May 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.

Good Company by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney: At the outset of this marvelous novel, Flora Mancini finds her husband’s wedding ring—the one he told her he lost over a decade ago—and the discovery leads her to re-examine everything she thought she knew about their life together. I read Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s follow-up to her bestselling debut The Nest in two breathless days, eager to find out what would happen next in this elegantly depicted story about marriage, friendship, loyalty, and the intersections of art and commerce, love and secrets. When I was finished, I was plunged into the kind of sweet melancholy that only the end of a good book brings. (Edan)
Wild Belief: Poets and Prophets in the Wilderness by Nick Ripatrazone: This is the second book by my fellow contributing editor Ripatrazone, whose first book, Longing for An Absent God, investigated Catholicism in American fiction and its influence on storytelling. Wild Belief continues Nick’s scholarship on spirituality—this time, considering how the spiritual tradition sees nature as a site for renewal and wonder. He synthesizes the work of philosophers, poets, and even saints, to understand why we are drawn to nature even as we fear it, and how it enriches our lives. (Edan)
Second Place by Rachel Cusk: Now that her Outline trilogy is complete, we get to see where Cusk, winner of the Whitbread Award and one of Granta’s 2003 Best of Young British Novelists, travels next. When a woman invites a famous artist to visit the remote coastal region where she lives, she hopes that his gaze will penetrate the mysteries of the landscape and of her life. The publisher describes it as a novel that examines, “the possibility that art can both save and destroy us.” (Claire)
 
The Atmospherians by Alex McElroy: Pundits always feel the need to draw upon past masters like Franz Kafka or George Orwell to explain our dystopian present, but in the future it may very well be Alex McElroy and their debut novel The Atmospherians which best elucidates our panopticon-surveyed, late capitalist hellscape epoch. In the novel, doxxed influencer Sasha Marcus must reconstitute her brand after her woman’s wellness venture was destroyed by men’s rights activists, and so she founds a rehabilitation institute to cure men of their toxic masculinity. A trenchant picture of our world right now, The Atmospherians is equal parts perceptive and prescient. (Ed S.)
In the Event of Contact by Ethel Rohan: Social distancing marked the lonely horror that was this year; paradoxically a demonstration of how affection and empathy for our fellow humans required us to retreat into ourselves, connection now defined by the absence of contact. Ethel Rohan’s book of short stories examines something similar in his evocation of what lack of connection can do to us. With a diversity of characters ranging from a childless immigrant daughter justifying her decision to her parents, a grumpy crossing guard honoring the time he got hit by a truck, a demented priest looking for redemption, and a plucky teen detective, In the Event of Contact is a loving homage to humanity in all of its complexity.(Ed S.)
Vernon Subutex 3 by Virginie Despentes: It’s hard to know why the Vernon Subutex trilogy, an unlikely cocktail of Wolfish satire, Houellebecqesque pessimism, and Ferrantean range and rage, hasn’t kicked up more of a fuss here in the U.S. (though maybe I just answered my own question). Still, it’s easy to see why Nell Zink’s a fan. This third installment concludes the adventures of our titular hero, a peripatetic and intermittently visionary ex-record store owner cut loose on the streets of Paris. (Garth)
The Rock Eaters by Brenda Peynado: A debut short story collection with elements of the fantastic, surreal, and speculative—flying children, strange creatures on the roof—that the publisher compares to work from Carmen Maria Machado, Kelly Link, and Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. (Lydia)
 
Cheat Day by Liv Stratman: In Stratman’s funny and sharp debut, college sweethearts Kit and David are still together—but their relationship is falling apart. As the couple embarks on an intense fad diet together, Kit finds herself beginning an affair with someone she met at work. As Kit gives into her carnal desire, she begins to diet more severely. Jami Attenberg writes, “Sexy, witty and down-to-earth, Cheat Day tackles the truths about our modern occupations with wellness, relationships and what it means to be happy.” (Carolyn)
Phase Six by Jim Shepard: This uncomfortably timely novel imagines our next pandemic, unleashed by thawing permafrost. Set in Greenland, it follows 11-year-old Aleq, who unwittingly brings back a virus from an open mining site and survives a devastating outbreak. CDC epidemiologists are then dispatched to study the virus and prevent a global pandemic. They take Aleq into their care, and the novel follows multiple points of view as the catastrophe unfolds. (Hannah)
 
Secrets of Happiness by Joan Silber: Silber’s ninth work of fiction is the story of a young New York lawyer who discovers that his father has a secret family in Queens: a Thai wife and two young children. Ethan’s mother leaves the country in the wake of the revelation, while Ethan becomes involved in a love triangle of his own. This complex, intergenerational novel spans three continents as it reveals the connection between the two families, no longer secret to each other. (Hannah)
Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng: A young girl in China hears from her long-emigrated parents that they will collect her soon and bring her to America. While she fights to stay in the place she knows, her parents are working through their own crises as they navigate the past and the future. Of the novel Garth Greenwell raves, “Everything in this gorgeously orchestrated novel surprises, everything outraces expectation. Swimming Back to Trout River is one of the most beautiful debuts I have read in years.” (Lydia)
The Parted Earth by Anjali Enjeti: In August 1947, as talk of Partition swirls on the streets of New Delhi, 16-year-old Deepa trades messages encoded in intricate origami with her boyfriend Amir. Seventy years later, in Atlanta, Georgia, Deepa’s granddaughter, reeling from marital troubles and the recent loss of a pregnancy, begins to search for her estranged grandmother and in the process piece together the history of her family shattered by the violent separation of India and Pakistan. Vanessa Hua, author of A River of Stars, calls The Parted Earth, the second of two books by Enjeti out this spring, “a devastating portrayal of Partition and the trauma it wreaked in the generations that followed.” (Michael)
The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan: Everything is vanishing, or so it appears to Anna, the protagonist in Flanagan’s new novel that is “one part elegy, one part dream, one part hope.” Hailed as the Booker Prize winner’s greatest novel yet, the new work tackles climate change, family ties, and resilience in the Anthropocene. (Nick M.)

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead: Spanning from 1920s Montana to wartime London to present day Los Angeles, Shipstead’s historical novel follows Marian Graves, an infamous 20th century aviator, and Hadley Baxter, the Hollywood starlet cast in Marian’s biopic a century later. Weaving through time and space, the novel explores fate, love, and fulfillment. Receiving starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, the latter calls the novel a “breathtaking epic” and a “stunning feat.” (Carolyn)
Heaven by Mieko Kawakami (translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd): The newest novel from Breast and Eggs is told from the perspective of a 14-year-old boy who is mercilessly bullied for his lazy eye. With grace and clarity, Kawakami explores destructive nature of adolescent violence, and the power of empathetic friendships. About the novel, Naoise Dolan writes: “Heaven is told with astonishing frankness and economy. It will cut through all your defences down to every layer of fear, isolation, hope and need you’ve ever felt.” (Carolyn)
Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger: Selected as a winner of the 2019 SFWP Literary Awards, Dancyger’s illustrated and reported memoir manages to be so many wonderful and heartbreaking things at once. With empathy and gorgeous prose, Dancyger excavates, explores, and attempts to understands her father—a brilliant artist and addict—as he was: flawed, complicated, and so very, very loved. T Kira Madden, author of Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, calls the debut “candid, thrilling, wickedly smart” and “one of the greatest memoirs of this, or any, time.” (Carolyn)
Tastes Like War by Grace M. Cho: In her newest book, Cho—an author, sociologist, and Korean immigrant—blends food memoir; sociological explorations of her mother’s South Korean upbringing; and her complicated relationship with her mother, who had schizophrenia. Allie Rowbottom says that Cho’s “raw, reaching, and propulsive” memoir “creates and explores an epic conversation about heritage and history, intergenerational trauma and the connective potential of food to explore a mother’s fractured past.” (Carolyn)
Nervous System by Lina Meruane (translated by Megan McDowell): In her newest novel, award-winning Chilean author Meruane follows Ella, an astrophysicist, as she struggles to write her dissertation and care for her partner, El, who is recovering from a near-fatal work accident. As the stress and secrets begin to consume her, Ella invokes the spirit of her late mother and asks her to inflict her with an illness. Sarah Moss says, “Nervous System is fast, uncompromising, and shimmering with intelligence.”(Carolyn)
Spirits of the Ordinary by Kathleen Alcalá: Originally published in 1997, Alcalá’s award-winning debut novel is being reissued with a new forward by Rigoberto González. Set in 1870s Mexico, Spirits of the Ordinary explores the complexities of survival, faith, and culture. In its original review, Publishers Weekly’s starred review said: “Alcala’s seductive writing mixes fatalism and hope, logic and fantasy, to create moral, emotional and political complexities.” (Carolyn)

Let the Record Show by Sarah Schulman: Author, activist, and AIDS historian Schulman has written the ultimate account of the triumphs, tragedies, and political activism of the New York City AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) chapter. “Sarah Schulman has written more than an authoritative history of ACT UP NY here—it is a masterpiece of historical research and intellectual analysis that creates many windows into both a vanished world and the one that emerged from it, the one we live in now,” says Alexander Chee. “Any reader will be changed, I think, by the stories here–radicalized and renewed, which to me is something better than just hope.” (Carolyn)

‘We Are Bridges’: Featured Nonfiction from Cassandra Lane

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In the latest edition of featured nonfiction—curated by our own Carolyn Quimby—we present an excerpt from Cassandra Lane’s memoir, We Are Bridges.
The book, which won the 2020 Louise Meriwether First Book Prize, explores Lane’s ancestral history in order to give her future child a family history. Weaving the story of her great-grandparent’s lives in the rural South and her life in current-day Los Angeles, Lane explores the ways the past informs the present—and how to beautifully reclaim it.

I AM LEARNING that no matter how much you want to divorce yourself from your past—or from one of your parents—both are intrinsically part and parcel of you for the rest of your life.

My father’s ways colored my sister’s ways and mine long after Mama left him and reentered the home and culture of her youth.

On my mother’s side, we were a black and sanctified people who believed in hard work and God. While secular music was forbidden in our home, its beats surrounded Dena and me every time we stepped outside our house, and those beats felt as though they had always been a part of my blood and marrow. 

Our school bus driver, Mr. St. Romaine, blasted R&B over the speakers on the way to and from school. He raised the volume to drown out the students’ noise. His music eased his scowl. I got lost in the lyrics and rhythm of the Isley Brother’s “Insatiable Woman.” I didn’t exactly know what the song meant, but my body responded to its suggestiveness.

We were late bloomers, Dena and I. We were well into our teens before any sign of womanhood began to peek through our stick bodies and before what the world would deem as desirable began to flower.

In the afternoons, we would sneak on MTV and VH1 whenever we could, watching Janet Jackson move her hips and flip her hair over her eyes. On Saturdays, Mama would drop us off at the washateria before she drove off toward more errands or to return home to rest. There was a jukebox inside the laundry mat, and we relished opportunities to listen to the latest R&B and pop hits on blast. We especially loved Klymaxx’s “Meeting in the Ladies Room” and all of Jodi Whatley’s hits. Dena swore she was Jodi Whatley. She teased and sprayed her hair, donned enormous hoop earrings, and (when liberated from our family’s watchful eyes) painted her lips red.

When Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” came on, we lost it. After a few Saturdays of getting our routine down, we ran outside to the concrete walkway in front of the washateria one day, dancing away all semblance of shyness. We bent our knees and gyrated our hips. Left, right. Right, left.

Mama would have fainted. Then promptly risen and whipped our behinds.

We had never seen our mother dance, nor our grandparents, although Grandmama was prone to a sudden foot shout now and then to a gospel song at church, on the record player,

or one locked in her head.

To what were Dena and I grinding? Why did our bodies yearn to move despite what we had been taught? How had our pelvises known how to move?

We are our father’s daughters.

As we blossomed into teenagers, Mama tried to prepare us for impending romantic heartache. Her prophesies were as doomful as the ones Uncle Junior handed down in church about the end times.

“Men will use you up and throw you away,” she would say.

We had seen her attempt to date since leaving our father in the late seventies; we had seen her left high and dry and pregnant when those men threw her away. To make matters worse, she said, black men always want white women or the next best thing: a combination of big breasts, long flowing hair, and light skin. The lighter the better.

I had none of that.

My skin was the color of maple syrup, my breasts shaped like small cones, and my hair coarse and slow to grow.

Still, when I got ready for love, I was determined to prove Mama wrong. There are great black men out there, I thought, and I would find my black knight. I would not be like her, choosing the wrong man over and over. I had to believe I was as worthy, as sexy, and as beautiful as the women I looked nothing like. And I had to believe there were men who would appreciate me the way I was. More than that, I had to believe that there was one who would make me, as the group Midnight Star sang, the object of desire.

I LOVE MEN, but I had seen my mother and other women broken too many times by the men they loved. But while a part of me fought against those narratives and held out hope and belief that true love and true fidelity between a black man and a black woman were possible—yes, like in Mama’s romance novels but with our own twist—I still had something to prove. I wanted to demolish every single lie that black men had ever told themselves about me, about black women; I wanted to get inside that lie, to the belly of that lie, which means I have had to get inside the man, inside his head and heart and trust because the surefire, most effective way to uproot what has had time to nest is to dig down to the beginning of the network of roots. I wanted to get into the center of the lies and plant dynamite and then crawl back out to safety and watch the devastating lies explode and burn and turn to ash and die. The lies I want to destroy are that we, black women, are strong enough to withstand their bullshit and weak enough to take them back; that we are too much while simultaneously not enough; that we are backward and gullible, stubborn and difficult; and that we will always be there no matter what, even if they leave.

I’ve wanted loyalty, but what is loyalty to me? I am willing to love black men as hard as they love me, for as long or as short as that fuse burns; when it goes out, I have no clue how to light it back.

WITH WIDE SWATHS of years existing between the moments my father and I communicate, I have been, mostly, able to forget about him, to forget I have a father, and perhaps this ability to shut off a valve in my heart colors my relationships with men. And yet when out of the blue my father does reappear in my life—through a letter or Facebook message—I find it hard to breathe. The closed-off valve in my heart pumps again, waiting for him to redeem himself, to declare his undying love, to say, “I’m sorry.”

That has never happened, and I am left with the task of closing the valve back up again and packing it with ice. Yet as I carried my child, his grandchild, in my body, I realized I no longer hated my father. Trying to protect my child from ancestral trauma outside of my control might have been an impossible feat, but what I could control, I believed, was the effect of my father’s baggage on my parenting.

I searched for the few photos I have of my father and studied them, studied his young face. All of the images are from the early seventies. In one, he is sitting in a gold jacquard-print

armchair. He has on a black, nylon, collared shirt with small white buttons; gray slacks; sheer black socks; and a shiny silver watch with a gold-trimmed face. He had placed the fingers of his left hand on his chin for a kind of contemplative pose. His smile is slight, seeking confidence—glamour even. His short fro is immaculate. His appearance stands out against the stark and sparse background: bare walls, cheap brown carpet, and a large whirring box fan. How hot was it that day, and where was my father going or coming from?

In this photo, he is a new father. I am one year old, and my sister Dena is on the way.

As I stare at the image, it strikes me that I’ve never seen a photograph of my father as a child—vulnerable, hopeful—and that missing image feels vital. Did someone crush his spirit, and if so, at what point? Was it someone he knew and trusted? How did his country put its knee on his black neck and at what point? When he was a teen or younger?

Surely, he was not always a perpetually tormented soul who wreaks havoc on other souls.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, he got my mailing address from Dena and sent me a large brown envelope filled with homemade greeting cards he had drawn and written something he called poetry on. He was in jail.

“Your daddy loves you,” he wrote.

I wondered, Who is the me that he loves? Suddenly, my sense of self was swallowed. Perhaps he knew me in a way that I did not know myself. Perhaps there was some part of me out there being loved by him and the me I knew was completely detached from her. His poetry was candy-cane sweet—the purple-and-yellow candy canes that I once gorged on so much as a kid that the very sight of them today makes my stomach queasy.

I wrote him back, telling him how the pain of his absence had stifled me for years. I told him about my choice not to become a mother.

In his response letter, he laughed at me. He ignored the pain I revealed and laughed. At least, his words, haughty and confident, felt like laughter.

“You will have children,” he wrote. “You will have many children, my daughter.”

I read the lines again and again. Shaken. Furious. Unsure.

ON OUR WAY to Houston once, a man I was dating suggested we stop in Beaumont to see my father. John was from Houston and was taking me to meet his family. He was of the belief that families should be reconciled. He wanted to do the honorable thing and meet my father.

“Maybe he’s changed,” he said, full of empathy for my father: another man.

“Yeah, right,” I said. “I doubt it.”

I was twenty-four, carving out a life for myself, and a part of me wanted my father to see what he had missed in not raising me, not caring. I had graduated from high school and college without him, and I was working my first full-time job as a newspaper reporter. My boyfriend was a pleasant young man who was climbing the corporate ladder. I wanted my father to see all of this and be proud—and ashamed.

But I watched him look at me and see only himself. He brought out shoeboxes of poems and stories and jokes he had written.

“I’ve been writing for years,” he said after I told him that I worked as a journalist at a newspaper. “I could give you a run for your money.”

I never got around to telling him about my larger dreams. He provided no space.

“Maybe you could take some of my stories back with you, show some of your people,” he said. “Baby, your daddy gon’ be famous.”

“I’m so sorry, babe,” my boyfriend said when we were back in the car. “It was a mistake to come here.” His big hands were warm on my face. He kissed my tears and I laughed“I told you,” I said. “You wanted me to come here. Put the past in the past, right?”

“I’m so sorry,” he repeated.

And I was sorry, too, in that moment, as well as a year or so later when I broke John’s heart. His soft words turned to stones that he threw.

“My mama warned me about girls like you. Girls with no daddies,” he spat at me when I told him I was in love with someone else, an older man. Ric.

What is loyalty to me? I have never seen it up close. I hold out hope that Mary and Burt were the epitome of loyalty and love and that all we as a family needed was to be witnesses of that love.

Perhaps my obsession with Burt Bridges really is just a search for a father.

I want a father who is good and great and alive.

I want a love that is good and great and alive.

