December Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

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 Freezer Door by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore: In The Freezer Door, award-winning author Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore meditates on connection, loneliness, sex, social conformity, trauma, and more. Wayne Koestenbaum describes this new work as “a book that defies borders and uses language to dive directly into mystery.” And, Maggie Nelson declares, “I really love Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s The Freezer Door…I stand deeply inspired and instructed by its great wit, candor, inventiveness, and majesty.” (Zoë)

Perestroika in Paris by Jane Smiley: The “Perestroika” in Pulitzer Prize-winner Jane Smiley’s new novel refers not to Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of Soviet liberalization, but rather a spunky French racehorse who is the center of a group of animal friends in her beast fable. Author of the King Lear adaptation A Thousand Acres and of the immaculate campus novel Moo, Smiley has always had a talent for animal representations both charming and truthful (perhaps reflecting those years spent at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop). Perestroika in Paris features not just the titular equine, but also the horse’s friend, a German shorthaired pointer named Frieda, while recounting their lives in the City of Light. (Ed Simon)

Rest and Be Thankful by Emma Glass: Written in a lyrical, dreamy style, Glass’ sophomore novel—which follows up her Dylan Thomas Prize longlisted debut Peach—explores the life of Laura, a pediatric nurse whose life seems to be falling apart before her eyes. Her days are filled with the immense stress of caring for (and grieving for) children; living with a man who no longer loves her; and grappling with hallucinations that she fears is death itself. Kirkus’ starred review calls the sophomore novel “a heart-wrenching and poetic look at a profession that deserves more literary attention.” (Carolyn)

Mediocre by Ijeoma Oluo: In her second book, Oluo (So You Want to Talk About Race) examines the last 150 years of American history—ranging from the legacy of the Wild West to racism in the NFL—and the dangerous consequences of society’s centering of white men. About the book, Ashley C. Ford says: “This book goes beyond how we got here, and digs into where we are, what we’re going to do about it, and what’s at stake if the people with the most power refuse to do better.” (Carolyn)

A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers: In Summers’ gory, campy, and satirical debut, James Beard Award-winning food critic Dorothy Daniels recounts her life from prison—where she is serving a life sentence (and then some) for cannibalism and murder. Megan Abbott calls the culinary crime novel “mordantly funny and lushly baroque” as if ” American Psycho as rewritten by Angela Carter.” (Carolyn)

Proustian Uncertainties by Saul Friedländer: Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Friedländer examines the mastery of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (“one of the most important novels ever written”) in this book-length scholarly essay. In what Kirkus calls an “intimate literary investigation,” Friedländer explores the sometimes puzzling similarities and differences between Proust and his narrator. (Carolyn)

A Year in Reading: 2020

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We were worried that no one would want or be able to participate in this, the 16th annual Year in Reading at The Millions. What is there to say about this pandemic year, a year so strange and horrible that its very appellation has become a bitter joke? People are mourning their dead, homeschooling their children, juggling responsibilities, worrying about money, worrying about politics, worrying about people, stultifying with loneliness or despair.

And yet this Year in Reading is one of the best we’ve had. Entries poured forth from readers–readers who are mourning, homeschooling, juggling, worrying, stultifying. This series becomes part of the historical record of an experience that is collective even though its effects are unevenly and unfairly felt. This is a record of how a few people managed and what they read and what moved them during difficult days. We are grateful to have it. And we are grateful for you, and we are hoping for better things for all of us in the months to come.

The names of our 2020 contributors will be unveiled throughout the month as entries are published–starting with our traditional opener from Languagehat’s Stephen Dodson later this morning, and ending on December 24. Bookmark this post, load up the main pagesubscribe to our RSS feed, or follow us on Facebook or Twitter to make sure you don’t miss an entry — we’ll run three or four every day.

Stephen Dodson, proprietor of Languagehat.Maisy Card, author of These Ghosts Are Family.Elaine Castillo, author of America Is Not the Heart.Salar Abdoh, author of Out of MesopotamiaCarvell Wallace, co-author of The Sixth Man.Mira Assaf Kafantaris, Senior Lecturer in the English Department at the Ohio State University.Lynn Steger Strong, author of Want.Andrew Valencia, author of Lord of California.Paul Tremblay, author of Survivor Song.Katherine D. Morgan, assistant features editor for The Rumpus.Zak Salih, author of the forthcoming novel Get Back to the Party. Emily Adrian, author of Everything Here Is Under Control.Kathy Wang, author of the forthcoming novel Impostor Syndrome.

Do you love Year in Reading and the amazing books and arts content that The Millions produces year round? We are asking readers for support to ensure that The Millions can stay vibrant for years to come. Please click here to learn about several simple ways you can support The Millions now.

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 20192018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

‘The Orchard’: Featured Fiction from David Hopen

In our latest edition of featured fiction—curated by our own  Carolyn Quimby—we’re happy to present an excerpt from David Hopen’s debut novel, The Orchard.

The book—a coming-of-age tale about a devout Jewish high school student—received praise from the likes of Susan Choi and Shteyngart, as well as starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist, with the latter calling the novel “brilliantly conceived and crafted” and “Unforgettable.”
We were sitting in our living room that evening, after a makeshift dinner of scrambled eggs and several hours unloading boxes, moving furniture, transferring miscellaneous items from one side of the room to the other and back. I was reviewing a page of Talmud with my father when our landline rang. My mother answered; I heard her give loud, exaggerated laughs. Foreign sounds to me.

“Our neighbors,” my mother said, bustling in from the kitchen. “From the house across the street. Cynthia and Eddie Harris—they sound lovely.”

My father stared blankly. “What’d they want?”

“They’ve invited us to a barbecue tomorrow.”

My father’s finger held our place in the Gemara. Damages caused by oxen or by mav’eh are caused by a living spirit. Fire has no living spirit. “And what’d you tell them?”

She looked rosy-cheeked. “That we’d be delighted, of course.”

He nodded slightly, returning his attention to the Talmud. Without another word, we resumed learning.

The barbecue was on a sun-dazzled afternoon. Even in the oppressive Florida heat we dressed as we always did: my father and I in black and white, my mother tzniut in her long sleeves, though I noticed she donned a new floral dress for the occasion.

Timidly, we rang the doorbell and waited for several minutes, admiring the flagstone steps and double-hinged oak doors, my mother elated at the prospect of a social life, my father looking as if he’d prefer to be anywhere else. Eventually, when no one answered, we made our way around the side of the mansion, following the sound of laughter. We opened an iron gate and let ourselves into the party. 

Horror washed over my father’s face as he surveyed the backyard. Wives in short, colorful sundresses, Chardonnay in hand. Men in Burberry polos, gripping beers. Teenage boys and girls thrashing together in the pool, a cardinal sin in our former lives. Dazzlingly alien sights: wealth, charm, hysteria. My stomach turned uneasily.

“Hello, there,” a hearty voice boomed behind us. A thick man in a crisp white polo clapped my father on the back, startling him. “You must be the Edens!” Ever so slightly, my father stole a look at the top of the man’s gelled hair. No yarmulke. The man extended a beefy hand. “Our new neighbors! You guys know how excited we’ve been to meet you? Wasn’t too much love lost with the people who used to own your house. I mean, nice people, I guess, but kept to themselves too

much. We needed new friends.” He squinted, his eyes sweeping the backyard—incidentally the most impressive backyard I’d ever seen: an enormous pool, a marble bathhouse, a Jacuzzi and bar, a fence bordering a picturesque golf course—and shrugged. “I don’t know where Cynthia went off, she must be inside. Come, I’ll bring you in to meet her. Eddie Harris, by the way. Real pleasure.”

My father gave a thin smile, his hand comically small in Eddie’s. “Yaakov Eden.”

“Thanks for coming, Yaakov,” Eddie said, before offering his hand to my mother.

An awful moment followed, my mother staring blankly, caught between the social necessity of extending her hand and our strict custom of refraining from touching non-family members of the opposite gender. I winced, but Eddie realized his mistake quickly and holstered his handshake. “Shit, my apologies!” he barked. “I didn’t realize, excuse my idiocy . . .”

“No, no,” my mother soothed, red-cheeked with embarrassment. “Please, not to worry.” My father assumed the face one might adopt when passing a kidney stone, but Eddie and my mother both gave awkward smiles. “I’m Leah.”

