender non-conformity, and queerness by writing the catastrophic and world-shattering repressions that radical Christianity can inflict on children, people, and communities,” writes Dawn Lundy Martin. “In this gorgeously written, powerful and moving literary accomplishment, Mertz reminds us of the sheer miracle that any of us queer kids are alive.” (Carolyn)

How to Adjust to the Dark by Rebecca van Laer: In van Laer’s debut novella, poet Charlotte looks back on her early twenties through her poetry. Blending prose, poetry, theory, and analysis, she analyzes her poems, remembers the selves she birthed and buried, and questions whether pain is necessary in order to make art. Lindsay Lerman writes: “Like Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be, van Laer takes so-called ‘women’s writing’ and opens it up, showing us what exists beyond cliché and easy answers.” (Carolyn)

Benefit by Siobhan Phillips: A debut novel exploring a literature student looking back on her elite fellowship at Oxford University. Years after she completed the Weatherfield fellowship, literature PhD Laura is struggling to find her footing in academia—until she’s drawn back into the secret-filled world of the academic elite and discovers long buried secrets. Jessica Winter says, “Deadpan and dread-filled, shadowed by the specters of war and late capitalism, Benefit probes both the futility and necessity of intellectual work, all in the wry, wise voice of an uncommonly clear-eyed friend.” (Carolyn)

Paradais by Fernanda Melchor (translated by Sophie Hughes): In her newest novel, Melchor (Hurricane Season) explores racism, classim, and violence through two teenage outsiders orbiting around and wreaking havoc in a luxury apartment complex. Samanta Schweblin writes: “Fernanda Melchor has a powerful voice, and by powerful I mean unsparing, devastating, the voice of someone who writes with rage and has the skill to pull it off.” (Carolyn)

March Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

- | 1 book mentioned

We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!
Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.
Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou: An Asian American PhD student desperate to claw her way out of academic hell? Sign me up, please! Even better, Alexander Chee calls this an “Asian American literary studies whodunnit.” Ingrid Yang finds herself in the midst of solving a mystery tied to a late canonical Chinese poet that leaves her questioning everything from her romantic life to her academic career. Oh, and her best friend is named Eunice Kim. For everyone with a Eunice Kim in their life, let’s kick off our inaugural book club with Disorientation. I’ll bring the soju. (Kate)

Ancestor Trouble by Maud Newton: Essayist and critic Newton’s first book length work is memoir, a fascinating combination of a journey to find out more about the flamboyant characters in her family going back generations, mixed seamlessly with “America’s Ancestry Craze,” her Harper’s article about the genealogy craze that has become a serious even all-consuming hobby for many Americans. An unflinching exploration into the history of a troubled family tree and the universal but also peculiarly American need to discover “roots.” (Marie)

Groundskeeping by Lee Cole. This debut coming-of-age novel is a love story set in Kentucky during the run-up to the 2016 election. It centers on Owen Callahan, an aspiring writer who moves back home to Kentucky to live with his Trump-supporting uncle and grandfather. He takes a job as a groundskeeper at a local college, in exchange for writing classes. There he meets Alma Hazdic, a writer in residence who hails from a Boston, and whose immigrant family is much more liberal than Owen’s. They are from different worlds, and as they begin to fall in love, Alma struggles to understand Owen’s complicated relationship with his conservative relatives and his home state. (Hannah)

Eleutheria by Allegra Hyde: A naïve young woman with idealistic hopes of fighting climate change follows a charismatic leader to a remote island in the Bahamas. She joins a band of eco-warriors only to discover that things aren’t what she expected. This debut novel follows Hyde’s 2016 story collection, Of This New World, and wrestles with similar themes of utopia. (Hannah)

Tell Me an Ending by Jo Harkin: In Jo Harkin’s dystopian debut, a tech company named Nepenthe has been deleting people’s memories (à la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) for the past 20 years. When Nepenthe becomes embroiled in scandal regarding trace memories, four characters (alongside a doctor at the flagship clinic) begin to come to terms with what they forgot and whether they can live with those memories again. Jessamine Chan says the book is “suspenseful, richly imagined, and brimming with compassion” and “poses tantalizing questions about technology, ethics, capitalism, memory, trauma, and fate. How far would we go to live a happier life? Who are we without the memories that have shaped us?” (Carolyn)

Jerks by Sara Lippmann: In her newest short story collection, Lippmann (Doll Palace) offers 18 stories of characters—from gossiping moms to young girls at summer camp—as they yearn, desire, pine, and, in spite of everything, hope. “Efficient, daring and fearless—Sara Lippmann aims right for the heart of our confused desire,” says Steve Almond. “She gets us inside the female experience, not just of lust but of the tedium and resentment, the long grind that lurks beneath the slow burn.” (Carolyn)

The Doloriad by Missouri Williams: Williams’ lyrical and strange debut follows a brutal survivalist family led by the Matriarch in the wake of environmental disaster. When the Matriarch decides to send her daughter Dolores into the woods as a reproductive sacrifice, their family and world changes forever. “Unlike anything I’ve ever read. The Doloriad is—somehow—Old Testament origin story, Shakespearean family feud, Greek epic, philosophical parable, and absurdist sitcom, all in one,” Jac Jemc writes. “Horrible and riveting, I could not look away.” (Carolyn)

The Fell by Sarah Moss: Single mother Kate is under a strict two week in quarantine when she falls after stepping out on a quick walk to get fresh air and clear her mind. Without a phone and with her teenage son home alone, she realizes that her prohibited walk will now turn into a rescue mission (at best) or a missing persons case (at worst). Kirkus’ starred review says: “This portrait of humans and their neighboring wild creatures in their natural landscape and in their altered world is darkly humorous, arrestingly honest, and intensely lyrical.” (Carolyn)

Hammer by Joe Mungo Reed: In Reed’s newest novel, Martin, a junior auction house employee, has a chance encounter with Marina, a friend from university, that changes his whole life. Marina’s husband Oleg, an art-collecting Russian oligarch, wants to sell his prized and priceless collection, and Martin wants to buy it—but he doesn’t quite realize what it might cost him personally. The book, which Kirkus’ starred review called “richly textured, compulsively readable, and brilliant throughout,” explores the intersection of art, wealth, and power.” (Carolyn)

On a Night of a Thousand Stars by Andrea Yaryura Clark: During her family’s annual polo match and party, Paloma, the 21-year-old daughter of Argentinian diplomat Santiago Larrea, meets a woman from her father’s mysterious past. When Santiago is appointed to an United States ambassadorship, Paloma begins a fact-finding mission that leads her to uncover the atrocities and disappearances that happened during Argentina’s “Dirty War”—and how her family fits into this history. Jennifer Egan says, “On a Night of a Thousand Stars turns one woman’s genealogical quest into a searing indictment of the complicity inherent in cultural silence.” (Carolyn)

Fencing with the Kings by Diana Abu-Jaber: When her father Gabriel is invited to the King of Jordan’s 60th birthday, Amani offers to accompany him to his native Jordan to learn more about his mysterious past. They stay with Gabriel’s brother Uncle Hafez, one of the King’s advisors, who has invited his brother to this event with an ulterior motive. During their visit, their decades-long sibling rivalry threatens to unravel everything and ruin everyone. Etaf Rum writes: “Ambitious, vivid, compelling, and full of life, this rich family story tells so many truths and uses family myths and fables to explore complex history, intergenerational trauma, and the wounds of exile and displacement.” (Carolyn)

When I Sing, Mountains Dance by Irene Sola (translated by Mara Faye Lethem): Winner of the European Union Prize, Sola’s novel touches down and takes root in a village in the Pyrenees. When the patriarch of a family dies by lightning bolt, the village’s spirits, animals, and land begin to speak; the distinct, unique points of view reveal the ways the human experience and natural world are interconnected. About the book, Max Porter writes: “Translated with great musicality and wit, it is rich and ranging, shimmering with human and nonhuman life, the living and the dead, in our time and deep time; a fable that is utterly universal, deadly funny, and profoundly moving.” (Carolyn)

You Sound Like a White Girl by Julissa Arce: Arce, the author of My (Underground) American Dream and Someone Like Me, offers a narrative that questions and dismantles the idea that assimilation will lead to belonging, success, and acceptance in America for citizens of color (and specifically immigrants). She offers that belonging is not found in mimicking whiteness, but in embracing one’s unique history and culture. José Olivarez says: “A love letter to our people—full of fury and passion. You Sound Like a White Girl tells us about who we are, where we came from, and most importantly, helps us imagine a future where we can live in all our beauty and power.” (Carolyn)

Chevy in the Hole by Kelsey Ronan: In Flint, Michigan, two families (one white, one Black) grow and nurture their roots over the course of multiple generations. When Gus returns to his family’s home after his latest overdose, he meets Monae, a Black urban farmer who dreams of turning empty lots into lush community gardens. As they fall in love, the debut keeps the city and its history at the heart of the book. “She makes a city that has so often been made flat by the world around it alive and filled with the potholes and gardens and people that make it, despite all its traumas, bloom,” says Megan Giddings. (Carolyn)

The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd: Shepherd’s (The Book of M) newest novel follows Nell, the daughter of now-deceased cartography legend Dr. Daniel Young, as she investigates an emotionally-charged but seemingly unimportant map hidden in his desk. As Nell uncovers the truth about the map, she begins to unspool her family’s best kept secret. Publishers Weekly’ starred review says, “Shepherd’s convincing blend of magic from old maps with the modern online world both delights and thrills.” (Carolyn)

The Last Confessions of Sylvia P. by Lee Kravetz: Stretching from the past to the present, Kravetz’s fiction debut employs three fictional characters—a psychiatrist, rival poet, and an auction house curator—to reimagine Sylvia Plath’s life during the tumultuous period when she wrote The Bell Jar. About the literary mystery, Adam Johnson says, “It’s a book full of ideas about inspiration and a love for language that translates across borders, physical and generational.” (Carolyn)

Panpocalypse by Carley Moore: Initially published as a serialized online novel, Moore’s (The Not Wives) newest novel is set in New York City during summer 2020. Heartbroken Orpheus—a disabled, queer, poly poet—spends most of her days riding her bike through the empty streets, yearning for connection and community. Unstuck in time yet firmly rooted in early pandemic NYC, “Orpheus’ desperate search for autonomy, relationships, and self-actualization feels perennial,” according to Kirkus. (Carolyn)

Serious Faces by Jon Mooallem: New York Times Magazine writer Mooallem’s essay collection features 13 pieces exploring the paradoxical gulf and intimacy between the individual and the universal. Publishers Weekly’s starred review writes: “Mooallem has a real knack for evoking places, people, and emotions, and the individuals he writes about put a human face on larger issues such as climate change and conservation. This is well worth the price of admission.” (Carolyn)

Portrait of an Unknown Lady by María Gainza (translated by Thomas Bunstead): The author of the critically-acclaimed novel Optic Nerve returns with a tale of an art critic/auction house employee as she tracks down a master forger in the Buenos Aires art scene. “Vividly detailed and saturated with intricate feeling, Gainza’s novel is an engrossing exploration of authenticity, obsession, and the enveloping allure of art,” says Alexandra Kleeman. (Carolyn)

Refuse to Be Done by Matt Bell: In his craft book, novelist Bell (Appleseed) offers practical advice and expert tips to writing, rewriting, and polishing your book. Broken into three parts, the book places special focus on the rewriting tasks that take place during every stage of writing a book (fiction or otherwise). “This is the CrossFit of craft books, a literary piece of gym equipment that will help you progress dynamically through your creative projects with agency, clear-sightedness, and a new appreciation for the often overlooked, but utterly essential act—and art—of revision,” Courtney Maum writes. “Refuse to Be Done is a must-have for the writer who is ready to up their writing game.” (Carolyn)

In the Margins by Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein): In four new essays, Ferrante, the infamous and enigmatic Italian author, writes about her rich inner life as a reader and writer. She explores how she broke free of trying to mimic male writers and instead found her place among the women writers who came before her (including Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein). A starred review by Publishers Weekly calls the collection “dazzling” and that “the author’s legions of fans are in for a treat.” (Carolyn)

The Old Woman with the Knife by Gu Byeong-mo (translated by Chi-Young Kim): The story of an aging female assassin who is called into action just when she is settling down to relax with her rescue dog and routine. (Lydia)

February Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

- | 1 book mentioned

We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!

Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.

 

Pure Colour by Sheila Heti: This is a touching, funny, and philosophical novel about a woman looking to find her place in the world. When Mira leaves home for school, she meets a charismatic woman named Annie, who, as the publisher describes, “opens Mira’s chest like a portal.” After Mira’s father dies, she enters the strange dimension of acute grief and finds a world of insight inside. As the publisher says, it’s a “contemporary bible, an atlas of feeling, and an absurdly funny guide to the great (and terrible) things about being alive.” (Claire)

Very Cold People by Sarah Manguso: The eighth book by pithy stylist Manguso happens also to be her debut novel. She’s written across genres—from poetry collections to nonfiction works (OngoingnessThe Two Kinds of Decay), and her previous book, 300 Arguments, is an aphoristic autobiography. Her novel, Very Cold People, is an “empathic bildungsroman” about a young girl coming of age in an austere (and very cold) Massachusetts town. Lauren Groff says Very Cold People “knocked me to my knees” with a story that “is devastatingly familiar to those of us who know the loneliness of growing up in a place of extreme emotional restraint.” (Anne)

Recitatif by Toni Morrison: The literary giant Morrison’s first published story, and the only short story she ever wrote, is now republished for the first time since 1983 with an introduction by Zadie Smith, who writes, “When [Morrison] called Recitatif an ‘experiment’ she meant it. The subject of the experiment is the reader.” (Lydia)
Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James: The second installment of James’s Dark Star trilogy now arrives, continuing the grand saga of Black Leopard, Red Wolf, and has been greeted with great acclaim. In a starred review, Booklist writes, “If Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a penciled comic panel, Moon Witch, Spider King is the version rendered by James the inker: the geography, myth, magic, and people of this epic setting are revisited to add shading and detail in a recursive procedure that results in a vibrant tapestry begging for infinite return trips.” (Lydia)

Antiquities and Other Stories by Cynthia Ozick: The present edition centers on Ozick’s masterful novella—Antiquities—about the struggles of a former trustee of the long-defunct Temple School for Boys who’s trying to write his memoirs while fending off senescence. But the modern world just keeps butting in on memory. The volume includes four previously uncollected stories by the author: “The Coast of New Zealand,” “The Bloodline of the Alkanas,” “Sin,” and “A Hebrew Sibyl.” (Il’ja)

Chilean Poet by Alejandro Zambra, translated by Megan McDowell: In this story, Gonzalo, an obscure Chilean poet, isn’t much good at relationships, but just maybe his ex-stepson and budding poet Vincente will prove to be. The thing that has always made Zambra’s writing irresistible (to me, anyway) is his attention to the seemingly inconsequential matters that render our lives so flush with consequence. Chilean Poet will almost certainly amble along Zambra’s wonderfully original, laconic literary path. (Il’ja)

Clean Air by Sarah Blake: In a follow-up to her gorgeous, award-winning debut, Naamah, poet Blake explores the post-climate apocalypse where tree pollen poisoned the air and killed billions. Ten years later, the survivors (including Izabel, a restless mother, and her family) live in domes and have begun to build a new normal—until an unknown person begins slashing through the barrier and exposing people to the deadly air. Angie Kim writes, “Clean Air is an amazing blend of page-turning mystery, important commentary about environmental destruction, and poignant portraiture of maternal love.” (Carolyn)

Vladimir by Julia May Jonas: Jonas’s unnamed narrator—a 50-something, tenured English professor at a small liberal arts school—finds herself at the center of a campus scandal: her husband is under investigation for having inappropriate relationships with his students. As she navigates the notoriety, she finds herself becoming deeply sexually obsessed with her new colleague, Vladimir, a young, married novelist. A book that explores power, gender, and desire, which Adrienne Brodeur calls “a whip smart and ferociously clever tale of swirling allegiances, literary rivalries, and romantic tripwires detonating hidden mines.” (Carolyn)

Scoundrel by Sarah Weinman: As the Crime columnist for The New York Times Book Review, author of The Real Lolita, and editor of Unspeakable Acts, Weinman is one of the best at getting beyond sensation to understand the intersection of crime and our larger culture. This book is her investigation into the wrongful exoneration of killer Edgar Smith and how his editor, the women who loved him, friends, and the courts were among those he manipulated into helping set him free—only for him to re-offend again. Booklist calls it, “a psychologically fascinating must-read.” (Claire)

Wildcat by Amelia Morris: Morris’s debut explores new motherhood and toxic female friendships set against the backdrop of contemporary Los Angeles. Our own Edan Lepucki said of the book, “Wildcat is that rare novel I’m always in the mood to read: at once laugh-at-loud funny and deeply serious, page-turning and smart. Amelia Morris tackles contemporary motherhood—with its social media-induced peer pressure, its confusing isolation, its complicated beauty—with the sharpest wit and a tenderness that takes my breath away. I loved this book. I want to press it into the hands of…everyone.” (Lydia)

Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh: The abortion debate gets personal in Haigh’s timely sixth novel. Claudia, a counselor at the Mercy Street clinic, smokes weed to cope with the stress of guiding young women through the choice of their lives while a rabidly pro-life activist shames women online for visiting the clinic and plots to travel from his remote cabin to “save” Claudia. “I’m just going to say it: Jennifer Haigh is the greatest novelist of our generation,” says Joanna Rakoff, author of My Salinger Year. “And Mercy Street is her best novel yet.” (Michael)

How to Be Normal by Phil Christman Though the Midwest is by far the largest geographical region of the United States, diverse in culture, history, and ideology, it’s still often slurred as “flyover country” and reduced to a set of often inaccurate red state stereotypes. Writer, professor, and theorist of the middle American sublime Christman complicated those tropes in his excellent set of essays Midwest Futures, which was both narratively and structurally innovative in how it moved beyond the tired tropes of a million New York Times think pieces. In his follow up, How to Be Normal, Christman presents essays on a variety of topics ranging from race and masculinity to religion and pop culture, all written in the tone of a subversive self-help guide. Engaging a belles-lettristic negative capability, Christman takes on the big subjects while always remembering that the point of criticism is to more fully be a person, part of “our little attempts that we make at building a home in this world.” (Ed)

When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East by Quan Barry: In the latest from the author of We Ride Upon Sticks, two identical twins—brothers who fell out years before after one rejected the monastic life they shared—set out across Mongolia to find a great lama reincarnate. The brother who remained a monk, Chulun, struggles to get along with his estranged twin, Mun, a task that only gets more difficult as the terrain pushes their differences to the breaking point. Throughout, Chulun wrestles with questions of faith and brotherhood, along with the futility in trying to hold on to one set of beliefs in a world that seems to change by the minute. (Thom)

Dead Collection by Isaac Fellman: An archival love story between a TV star’s widow and an archivist with a condition (vampirism) that keeps him hiding in the basement. Jordy Rosenberg called it “A moving and provocative novel, that caresses the decay nibbling at the hard edges of postmodern officescapes, exposing a sexy, neurotic, cinematic vampire love story bubbling up from the ruins.” (Lydia)

Cost of Living by Emily Maloney: An essay collection by an emergency room technician who came to the work after her teenage suicide attempt put her into the tortuous cycle of medical debt—a burden that might touch anyone who has the misfortune of needing medical care in our broken American system, where a broken leg can lead to financial ruin. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly raves, “Maloney artfully unpacks the fraught connection between money and health in her brilliant debut collection. Maloney is masterful at beginning in a place of skepticism and ending with empathy, all while weaving in her own fascinating story.” (Lydia)

New Animal by Ella Baxter: This strange, sexy, wonderful novel by Australian author Baxter follows a woman who works in her family’s mortuary and processes the grief of a loved one’s passing by an exploration of local kink clubs. Kirkus wrote in a bewildered but supportive review, “this unusual novel navigates the most treacherous of emotional territories—the fault lines between love and grief, sex and death—with a deliberate lack of grace and real charm.” (Lydia)

Away to Stay by Mary Kuryla: A novel of the Inland Empire following a working class immigrant family struggling to keep afloat and housed in an unforgiving economy. Lexi Freiman says of the novel, “Kuryla has an unflinching eye for the dark strangeness of domestic life and her ravishing prose only deepens the provocation. A powerful and stunningly original book.” (Lydia)

Nightshift by Kiare Ladner: Set in late-nineties London, Ladner’s debut novel follows Meggie, a twenty-three-year-old literature student, as she becomes deeply obsessed with Sabine, her mysterious and fascinating coworker. Meggie takes the night shift alongside Sabine in order to be closer to her, even though she’s giving up everything she knows for a person who she may never know. “Nightshift is one of the most exciting and provocative debuts I’ve read in years,” Julianne Pachico says. “Daring and dark, it explores themes of nihilism, escape, and desire, with classic noir echoes of Patricia Highsmith.” (Carolyn)

The Goodness of St. Rocque by Alice Dunbar-Nelson: Danielle Evans (The Office of Historical Corrections) writes the introduction to this short story collection from Dunbar-Nelson, the Harlem Renaissance poet, essayist, and activist, that explores the Creole community—from Bourbon Street to the bayou—in the late-nineteenth century. This edition, published as part of the Modern Library Torchbearer series, also features selected stories from Dunbar-Nelson’s first collection, Violets and Other Tales. (Carolyn)

The Last Wild Horses by Maja Lunde (translated by Diane Oatley): The newest novel by Lunde, whose debut The History of Bees won the Norwegian Bookseller’s Prize, touches down in multiple timelines—1881 Russia, 1992 Mongolia, and a dystopian 2064 Norway—with takhi, a rare ancient breed of horses, serving as the through line. In each of the eras, people risk and sacrifice everything and everyone to save these magnificent creatures from certain extinction. Publishers Weekly’s starred review says: “Throughout, Lunde delivers a perfect blend of gripping human stories, historical and scientific fact, and speculative elements. This standout should win her wider attention in the U.S..” (Carolyn)

Love by Maayan Eitan: Following the life of a young sex worker, Eltan’s ethereal and emotional debut novel caused an uproar when it was originally published in Israel. As she meets men and befriends others in the business, the woman presents a hazy, truth-blurring narrative of her life in and out of the male gaze. Nell Zink calls Eltan “a pensive rebel seductress and a literary trickster” and her novel “so emotionally persuasive, so transparently metaphorical, so startlingly concrete, so obviously not true, that it had everyone in Israel convinced it was straight-up autofiction.” (Carolyn)

Other People’s Clothes by Calla Henkel: Two New York City college art students studying abroad in Berlin sublet an apartment from Beatrice Becks, a notorious thriller writer. In the darkened apartment the girls become increasingly obsessed with Beatrice and convinced she is using them as inspiration for her next novel —so they decide to give her something to write about. Megan Abbot calls the novel “darkly funny, psychologically rich and utterly addictive,” and a “witty, harrowing tale of twisty female friendships, slippery identity and furtive secrets.” (Carolyn)

Pages by Hugo Hamilton: The protagonist of Hamilton’s latest is a copy of Joseph Roth’s novel, The Rebellion, who narrates the story of its life, existence, and rescue from a Nazi book burning. Nearly a century after it was written and saved, Lena Knecht—the granddaughter of the book’s safeguard—travels to Germany with the book in tow to decipher a handwritten map on its last page. Sebastian Barry calls the novel “A masterpiece. Full of great sentences. But also sort of obliteratingly moving, strange, and right.” (Carolyn)

The Selfless Act of Breathing by J.J. Bola: When Michael, a British-Congolese high school teacher, suffers a life-changing loss, he decides to leave his life in London behind and travel to America. In an attempt to leave his painful past behind, Michael finds himself making new connections, having adventures, and realizing no one can outrun themselves. Mateo Askaripour writes: “In a world that makes it difficult for many of us to articulate our suffering, The Selfless Act of Breathing is a necessary invitation to scream when we feel like screaming, cry when we feel like crying, and prioritize our own often-neglected needs for love.” (Carolyn)

Please Miss by Grace Lavery: In her genre-blurring debut memoir, UC Berkeley professor Lavery uses humor, criticism, and philosophy to explore themes such as addiction, queerness, academia, and trans identity. About this smart, erotic, and metafictional book, Maggie Nelson writes: “Come for the laugh out loud miniature windsock on page one, stay for the fascinating analysis of a discarded pig part in Jude the Obscure, end up profoundly moved and profoundly grateful for this supremely intelligent, innovative, and important tale which is, as Lavery brilliantly puts it, ‘like all the rest, different from all the rest.’” (Carolyn)

The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk (translated by Jennifer Croft): Paginated in reverse, Nobel laureate Tokarczuk’s newest novel follows Jacob Frank, a charismatic religious leader, as he gathers followers and spreads his gospel throughout Eastern and Southeastern Europe in the late 18th century. Narrated by those who came in contact with him, the novel offers a kaleidoscopic and fictionalized view of a beloved, reviled, and controversial historical figure. Publishers Weekly’s starred review calls the book a “subtle and sensuous masterpiece” that “will undoubtedly be read and talked about by lovers of literature for years to come.” (Carolyn)

Cleopatra and Frankenstein by Coco Mellors: When Cleo, a twenty-four-year-old British painter, meets Frank, a forty-something businessman, her life is on the brink: her expiring student visa means she will have to leave Manhattan. Frank can offer everything she could dream of and more—and six months after meeting the two are married. Their whirlwind romance changes their lives and the lives of their friends and families forever. Kirkus’ starred review says: “At its core, it’s a novel about how love and lovers are easily misinterpreted and how romantic troubles affect friends and family…A canny and engrossing rewiring of the big-city romance.”

They Said They Wanted Revolution by Neda Toloui-Semnani: Journalist Toloui-Semnani’s debut novel explores her family’s devastating, complicated, and activist past. In 1979, her Iranian political activist parents left the U.S. to join the revolution in Iran, which was a decision that left her father dead and changed her family’s trajectory forever. “The old quote (turned old cliché) that a revolution devours its own (or its children) is not just a truism for Neda’s Persian family but a tragedy that came to define her,” says Hooman Majd. “This history—of not just revolution but also dual identity—is seldom told with such raw emotion and devastating beauty.” (Carolyn)

Most Anticipated: The Great First-Half 2022 Book Preview

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In this, our first preview for Pandemic Year Three, we offer up nearly 200 books, with the hope that they can, in some small measure, act as a balm, an escape, a distraction, a source of pleasure, a reason for hope, a source of light in the darkness.

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January


The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan: Frida Liu doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices, and she can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her—except that one lapse in judgement lands her in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance. An arresting debut. (Marie)

The Stars Are Not Yet Bells by Hannah Lillith Assadi: Five Under 35 author Assadi’s first novel’s voice-driven narrative was classified “superstitious realism”—as in its telling was “slanted and opaque, scenes haunted and possibly dreamed”—by The Brooklyn Rail. Assadi’s second novel, The Stars Are Not Yet Bells, continues in a similar vein of enchanted and haunting narration, but in a different mode: Elle Rainer suffers from Alzheimer’s and she recounts through its haze tales of her life and love and losses on the island of Lyra, and the search for the source of its mysterious blue light. The end result is “a prophetic fever dream sprung from [Assadi’s] singular imagination,” according to Claire Vaye Watkins. (Anne)

Lost & Found by Kathryn Schultz: New Yorker writer and Pulitzer Prize-winner Schultz can write engagingly on everything from earthquakes to human error and now trains her lens squarely on herself, exploring how loss and joy can coexist if not coincide, examining a year where she lost her father and also fell in love. Marilynne Robinson says “Our lives do indeed deserve and reward the kind of honest, gentle, brilliant scrutiny Schulz brings to bear on her own life.” (Marie)

To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara: After her blockbuster A Little Life, Yanagihara’s third novel is a triptych of stories set in 1893, 1993, and 2093. In 1893 America, New York is part of the Free States, where people may live and love whomever they please (or so it seems). Then in 1993 Manhattan is besieged by the AIDS epidemic. And in 2093, the world is riven by plagues and totalitarian rule. Edmund White promisingly called it “as good as War and Peace.” (Marie)

Yonder by Jabari Asim: Somewhere in the antebellum South, a group of enslaved black people call themselves The Stolen. To their owners they are merely captives, property. Subject to the whims of tyrannical Cannonball Greene, they toil in his quarry by day, endure beatings at night, and suffer the heartache of having a loved one sold off without warning. The bonds that keep The Stolen together begin to fray when a mysterious minister fills their heads with the notion that freedom means the ability to choose things, large and small. Which leads to a freighted question: What would happen if an enslaved person risked everything for love? (Bill)

Free Love by Tessa Hadley: After hitting the bestseller lists with her previous novels Late in the Day and The Past, Tessa Hadley gives us the Fischer family living in leafy suburban tranquility in 1967. The social ferment of nearby London seems worlds away. But when the young son of an old friend of Roger Fischer’s visits one hot summer evening, his wife Priscilla is swept into an affair that upends the family’s conventional life and leads her on a startling quest for romantic love, sexual freedom and the truest version of her life. Hadley is, in the words of Hilary Mantel, “one of those writers a reader trusts.” (Bill)

I Came All This Way to Meet You by Jami Attenberg: After seven books of fiction, Attenberg, who EW calls a “master of modern fiction,” publishes a new memoir about finding a home in the emotional, artistic, and physical sense. Full of wit, charm, and sharp intellect, Attenberg doesn’t hold back as she takes the reader through the defining moments of her life, from growing up as the daughter of a traveling salesman in the Midwest, sleeping on couches, and self-funded book tours to living an independent life as an artist. Kristen Arnett says, “The book is an embrace. It is a love letter to work and to friendship.” (Claire)

All Day Is a Long Time by David Sanchez: Sanchez’s debut follows 14-year-old David as he comes of age on the Gulf Coast of Florida. When he runs away from home, David hits rock bottom over and over again through drug use, sexual trauma, and being stuck in the revolving door of jail-to-rehab, rehab-to-jail. Eventually, he finds a life raft in a community college literature class—and his life becomes imbued with much-needed hope. Justin Torres says, “This book has it all, not only does the harrowing story grip you from the start, but the voice is so insightful, so poetic, so absolutely alive to the world, that you won’t be able to put it down.” (Carolyn)

A Previous Life by Edmund White: White, now in his 80s and firmly ensconced as a major Man of Letters, traverses familiar terrain and new ground with his latest novel, A Previous Life. The central characters—the aristocratic Sicilian musician Ruggerio and his American wife Constance—agree to break their vow and write confessions about their previous lives. Ruggero reveals his many affairs with men and women—and, above all, his passionate love for the writer Edmund White. Given the autobiographical tilt of White’s earlier fiction (notably A Boy’s Own Story and The Beautiful Room Is Empty), the appearance of a character named Edmund White was probably inevitable. It’s definitely delightful. (Bill)

Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez: Puerto Rican siblings Olga, a hotshot wedding planner, and Pedro “Prieto” Acevedo, a popular congressman, navigate their place in their rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood in Gonzalez’s debut. Set in the months surrounding the devastation of Hurricane Maria, Olga’s and Prieto’s secrets, as well as their family’s secrets, begin to bubble to the surface—and they have no choice but to face them head on. Rumaan Alam writes: “It’s a book about a New York that isn’t always celebrated, the one that belongs to immigrant communities; about money, class, and political power; about one vividly-imagined family and the very idea of the American Dream.” (Carolyn)

Devil House by John Darnielle: In his newest novel, author and The Mountain Goats’ singer-songwriter Darnielle (Universal Harvester) dissects the mega-popular, oft exploitative true crime genre. Gage Chandler, a one-hit-wonder true crime writer, moves into the “Devil House” where a grisly murder took place during the 1980s Satanic Panic. As he falls deeper into his research, into the case, into the memories of his past, he begins to question his work—who it serves and who it hurts. Publishers Weekly’s starred review says, “it operates perfectly on many levels, resulting in a must-read for true crime addicts and experimental fiction fans alike.” (Carolyn)

Shit Cassandra Saw by Gwen Kirby: Whether they’re virgins, whores, witches, or warriors, the infamous and unknown women in Kirby’s experimental debut collection take the spotlight. “I want to be friends with all of the women in this collection who refuse to be anything other than exactly who they are,” Rachel Yoder writes. “A barnburner of a book that will set you ablaze with its clear-eyed brilliance.” (Carolyn)

Defenestrate by Renee Branum: The word itself—”defenestrate”—is sadly underused. If it recalls anything, then some history buffs might remember those unlucky emissaries at the “Defenestration of Prague” during the springtime of the Thirty Years War, but it’s a fantastic bit of language that we unfortunately rarely get to use (even while we hope that it doesn’t happen to us). Branum’s odd, lyrical, and gorgeous debut Defenestrate follows twins Marta and Nick as they trace the intricacies of a family curse wherein members of their clan are perennially fated to fall out of windows (a burden that began appropriately enough in Prague centuries ago). Evocative of Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists, Branum’s novel is a magical realist family fable, an allegory about the heaviness of history and the lightness of dropping, because “Something in our bodies wants to fall… we splinter that easily.” (Ed)

Perpetual West by Mesha Maren: While historically shifting, the border between the United States and Mexico has always been permeable, communities on both sides having more in common with one another than they might with cities thousands of miles away, despite what demagogues might otherwise claim. Critically lauded novelist Maren’s sophomore effort Perpetual West is a reminder that there has never been a wall, but that the border is a mirror, and that the U.S. and Mexico have always existed in interdependence. Chronicling the cross-border lives of Alex and Elana, ethnically Mexican though adopted by white Pentecostals and raised in Virginia, Perpetual West embodies the continual draw that that country has on the imagination, that complicated fantasy about how to “Start over fresh… south of the border!” (Ed)

Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson: The nameless narrator of Wilson’s sly third novel runs into an old college acquaintance at LAX who invites him into the airline’s private lounge while they wait for their delayed flight to Germany. What follows is a story within a story of how Jeff once rescued a man from drowning in the ocean…and then became fixated on him. Lauren Groff calls it an “agile novel of ideas with unexpectedly sharp teeth” and Andrew Sean Greer declared it “the best book I’ve read in ages.” I myself loved this riveting and smart novel. And: the perfect ending will make you gasp. (Edan)