From We Are Bridges by Cassandra Lane. Used with the permission of the Feminist Press. Copyright © 2021 by Cassandra Lane.

April 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.
 
Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge: Inspired by the true story of one of the first Black female doctors in America, Kaitlyn Greenidge’s new novel tells the story of Libertie Sampson coming of age in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn. Libertie’s mother, a physician, wants her daughter to attend medical school and practice alongside her but, unlike her mother who can pass, Libertie has skin that is too dark. After accepting an offer of marriage from a young Haitian man promising equality on the island, Libertie finds she is still considered inferior to her husband, and all men. In the words of Brandon Taylor, author of Booker short-listed Real Life, “In this singular novel, Kaitlyn Greenidge confronts the anonymizing forces of history with her formidable gifts. Libertie is a glorious, piercing song for the ages—fierce, brilliant, and utterly free.” (Adam Price)
Peaces by Helen Oyeyemi: Following 2019’s “Hansel and Gretel”-inspired Gingerbread, Oyeyemi brings her readers on a surreal, inspired journey, beginning with hypnotist Otto Shin going off on a “non-honeymoon honeymoon” with his longtime boyfriend, Xavier. A train trip, their honeymoon takes an odd turn Ava Kapoor, the train’s owner, reveals that she’s set to receive a large inheritance. And when a mysterious passenger threatens that inheritance—and a young man named Yuri begins intervening in their lives—Otto and Xavier find their trip becoming more and more stressful. (Thom)
An Alternative History of Pittsburgh by Ed Simon: Pittsburgh native Ed Simon, erudite staff writer at The Millions, has written an idiosyncratic and predictably brainy book about his hometown, to be published by the inspiring independent house, Belt Publishing. Pennsylvania is Simon’s clay, as witnessed by this passage from a post-election essay that appeared in Belt Magazine: “Far more capable tyrants than Trump have been felled by Pennsylvania. This vanquishing feels like George Meade turning back Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. It makes me want to ring the Liberty Bell until its crack breaks the whole thing apart and the light can get in.” The light got in. This book will help you understand how and why. (Bill)
Subdivision by J Robert Lennon: J Robert Lennon, one of our most reliably interesting and adventurous novelists, returns in 2021 with Subdivision, an offering both darker and more whimsical than his critically lauded 2017 foray into crime fiction, Broken River. Subdivision continues Lennon’s fascinating career-long exploration of perception and memory, as an unnamed narrator finds herself in, well, the Subdivision, a mysterious locale where the unsettling and inexplicable routinely occur. Accompanied by an Alexa-like digital assistant named Cylvia, the narrator explores the maze-like neighborhood, and as the jigsaw puzzle in the guest house where the narrator is staying nears completion, the Subdivision’s true character begins to emerge. (Adam Price)
The Apprenticeship, or the Book of Pleasures by Clarice Lispector (translated by Stefan Tobler): It seems that New Directions releases a new translation of Lispector’s work at least every few years, and thank goodness, I can never get enough of her writing. This latest volume is a translation of what has been called Lispector’s “most accessible” book. A surprise when considering that this is the work that follows The Passion According to GH, and need I remind you, much of that wondrous novel consists of the narrator crossing a room to kill and consume a cockroach (and well, so much more). When Lispector was asked why she wrote something so straightforward, she replied, “I humanized myself.” (Anne)
The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade: “This year Amadeo Padilla is Jesus.” Someone has been hearing my prayers: Quade has taken one of the finest short stories from her debut collection, Night at the Fiestas, and revisited the tale to create a masterful novel of family, faith, doubt. Quade’s storytelling gift is her ability to capture the mysterious pulse of belief and ground them in visceral ritual on the page. She begins with Amadeo’s dream role for Holy Week—no silky-haired, rosy-cheeked, honey-eyed Jesus. Amadeo pines for meaning his life: “His performance wasn’t just a performance, but a true crucifixion. How many people can say they’ve done that for God?” Yet his plans are strained when his daughter reveals her secret. It turns out that the Lord and great storytellers work in mysterious ways. (Nick R.)
The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken: There’s good reason a new Elizabeth McCracken book is cause for celebration: everything she writes—her short stories, her novels, and, hey, also a memoir—is consistently brilliant. Her work is the perfect amount of odd, witty, tender, and deceptively heart-splitting. This latest is a short story collection that Publishers Weekly, in its starred review, calls “sly” and “emotionally complex.” There are twelve stories in all, including one about a mother who gorges on challah because she longs for her kids, and another about an actress who plays a villain on a children’s show and her loser brother. I can’t wait. (Edan)
The Man Who Lived Underground by Richard Wright: A Black man is picked up randomly by the police after a brutal murder in a Chicago neighborhood and taken to the local precinct, where he is tortured until he confesses to a crime he didn’t commit. After signing a confession, he escapes from the precinct and takes up residence in the sewers beneath the streets of the city. Sound familiar? No, this didn’t happen last week. It’s the premise of the previously unpublished novel from the 1940s, The Man Who Lived Underground, by the immortal Richard Wright, author of Native Son and Black Boy. This novel cut close to the author’s heart. As he put it: “I have never written anything in my life that stemmed more from pure inspiration.” (Bill)
My Good Son by Yang Huang: The winner of the University of New Orleans Publishing Lab Prize, My Good Son is about a tailor named Mr. Cai in post-Tiananmen China and the dreams he holds for his only son, Feng. Mr. Cai schemes with one of his clients, Jude, a gay American expat, to get his son to the States, and the novel, about parental expectations, social class, and sexuality, highlights both the similarities and differences between Chinese and American cultures. Huang, who has previously published a novel and a collection of linked stories, grew up in China and moved to the states to study computer science—only to also pursue writing. She says, “In writing I can let down my walls, suspend my moral judgment, and pour my deepest compassion into the written words.” (Edan)
First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami (translated by Philip Gabriel): The eight stories in this new collection by Murakami are all told in the first person singular voice. This narrator shares a lot of passions with the author: nostalgia of young love and sex, ruminations on Jazz music, and the enthusiasm in baseball. Like Murakami’s previous stories, the charm of magical realism is always sustained by a philosophical meditation on love, loneliness, and memory. (Jianan Qian) 

Lightseekers by Femi Kayode: A Nigerian crime drama with wide-ranging sociological and political implications, Lightseekers introduces the unusual detective Philip Taiwo, an investigative psychologist more interested in why than how. After an angry mob beats and then burns three undergraduate students in a Nigerian border town and the killings are widely shared on social media, the powerful father of one victim hires Taiwo to figure out what really happened. The police can’t find a motive for the murders, but Taiwo (with the help of his streetwise driver, Chika) faces a dangerous conspiracy to reveal the private violence behind the public attack. (Kaulie) 
Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian: A comic surreal novel about a young man growing up in the Atlanta burbs, a scheme of his neighbor’s that goes awry, and his adulthood as a history grad student surrounded by the new gold rush of Silicon Valley. Celeste Ng says of the novel “In a perfect alchemical blend of familiar and un-, Gold Diggers takes a wincingly hilarious coming-of-age story, laces it with magical realism and a trace of satire, and creates a world that’s both achingly familiar and marvelously inventive. Written with such assurance it’s hard to believe it’s Sanjena Sathian’s debut, this is a dizzyingly original, fiercely funny, deeply wise novel about the seductive powers—and dangers—of borrowed ambition.” (Lydia)
Southbound by Anjali Enjeti: For generations, portraits of race relations in the American South have been painted only in Black and white. But as more Asian and Latinx people settle south of the Mason-Dixon line, that picture has grown more complex – and more interesting. In her debut essay collection, Enjeti, an election activist and former attorney, tackles a wide range of topics spanning from voter suppression to the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the South and the whitewashing of Southern literature. (Michael) 
Farthest South & Other Stories by Ethan Rutherford: Following his acclaimed debut collection, The Peripatetic Coffin and Other Stories, Rutherford’s sophomore collection  blurs the boundaries between dreams, fables, and the mystical to explore themes like family, grief,  and illness.  About the eight stories, Laura van den Berg writes: “Drawing on landscapes both mythic—the fairytale, the ghost story—and domestic, this collection illuminates terrors that feel at once prescient and eternal.”  (Carolyn)
Nancy by Bruno Lloret (translated by Ellen Jones): Lloret’s English language debut follows a recently-widowed, cancer-striken woman on her deathbed as she looks back on her sad, lonely, and bleak life in Chile. Fernando A. Flores calls Nancy “a devastating, psychic exploration of our crumbling world, told in a visceral style that proves Bruno Lloret to be a force among the emerging Chilean writers of today.” (Carolyn)

We Are Bridges by Cassandra Lane: In her lyrical memoir, which won the 2020 Louise Meriwether First Book Prize, Cassandra Lane explores her ancestral history in order to give her future child a family history. Weaving the story of her great-grandparent’s lives in the rural South (including her great-grandfather’s tragic death) and her life in current-day Los Angeles, Lane explores the ways the past informs the present—and how to beautifully reclaim it. Previous Meriwether winner YZ Chin writes: “In We Are Bridges, Cassandra Lane boldly investigates the connections between transgenerational trauma, personal love, and the burden of memory.” (Carolyn)
Folklorn by Angela Mi Young Hur: In Hur’s newest novel, particle physicist Elsa Park is working at an observatory in the Antarctic—a place, she believes, is far enough away from her family, past, and the ghosts that inhabit both. When the imaginary friend from her youth returns—and her catatonic mother breaks her years-long silence—Elsa must return home to face what she has spent years running from. Celeste Ng calls the novel “spellbinding shape-shifter” that “tackles questions of race, culture, and history head-on, exploring the blurry boundaries between past and present, fact and fantasy, and personal and cultural—or cosmic.” (Carolyn)
A Perfect Cemetery by Federico Falco (translated by Jennifer Croft): Falco’s newest collection (and his English language debut) feaures five stories—one of which was a finalist for the García Márquez Short Story Prize. Set in Argentina’s Córdoba mountains, these richly drawn stories explore faith, loss, and love, as well as the psychological and environmental. Kirkus’ glowing starred review called it “expansive and ingeniously crafted—an unforgettable collection.” (Carolyn)

The Night Always Comes by Willy Vlautin: From the author of Don’t Skip Out on Me (a 2019 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction finalist), Vlautin’s newest novel follows Lynette, a 30-year-old who is barely hanging on, as she tries to keep her family together by buying the house she lives in with her mother and developmentally disabled brother. Set over the course of two increasingly stressful days and nights, a desperate Lynette is pushed to the brink in order to keep a roof over her family’s head. Ivy Pochoda calls the novel a “masterclass of scope and scale” that bleeds real, cuts deep, and offers just the right dose of hope.” (Carolyn)

Antiquities by Cynthia Ozick: The protagonist of Ozick’s first book in over a decade is Lloyd Wilkinson Petrie, a retired and isolated lawyer, who seems to be living in (and for) the past. When the boarding school he attended as a boy is turned into a pseduo retirement home for trustees, he tries to wrangle his memories into a memoir. About Ozick’s writing, The New York Review of Books writes: “No matter what the topic, Ozick’s prose urges the breathless reader along, her love of language rolling excitedly through her sentences like an ocean wave.” (Carolyn)

Permafrost by Eva Baltasar: Told in first-person stream of consciousness, Catalan poet Baltasar’s debut novel—which won the 2018 Catalan Booksellers Award—is about a forty-year-old lesbian who is turning over the memories of her life: wondering about former lovers; remembering places she lived; her thoughts of suicide. Amina Cain writes, “How can a novel that orbits suicide be so surprising, so intensely liberating and funny, and at the same time, so full of grief? That is its genius.”
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner: The tender and moving debut memoir from Zauner—writer and musician of the indie solo act Japanese Breakfast—shares the name of her viral 2018 New Yorker article. In what Dani Shapiro calls “a gripping, sensuous portrait of an indelible mother-daughter bond,” Zauner explores the visceral importance of food, memories of her late mother, and her identity as a Korean American. (Carolyn)

March 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.
 

 

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro: The citation for the 2017 Novel Prize in Literature says Ishiguro has “uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.” This new novel, his first published since the win, follows Klara, who is an Artificial Friend. While she’s an older model, she also has exceptional observational qualities. The storyline, according to the publisher, asks a fundamental question, “What does it mean to love?” The result sounds like the perfect blend of Ishiguro’s much loved books, Never Let Me Go and the Booker Prize-winning The Remains of the Day. (Claire)
The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen: The much anticipated sequel to The Sympathizer, which won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, entertains as much as it offers cultural analysis. Set in 1980s Paris, the main character of The Sympathizer sells drugs, attends dinner parties with left-wing intellectuals, and turns his attention towards French culture, considering capitalism and colonization. Paul Beatty says, “Think of The Committed as the declaration of the 20th ½ Arrondissement. A squatter’s paradise for those with one foot in the grave and the other shoved halfway up Western civilization’s ass.” Sharply and humorously written, Ocean Vuong notes that the sequel asks: “How do we live in the wake of seismic loss and betrayal? And, perhaps even more critically, How do we laugh?” (Zoë)
Red Island House by Andrea Lee: It’s been almost fifteen years since Andrea Lee published a book (Lost Hearts in Italy) and I’ve been sitting here waiting for it. Her fiction and memoirs often center on Black characters living abroad, and she writes with such lush and observant precision that you feel you are traveling with her. Her newest novel is set in a small village in Madagascar, where Shay, a Black professor of literature, and her wealthy Italian husband Senna, build a lavish vacation home. Unfolding over two decades, Lee’s new novel explores themes of race, class, and gender, as Shay reluctantly takes on the role of matriarch, learning to manage a household staff and estate. Kirkus calls it “a highly critical vision of how the one percent live in neocolonial paradise.” (Hannah)
The Fourth Child by Jessica Winter: Winter follows her well-received debut (2016’s Break in Case of Emergency) with a multi-generational story of love, family, obligation, and guilt. The novel follows Jane from a miserable 1970s adolescence to an unexpected high school pregnancy and marriage, through the sweetness of early parenthood to the fraught complications of ideology, adoption, and life with a teenaged daughter. (Emily M.)

 

Mona by Pola Oloixarac (translated by Adam Morris): Mona, Pola Oloixarac’s third novel, seems a fitting book for all of us to read while looking back on 2020: the eponymous narrator is a drug-addled and sardonic, albeit much admired and Peruvian writer based in California. After she’s nominated for Europe’s most important literary prize, Mona flees to a small town near the Arctic Circle to escape her demons in a way that seems not unlike David Bowie‘s fleeing LA for bombed-out Berlin. She soon finds she hasn’t escaped hers as much as she’s locked herself up with them. According to Andrew Martin, Mona “reads as though Rachel Cusk‘s Outline Trilogy was thrown in a blender with Roberto Bolaño‘s 2666, and then lightly seasoned with the bitter flavor of Horacio Castellanos Moya.” (Anne)
Girlhood by Melissa Febos: Fusing memoir, cultural commentary, and research, critically-acclaimed writer Febos explores the beauty and discomfort of girlhood (and womanhood) in her newest essay collection. With her signature lyricism and haunting honesty, the essays explore the ways girls inherit, create, interrogate, and rewrite the narratives of their lives. Kirkus’ starred review calls the collection “consistently illuminating, unabashedly ferocious writing.” (Carolyn)
 
The Arsonist’s City by Hala Alyan: Alyan’s varied talents never cease to amaze. The award-winning author of four collections of poetry and one novel, Alyan also works as a clinical psychologist. Her newest novel touches on themes and locales familiar to those who’ve read her work including family, war, Brooklyn, and the Middle East. The Nasr family has spread across the world, but remains rooted in their ancestral home in Beirut. When the family’s new patriarch decides to sell, all must reunite to save the house and confront their secrets in a city still reeling from the impact of its past and ongoing tensions. (Jacqueline)

 

Abundance by Jakob Guanzon: This debut novel centers around a struggling Filipino-American father and son, Henry and Junior. Evicted from their trailer, they now live in their truck and are trying to scramble a life back together. The book’s formal innovation lies in its structure, which is organized around money: each chapter tallies the duo’s debit and credit, in a gesture toward the profound anxieties and inequalities around debt, work, and addiction in contemporary America. (Jacqueline)

 

What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster: From the author of the acclaimed novel Halsey Street (finalist for a Kirkus Prize) comes a story of family, race, and friendship. Opening in the 1990s and extending to the present, the book follows two families in Piedmont, NC, one white, one Black. Living on separate sides of town, they live separate lives until the local school’s integration efforts set off a chain of events that will bond the families to each other in profound and unexpected ways. (Jacqueline)
The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson: After her father doesn’t return from checking his traps near their home, Rosalie Iron Wing, a Dakota girl who’s grown up surrounded by the woods and stories of plants, is sent to live with a foster family. Decades later, widowed and grieving, she returns to her childhood home to confront the past and find identity and community — and a cache of seeds, passed down from one generation of women to the next. The first novel from Dakota writer Diane Wilson, “The Seed Keeper invokes the strength that women, land, and plants have shared with one another through the generations,” writes Robin Wall Kimmerer. (Kaulie)
How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue: In a follow-up to Mbue’s celebrated Behold the Dreamers, winner of the 2017 PEN/Faulkner award, How Beautiful We Were tells a story of environmental exploitation and a fictional African village’s fight to save itself. An American oil company’s leaking pipelines are poisoning the land and children of Kosawa, and in the face of government inaction the villagers strike back, sparking a series of small revolutions with outsized impact. Kosawa’s story is told by the family of Thula, a village girl who grows into a charismatic revolutionary and who Sigrid Nunez calls “a heroine for our time.” (Kaulie) 
Eat the Mouth that Feeds You by Carribean Fragoza: Fragoza’s surreal and gothic stories, focused on Latinx, Chicanx, and immigrant women’s voices, are sure to surprise and move readers. Natalia Sylvester states, “Like the Chicanx women whose voices she centers, Carribean Fragoza’s writing doesn’t flinch. It is sharp and dream-like, tender-hearted and brutal, carved from the violence and resilience of generations past and present.” Eat the Mouth That Feeds You explores themes of lineage, motherhood, violence, and much more. Héctor Tobar writes that this short story collection “establishes Fragoza as an essential and important new voice in American fiction.” (Zoë)  
Body of Stars by Laura Maylene Walter: A dystopian novel about fortune-telling and rape culture set in a world where women’s fates are inscribed on their bodies. Of the novel Anne Valente writes, “Through the lens of dystopia, this incandescent debut novel holds a critical mirror up to our world’s limitations on gender and the violence of those restraints, while it also forges a bold vision for agency, self-determination and freedom. Through and through, this is a powerful and luminous book.” (Lydia)
There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura (translated by Polly Barton): Tsumura’s novel begins with an unnamed narrator constantly watching someone. It is her job, and she’d been given a rule “not to fast-forward the footage,” except if her target is sleeping. She ponders how much money she spends on eye drops from having to keep her gaze fixed. “It was weird,” she thinks, “because I worked such long hours, and yet, even while working, I was basically doing nothing. I’d come to the conclusion that there were very few jobs in the world that ate up as much time and as little brainpower as watching over the life of a novelist who lived alone and worked from home.” A nearly hypnotic book that shifts between despair and transcendence. (Nick R.)
Acts of Desperation by Megan Nolan: Nolan, a columnist and writer for The New Statesman, Vice, and other places, depicts a young couple’s dysfunctional relationship and its aftermath in her debut. In 2012, the unnamed narrator becomes infatuated with an art critic named Ciaran, who seems “undeniably whole” in contrast to the people around him. The two begin dating, and things quickly become toxic, with Ciaran insulting the narrator’s friends and peppering her with cruel remarks. Throughout, we see glimpses of the narrator in 2019, when she’s reflecting on her past and working to move on from Ciaran. (Thom)