This would have been considerably more painful, perhaps unsalvageable, with someone else. Yet Eddie released a sonic laugh, diffusing any tension. “Don’t mind me, I’m just a shmuck. Most people here aren’t terribly strict about, er, what do you call it? Shomer negiah, right, that kind of thing. Between us, maybe they ought to be, I’ll show you one couple in particular over there, plenty of rumors, though who am I to judge? So, yeah, that whole no-touching thing isn’t really on my radar. But Cynthia’ll kill me when she hears.” After his laughter, Eddie rested his eyes on me. “And your name, sport?” He had quite the handshake.


“No kidding. That was my old man’s name.”

“Oh yeah?”

“A bona fide tzadik.” He paused, sending thoughts heavenward. “I think you would’ve liked him,” he mumbled to my father.

My father nodded courteously, unconvinced.

He turned back to me. “And how old are you, bud?”


“Seventeen? So you’re a junior or senior?”


“Nice. And you’ll be at the yeshiva in Sunny Isles, I assume? They’re pretty serious folks, let me tell you. I hear they hold mishmar three times a week.”

“I’ll be at Kol Neshama, actually.”

“That other place was much too far of a drive,” my mother said. “Plus, we’re told Kol Neshama is, well, a superior education.”

“Wow, you’re going to the old Voice of the Soul Academy? Who would’ve thought?” He grinned boyishly. “You’ve really got to meet my son, you’re in the same class.” He turned animatedly to my parents. “How great is this?”

They returned his grin politely.

“Noah Harris!” he hollered toward the pool. “Where the heck are you, kid?”

From the water emerged a tall boy with green eyes, long blond locks, an exact replica of his father’s smile and an almost excessive collection of shoulder and abdominal muscles. It was obvious he was an athlete. “Nice to meet you all,” he said, slinging a towel over his shoulders. “I’d shake your hands but I’m sopping.”

“Easy on the shaking,” Eddie said, winking at my mother. “Noah, Ari here will be in your grade at the Academy.”

“No kidding.”

“Yaakov, Leah, what do you say we fix you both stiff drinks, yes? These two don’t need us breathing down their necks.” Eddie slapped my back playfully. “Yaak, you like cigars? No? Well, you do kind of look like a man I could turn into a lover of single malt. I’ve got the perfect thing for you to try. Noah, grab Ari a beer, will you, or a hot dog if he wants? Don’t worry, everything’s kosher.” With that, his large hands took hold of my father, while carefully avoiding contact with my mother, and steered them away.

Noah watched them leave. His arms appeared to flex involuntarily, despite the fact that they hung at ease at his sides. I wondered what it would be like to have such a problem. “Say your name was Ari?”

“Aryeh,” I said. Then, kicking myself: “Ari for short.”

“And you moved from—?”


“Dope. I have friends on Long Island. Know anybody there?”

“Some,” I said noncommittally, certain we’d have zero mutual friends.

“I went to camp with Benji Wertheimer. Know him?” he asked, hopeful for conversation. “No? Fantastic point guard.”

I shook my head.

“What about Efrem Stern? Okay, Naomi Spitz? Shira Haar? She’s from Kings Point. Everyone knows her, throws Hamptons parties, she’s super pretty?” He laughed. “Don’t tell my girlfriend I said that,” he said confidentially, pointing back toward the pool.

“No, I, uh—I won’t.”

“Where’d you go to school?”

“Torah Temimah.”

“Torah Temimah?”

“Yeah,” I said, feeling small.

“Never heard of it. New school?”

“No. Not really.”

“One of those frum places, then. The shtetl. We talking black hats?”

Just how out of place I was dawned on me. To Noah, whose life, I suspected, involved athletic glory, beach houses, summer parties, I was some staid rabbinical student who had wandered comically into the wrong world, or at least the wrong backyard. And I was not unaccustomed to living as a stranger. I was a stranger in my previous existence, but one who understood that the rules governing each detail of life—how to marry, how to think, how to tie my shoes—were prescribed, always, by an aspirational morality. Standing before Noah, I was a different breed of stranger, someone attempting to hide in plain sight without any understanding of the overarching rules. Camouflaging here, I realized then, would be harder even than in Brooklyn. “Yes,” I said, itching to leave. “Pretty much.”

From The Orchard by David Hopen. Copyright ©2020 by David Hopen. Reprinted courtesy of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. 

November 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 Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans: Following the success of her 2010 story collection, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, Evans returns with this funny collection whose stories play on the absurdities of race in America. In one story, a white college student is forced to reinvent her entire identity after an embarrassing photo of her sporting a Confederate flag-themed bikini makes the rounds. In the title story, a D.C.-based professor discovers a conspiracy of Pynchonesque proportions, one that threatens to derail her entire life and to destabilize her understanding of history. These are absurd stories for absurd times. (Ismail)

The Arrest by Jonathan Lethem: Something’s happened between apocalypse and inconvenience, and that something is The Arrest. Put simply, business as usual has stopped working. Guns don’t fire, computers don’t work, and cars don’t drive. For everyone, this poses problems. For Sandy Duplessis, a Hollywood screenwriter, it necessitated change, so he’s moved to rural Maine to try to make a new life for himself with his sister—that is, until the day his former associate shows up with a nuclear-powered supercar capable of smashing its way across the continental U.S. Hijinks ensue. (Nick M.)

To Be a Man by Nicole Krauss: How many men can a woman’s life hold? By weaving stories about aging parents, generations gaps, newborn babies, and coming of age, Krauss’s new collection looks the lives of women at the point where the forces of sex, power and violence come together—in a couple. Krauss is a National Book Award finalist and New York Times–bestselling author of The History of Love and Great House, among others. The stories in this book mirror each other and provide a balance that makes the collection, as the publisher says, “feels like a novel.” (Claire)

Eartheater by Dolores Reyes (translated by Julia Sanches): This debut from an Argentinian teacher and activist tells the story of a young girl with a strange desire to eat dirt. Her compulsion leads to a powerful clairvoyant gift: eating earth allows her to find the bodies of people who have gone missing, and to know the circumstances of their murders. Her first taste of dirt teaches her the truth about her mother’s death. She tries to keep her visions secret but when people hear of her gift, they beg for help in finding their own loved ones. (Hannah)

Khalil by Yasmina Khadra (translated by John Cullen): In this first-person thriller by Khadra, the pseudonym of former Algerian army officer Mohammed Moulessehoul, Khalil, a young Belgian man of Moroccan descent, tries to detonate a suicide vest outside the Stade de France in Paris—and fails. Fraternel Solidarity, an ISIS affiliate, has other plans for Khalil. He returns to Belgium, but must hide the truth both from the authorities and his own family, anticipating all the time his next mission. What follows is the story of a man struggling with questions of religion, politics, and family. (Jacqueline)

The Sun Collective by Charles Baxter: It’s been a while since we’ve seen a novel from Baxter—though the past decade has brought two short story collections; he’s one of those writers who can do both, superbly. Now, in his sixth novel, he tells the story of intersecting lives in Minneapolis: a missing actor, the actor’s desperate mother, a young woman addicted to a drug that gives a feeling of “blessedness,” and a quasi-religious community group, The Sun Collective. (Hannah)

Here Is the Beehive by Sarah Crossan: Crossan’s first novel for adult readers opens on a now three-year-old heady affair between two people, Ana and Connor. When Connor dies, Ana finds herself trapped in a grief she cannot share, for someone whose connection to her is unknown to anyone else in the world. Rather than vilifying Connor’s wife, Rebecca, the “shadowy figure who has always stood just beyond her reach,” Ana seeks her out. A gripping exploration of obsession, risk, and loss. (Jacqueline)

Nights When Nothing Happened by Simon Han: Han’s literary debut introduces us to the Cheng family of Dallas, living successful personal and professional lives while helping to support extended relatives in China. Nights When Nothing Happened received high praise from Lorrie Moore, who called it a “tender, spiky family saga about love in all its mysterious incarnations.” Han’s novel explores what belonging means, both in terms of a family and a nation, as Nights When Nothing Happened brings texture, nuance, and subtlety to the reductionist condescension of the “model minority” trope. (Ed)

The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar: By the author of The Map of Salt and Stars, a novel about three generations of Syrians linked by a particular species of bird. R.O. Kwon says of the book, “Zeyn Joukhadar’s new book is a vivid exploration of loss, art, queer and trans communities, and the persistence of history. Often tender, always engrossing, The Thirty Names of Night is a feat.” (Lydia)