The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang: Chang, the director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, follows up her slim and beautiful novel about poets, All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost, with a modern retelling of The Brothers Karamazov. The story concerns the family who owns Fine Chao, a Chinese restaurant in Haven, Wisc. When patriarch Leo Chao is found dead, the three adult sons come under suspicion. In its starred review, Publishers Weekly calls it “timely, trenchant, and thoroughly entertaining.” Jean Kwok says it’s “a gorgeous and gripping mystery.” (Edan)

Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi: The author of multiple YA novels and the adult novel Riot Baby again enters the world of adult fiction, and that world turns out to be a post-apocalyptic dystopia in which the planet is rapidly emptying out, and those with no choice but to stay behind can do no less than try and make a go of it. Macmillan calls Goliath “…a richly urgent mosaic about race, class, gentrification, and who is allowed to be the hero of any history.” (Il’ja)

The Hard Sell by Evan Hughes: Praised as “revelatory” and as “compelling as a true crime documentary,” Hughes’s second book, The Hard Sell, follows the trail of big pharma start-up Insys and its pedaling of a synthetic opioid in deceitful and fraudulent ways so as to maximize profit and patient use. Think Purdue, think Sackler-like profit and greed, think Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos level hubris. The Hard Sell grew out of Hughes’s 2018 story for The New York Times, “The Pain Hustlers” and has been called “a tour de force” by Patrick Radden Keefe, author of bestselling Sackler exposé The Empire of Pain. (Anne)

Present Tense Machine by Gunnhild Øyehaug, translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson: It’s the 1990s in Norway and a young mother misreads a word. Normally, nothing to worry about; just read it again. But in this, the latest novel from Øyehaug, who has made a mark with her “wily, mercurial prose” (Kirkus), there’s no second chance, and life goes on, though now with mother and daughter living in different dimensions. Separated for eternity but oblivious to the fact. Or not entirely oblivious—life in a parallel universe also comes stocked with lots of free-floating disquiet, unnamable regret, and a heightened sense of the weight of even a single word. (Il’ja)

Thank You Mister Nixon by Gish Jen: Another fantastic story collection from the renowned, award-winning author, Jen. Thank You, Mr. Nixon is an original, mind-blowing exploration of  U.S.-China relations/dynamics since China reopened its borders half a century ago. City girl Lulu Koo gets confused by the American obsession of walking “in the woods with mosquitoes”; Hong Kong parents make extreme efforts to reclaim their “number-one daughter” who now lives in New York; raised under the mantra “no politics, just make money,” Betty Koo grows up to reflect on her family culture. As always, Jen’s signature humor shines through these linked stories. The collection makes you laugh, gasp, wonder, and sometimes gives you pause. In those little moments when you pause to think, you are actually witnessing the astonishing transformations that have been reshaping the world and era we live in. (Jianan)

The Latinist by Mark Prins: The Latinist is a brilliant contemporary thriller about obsession, power, and control. Tess Templeton is a golden girl at Oxford University. Her mentor, professor Christopher Eccles, supports her whole-heartedly. However, just as Tess believes she will secure a promising position in the academic job market, she finds out Christopher has shattered her career picture. He is doing everything to keep her with him at Oxford. Tess struggles to find a way out of his control. Fortunately, she discovers an obscure ancient Latin poet that could potentially turn her into a rising star in academia. The Latinist reminds us of the Daphne and Apollo myth. The novel delves deep to question the blurring line between love and obsession, between a yearning for truth and a desire of power. (Jianan)

Biblioepsy by Gina Apostol: Who hasn’t used books as an escape? For Primi, who is living through the brutal Marcos regime in the Philippines, she is “a vagabond from history, a runaway from time” and sees her favorite authors and literature as a way through the revolution. Originally published in 1997, Apostol’s debut novel is finally available in the U.S. and a perfect read for these chaotic times. (Kate)

Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho: Fiona Lin and Jane Shen have been best friends since second grade. As they grow into messy, restless adults, their connection is a constant reminder of their families’ complicated pasts and lingering insecurities. Their story—hilarious, poignant, and intense—offers a refreshing portrait of friendship in all its limitations and bounty. (Kate)

Manywhere by Morgan Thomas: A collection of short stories following queer and genderqueer characters in the South, spanning states and time. In a starred review, Kirkus praises these “Innovative stories that probe the ineluctable bond between storytelling and identity.” (Lydia)

Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka: Ansel Packer is a convicted serial killer soon to be executed. He’s just not quite ready to go; not until he gets some credit for his work. But the women whose lives he’s shattered—his mother, his wife, his sister-in-law, and the detective who stopped him—aren’t interested in celebrating him, not in life, not in death. Much more than a procedural thriller, HarperAcademic says, that Notes, examines “…our system of justice and our cultural obsession with crime stories, asking readers to consider the false promise of looking for meaning in the psyches of violent men.” (Il’ja)

Joan Is Okay by Weike Wang: Any book that features an introspective, solitary woman living along in a big city is automatically added to my TBR pile. Wang’s debut novel, Chemistry, was an instant favorite, and her follow-up promises an equally complex and intelligent protagonist. Joan is an ICU doctor who is asking all the big, unknowable questions in the wake of her father’s death, and when she’s met with relentless uncertainty, that’s when the adventure begins. (Kate)

The Boy We Made by Taylor Harris: In this memoir, Harris shares the experience of looking for a diagnosis for her toddler son when she knew something was wrong, and how that bewildering and confounding experience of navigating the healthcare system as a Black mother also ended up revealing life-saving information about her own health. Deesha Philyaw says of the book: “Taylor Harris has masterfully captured the wonder and weight of the endurance race that is motherhood. Mothering in the face of illness and uncertainty as a Black woman is downright Olympian. Harris’ beautiful, crisp prose drew me right into her family’s journey. Their story is heart-wrenching, hopeful, and truly unforgettable.” (Lydia)

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu: Fans of Cloud Atlas and Station Eleven will love this spellbinding and profoundly prescient debut. It’s 2030 and a grieving archeologist arrives in the Arctic Circle to continue the work of his recently deceased daughter, where melting permafrost reveals the perfectly preserved remains of a girl who appears to have died of an ancient virus. Matt Bell calls this prescient debut “A book of incredible scope and ambition, a polyphonic elegy for the possible.” (Marie)

Velorio by Xavier Navarro Aquino: The novel follows the movements of an island utopian community in the aftermath of devastating Hurricane Maria. Justin Torres raved of the book “Velorio recognizes that neither utopia nor dystopia are finite states, that they exist alongside and even inside one another, like the hurricane and the eye, the empire and the island. Xavier Navarro Aquino takes us on a riveting, harrowing journey through the aftermath, where the natural violence of the storm is compounded by disaster capitalists; the dead haunt the living; impossible decisions are made and seemingly impossible futures are born.” (Lydia)

Strangers I Know by Claudia Durastanti, translated by Elizabeth Harris: In her first novel to appear in English, Durastanti composes a riveting portrait of a woman’s eccentric family and her binational upbringing in America and Italy. The book begins with the narrator presenting two different versions of how her parents, each of whom are deaf—“They spoke the same language composed of gasps and words pronounced too loudly”—met for the first time in Rome, both claiming that “they saved the other’s life.” The perceptive, witty narrator chronicles their intense, brief connection and her shambolic coming-of-age in a work that has been compared to Natalia Ginzburg’s. (Matt)

Wahala by Nikki May: A novel of three Anglo-Nigerian best friends whose dynamic is thrown off by the arrival of a glamorous, treacherous fourth. In a starred review, Library Journal wrote, “May seamlessly weaves love, betrayal, self-reflection, and Nigerian food, clothing, and customs into this fast-paced debut.” (Lydia)

The Hummingbird by Sandro Veronesi, translated by Elena Pala: In the second of his books to win the prestigious Strega Prize, the Italian novelist Sandro Veronesi tells the story of an ophthalmologist with a roving wife and a gambling problem, among other troubles that are clouding his vision. Publishers Weekly praised this “chaotic black comedy of blunders” for being “cleverly structured like a jigsaw puzzle,” and a rave in the Guardian proclaimed that “everything that makes the novel worthwhile and engaging is here: warmth, wit, intelligence, love, death, high seriousness, low comedy, philosophy, subtle personal relationships and the complex interior life of human beings.” (Matt)

Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades: A polyphonic novel celebrating the lives of young brown girls in Queens. Raven Leilani says of the book, “An acute study of those tender moments of becoming, this is an ode to girlhood, inheritance, and the good trouble the body yields.” (Lydia)

Seasonal Work by Laura Lippman: This collection of 11 stories from Lippman hardly needs any selling, but just for the heck of it: if you’re into tales of “deception, murder, dangerous games, and love gone wrong,” this is for you; and if you’re a Lippman devotee and/or Baltimore superfan (synonymous?), rest assured that detective Tess Monaghan does indeed make an appearance. (Nick M.)

Violeta by Isabel Allende, translated by Frances Riddle: The novel’s titular narrator begins with the story of her birth—a rather ominous entry into this world, replete with a storm, lost electricity, and the scourge of the Great Influenza pandemic. Illness, quarantining, fear, and resolve shape the family. Violeta’s expansive tale is told to her grandson Camilo, a Jesuit priest—an appropriate framing for a confession of generational and historical scope. (Nick R.)

High-Risk Homosexual by Edgar Gomez: A memoir of coming of age as a queer Latinx man, taking place in spaces disparate as a cockfighting ring in Nicaragua, a drag queen convention in Los Angeles, and a doctor’s office. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called the book “A brilliant and provocative interrogation of sex, gender, race, and love.” (Lydia)

Fuccboi by Sean Thor Conroe: This novel was the last editorial project of the late Giancarlo DiTrapano of Tyrant Books, and was then acquired by Little Brown (read a profile of Conroe here.) The book is an exploration of toxic masculinity that Sheila Heti says, “Got under my skin in the way the best writing can.” (Lydia)

No Light to Land On by Yara Zgheib: A novel about a young Syrian couple separated by the Muslim ban on the eve of their child’s birth, and the hellish limbo of bureaucratic cruelty. Hala Alyan says of the novel, ““A masterful story of tragedy and redemption, an entire history told through the prism of a single Syrian couple, beginning and ending with love.” (Lydia)

Call Me Cassandra by Marcial Gala: As a young boy in the Cuba of the tumultuous 1970s, Rauli feels misunderstood by his family and drawn to the myths of the Greeks, especially the Trojan war and the visions of Cassandra. Gala’s novel travels from Cuba to Troy to Angola, interweaving Rauli’s story with the story of Cuba. In a starred review, Kirkus calls it “A haunting meditation on identity and violence.” (Lydia)

South to America by Imani Perry: Brilliant scholar and writer Perry explores the southern U.S., complicating the narratives that persist about it today with real encounters of people and communities. Kiese Laymon says of the book, “South to America marks time like Beloved did. Similarly, we will talk not solely of books about the south, but books generally as before or after South to America. I have known and loved the South for four decades and Imani Perry has shown me that there is so much more in our region’s fleshy folds to know, explore and love. It is simply the most finely crafted and rigorously conceived book about our region, and nation, I have ever read.” (Read Perry’s 2021 Year in Reading here.) (Lydia)

Sticker by Henry Hoke: Part of the Bloomsbury Object Lessons series, Hoke’s “memoir in twenty stickers” weaves memories of different stickers with reflections on his hometown of Charlottesville, site of the infamous violent fascist march that held the attention of the world. Jocelyn Nicole Johnson called it “Funny, nostalgic, and weird in the best possible way.” (Lydia)

A Dream Life by Claire Messud: The great Messud returns with a novel set in Australia, wherein a family moves from New York of the 1970s to a giant mansion by the Sydney Harbor. In what must be one of the best blurbs of all time, the legend Helen Garner says of the novel, “A perfect frolic of a book, puffed on breezes of beauty and wit: it waltzes you through a little fear, a little darkness, and tips you out, refreshed and laughing, into the sun.” (Lydia)

February

Pure Colour by Sheila Heti: This is a touching, funny, and philosophical novel about a woman looking to find her place in the world. When Mira leaves home for school, she meets a charismatic woman named Annie, who, as the publisher describes, “opens Mira’s chest like a portal.” After Mira’s father dies, she enters the strange dimension of acute grief and finds a world of insight inside. As the publisher says, it’s a “contemporary bible, an atlas of feeling, and an absurdly funny guide to the great (and terrible) things about being alive.” (Claire)

Nobody’s Magic by Destiny O. Birdsong: The fiction debut from acclaimed poet Birdsong, Nobody’s Magic tells the story of three women from Shreveport who have albinism, and the way their lives intersect. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly calls the novel “a stunning achievement,” and Angela Flournoy describes the novel as “a world full of complex, memorable characters who feel real, with stories unlike any I’ve read before.” (Lydia)

In Sensorium: Notes for My People by Tanaïs: in this memoir, writer and perfumer Tanaïs—that’s right, perfumer not performer—reckons with their American Bangladeshi Muslim femme experiences, via stories of childhood, love, psychedelics, and fragrances. In addition to personal history, In Sensorium is “an interrogation of the ancient violence of caste, rape culture, patriarchy, war, and the inherited ancestral trauma of being from a lush land constantly denuded…because of colonization, capitalism, and climate change.” Body and scent as history, herstory, theirstory. (Sonya)

Very Cold People by Sarah Manguso: The eighth book by pithy stylist Manguso happens also to be her debut novel. She’s written across genres—from poetry collections to nonfiction works (OngoingnessThe Two Kinds of Decay), and her previous book, 300 Arguments, is an aphoristic autobiography. Her novel, Very Cold People, is an “empathic bildungsroman” about a young girl coming of age in an austere (and very cold) Massachusetts town. Lauren Groff says Very Cold People “knocked me to my knees” with a story that “is devastatingly familiar to those of us who know the loneliness of growing up in a place of extreme emotional restraint.” (Anne)

Recitatif by Toni Morrison: The literary giant Morrison’s first published story, and the only short story she ever wrote, is now republished for the first time since 1983 with an introduction by Zadie Smith, who writes, “When [Morrison] called Recitatif an ‘experiment’ she meant it. The subject of the experiment is the reader.” (Lydia)

Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James: The second installment of James’s Dark Star trilogy now arrives, continuing the grand saga of Black Leopard, Red Wolf, and has been greeted with great acclaim. In a starred review, Booklist writes, “If Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a penciled comic panel, Moon Witch, Spider King is the version rendered by James the inker: the geography, myth, magic, and people of this epic setting are revisited to add shading and detail in a recursive procedure that results in a vibrant tapestry begging for infinite return trips.” (Lydia)

Antiquities and Other Stories by Cynthia Ozick: The present edition centers on Ozick’s masterful novella—Antiquities—about the struggles of a former trustee of the long-defunct Temple School for Boys who’s trying to write his memoirs while fending off senescence. But the modern world just keeps butting in on memory. The volume includes four previously uncollected stories by the author: “The Coast of New Zealand,” “The Bloodline of the Alkanas,” “Sin,” and “A Hebrew Sibyl.” (Il’ja)

Chilean Poet by Alejandro Zambra, translated by Megan McDowell: In this story, Gonzalo, an obscure Chilean poet, isn’t much good at relationships, but just maybe his ex-stepson and budding poet Vincente will prove to be. The thing that has always made Zambra’s writing irresistible (to me, anyway) is his attention to the seemingly inconsequential matters that render our lives so flush with consequence. Chilean Poet will almost certainly amble along Zambra’s wonderfully original, laconic literary path. (Il’ja)

The Boy with a Bird in His Chest by Emme Lund: Lund’s debut novel is a magical realist queer allegory that follows a young boy who finds out as a teenager that a bird named Gail lives in his chest—a revelation that has his mother spiriting him away and sending him to live with a cousin with whom he navigates the shoals of growing up in a thorny world. Andrew Sean Greer called it “a modern coming of age full of love, desperation, heartache and magic. An honest celebration of life and everything we need right now in a book.” (Lydia)

Clean Air by Sarah Blake: In a follow-up to her gorgeous, award-winning debut, Naamah, poet Blake explores the post-climate apocalypse where tree pollen poisoned the air and killed billions. Ten years later, the survivors (including Izabel, a restless mother, and her family) live in domes and have begun to build a new normal—until an unknown person begins slashing through the barrier and exposing people to the deadly air. Angie Kim writes, “Clean Air is an amazing blend of page-turning mystery, important commentary about environmental destruction, and poignant portraiture of maternal love.” (Carolyn)

Don’t Cry for Me by Daniel Black: A father writes letters to his son on his deathbed, making amends for years of silence and the rifts caused by his reaction to his son’s coming out. The letters share stories of his past and the past that came before them in rural Arkansas, back to the days of slavery and the fallout of the intervening years. Jesmyn Ward calls the novel “a perfect song.” (Lydia)

Be Here to Love Me at the End of the World by Sasha Fletcher: Fletcher’s debut is a surreal comedy about endless debt and the perversities of American life. Amelia Gray raves, “Fletcher’s full-throated talent shines in this tender, funny, time-jumping novel spanning faith, love, and the modern world. A bold and open-hearted work, like nothing else.” (Lydia)