Justine by Forsyth Harmon: Set in 1999 on Long Island, Harmon’s illustrated novel follows Ali, a lonely teenager, as she falls under the spell of the beautiful and alluring Justine, a cashier at the neighborhood Stop & Shop. As the girls become closer, swiftly and intensely, their relationship becomes increasingly fraught. With no shortage of praise—”Show-stopping” (Alexander Chee); “Urgent and exquisite” (Melissa Febos); ” Pulsingly alive” (Kristen Radtke); “Nervy, exacting illustrations and effortles prose” (Catherine Lacy)—the debut is a complicated and nuanced portrait of female adolescence. (Carolyn)

Already Toast by Kate Washington: In her debut memoir, Washington—an essayist and dining critic for The Sacramento Bee—writes about her struggle to care for her cancer-stricken husband. As she became progressively more burnt out while being the full-time caregiver of her grievously ill husband and two young children, Washington realized she was only one of millions who were silently suffering because of countless cultural, bureaucratic, and policy failures. Kirkus writes, “A startling, hard-hitting story of a family medical disaster made worse by cultural insensitivities to caregivers.”(Carolyn)

Antonio by Beatriz Bracher (translated by Adam Morris): Benjamin, a graphic designer living in Rio de Janeiro, is on the cusp of becoming a father (to a baby boy named Antonio) when he learns a devastating, life-altering family secret. The people most intimately involved, who can answer Benjamin’s questions, are dead, so he turns to the people closest to them—who offer the father-to-be their versions of the truth. With starred reviews from both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, the former called novel “elegant and nuanced,” and the latter called it “spellbinding and surprising” and Bracher “one of the most fascinating contemporary Brazilian writers.” (Carolyn)

Last Call by Elon Green: In the 1980s and 1990s, The Last Call Killer, a long-forgotten serial murderer, preyed on gay men in New York City. Green, a journalist, explores the heinous crimes, the victims’ lives, and the decades-long investigation in his first book. “Elon Green tenaciously yet gracefully investigates a time when so many lived in secret, and those secrets made them vulnerable to predation,” writes Robert Kolker. “A resonant, powerful book.” (Carolyn)

The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina (translated by Lucy Rand): Already an international bestseller in 21 countries, Messina’s English-language debut follows Yui, a mother who lost her mother and daughter during the Great Tōhoku Earthquake on March 11, 2011. Reeling from the loss, Yui struggles to keep herself afloat while dealing with her grief. When she hears about an old phone booth that allows people to talk to their lost loved ones, Yui travels there to find closure and healing. (Carolyn)

A History of Scars by Laura Lee: In her debut memoir, Lee’s essays explore the pyschological and emotional scars left behind by things like sexuality, trauma, mental illness, and complicated parent-child relationships. Library Journal says, ” “Ultimately, what Laura Lee created is a display of raw humanity that is both powerful and vulnerable.” (Carolyn)

February 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 Removed by Brandon Hobson: Watch out for Brandon Hobson’s first novel since his National Book Award Finalist, Where the Dead Sit Talking. The novel convenes as a Cherokee family prepares for a bonfire to celebrate the Cherokee National Holiday and, dually, to commemorate the death of fifteen-year-old son Ray-Ray, who was killed by police. Steeped in memory and Cherokee myth, The Removed is “spirited, droll, and as quietly devastating as rain lifting from earth to sky,” per Tommy Orange. (Anne)
Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri: The first novel in nearly a decade from the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, the story is centered on a woman who moves through a year in her life. Veering from exuberance and dread to attachment and estrangement, she passes over bridges, through shops, pools, and bars, as one season moves into the next until one day at the sea her perspective changes forever. The novel was first written in Lahiri’s acquired language, Italian. (She describes writing in Italian like, “falling in love.”) Lahiri then translated the novel into English herself. (Claire)
Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler: By most accounts, literary critic and Tweeter extraordinaire Lauren Oyler’s debut novel Fake Accounts is set to hit high highbrow on the hypemeter for its “savage and shrewd” account of a young millennial’s mediation of life via the internet. It begins with her discovery, while snooping, that her boyfriend is a popular conspiracy theorist, and not so long after she flees to Berlin to embark on her own cycles of internet-fueled manipulation. Heidi Julavits calls the novel, “a dopamine experiment of social media realism” a genre that Oyler has pioneered, and careens forward while appropriating and skewering various forms, including fragmented novels and a Greek chorus of ex-boyfriends. (Anne)
This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith: The newest novel by Cross-Smith (who was recently longlisted for the 2021 Joyce Carol Oates Literary Prize) explores one life-changing weekend in the lives of two strangers. When divorced therapist Tallie Clark sees a man standing on the edge of a bridge, she talks him down—and brings him to her home where they slowly reveal their selves (and secrets) to each other. The Millions’ Lydia Kiesling writes, “This is a heartfelt and moving novel about grief, love, second chances, and the coincidences that change lives.” (Carolyn)
Milk, Blood, Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz: A debut collection that takes a look at the lives of Floridians who find themselves confronted by moments of personal reckoning, among them a woman recovering from a miscarriage, a teenager resisting her family’s church, and two estranged siblings taking a road-trip with their father’s ashes. The publisher describes the stories as, “Wise and subversive, spiritual and seductive.” Lauren Groff calls the collection “a gorgeous debut.” Danielle Evans says the “characters that drive them are like lightning—spectacular, beautiful, and carrying a hint of danger.” (Claire)
No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood: One of the most exciting writers these days is also one of the most Online, as longtime fans of Patricia Lockwood all agree. In her debut novel, written in a fragmented style as excerpted in the New Yorker, an unnamed narrator comes home to help her younger pregnant sister through complications. Like the internet itself, what follows is as ecstatically humorous as it is heartbreakingly sad. (Nick M.)
 
Infinite Country by Patricia Engel: I could praise Infinite Country and recommend it and then praise some more, but others have already done it, and better: R.O. Kwon says Infinite Country “is a wonder, and Patricia Engel is a magician”; Lauren Groff writes that the novel “speaks into the present moment with an oracle’s devastating coolness and clarity.” The fourth book from prize-winning Colombian-American author Patricia Engel, Infinite Country, is a story of immigration and diaspora that’s both brutal and hopeful, blending Andean myth with the lives of an undocumented family spread across two continents and fighting for reconnection. (Kaulie)
Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen: From the Wall Street Journal reporter whose first-hand observations of contemporary China converge into this stunning debut collection. In the ten stories, we can see how the recent economic boom has impacted and transformed people’s lives in China: the division of values among family members, the unchanging bureaucratic systems, and the request for recognition from marginalized groups. Chen’s fiction is a satisfying literary read as well as precise cultural criticism. (Jianan Qian)
Let’s Get Back to the Party by Zak Salih: Salih’s debut offers a thoughtful meditation on the evolving landscape of gay male life in America. When gay marriage is legalized in 2015, high school teacher Sebastian Mote finds the occasion unexpectedly bittersweet, since he just broke up with his boyfriend of three years. He pours his energy into nurturing his students, particularly Arthur, a 17-year-old whose openness about his own sexuality is a source of envy for Sebastian. Then he runs into a childhood friend at a wedding—and learns that he’s not alone in his ambivalence towards the new rules of dating. (Thom)
The Delivery by Peter Mendelsund: Like a millennial Franz Kafka, writer and graphic designer Peter Mendelsund plumbs the absurdities of our society, but rather than focusing on the incipient authoritarianism of crumbling central Europe, he examines the existential despair (and bleak funniness) of the gig economy. The Delivery takes place in an unnamed city where refugees must earn their right to sanctuary as workers delivering food to the ruling class through an app with shades of Uber Eats. Evoking J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians, if it was about GrubHub rather than colonialism, The Delivery understands that there is no such thing as a free lunch. (Ed S.)
Cowboy Graves by Roberto Bolaño (translated by Natasha Wimmer): A trio of novellas by the late Chilean poet and novelist depict socialist upheaval, underground magical realism abroad, and love in the face of fascist violence. (Nick M.)
 
 
We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman: In Silverman’s debut novel, aspiring playright Cass has just received her big break when a series of mortifying incidents makes her a social parriah. After fleeing to Los Angeles, she meets a charming filmmaker named Caroline who making a film about an eccentric group of teenaged girls. With humor and grace, the novel meditates on the allure (and cost) of ambition and fame. (Carolyn)
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones: Trained as an attorney, Jones sets this tale of social class clashes and interconnections in a resort town in her native Barbados. Hailed as “Most Anticipated of 2021” and a “searing debut” by O Magazine; “hard hitting and unflinching” and “unforgettable” say her blurbers Bernardine Evaristo and Naomi Jackson. (Sonya)

The Blizzard Party by Jack Livings: The author of award-winning collection, The Dog, returns with his panoramic debut novel. Set in New York City during the blizzard of February 1978, Hazel Saltwater (then six years old) sits at the center of a story swirling with characters, history, and memories (real, altered, and recreated). Garnering two starred reviews, Publishers Weekly called the novel “brilliant” and “one to savor,” and Kirkus called it “a detour de force: sprawling, discursive, loose-limbed (and impressive).” (Carolyn)

American Delirium by Betina González (translated by Heather Cleary): In her English language debut, award-winning author Betina González interweaves the lives of three characters in a mid-Western city that is unraveling. Deer are attacking people, a squad of retirees trains to hunt them down, and protestors decide to abandon society, including their own children, and live in the woods. Anjali Sachdeva notes, “As González’s characters navigate a world where plants inspire revolution and animals are possessed by homicidal rage, they ask us to consider whether human beings are perhaps the least natural creatures this planet has to offer.” (Zoë)
Annie and the Wolves by Andromeda Romano-Lax: Romano-Lax’s (Plum Rains) newest novel blends the historical and speculative as Ruth McClintock, a failed doctoral candidate, falls deeper into her all-consuming obsession with Annie Oakley. When Ruth she discovers an artifact from Oakley’s past, she begins to have out-of-body experiences which leave her wondering if the past is as permanent as she once believed. Eowyn Ivey calls the novel a “morally complex, genre-shattering thriller.” (Carolyn)
The Weak Spot by Lucie Elven: A young, unnamed narrator takes an pharmacy apprenticeship in a remote European mountain town in Elven’s debut novel. While working under her charismatic boss, the woman realizes that things (and people) aren’t as they seem. Catherine Lacey says, “In prose reminiscent of Fleur Jaeggy, The Weak Spot is a prismatic fable spiked with dozens of elegant revelations.” (Carolyn)

Girls of a Certain Age by Maria Adelmann: In Adelmann’s short story collection explores a wide array of women, girls, and non-binary people navigating and enduring loss, fear, and hardship. Jean Kyoung Frazier says, “Harsh and tender, Adelmann’s collection is both an unblinking testament to modern womanhood and a fearless debut.” (Carolyn)

Wild Swims by Dorthe Nors (translated by Misha Hoekstra): In her newest short story collection, International Booker Prize finalist Nors explores the lives and loves of people across the globe. Kirkus’ starred review calls the fourteen stories “a brainy collection perfectly constructed to put you on edge.” (Carolyn)

‘The Divines’: Featured Fiction from Ellie Eaton

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In our latest edition of featured fiction—curated by our own Carolyn Quimby—we’re happy to present an excerpt from Ellie Eaton’s debut novel, The Divines.
The book, which Publishers Weekly says “will keep readers riveted,” follows freelance writer Josephine as she reflects on her time at the (now defunct) St John the Divine—an elite English boarding school for girls—and the scandal that changed their community forever. Booklist writes, “At times both sharp and haunting, this novel embodies the awkwardness and regret of adolescence.”
***

I am Divine.

My mother was Divine and her mother before that, which isn’t uncommon. Though that was at a time when being Divine meant something; it had cachet, as my mother still likes to brag; it opened doors, got you places. Though it’s hard to see specifically where being Divine ever got her, other than married. Perhaps I’m missing the point.

I haven’t spoken to another Divine for fourteen years, maybe more, despite there being ample online opportunities these days to reconnect with my former peers should I so wish. I don’t. Every Christmas and Easter I fly back to England to visit my mother, who, in her sixties now, keeps backdated copies of our Old Girls’ newsletter for me in her downstairs loo, next to Country Living. Births, deaths, marriages, the rare athletic achievement, horses for sale, and, of course, reunions. Endless reunions. Not one of which I have attended. Until, as a newlywed, I take my husband on an impromptu detour from our honeymoon destination, veering off the dual carriageway so unexpectedly at the road sign that he thinks for a heart-stopping moment I might have morning sickness.

“Just to have a look,” I say. “It won’t take long.”

A trip down memory lane, then we’ll be on our way.

I crawl our rental car round the Oxfordshire town, circling closer to where I remember my former school once stood, folding forward over the steering wheel, trying to get my bearings. This is harder than I think it will be. Nothing is as I remember it. Most of the grounds have been flattened. The gym is gone, the maths block, the redbrick science labs, everything except those buildings deemed to hold significant historic value—the Old Hall and a couple of boarding houses, subdivided into flats for young professionals. I park outside the chapel, which is now, by the looks of things, a private dental practice. My husband of two days is bemused. Keen to get some miles under our belt on the long drive to Scotland, he hadn’t factored this pit stop into his calculations.

“This is it?”

“Give me half an hour,” I say, squeezing his hand.

I point him in the direction of the White Horse. When he is gone, I walk into the dentist’s, slipping past a young receptionist into the sanctuary-cum-waiting room, repainted a minty orthodontic green. I sit for some time listening to the ominous clinks and skirls and high metallic whines of the hygienist at work. Along the nave, cubicles have been fashioned from low movable walls decorated with huge toothy faces of smiling children. The wooden bench I am sitting on looks like, perhaps even is, the ex act pew that the robed altar servers slumped on during our Sun day service, obscured by puffs of incense. The organ pipes are still in situ, way back up in the balcony behind the choir stalls, which seem quite small, barely room for a handful of girls. On the immovable stone pulpit where Fat Fran, my headmistress of six years, made her daily proclamations, a series of dental brochures, women’s magazines, food and lifestyle glossies have been stacked, some of which, at one time or another over my career, I have contributed to. I rest my head against stone and look up at the arched ceiling. It is very surreal, the dental nurses padding in and out of the vestry in their soft-soled shoes like nuns. Everything so familiar yet nothing quite as it was.

Behind my head is a sequence of very narrow and long stained glass windows reaching all the way to the beams. What shocks me as I sit there is that—unless I actually sit up and twist my neck to look-I can’t remember what they depict, not even if you put a gun to my head. I spent the entirety of my adolescence facing those windows, staring at them every single morning for close to five years, Saturdays excepted, and don’t remember a single detail, not one saint or disciple or even the big man himself, which only goes to show the astonishing depths of teenage self-obsession. Or maybe, more accurately, it says something about me back then. Or my memory of my school days, selective at best.

As I am sitting on the pew a patient comes out of a booth, her jaw clamped down on wadding, her hand holding her cheek. Unsteady on her high heels, dazed, she is guided to a spot next to me. A dental assistant goes to retrieve something important, a prescription perhaps, and the patient’s eyes roam around the arched ceiling and the fluted ironwork. It is an unnerving set ting for a dental practice—the angels and the pulpit and stained glass-perhaps she thinks she is hallucinating. Blood catenates slowly from her empty socket down the gauze in her hand. We are probably the same age. She could have been a King Edmund. She stares vacantly at the neon exit sign as if she is waiting to be collected. Above the vestry door is the Divine school motto carved into a rectangle of wood.
MEMOR AMICI
Remember friends.

“Ha,” I snort out loud.

The patient slowly turns towards me, medicated, her hand still firmly pressed against her cheek. She blinks.

I try to swallow it down, doubling over, in the grip of the kind of stifled laughter that catches you off guard, leaping up your throat during somber moments: funerals, sermons, your fiancé’s art show opening.

My shoulders shake and the pew judders. The patient stands up suddenly, her handbag falling to the floor, its contents spilling.

“Shit, I’m terribly sorry.” I see her lipstick rolling towards the lectern. “Sorry, sorry.”

I put a fist to my chest and thump it. Swallow.

“Sorry.”

I scramble to pick up her bag, holding it out to her.

“This used to be a school,” I blurt, just to say something. “St. John the Divine.”

The poor woman’s numbed head nods slightly, taking her purse. She looks down at a message illuminated on her phone and then over her shoulder at the door, checking for her lift. I assume she isn’t allowed to drive.

“The private school,” I keep going. “The one that shut down; it was in the papers a long time ago, remember? There was a scandal.”

She stares at my face as if I am slowly coming into focus. Enough years have passed for me not to sound completely Divine. I have lived abroad on and off, my accent is sometimes hard to identify, but still, she looks me up and down and her eyes flash. She knows.