Bring Me the Head of Quentin Tarantino by Julián Herbert (translated by Christina MacSweeney): Who could resist a story collection with a title like this? In the deliriously pulpy title story, a Mexican drug lord who could pass for Quentin Tarantino’s twin kidnaps a film critic so he can discuss Tarantino’s films while he sends a squad of goons to kill the doppelgänger who has colonized his consciousness. The collection’s other stories, ranging from antic to dire, dissect the violence and corruption that plague Mexico today. The raffish cast includes a cokehead, a ghost, a personal memories coach, and a man who discovers music in his teeth. Collectively, they ask the question: How much violence can a person, and a country, take? (Bill)

The Age of Skin by Dubravka Ugrešić (translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac): A new book from Ugrešić, one of Europe’s foremost critics and most influential writers, is always worthy of celebration. Exiled from her native Croatia after the fall of Yugoslavia, Ugrešić brings a wisdom and vision and dark humor that’s particularly pertinent in our turbulent times. In The Age of Skin she touches on vast and varied cultural references, “from La La Land and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, to tattoos and body modification, World Cup chants, and the preservation of Lenin’s corpse—takes on the dreams, hopes, and fears of modern life.” (Anne)

Lord the One You Love Is Sick by Kasey Thornton: This debut novel in the form of linked stories is an unflinching look at the dark truths that dwell just beneath the sunny surface of small southern towns. The fictional Bethany, set somewhere in the author’s native North Carolina, is “like a nice Persian rug that had been stapled into place over a damp floor for a hundred years. Peel up a corner and see what you find.” What we find in the collection’s opening story is a young man dying from a drug overdose, which has rippling fallout for his mother, his gay agoraphobic brother, his best friend, his best friend’s wife—in the end, just about everybody in Bethany. The writing is assured, understated, yet propulsive. Kasey Thornton is a writer to watch. (Bill)

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon: First published in 2013, the expanded reissue of Laymon’s first nonfiction collection features six new essays that explore the intersection of the interior—family, history, memory—and the exterior—white supremacy, bigotry, violence. The book explores race, identity, and familial bonds. Kirkus calls the collection, “A timely and disquieting contribution to urgent conversations about race.” (Carolyn)

One Night Two Souls Went Walking by Ellen Cooney: In Cooney’s 10th novel, which Alyson Hagy called “radiant, humane, splendidly joyous,” an unnamed, 30-something hospital chaplain spends one night performing rounds: comforting patients, offering them grace, and finding connection and healing in the face of great suffering. Now, more than ever, we need to be reminded that hope prevails—and this novel does exactly that. (Carolyn)

White Ivy by Susie Yang: Longlisted for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, Yang’s debut is a coming-of-age tale about privilege, class, and identity. Ivy, a Chinese-American teenager, is raised by her immigrant grandmother to emulate the traditional suburban life by any means necessary. When she meets Gideon Speyer, the prized son of a powerful political family, her life is upended. Years later, the two are reunited and Ivy will stop at nothing to have the life she’s always dreamed of. About the novel, Neel Patel says, “Bold, daring, and sexy, White Ivy is the immigrant story we’ve been dying to hear.” (Carolyn)

Somewhere in the Unknown World by Kao Kalia Yang: With nativism and xenophobia on the rise, Yang—an award-winning author and Hmong refugee—gathers the powerful and deeply human stories of 14 refugees living in Minnesota. “In a time when the term ‘refugee’ is so often flat and faceless, this is an essential book of poetic beauty and social witness,” says author Sarah Smarsh. (Carolyn)

The Orchard by David Hopen: With comparisons to The Secret History and Old School, Hopen’s debut follows Ari Eden when he’s uprooted from his ultra-Orthodox neighborhood and dropped into the secular Miami suburbs. When he becomes enmeshed with a group of charismatic classmates, he and the others begin testing their faith in increasingly dangerous ways. About the novel, Nathan Hill says: “It’s a story of profound intelligence, a story of tragic grandeur, and a story unlike any other I’ve ever read.” (Carolyn)

The Harpy by Megan Hunter: When Lucy, a wife and mother, learns of her husband Jake’s infidelity, her world is thrown completely off-kilter. Rather than separate, Lucy and Jake decide to make things work—with one caveat: Lucy gets to hurt him three times. From there, they (and their relationship) becomes unrecognizable. Author Jessica Andrews says Hunter “confronts the fear of female anger and asks us what happens when pain that has been swallowed through generations begins to rush to the surface.” (Carolyn)

The Best of Brevity, edited by Zoe Bossiere and Dinty W. Moore: I discovered Brevity when my creative nonfiction professor assigned Anna Vodicka’s “Girl/Thing” for class. By the end of the very brief essay (featured in this anthology), I had fallen in love with not only the literary magazine, but flash nonfiction as a genre. This collection, which includes 84 essays from the website’s 20-plus years, features writers like Roxane Gay, Jaquira Díaz, and Kristen Radtke. There’s beauty in brevity, and this anthology proves it. (Carolyn)

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (translated by Geoffrey Trousselot): Already an international-bestseller, Kawaguchi’s English-language debut is set in a small Tokyo coffee shop where time travel is possible—but for only as long as a cup of coffee can stay warm. In interconnected stories, four customers go back in time: to apologize, reminisce, and heal. “Kawaguchi’s tender look at the beauty of passing things, adapted from one of his plays, makes for an affecting, deeply immersive journey into the desire to hold onto the past,” says Publishers Weekly. (Carolyn)

October Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

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.

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam: “Step into our beautiful house and leave the world behind,” reads the Airbnb posting for the charming Hamptons house rented by a Brooklyn family for a one-week vacation. The world has other ideas. Shortly into their stay, the East Coast power grid goes down, New York City is plunged into darkness, warplanes roar across the sky—the sonic boom “a rend in heaven right above their little house”—and, worse, the rental home’s owners appear at the front door. An exquisitely tense novel of manners in the midst of a catastrophe from which there is no safe haven, however well-furnished. (Matt)

Memorial by Bryan Washington: In the follow-up to his 2019 story collection, Lot, Washington introduces us to Mike and Benson. They’re a couple, and though they haven’t been together forever, their relationship has lasted long enough for them to both become vaguely dissatisfied. Their rather boring comfort gets shaken up by the arrival of Mike’s mother, Mitsuko, from Japan: she reveals that his father is dying, and while Mike travels to Osaka to, Mitsuko stays behind with Benson. The result is not only an exploration of a kaleidoscopically diverse America—Mike is a Japanese American man who works at a Mexican restaurant and dates a Black man—but a moving portrait of two young men who are figuring out exactly who they are in this world. Anyone who enjoyed Washington’s dreamlike yet textured meditations on life in Houston in Lot will be enchanted with Memorial. (Ismail)

The Silence by Don DeLillo: The prerelease literature for DeLillo’s The Silence takes pains to note that DeLillo completed his new novel mere weeks before the advent of Covid-19. One understands why when one reads the plot summary: Five people on Super Bowl Sunday in the near future, trapped together in a Manhattan apartment in the midst of an ongoing catastrophe. In The Silence, DeLillo trains his postmodern meditative powers on what happens when our connection to technology is severed, and asks what ultimately makes us human. As Joshua Ferris writes in The New York Times Book Review: “DeLillo offers consolation simply by enacting so well the mystery and awe of the real world.” (Adam Price)

The Hole by Hiroko Oyamada (translated by David Boyd): Fans of Oyamada’s The Factory— a curious and delightfully eccentric novel that follows four workers through their jobs at a Kafkaesque labyrinthine factory—will be delighted to know that New Directions is publishing the English translation of Oyamada’s follow-up novel, The Hole. Work figures into this book too: when a couple relocates to a rural area for the husband’s job, the wife is left with an abundance of time. She explores the countryside, finding various unlikely creatures, and particularly a hole that seems to be made just for her, in this novel that is “by turns reminiscent of Lewis Carroll, David Lynch, and My Neighbor Totoro.” (Anne)

Bright and Dangerous Objects by Anneliese Mackintosh: A beautiful novel about an undersea welder who juggles her desire to join a mission to Mars with the reality of her pregnancy. This is a lovely and fascinating book about the kind of work that is usually invisible, and a kind of maternal ambivalence that reaches for the literal stars, told from the perspective of a singular, well-drawn protagonist. (Lydia)