How to Be a Revolutionary by CA Davids: A novel connecting China during the Great Leap Forward and the Tiananmen uprising with Apartheid-era South Africa through the story of a South African diplomat posted in China and her explorations of Langston Hughes’s travels in China with a Chinese friend who eventually disappears. Publishers Weekly calls it “exquisite and eye-opening.” (Lydia)

Vladimir by Julia May Jonas: Jonas’s unnamed narrator—a 50-something, tenured English professor at a small liberal arts school—finds herself at the center of a campus scandal: her husband is under investigation for having inappropriate relationships with his students. As she navigates the notoriety, she finds herself becoming deeply sexually obsessed with her new colleague, Vladimir, a young, married novelist. A book that explores power, gender, and desire, which Adrienne Brodeur calls “a whip smart and ferociously clever tale of swirling allegiances, literary rivalries, and romantic tripwires detonating hidden mines.” (Carolyn)

Scoundrel by Sarah Weinman: As the Crime columnist for The New York Times Book Review, author of The Real Lolita, and editor of Unspeakable Acts, Weinman is one of the best at getting beyond sensation to understand the intersection of crime and our larger culture. This book is her investigation into the wrongful exoneration of killer Edgar Smith and how his editor, the women who loved him, friends, and the courts were among those he manipulated into helping set him free—only for him to re-offend again. Booklist calls it, “a psychologically fascinating must-read.” (Claire)

Wildcat by Amelia Morris: Morris’s debut explores new motherhood and toxic female friendships set against the backdrop of contemporary Los Angeles. Our own Edan Lepucki said of the book, “Wildcat is that rare novel I’m always in the mood to read: at once laugh-at-loud funny and deeply serious, page-turning and smart. Amelia Morris tackles contemporary motherhood—with its social media-induced peer pressure, its confusing isolation, its complicated beauty—with the sharpest wit and a tenderness that takes my breath away. I loved this book. I want to press it into the hands of…everyone.” (Lydia)

The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb: Why are priceless string instruments so hard to keep track of? Yo-Yo Ma left his Stradivarius cello in a cab, and two other musicians have in recent decades forgotten their multi-million-dollar violins in a taxi and on a train. In Slocumb’s debut novel, a talented Black violinist from rural North Carolina faces this nightmarish scenario when his priceless Strad goes missing before a music competition. From this setup, Slocumb composes a mystery around the disappearance of the violin and the painful racial history of its provenance. An added bonus: the author has provided an accompanying playlist. (Matt)

Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh: The abortion debate gets personal in Haigh’s timely sixth novel. Claudia, a counselor at the Mercy Street clinic, smokes weed to cope with the stress of guiding young women through the choice of their lives while a rabidly pro-life activist shames women online for visiting the clinic and plots to travel from his remote cabin to “save” Claudia. “I’m just going to say it: Jennifer Haigh is the greatest novelist of our generation,” says Joanna Rakoff, author of My Salinger Year. “And Mercy Street is her best novel yet.” (Michael)

Cowboy Graves by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Natasha Wimmer: Three novellas—Cowboy Graves, French Comedy of Horrors, and Fatherland—from the Chilean master. The final tale focuses on a young writer of poetry—the genre that defined Bolaño’s vision. Bolaño once noted that Nicanor Parra claimed the best novels are written in meter, while Harold Bloom said the best contemporary poetry is written in prose; the novella form is the perfect synthesis of both modes. (Nick R.)

The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka: A “tour de force of economy, precision, and emotional power,” says Otsuka’s publisher about her new novel; and I utterly believe it. This is what Otsuka does—spare yet unforgettable novels that know exactly what they are about and how to convey their depth of meaning. Here she plumbs the inner lives of a group of recreational swimmers—their quotidian needs, and the fragility of their minds and bodies when these needs are disrupted. I am really looking forward to this one. (Sonya)

How to Be Normal by Phil Christman Though the Midwest is by far the largest geographical region of the United States, diverse in culture, history, and ideology, it’s still often slurred as “flyover country” and reduced to a set of often inaccurate red state stereotypes. Writer, professor, and theorist of the middle American sublime Christman complicated those tropes in his excellent set of essays Midwest Futures, which was both narratively and structurally innovative in how it moved beyond the tired tropes of a million New York Times think pieces. In his follow up How to Be Normal, Christman presents essays on a variety of topics ranging from race and masculinity to religion and pop culture, all written in the tone of a subversive self-help guide. Engaging a belles-lettristic negative capability, Christman takes on the big subjects while always remembering that the point of criticism is to more fully be a person, part of “our little attempts that we make at building a home in this world.” (Ed)

When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East by Quan Barry: In the latest from the author of We Ride Upon Sticks, two identical twins—brothers who fell out years before after one rejected the monastic life they shared—set out across Mongolia to find a great lama reincarnate. The brother who remained a monk, Chulun, struggles to get along with his estranged twin, Mun, a task that only gets more difficult as the terrain pushes their differences to the breaking point. Throughout, Chulun wrestles with questions of faith and brotherhood, along with the futility in trying to hold on to one set of beliefs in a world that seems to change by the minute. (Thom)

Dead Collection by Isaac Fellman: An archival love story between a TV star’s widow and an archivist with a condition (vampirism) that keeps him hiding in the basement. Jordy Rosenberg called it “A moving and provocative novel, that caresses the decay nibbling at the hard edges of postmodern officescapes, exposing a sexy, neurotic, cinematic vampire love story bubbling up from the ruins.” (Lydia)

Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You by Ariel Delgado Dixon: Two sisters in a desolate town in New York support each other when their parents disappear, spending stints in homes for troubled teens. Joy Williams calls the book “Eventful, complex, admirably structured, relentless, and spooky.” (Lydia)

The Maiden of All Our Desire by Peter Manseau: Curator of American Religious History at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and cofounder of the excellent religion website Killing the Buddha, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary, Manseau writes excellent books at an unnerving pace. Rag and Bone: A Journey Among the World’s Holy Dead saw Manseau traveling pilgrimage routes to investigate relics, The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost told a story at the intersection of technology and spiritualism, and Vows: The Story of a Priest, a Nun, and Their Son followed his own unusual autobiography. The Maiden of All Our Desires shows Manseau turning to fiction for the second time in his career, but his interest is still in the lived experience of faith. Evoking both Umberto Eco and Lauren Groff, The Maiden of All Our Desires unfolds in a single day at a convent during the 14th-century Black Death, in which issues of belief and heresy are engaged, and the individual must face the enormity of history. (Ed)

Loss of Memory Is Only Temporary by Johanna Kaplan: Kaplan was twice a finalist for the National Book Award, in 1976 and 1981, for O My America! and Other People’s Lives, and her short fiction is collected here for the first time, vibrant stories of post-war Jewish New York. Vogue says the collection “fizzes with the urbane energy of J.D. Salinger, Grace Paley, and Deborah Eisenberg—a restless delight.” (Lydia)


Cost of Living by Emily Maloney: An essay collection by an emergency room technician who came to the work after her teenage suicide attempt put her into the tortuous cycle of medical debt—a burden that might touch anyone who has the misfortune of needing medical care in our broken American system, where a broken leg can lead to financial ruin. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly raves, “Maloney artfully unpacks the fraught connection between money and health in her brilliant debut collection. Maloney is masterful at beginning in a place of skepticism and ending with empathy, all while weaving in her own fascinating story.” (Lydia)
New Animal by Ella Baxter: This strange, sexy, wonderful novel by Australian author Baxter follows a woman who works in her family’s mortuary and processes the grief of a loved one’s passing by an exploration of local kink clubs. Kirkus wrote in a bewildered but supportive review, “this unusual novel navigates the most treacherous of emotional territories—the fault lines between love and grief, sex and death—with a deliberate lack of grace and real charm.” (Lydia)

Away to Stay by Mary Kuryla: A novel of the Inland Empire following a working class immigrant family struggling to keep afloat and housed in an unforgiving economy. Lexi Freiman says of the novel, “Kuryla has an unflinching eye for the dark strangeness of domestic life and her ravishing prose only deepens the provocation. A powerful and stunningly original book.” (Lydia)

March

Digital Communion: Marshal McLuhan’s Spiritual Vision for a Virtual Age by Nick Ripatrazone. At The Millions we’re lucky to have Ripatrazone as a contributing editor, since he has consistently proven himself to be one of the most astute commenters on culture and religion writing today, at sites like Image, Rolling Stone, LitHub, and here. His latest book Digital Communion investigates the religious implications of the celebrated Canadian media theorist Marshal McLuhan, a figure who first explicated the philosophical implications of television. In Ripatrazone’s hands, the Jesuit educated McLuhan is restored to being “the greatest prophet of the digital age.” In our own era of communion administered through Zoom and mindfulness apps that incorporate Zen onto your smartphone, Ripatrazone makes a brilliant argument as to what McLuhan has to say about the benefits and perils of digital faith. (Ed)

Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo: From the author of We Need New Names, which The New York Times called “A deeply felt and fiercely written debut novel,” comes a novel charts the fall of Old Horse, the long-serving leader of an oppressive regime in a fictional country, but inspired by the coup in November 2017 of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. The novel centers on Destiny, who has returned from exile to witness the revolution, and a chorus of animal voices, who call out the absurdity of contemporary politics and, according to the publisher, help “us see our human world more clearly.” (Claire)

Eleutheria by Allegra Hyde: A naïve young woman with idealistic hopes of fighting climate change follows a charismatic leader to a remote island in the Bahamas. She joins a band of eco-warriors only to discover that things aren’t what she expected. This debut novel follows Hyde’s 2016 story collection, Of This New World, and wrestles with similar themes of utopia. (Hannah)

Drowning Practice by Mike Meginnis: In this pre-apocalyptic novel, every person on Earth has a dream that tells them the world will end in November. Lyd, a once-successful novelist who has become a deeply dysfunctional agoraphobe, is forced to leave her home for the first time in years in order to protect her teenage daughter, Mott, who is determined to write her own first book before the world ends. The pair embark on a road trip through a strange and menacing world, fleeing from their dangerous ex-husband/father, David, who believes that they should be forced to spend their last days in his home. Appleseed author Matt Bell called it “the best new novel I’ve read in ages.” (Adam P.)

Body Work by Melissa Febos: The memoirist and essayist has written an insightful and innovative craft book addressing the grueling work of intimate personal writing. Alexander Chee said of the book, “Melissa Febos has written one of the most liberating books on the subject of writing that I can think of.” (Lydia)

Run and Hide by Pankaj Mishra: Returning to fiction after a two-decade hiatus, Indian writer Mishra delivers a new novel that explores the high cost of unbridled ambition. At the center of Run and Hide is Arun, who gets a ticket out of his hometown when he’s accepted at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology. There he makes two friends who will cut any corner to succeed, and soon they’re living a Gatsbyesque life. Arun withdraws, but he is lured out of seclusion by a journalist who is writing an expose of his former friends’ chicanery—and will teach Arun that we can run from our origins, but there’s no place to hide. (Bill)

The Last Suspicious Holdout by Ladee Hubbard: Spanning 15 year—from 1992 to 2007—this collection from the author of The Rib King focuses on a single Black neighborhood in “a southern sliver of suburbia.” In “There He Go,” a young girl copes with her itinerant home life by telling herself stories about her absent grandfather. In “False Cognates,” a formerly incarcerated lawyer struggles to pay tuition at his troubled son’s elite private school. Throughout, characters from one story pop up in another, giving the collection a unified narrative weight. (Thom)

Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou: An Asian American PhD student desperate to claw her way out of academic hell? Sign me up, please! Even better, Alexander Chee calls this an “Asian American literary studies whodunnit.” Ingrid Yang finds herself in the midst of solving a mystery tied to a late canonical Chinese poet that leaves her questioning everything from her romantic life to her academic career. Oh, and her best friend is named Eunice Kim. For everyone with a Eunice Kim in their life, let’s kick off our inaugural book club with Disorientation. I’ll bring the soju. (Kate)

We Had to Remove This Post By Hanna Bervoets, translated by Emma Rault: Employed as content moderators at a social media company, Kayleigh and her colleagues watch and evaluate endless streams of the most horrifying and disturbing content the Internet has to offer. The unending violence and hate begins to take a toll and the team, and Kayleigh, fall apart. Ling Ma writes: “This novel gives us an acid glimpse into a new form of labor existing today, a job that extracts an immeasurable psychic toll. Fascinating and disturbing.”  (Carolyn)

Border Less by Namrata Poddar: Poddar’s debut, which was a finalist for the Louise Meriwether First Book Prize, is divided in two sections tracing the migratory journey of Dia Mittal, an airline call center agent in Mumbai who supports her family and who is looking for opportunity, leaving on a journey that brings her together with South Asians from across the spectrum of class and circumstance. A beautiful narrative approached with what Ananda Devi calls “heart-breaking delicacy and precision.” (Read Poddar’s 2021 Year in Reading here.) (Lydia)

A Ballad of Love and Glory by Reyna Grande: A love story of the Mexican-American War about the romance between a Mexican healer and an Irish American soldier who defects and joins the fight for Mexico’s freedom, forming an Irish battalion. Julia Alvarez writes of the novel, “Grande integrates a sweeping Tolstoyan vision and command of language with her very own Latin American popular traditions…This is indeed a grand and soulful novel by a storyteller who has hit her full stride.” (Lydia)

Ancestor Trouble by Maud Newton: Essayist and critic Newton’s first book length work is memoir, a fascinating combination of a journey to find out more about the flamboyant characters in her family going back generations, mixed seamlessly with “America’s Ancestry Craze,” her Harper’s article about the genealogy craze that has become a serious even all-consuming hobby for many Americans. An unflinching exploration into the history of a troubled family tree and the universal but also peculiarly American need to discover “roots.” (Marie)

Groundskeeping by Lee Cole. This debut coming-of-age novel is a love story set in Kentucky during the run-up to the 2016 election. It centers on Owen Callahan, an aspiring writer who moves back home to Kentucky to live with his Trump-supporting uncle and grandfather. He takes a job as a groundskeeper at a local college, in exchange for writing classes. There he meets Alma Hazdic, a writer in residence who hails from a Boston, and whose immigrant family is much more liberal than Owen’s. They are from different worlds, and as they begin to fall in love, Alma struggles to understand Owen’s complicated relationship with his conservative relatives and his home state. (Hannah)

Homesickness by Colin Barrett: The good folks at Grove Atlantic say that Homesickness contains “…eight character-driven stories.” Here’s what I say: Young Skins, Barrett’s first short story collection (2015), destroyed me. So good. I’m not paid to be objective, and it would be impossible anyway since Young Skins won ALL the awards, not just the Irish ones. With an ARC of Homesickness in hand, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’d read Barrett’s grocery lists should he choose to publish them. A major writer in the making. No less than Anne Enright calls his work “lyrical and tough and smart.” Anne Enright is correct. Expect stories of the down and out, the oddballs and misfits, the working class. Characters with flaws and nary a tidy, dignified outcome within sniffing distance. (Il’ja)

A House Between Earth and the Moon by Rebecca Scherm: A House Between Earth and the Moon is a page-turning exploration of a potential human future. As climate change makes our planet less and less habitable, scientist Alex accepts an offer from giant tech company Sensus to set his lab in outer space on Parallaxis. However, as soon as Alex and six other scientist arrive in the outer space, they become the hard laborers of Sensus. Yet, they persevere, hoping they will reunite with their families soon. On Earth, wildfires and storms are tormenting humanity. People struggle not only with the elements, but also with the surveillance of the Sensus phones. How can humanity find a way out of these apocalyptic events? Contemporary literature does not lack dark sci-fi to warn us of the possible futures that we are headed toward. But A House Between Earth and the Moon dedicates its most vivid imaginations to not only a scary future, but to human tenacity and the power of love. (Jianan)

A Novel Obsession by Caitlin Barasch: Naomi Ackerman wants to write a novel, but she’s having trouble coming up with a novel-worthy idea. She meets a man; she’ll write a novel about love! The man has an interesting ex-girlfriend; maybe Naomi should write about her instead. But first she’ll have to get to know her. Lies unfold; chaos ensues; the line between fact and fiction, real life and invented, blurs and then disappears. In a starred review, Kirkus calls Barasch’s “dread-laden psychological novel” of a debut “an incisive study of female friendship…smart, jarring, and funny.” (Kaulie)

Mecca by Susan Straight: Straight’s return to fiction in the time of Covid, Mecca follows her recent memoir and shares with it a fascination with California and the generations of dreamers and desperates who have made their home in the west. At the novel’s core is the Latinx community of Southern California—highway patrolmen, ICU nurses, animal control workers, gardeners; representatives from the web of people who sustain others’ golden dreams—and the interconnected lives of characters facing drought and fire as well as ICE and viruses. A novel of “fierce compassion” (PW) and “a hymn to all that have called the Golden State home” (Walter Mosley). (Kaulie)

The World Cannot Give by Tara Isabella Burton: The Secret History meets Fight Club, sort of, but younger, more feminine, more queer. In Burton’s second novel, sensitive Laura transfers to a Maine prep school, the alma mater of her favorite novelist, a Byronic figure who died tragically young. There, she finds her place in the cultish chapel choir, a group fervently devoted to the novelist and held in thrall by their charismatic leader, Virginia. Laura becomes infatuated with Virginia, but when charisma turns dangerous, she has to decide how deep her devotion goes. (Kaulie)

Páradais by Fernanda Melchor, translated by Sophie Hughes: In her second novel to reach the U.S., Melchor moves from Hurricane Season’s rain-soaked villages into an upscale apartment building called Páradais. There, two boys from different economic strata find common ground: drinking and scheming. Translator Hughes deftly rendered Melchor’s vivid, powerful prose in Hurricane Season, so buckle up for what’s next. (Nick M.)