“Yeah,” she says. As she talks her wadding unplugs momentarily, exposing ghoulish bloody gums. “And? My mum worked in the kitchen.” She thumbs behind us in the direction of the old refectory. “Sixteen years scrubbing fucking pans, if you must know.”

The right side of the woman’s lip is drooping; her speech has a drunken slur.

“Bunch of stuck-up fucking toffs.”

She plugs the gauze back in, clamps back down on it, waiting to see what I’ll say next. She’s right, of course. But what does she expect me to do, defend my honor, wrestle her to the floor?

I think about my husband, Jürgen, waiting for me in the pub. Jürgen knows how to let moments like this roll over him. He is a pacifist, not someone who can be easily provoked. Despite the fact he’s the artist in our relationship, things that make me flare up with rage don’t bother him at all. When we met I had just come out of a turbulent, itinerant period of life and, exhausted, I suppose you could say that I found his particular brand of considered quietude seductive. That was what I had fallen in love with. Lately I have been trying hard to adopt some of Jürgen’s sangfroid. Plus we are newlyweds. On our honeymoon. I don’t take the bait.

Thankfully a bald man sticks his head around the chapel door, whistles, and gestures at the woman with his thumb. She departs, her high heels clicking sharply on the tiled floor, marching down the nave, past the vestry, and through the arched door.
MEMOR AMICI
I wait a decent amount of time, hovering on a Communion step, then I leave as well. My husband—that word feels so exotic is waiting for me outside, hands in his pockets, resting on the hood of the rental car, chewing slowly. I feel a burst of relief to see him standing there, solid looking and straightforward, not in the least Divine. On our first date he rolled up his sleeves at the sight of the leaking pipe in my kitchen, requesting a wrench. He is a pragmatist, a maker of lists.

“All good?” he checks.

I nod. I turn my back and lean against Jürgen’s chest; he loops his arms around my waist, his chin on my head, and I try to put the incident in the chapel behind me. I should never have come back. I’m embarrassed to have brought him here, to have wasted even an hour of our honeymoon on something so inconsequential. A moment of nostalgia, now gone. We gaze up at the stone statue of King Edmund in the center of the town, close to the bus stop. Five pigeons spar for space on top of his helmet, bobbing and ducking, feather elbows. They flick their shabby gray tails and shit down Edmund’s cloak. An elderly woman tugging a tartan shopping trolley shuffles past us into the market square. Traders hold bananas aloft on hooked fingers, hollering deals. Three old boys in tweed jackets stand outside the bookies smoking. I am acutely aware of how particularly English all this must seem to him, my husband, an Austrian.

Jürgen pulls a piece of fudge from a paper bag and puts it into my mouth.

“Okay. Big drive. Let’s go.”

He checks the fastenings on his bike that is tethered to the boot of our rental car, and as he tugs the frame tight a bald man driving a red Mazda swerves across the road towards us and stops abruptly, blocking traffic. A window hums down, and the woman from the dentist’s leans across the bald man, actually crawling across his lap, the lower half of her face distorted, stiff with pain.

“Hallo there,” my husband says jovially, squatting slightly, “can we help?”

Austrians, particularly country bumpkins like him, are pathologically nice. I’ve seen him dig a car out of the snow for a stranger and drag each of our neighbor’s bins out every week without a word of thanks.

The woman in the Mazda gives him the finger.

She glares at me, her real target, and pokes her swollen head farther out of the window as if there is something urgent she for got to tell me back there in the chapel, her tongue fat and lisping.

“Cunth.”

“Ha.” I laugh nervously. “Ha ha ha.”

Then she spits at me, her gob landing at my feet, and they speed off.

So, this is the way it is. Fourteen years and nothing has changed. She is a townie. I am Divine.

“My god,” my husband says, “Sephine, who was that?”

Hands on his hips, he looks up the road after the Mazda.

“Was that some kind of joke, my god?”

“Forget it,” I say, humiliated, “let’s go.”

I give him a gentle shove towards the car in case the banshee decides to come back. I don’t want her to jinx our honeymoon Two days ago we were exchanging vows at the town hall, grin ning at each other like imbeciles, euphoric

“But I don’t understand; do you know her?”

“No, nothing like that.”

I slip my hands down his hip, taking the keys from his pocket. I unlock the rental car quickly and get behind the wheel. Jürgen sits in the passenger seat, shaking his head.

“Was she from your school then, an old friend?”

I start the car.

“I don’t have any school friends.”

He frowns, as if he’s only just found this out about me.

“You don’t? Why not?”

I have friends, of course, but the oldest and truest friendships I have are the ones I forged at university or soon after, when an element of choice was introduced to the selection process. Plus my husband’s friends, such as they are, though generally not their wives for some reason. Thanks to his extreme niceness, genial blue Austrian eyes, his obvious likability, Jürgen has always been the social one in our relationship. Though these days he’s just as happy to spend an evening at home, working in his studio or tinkering with his bikes. Occasionally we go to a gallery opening or drive visitors around whatever city we are living in, or meet an old editor of mine for brunch. I can count nearly all these friends on one hand. But not one of them is Divine.

“I don’t know,” I tell him with a shrug and turn the key in the ignition. “I just don’t.”

We break the journey in Yorkshire, spending the night in a bed-and-breakfast where we barely leave our four-poster bed. In the morning we scramble into clothes, unwashed, stumbling into the dining room moments before the end of service. The land lady, a stern matronly looking woman, reminiscent of a former housemistress of mine, stands with her hands on her hips, scowl ing at the clock. We slip sheepishly into our seats, trying not to laugh. Across the room two women, dressed in shorts and walk ing boots, barely glance up from their maps. A middle-aged man butters his mother’s toast. Next to us an elderly couple smile and raise their glasses of orange juice.

“Congratulations,” the wife says, leaning over and patting Jürgen on the back of his hand.

“Is it that obvious?”

The couple smile knowingly at each other.

Jürgen’s T-shirt is inside out, my hair unkempt. As we brush against each other under the table, there’s a stench between my thighs, musky and sour, like overripe fruit. I cringe, thinking of our attic room, the paper-thin walls and creaking bed frame, and bury my head in Jürgen’s shoulder. The landlady slams a teapot on the table in front of us.

Jürgen asks the couple how long they’ve been married.

“Forever,” the old man groans

His wife flaps her napkin at him.

“Fifty-four years this September,” she says.

I can feel Jürgen’s fingers as they weave through mine, how his wedding band grates over my knuckles as he squeezes, causing me to wince.

“Any advice?” Jürgen asks.

The elderly pair gather their room key and newspaper and spectacles from the table. The husband gets up and pulls back his wife’s chair so she can stand.

“Be kind,” the wife says.

They nod at us.

“Good luck.”

During checkout Jürgen stops in front of the landlady and kisses me, a hand slipping down the back of my trousers, and then we pack up the car and are back on the road. I begin to think that the unpleasant incident at St. John’s is forgotten, that the whole ugly scene is behind us. But then, unexpectedly…

“No school friends,” Jürgen says, sliding his hand up and down my thigh as I join the motorway. “That’s interesting, you know?”

I can see that my new husband finds this baffling. I wish I’d never mentioned the word Divine. He can’t let it alone. He taps one finger against the glass as we cross the border into Scotland, staring out at the uneventful landscape, green fields with yellow pocket handkerchiefs of oilseed rape, culs-de-sac, warehouses and roadside cafés, food trucks parked in rest stops. We have another four hours of driving ahead of us to get to Skye, not to mention the ferry.

“Not one?” Jürgen checks, uncharacteristically pushy.

“No.”

“How come?”

The four men that are his best friends all come from the same Salzburg village where he grew up. Andreas, Hansi, Thomas B, Thomas F. Two of them were christened together, they went to the same school, shared their first cigarette in Hansi’s woodshed, stole their grandparents’ schnapps, chased their first girlfriends on Krampusnacht, pretending to be the Christmas devil, masked and growling, nipping their sweethearts’ ankles with leather whips, threatening to carry them to the underworld. They have shed blood together, hunted together, drunk wept at each other’s weddings, actually staggering around the dance floor like bears. They are his family, closer than his actual brothers (one older, one younger, who I have to remind Jürgen to call on their respective birthdays). He is loyal to the core and would do anything for these four men, including jumping on a plane at the drop of a hat, or loaning them money without any expectation of return. A private annoyance of mine.

“Were you bullied?” Jürgen wants to know as we pull over to fill up with petrol.

“No. I don’t think so.”

“Unpopular then?” He pokes me. “Eine Streberin. How do you say, a geek?”

“No.”

I grip the pump handle, my knuckles blanching.

“So you loved school?”

“Who loves school? It was fine,” I snap, instantly regretting my tone. “I mean, I don’t remember. Can we just drop it?”

Back behind the wheel he curls his hand around the nape of my neck to soothe me, rubbing his thumb up and down below my ear. He has calluses, little circular pads on the base of each finger from cycling that are rough as pumice.

“You don’t know if you liked school or not? You must remember something.”

“Not really,” I say, wriggling out of Jürgen’s grip, flustered, trying to concentrate on the road.

“Try,” he says.

I don’t answer.

Why won’t I talk to him? Is it just that I’m embarrassed? The boarding school education, the implication of wealth and privilege, the Old Girls’ network. When I met Jürgen (a sculptor I was sent to interview for a Sunday supplement, a rising star), he was still sleeping in a tent in his studio, washing in a sink, subsisting on grants and sporadic commissions. A self-made man, the de scendant of mountain people, literal peasants-cattle herders and cheese makers—he described to me during the course of that first meeting how he’d paid his way through art school felling trees and slaughtering goats.

Jürgen turns his whole body to face me.

“Seriously, you’re kidding, right? You won’t tell me this?”

Ashamed, I say nothing.

He can see that I’m not going to budge.

This does it. Silently thunderous, Jürgen takes out his guide book and reads the history of Skye. His stare bores down into one page then the next. We’re not the kind of couple who bicker. I sit behind the wheel, gnawing on the inside of my cheek, trying not to cry.

On the ferry to Armadale we stand apart, his hood up, my scarf wrapped around my head against the spray. He has his cam era around his neck but doesn’t take one photo. When we get to the island, there are midges, huge biblical clouds of gnats. We cover our mouths with our T-shirts and run into the croft house we have rented, cornered together inside the tiny kitchen.

“Oh my god,” I say, looking out at the bugs creeping all over the window frame, trying to find a way in. I try to make a joke about it but it falls flat. Jürgen is still furious with me, his new wife, for keeping secrets. He sits with the map spread on the floor, his precious road bike propped up against the wall. I open the bottle of single malt I bought on the mainland. I may have taken a few swigs already on the crossing. Dutch courage.

My throat warm, I place the whisky dead in the middle of his map. Jürgen barely looks up. I take off my clothes—it is our honeymoon, after all—and straddle Loch Hourn. Legs spread shamelessly. Afterwards, we lie on the floor and drink the rest of the bottle, picking midges from each other’s skin.

“Please, Sephine,” Jürgen begs. “Remember something. For me.”

“Why are you so interested all of a sudden?”

“That woman, she hated you. She called you a cunt.”

“So?”

“I want to know. I want to know about you back then.”

“No, you don’t.”

I curl under his armpit, press against his warm ribs.

“Liebchen”—he circles the birthmark on my shoulder “please.”

I think of the elderly couple at the bed-and-breakfast. Be kind.

“Fine,” I mutter. I believe, or so I tell myself, in the apotropaic power of marriage. That witch hasn’t jinxed us, we are invincible. Golden even. What harm can it do?

“Memor amici,” I begin.

Remember friends.

Excerpted from the book THE DIVINES: A Novel by Ellie Eaton. Copyright © 2021 by Ellie Eaton. From William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.

Most Anticipated: The Great First-Half 2021 Book Preview

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Folks, we made it to 2021—and, frankly, it looks a lot like last year. We’re still dealing with the pandemic, on-going civil unrest, and general malaise, but thankfully there are books. So many books. In fact, at 152 titles, this is the longest, most indulgent Millions preview ever. We could say we’re sorry but we all need some joy right now. Our list includes debut novels from Robert Jones, Jr., Gabriela Garcia, and Patricia Lockwood. New novels from literary powerhouses like Viet Thanh Nguyen, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Richard Flanagan. New books by two Millions staffers: Ed Simon and Nick Ripatrazone. And short stories, memoirs, and essay collections too. No matter what you’re in the mood for, we think you’ll find a book or two to usher in the new year. As usual, we will continue with our monthly previews, beginning in February. Let us know in the comments what we missed, and look out for the second-half Preview in July!

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January

Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu: Owusu’s childhood was marked by a series of departures, as her father, a United Nations official, moved the family from Europe to Africa and back. Her debut memoir is both a personal account of family upheaval and loss—her mother was an inconstant, flickering presence; her father died when Owusu was thirteen—and a meditation on race, identity, and the promise and pitfalls of growing up in multiple cultures; an experience, she writes, that “deepened my ability to hold multiple truths at once, to practice and nurture empathy. But it has also meant that I have no resting place. I have perpetually been a them rather than an us.” (Emily M.)

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders: In his new collection, modern America’s foremost short story writer shares a master class on the Russian short story with the reader. This delightful book of criticism and craft pairs short stories by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol, with seven essays on how short fiction works and why it remains a vital art form for asking the big questions about life. As Saunders puts it in his introduction, “How are we supposed to be living down here? What were we put here to accomplish? What should we value? What is truth, anyway, and how might we recognize it?” (Adam Price)

The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata by Gina Apostol: The nineteenth-century Filipino writer José Rizal denounced the cruelties of Spanish colonialism, and for that the colonial government put him to death in 1896. Now Filipina-American novelist Gina Apostol explores the father of Filipino literature and the movement for independence which he embodied in her darkly comic new novel. Apostol’s novel is written in the form of a memoir by the titular fictional character, a fellow revolutionary and devoted reader of Rizal. With shades of Roberto Bolaño and Vladimir Nabokov, she writes that her novel was “planned as a puzzle: traps for the reader, dead end jokes, textual games, unexplained sleights of the tongue.” (Ed S.)

The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.: Isaiah and Samuel, two enslaved men on a plantation, find solace as each other’s’ beloveds as they resist the brutality which they endure, until their uncomplicated love is challenged by an older enslaved man who arrives and begins to preach the master’s Christianity. Jones excavates the tangled histories of race and gender which mark a profoundly resonant narrative, where the oppressors “stepped on people’s throats with all their might and asked why the people couldn’t breathe.” (Ed S.)

That Old Country Music by Kevin Barry: Audiences and readers have long thrilled to the lilt of a brogue, the so-called gift of the gab, and an often constructed illusion of Irishness. For the real thing, readers can turn to the eleven short stories that make up Irish writer Kevin Barry’s new collection. Eschewing both unearned romance and maudlin sentimentality, Barry roots his collection in the barren soil of western Ireland, where the “winter bleeds us out here,” where people are defined by “the clay of the place.” (Ed S.)

Outlawed by Anna North: A feminist western set in an alternative nineteenth-century America, Outlawed has been billed as True Grit meets The Crucible. Sign me up! The novel’s heroine is 17-year-old Ada, newly married and an apprentice to her midwife mother. After a year passes without a pregnancy, she gets involved with the Hole in the Wall Gang, and Kid, its charismatic leader. North, who is also a senior reporter at Vox, has received praise from Esmé Weijun Wang, who calls Outlawed a “grand, unforgettable tale,” and from Alexis Coe, who writes, “Fans of Margaret Atwood and Cormac McCarthy finally get the Western they deserve.” (Edan)

A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself by Peter Ho Davies: The endorsements for Peter Ho Davies’ latest novel—his fifth work of fiction, and his follow-up to The Fortunes—are pretty dazzling. Sigrid Nunez calls it “achingly honest, searingly comic,” and Elizabeth McCracken writes: “Peter Ho Davies has written a brilliant book about modern marriage and parenthood.” From what I can gather, the novel is about a couple’s decision to terminate a pregnancy and their experience with parenthood after that decision. In its starred review, Kirkus writes that this short, spare novel is “perfectly observed and tremendously moving. This will strike a resonant chord with parents everywhere.” (Edan)

Hades, Argentina by Daniel Lodel: In 1978, Daniel Loedel’s half-sister was disappeared by the military dictatorship in Argentina. His first novel, Hades, Argentina, was inspired by this unspeakable event. In the novel, a young student is drawn into Argentina’s deadly politics; years later, having established himself in New York City, he’s pulled back to Buenos Aires and forced to confront literal and figurative ghosts of his past. Publishers Weekly is calling it “a revelatory new chapter to South American Cold War literature.” (Emily M.)

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters: “I love trans women,” Torrey Peters once told an interviewer, “but they drive me fucking crazy. Trans women are fucked up and flawed, and I’m very interested in the ways in which trans women are fucked up and flawed.” In Torrey’s debut novel, a trio of New Yorkers—Reese, a trans woman; Ames, a man who used to live as a woman but decided to return to living as a man, and in so doing broke Reese’s heart; Katrina, Ames’s lover and boss—grapple with the decision of how and whether to raise a baby together. (Emily M.)