The Searcher by Tana French: French, who made her name writing six bestselling mysteries starring detectives from the fictional Dublin Murder Squad, has branched out into stand-alone books. In this one, a retired Chicago cop buys a house in a rural town in Ireland’s Lonesome West, hoping to put police work behind him. But of course trouble finds him in the form of a local boy from a dysfunctional family who needs help finding his missing brother. If you are a French obsessive, you don’t need to know the rest. Just pre-order and call in sick for a couple days after Oct. 6 when the book comes out. (Michael)

Ramifications by Daniel Saldaña París (translated by Christina MacSweeney): A young man works through the aftermath of his mother’s abandonment when he was a young child, from the author of the critically acclaimed Among Strange Victims. (Lydia)

Just Like You by Nick Hornby: The much-loved author of High Fidelity, About a Boy, and other hits is out with another unlikely romance—this one between Lucy, a nearly divorced 41-year-old schoolteacher with two sons, and Joseph, a part-time butcher half her age who’s still living at home with his mom. When they meet, Lucy’s looking for a babysitter but winds up with something more. In this age of lockdowns and social distancing, the novel asks timely questions about how people manage to connect when confronted with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Sometimes, this brutally funny novel suggests, the perfect match might be the person who’s utterly unlike you. (Bill)

Missionaries by Phil Klay: Despite soul-sapping fatigue, a soldier-medic adept at patching up the war wounded and a journalist equally adept at covering American war find the chance to enter yet another conflict zone irresistible. A calling of sorts. But whence the call? From its appeal to ego—the belief that one is among the favored few tasked with making things right in the world? As acolytes to violence, if not by preference then by necessity? With Missionaries, Klay, winner of the National Book Award in 2014, has dropped a novel on us of a muscular veracity as terrifying and important as it is rare in contemporary writing. (Il’ja)

Cuyahoga by Pete Beatty: Debut novel Cuyahoga by Pete Beatty ‘defies all modest description” according to Brian Phillips. The novel’s a mix of tragedy and farce that evokes the kitchen sink of classics (high and low): the Greek classics and the Bible alongside nods to Looney Tunes, Charles Portis, and Flannery O’Connor. Set in 1837 Ohio, Medium Son narrates the tale of Big Son, who looks for a steady wage and in doing so stumbles into a series of misadventures that involve (but are not limited to) elderly terrorists, infrastructure collapse, steamboat races, wild pigs, and multiple ruined weddings. A boisterous adventure, Cuyahoga at its essence, per Phillips, is “a ramshackle joy from start to finish.” (Anne)

The Lost Shtetl by Max Gross: In Gross’s debut novel, a disintegrating marriage inadvertently reveals a larger secret: the existence of a tiny Jewish village in Poland called Kreskol. Isolated (in equal measure) from the horrors, advancements, and culture of the 20th century, its residents must come to terms with their new reality—and long-hidden origin story. A starred review from Publishers Weekly says: “Gross’s entertaining, sometimes disquieting tale delivers laugh-out-loud moments and deep insight on human foolishness, resilience, and faith.” (Carolyn)

White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad: Born out of her viral Guardian article from 2018 ( “How White Women Use Strategic Tears to Silence Women of Color”), Hamad’s first book explores the ways white feminism has been used to uphold white supremacy and oppress Black and Indigenous women, and women of color. Blending history, research, and cultural criticism, Zeba Talkhani calls the book “an essential guide for those who want to be truly intersectional in their feminism.” (Carolyn)

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth: Danforth’s debut adult novel weaves together stories (and stories within stories) centered around Brookhants School for Girls, a shuttered and haunted New England boarding school. Deeply metafictional, mysterious, and queer, the novel explores the ways the past and the present converge in horrifying and spectacular ways. “Brimming from start to finish with sly humor and gothic mischief, Plain Bad Heroines is a brilliant piece of exuberant storytelling by a terrifically talented author,” says Sarah Waters. (Carolyn)

Earthlings by Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori): In a follow-up to her wildly successful English-language debut, Convenience Store Woman, Murata’s newest novel follows Natsuki, a girl who believes she’s an alien. Ignored, abused, and painfully lonely, she grows up but never fits into society; she dreams of escaping the “factory” (modern Japanese society) for her true home: space. Elif Bautman calls the novel “A radical, hilarious, heartbreaking look at the crap we have all internalized in order to fit in and survive.” (Carolyn)

A Woman, A Plan, An Outline of a Man by Sarah Kasbeer: Winner of Zone 3 Press’s 2019 Creative Nonfiction Award, Kasbeer’s debut essay collection explores girlhood, sexuality, trauma, shame, and hope. “An astonishing collection not for the faint of heart,” says Chloe Caldwell. “Kasbeer speaks the unspoken and dares to be vulnerable in a world of facades.” (Carolyn)

Tiny Nightmares edited by Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto: In their second “tiny” anthology, editors Michel and Nieto gather 40 established and emerging writers— including Samantha Hunt, Jac Jemc, and Hilary Leichter—to spin small tales of terror. About the little horrors, Carmen Maria Machado says: “I could gorge myself all day and night on these macabre, hellish little literary bonbons…Tiny Nightmares is an absolute treat.” (Carolyn)

‘The End of the Day’: Featured Fiction from Bill Clegg

In today’s edition of featured fiction—curated by our own Carolyn Quimby—we present an excerpt from Bill Clegg’s second novel, The End of the Day.

The book was called “a thoughtful, well-observed story of a patrician New York City family and its Mexican servants” by Publishers Weekly in a starred review that hailed Clegg’s “splendid prose and orchestrated maneuvering.” And Kirkus dubbed the novel “A moody, atmospheric domestic drama with a mystery novel somewhere in its family tree.

This is not the house she knew. While it still stands exactly where it always has—between the steep pine woods and the top of the short, wide lawn that slopes to the river’s edge—there is something different about Edgeweather. Something missing or altered, something significant, but from the lowered car window it’s nothing Dana can identify.

As she scans the surfaces of the house—the copper drains, the mullioned windows, the vast expanse of old brick—she considers the possibility that it is simply the decades that have passed since she was last here that have made the house seem so unfamiliar. The main entrance, with its old oak door, shallow portico, and white columns, had since college reminded Dana of the boys’ dorms at Penn where she and her friends from Bryn Mawr snuck in on weekends. But it now seems more like the front door to an abandoned asylum.

Here?, Philip asks as he slows the car near the bottom of the portico stairs. Dana is still staring up at the house, surprised to see that much of the glass above and alongside the door has splintered, the paint on the sills fissured and split. Philip tentatively asks where they are. Edgeweather, she says, more to herself than in response to the question, imagining what her great-great-grandfather would think to see the place looking so shabby and neglected. George Willing had built the house for his bride, Olivia, just after they married. From their portrait, which hung above the dining room fireplace, Dana had decided when she was twelve that the people were horribly mismatched—an intelligent beauty from a lesser family and a wimpy rich kid. They had a son not long after they married and then the young husband left to fight in the Civil War. He died at the Battle of Hoke’s Run, in Virginia. Of course he did, Dana thought when she first heard the story. Despite learning in high school that Hoke’s Run was considered by historians more of a tactical blunder that led to terrible defeats weeks later, she’d heard her mother tell people that George Willing had died in the first battle of the Civil War. A battle the Union won, she’d noted in the same proud tone she used when describing the house’s grandeur—the six columns that lined the river side of the house, the too-large ballroom, the ceiling which was the house’s greatest extravagance, a loose replica of one designed by Robert Adam that George’s mother had seen in an English country house and described to her son as the most beautiful in the world. It was an enormous production of meticulous plasterwork, detailed with ribbons, urns, and rosettes decorating ovals and octagons painted in pastel pink and green and blue. Many of the ovals and roundels framed paintings—all classical depictions of wedding celebrations. 

The ballroom furniture and mirrors were either original Chippendale pieces designed by Adam or the closest possible approximation. The four large oval mirrors had been salvaged from a destroyed castle in Wales and repaired in London before being carried by boat to Connecticut. These were apparently a point of dispute between the architect and George, who insisted they appear at each end of the ballroom, on either side of the great fireplaces. George, of course, won. But to Dana’s eye, the house lost. Highly ornamented with carved swags and festoons, the mirrors had always struck Dana, like the rest of the room where they hung and indeed the whole house, as gilded evidence of an insecure husband’s fears of inadequacy. Even its name, Edgeweather, seemed off to her—a straining, willful amalgam of the names of more celebrated houses.