How Strange a Season by Megan Mayhew Bergman: “I’m not a fan of the moral filter in fiction,” Bergman has said in an interview. “I don’t want to write about what we should think, feel, or do. I want to write about our ugly, exquisite humanity, our desperate inner selves navigating the world’s obstacles.” Bergman’s characters are unfailingly human—steeped in paradox and grace—and her new collection is pensive, playful, and ambitious. Stories like “The Heirloom” and “Peaches, 1979” alone are masterclasses in dynamic detail, in the lineage of Jayne Anne Phillips. Equally talented as a writer of nonfiction—about subjects ranging from the environment to music to family—Bergman is a sensitive, essential writer. (Nick R.)

Let Me Count the Ways by Tomás Q. Morín: A memoir from the skilled poet (most recently, the collection Machete) and translator of Pablo Neruda. Morín has described his memoir as an exploration of “what it was like for me to grow up in a rural town in South Texas surrounded by a culture of drugs and machismo,” the formative influence of the men in his family, and how he tried to cope with the struggles of his youth. “My parents taught me early that their love had its limits,” he writes early in the book. “I wish I could have mapped out their love. My counting is a way for me to return the things people have made to the blueprint stage.” (Nick R.)

Good Intentions by Kasim Ali: This debut novel from Londoner Ali, is the story of young man torn between family and love, culture and individuality. “Honest” is a word that comes up repeatedly in blurbs and reviews (emotionally, absorbingly, heartbreakingly). “Unafraid of the gray areas of race, faith, sexuality, and love,” writes novelist Lillian Li. (Sonya)

Booth by Karen Joy Fowler: In the seventh novel by the Man Booker finalist, the reader travels back to 1822, where the Booth family—progenitors of John Wilkes Booth—move to a farmhouse near Baltimore to live their lives in seclusion. Over the next 16 years, the family has 10 more children, and Junius Booth, the family’s unstable patriarch and a Shakespearean actor, trains his children for their own careers on the stage. But the background for this training is a country descending into civil war—and one of the Booth children starting down a path that ends with his name in infamy. (Thom)

Checkout 19 by Claire-Louise Bennett: Irish author Bennett’s second novel, a Bildungsroman in which a woman recounts the upbringing that led to her becoming a writer, takes us through the unnamed narrator’s childhood in a town west of London. As she grows up, she develops a unique attention to detail, not to mention a growing pile of books and manuscripts. As she navigates her own relationships and her own connection to literature, she forges the talent that leads to her eventual career. (Thom)

Homo Irrealis by Andre Aciman: In his new essay collection, the author of Call Me by Your Name expounds on topics that range from subway poetry in New York to the legacies of Sigmund Freud, W.G. Sebald, Marcel Proust, and more. Aciman focuses on the power of the imagination to shape our memories, using himself as an example—though he admits his readings of certain authors may be “erroneous,” they shaped him nonetheless, and so they retain a certain power. This contradiction (among other things) gives the book its narrative throughline. (Thom)

Red Paint by Sasha taqʷšəblu LaPointe: A memoir of a poet and artist from the Upper Skagit and Nooksack tribes who weaves her experience in the punk scene with her experience as a child moving around the Pacific Northwest, and the influence of her great-grandmother, a linguist who helped to preserve her indigenous language of Lushootseed. In a starred review, Kirkus calls the memoir “an engaging, poetic, educative examination of the search for home and personal and cultural identity.” (Lydia)

Vagabonds! by Eloghosa Osunde: A novel of the dispossessed of Lagos, Nigeria—poor, queer, sex workers, rogues, and how their lives intersect. Marlon James says of the novel, “You don’t read this novel. You swan dive into its sea of gods and monsters, lost girls, violent boys, and well-behaved people both righteous and wicked. And when you finally surface, that sound will be you, gasping in wonder.” (Lydia)

April

Memphis by Tara Stringfellow: This debut bildungsroman, a blend of fact and fiction, draws on three generations of the Stringfellow family’s involvement in the civil rights struggle. It opens in 1995 when 10-year-old Joan New, her mother, and sister seek refuge from her father’s violence at the ancestral home in Memphis. There Joan comes of age while painting portraits and learning family history and secrets—among them that her grandfather was lynched and her grandmother was a mistress of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Stringfellow, an attorney and poet, told Book Pipeline: “I hope girls growing up in the North Memphis projects will read it and say, ‘Wow, somebody wrote a story about me.’” (Bill)

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel: Another twisty, intellectually meaty novel of the uncanny and otherworldly from Mandel, longtime Millions staffer and bestselling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel. This one spans 500 years, from 1912 to 2401, and features a bestselling author visiting Earth from her moon-based colony on a book tour, where she must field a million and one questions about her novel about a “scientifically implausible flu,” while the news warns of a mysterious new virus. That Mandel herself found herself answering a million and one questions about her own pandemic novel during the present pandemic no doubt lends this plot element some verisimilitude. (Michael)

Binding the Ghost by Ed Simon: Simon’s essays are some of the true hidden gems in our contemporary literary world. After the deconstructionism and with the rise of cultural studies, literature is often used as a vehicle to form a political conversation. “Art for art’s sake” seems to be a tradition that we now consider not only outdated but also narrow-minded. Binding the Ghost helps restore our pure pleasures in reading literature as what literature actually is. Simon’s essays are never dogmatic. He guides us through a theological perspective and inspires us to meditate on the many significant, yet often neglected, literary evolvements: the development of the alphabet, the mystic power of punctuation, how the novel and Protestantism construct a relationship with people. Binding the Ghost sings a genuine, beautiful hymn to the magic and wonder of poetry and fiction. (Jianan)

The Age of Astonishment: John Morris in the Extraordinary Century―From the Civil War to the Cold War by Bill Morris: Our own Morris (Motor City Burning, American Berserk) is back with a work of nonfiction that mixes the personal with history and traces the life of his grandfather, John Morris, who was born into a slave-owning Virginia family during the Civil War and died at the peak of the Cold War. In a starred review, Kirkus, hailed the book—which covers everything from Reconstruction, women’s suffrage, and Prohibition to the horrors of Jim Crow, two World Wars, and the advent of nuclear weapons—as “An entertaining combination of domestic and world history,” adding “[Morris] does a superb job of recounting a life amid a series of significant decades. His imaginative ‘mongrel’ approach—a mix of…biography, history, reportage, memoir, autobiography, and, when the record runs thin, speculation that flirts with fiction—is successful. An entertaining combination of domestic and world history.” (Adam B.)

Song for Almeyda & Song for Anninho by Gayl Jones: The new flow of published work from the brilliant and elusive Jones continues with this extension of the universe of Palmares, a love story for two of its characters entirely in epic verse. (Lydia)

Forbidden City by Vanessa Hua: Hua follows up her extraordinary novel A River of Stars and the collection Deceit and Other Possibilities with a novel that illuminates a figure from history—Mei, Mao Zedong’s protege and lover, a teenager who came from her village to be a dance partner for party elites. Hua deftly explores a tumultuous period in what Maxine Hong Kingston calls “an intriguing and suspenseful story.” (Lydia)

Easy Beauty by Chloé Cooper Jones: Jones—tennis reporter, Pulitzer Prize finalist (for her profile of Ramsey Orta, who filmed the police killing of Eric Garner), philosophy professor, fiction writer, too—is indisputably of exquisite mind. In her first book, Easy Beauty, she investigates and interrogates the Western ideals of beauty philosophically and experientially, as a woman living assessed, judged, and often othered for her own disabled body. Cooper Jones’s examination is performed with “the rigor and precision of Joan Didion and Maggie Nelson,” according to playwright Sarah Ruhl. The resulting book is “utterly remarkable,” according to The Millions’ own Lydia Kiesling. (Anne K. Yoder)

The Memory Librarian by Janelle Monáe: Singer-songwriter, actress, fashion icon, producer Monáe has written a book, y’all. Building on the Afrofuturistic mythos of her third album Dirty Computer—a totalitarian, mind-controlling world where queerness, race, gender plurality, and love are all subjugated—Monáe has collaborated with a team of creatives on this collection of stories that “fully explore what it’s like to live in such a totalitarian existence…and what it takes to get out of it.” If anyone can speculate engagingly on such liberation, it seems to me Monáe can. (Sonya)

The Candy House by Jennifer Egan: Described as a sibling novel to her Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit From the Goon Squad, The Candy House begins with tech entrepreneur Bix Bouton and his venture called Own Your Unconscious, wherein people can download and view their own memories, and share and exchange the memories of others. The rest of the novel explores the consequences of such a phenomenon, and as with Goon Squad, it spans decades and narrative styles, from the omniscient to the epistolary, to a chapter told in tweets. Technology, intimacy, privacy—these are subjects Egan has tackled before, and with such brilliance and formal daring. I cannot wait! (Edan)

Constructing a Nervous System by Margo Jefferson: The fantastic critic and memoirist follows up Negroland with another work of memoir that uses a physiology as its architecture: the human nervous system. Vivian Gornick called it “one of the most imaginative—and therefore moving—memoirs I have ever read.” (Lydia)

Sleepwalk by Dan Chaon: Chaon’s eighth book and fourth novel tells the story of Will Bear—a man who, at 50, has been living off the grid for nearly half his life. He’s never paid taxes, never held a full-time job, and never been in a monogamous relationship. What he has done is carry out “errands” for his employer, a powerful organization whose exact nature Will remains hazy about. One day, Will gets a call from a stranger on one of his burner phones, a woman in her 20s who claims to be his long-lost daughter. She needs his help, she says. One problem? The people she needs help dealing with might work with Will’s employer. (Thom)

Shelter by Lawrence Jackson: A memoir of homecoming, by a Black son of Baltimore who returned to the city to teach at Johns Hopkins, buying a house for his sons in a covenanted, predominantly white neighborhood and reflecting on the paradoxes of the city. The memoir weaves his own story of making a home for his family with a history of the city. Edward P. Jones raves: “There are an endless number of wonderful things to say about Lawrence Jackson’s Shelter―from luminous to breathtaking to just being outright admirable.” (Lydia)

The Unwritten Book by Samantha Hunt: Hunt publishes her first book of nonfiction, a work of memoir and literary inquiry that begins when Hunt finds her late father’s unfinished manuscript. Maggie Nelson said of the book, “I can’t remember the last time I read something so heavy with grief and darkness that made me feel so accompanied in the human condition, so inspired to return to my life with more curiosity, love, and wonder.” (Lydia)

Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang: A novel set against the background of the American West during the era of the Chinese Exclusion Act, following a young woman from calligraphy school to a San Francisco brothel to the mountains of Idaho. Ann Patchett called Four Treasures of the Sky “an engulfing, bighearted, and heartbreaking novel.” (Lydia)

Search by Michelle Huneven: Huneven’s fifth novel is based in southern California and revolves around a Unitarian Universalist Church and its search for a new minister. Food writer and memoirist Dana Potowski agrees to join the committee, thinking it will be fodder for a new book. The committee’s choices bring her lots of colorful material but when it comes time to make the decision, Dana finds herself more invested than she realized, and fights for her choice. (Hannah)

The Trouble with Happiness by Tove Ditlevsen, translated by Michael Favala Goldman: It’s no secret we’re often woefully late to read and celebrate foreign authors here in the States—case in point is the 50 year lag in the (re)translation of celebrated Danish poet and author Ditlevsen’s devastating memoirs, The Copenhagen Trilogy. This “brilliant” and “stunning” accomplishment is one of the most oft-cited books on this year’s “best of” lists despite Ditlevsen having died nearly half a century ago. The one upside for us English language readers is the remaining trove of her work that awaits us. Next up is Ditelevsen’s story collection, The Trouble with Happiness, never before translated to English. It features precisely observed stories from the 1950s and ‘60s, quiet and understated tales of characters yearning and struggling to escape the roles assigned to them while not knowing quite what they’re looking for. (Anne)

Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li: Think Indiana Jones but with generations of filial piety and Chinese history behind him. In Li’s debut novel, questions of art and the diaspora are explored as a group of Chinese-American students ransack museums of priceless Chinese art and return it to their homeland. Part thriller, part crime fiction, and part intriguing examination of identity, Portrait Of a Thief is the heist novel art history majors have been waiting for. (Kate Gavino)

Happy for You by Claire Stanford: Stanford’s debut novel follows Evelyn Kominsky Kumamoto, a young woman at a personal and professional crossroads, as she leaves academia for a research job in Silicon Valley. Tasked with developing an app that helps people quantify their happiness, a struggling Evelyn must find a way back to her own joy. “Happy for You is the optimal novel for the strange times we find ourselves in,” writes Rachel Khong. “This is a book for anyone who’s ever looked around at this brave new world—and wondered about your own place in it.” (Carolyn).

Probably Ruby by Lisa Bird-Wilson: Probably Ruby is about a Métis woman in her 30s, whose life is spinning out of control. In interwoven narratives, the novel brings together Ruby’s story, from being given up for adoption and raised by white parents to how she finds meaning in kindship and her roots. Imbolo Mbue calls the novel “a celebration of our universal desire to love and be loved.” (Claire)

Young Mungo by Douglas Stewart: The follow-up novel to the Booker prize-wining Shuggie Bain, exploring masculinity, love, queerness, and growing up in Glasgow. In a starred review, Kirkus writes, “You wouldn’t think you’d be eager to return to these harsh, impoverished environs, but again this author creates characters so vivid, dilemmas so heart-rending, and dialogue so brilliant that the whole thing sucks you in like a vacuum cleaner.” (Lydia)

A Tiny Upward Shove by Melissa Chadburn: The L.A. writing community has been anticipating this debut novel from one of our most passionate and engaged members since we learned of its sale. Inspired by Chadburn’s Filipina heritage and her own time in the foster care system, A Tiny Upward Shove begins with a young woman’s death and her transformation into an aswang, or Filipino shapeshifter, able to venture into the minds and experiences of those she has known—including her own killer. Hector Tobar writes: “Melissa Chadburn is a fiercely original, brave writer. She writes with the voice of the survivor she is, finding the lyrical and the deeply human in seemingly dark and impenetrable landscapes.” (Edan)

Heartbroke by Chelsea Bieker: Bieker follows her beloved first novel, Godshot, with this collection of stories about desperate people in Central Valley, California: a woman who steals a baby from a homeless shelter, a mother and son selling dreamcatchers along the highway, teenagers taking too many risks online. Stephanie Danler writes that this book is “astonishing…absolutely devastating” and Lauren Groff calls Bieker “an absolute crackling talent.” (Edan)

Woman, Eating by Claire Kohda My interest in this debut novel was first piqued when I read about it in Ruth Ozeki’s Year in Reading for The Millions. I love the title. And a mixed-race vampire, you say? Lydia is a young woman in a London sublet, rooming with artists, away from her vampire mother for the first time. She can only consume blood—and, yet, she doesn’t want to. She wants to be an artist. Kohda, is a British book critic and violinist, and of her debut book, Ozeki writes, “The spell this novel casts is so complete I feel utterly, and happily, bitten.” (Edan)

End of the World House by Adrienne Celt: In Celt’s exhilarating, inventive third novel—the follow-up to Invitation to a Bonfire–Bertie and Kate are long-time friends who take a trip to Paris before Kate moves from Silicon Valley to LA. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the world weren’t, essentially, ending in a slow-motion apocalyptic buffet that includes terrorist attacks, pandemics, and freak weather brought on by climate change. When Bertie and Kate get a chance to tour the Louvre on a day it’s closed, they find themselves in a time loop and must figure out how to rediscover one another, and get to the bottom of their tension, codependence, and resentment. This book about love, friendship, and the cruel nature of time is catnip for fans of Groundhog Day and Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind. Rufi Thorpe writes: “Reading Adrienne Celt is like being granted access to a secret kingdom, another layer of reality you didn’t know existed.” I agree. (Edan)

Nobody Gets Out Alive by Leigh Newman: Alaskan Newman follows up her memoir Still Points North with a collection of short stories that show her home state from all angles, from its sprawling suburbs to wilder regions haunted by the frontier past. Newman debut collection includes prize-winning stories “Howl Palace” and title story, “Nobody Gets Out Alive,” which centers on a bride who returns to her hometown of Anchorage only to blow up her own wedding reception. (Hannah)

Post-traumatic by Chantal Johnson: A lawyer at a New York psychiatric hospital deals with her own trauma at home, self-medicating and unraveling as the high-wire act of professionalism and personal trauma becomes untenable. Myriam Gurba raves, “Chantal V. Johnson has blessed us with a cool, stylish, and violently funny novel about survival. It made me smile, laugh, cringe, shiver, and think. Like life, Post-traumatic is richly triggering and highly recommended.” (Lydia)