The Rib King by Ladee Hubbard: Beginning in 1914, Hubbard’s latest (following The Talented Ribkins) tells the story of August Sitwell, a Black groundskeeper who works for a wealthy white Southern family. After taking an interest in three apprentices of the house cook, Miss Mamie Price, Sitwell learns that the family’s patriarch, Mr. Barclay, intends to use his likeness to sell Miss Price’s coveted meat sauce. As time goes on and Sitwell sees none of the profits from Barclay’s sales, he grows resentful of his employer, leading to a shocking retaliation. (Thom)

In the Land of the Cyclops by Karl Ove Knausgaard (translated by Martin Aitken): Knausgaard has set aside making toast and hunting for a lost set of keys for the moment to present us with startling proof that art and the everyday are of the same lineage. Essays on “art, literature, culture, and philosophy” including probing takes on Ingmar Bergman and the Northern Lights, and color reproductions of some worthy contemporary art. (Il’ja)

Pedro’s Theory by Marcos Gonsalez: Scholar and essayist (read this piece, or this one) Gonsalez now publishes a work of memoir and cultural analysis that explores the lives of the many “Pedros” of America (taken from the character of the same name from the movie Napoleon Dynamite) as well as his own life as the child of immigrants, asking “what of the little queer and fat and feminine and neurodivergent child of color”? ” In a starred review, Kirkus calls this “a searching memoir . . . A subtle, expertly written repudiation of the American dream in favor of something more inclusive and more realistic.” (Lydia)

The Divines by Ellie Eaton: In Eaton’s Dark-Academia-meets-serious-questions-of-selfhood debut, St John the Divine, an elite English boarding school for girls, has been closed for fifteen years following a hushed-up scandal. Josephine, a newly married writer with a promising career, hasn’t spoken to her former friends and classmates — former “Divines” — since. But after revisiting the school, Josephine begins to remember more and more about what happened in the weeks before it shuttered — the Divines’ snobbery, her own cruelty, the violent events that brought the school low — and her growing obsession with the past threatens to derail her adult life and self. (Kaulie)

Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing versus Workshopping by Matthew Salesses: The MFA workshop experience is famously awful, to the point where it can crush enthusiasm and derail careers. This new craft book by novelist and teacher Salesses is a critical addition to the pedagogical canon, laying out how the traditional workshop form and many ideas about “craft” have been envisioned largely by and for white male writers. The book includes exercises and advice for revision and editing and guiding teachers through reimagining what it is to teach and encourage writers. (Lydia)

Summerwater by Sarah Moss: Moss’s Ghost Wall was a sinister, boggy tale of overzealous Iron Age reenactors, and Moss’s latest looks to tap into a similar eeriness. Here, the story involves a community of vacationers in a Scottish resort observing one another warily. Mountains, ceaseless rain, and an ominous loch set the scene for elemental violence. “I was thinking of it almost as a relay race—that each time there’s an interaction across households, the narrative baton passes on,” says Moss in an interview about this dark, choral work. (Matt S.)

Inland Sea by Madeleine Watts: In this wonderful first novel, a young woman endures a “splendid conflagration of emergency” in the midst of a boiling Australian summer. Recently graduated, she takes a job as a dispatcher at an emergency call center, jotting down snippets in her notebook as she is “dropped into emergencies and pulled out, hearing only pieces of whatever the story was, up to fifty times an hour.” The novel revolves around catastrophes of various scales, personal and global but also historical: the narrator’s ancestor, John Oxley, was a “feckless imperialist” who sought to locate an inland sea deep within the “drought-ridden ancientness” which British colonizers had “stolen and didn’t understand.” (Matt S.)

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour: Black Buck begins with an address that lays out the implicit contract between writer and reader: “You’re likely asking yourself why you should trust me. The good thing is that you already bought this book, so you trusted me enough to part with $26. I won’t let you down.” In the satirical novel that follows, which is sprinkled throughout with pithy tips for closing deals, a charismatic Black man, Darren, is recruited to join the sales team of a noxious, mostly white startup in Manhattan. “He reeked of privilege, Rohypnol, and tax breaks,” says Darren of one of his new colleagues. Sold! (Matt S.)

Life Among the Terranauts by Caitlin Horrocks: Caitlin Horrocks’s newest short story collection will please those who like sci-fi, surrealism, and the strange. Claire Vaye Watkins writes that “It’s been a very long time since I’ve come across stories as brilliant, bold, odd, and incandescent as these.” The language dazzles as it entices readers into unfamiliar worlds. Marie-Helene Bertino praises, “I marvel at the language…which expands, varies, and never slips.” (Zoë)

The Doctors Blackwell by Janice P. Nimura: Nimura’s biography explores the relationship between two sisters, Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell, and their journey into medicine in the nineteenth century. Elizabeth became the first women in America to receive an M.D., and together these determined and forward-thinking sisters founded the first hospital staffed entirely by women. Their story is a must-read for those who practice medicine and for readers interested in making connections between America’s past and present. As Pulitzer Prize winner Megan Marshall argues, “That the Blackwells arrived in the United States during a cholera epidemic and made it their mission to provide medical care to the underserved, while also promoting the twin causes of women’s rights and abolition, brings this narrative hurtling into the twenty-first century, demanding our attention today.” (Zoë)

The Swallowed Man by Edward Carey: Following up on the triumph of his historical novel Little, Edward Carey’s latest novel The Swallowed Man brings a similarly fabulist perspective to the Italian legend of Pinocchio. The author makes clear Pinocchio’s connection to concerns both universal and contemporary, in a story that’s as much about creation and fatherhood as it is about a conscious marionette who wishes that he was a real boy. “I am writing this account, in another man’s book, by candlelight, inside the belly of a fish,” writes that marionette and Carey proves once again how there is a magic in that archetypal familiarity of the perennial fairy tale. (Ed S.)

The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enríquez (translated by Megan McDowell): Mariana Enríquez returns with a collection of stories that have been likened to Shirley Jackson and Jorge Luis Borges. Kirsty Logan states that “each of these stories is a luscious, bewitching nightmare.” There are ghosts, bones, the disappeared who return home, and witches in this literary horror collection of stories that are sure to disturb as well as provoke questions about politics and society. Lauren Groff promises that ­­­­“after you’ve lived in Mariana Enríquez’s marvelous brain for the time it takes to read The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, the known world feels ratcheted a few degrees off-center.” (Zoë)

The Copenhagen Trilogy by Tove Ditlevsen (translated by Tiina Nunnally): A resurgence on par with the stories of Clarice Lispector or Lucia Berlin, these searing books from the 1960s — available individually in paper or as a hardcover omnibus — are milestones in the development of the life writing we’ve come to call (sigh) “autofiction.” Tracing the author’s struggles with drugs, family, men, and writing — not necessarily in that order — they’ve been brought into English by Tiina Nunnally, one of the most gifted translators at work today. (Garth)

Consent by Annabel Lyon: From the author of The Golden Mean, which won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, Consent is about Sara who, after forcing an annulment of what Sara sees as a hasty marriage to a man targeting an inheritance, becomes a caregiver to her intellectually challenged sister, Mattie. After a tragedy, their lives converge with the second set of sisters. Saskia has put her life on hold to be caregiver for her twin, Jenny, who has been severely injured in an accident. The intersection of the stories, says Steven Beattie in the Quill and Quire, “comes as a shock.” (Claire)

The Uncollected Stories of Allan Gurganus by Allan Gurganus: A new collection of previously unpublished work by the author of Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All and a writer Ann Patchett called “one of the best writers of our time.” (Lydia)

February

The Removed by Brandon Hobson: Watch out for Brandon Hobson’s first novel since his National Book Award Finalist, Where the Dead Sit Talking. The novel convenes as a Cherokee family prepares for a bonfire to celebrate the Cherokee National Holiday and, dually, to commemorate the death of fifteen-year-old son Ray-Ray, who was killed by police. Steeped in memory and Cherokee myth, The Removed is “spirited, droll, and as quietly devastating as rain lifting from earth to sky,” per Tommy Orange. (Anne)

Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri: The first novel in nearly a decade from the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, the story is centered on a woman who moves through a year in her life. Veering from exuberance and dread to attachment and estrangement, she passes over bridges, through shops, pools, and bars, as one season moves into the next until one day at the sea her perspective changes forever. The novel was first written in Lahiri’s acquired language, Italian. (She describes writing in Italian like, “falling in love.”) Lahiri then translated the novel into English herself. (Claire)

Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler: By most accounts, literary critic and Tweeter extraordinaire Lauren Oyler’s debut novel Fake Accounts is set to hit high highbrow on the hypemeter for its “savage and shrewd” account of a young millennial’s mediation of life via the internet. It begins with her discovery, while snooping, that her boyfriend is a popular conspiracy theorist, and not so long after she flees to Berlin to embark on her own cycles of internet-fueled manipulation. Heidi Julavits calls the novel, “a dopamine experiment of social media realism” a genre that Oyler has pioneered, and careens forward while appropriating and skewering various forms, including fragmented novels and a Greek chorus of ex-boyfriends. (Anne)

This Close to Okay by Leesa Cross-Smith: The newest novel by Cross-Smith (who was recently longlisted for the 2021 Joyce Carol Oates Literary Prize) explores one life-changing weekend in the lives of two strangers. When divorced therapist Tallie Clark sees a man standing on the edge of a bridge, she talks him down—and brings him to her home where they slowly reveal their selves (and secrets) to each other. The Millions’ Lydia Kiesling writes, “This is a heartfelt and moving novel about grief, love, second chances, and the coincidences that change lives.” (Carolyn)

Milk, Blood, Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz: A debut collection that takes a look at the lives of Floridians who find themselves confronted by moments of personal reckoning, among them a woman recovering from a miscarriage, a teenager resisting her family’s church, and two estranged siblings taking a road-trip with their father’s ashes. The publisher describes the stories as, “Wise and subversive, spiritual and seductive.” Lauren Groff calls the collection “a gorgeous debut.” Danielle Evans says the “characters that drive them are like lightning—spectacular, beautiful, and carrying a hint of danger.” (Claire)

No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood: One of the most exciting writers these days is also one of the most Online, as longtime fans of Patricia Lockwood all agree. In her debut novel, written in a fragmented style as excerpted in the New Yorker, an unnamed narrator comes home to help her younger pregnant sister through complications. Like the internet itself, what follows is as ecstatically humorous as it is heartbreakingly sad. (Nick M.)

100 Boyfriends by Brontez Purnell: American literature has been a bit too polite for the past few decades. Gone are the thrilling and seedy transgressions of a William S. Burroughs or a “J.T. LeRoy.” Brontez Purnell’s 100 Boyfriends rectifies that in its tales about nymphomaniac men looking for transcendence in a fuck. Recalling Samuel Delany’s queer classic Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, the writer, musician, dancer, and director Purnell presents a jaundiced yet often hopeful vision about sex and meaning, asking “What else is a boyfriend for but to share in mutual epiphany?” (Ed S.)

My Year Abroad by Chang-rae Lee: Tiller, the main character, is an ordinary American college student who has little ambitions. But after Pong Lou, an adventurous Chinese American businessman, takes Tiller as his mentee and brings him on a wild trip around Asia. Tiller blossoms into a young talent. From the award-winning author of Native Speaker, My Year Abroad promises to widen our horizons of a range of contemporary issues—cultural stereotypes, globalization, mental health—by introducing us to kaleidoscopic, surprising, and transformative life experiences. (Jianan Qian)

Milk Fed by Melissa Broder: I’ll never forget the steamy and emotionally complex sex scenes in Broder’s first novel, The Pisces—and not only because they co-starred a dreamy merman. Broder’s latest novel, about a calorie-counting twenty-something who cuts communication from her diet-obsessed mother for ninety days, only to become obsessed with a large-breasted Orthodox Jewish woman who peddles frozen yogurt, sounds wonderful and wonderfully weird. Carmen Maria Machado calls it “luscious” and “heartbreaking,” and Samantha Irby says it’s “deeply hilarious and embarrassingly relatable.” (Edan)

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel: I could praise Infinite Country and recommend it and then praise some more, but others have already done it, and better: R.O. Kwon says Infinite Country “is a wonder, and Patricia Engel is a magician”; Lauren Groff writes that the novel “speaks into the present moment with an oracle’s devastating coolness and clarity.” The fourth book from prize-winning Colombian-American author Patricia Engel, Infinite Country, is a story of immigration and diaspora that’s both brutal and hopeful, blending Andean myth with the lives of an undocumented family spread across two continents and fighting for reconnection. (Kaulie)

Rabbit Island by Elvira Navarro (translated by Christina MacSweeney): Elvira Navarro’s dark, weird fabulist tales have garnered comparisons to Lynch and Lispector, Walser, and Leonora Carrington alike. Her short stories collected in Rabbit Island—if one can even summarize—take “alien landscapes and turn them into eerily apt mirrors of our most secret realities,” per Maryse Meijer. Perhaps this is why Enrique Villa Matas called Navarro the “true avant-gardist of her generation.” This latest collection gathers psychogeographies of dingy hotel rooms, shape-shifting cities, and graveyards. The overall effect? It’s “like spending a week at an abandoned hotel with rooms inhabited by haunted bunnies and levitating grandmothers,” says Sandra Newman. I say, sign me up! (Anne)

The Bad Muslim Discount by Syed M. Masood: In this sparkling debut novel, Anvar Farvis wants out of 1990s Karachi, where gangs of fundamentalist zealots prowl the streets. Meanwhile, more than a thousand miles away in war-torn Baghdad, a girl named Safwa is being suffocated by life with her grief-stricken father. Anvar’s and Safwa’s very different paths converge in San Francisco in 2016, where their very different personalities intertwine in ways that will rock the city’s immigrant community. Gary Shteyngart has called this “one of the bravest and most eye-opening novels of the year, a future classic.” (Bill)

U UP? by Catie Disabato: In Disabato’s sophomore novel, social-media-loving slacker Eve is still mourning her friend Miggy when her best friend Ezra goes missing. Over the course of one weekend bender, Eve searches for clues to Ezra’s disappearance, fends off ghosts, and discovers that everything is not as it seems. Our own Edan Lepucki says, “Disabato’s writing is at once so smooth and sharp that you don’t immediately realize it’s cut you—and deeply.” (Carolyn)

Kink, edited by Garth Greenwell and R.O. Kwon: An anthology of fifteen stories edited by two celebrated authors who promise to “take kink seriously.” The list of contributors includes Alexander Chee, Roxane Gay, Carmen Maria Machado, and Brandon Taylor, and stories are about love, desire, BDSM, and other kinks. “The true power of these stories lies,” says the publisher blurb,” in their beautiful, moving dispatches from across the sexual spectrum of interest and desires.” (Claire)

The Delivery by Peter Mendelsund: Like a millennial Franz Kafka, writer and graphic designer Peter Mendelsund plumbs the absurdities of our society, but rather than focusing on the incipient authoritarianism of crumbling central Europe, he examines the existential despair (and bleak funniness) of the gig economy. The Delivery takes place in an unnamed city where refugees must earn their right to sanctuary as workers delivering food to the ruling class through an app with shades of Uber Eats. Evoking J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians, if it was about GrubHub rather than colonialism, The Delivery understands that there is no such thing as a free lunch. (Ed S.)

Love is an Ex-Country by Randa Jarrar: For all of this nation’s stated belief in welcoming outsiders, America is often cruel to any demographic that is not white, Christian, straight, and male. As such, when the queer, Arab American Muslim writer Randa Jarrar sets off on a road-trip across the United States in her travelogue Love is an Ex-Country, the resulting narrative is simultaneously a dirge and an encomium. A survivor of both domestic abuse and doxxing, Jarrar’s book is not a simplistic paeon to an imaginary America, but nor does it entirely stop searching for the possibility of some sort of better, hidden country. (Ed S.)

The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson: In this debut novel set in Chicago’s South Side and blue-collar Indiana following President Obama’s election, a woman with a settled upper-middle-class existence confronts her difficult past, discovering that the issues of race, class, and identity in America rarely fall along neatly defined parameters; complexity abounds in the makeup of our nation, our families, and ourselves. (Il’ja)

My Brilliant Life by Ae-ran Kim (translated by Chi-Young Kim): Areum, the main character, suffers from an accelerated-aging disorder. Only at sixteen, he looks like an 80-year-old. Even though the family faces his imminent death, they still try to stay positive and live life to its fullest. My Brilliant Life is a breath-taking, heart-felt exploration of the possibility of joy even in the hardest moments of life. (Jianan Qian)

We Run the Tides by Vendela Vida: In pre-tech boom San Francisco, teenagers Eulabee and Maria Fabiola are inseparable. They know every house, every cliff, every tide surrounding their wealthy neighborhood, until there’s a car and a man they don’t recognize. Then Maria Fabiola disappears. Publishers Weekly describes the novel as “channel[ing] the girlish effervescence of Nora Johnson’s The World of Henry Orient while updating Cyra McFadden’s classic satire The Serial;” Kirkus calls it “a novel of youth and not-quite-innocence,” a story of female friendship with all its strengths, betrayals, confusion, and changes. (Kaulie)

Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen: From the Wall Street Journal reporter whose first-hand observations of contemporary China converge into this stunning debut collection. In the ten stories, we can see how the recent economic boom has impacted and transformed people’s lives in China: the division of values among family members, the unchanging bureaucratic systems, and the request for recognition from marginalized groups. Chen’s fiction is a satisfying literary read as well as precise cultural criticism. (Jianan Qian)

Zorrie by Laird Hunt: Hunt’s eighth novel tells the life story of a woman in rural Indiana, from her early days as an orphan who takes a job in a factory to marriage, widowhood, and a hardscrabble farm life. Hernán Diaz raves of the novel, “This is not a just book you are holding in your hands; it is a life. Laird Hunt gives us here the portrait of a woman painted with the finest brush imaginable, while also rendering great historical shifts with bold single strokes. A poignant, unforgettable novel.” (Lydia)

Blood Grove by Walter Mosely: The breathtakingly prolific Mosely brings back Easy Rawlins, his most famous literary creation, for a moody mystery set in late-sixties Los Angeles beset by protest and the after-effects of an unpopular war. Rawlins, whose small private detective agency finally has opened its own office, must solve the mystery of a white Vietnam vet who lost his lover and his dog in a violent attack in a citrus grove at the city’s outskirts. But, really, who cares about the plot? It’s Easy Rawlins, so it will be smart, funny, and impossible to put down. (Michael)

Cowboy Graves by Roberto Bolaño (translated by Natasha Wimmer): A trio of novellas by the late Chilean poet and novelist depict socialist upheaval, underground magical realism abroad, and love in the face of fascist violence. (Nick M.)