And still it stands, she thinks, looking at it now, both annoyed and relieved. Filled with most of the same furniture and decorations, covered in sheets, in rooms darkened by closed interior shutters and drawn curtains. All of it, along with the house in Palm Beach, the apartment in New York and nearly two centuries of cautiously invested family windfalls, became Dana’s when her mother died in the mid-eighties. She sold everything but Edgeweather, which she had not visited since she was thirty-six years old. Real estate agents and even the wife of a famous Wall Street billionaire had reached out to Dana to see if she were interested in selling. As easy as it was to get rid of everything else, it had surprised her to realize that she couldn’t let go of the old house. It still did.

Edgeweather’s only resident now was a local named Kenny who occupied the apartment where the Lopezes had once lived. He kept the pipes from freezing in the winter, the lawn mowed in the summer, and hauled away the giant pines when they collapsed across the driveway. Or at least this is what his emails, that Marcella printed up and placed on Dana’s desk once a month, described. Eyeing the roofline where it meets the top of the nearest column, it occurs to Dana that Kenny could have made everything up and for all she knew turned the place into a casino, which, as she imagines the locals getting drunk and spinning roulette wheels in the ridiculous ballroom, only the smallest, pettiest part of her is bothered by. The part that hates being taken for a fool, or worse, being left out. But mainly the idea amuses her, especially when she imagines how her mother would react. The possibilities so engross Dana that when Philip turns the car engine off and politely excuses himself to find somewhere to go to the bathroom, she does not notice. When he returns, she snaps out of her trance and tells him to drive the car around to the side of the house that faces the river. He hesitates. Don’t worry about the lawn, she says and as the words leave her an old caution enters, slows her breath. Joe Lopez, whose dominion included the grounds around the house, spent many hours seeding, mowing, and weeding the lawn. Dana had seen him explode more than a few times when service trucks backed up onto the grass or when Lupita played there. She once saw him yank her so hard by the arm it looked like it would come right off of her body. Lupita had been holding one of Dana’s bicycles in the middle of the back lawn, eyes closed and counting because Jackie and Dana had told her that once she reached one hundred she should come find them. They never planned on being found. The point was to ditch Lupita, run to Jackie’s, and play in her bedroom where she could not find them. Dana remembers telling herself, and Jackie, that her mother was strict about her not playing with the children of people who worked for them. And she was. But she also remembers calling out to Lupita to ask her to play hide and seek, rolling the bicycle toward her and instructing her to hold on to it while they hid. What surprises her now is that there had been so little motive involved, the cruel impulse so fleeting and arbitrary, so strangely impersonal. She can’t remember if she felt guilty or upset when she watched Joe Lopez drag his daughter back to the garage, but she remembers being struck by how totally compliant Lupita was, how silent.

On the lawn? Are you sure it’s ok? Philip asks nervously, as if he, too, knew the wrath of Edgeweather’s former, now long-dead, caretaker.

Yes, she says plainly, trying to stifle her need to use the bathroom by focusing on the house as Philip steers the car onto the grass. From this angle, parts of the house match her memory—the six preposterously large white columns still evoking the Antebellum South; the slate roof the same high cold lid it always was— but the effect is altogether different, less convincing. Mainly, she has the impression, which she’d never had before, that the house does not belong where it is. That it’s no longer in harmony with the woods, river, and hills around it, and as a result appears less inevitable. And it was that inevitability, its hulking permanence— seeming to have forever been right where it was—which had always been its power.

Late morning sun flames every window it faces. At first the light animates the house with what looks like life, an amused shimmer that could almost be mistaken for a warm welcome. But Dana knows that even before the sun inches past three o’clock and begins to hide behind the hills, the friendly glow will vanish and the house will return to its most enduring air: indifference.

Dana gets out of the car and walks several tentative steps toward the river. Unlike the house, which seems altogether less than she remembered, the river appears wider and more robust. She closes her eyes and listens to the sound of rushing water. She imagines where it goes after it passes Edgeweather, along Undermountain Road, down past Cornwall and Kent toward one of those terrible lakes choked with vacation houses and motorboats. How she knows about these lakes she cannot remember, but she shakes the vision of oil-slicked water and sunburned families and opens her eyes.

She walks to the rocky edge of the lawn where there had once been a small beach made from bags of sand Dana’s mother had Joe haul from a delivery truck parked in the driveway. The beach is long gone and in its place a chaos of river rubble—sticks and beer cans, a sun-bleached grocery store circular, half-buried rocks. She and Jackie spent so many evenings here, obsessively curating collections of river stones, sorting them by color and shape, pretending they were rare jewels from a fairy’s treasure. They’d embellished an old story Dana’s grandmother had liked to tell them about an enchanted family who lived in the woods called the Knees who’d cast a spell that disguised their jewels as stones and hid them in the river for safekeeping. Dana cannot remember the origins of the treasure, nor how it had come to the Knees for protection. Neither can she remember what had happened to all those stones—if they’d stored them each year between summers or thrown them back into the river—only that she and Jackie had been committed to the project and it went on for years.

A smooth fist-sized rock bisected by a dull vein of quartz lies at her feet and she stoops to pick it up. It fits her palm perfectly, chilling her hand as she folds her fingers around its dark gray surface. She imagines her old friend stubbornly hiding behind her metal blinds. She wonders if she’s opened her front door yet, discovered what she’d left there.

Dana squeezes the rock in her hand. It feels good to hold something sturdy and real and from the natural world. With her free hand she rubs a spot of dirt from the quartz vein but it still does not shine. The failed effort makes her both long for and pity the two girls who used to toil at the river’s edge and make up stories about fairies and enchanted treasure. She turns back to the house, looks up at the wide pediment atop the columns. Here, on the third floor of the house, is where she and Jackie spent the most time. It was what Jackie referred to as the “normal” part of the house, because the floors were covered in simple carpets and decorated with soft couches and chairs with modern fabrics. The white-carpeted, periwinkle-curtained room they’d decorated and then slept in most Saturday nights looked like one they might see on a television show set in a middle-class suburb. There were no delicate antiques to tiptoe around as there were on the first two floors, including in Dana’s bedroom which had a canopy bed that her mother claimed had been the bed of George Washington’s daughter. Who died of epilepsy, her grandmother liked to add. Dana’s parents never went up to the normal part of the house.

Dana eyes the crescent window above the middle column.    A memory of being shoved hard against the glass there begins to surface, but before she allows herself to remember more she notices tiny bits of dead vine still clinging to the painted wood beneath the window sash. And then, finally, she sees what is not there. The ivy. The entire house had been stripped clean of its old garment, vines and leaves that once swarmed the gutters and windows, frocked the brick with green in summer and red in fall. How had she not noticed right away?

Of course it looked out of place. Of course it seemed less sure of itself. It’s naked!, she blurts out loudly and pictures an old Park Avenue matron stripped, hosed down, and sent into The Colony Club at tea time. Dana looks more closely at the house and sees many of the bricks are cracked and loose, chunks of mortar fallen to the lawn. She starts to laugh. The sound she makes is triumphant, cruel. She sees the house but at the same time she sees her mother without hair or jewelry or makeup. A vain woman without armor, three stories high. More than two hundred years old, powerless to hide her age or obscure her wrinkles, all the old tricks taken away or no longer effective.

She is breathless, cackling, and it feels exactly right. She has come back for the first time in more than thirty years to stand before this house that is hers but not home—all the brick and glass and wood that a smitten rich kid could assemble in the middle of the nineteenth century—and with the same contempt it had shown everyone who had ever looked at it, she laughs, with such abandon and force that Philip approaches to see if she is all right. She waves him off without being able to make words but catches his eye and points to the house as if its disgrace were obvious. Look, she finally manages, and when he gazes on the place with palpable awe she turns her back on him. His reverence momentarily breaks the spell and she begins to breathe normally. She crosses the lawn and climbs the steps to the long wide terrace behind the columns. In the summers when she was young, there had been white canvas awnings that stretched over wicker sofas and chairs covered with green cushions and arranged around glass-topped tables set with fresh cut flowers. Now there is nothing but paint peeling from the moldings, the columns, and the steps. She sees a thick curl jutting out from the center left column and, slowly, she pulls the long sheet back and down until it reaches the column’s base. She yanks it free and drops it at her feet. She thinks of Joe Lopez again, almost wishes he was still alive to see how Edgeweather had decayed on her watch.