The Red Zone by Chloe Caldwell: In her new memoir, essayist Caldwell explores her struggles with PMDD, a severe form of PMS that drastically affects her mood and mental well-being. Caldwell describes her attempts to treat her condition, and how it affected her relationships and sense of self. I’m here for any memoir that talks honestly about women’s health issues, but the truth is I’d read whatever Caldwell writes. (Hannah)

The Odyssey by Lara Williams: An employee on a cruise ship is selected by her captain for a bizarre mentorship program, and her adherence to it breaks up her life. Mateo Askaripour says of the book, “I have never read anything like this, which is a testament to Lara Williams’s craft, as well as her fearlessness in diving into the more absurd, cringeworthy, and downright uncomfortable aspects of life.” (Lydia)

Rouge Street by Shuang Xuetao, translated by Jeremy Tiang: Shenyang, a major city in Northeast China, was once a thriving industrial hub under Mao Zedong. But as China transforms into a market economy, the once glorious city finds itself burdened with various social ills: poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, alcoholism. Born in Shengyang, Shuang Xuetao presents a vivid picture that captures the various voices of Shengyang’s natives. Undefeated by life, Shuang’s characters fight a giant fish to survive beneath a frozen lake, consider burning a sorghum field for revenge, and imagine leaving their tough neighborhoods in a flying machine. Shuang’s stories are fundamentally about hope, aspiration, and resilience. (Jianan Qian)

Activities of Daily Living by Lisa Hsiao Chen: The debut novel from poet and Rona Jaffe Award winner Chen, Activities of Daily Living follows Alice, a Taiwanese immigrant in New York, as she struggles to work on a “project” about the renowned and elusive performance artist Tehching Hsieh when she’s not working a mindless day job. The deeper she gets into her project, the more of her own life slips in. Highly recommend for: fans of Chen’s poetry; fans of Olivia Laing and/or Ben Lerner; anyone who’s ever found themselves consumed by art; anyone who’s fighting the very nature of time (and, really, who isn’t?). (Kaulie)

An Unlasting Home by Mai Al-Nakib: It’s 2013, and though Sara, a professor of philosophy, returned to Kuwait 11 years ago, her feelings about her country remain… complicated, and only more so after a class on Nietzsche leads to an accusation of blasphemy and the threat of execution. In the 1920s, her grandmothers, still only girls, are beginning to make the choices that will shape their lives; a generation later, Sara’s mother is planning a political life while her ayah leaves her own children to mother Sara. An Unlasting Home, the debut novel from the author of The Hidden Light of Objects, follows the lives of five women and, through them, of Kuwait itself through a long century of change. (Kaulie)

At the Edge of the Woods by Masatsugu Ono, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter: From one of Japan’s most celebrated writers and translators—Ono’s won the Mishima Prize and the Akutagawa Prize, the country’s highest literary honor, among others—At the Edge of the Woods is an eerie allegory of climate apocalypse and unnatural nature. A family moves to, well, the edge of a wood, which turns out to be full of dark laughter, figures that appear and disappear, sounds of violence and gnashing teeth. Bryan Washington calls it “beautiful and seductive,” writing “Ono illustrates modern life’s horrors alongside the wonder of the unknown” and “balances wonder and disquiet with incomparable grace and precision.” (Kaulie)

Out There by Kate Folk: The debut collection from Folk, Out There is, as Chang-Rae Lee puts it, “wondrously perverse, often creepy and hilarious, and always sneakily heartbreaking.” The title story, first published in The New Yorker, sees a San Francisco woman seek love through a dating app despite the threat posed by stunning artificial men designed by foreign hackers. Other stories dig even deeper into the eerie and weird—a void slowly swallows the world; patients battle a bone-melting disease and a dangerous hospital-ward love triangle—but most uncanny of all is Folk’s own voice, imaginative, sharp, and unsettling, human and alien together. (Kaulie)

People from Bloomington by Budi Darma, translated by Tiffany Tsao: First published in Indonesia 40 years ago, this story collection from celebrated author Darma gets a second life—and an English translation—as a Penguin Classic. Across seven stories set in the gridded streets and rented rooms of Bloomington, Ind., Darma’s characters navigate their morbidly funny lives in this meditation on alienation, failed connection, and the universal strangeness of the human mind. (Kaulie)

Ruin by Cara Hoffman: A collection of anarchistic stories from a founding editor of the Anarchist Review of Books and celebrated author of So Much Pretty, Be Safe I Love You and Running. American society is falling apart; Ruin is a look at what it may look like to survive the collapse, if survival was as surreal and funny as it was brutal. A little girl disguises herself as an old man, a dog begins to speak, separated lovers communicate across the penal colony via technical drawings. The New York Times Book Review has said Hoffman “writes with a restraint that makes poetry of pain,” and in Ruin both the pain and poetry are present in force. (Kaulie)

True Biz by Sara Novic: Set in a boarding school for deaf students, Novic’s novel follow teens and adults navigating the personal and the political in a novel that Alexandra Kleeman calls “Rollicking, immersive, and boldly, exquisitely felt…delves into the deepest questions about community, communication, and collective action, inviting the reader into a world of language made new.” (Lydia)

Violets by Kyung-Sook Shin, translated by Anton Hur: This novel takes us to 1970s rural South Korea, where a young girl named San who is ostracized from her community meets a girl called Namae. Following a moment of physical intimacy, Namae violently rejects San, setting her on a troubling path. This novel is one of Shin’s first, written while she was in her 20s. The author of the worldwide sensation Please Look After Mom, Shin is one of the most widely read authors in Korea and the first South Korean and first woman to win the Man Asian Literary Prize. (Marie)

I Was the President’s Mistress! by Miguel Syjuco: A rollicking polyphonic novel from the winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize for Illustrado. A satire of political scandal, social upheaval, and absurdity, of which Salman Rushdie says, “This brilliant black comedy is a wild, and wildly unpredictable, ride through the dark side of the Philippines. Miguel Syjuco is his country’s most original and unflinching literary voice.” (Lydia)

Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett: Ghostly narrators, omniscient after death; a drop-out medical student returned home to take care of her dying father; her brother, fresh out of rehab; her oldest friend, a missing addict the local police refuse to search for. Also, hallucinated animals. The second novel from the author of Rabbit Cake, Unlikely Animals is, as our own Lydia Kiesling writes, “a warm, joyful, generous novel about families and human frailty—an homage to the dead and a celebration of the living, one that embraces the complexity and fullness of both.” (Kaulie)

The Return of Faraz Ali by Aamina Ahmad: In a literary noir set in Lahore, a chief of police moves through the red light district, caught up in a conspiracy to cover up the murder of a young woman and revisiting his own memories of being abducted as a child from the same neighborhood. Anthony Marra calls the novel “mesmerizing. That a novel so epic in scope can remain so intimate at heart is nothing short of astonishing.” (Lydia)

Some of My Best Friends by Tajja Isen: Catapult editor-in-chief and voice actor Isen publishes a collection of essays on how issues of race and identity surface in both the cartoon and the literary arenas, and how efforts at change have faltered. (Lydia)

All the Secrets of the World by Steve Almond: The debut novel from the prolific story writer and co-host of the Dear Sugars podcast is also one of the first titles from Zando Projects, a new independent publisher founded by Molly Stern. The novel tells the story of two teenage girls on the trail of a mystery, a “mashup of Jane Eyre and The Wire.” Hector Tobar says of the book, “Almond, a master of the short form, has now set himself loose on a vast canvas, giving us a rollicking, wide-ranging, unpredictable novel. This book is sharp, fast-moving, juicy…a wild ride and a great deal of fun.” (Lydia)

May

The Evening Hero by Marie Myung-Ok Lee: In the Millions’ own Lee’s long-awaited new novel, a Korean immigrant pursuing the American Dream must confront the secrets of the past or risk watching the world he’s worked so hard to build come crumbling down. Dr. Yungman Kwak has worked as an obstetrician for 50 years, treating the women and babies of the small rural Minnesota town he chose to call home. But a letter arrives, and Yungman faces a choice—he must choose to hide his secret from his family and friends or confess and potentially lose all he’s built. The Evening Hero is a moving and darkly comic novel about a man looking back at his life and asking big questions about what is lost and what is gained when immigrants leave home for new shores. (Adam P.)

Either/Or by Elif Batuman: This novel is a continuation of the story of Selin, Batuman’s protagonist from The Idiot, which was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in the UK. It’s 1996 and Selin, the one in her family who got to go to Harvard, is now in her sophomore year. Guided by her literature syllabus and more worldly peers, she tries to figure out how to live a worthwhile life. (Claire)

Essential Labor by Angeles Garbes: Garbes wrote a modern classic of pregnancy with Like a Mother, and she follows that with another major contribution to the nonfiction of caregiving and childrearing, with a challenge to reshape the way we think about caregiving and family life in a book that seamlessly weaves together memoir and cultural analysis. This is an incredibly resonant book in pandemic year three, a book I wish we’d had long ago, and a book I’ll never forget. (Lydia)

The Immortal King Rao by Vauhini Vara: A sweeping, biting, elegant book for our time that follows the imprisoned daughter of a tech mogul who began life as a Dalit worker on an Indian coconut plantation before launching an invention that would reorganize the world and profoundly upend his place in it. A novel that explores tech, race, class, politics, and power, from a journalist who was previously the Wall Street Journal’s first Facebook beat reporter, The Immortal King Rao is also one of the only American novels by a Dalit author. R.O. Kwon calls it “Utterly, thrillingly brilliant. From the first unforgettable page to the last, The Immortal King Rao is a form-inventing, genre-exploding triumph.” (Lydia)

Trust by Hernan Diaz: The Pulitzer Prize finalist follows up his brilliant western In the Distance with Trust, a story of the Wall Street tycoons of the Gilded Age with a reality-bending literary mystery at its heart, in keeping with the postmodern historical beauties of In the Distance. Of the novel, Rachel Kushner said, “Its plotlines are as etched and surreal as Art Deco geometry, while inside that architecture are people who feel appallingly real. This novel is very classical and very original: Balzac would be proud, but so would Borges.” (Lydia)

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub: What would you do if you could travel back to 1996? Personally, I would go to the book launch of The Secret History and ask Donna Tartt for style advice. But Alice Stern, heroine of Emma Straub’s fifth novel, has a much better mission: make the most of her time with her eccentric novelist father, Leonard. If you think you know the rules of time travel, think again and pick up this thoughtful, insightful exploration of the complicated connections between parents and children. (Kate)

Valleyesque by Fernando Flores: The followup to Flores’s acclaimed Tears of the Truffle Pig, this collection of stories from the U.S.-Mexico border gathers up tales as disparate as a muralist taken on a journey by a Zapata tee-shirt, or a young Lee Harvey Oswald. Matt Bell calls Flores “one of the rare truly singular fiction writers of our time, and his stories are endlessly innovative, surprising, and fun.” (Lydia)

Circa by Devi S. Laskar: The second novel from poet, photographer and author Laskar, Circa follows Heera and her friend Marco as they try to navigate their changed lives and find a way back to each other after their youthful rebellion leads to a sudden and devastating loss. Heera also must balance the expectations of her Bengali-American family with her own desire for freedom and the life in New York she imagined she’d lead before the night everything went wrong. As lyrical and rebellious as Heera herself, Circa comes highly recommended for fans of Claire Messud’s Burning Girl. (Kaulie)

Acts of Service by Lillian Fishman: When young, queer Brooklynite Eve posts nude photos of herself one night, she sets off a series of events leading her to Olivia and Nathan—and soon the three begin an affair that’s equal parts thrilling and distressing. Raven Leilani writes: “Acts of Service doesn’t kiss you first; it gets right to it—depicting the liquid frequencies of need and power with a thoughtful, savage eye.” (Carolyn)

Little Rabbit by Alyssa Songsiridej: A chance meeting at an artists’ residency leads a young, queer artist headlong into a sexual affair with an older, established choreographer. This sensual and gripping coming-of-age explores desire, art, obsession, and selfhood. Ling Ma calls the debut “a darkly sensuous tale of awakening that will quietly engulf you in flames.” (Carolyn)

Son of Elsewhere: A Memoir in Pieces by Elamin Abdelmahmoud: Abdelmahmoud is a culture writer for BuzzFeed and host of the CBC’s podcast Pop Chat. This collection weaves together a story of his life, from arriving in Canada at age 12 from Sudan and his teenage years in a homogenous city to learning to become, “every liberal white dad’s favorite person in the room.” The essays reflect on how experiences and environment shape our identity, covering everything from The O.C., to wrestling, and the long shadow of colonialism. As the publisher says, it’s a book, “with the perfect balance of relatable humor and intellectual ferocity.” (Claire)

Companion Piece by Ali Smith: The title says it all: Smith’s latest novel is a companion piece to her beloved seasonal quartet. As with the previous titles in the collection, it is a time-sensitive work that attempts to capture the way we live now. (Hannah)

The Year of the Horses by Courtney Maum: The author of Costalegre and I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You returns with a touching and insightful memoir of depression and healing. Maum has a privileged past, a mortgage, a husband, a healthy child, and a published novel—she feels no right to her depression, but that does not make it go away. When other treatments fail, she returns to her childhood passion of horseback riding. Maum alternates timelines and braids historical portraits of women and horses into her own story in The Year of the Horses, an inspiring paean to the power of animals that Lisa Taddeo calls “A memoir of power and beauty and pain that moves across the world like the beautiful horses that carry it.” (Adam P.)

We Do What We Do in the Dark by Michelle Hart: In the midst of grieving her mother, college freshman Mallory strikes up an all-consuming affair with an older, married, and enigmatic woman. Unsure of who she is and what she wants, Mallory must come to terms with how the relationship upended her life and who she wants to become in the aftermath. About Hart’s debut novel, Meg Wolitzer says: “Michelle Hart’s first novel is a haunting study of solitude and connection, moving and memorable.” (Carolyn)

Boys Come First by Aaron Foley: Only a year away from its 10th anniversary, Cleveland-based independent publisher Belt has compelled writing mavens in New York to finally pay attention to the rich literary culture of the industrial Midwest. Long focusing on new nonfiction, reprintings of classic rust belt titles and their celebrated city anthologies, Belt’s first novel is Foley’s Boys Come First, an account of three Black gay friends in Detroit that upends popular expectations about race, class, gender, sexuality, and masculinity. Foley’s novel evokes Brian Broome in its hilarious and very millennial perspective on what it means to be a 30-something as the first quarter of this century comes to a close, a love letter to gay Michigan, which receives less attention than New York, San Francisco, or Atlanta. But as Foley writes in his Detroit Neighborhood Guidebook, it’s still a “city that works hard, gets tired, gets defeated, and picks itself up every day and keeps going.” (Ed)

The Shore by Katie Runde: Life in a vacation town isn’t all sunshine and sea breezes; when the last tourists leave and the weather turns sour, locals and longtimers are forced to reckon with their families, choices, and secrets. In Runde’s debut novel, The Shore, a mother and her two daughters, year-round residents of idyllic Seaside, face enormous tragedy and change. Rather than fall to pieces, they react in erratic ways—one daughter pretends to be a middle-aged mother on an Internet forum, for example—but they never really lose each other. Our own Lydia Kiesling calls The Shore “a delicious page turner” and “a deft, deep meditation on illness, grief, and loss…a lovely, expansive look at the hard work of caregiving, saying goodbye, and keeping on.” (Kaulie)

Rainbow Rainbow by Lydia Conklin: Stegner Fellow Conklin publishes her debut collection of short stories, each following queer, trans, and gender non-conforming characters as they navigate life and look for connection. Lorrie Moore said of the book, “Lydia Conklin writes with humor and tenderness about the way we love now. Rainbow Rainbow is an impressive and beautiful collection.” (Lydia)

We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies by Tsering Yangzom Lama: A debut following a family over 50 years of exile and migration, from Tibet to Canada. Maaza Mengiste says of the book, “We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies showcases a writer of rare talent and uncompromising vision. In these pages that speak of exile and loss, of longing and sorrow, Tsering Lama also manages to remind us–with startling beauty and compassion – how much can still survive. This novel is a testament to a people’s resolve to love, no matter what. A triumph.” (Lydia)

Linea Nigra: An Essay on Pregnancy and Earthquakes by Jazmina Barrera, translated by Christina MacSweeney: Part notebook, part audiovisual anthology, Barrera’s hybrid essay Linea Nigra is not your typical book on motherhood. Instead it’s a collection that serves as representation—a comprehensive “compilation of images, citations, and references from women who have conceived of pregnancy, birth, and lactation through art and literature.” (Nick M.)