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones: Trained as an attorney, Jones sets this tale of social class clashes and interconnections in a resort town in her native Barbados. Hailed as “Most Anticipated of 2021” and a “searing debut” by O Magazine; “hard hitting and unflinching” and “unforgettable” say her blurbers Bernardine Evaristo and Naomi Jackson. (Sonya)

In the Quick by Kate Hope Day: In the latest by the author of If, Then, a young girl named June finds out that her uncle, an aerospace engineer, developed a faulty fuel cell intended for use on a space mission, causing a shuttle to lose power near Saturn and strand the crew indefinitely. Obsessed with finding a way to rescue the far-flung crew, June enrolls in astronaut training, where she performs well enough to earn a placement aboard a space station. Eventually, she fixes the fuel cell, which gives her and her team the ability to stage a rescue mission. (Thom)

Let’s Get Back to the Party by Zak Salih: Salih’s debut offers a thoughtful meditation on the evolving landscape of gay male life in America. When gay marriage is legalized in 2015, high school teacher Sebastian Mote finds the occasion unexpectedly bittersweet, since he just broke up with his boyfriend of three years. He pours his energy into nurturing his students, particularly Arthur, a 17-year-old whose openness about his own sexuality is a source of envy for Sebastian. Then he runs into a childhood friend at a wedding—and learns that he’s not alone in his ambivalence towards the new rules of dating. (Thom)

American Delirium by Betina González (translated by Heather Cleary): In her English language debut, award-winning author Betina González interweaves the lives of three characters in a mid-Western city that is unraveling. Deer are attacking people, a squad of retirees trains to hunt them down, and protestors decide to abandon society, including their own children, and live in the woods. Anjali Sachdeva notes, “As González’s characters navigate a world where plants inspire revolution and animals are possessed by homicidal rage, they ask us to consider whether human beings are perhaps the least natural creatures this planet has to offer.” (Zoë)

The Upstairs House by Julia Fine: This high-concept novel involves the ghost of Margaret Wise Brown, the renowned children’s author of the classic bedtime story, Good Night Moon. New mother and Phd student Megan Weiler discovers that the famous author is haunting her house, waiting, apparently, for her estranged lover, the actress Michael Strange. As Megan becomes more drawn into ghostly interpersonal drama, she feels herself losing her grip on reality. Meanwhile, there’s a dissertation to finish and a newborn to care for. Publishers Weekly calls this sophomore effort “a white-knuckle description of the essential scariness of new motherhood.” (Hannah)

We Do This ‘Til We Free Us by Mariame Kaba: In this compilation of essays and interviews, Mariame Kaba reflects on abolition and struggle and explores justice, freedom, and hope. Eve Ewing notes, “This is a classic in the vein of Sister Outsider, a book that will spark countless radical imaginations.” Inspirational and practical, We Do This ‘Til We Free Us offers insights on grassroots movements and collective strategies, and examines the prison industrial complex. Alisa Bierria writes, “This remarkable collection is a powerful map for anyone who longs for a future built on safety, community, and joy, and an intellectual home for those who are creating new pathways to get us there.” (Zoë)

March

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro: The citation for the 2017 Novel Prize in Literature says Ishiguro has “uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.” This new novel, his first published since the win, follows Klara, who is an Artificial Friend. While she’s an older model, she also has exceptional observational qualities. The storyline, according to the publisher, asks a fundamental question, “What does it mean to love?” The result sounds like the perfect blend of Ishiguro’s much loved books, Never Let Me Go and the Booker Prize-winning The Remains of the Day. (Claire)

The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen: The much anticipated sequel to The Sympathizer, which won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, entertains as much as it offers cultural analysis. Set in 1980s Paris, the main character of The Sympathizer sells drugs, attends dinner parties with left-wing intellectuals, and turns his attention towards French culture, considering capitalism and colonization. Paul Beatty says, “Think of The Committed as the declaration of the 20th ½ Arrondissement. A squatter’s paradise for those with one foot in the grave and the other shoved halfway up Western civilization’s ass.” Sharply and humorously written, Ocean Vuong notes that the sequel asks: “How do we live in the wake of seismic loss and betrayal? And, perhaps even more critically, How do we laugh?” (Zoë)

Red Island House by Andrea Lee: It’s been almost fifteen years since Andrea Lee published a book (Lost Hearts in Italy) and I’ve been sitting here waiting for it. Her fiction and memoirs often center on Black characters living abroad, and she writes with such lush and observant precision that you feel you are traveling with her. Her newest novel is set in a small village in Madagascar, where Shay, a Black professor of literature, and her wealthy Italian husband Senna, build a lavish vacation home. Unfolding over two decades, Lee’s new novel explores themes of race, class, and gender, as Shay reluctantly takes on the role of matriarch, learning to manage a household staff and estate. Kirkus calls it “a highly critical vision of how the one percent live in neocolonial paradise.” (Hannah)

The Fourth Child by Jessica Winter: Winter follows her well-received debut (2016’s Break in Case of Emergency) with a multi-generational story of love, family, obligation, and guilt. The novel follows Jane from a miserable 1970s adolescence to an unexpected high school pregnancy and marriage, through the sweetness of early parenthood to the fraught complications of ideology, adoption, and life with a teenaged daughter. (Emily M.)

Mona by Pola Oloixarac (translated by Adam Morris): Mona, Pola Oloixarac’s third novel, seems a fitting book for all of us to read while looking back on 2020: the eponymous narrator is a drug-addled and sardonic, albeit much admired and Peruvian writer based in California. After she’s nominated for Europe’s most important literary prize, Mona flees to a small town near the Arctic Circle to escape her demons in a way that seems not unlike David Bowie’s fleeing LA for bombed-out Berlin. She soon finds she hasn’t escaped hers as much as she’s locked herself up with them. According to Andrew Martin, Mona “reads as though Rachel Cusk’s Outline Trilogy was thrown in a blender with Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, and then lightly seasoned with the bitter flavor of Horacio Castellanos Moya.” (Anne)

Girlhood by Melissa Febos: Fusing memoir, cultural commentary, and research, critically-acclaimed writer Febos explores the beauty and discomfort of girlhood (and womanhood) in her newest essay collection. With her signature lyricism and haunting honesty, the essays explore the ways girls inherit, create, interrogate, and rewrite the narratives of their lives. Kirkus’ starred review calls the collection “consistently illuminating, unabashedly ferocious writing.” (Carolyn)

The Recent East by Thomas Grattan: Macmillan describes this debut novel as a “spellbinding…multigenerational epic that illuminates what it means to leave home, and what it means to return.” In a combination that works for me, this story of “a family upended by displacement and loss” also has an old family manse, neo-Nazis, and a setting in the wilds of what was once East Germany. (Il’ja)

The Arsonist’s City by Hala Alyan: Alyan’s varied talents never cease to amaze. The award-winning author of four collections of poetry and one novel, Alyan also works as a clinical psychologist. Her newest novel touches on themes and locales familiar to those who’ve read her work including family, war, Brooklyn, and the Middle East. The Nasr family has spread across the world, but remains rooted in their ancestral home in Beirut. When the family’s new patriarch decides to sell, all must reunite to save the house and confront their secrets in a city still reeling from the impact of its past and ongoing tensions. (Jacqueline)

Abundance by Jakob Guanzon: This debut novel centers around a struggling Filipino-American father and son, Henry and Junior. Evicted from their trailer, they now live in their truck and are trying to scramble a life back together. The book’s formal innovation lies in its structure, which is organized around money: each chapter tallies the duo’s debit and credit, in a gesture toward the profound anxieties and inequalities around debt, work, and addiction in contemporary America. (Jacqueline)

What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster: From the author of the acclaimed novel Halsey Street (finalist for a Kirkus Prize) comes a story of family, race, and friendship. Opening in the 1990s and extending to the present, the book follows two families in Piedmont, NC, one white, one Black. Living on separate sides of town, they live separate lives until the local school’s integration efforts set off a chain of events that will bond the families to each other in profound and unexpected ways. (Jacqueline)

The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson: After her father doesn’t return from checking his traps near their home, Rosalie Iron Wing, a Dakota girl who’s grown up surrounded by the woods and stories of plants, is sent to live with a foster family. Decades later, widowed and grieving, she returns to her childhood home to confront the past and find identity and community — and a cache of seeds, passed down from one generation of women to the next. The first novel from Dakota writer Diane Wilson, “The Seed Keeper invokes the strength that women, land, and plants have shared with one another through the generations,” writes Robin Wall Kimmerer. (Kaulie)

Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia: The debut novel from Garcia, Of Women and Salt, follows three generations of Cuban women from 19th-century cigar factories to contemporary ICE detention centers and meditates on the difficult choices and legacies of mothers. In present-day Miami, Jeanette is struggling with addiction but wants to learn more about her family from her secretive mother, Carmen, who’s still processing her difficult relationship with her own mother back in Cuba. Then Jeanette decides to visit her grandmother for herself. “Gabriela Garcia captures the lives of Cuban women in a world to which they refuse to surrender,” writes Roxane Gay, “and she does so with precision and generosity and beauty.” (Kaulie)

How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue: In a follow-up to Mbue’s celebrated Behold the Dreamers, winner of the 2017 PEN/Faulkner award, How Beautiful We Were tells a story of environmental exploitation and a fictional African village’s fight to save itself. An American oil company’s leaking pipelines are poisoning the land and children of Kosawa, and in the face of government inaction the villagers strike back, sparking a series of small revolutions with outsized impact. Kosawa’s story is told by the family of Thula, a village girl who grows into a charismatic revolutionary and who Sigrid Nunez calls “a heroine for our time.” (Kaulie)

Sarahland by Sam Cohen: Cohen’s debut short story collection centers around a unique premise: almost all the protagonists are named Sarah. Whether it’s a Buffy-loving Sarah, a lonely college student Sarah, or a Sarah-turned-tree, the playful yet serious stories explore identity, transformation, and queerness. “Sam Cohen’s stories re-wire the brain,” writes Andrea Lawlor. “Sarahland is satisfyingly queer, dirty, insightful, disarmingly generous, astonishing in its craftsmanship and so funny.” (Carolyn)

Women and Other Monsters: Building a New Mythology by Jess Zimmerman: From the editor in chief of Electric Literature, this cultural analysis re-examines eleven female monsters from Greek mythology, including Medusa and the Sphinx. By taking a critical look at the current social construction of monsters, Zimmerman suggests that the traits we’ve been told make us dangerous and undesirable might actually be our greatest strengths. Scaachi Koul says of the book, “I ate it up, and it felt a little like it devoured me right back.” (Claire)

Eat the Mouth that Feeds You by Carribean Fragoza: Fragoza’s surreal and gothic stories, focused on Latinx, Chicanx, and immigrant women’s voices, are sure to surprise and move readers. Natalia Sylvester states, “Like the Chicanx women whose voices she centers, Carribean Fragoza’s writing doesn’t flinch. It is sharp and dream-like, tender-hearted and brutal, carved from the violence and resilience of generations past and present.” Eat the Mouth That Feeds You explores themes of lineage, motherhood, violence, and much more. Héctor Tobar writes that this short story collection “establishes Fragoza as an essential and important new voice in American fiction.” (Zoë)

The Disordered Cosmos by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein: Anyone who has spent any time with the startling beauty that is theoretical physics, all of those quarks and neutrinos, quasars and singularities, knows that there is a poetry threaded through the fabric of our strange reality. Cosmologist Chanda Prescod-Weinstein conveys the sublimity of physics in The Disordered Cosmos. Science, Prescod-Weinstein emphasizes, can never be totally dispassionate or separate from what makes us human. One of fewer than a hundred Black women with a PhD in physics in the United States, she doesn’t just explain the Standard Model of Particle Physics, but also how institutional racism limits who works in the discipline. (Ed S.)

The Scapegoat by Sarah Davis: California is a place that’s been written over and rewritten over, the sunny environs belying the dark histories of colonialism which define the place. Sarah Davis’ debut novel The Scapegoat dramatizes such issues of memory, both personal and historical, in its post-modern noir account of a university professor simply named N who must investigate his own father’s death, related as it seems to the former’s own historical study of California’s past. The result is a surreal, experimental, hallucinatory, and lyrical meditation on how the past constitutes the present. (Ed S.)

Spilt Milk by Courtney Zoffness: In this debut essay collection by the 2018 winner of the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Prize, Zoffness explores subjects as diverse (and overlapping) as faith and belief, parenthood, justice, notions of safety and risk, and who our mothers were before we came along. Zoffness writes with such charm and sincerity, and I zipped through these smart essays in a day, delighting in Zoffness’s honesty and wry intelligence. Mary Gaitskill clearly agrees; she writes: “Gentle, playful and laced with subtle wit, these essays are a welcome balm in an insane and un-gentle time.” (Edan)

The Art of Losing by Alice Zeniter (translated by Frank Wynne): A newly translated work by the French novelist and winner of the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens. The novel follows a French woman as she explores the Algerian roots of her grandparents, her family’s secrets, and the legacies of colonialism. (Lydia)

The Life of the Mind by Christine Smallwood: Smallwood is a book and culture critic for The New York Times Magazine and Harper’s, and her first novel is an academic bildungsroman about an adjunct professor with as many shrinks as degrees. This being an academic novel, acerbic satire, existential crises, and self-loathing abound. Here, the professor’s recent miscarriage occasions reflections on the body’s role in the life of the mind. Publishers Weekly called this debut “the glorious lovechild of Otessa Moshfegh and Sally Rooney.” (Matt S.)

The Vietri Project by Nicola DeRobertis-Theye: In a LitHub essay, DeRobertis-Theye wrote about novels of “biographical detection” (like Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy) in which “a person, usually only tangentially related to the subject…becomes engrossed in the discovery of this person’s life.” She herself contributes to the genre with her first novel, in which a Berkeley bookseller becomes fascinated with a Roman customer with rather recherché tastes. Some time later, the narrator is living in Italy, where she has extended family, and decides to track the customer down. (This is the kind of personalized service Amazon can’t provide.) A sinuous bibliophilic mystery of self-discovery. (Matt S.)

Foregone by Russell Banks: Banks, author of Affliction and the epic Cloudsplitter, is now 80 and appears to be slowing down from the breakneck pace of his earlier career. Foregone, his first novel in a decade, follows a famous filmmaker dying of cancer who turns the camera on himself to tell the tale of his misspent youth. But since a side-effect of his medications is “confabulation,” only some of his final confessions may be true. Publishers Weekly calls the book “uneven,” but says that, despite some windy digressions, “Banks keeps the audience rapt.” (Michael)

Brood by Jackie Polzin: One year, four chickens, isolation, and advance praise from Joy Williams: what pleasant alchemy is this novel? Polzin’s debut conjures humors and sadness in Minnesota, where the narrator ponders the potential of motherhood, a pending move, and the strangeness of raising animals who force us to consider the world in a new, slower, sideways perspective (which leads us to wonder: maybe the strangeness is us?). (Nick R.)

Festival Days by Jo Ann Beard: Nine pieces from one of our finest essayists, who has once said that “one loss always brings up another”—a sentiment that perfectly captures her style, down to her syntax. She writes of the loss of her dog, how they had become close as a stay against absence: “We were used to being alone.” Essays like “Maybe It Happened” capture the porous nature of her genre; how memories that shape our lives might be created or crafted by our hearts: “Maybe on those hot summer afternoons, when coffee made women languid, when the scent of trellis roses mixed with the scent of ammonia, when girls pretended they were mothers while mother pretended something else entirely, perhaps anything could happen.” (Nick R.)

Body of Stars by Laura Maylene Walter: A dystopian novel about fortune-telling and rape culture set in a world where women’s fates are inscribed on their bodies. Of the novel Anne Valente writes, “Through the lens of dystopia, this incandescent debut novel holds a critical mirror up to our world’s limitations on gender and the violence of those restraints, while it also forges a bold vision for agency, self-determination and freedom. Through and through, this is a powerful and luminous book.” (Lydia)

There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura (translated by Polly Barton): Tsumura’s novel begins with an unnamed narrator constantly watching someone. It is her job, and she’d been given a rule “not to fast-forward the footage,” except if her target is sleeping. She ponders how much money she spends on eye drops from having to keep her gaze fixed. “It was weird,” she thinks, “because I worked such long hours, and yet, even while working, I was basically doing nothing. I’d come to the conclusion that there were very few jobs in the world that ate up as much time and as little brainpower as watching over the life of a novelist who lived alone and worked from home.” A nearly hypnotic book that shifts between despair and transcendence. (Nick R.)