She stifles a wicked giggle as she steps off the terrace and heads toward the side of the house furthest away from the car. She rounds the last column where a library had been added in the 1920s. It was built in the same late Georgian style of the main house and invisible on the approach from the road, but Dana’s mother always thought it looked ridiculous. Her complaint was that its proportions were wrong, suburban was her exact word.

It is here, in the middle of the short glass hallway that connects the house to the library, where she sees the paint. Red letters, outlined in black, covering dozens of small glass panes and the white wood that frames them. The paint streaks beyond the glass windows onto the old brick where the hallway meets the house. Dana stops walking. She remembers her mother in the hospital during her last weeks, Maria Lopez painting her nails with red polish that looked garish against the white sheets and bedclothes, the top of the heart monitor lined with tubes of lipstick and powder. It was a scene so ghoulish and macabre, so far from resembling any recollection involving her mother in her prime, it had, to Maria’s horror, caused Dana to laugh. She is laughing now, though not from the memory of her mother, but in response to the riot of spray-painted profanity. From the other side of the house it sounds like choking and Philip comes running.

When Dana sees him appear, she doubles over with what began as laughter but devolves to a soundless panting. She gestures at the vandalism behind her. But Philip does not look where she points, and it is not the graffiti that spells “assholes” that is responsible for the alarmed look on his face.

Ma’am . . . I . . .

Yet again he is spoiling her fun, but she cannot quite form the words to ask what is wrong. Dana follows his gaze which returns reluctantly somewhere in front of and below her. When she sees what is there she stops laughing. The entire crotch and front of her brown suede pants are dark, soaked through with the reason she had left Jackie’s driveway. In the abrupt vertigo of shock and embarrassment, she stumbles backward, her left heel lands hard on the toe-end of her right boot and in steadying herself she completely loses the thread of where she is, what is happening, who is standing in front of her. Overwhelmed, she squeezes her eyes shut, crosses her arms against her chest, and stands very still.

After a minute, Dana looks up and sees Philip, the shiny black car parked in the grass behind him, and as if she’d vacated her body and suddenly returned, she remembers where she is and how she got here. Philip . . . Jackie . . . Wells. She turns to the house. Edgeweather, she mumbles, recalling her laughter just moments before. Her other heretofore immobilized senses follow and suddenly she’s aware of the wet suede chilling miserably against her thighs, the faint but specific and awful smell there reaching her nose. She does not look back at the paint-splattered windows behind her, but she feels acutely that the house has done this to her, ingeniously retaliated for her heckling contempt. She starts moving toward the car. She keeps her face down as she passes Philip since the only thing that could make the situation worse would be to see the pitying look on his face again. He calls to her from behind, Ma’am, I . . . should we see if someone is home to help?

She stops abruptly. She doesn’t need help, she asserts childishly to herself, fleeing to the car now feeling like a declaration of failure. A cloud that had briefly obscured the sun moves on and light blazes again from every window. Even splattered with graffiti, the house suddenly looks pleased with itself, spectacular. Freshly provoked, Dana tightens her fists and in her right hand rediscovers the stone she had picked up before. Its cool surface, its weight, and the hard quartz crystals her fingers press into give it the feel of a divine weapon.

It is only luck, not strategy or accuracy, that sends the rock into the crescent window above the terrace. If it had landed where she’d aimed, it would have hit the center ballroom window between the columns. But Dana hasn’t thrown anything more than a towel or a crumpled receipt since she was a teenaged girl and so her hand unclenches long before her arm has completed its movement and the rock flies up instead of straight, but with enough momentum to shatter the surface it hits. The bright, cracking sound on impact and the after-clatter of glass falling to the porch steps below is glorious. That she has inadvertently smashed Edgeweather’s highest window is victory enough to restore Dana’s equilibrium, and with it the welcome feeling that she is once again strong and in control. 

Unlock the house, Philip, she says, looking directly at him now.

Or do I have to break more glass to get inside?

Copyright © 2020 by Bill Clegg. From The End of the Day by Bill Clegg, published by Scout Press, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed by permission.

Support The Millions: Fall 2020

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‘Pink Mountain on Locust Island’: Featured Fiction from Jamie Marina Lau

In our latest edition of featured fiction—curated by our own Carolyn Quimby—we present an excerpt from Jamie Marina Lau’s debut novel, Pink Mountain on Locus Island.
Shortlisted for Australia’s Stella Prize, the novel was praised by Kirkus as “hallucinatory…impressionistic…Hypnotizing and inscrutable.”

An allowance is not the same as approval. When I was nine, my dad handed me five dollars every beginning of the week and then got mad at me at the other end of the week for spending it. This happened for four years until he quit his job at the university.
Nothing was gained under the sun, nothing was gained under the sun, nothing was gained under the sun. Nothing was gained under the sun, nothing was gained under the sun, nothing was gained under the sun. Nothing was gained under the sun, nothing was gained under the sun, nothing was gained under the sun. A beggar in front of the 7-Eleven repeats this, sitting on a cardboard mat.
Santa Coy gives me five dollars to buy some kind of drink for the party he’s taking us to later. In this shop, I buy a red sealed bottle. We’ve become princes and kings.
We take the train uptown to Santa Coy’s home and inside it’s unpigmented; smells like cotton or silk shirts. Air conditioner convention centre, black Rover Defender double garage, bedroom with ivy white walls. We don’t enter his bedroom, we go to his parents’. Big Pollock painting.
His parents’ wardrobe is ideal foot-space. He passes me his mother’s fur coat.
I’m looking at the blood stained on her surgeon’s uniform. Santa Coy watching me watch it.
It’s hard to get blood out, says Santa Coy.
Santa Coy opens a drawer, asks me to choose a lipstick colour.

I pick 466 Carmen of the Coco collection.
Behind it is black tang. Santa Coy watching me watch it.
He says this is a Glock 17 Gen 2. He pulls it out from behind the lipstick drawer. My parents get paranoid. He grins. He holds it unlike cowboys do in movies, he doesn’t touch the trigger. He puts it back quickly.
We sit on his parents’ bed, he does my make-up. I’m becoming a canvas but I want to be the body painted on top of it.
Do you know why your dad was beaten up for real? he asks.
I shake my head and tell him that I didn’t really question it for too long, that it’s not too far from making sense. Santa Coy screws his face up and says, that’s hurtful. I shrug. He draws thicker eyebrows for me.
He faked, Santa Coy murmurs.
What’d he fake?
Santa Coy concentrates on my eyebrows—he’s squinting, jelly for eyes.
I ask him again: what’d he fake?
He says: you know. The stuff we sell. He clears his throat.
I frown with new stiff eyebrows that are drying to the breath from Santa Coy’s lips.
I say: art?
Santa Coy sniffs and says: sure.
He traces my eyebrows, puts his black lint coat on.
He brings out beaten-up high-top 95s from a big cabinet of shiny fresh foot accessories, puts them on, wears a sport bag and we leave.

A red-lit home on the south side, near the docks. Where the houses are close together with green island trees outside. Apartments: building themselves to block the paradise views.
When we walk in, everything gets hotter. Everything is getting hotter, and people are cooling down.

A girl in a red one-piece swimsuit paints the walls red with a wide brush. Later she’s painting a man in coat and tails all red. Sharp rock sculptures around, which people view up close and from metres away, gathering around the artwork in snarky little clumps. An open viewing ceremony.
Around the room there are people naked and others in big coats. They are pink under the big coats and they carry paper bags of sexy bottles and glasses of champagne. Somebody’s filming this whole thing from the next floor up.
Santa Coy’s got a thousand concubines. Some of them young women, some of them young men, some of them old women, a small portion of them old men. They flood to him and he stands in the centre like a dome, and he’s got this grin on his face. He pulls me in so that I’m standing right up next to him. An archipelago. I drink my wine in four gulps and feel nothing. Then I’m in the bathroom and it slowly breaks my brain in half. It’s a slow sawing, friction strategy.
A man has turned up with a bunch of videotapes and puts one into a television in the upstairs section. There are people crowding around to see it and Santa Coy leans over to me. He whispers into my ear that this guy owns the house, that he’s known to do this every time people come over: brings out his old home videos and cries to them while everybody else stands around. And some people say that when he first started doing this he owned more furniture, but slowly got rid of it all so more people could stand inside and watch. That instead of furniture he installed all these rock sculptures, tall and thin and unable to break. That this is why it’s so hot in here: because this man spends all his electric billing on heating, so people will stay. I stare at the home video playing: it’s a video of a little boy watching television and his mother trying to get his attention. Then the scene changes to a family filming themselves singing happy birthday to some kind of grandmother. I ask Santa Coy why this man wants heaps of people watching his personal home videos. Santa Coy thinks for a bit. Somebody shrieks outside. The shrieking continues in spiky intervals. Santa Coy says: I guess it’s some kind of validation or something. That this man needs people to see that he exists, or existed, or some sad shit like that.
I ask Santa Coy: isn’t that exactly what you do? Isn’t your shit the same sad shit?
Santa Coy says, I never said it wasn’t.
Used by permission from Pink Mountain on Locust Island (Coffee House Press, 2020). Copyright © 2020 by Jamie Marina Lau.

September Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

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.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi: Gyasi’s first novel, Homegoing, published when she was only 26, told a sweeping story of the descendants of two half-sisters, one who marries the British governor of a coastal slave castle in what is now Ghana, the other held captive in the dungeons below. For her follow-up, Gyasi narrows her scope to one Ghanaian family in Alabama, where Gyasi herself was raised. “At once a vivid evocation of the immigrant experience and a sharp delineation of an individual’s inner struggle, the novel brilliantly succeeds on both counts,” wrote Publishers Weekly in a starred review. (Michael)

Sisters by Daisy Johnson: Last time it was Oedipus Rex reimagined; this time it’s a modern gothic thriller. After the success of her debut novel, Everything Under, Johnson, the youngest author to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, is back with her second novel. Two sisters, July and September, were born just 10 months apart and share an unusually strong bond. But after something terrible happens at school, they’re driven to move with their mother across the country to an abandoned home near the shore. Dread creeps in, the walls have a life of their own, and the bond between the sisters begins to change in strange ways. (Kaulie)

Stranger Faces by Namwali Serpell: We see goofy smiles in the bumper and headlights of a car, stern visages in the front door and windows of a house, faces in the markings on a piece of burnt toast. Few things are as simultaneously prosaic and mysterious as the human face, and Serpell examines the literary, cultural, mythological, and biological nature of that very window to the soul. From the disfigured face of John “The Elephant Man” Merrick to the contemporary politics of the emoticon, Serpell provides insight on her eponymous subject across several speculative essays. (Ed Simon)

Daddy by Emma Cline: Cline follows her bestselling and critically acclaimed debut novel, The Girls, with this collection of 10 stories, which, the jacket copy says, portray “moments when the ordinary is disturbed, when daily life buckles, revealing the perversity and violence pulsing under the surface.” The collection includes “Marion” from The Paris Review, and for which Cline won the magazine’s esteemed Plimpton Prize. If you got sucked into Cline’s fictionalization of Harvey Weinstein in her story “White Noise,” featured in The New Yorker’s summer fiction, then this collection is for you—and for me. (Edan)

What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez: The follow-up to Nunez’s National Book Award-winning novel, The Friend, is a novel about a woman who has a series of encounters with an ex, an Airbnb owner, a friend from her youth, and others. When one makes an extraordinary request, it draws the narrator into a transformation. According to the publisher, it’s a story about the meaning of life and death and the value of companionship. (Claire Cameron)

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein): A long-awaited novel from elusive genius Ferrante, another work set in Naples. According to Il Libraio, “As you read, a vast panorama of characters slowly unfolds…a diverse and dynamic tableau of humanity. Once again, Elena Ferrante has not created a mere story but an entire world.” (Lydia)

Just Us: An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine: In Just Us, Rankine blends poems, essays, scholarship, images, and fact-checked notes as she examines, questions, and disrupts whiteness. Viet Thanh Nguyen writes, “With Just Us, Claudia Rankine offers further proof that she is one of our essential thinkers about race, difference, politics, and the United States of America. Written with humility and humor, criticism and compassion, Just Us asks difficult questions and begins necessary conversations.” A starred Kirkus review states that Rankine’s newest work “should move, challenge, and transform every reader who encounters it.” (Zoë)

Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and Revolution in the Americas by Roberto Lovato: The veteran journalist and co-founder of #DignidadLiteraria writes a combination of memoir and reportage, exploring his upbringing in California and connecting the threads of his experience with the ongoing American project of destabilization and depredation in El Salvador and elsewhere in Latin America. Héctor Tobar raves “There has never been a book about the Latinx experience quite like Roberto Lovato’s Unforgetting. Here is a voice that is outraged, philosophical, thoughtful, blunt, emotional, and, above all, fiercely independent. In this illuminating and insightful memoir, Lovato journeys into the underworlds of the fraught history of El Salvador, and his own California upbringing, and finds injustice, resistance, and hope.” (Lydia)

The Great Offshore Grounds by Vanessa Veselka: Two broke half-sisters are reunited to claim their estranged father’s inheritance, but instead of money they get something else, something stranger. In its pursuit, Veselka expertly lays bare the realities of poverty, work ethic, and what it means to get by in this country today. (Nick M.)

Bestiary by K-Ming Chang: How many ways are there to tell a family’s migratory history? Chang, an extremely talented young Taiwanese-American author, offers a wild portrait of three generations of women who have in them tigers, snakes, and birds: the myths of their homeland. While Daughter, the protagonist, explores the buried secrets of her family, she also reveals the family’s fragile yet staunch connection with the U.S. The transformations of those women’s bodies embody their oftentimes painful adaptations to this new homeland. (Jianan Qian)

Each of Us Killers by Jenny Bhatt: Bhatt has published beautiful work here at The Millions, and here she makes her fiction debut with a gorgeous collection of short stories. Set in India and America, in restaurants, offices, yoga studios, home bakeries, upscale homes, and grief-filled shacks, Bhatt brings her characters and settings to life with these gorgeous explorations of class, work, ambition, and so much more, capturing the nuances of life in fiction that glows. (Lydia)

Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land by Toni Jensen: In this memoir Jensen explores her own life and the history of violence in America with the through line of guns: guns carried by her father, guns pointed at her at Standing Rock, guns deployed against indigenous women and in classrooms. Terese Mailhot writes, “Carry explores the static and kinetic energies of the American gun—its ability to impose its terrible will from a locked box on a shelf or the hands of an active shooter. Jensen explores the gun’s tragic impact with heartfelt prose and deep intellect—on politics, on history, on Black and Indigenous bodies, on women’s bodies, and on children behind closed doors. Carry unfurls America’s long rap sheet. It is full of difficult and vital news, delivered right on time.” (Lydia)

These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever: A novel about a relationship between two men in college that spirals into violence, exploring intimacy, desire, and power. Brandon Taylor calls it “an utterly captivating fever dream of a novel whose tone and atmosphere will haunt you long after you finish. More haunting still is the skill with which Micah Nemerever reveals to us the lengths we will go to in order to be known, to be seen, to be understood. A thrilling first novel.” (Lydia)

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar: A hybrid work of fiction and memoir by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, exploring the experience of Muslims in the world after 9/11 and focusing on the travails of one father and son that lead from America to Europe to Afghanistan. Kirkus calls it “A searing work…profound and provocative.” (Lydia)

Ruthie Fear by Maxim Loskutoff: In his expansive first novel, a coming-of-age Western gothic, Loskutoff depicts a wild Montana landscape increasingly tamed by condos and golf courses. The titular character is a magnetic huntress who “devised her own morality based on the behavior of animals she saw from her blind.” Raised by her father in a trailer in the Bitterroot Valley, Ruthie makes her way in a changing world: new money, new buildings, and, most chilling, new creatures—headless monsters called forth by ancient curses or spawned by modern hubris. (Matt S.)