Chorus by Rebecca Kauffman: Seven siblings remember two pivotal events in their collective life, all their own way: the death of their mother and one sibling’s teen pregnancy. The novel explores the fallout from these events in what Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, calls “a superbly executed saga.” (Lydia)

Neruda on the Park by Cleyvis Natera: A novel following a Dominican family in New York City as they face family drama, gentrification, and family secrets. Naima Coster calls the novel “The rare book that manages to be chilling, fun, and profound all at once.” (Lydia)

The Red Arrow by William Brewer: A debt-saddled writer down on his luck ghostwrites a doctor’s memoir until the doctor disappears, leaving him in limbo and sending him toward an experimental psychedelic treatment. Charles Yu writes, “The Red Arrow is bold and thrilling—a work of unbridled imagination. Unlike anything I’ve read in a long time.” (Lydia)

A Down Home Meal for These Difficult Times by Meron Hadero: Winner of the 2021 AKO Caine Prize for African Writing and the Restless Books Prize, Hadero’s collection of short stories traces borders and migrations. In the citation, the Restless Books Prize judges write, “With enormous power and wonderful subtlety, Meron Hadero grants us access to the inner worlds of people at moments when everything is at risk.” (Lydia)

Mirror Made of Rain by Naheed Phiroze Patel: When Noomi breaks out of her privileged circle of partying to forge her own path as a journalist in Mumbai, she falls in love with a man and then finds the marriage plot leads her to the same self-destructive impulses and familial patterns she fought to avoid. Brandon Taylor says of the novel, “Everything feels so lush and gorgeous as the story at the heart of the novel emerges and eventually coheres to devastating effect.” (Lydia)

Be Brief and Tell Them Everything by Brad Listi: Creating art is hard in a vacuum, but it’s never created in a vacuum. Artists have lives, writers have families, and each of us is simply trying our best. In this dark, touching, and often funny work of autofiction, Listi examines the grandeur and minutiae of work, parenting, and let’s face it, simply existing. (Nick M.)

June

Nighcrawling by Leila Mottley: The debut novel by the 2018 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate follows a young woman trying to support herself, her brother, and an abandoned neighbor child in gentrifying Oakland, turning to nightcrawling prostitution as a job until she becomes a key witness in a police scandal. Ayana Mathis says of the novel, “Leila Mottley’s commanding debut, inspired by the life events of one woman’s struggle for body and soul against crushing exploitation, is fierce and devastating, rendered with electrifying urgency by this colossal young talent.” (Lydia)

Greenland by David Santos Donaldson: A feverish novel within a novel taking the outer frame of a writer on a three-week deadline to write an entire book from the perspective of Mohammed el Adl, E.M. Forster’s Egyptian lover who once spent six months in a jail cell, an intense and frenetic process that eventually has him merging his own memories with those of his subject, blending past and present. (Lydia)

Blithedale Canyon by Michael Bourne: The Millions’ own Michael Bourne publishes his debut novel, Blithedale Canyon, following the down-and-out Trent Wolfer who comes out of rehab and lands in his hometown near the San Francisco Bay, running into a beautiful woman he knew long ago, now a single mother of two. The novel chronicles the pull of home and the way a place changes over time, and it paints a portrait of a man trying very hard to get something right. Teddy Wayne says the novel “is an ode to the pleasures and pains of the return to the familiar, to the gravitational pulls of addiction, old friends, and Springsteen on a car stereo, but mostly of home. Blithedale Canyon is a tenderly nostalgic and page-turning portrait of a man who can’t control his worst impulses, written by an author in full command of his own tools.” (Lydia)

The Invisible Things by Mat Johnson: While orbiting Europa, a moon of Jupiter, the crew of The Delaney discovers a domed city on the surface that upon closer inspection turns out to be “a funhouse mirror of the United States” (Penguin Random House). And the inhabitants are all alien abductees. And they’re holding elections. And their politics are polarized, their environment is scaring them, and there’s an emerging NIMBY movement. Maybe, the delocalized locals conclude, it’s time to move. Sounds like another trippy ride through the mechanics of survival from this modern master of allegory. (Il’ja)

Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh: Since her debut in 2015 with the disquieting but darkly funny novel Eileen, Moshfegh has proven herself to be one of the most immaculate crafters of disturbed, unreliable first-person narrators. From the nameless performance artist in My Year of Rest and Relaxation who drugs herself into a coma to the disturbed widow investigating a murder that may or may not have happened in Death in Her Hands, Moshfegh’s voice is part Dostoevsky, part Poe, and entirely her own, as filtered through a jaundiced millennial sensibility. If anybody would be apt to get into the weird head space of our current moment it’s Moshfegh, who in her new novel, Lapvona, written during Covid lockdown, ironically imagines a medieval setting of depraved feudal lords and witchy, cunning women. Fantasy might seem more the realm of a Robert Jordan than Moshfegh (the title of the book is the imagined kingdom where the narrative is set), but as the author told Vox, “In a time where there has been so much trauma and loss…Humanity finds purpose where it can. It’s like flowers growing out of the cracks in the sidewalk.” (Ed)

Avalon by Nell Zink: One of our most original novelists returns with an updated Cinderella story. Bran’s Southern California upbringing is anything but traditional. After her mother joins a Buddhist colony, Bran is raised on Bourdon Farms—a plant nursery that doubles as a cover for a biker gang. She spends her days tending plants, slogging through high school, and imagining what life could be if she were born to a different family. And then she meets Peter—a charming, troubled college student from the East Coast—who launches his teaching career by initiating her into the world of art. The two begin a seemingly doomed long-distance relationship, and Bran searches for meaning in her own surroundings—she knows how to survive, now she must learn how to live. (Adam P.)

Learning to Talk by Hilary Mantel: For those whose only familiarity with two time Booker Prize winning author Mantel is her crystalline trilogy of historical fiction based on the life of Henry VIII’s counselor Thomas Cromwell—Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies, and The Mirror & the Light—the rerelease of her 2003 collection of short stories Learning to Talk might come as a surprise. Learning to Talk features no palace intrigue, no Renaissance poets, or Reformation disputes, but it’s, if anything, more representative of Mantel’s oeuvre. These interconnected short stories take place in a nameless, northern English hamlet that’s “scoured by bitter winds and rough gossip tongues.” Mantel eyes provincial culture and dashed dreams, the hardship of work and the inscrutability of families. If the Cromwell trilogy shares anything with these stories, it’s a sense of what it means to come from nowhere and wish you were from anywhere else. (Ed)

Raising Raffi by Keith Gessen: As a mother of three kids, I’ve read Gessen’s essays about parenting his son Raffi with interest, in part because Raffi sounds a lot like my oldest son: at once brilliant and completely maddening. In an essay for The New York Times Magazine, Gessen writes about how Raffi doesn’t like sports, and for N+1 (the magazine he co-founded), he writes about choosing a school for Raffi. I was pleased to learn Gessen has penned an entire book about life as a father, charting the first five years with his son. As a novelist, translator, and journalist, Gessen is sure to be thoughtful about an experience that so many have delighted in and grappled with. (Edan)

The Twilight World by Werner Herzog, translated by Michael Hofmann: For those who thought Werner Herzog made movies, that’s likely still true. But now Herzog, 79, is sending out his first novel. Penguin Random House says it “tells the incredible story of Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese soldier who defended a small island in the Philippines for twenty-nine years after the end of World War II.” I don’t know what you could possibly expect me to add to that. (Il’ja)

The Angel of Rome by Jess Walter: We all live like celebrities now: we polish up our social media profiles, edit our identities, and keep in the closet the aspects of ourselves that we don’t want to show others. However, we seem to find it ever more difficult to understand who we are and where we belong. The Angel of Rome is a stunning story collection in which all the characters try to reconcile with those contemporary paradoxes. An adolescent girl scrambles to live up to the image of her glamorous, absent mother. An elderly couple has to cope with a fiction writer who fabricates tales out of their lives. A movie star in recovery has a one-night stand with the world’s most scathing critic. Walter’s signature witty humor lights up those darkest sides of humanity. These stories are funny, provocative, inspirational. After reading the collection, your understanding of the perhaps overused phrase “reinventing oneself” may never be the same. (Jianan)

X by Davey Davis: Davis follows up their fantastic debut, The Earthquake Room, with a novel about politics, sex, identify, and power that follows Lee, a sadist whose brief encounter with the dominating X leads to a race against the clock to keep X from being swept up in a government removal program for “undesirables.” Torrey Peters raved: “Davis is an astounding writer, seemingly unconstrained by taboos and waist deep down in the maw of life, examining what the rest of us shy away from—never more than here in X, the rare book that can thrill and entertain, while simultaneously causing you to question everything about how you’re living.” (Lydia)

Mother Ocean Father Nation by Nishant Batsha: Batsha’s debut novel explores the fallout of the colonial system that brought workers from India to the Pacific, and the fractures that occurred during the subsequent era of independence and change, following a young woman from her island home to the San Francisco Bay. Amitav Ghosh called it “A moving saga about the experience of Indian migrants in the South Pacific.” (Lydia)

Hurricane Girl by Marcy Dermansky: In the author’s fifth novel, a modern day masterpiece of swimming pools, trademark turkey sandwiches, climate change, Ashley Judd, and an ill-advised romance, an unhinged narrator contemplates her future after losing her home to a hurricane. (Marie)

More Than You’ll Ever Know by Katie Gutierrez: Gutierrez’s debut is a stylish literary thriller about a true-crime aficionado wrapped up in a case where a woman married two men, and one husband murdered the other. Julia Fine says of the novel, “As addictive as a real-life whodunnit, with thoughtful attention to the ethical implications of the true crime genre, More Than You’ll Ever Know explores how we entangle ourselves one choice at a time, and what it costs to unravel the damage.” (Lydia)

Nuclear Family by Joseph Han: Set in the days leading up to the 2018 false missile launch alarm, Han’s novel follows a Korean family in Hawaii, franchising their lunch restaurant and watching with alarm as their son is caught trying to sneak across the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Bryan Washington says of the novel: “Joseph Han’s novel is heartfelt and propulsive, immersing readers in a narrative whose questions of family, borders, queerness, and forgiveness constantly surprises and astounds.” (Lydia)

Thrust by Lidia Yuknavitch: The author of such dystopian fiction as The Book of Joan, The Small Backs of Children, and the memoir The Chronology of Water, Yuknavitch has an unmatched gift for capturing stories of people on the margins—vulnerable humans leading lives of challenge and transcendence. In this novel, she offers the story of Laisvė, a motherless girl from the late 21st century who is learning her power as a carrier, a person who can harness the power of meaningful objects to carry her through time. (Marie)

The Kingdom of Sand by Andrew Holleran: The first novel in 13 years from the author of Dancer from the Dance, which was published in 1978 and called in Harper’s “An astonishingly beautiful book. The best gay novel written by anyone of our generation.” The new novel follows a man as he watches the decline of a friend, reflecting on all the other loved ones he has lost in the years before. (Lydia)

Cult Classic by Sloane Crosley: On a quiet night out with friends, Lola, a soon-to-be-married New Yorker, ducks out for cigarettes and runs into an old boyfriend. And then another. And … another. What at first seems like mere coincidence turns into something far stranger as Lola must contend not only with the viability of her current relationship but the fact that her former boss, a magazine editor-turned-guru, might have an unhealthy investment in the outcome. “Cult Classic is a romantic comedy set in a new age mind control cult on the Lower East Side,” Crosley told Entertainment Weekly. “My hope is that what sets it apart from every other romantic comedy set in a new age mind control cult on the Lower East Side is that it’s also a mystery.” (Michael)

Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta by James Hannaham: The latest from the PEN/Faulkner winner (for the novel Delicious Foods) introduces us to Carlotta Mercedes, a trans woman who wins parole after more than 20 years in prison. Since Carlotta transitioned during her sentence, her family and friends have never known her as a trans woman, and she struggles to reconnect with her son and the rest of her family. All the while, she’s forced to comply with onerous parole restrictions, which make it nearly impossible for her to stay out of jail. (Thom)

Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine: A multigenerational western saga about a “wildly entertaining and complex family,” Fajardo-Anstine’s debut novel has been described as a “cinematic, epic story” written in “lyrical, unpretentious prose.” Set in 1930s Denver, the novel is centered around Luz Lopez, who becomes the seer and keeper of her Latinx and Indigenous family stories. (Sonya)

Dele Weds Destiny by Tomi Obaro: Obaro’s debut follows three friends at university in Nigeria who reunite decades later in Lagos, and find out where life has taken them and what it still has in store. Rumaan Alam said of the novel: “This enchanting debut is an affectionate portrait of a three women at middle age, cannily exploring the ways the self is forged in youth. With an admirably light touch, Tomi Obaro documents how class, race, faith, and power define the lives of women in Nigeria and America, past and present.” (Lydia)

The Seaplane on Final Approach by Rebecca Rukeyser: A woman in pursuit of sex and adventure goes to work in a tourist lodge on a remote Alaskan island. What could go wrong?! Carmen Maria Machado said of the book: “I didn’t realize how much I needed this lusty, funny, heartbreaking book until I devoured it in a single sitting. The Seaplane on Final Approach is a novel set at the edge of the world, about people who belong everywhere and nowhere and the vast, unknowable wilderness of desire. A sharp, flawless debut.” (Lydia)

The Midcoast by Adam White: Ed Thatch, a Maine man from a lobstering family, strikes it big, and his old high school acquaintance Adam is curious about his immense success when he attends a party at his mansion. Like any guest worth his salt, Adam snoops around the house and comes up with quite the catch: a file with disturbing images of a burned body. Channeling Balzac (“Behind every great fortune is an equally great crime”), White, a high school teacher and lacrosse coach, dredges up the long-submerged origins of the Thatch money in this dark social portrait of a small Maine town. (Matt)

Tracy Flick Can’t Win by Tom Perrotta: Yes, that Tracy Flick. The protagonist of Perrotta’s beloved 1998 novel Election, the one Reese Witherspoon played in the movie. She’s back, now a single mom working as an assistant principal at a high school in the New Jersey suburbs. Deep in the mid-career blues, she learns that her school’s principal is planning to retire, give Tracy a shot at the top spot. But this is Tracy Flick, so nothing is ever easy. (Michael)

A Trail of Crab Tracks by Patrice Nganang, translated by Amy B. Reid: In the third installment of Patrice Nganang’s historical fiction trilogy, a father “chronicles the fight for Cameroonian independence through the story of a father’s love for his family and his land,” and in the process reveals to his son “the long-silenced secrets of his former life.” (Nick M.)

Brown Neon by Raquel Gutierrez: Ranging from memoir to criticism to travelogue, the essays in Gutierrez’s collection serve as “meditation[s] on southwestern terrains, intergenerational queer dynamics, and surveilled Brown artists that crosses physical and conceptual borders.” By exploring the places where stories are set, Gutierrez reveals more about who’s in them. (Nick M.)

Counterfeit by Kirstin Chen: Chen follows up Bury What We Cannot Take with a novel that takes on fashion, crime, and friendship through the story of two women who create a global empire out of a counterfeit handbag scheme. As someone who has sported a fake bag or two in her time, I cannot wait for this novel that sparked a television bidding war and which Claire Messud called “Sly and thoroughly compelling.” (Lydia)

Ghost Lover by Lisa Taddeo: The first short story collection by the celebrated author of Three Women features nine arresting stories about love, desire, and the modern attention economy, among other things. In the titular story, a mysterious group of cool, beautiful girls manage a dating service called Ghost Lover, which comes up with pre-written texts for people to send to their love interests. In another, three women at a ritzy Los Angeles fundraiser compete to win the attention of a feted guest of honor. As is the case with Taddeo’s most famous work, readers can expect a nuanced portrayal of desire. (Thom)

Nevada by Imogen Binnie: Binnie’s 2013 debut, a queer and trans literary classic, gets a deluxe reissue from MCD this year. The novel—a finalist for the 2013 Lambda Literary Award for Trans Fiction—tells the story of Maria, who’s trying to uphold her punk values while living as a young trans person with no money. When her girlfriend breaks up with her, Maria steals her car and drives west, eventually meeting a new friend named James, who reminds her of her younger self. As Maria assigns herself the tentative position of trans role model, she has to grapple with her place in the world—and what she wants. (Thom)

December Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

- | 1 book mentioned

We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!
Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.
 