Brother Sister Mother Explorer by Jamie Figueroa: Set in the fictional tourist town of Ciudad de Tres Hermanas, a reckless brother and his concerned sister who’ve just lost their mother make a bet: if the brother loses, he has to buy a plane ticket, leave the place, and get his life together. Ghosts, angels, and other hauntings infuse this debut which reviewers are describing as “utterly original” and “utterly new.” (Sonya)

Silence is a Sense by Layla AlAmmar: Kuwaiti writer AlAmmar explores trauma and voicelessness through fragmented narrative form and a mute protagonist who has survived the war in Syria and is now living in isolation in the UK. She begins writing under a pseudonym to express herself, but must decide eventually whether to rejoin the human community as an embodied participant. “Fierce, beguiling, visceral,” writes Booker finalist Fiona Mozley. (Sonya)

Acts of Desperation by Megan Nolan: Nolan, a columnist and writer for The New Statesman, Vice, and other places, depicts a young couple’s dysfunctional relationship and its aftermath in her debut. In 2012, the unnamed narrator becomes infatuated with an art critic named Ciaran, who seems “undeniably whole” in contrast to the people around him. The two begin dating, and things quickly become toxic, with Ciaran insulting the narrator’s friends and peppering her with cruel remarks. Throughout, we see glimpses of the narrator in 2019, when she’s reflecting on her past and working to move on from Ciaran. (Thom)

Burning Girls and Other Stories by Veronica Schanoes: Schanoes debuts a dreamy short story collection that plays with genre, combining literary fiction, fairy tales, and fantasy. Catherynne M. Valente writes, “Her work effortlessly blends the modern with the archetypal. It is constantly surprising, endlessly rich, and terribly needed.” Her haunting tales of revenge and anger and her fierce protagonists will enthrall readers. Karen Joy Fowler describes Burning Girls as a “beautifully written, sharply imaginative collection.” (Zoë)

April

Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge: Inspired by the true story of one of the first Black female doctors in America, Kaitlyn Greenidge’s new novel tells the story of Libertie Sampson coming of age in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn. Libertie’s mother, a physician, wants her daughter to attend medical school and practice alongside her but, unlike her mother who can pass, Libertie has skin that is too dark. After accepting an offer of marriage from a young Haitian man promising equality on the island, Libertie finds she is still considered inferior to her husband, and all men. In the words of Brandon Taylor, author of Booker short-listed Real Life, “In this singular novel, Kaitlyn Greenidge confronts the anonymizing forces of history with her formidable gifts. Libertie is a glorious, piercing song for the ages—fierce, brilliant, and utterly free.” (Adam Price)

Peaces by Helen Oyeyemi: Following 2019’s “Hansel and Gretel”-inspired Gingerbread, Oyeyemi brings her readers on a surreal, inspired journey, beginning with hypnotist Otto Shin going off on a “non-honeymoon honeymoon” with his longtime boyfriend, Xavier. A train trip, their honeymoon takes an odd turn Ava Kapoor, the train’s owner, reveals that she’s set to receive a large inheritance. And when a mysterious passenger threatens that inheritance—and a young man named Yuri begins intervening in their lives—Otto and Xavier find their trip becoming more and more stressful. (Thom)

An Alternative History of Pittsburgh by Ed Simon: Pittsburgh native Ed Simon, erudite staff writer at The Millions, has written an idiosyncratic and predictably brainy book about his hometown, to be published by the inspiring independent house, Belt Publishing. Pennsylvania is Simon’s clay, as witnessed by this passage from a post-election essay that appeared in Belt Magazine: “Far more capable tyrants than Trump have been felled by Pennsylvania. This vanquishing feels like George Meade turning back Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. It makes me want to ring the Liberty Bell until its crack breaks the whole thing apart and the light can get in.” The light got in. This book will help you understand how and why. (Bill)

Subdivision by J Robert Lennon: J Robert Lennon, one of our most reliably interesting and adventurous novelists, returns in 2021 with Subdivision, an offering both darker and more whimsical than his critically lauded 2017 foray into crime fiction, Broken River. Subdivision continues Lennon’s fascinating career-long exploration of perception and memory, as an unnamed narrator finds herself in, well, the Subdivision, a mysterious locale where the unsettling and inexplicable routinely occur. Accompanied by an Alexa-like digital assistant named Cylvia, the narrator explores the maze-like neighborhood, and as the jigsaw puzzle in the guest house where the narrator is staying nears completion, the Subdivision’s true character begins to emerge. (Adam Price)

The Apprenticeship, or the Book of Pleasures by Clarice Lispector (translated by Stefan Tobler): It seems that New Directions releases a new translation of Lispector’s work at least every few years, and thank goodness, I can never get enough of her writing. This latest volume is a translation of what has been called Lispector’s “most accessible” book. A surprise when considering that this is the work that follows The Passion According to GH, and need I remind you, much of that wondrous novel consists of the narrator crossing a room to kill and consume a cockroach (and well, so much more). When Lispector was asked why she wrote something so straightforward, she replied, “I humanized myself.” (Anne)

You Made Me Love You by John Edgar Wideman: This collection of 35 stories from the four-decade career of an American master is also a summation of his literary mission: “To deconstruct the given formulas of African American culture and life.” Ranging from the Homewood neighborhood of his native Pittsburgh to small Wyoming towns to historic Philadelphia, spanning time from the ancient world to the present day, these collected stories will cement Wideman’s status as one of the great writers at work in America today. (Bill)

The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade: “This year Amadeo Padilla is Jesus.” Someone has been hearing my prayers: Quade has taken one of the finest short stories from her debut collection, Night at the Fiestas, and revisited the tale to create a masterful novel of family, faith, doubt. Quade’s storytelling gift is her ability to capture the mysterious pulse of belief and ground them in visceral ritual on the page. She begins with Amadeo’s dream role for Holy Week—no silky-haired, rosy-cheeked, honey-eyed Jesus. Amadeo pines for meaning his life: “His performance wasn’t just a performance, but a true crucifixion. How many people can say they’ve done that for God?” Yet his plans are strained when his daughter reveals her secret. It turns out that the Lord and great storytellers work in mysterious ways. (Nick R.)

White Magic by Elissa Washuta: From Tin House, Washuta’s third book is a “collection of intertwined essays … about land, heartbreak, and colonization, about life without the escape hatch of intoxication, and about how she became a powerful witch.” At 432 pages, this one promises to be an innovative and deeply felt work to sink into. (Sonya)

The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken: There’s good reason a new Elizabeth McCracken book is cause for celebration: everything she writes—her short stories, her novels, and, hey, also a memoir—is consistently brilliant. Her work is the perfect amount of odd, witty, tender, and deceptively heart-splitting. This latest is a short story collection that Publishers Weekly, in its starred review, calls “sly” and “emotionally complex.” There are twelve stories in all, including one about a mother who gorges on challah because she longs for her kids, and another about an actress who plays a villain on a children’s show and her loser brother. I can’t wait. (Edan)

The Man Who Lived Underground by Richard Wright: A Black man is picked up randomly by the police after a brutal murder in a Chicago neighborhood and taken to the local precinct, where he is tortured until he confesses to a crime he didn’t commit. After signing a confession, he escapes from the precinct and takes up residence in the sewers beneath the streets of the city. Sound familiar? No, this didn’t happen last week. It’s the premise of the previously unpublished novel from the 1940s, The Man Who Lived Underground, by the immortal Richard Wright, author of Native Son and Black Boy. This novel cut close to the author’s heart. As he put it: “I have never written anything in my life that stemmed more from pure inspiration.” (Bill)

First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami (translated by Philip Gabriel): The eight stories in this new collection by Murakami are all told in the first person singular voice. This narrator shares a lot of passions with the author: nostalgia of young love and sex, ruminations on Jazz music, and the enthusiasm in baseball. Like Murakami’s previous stories, the charm of magical realism is always sustained by a philosophical meditation on love, loneliness, and memory. (Jianan Qian)

Hot Stew by Fiona Mozley: Set in present-day London, Mozley’s anticipated follow-up to Elmet—her Booker Prize shortlisted debut—follows the struggle between the haves and the have-nots over a building. Agatha, a young millionaire, wants to turn the building into luxury condos, while brothel workers Precious and Tabitha want to save the place where they live and work. Mozley’s newest novel explores themes like wealth, gentrification, power, and gender dynamics. (Carolyn)

Paradise, Nevada by Dario Diofebi: “Vegas has been right there forever, waiting for a great novelist,” says Darin Strauss. This debut centers around a bomb that detonates in a luxury hotel. Six months prior, the story follows four transplants, a professional poker player, a clinically depressed cocktail waitress, a tourist from Italy, and a Mormon journalist, who are trying to navigate the self-reinventing city of Las Vegas. Diofebi’s brilliant comic voice and deep compassion make for a debut from a voice that, says David Lipsky, “is going to be around for a long time.” (Claire)

My Good Son by Yang Huang: The winner of the University of New Orleans Publishing Lab Prize, My Good Son is about a tailor named Mr. Cai in post-Tiananmen China and the dreams he holds for his only son, Feng. Mr. Cai schemes with one of his clients, Jude, a gay American expat, to get his son to the States, and the novel, about parental expectations, social class, and sexuality, highlights both the similarities and differences between Chinese and American cultures. Huang, who has previously published a novel and a collection of linked stories, grew up in China and moved to the states to study computer science—only to also pursue writing. She says, “In writing I can let down my walls, suspend my moral judgment, and pour my deepest compassion into the written words.” (Edan)

Astrid Sees All by Natalie Standiford: If New York’s bad old ‘70s are at this point well-mined novelistic territory, the salad days of the ‘80s have received comparatively little scrutiny…at least since the heyday of a certain Jay. Here Natalie Standiford attempts to correct the oversight, guiding readers on a descent into clubland…with the gusto of a certain Musto. (Garth)

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson: Two young, struggling artists are looking to live, love, and create in a time and place that seems set on allowing them anything but that. From Penguin: “Caleb Aumah Nelson has written the most essential British debut of recent years.” (Il’ja)

A Natural History of Transition by Callum Angus: From Metonymy Press, a gripping collection of short stories flush with alternative histories, horror, and magic realism set in the kinds of towns we all think we know well, a collection that, according to the publisher, “disrupts the notion that trans people can only have one transformation.” (Il’ja)

Terminal Boredom by Izumi Suzuki (various translators): According to Penguin Random House: “At turns nonchalantly hip and charmingly deranged.” I’m about two-thirds of the way through these short stories and according to me: “that sounds about right.” If you’re into Kōbō Abe and prefer Ryū Murakami to Haruki you’ll not (as the title of this inaugural translation of Suzuki into English suggests), be bored. (Il’ja)

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton: The Final Revival of Opal & Nev features an ambitious literary structure that is rarely seen in contemporary writing. On the surface, it is a complex oral history conducted by a music journalist about her beloved rock ‘n’ roll duo. But as the interview touches deeper, we see more unexpected layers of the story that will threaten to reverse any established narratives. The unique storytelling matches the depth of the theme that the novel aspires to explore: Black women who dare to tell the truth but whose voices are too often repressed. (Jianan Qian)

The Secret Talker by Geling Yan (translated by Jeremy Tiang): Hongmei lives a happy, peaceful life in Northern California with her husband Glen, a university professor, until an anonymous person starts to stalk her, threatening to reveal her dark past in China. Desperate and helpless, Hongmei tries to switch her role in the predator-prey game by debunking the stalker’s secret past. The Secret Talker is a suspenseful, intriguing tale of a woman in her psychological crisis. (Jianan Qian)

Lightseekers by Femi Kayode: A Nigerian crime drama with wide-ranging sociological and political implications, Lightseekers introduces the unusual detective Philip Taiwo, an investigative psychologist more interested in why than how. After an angry mob beats and then burns three undergraduate students in a Nigerian border town and the killings are widely shared on social media, the powerful father of one victim hires Taiwo to figure out what really happened. The police can’t find a motive for the murders, but Taiwo (with the help of his streetwise driver, Chika) faces a dangerous conspiracy to reveal the private violence behind the public attack. (Kaulie)

Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian: A comic surreal novel about a young man growing up in the Atlanta burbs, a scheme of his neighbor’s that goes awry, and his adulthood as a history grad student surrounded by the new gold rush of Silicon Valley. Celeste Ng says of the novel “In a perfect alchemical blend of familiar and un-, Gold Diggers takes a wincingly hilarious coming-of-age story, laces it with magical realism and a trace of satire, and creates a world that’s both achingly familiar and marvelously inventive. Written with such assurance it’s hard to believe it’s Sanjena Sathian’s debut, this is a dizzyingly original, fiercely funny, deeply wise novel about the seductive powers—and dangers—of borrowed ambition.” (Lydia)

Caul Baby by Morgan Jerkins: The bestselling essayist’s debut novel centers on a woman named Laila, whose efforts to conceive a child have ended in frustration. In desperation, Laila turns to a well-known Harlem family, the Melancons, for help—the Melancons are known for their “caul,” an epidermal layer that blesses their family with healing powers. After trying to get a caul for herself, Laila delivers a stillborn child, which leaves her emotionally devastated. But then her niece, Amara, delivers a baby with a caul, and Laila becomes embroiled in the Melancons’ long-running power struggle. (Thom)

Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer: The master of ecological surrealism—which paradoxically imparts lessons on our unfolding reality—takes a stab at a tightly wound thriller. It starts when a security consultant receives an envelope of clues. Then things get weird. Some of the most riveting portions of Annihilation were the uncanny depictions of office paranoia, so it’ll be exciting to see VanderMeer run farther in that direction. (Nick M.)

Southbound by Anjali Enjeti: For generations, portraits of race relations in the American South have been painted only in Black and white. But as more Asian and Latinx people settle south of the Mason-Dixon line, that picture has grown more complex – and more interesting. In her debut essay collection, Enjeti, an election activist and former attorney, tackles a wide range of topics spanning from voter suppression to the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the South and the whitewashing of Southern literature. (Michael)

Lorna Mott Comes Home by Diane Johnson: The latest in the novelist’s fascinating career—in addition to novels like Le Divorce, she co-wrote the script for The Shining with Stanley Kubrick (“Kubrick and I would work in the morning, face to face across a table in a big workroom.”). Here, Lorna Mott Dumas ends her 20-year marriage and leaves France for San Francisco—to reinvent herself in a place that she once called home. (Nick R.)

Popisho by Leone Ross: Leone Ross “lives in London, but intends to retire near water.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, her fourth novel takes place on a fictional, magical archipelago called Popisho, “a place of stunning beauty and incorrigible mischief, destiny and mystery.” The publisher described the novel as “uproarious and sensual,” and “inflected with rhythms and textures of an amalgam of languages,” comparing it to the work of Garcia-Marquez and Arundhati Roy. I’m in. (Sonya)

Leaving isn’t the Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough: Lauren Hough had a memorable super-viral essay about her experience working as a cable guy, and this memoir details not only her experiences of life in the working class, but her peripatetic upbringing as a childhood member of a cult called Children of God. Elizabeth McCracken raves about this debut, “Lauren Hough’s Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing is so brilliant, so humane and pissed off and hysterically funny and thought-provoking, and so beautifully written it’s hard to describe except to say that it’s a book that is going to mean a lot to a lot of people, and it might cause some fights, and you better read it so you can have the pleasure of reading it and the pleasure of talking about it with everyone.” (Lydia)

Painting Time by Maylis de Kerangal: The French author’s latest, a bildungsroman about a young painter, follows the apprenticeship of Paula Karst, a student at the prestigious Institute de Peinture in Brussels. Unlike her peers, Paula is more interested in material craftsmanship than abstraction, and the novel depicts her all-night work sessions painstaking detail and care. After she graduates, Paula moves on to Paris, Moscow, and Italy, where she continues making her art. Eventually, she lands a job working on Lascaux IV, a reproduction of the world’s most famous prehistoric cave art. (Thom)

May

Good Company by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney: At the outset of this marvelous novel, Flora Mancini finds her husband’s wedding ring—the one he told her he lost over a decade ago—and the discovery leads her to re-examine everything she thought she knew about their life together. I read Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s follow-up to her bestselling debut The Nest in two breathless days, eager to find out what would happen next in this elegantly depicted story about marriage, friendship, loyalty, and the intersections of art and commerce, love and secrets. When I was finished, I was plunged into the kind of sweet melancholy that only the end of a good book brings. (Edan)

Wild Belief: Poets and Prophets in the Wilderness by Nick Ripatrazone: This is the second book by my fellow contributing editor Ripatrazone, whose first book, Longing for An Absent God, investigated Catholicism in American fiction and its influence on storytelling. Wild Belief continues Nick’s scholarship on spirituality—this time, considering how the spiritual tradition sees nature as a site for renewal and wonder. He synthesizes the work of philosophers, poets, and even saints, to understand why we are drawn to nature even as we fear it, and how it enriches our lives. (Edan)

Second Place by Rachel Cusk: Now that her Outline trilogy is complete, we get to see where Cusk, winner of the Whitbread Award and one of Granta’s 2003 Best of Young British Novelists, travels next. When a woman invites a famous artist to visit the remote coastal region where she lives, she hopes that his gaze will penetrate the mysteries of the landscape and of her life. The publisher describes it as a novel that examines, “the possibility that art can both save and destroy us.” (Claire)

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon: Who was it that said dystopian science fiction couldn’t be gothic? They forgot to tell Rivers Solomon who has given the mythology of American rugged individualism a twist that its staunchest devotees might not see coming. Early readers have called it “searing,” “challenging,” and “hopeful.” (Il’ja)

Pop Songs by Larissa Pham: Larissa Pham has been writing about love and loss for a long time, starting at least with her blogging days. Now, the artist and writer’s debut work of nonfiction brings together a series of meditations on distance, discussing Anne Carson and Frank Ocean, travels to New Mexico and Shanghai, and past experiences with sex, drugs, and art. Esmé Weijun Wang calls it an “endlessly inventive, intimate, and provocative memoir-in-essays that celebrates the strange and exquisite state of falling in love — whether with a painting or a person.” (Jacqueline)

The Atmospherians by Alex McElroy: Pundits always feel the need to draw upon past masters like Franz Kafka or George Orwell to explain our dystopian present, but in the future it may very well be Alex McElroy and their debut novel The Atmospherians which best elucidates our panopticon-surveyed, late capitalist hellscape epoch. In the novel, doxxed influencer Sasha Marcus must reconstitute her brand after her woman’s wellness venture was destroyed by men’s rights activists, and so she founds a rehabilitation institute to cure men of their toxic masculinity. A trenchant picture of our world right now, The Atmospherians is equal parts perceptive and prescient. (Ed S.)

Cheat Day by Liv Stratman: In Stratman’s funny and sharp debut, college sweethearts Kit and David are still together—but their relationship is falling apart. As the couple embarks on an intense fad diet together, Kit finds herself beginning an affair with someone she met at work. As Kit gives into her carnal desire, she begins to diet more severely. Jami Attenberg writes, “Sexy, witty and down-to-earth, Cheat Day tackles the truths about our modern occupations with wellness, relationships and what it means to be happy.” (Carolyn)

In the Event of Contact by Ethel Rohan: Social distancing marked the lonely horror that was this year; paradoxically a demonstration of how affection and empathy for our fellow humans required us to retreat into ourselves, connection now defined by the absence of contact. Ethel Rohan’s book of short stories examines something similar in his evocation of what lack of connection can do to us. With a diversity of characters ranging from a childless immigrant daughter justifying her decision to her parents, a grumpy crossing guard honoring the time he got hit by a truck, a demented priest looking for redemption, and a plucky teen detective, In the Event of Contact is a loving homage to humanity in all of its complexity. (Ed S.)