Having and Being Had by Eula Biss: In a follow-up to her acclaimed On Immunity, Biss—who had just bought her first home—explores the precarious relationship between middle/upper-middle class life and 21st-century capitalism. Drawing on literature, history, and economics, Bliss interrogates consumerism, affluence, art, and work through the lens of the home. Jenny Offill says, “Her investigation ranges from the strictly financial to the broadly philosophical as she accounts for her life with disarming honesty and grace.” (Carolyn)

Jack by Marilynne Robinson: Five years after Lila, Robinson—recipient of the National Humanities Medal—returns to the fictional world of Gilead, Iowa, once again. The novel follows the illegal interracial relationship between John Ames Boughton, the white son of Gilead’s minister, and Della Miles, a schoolteacher from a prominent Black family. The book received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, with the latter writing: ” This is a beautiful, superbly crafted meditation on the redemption and transcendence that love affords.” (Carolyn)

Mill Town by Kerri Arsenault: Braiding town documents, interviews, and memoir, writer and critic Arsenault’s debut book explores the history of her hometown of Mexico, Maine. Years after leaving, Arsenault realized her idyllic childhood had come with a steep price: the paper mill that kept the town afloat for generations was also destroying the environment and poisoning the town’s residents. A starred review from Kirkus says, ” Bittersweet memories and a long-buried atrocity combine for a heartfelt, unflinching, striking narrative combination.” (Carolyn)

Three Rings by Daniel Mendelsohn: Acclaimed author, critic, and essayist, Mendelsohn’s newest book explores the lives and careers of three exiled writers (Erich Auerbach, François Fenelón, W.G. Sebald), and how they informed his own writing. In just 112 pages, Mendelsohn uses a nested structure to reveal the ways memory, displacement and history inform our lives and literature. About the slim book, Ayad Akhtar writes: “Part dirge, part memoir, part exegesis, all rhapsody—Mendelsohn’s anatomy of literature’s subtlest pleasures is itself that subtlest of literary pleasures: a masterpiece.” (Carolyn)

Conditional Citizens by Laila Lalami: Weaving history, politics, and her own immigration story, Lalami’s newest book (and first foray into nonfiction) explores the limitations of citizenship in present-day America. “Laila Lalami has given us a clear-eyed, even-handed assessment of this country’s potential—and its limits—through her insightful notion of conditional citizenship,” says Viet Thanh Nguyen. “Her book is a gift to all Americans—if they are willing to receive it.” (Carolyn)

Glossary for the End of Days by Ian Stansel: Blurring speculative and realistic fiction, Stansel’s second essay collection features 11 stories about identity, mortality, politics, and survival. About the collection, poet Maggie Smith says: “What a gorgeous, imaginative, and needed-in-this-moment book.” (Carolyn)

Bonus Links from Our Archive:—A Year in Reading: Roberto LovatoAn Imagined Possibility: The Millions Interviews Claudia RankineElena Ferrante Names the Devil and Slays the MinotaurA Year in Reading: Sigrid NunezLook at Your Game, Girl: On Emma Cline’s ‘The Girls’A Year in Reading: Namwali SerpellNamwali Serpell on a Novel 19 Years in the MakingThe Dark Side of Daisy JohnsonA Year in Reading: Laila LalamiThe Story Is Never the Whole Story: The Millions Interviews Daniel MendelsohnMarilynne Robinson’s Singular VisionA Year in Reading: Eula BissAyad Akhtar’s Flesh and Blood

‘Tomboyland’: Featured Nonfiction from Melissa Faliveno

In today’s edition of featured nonfiction—curated by our own Carolyn Quimby—we present an excerpt from Melissa Faliveno’s Tomboyland, out now from TOPPLE Books.
The debut essay collection from the former senior editor of Poets & Writers earned praise from the likes of Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist, which described the book as “a full-dress portrait of a writer whom most readers will be intrigued to know.”
And in our most recent book preview, Quimby wrote:

BDSM. Gun culture. Gender identity. Motherhood (and non-motherhood). Tornadoes. Girlhood. These are just some of the topics that Faliveno explores in her wide-ranging, triumphant debut essay collection. With tenderness and honesty, Faliveno explores boundaries, intersections, and the overall blurriness of life. Melissa Febos says the book is “a gorgeously complex ode to the Midwest that is destined to be passed urgently from hand to hand, an anthem sung by all the misfits in those vast places who have not yet seen themselves written.” And I couldn’t agree more.

The summer after my senior year, I was invited to train at the home of the best softball coach in the state. My coach had arranged the visit, and we drove there together on a Saturday morning in June. The best coach in the state lived about an hour north of my hometown, in another small town just like it, where sports, and especially girls’ softball, carried a long and storied tradition. The coach lived out in the country and had built his own ball field and batting cage in his backyard in a clearing among a dense circle of tall pine trees. He invited only a few girls to train privately with him there.
In the fall, I was going to play softball at the University of Wisconsin, the top program in the state and one of the best in the country. This was the plan. I had interest from other schools, smaller programs in the state and across the Midwest, but I was holding out for UW. After national recruits were made, a handful of girls from throughout Wisconsin were formally invited to try out as walk-on freshmen. I was one of them. Only two or three players would get a spot.
In the backyard of the best coach in the state, I took swings. Cuts, they called them. The two men watched me from behind. I was calm in the cage, my fingers wrapped loosely around the black-tape grip of the bat. I dug my feet into the ground, pivoting into the pitch, finding the sweet spot, and connecting with the ball. I watched it fly up and away, then get swallowed in the black netting of the cage.
I felt their eyes on me. No matter how focused on the task at hand, I was always aware of my body, hoping my coach was watching. That he noticed the muscles in my arms as they twitched and flexed, my hips as they rotated left—as they drove forward, hard and quick, into the swing.
Each time I connected, the two men said, Atta girl. Or That’s it. Or There it is. Each time I missed, they said, You got this, kid. You got this. Or Follow through. Or Eyes on the ball, babe, eyes on the ball. On the infield, at shortstop, I crouched low, my glove just above the dirt. The best coach in the state stood at home plate with a five-gallon bucket of balls and a bat. He drove each ball up the middle, down the pipe, shot line drives at chest height. I stopped them all, scooping the balls from the dirt and firing them to first, where my coach stood to catch them. I launched each ball directly into the pocket of his glove with a loud snap that echoed through the trees around us.
“Thatta girl,” he shouted with each snap, grinning with pride, and I radiated with joy.
When they sent me to center field, the two men took turns taking hits from home plate. Bucket after bucket of balls, their big bodies grunting and sweating as they swung. I sprinted. I dove. I worked harder than I ever had. I caught every ball. I pushed my body to perform each task at the highest possible level. I was the strongest and the fastest and the best I’d ever been. From home plate, a hundred feet away, the men watched me. They shouted and yelled and cheered, their big deep voices like shots of adrenaline, filling up my throat and chest, keeping my body going.
Nothing about that day seemed strange to me then. I’m sure nothing about it seemed strange to my parents or my teammates or anyone else in the community. There’s nothing strange at all, particularly in a small town, about girl athletes and the men who coach them. It’s simply a way of life. I was simply an athlete, training with two coaches out in the country. I was a teenage girl, performing for two adult men in a circle of trees. I was a girl who would have done anything for their approval, to make them believe I was good. So that I might believe it too.
Afterward, soaked in sweat and slick with sand, my shirt and shorts stuck to my skin, my body hot from the high summer sun, I walked in from the field toward the men standing at home plate. The best coach in the state nodded and smiled.
“You’ll make it if you want it,” he said.

I didn’t make it. On the day of tryouts, a cool September morning on the University of Wisconsin field—where I’d arrived at sunrise, the huge silent beauty of the stadium like a chapel—I choked. The semester had yet to begin, but I’d moved into the dorms by then, continuing my training on campus—running the bike paths at dawn, sprinting up stadium stairs, lifting weights during the day, and hitting the cages at night. I was at the top of my game. But that morning, I missed balls in the outfield; I fumbled grounders in the dirt. At batting practice, I don’t remember if I hit a single ball. I ran the bases as hard as I could, but my legs felt like rubber, disconnected from my body. I didn’t make the cut. I still had an offer from a reputable Division III school a few hours north, but I turned it down. It was either the best or it was nothing at all.
For a long time, the words of the best high school coach in the state would haunt me: You’ll make it if you want it. I thought I had wanted nothing else. I couldn’t understand what could have possibly happened. I couldn’t believe what I had lost and couldn’t imagine my life without it. It took me years to understand that maybe, in the end, I hadn’t wanted it after all. So much of what I did—the training, the lifting, the practicing—had been about my coach. Maybe, I started to wonder, it had all been about him, more than it had ever been about the sport. This was the story I began to tell myself, and the one I eventually believed. At some point along the way, I forgot that I had once loved the game.
Excerpt from: Tomboyland. Copyright © 2020 by Melissa Faliveno. Published in August by TOPPLE Books.
Bonus Link:—Freedom in Telling the Truth: Melissa Faliveno Interviews Adrienne Brodeur