I’m Not Hungry but I Could Eat by Christopher Gonzalez: As the title implies, all the protagonists in this story collection struggle with midnight cravings to some extent. A college graduate attends the bachelor party of a high school crush and has the confusing desire rekindled; a cat-sitter accidentally troubles his friend with the excessive grease of French fries and his undue longing for connection. Though those crucial, intimate moments of self-discovery, the physical sense of hunger gains a metaphorical weight as the constant human yearning for where we can call a home. (Jianan)
Tell Me How to Be by Neel Patel: Patel follows up his collection If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi with a novel of mother-son and other forms of love and rediscovery set against the backdrop of ’90s R&B. Akash leaves Los Angeles for Illinois, where his widowed mother, Renu, is selling the family home. As they pack up, both confront the errors and regrets of the past. Susie Yang says of the novel ,“Once in a while there comes a book that reminds us of why we read: to feel, to question, to grow…The emotional truth of this indelibly portrayed family and their messy lives will leave you weeping and shattered.” (Lydia)
The Women I Love by Francesco Pacifico (translated by Elizabeth Harris): Pacifico composed a series of idiosyncratic lockdown dispatches from Rome for n+1 in which he mused on his father’s hip replacement and wrote a tongue-in-cheek breakup letter to his writing career. Not so fast, as he has an exuberant new work out in English. Pacifico’s previous novel to be translated, Class, was a bright-young-things tale about Italian ex-pats in New York City. His latest, The Women I Love, is set in Italy and features a middle-aged writer anatomizing the women—lovers, colleagues, relatives—who enrich and complicate his life. (Matt)
You Never Get It Back by Cara Blue Adams: Winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award Series’ John Simmons Short Fiction Prize, Adams’ linked collection captures the life of Kate—a young New England woman navigating her twenties and thirties—with humor, tenderness, and poise. Brandon Taylor, judge of the John Simmons Short Fiction Prize, says: “These stories crackle with restless vitality as women come up against the constraints of their circumstances and what it means to be in the world. Cara Blue Adams has written a modern classic of a collection, as effortless in its idiom as it is fearless in its consideration of contemporary life.” (Carolyn)
Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding: Irish writer Harding’s U.S. debut follows Sonya, a former stage performer, as she comes to terms with her failed career, raises her son as a single mother, and falls deeper into her crippling alcoholism. When she must decide between her son and the bottle, Sonya attempts to become sober and come to terms with the traumas that led her there in the first place. Publishers Weekly’s starred review called the “blistering” novel a “unflinching portrait of a troubled, tender soul takes readers to the depths of the human heart.” (Carolyn)
Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim: In 1917 Korea, a young girl named Jade is sold to a courtesan school and trained as a servant. After fleeing to Seoul, she meets JungHo, an orphan, and forms a deep lifelong friendship with him. In the decades that follow, Jade becomes a famous performer who falls in (and out of) love with all the wrong men, and JungHo becomes emeshed in Korea’s revolutionary fight for independence. About Kim’s debut novel, Catherine Chung says: “Rapturous, ravishing, and gorgeously rendered, Beasts of a Little Land is a portal to a whole world teeming with life, so full of wonders I wanted it never to end.” (Carolyn)
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan:  Award-winning Irish writer Keegan’s newest (and already bestselling) novel takes place in the weeks before Christmas 1985. When coal and timber merchant Bill Furlong makes a strange discovery while delivering to a local convent, he must reconcile what he’s seen with his past and present, as well as his small Irish town’s future. “This is the story of what happened in Ireland, told with sympathy and emotional accuracy,” writes Colm Tóibín. “From winter skies to the tiniest tick of speech to the baking of a Christmas cake, Claire Keegan makes her moments real—and then she makes them matter.” (Carolyn)
Creative Types by Tom Bissell: In his newest, seven-story collection, Bissell explores the lives of people in the midst of personal and professional crisis. In one story, a married couple hires an escort and receives something unexpected; in another story, a Bush adminstration lawyer—who championed and defended torture during the Iraq War—gets exactly what he deserves. Other stories involve satrize magazine profiles, skewer the entertainment industry, and honeymoons gone wrong. David Means says: “The stories in Creative Types are witty, sharp, and fun as hell to read but also highly serious, fearlessly exposing the foibles of creative people as they try to build lives that feed the muse—or sell themselves out.” (Carolyn)
It’s Getting Dark by Peter Stamm (translated by Michael Hofmann): A model becomes totally obsessed and consumed with a sculpture of herself. A man makes a plan to rob a bank. A man at a remote artists’ residency remembers a brief affair he had thirty years earlier. In his newest collection, Stamm sketches out painfully realistic stories that slowly but surely reveal their strange, uneasy underbellies. Caitlin Horrocks writes: “Peter Stamm doesn’t so much yank the rug out from under the reader as ease it slowly, mesmerizingly away, until we stagger and realize that the world has shifted beneath us. These tales are eerie, menacing delights.” (Carolyn)
Sea State by Tabitha Lasley: After finally leaving her terrible relationship, ex-journalist Lasley quits her job in London, travels to Aberdeen, Scotland, and spends six weeks interviewing 103 offshore oil riggers. Entrenched in a rough, hypermasculine, and isolating corner of the world, Lasley begins an affair with Caden, a married rig worker. About the debut memoir, Jon McGregor says: “These are powerful and moving stories of working lives in a dangerous and all-male environment, made all the more powerful by the way Lasley refuses to absent herself from the telling. ” (Carolyn)
Mothers, Fathers, and Others by Siri Hustvedt: Weaving memoir, psychoanalysis, philosophy, and literature, scholar and writer Hudstvedt’s essays explore gender, family, motherhood, memory, misogyny, and the power of art. Featuring both previously published and new work, Hustvedt’s essay collection has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly (“those less familiar will delight in discovering her witty, lavish style”) and Kirkus (“brilliant and utterly transfixing”). (Carolyn)

November Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

- | 1 book mentioned 2

We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!
Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.
November
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich:Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Erdrich’s new book follows Tookie, a formerly incarcerated Ojibwe woman who takes a job in a Minneapolis bookstore after serving an absurdly long sentence. When one of the bookstore’s best customers dies, her ghost returns to the store to haunt Tookie. The ghost’s appearance leads Tookie and a fellow bookseller to a shocking personal discovery of historical consequence. Taking place over the course of a year, from All Soul’s Day 2019 to All Soul’s Day 2020, Erdrich confronts a year of pandemic and protest. (Hannah)
Look for Me and I’ll be Gone by John Edgar Wideman: For more than half a century, two-time PEN Award-winning novelist and short story author Wideman has very much been a writer’s writer. His magisterial The Homewood Trilogy made the Black neighborhood of his Pittsburgh youth as mythic as William Faulkner‘s Yoknapatawpha County, and if there were any literary justice in the United States, Wideman would be as widely known as the Nobel laureate. Arguably the last of the great modernist writers, Wideman combines stream of consciousness and the American vernacular in a style that recalls Joyce and Baldwin, and is yet entirely his own. His sixth collection of short stories, Look for Me and I’ll be Gone, gathering previously published material from The New Yorker, among other literary journals and magazines, returns to Wideman’s familiar themes of race and identity, punishment and injustice, Pittsburgh and Blackness. As Wideman said in an interview from Callaloo in 1989, “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” (Ed)
The Art of Revision: The Last Word by Peter Ho Davies: Davies, author of The Fortunes and A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself, has joined an illustrious line of writers, from Charles Baxter to Edwidge Danticat, in penning an “art of” book, my favorite craft books series, published by Graywolf Press. Davies sheds light on an often invisible part of writing—rewriting—by showing drafts of his own work as well as early drafts of Carmen Maria Machado and Flannery O’Connor, among others. He also uses the topic of revision to consider how it is not only the work that changes, but the writer, too. (Edan)
The Perishing by Natashia Deón: Critically acclaimed writer Deón returns with The Perishing, a speculative and historical novel recommended for readers who love Octavia Butler and N. K. Jemisin. Deón’s second novel focuses on Lou, who finds herself in Los Angeles in the 1930s without any recollection of how she arrived, becomes the first Black journalist at The Los Angeles Times, and experiences flashbacks of various time periods. As Lou starts to believe she’s immortal and that she has arrived with an important and specific purpose, threats to her safety arise. Publishers Weekly and Library Journal have highlighted The Perishing as a fall must-read. (Zoë)
Win Me Something by Kyle Lucia Wu: As a biracial Chinese-American woman, Willa Chen has drifted through high school and college, struggling to come to some kind of peace with herself. But when she begins working as a nanny for the Adriens, a wealthy white New York City family, she is confronted with all of the things she never had. After moving in with the Adriens, Willa must come to terms with her complicated childhood and finally begin to define her adult life. As Crystal Hana Kim, author of If You Leave Me says: “Win Me Something is an observant, contemplative story about the complex reality of growing up with a mixed identity in two starkly different mixed families. Kyle Lucia Wu deftly weaves back and forth between Willa’s teenaged years and her adult life to explore loneliness, uncertainty, and a singular, persistent question―where do I truly belong?” (Adam Price)
White on White by Ayşegül Savaş: “Beauty avoids our grasp because it’s made of the same, ephemeral texture as imagination,” the Paris-based Turkish writer Savaş writes in her essay, “On Invisible Beauty,” published in our very own pages. Beauty and art are subjects Savaş returns to in her second novel, White on White. When, by virtue of proximity, a student of Gothic nudes becomes a companion and repository of stories told by her artist landlord, she becomes a student not only of art but of life. Lauren Groff compares White on White’s elegance to “an opaque sheet of ice that belies the swift and turbulent waters beneath. (Anne K. Yoder)
New York, My Village by Uwem Akpan: In Akpan’s debut novel (following Say You’re One of Them, his bestselling, critically-acclaimed collection), Nigerian editor Ekong Udousoro, who is working on a collection about the Biafran War, relocates to New York City after receiving a publishing fellowship—only to discover the dark side of an industry that smiles in his face while disparaging his home, race, and culture. Elif Batuman writes: “Unforgettable characters, deeply realistic and ‘relatable’ interpersonal conflicts, a contagious love of life, fresh insights into the crazy-making properties of racist ideology: New York, My Village has it all.” (Carolyn)
The Four Humors by Mina Seçkin: As someone whose vade mecum is Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, I’m especially excited for Seçkin’s debut novel, in which a young woman analyzes her illness according to the four humors theory. (My problem: excess of phlegm.) Taking place over a summer in Istanbul, where the woman has travelled to care for her ailing grandmother, the novel balances the protagonist’s humor-gazing with stories of her family’s and Turkey’s history. The premise faintly echoes two other recent medico-literary works of quackery and experimental treatment: Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk. (Matt)
Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women who Revolutionized Food in America by Mayukh Sen: Nowadays many people write or produce videos about food and culture, but Mayukh Sen is arguably the first one who makes you feel the American kitchen sizzling with wonder. Taste Makers carefully selects seven extraordinarily courageous, brilliant, and loving immigrant women who dedicate their lives to what Americans take for granted in their diet today. James Beard Award-winning writer Sen’s impeccable research accurately restores the lives of these women; his lively prose style matches the vivacity of his heroines. More importantly, he both entertains and challenges our previous mental association of women and food. After reading this group biography, perhaps what we see on our mundane plate is no longer the same as before. (Jianan)
Noor by Nnedi Okorafor: Widely known—and loved, and awarded—for her genre-bending, Africanfuturist novels and stories (see: Who Fears Death, Lagoon), Okorafor is back with a vivid and unpredictable rush of a new novel. Anwuli Okwudili—or AO, for Artificial Organism—is a woman who relies on her many body augmentations to live. But when someone gets hurt, she’s forced to go on the run, heading into and across the deserts of Northern Nigeria with a Fulani herdsman, DNA, alongside her and the world watching the “saga of the wicked woman and the mad man” unfold in real time. (Kaulie)
These Precious Days by Ann Patchett: A new collection of personal essays from the beloved Patchett, including a meditation on a surprising and beautiful bond formed with Tom Hanks’s assistant, a woman named Sooki, which is basically indescribable outside of the essay that describes it, but which you can read here at Harper’s. (Lydia)
Blue-Skinned Gods by SJ Sindu: Roxane Gay writes that Blue-Skinned Gods, the second novel from Sindu, is “consummate storytelling,” “heart breaking and exhilarating”; others have called it stunning, profound, a marvel. In Tamil Nadu, India, a young boy named Kalki is born with impossibly blue skin. He is believed to be—and is worshipped as—Vishnu reincarnated, but he begins to have his doubts. As his relationships with his community and family begin to crumble, Kalki lands in New York City, seeking refuge in the city’s underground rock scene as he works to discover exactly who—and what—he is. (Kaulie)
God of Mercy by Okezie Nwọka: A debut novel set in an Igbo village where the forces of colonialism have not found root now finds itself at odds with its neighboring colonized villages, with dire consequences for its heroine Iljeoma, a girl who can fly. Maisy Card calls the novel “a profound exploration of religion, faith, and compassion from a gifted storyteller. Okezie Nwọka creates a richly imagined postcolonial landscape that is at once otherworldly, tragically human, and completely unforgettable.” (Lydia)
Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King: King follows five critically acclaimed novels, most recently Euphoria and Writers and Lovers, with her first collection of short stories. Ann Patchett raved that the new offering “moved me, inspired me, thrilled me. It filled up ever chamber of my heart. I loved this book.” (Lydia)
Pity the Beast by Robin McLean: Following her debut collection Reptile House, this novel of the western U.S. jumps back and forth in time from prehistory to far in the future, focusing its eye on the time in between, during which a woman named Ginny has just cheated on her husband. A new feminist western about which J.M. Coetzee raved, “Not since Faulkner have I read American prose so bristling with life and particularity.” (Lydia)
Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart: In what may be the season’s first explicitly Covid-19 novel, funny-sad author Shteyngart chronicles eight friends, including a Russian-born novelist and his wife, their child obsessed with K-pop, a Korean American app developer, and various other artistes isolated upstate in March of 2020 for a Boccaccian idyll in which they are safe from a deadly virus but not from themselves, their hungers, and their pasts. Looking forward to the hyper-observant author’s take in what Salman Rushdie pegs it as “A powerful fable of our broken time.” (Marie)
The Dawn of Everything by David Wengrow and David Graeber: Late anthropology professor Graeber and professor of comparative archaeology Wengrow explore (and refutes) the traditional narratives (and myths) about early civilization. The book questions the notion that societies have undergone a linear evolution from primitive to developed—and how this new historical vantage point sheds light on the true origins of farming, property, and democracy. Noam Chomsky calls the book “a fascinating inquiry, which leads us to rethink the nature of human capacities, as well as the proudest moments of our own history, and our interactions with and indebtedness to the cultures and forgotten intellectuals of indigenous societies.” (Carolyn)
New Year by Juli Zeh: In Zeh’s newest novel, a man’s solitary bike ride on New Year’s Day turns into a terrifyingly, life-altering journey into his childhood psyche. As he climbs the paths steep hills, his repressed and traumatic memories threaten to swallow him (and his family) whole. In their starred review, Publishers Weekly calls the novel a  “wrenching psychological portrait” that “asks how a person can come to terms with a painful past that has been intentionally misremembered for the purpose of sustaining one’s mental health.” (Carolyn)
Eternal Night at the Nature Museum by Tyler Barton: Whether it’s a group of residents escaping their assisted living facility, a delusional one-man neighborhood watch looking for criminals, or a museum worker who’s unsure if he’s fit for duty, Barton’s debut collection carefuly carves out moments in the lives of an eclectic cast of characters. Kevin Wilston writes: ““Eternal Night at the Nature Museum is a dizzying, brilliant collection, carried by Tyler Barton’s hypnotic ability to pull narratives into the strangest places, grounded by his genuine love and empathy for his characters, no matter how broken they might seem.” (Carolyn)
Tacky by Rax King: Jersey Shore. Guy Fieri. Cheesecake Factory. In her debut collection, James Beard Award-nominated writer King explores the intersection of her life, pop culture, and all things lowbrow in fourteen hilarious and heartfelt essays. “A monument to uplifting the parts of popular culture that might otherwise be shrugged off and/or dismissed by those who don’t have the imagination to celebrate what they might consider mundane,” says Hanif Abdurraqib. “This book made me feel more at home with my obsessions, both small and large.” (Carolyn)
O Beautiful by Jung Yun: In a follow-up to her critically acclaimed debut, Shelter, Yun’s newest novel centers around Elinor, a 40-year-old ex-model, returns to her North Dakotan hometown to write a magazine feature about the Bakken oil boom. As she navigates harrassment, feelings like an outsider, and memories of her estranged parents, Elinor finds herself digging deep into a story that hits even closer to home than she ever imagined. About the novel, Rumaan Alam says:  “With a shrewd eye and sharp sense of humor, Yun finds in the familiar tale of one woman’s return to her small town roots a story as big as the nation itself.” (Carolyn)
Admit This to No One by Leslie Pietrzyk: In her newest collection of linked stories, Pietrzyk explores the personal and political in Washington, D.C. The stories, which are all centered around an unnamed Speaker of the House—whose extra-martial affairs torpeoded his career and marriages—and his daughters, ripple out from an incident that puts the Speaker and his 15-year-old daughter in grave danger. Kirkus’ starred review says it’s “an exciting collection bristling with intelligence, political awareness, and psychological complexity.” (Carolyn)
Aftermath by Preti Taneja: Award-winning writer and activist Taneja explores trauma, violence, and personal and collective grief in her experimental book-length essay. After his release from prison after an eight-year sentence, Taneja’s former creative writing student kills two people during a celebration for an offender rehabilitation program. As she tries to make sense of of the tragedy and its aftermath, she looks toward the past in an attempt to reclaim the future. A starred review from Publishers Weekly calls the book “stunning,” “poetic, urgent, and self-reflective.” (Carolyn)
Chouette by Claire Oshetsky: Tiny, an accomplished cellist, knows in a deep, primal way that her pregnancy is not normal; the child she is carrying is not a baby but an “owl-baby”—though no one, including her husband, believes her. When Chouette is born with broken wings, Tiny’s sole focus becomes protecting her sometimes violent daughter from her husband—who is obsessed with fixing his daughter—and the world, which will no doubt try to change her. About the debut, Rachel Yoder writes, “Part love letter, part lament, Chouette astonishes as each perfected sentence burrows deep into the maternal shadows of love, possession, selfhood, and sanity.” (Carolyn)
People from my Neighborhood by Hiromi Kawakami (translated by Ted Goossen): Kawakami, author of the acclaimed novel Strange Weather in Tokyo, returns with a collection of of 36 interlinking fabulist stories set in a small Japanese town. Kirkus’ starred review says the novel is “an engaging and winsome book that charms without diminishing the precise unease created by Kawakami’s spare prose.” (Carolyn)