The Republic of False Truths by Alaa Al Aswany (translated by S.R. Fellowes): The celebrated author of The Yacoubian Building tackles the events of the Arab Spring — and of Tahrir Square in particular — offering a cyclotron of storylines ranging from military circles to revolutionary ones to the various lives pulled inexorably in one direction or the other. (Garth)

Vernon Subutex 3 by Virginie Despentes: It’s hard to know why the Vernon Subutex trilogy, an unlikely cocktail of Wolfish satire, Houellebecqesque pessimism, and Ferrantean range and rage, hasn’t kicked up more of a fuss here in the U.S. (though maybe I just answered my own question). Still, it’s easy to see why Nell Zink’s a fan. This third installment concludes the adventures of our titular hero, a peripatetic and intermittently visionary ex-record store owner cut loose on the streets of Paris. (Garth)

The Rock Eaters by Brenda Peynado: A debut short story collection with elements of the fantastic, surreal, and speculative—flying children, strange creatures on the roof—that the publisher compares to work from Carmen Maria Machado, Kelly Link, and Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. (Lydia)

Phase Six by Jim Shepard: This uncomfortably timely novel imagines our next pandemic, unleashed by thawing permafrost. Set in Greenland, it follows 11-year-old Aleq, who unwittingly brings back a virus from an open mining site and survives a devastating outbreak. CDC epidemiologists are then dispatched to study the virus and prevent a global pandemic. They take Aleq into their care, and the novel follows multiple points of view as the catastrophe unfolds. (Hannah)

Secrets of Happiness by Joan Silber: Silber’s ninth work of fiction is the story of a young New York lawyer who discovers that his father has a secret family in Queens: a Thai wife and two young children. Ethan’s mother leaves the country in the wake of the revelation, while Ethan becomes involved in a love triangle of his own. This complex, intergenerational novel spans three continents as it reveals the connection between the two families, no longer secret to each other. (Hannah)

Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng: A young girl in China hears from her long-emigrated parents that they will collect her soon and bring her to America. While she fights to stay in the place she knows, her parents are working through their own crises as they navigate the past and the future. Of the novel Garth Greenwell raves, “Everything in this gorgeously orchestrated novel surprises, everything outraces expectation. Swimming Back to Trout River is one of the most beautiful debuts I have read in years.” (Lydia)

A Lonely Man by Chris Power: In this first novel from Power, who writes a keen column on short stories for the Guardian and published the well-received collection Mothers, two professional fabulists circle each other in Berlin. Both are writers, one who claims to have been ghostwriting the autobiography of a murdered Russian oligarch, the other a stuck novelist tempted to energize his own work by cannibalizing his new friend’s tale. This is a slippery tale of writer-on-writer crime set against the backdrop of international conspiracy. (Matt S.)

Slipping by Mohamed Kheir (translated by Robin Moger): “Sometimes art imposes its form,” said the Egyptian poet, journalist, and novelist Kheir in an interview, and his latest takes the shape of a journalist’s enchanted tour of Egypt. His guide is a “source” who provides unusual scoops, shepherding the journalist to various sites where the mundane is infused with magic (for example, a “cinema of private visions” projected onto a cave wall). This hallucinatory portrait of modern Egypt, translated by Robin Moger, is Kheir first full-length work to appear in English. (Matt S.)

The Parted Earth by Anjali Enjeti: In August 1947, as talk of Partition swirls on the streets of New Delhi, 16-year-old Deepa trades messages encoded in intricate origami with her boyfriend Amir. Seventy years later, in Atlanta, Georgia, Deepa’s granddaughter, reeling from marital troubles and the recent loss of a pregnancy, begins to search for her estranged grandmother and in the process piece together the history of her family shattered by the violent separation of India and Pakistan. Vanessa Hua, author of A River of Stars, calls The Parted Earth, the second of two books by Enjeti out this spring, “a devastating portrayal of Partition and the trauma it wreaked in the generations that followed.” (Michael)

The Living See of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan: Everything is vanishing, or so it appears to Anna, the protagonist in Flanagan’s new novel that is “one part elegy, one part dream, one part hope.” Hailed as the Booker Prize winner’s greatest novel yet, the new work tackles climate change, family ties, and resilience in the Anthropocene. (Nick M.)

Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen: A debut novel about a Vietnamese immigrant family in New Orleans — a mother coping with what becomes permanent separation from her husband back in Vietnam, and two fatherless boys who make their way in different “lanes.” Then the hurricane hits. Havoc, we presume, ensues; but also that human spirit thing that all tragedies, real and fictional, evoke and stir. (Sonya)

June

Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor: In this series of linked stories, young creative people in the Midwest navigate loneliness, intimacy, and violence. In many ways, the book is a continuation of Taylor’s highly acclaimed debut novel, Real Life, which follows Wallace, a Black queer biochemistry PhD student in the Midwest, as he explores failure, grief, and confusing straight men. In other ways, it is a departure — and offers a glimpse into Taylor’s true literary love, the short story form. (Jacqueline)

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris: Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella is the only Black woman at her publishing company until another Black woman is hired and quickly becomes a favorite in the office–just as Nella starts receiving threatening notes at work. Attica Locke raves, “Zakiya Dalila Harris has pulled back the curtain on the publishing industry, but in doing so, she has also perfectly captured a social dynamic that exists in job cultures as varied as tech, finance, academia, or hell, even retail and fast food. Oh, beware of the “OBGs”—Other Black Girls—y’all. As we should all be aware of the psychic cost to Black women of making ourselves palatable to institutions that use our cultural cache for their own ends while disregarding any part of our hearts and minds that they either can’t or won’t understand.” (Lydia)

Bewilderness by Karen Tucker: The stress of Covid-19 has, according to the CDC, escalated opioid usage, and synthetic opioids like fentanyl continue to drive OD fatalities, which are 10% higher than 12 months ago. In her debut novel, Bewilderness, Karen Tucker puts a human face on this ongoing public health catastrophe, as she tells the story of Irene and Luce, pill-addicts and best friends. More than merely evoking the desperation of opioid abuse, Bewilderness provides a funny and touching story of female friendship—as Rufi Thorpe says, “Karen Tucker has the chaotic truth-telling energy of a sage and a lack of sentimentality that would give Hunter S. Thompson stomach cramps. This is the novel the opiate epidemic needs.” (Adam Price)

Walking on Cowrie Shells by Nana Nkweti: In her genre-bending debut story collection, the Cameroonian-American writer and Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate Nana Nkweti mixes realism with clever inversions of numerous genres, including horror, mystery, myth, young adult, and science fiction. You’ll meet linguistic anthropologists, comic book enthusiasts, a PR pro trying to spin a zombie outbreak in West Africa, a graphic novelist, a pregnant pastor’s wife, a mermaid. This dazzler of a debut shines a spotlight on lives that bridge the divide between the cultures of Cameroon and America. Nkweti has said she hopes her stories entertain readers while also offering them a counterpoint to prevalent “heart of darkness” writing that too often depicts a singular African experience. (Bill)

Imposter Syndrome by Kathy Wang: If you follow a certain subset of millennial professionals on Twitter, then you’ve come to understand that few maladies bedevil that overeducated cohort like “imposter syndrome” – the sneaking suspicion that despite your academic credentials you’re still woefully out of your depth. Kathy Wang dramatizes this condition, along with a dollop of cyber paranoia, in her satire Imposter Syndrome, which recounts the travails of Julia Lerner, accomplished computer scientist, COO of Tangerin (one of Silicon Valley’s most promising tech corporations), and Russian intelligence operative. Julia’s position is threatened when Alice, a first-generation Chinese American programmer at Tangerine, begins to discover how deep the company’s disloyalties lay. Like John le Carré filtered through Tom Wolfe, Imposter Syndrome encapsulates our Facebook anxieties perfectly. (Ed S.)

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen: For the title alone, I’m in, no matter who wrote it. But then it’s also Rivka Galchen? Trying her hand at historical fiction? I’m hitting preorder. Based in 1618 Germany at the start of the 30 Years War it tells the story of Katherina Kepler, an illiterate woman known for her herbal remedies. When a neighbor accuses Katherina of poisoning her, Katherina’s brilliant son, an Imperial Mathematician, must defend her. Galchen, known for her fiction and journalism, drew on real historical documents to write her tale of a family threatened by superstitious fears. (Hannah)

Double Blind by Edward St. Aubyn: A little knowledge, they say, can be a dangerous thing. But is there such a thing as too much knowledge? Of the world we live in? Of the people we live with? In St. Aubyn’s seventh novel the sacred and the profane, the rough and the refined are set against each other as the passionate and the rational play out in the lives of three close friends. No one comes out unscathed, or unenlightened. (Il’ja)

All the Water I’ve Seen Is Running by Elias Rodriques: Life is change, and nowhere is that more potently illustrated than in a life confronted by its past. When Daniel Henriquez travels from New York to his old stomping grounds in the American South for the funeral of a girl he once loved, he is confronted by the tension, the true challenge, of owning our identities and owning up to them with those who know us well. On friendship, love, and the rough bite of life on the margins. (Il’ja)

The Great Mistake by Jonathan Lee: The publisher has laid some tripwires in describing this latest novel from the author of High Dive: “New York…turn of the twentieth century…fortune…murder.” A private man deeply invested in the public welfare of one of the world’s great cities has his privacy shredded even as his life is ended, in a novel Katy Simpson Smith compares to Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams and John Williams’ Stoner. (Il’ja)

Everything Now by Rosecrans Baldwin: Baldwin’s new book charts Los Angeles’s literary canon, its landscapes, spiritual practices, history, and cuisines, and ultimately makes the argument that Los Angeles is best understood—“functionally, aesthetically, mythologically, even technologically”—as a city-state. (Emily M.)

Ghost Forest by Pik-Shuen Fung: Following the death of her father, a young woman is haunted by the unspoken history of her family and looks to put a voice to it. A daunting task “if your family doesn’t talk about feelings.” A valuable addition to the growing canon of work providing fresh views on the North American immigrant experience. (Il’ja)

Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford: In this memoir, writer, podcaster, and educator Ashley Ford tells the story of her upbringing. Amid struggles with poverty, rape, and her father’s incarceration, Ford describes the process through which she ultimately came to better understand herself, her surroundings, and her family. Glennon Doyle writes, “The gravity and urgency of Somebody’s Daughter anchored me to my chair and slowed my heartbeat—like no book has since Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.” (Jacqueline)

Objects of Desire by Clare Sestanovich: The debut collection of Clare Sestanovich invites us to a fictional world where women’s most intimate fear, needs, and wants are told. A wife confronts the disturbing fact that everything in her marriage is laid bare. An office lady tries to escape a world of ambitious and demanding men surrounding her. Sestanovich’s writing shines with dark humor and sharp observations. It is a joyful read. (Jianan Qian)

The Natural Mother of the Child by Krys Malcolm Belc: This is a beautiful memoir of parenthood and selfhood that promises to expand the canon of literary writing on caregiving and identity. Belc is a nonbinary, transmasculine parent whose family story is here interwoven with revelations of the bureaucratic processes that are inharmoniously bound up with people’s real lives. (Lydia)

Revival Season by Monica West: A spectacular coming-of-age novel. Miriam’s father, one of the most famous preachers in the South, uses his healing powers to cure people of their diseases. But one summer, the fifteen-year-old Miriam starts to doubt her father’s powers and her faith after witnessing an incident. In the following year and through her painful exploration, Miriam has to confront and resolve the tension between feminism and faith. Revival Season is not only an inner journey of the becoming of a young lady in the South, but also a precise geological picture of the Bible Belt and how faith shapes the community and the family. (Jianan Qian)

Site Fidelity by Claire Boyles: A collection of stories about the rural American west, from Nevada to Colorado, from the 70s to the near future, covering the environmental degradation that in the West, like everywhere, marries ecology, governance, and ideology. (Lydia)

Future Feeling by Joss Lake: With perhaps the most perfect marketing copy of all time, this debut novel brings the saga of “an embittered dog walker obsessed with a social media influencer inadvertently puts a curse on a young man–and must adventure into mysterious dimension in order to save him–in this wildly inventive, delightfully subversive, genre-nonconforming debut novel about illusion, magic, technology, kinship, and the emergent future.” Ben Marcus says of the author, “like every ambitious literary visionary, Lake uses his delirious imagination and potent narrative gifts to sharpen the mirror on how we live and feel now.” (Lydia)

How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith: The power of an itinerant narrator—Smith journeys to Monticello, Angola Prison, Blandford Cemetery, and downtown Manhattan—is that it reveals slavery’s expansive, geographical legacy. Smith tells his stories with the soul of a poet and the heart of an educator. Smith’s ambitious book is fueled by a humble sense of duty: he sought the wisdom of those who tell of slavery’s legacy “outside traditional classrooms and beyond the pages of textbooks”; public historians who “have dedicated their lives to sharing this history with others.” Smith channels the spirit of Toni Morrison here; the writer as one to pass on the word so that it is never forgotten. (Nick R.)

Last Comes the Raven by Italo Calvino (translated by Ann Goldstein): Calvino’s early stories shine here, as with the titular tale, originally published in The Paris Review in 1954: “The stream was a net of limpid, delicate ripples, with the water running through the mesh. From time to time, like a fluttering of silver wings, the dorsum of a trout flashed on the surface, the fish at once plunging zigzag down into the water.” Readers of Calvino know his mercurial ability to move from mimesis to mystery, his syntax full of glorious surprises. (Nick R.)

Mona at Sea by Elizabeth Gonzalez James: I’m a sucker for both “late-blooming” life stories and plucky protagonists. Elizabeth Gonzalez James’s official bio tells us that she “was a waitress, a pollster, an Avon lady, and an opera singer” before sitting down to write, and her jacket copy describes the Millennial protagonist of her debut novel as “the sort who says exactly the right thing at absolutely the wrong moments, seeing the world through a cynic’s eyes.” Also she’s been both a Pushcart and Glimmer Train story nominee, which to my mind is still mad cred. I’m sold. (Sonya)

Animal by Lisa Taddeo: Following her bestselling Three Women, Lisa Taddeo has written a story of female rage, a novel that illustrates one woman’s evolution from prey to predator. When Joan, the protagonist, sees a man commit violence in front of her, she flees her New York City home, searching for the only person who can help her understand her past. As she unravels the traumatic events of her childhood that shaped her adult life, she starts developing the power to exact revenge. (Thom)

December 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 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. Anneliese Mackintosh, author of Bright and Dangerous Objects.Greg Afinogenov, author of Spies and Scholars: Chinese Secrets and Imperial Russia’s Quest for World Power.Jon Mooallem, author of This is Chance!.Edan Lepucki, staff writer and contributing editor for The Millions, author of Woman No. 17.Nick Ripatrazone, contributing editor for The Millions, author of Longing for an Absent God.Sonya Chung, staff writer for The Millions, author of The Loved Ones.Matt Seidel, staff writer for The Millions.Jianan Qian, staff writer for The Millions.Ed Simon, staff writer for The Millions, author of America and Other Fictions.Carolyn Quimby, associate editor for The Millions.K-Ming Chang, author of Bestiary.Brontez Purnell, author of Since I Laid My Burden Down.Diane Cook, author of The New Wilderness.Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, author of House of Stone.Natalie Bakopoulos, author of Scorpionfish.Lillian Li, author of Number One Chinese Restaurant.Margot Livesey, author of The Boy in the FieldChristopher Gonzalez, author of the forthcoming collection I’m Not Hungry but I Could Eat. Kevin Young, editor of African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & SongDavid Heska Wanbli Weiden, author of Winter Counts.Mohamed Asem, author of Stranger in the Pen.Jesse Paddock, writer, filmmaker, and co-host of the Fans Notes podcast.Rachel Yoder, author of the forthcoming novel Nightbitch.Caroline Kim, author of The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories.Marie-Helene Bertino, author of Parakeet.Sunisa Manning, author of A Good True Thai.Destiny O. Birdsong, author of Negotiations.Jennifer Acker, author of The Limits of the World.J. Howard Rosier, National Book Critics Circle board member.Shruti Swamy, author of A House Is a Body: Stories.Claire Cameron, staff writer for The Millions, author of The Last Neanderthal.Zoë Ruiz, staff writer for The Millions.Hannah Gersen, author ofHome FieldKaulie Lewis, staff writer for The Millions.Nick Moran, special projects editor for The Millions.Anne K. Yoder, staff writer for The Millions.Lysley Tenorio, author of The Son of Good Fortune.Adam Dalva, author of Olivia Twist.Jenny Bhatt, author of Each of Us Killers, translator of Ratno Dholi: The Best Stories of Dhumketu.Aatif Rashid, author of Portrait of Sebastian Khan.Miranda Popkey, author of Topics of Conversation.Ruth Franklin, author of Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life.Nadia Owusu, author of the forthcoming memoir Aftershocks.Sabrina Orah Mark, author of Wild Milk.Sara Fan, a writer in California.Lauren Oyler, author of the forthcoming novel Fake Accounts.Farooq Ahmed, author of Kansastan.Megan Giddings, author of Lakewood.Ayad Akhtar, author of Homeland Elegies.Willa Paskin, TV critic at Slate and the host of the Decoder Ring podcast.Blair McClendon, writer, film editor and filmmaker.Jean Chen Ho, author of the forthcoming collection Fiona and Jane.Michael Zapata, author of The Lost Book of Adana Moreau.Sarah Thankam Mathews, a writer featured in Best American Short Stories 2020.Angela Chen, author of Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of SexKevin Barry, author of That Old Country Music.     Kate Gavino, social media editor for The Millions and author of Sanpaku.Michael Bourne, staff writer for The Millions and contributing editor for Poets & Writers.Thomas Beckwith, staff writer for The Millions.Garth Risk Hallberg, contributing editor for The Millions, author of City on Fire.Bill Morris, staff writer for The Millions, author of Motor City Burning.Lydia Kiesling, contributing editor for The Millions, author of The Golden StateJacqueline Krass, staff writer for The Millions.Mahogany L. Browne, author of Woke: A Young Poets Call to Justice.Adam Wilson, author of Sensation Machines.Chelsea Bieker, author of Godshot.Eloisa Amezcua, author of From the Inside Quietly.Katherine Hill, author of A Short Move.Joseph Lee, 2020 Margins Fellow at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Silvia Killingsworth, series editor of Best American Food WritingSejal Shah, author of This is One Way to Dance.Vanessa Veselka, author of The Great Offshore Grounds.Iľja Rákoš, staff writer for The Millions.Davey Davis, author of the forthcoming novel X.Mamta Chaudhry, author of Haunting ParisMartha Anne Toll, author of the forthcoming Three Muses.Anthony Veasna So, author of Afterparties.

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

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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.”
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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.

“Aryeh.”

“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.”

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

“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—?”

“Brooklyn.”

“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.