A Year in Reading: 2021

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Well, here we are. The beginning of Pandemic Winter 2: The Omicron Story, and the 17th annual Millions Year in Reading. We are grateful to our contributors for sharing their years with us, some of them very difficult years, and to you for returning every December to celebrate the role of books and reading in our lives.

The names of our 2021 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 Dec. 23. Bookmark this post, load up the main pagesubscribe to our RSS feed, or follow us on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram to make sure you don’t miss an entry—we’ll run three or four every day.

Stephen Dodson, proprietor of LanguagehatHonorée Fanonne Jeffers, author of The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du BoisGina Apostol, author of InsurrectoMai Al-Nakib, author of The Hidden Light of ObjectsAnuk Arudpragasam, author of A Passage NorthRobert Jones, Jr., author of The ProphetsAnjali Enjeti, author of Southbound and The Parted Earth

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 2020, 20192018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

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

November Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

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

‘Cairo Circles’: Featured Fiction from Doma Mahmoud

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In our latest edition of featured fiction, curated by our own Carolyn Quimby, we present an excerpt from Doma Mahmoud’s debut novel, Cairo Circles.

The book—which examines class and wealth in modern Cairo and the Egyptian diaspora—was hailed by Booklist, which called the book an “enthralling debut…Mahmoud explores the intricacies of Cairo’s social dynamics and how powerful family relations, societal judgment, and class can be despite physical and socioeconomic distance. His dynamic storytelling will keep readers engaged throughout.”

Outside Cairo International Airport, four taxi drivers approached me and began with “Welcome, welcome home,” and “The city has lit up,” and “What a sweet face you’ve brought us,” before they offered to carry my suitcase and argued among one another about who would take me home. I rebelled against their unsophisticated system and demanded to ride with the oldest man, who was losing ground in the dispute. I figured he would be the most likely to let me sit in silence until I arrived home, but as we waited in line to exit the parking lot, he asked me where I had returned from, and it turned out he had numerous opinions to share about America.

“It’s all their fault,” he said. “They burned Iraq to ashes, thinking that they could spill that much blood and get away with it. But that’s not how the world works, is it? They’re lucky they haven’t had more attacks. Do you know, my son, what it means to have a foreign man come into your land, kill your neighbors and relatives, and imprison you in your own jails? They will suffer the consequences for decades. It’s good you came back to your country.”

I performed a smile. “There’s a lot of kind people there, you know. And to attack innocent civilians is just wrong.”

He looked offended. “Of course it’s wrong. Do you not know the chapter from the Quran, ‘The Disbelievers’?”

“I do,” I said, hoping he wouldn’t recite it.

“In the name of God, Most Merciful, Most Compassionate. Say, Disbelievers. I do not worship what you worship. I will never worship what you worship. You will never worship what I worship. You have your religion and I have mine.”

“Ameen.”

“Let there be no compulsion in religion. Attack only when attacked.”

“Yes.”

“Of course it’s wrong,” the man said again. “These same terrorists kill their own Muslim brothers in Iraq. On the day of days, they will meet God, who will hand them the worst punishment.”

“Right.”

“But so will the Americans.”

I sighed. On a regular day, I would have spent the rest of the journey trying to explain to the driver, regardless of how stubborn he was, that there were millions of Americans who accepted and loved Muslims as their fellow citizens, and that their main intention was to get by, not to wage war against Islam. I would have emphasized that for every million men who believed that America was at war with Islam, one man would be successfully convinced to sacrifice his life for that war. But now my own cousin had become that man, that fool, and I didn’t have the will to argue with the driver. 

I lit a cigarette as we made it out of the airport and onto Salah Salem Street. On the surface, Cairo was a shock to the unaccustomed eye. Buildings originally painted in different colors were covered with so much dust that they had evolved into similar shades of grim. Drivers swerved in and out of lanes with no regard to order, honking every few seconds for no reason, as if to contribute to the mandatory peep peep peep that never ceased. Vendors whipped at the legs of malnourished horses so their carts could be dragged faster. Stray dogs and cats scavenged for food around the piles of trash that were dumped every mile or two on the sides of the road. 

I usually began to appreciate Cairo’s aesthetic within a few days of my return. Instead of being agonized by the constant honking, I would enjoy the sha’abe music blasting from the speakers of different cars and maybe even clap along to the tablas. Instead of being disturbed by the children who begged, the scars and zits and despair on their faces, I would notice the luckier children behind them, doing tricks with their bicycles on the sidewalks. Instead of fixating on the restrictions of religion, I would see just how profound it was that, five times a day, every day, millions of people gathered to pray and meditate together. This, however, was far from a regular homecoming, and I feared I was at risk of losing whatever affection I had for my hometown.

At a stoplight, a man with no legs dragged his torso through the spaces between the cars and asked me for change. I stuck my arm out the window and gave him a five-dollar bill. “You have to get it exchanged at the serafa,” I said. “It’s worth thirty pounds.” He kissed it, tapped it on his forehead, and then looked up at God. 

There was no traffic on the 6th of October Highway, an unusual occurrence that punched my chest with anxiety. We would be downtown in minutes, and I would have to withstand what could be weeks of family arguments, breakdowns, and mourning without being able to have a single drink. 

As we drove through Zamalek, I thought of what would happen if Amir was identified by someone who knew him as my cousin. It would be one of the relevant topics of conversation for weeks to come. Did you watch the game last night? Did you go see that movie? Oh, you know that terrorist on the news, the one who shot up the train? Well, that’s Sheero’s cousin. What would it do to my reputation here in Cairo? Would people assume I came from a family of fanatics? Would any respectable man ever let me marry his daughter? I already came from an inferior lineage. My grandfather hadn’t been a basha with European blood; he had been a businessman, and a peasant too. He had never learned how to eat with a fork and knife and could speak only one language. Now, my cousin had become a terrorist, a murderer, and not only would people claim to know someone who knew him, but my high school friends would remember meeting him, the day my mother forced me to take him out on his birthday.

An excerpt from the novel Cairo Circles by Doma Mahmoud, reprinted with permission from Unnamed Press.

October 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.

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen: Whether he’s insulting Oprah or posing self-importantly as “The Great American Novelist” on the cover of Time, Franzen has a singular talent for arousing public contempt. But the fact is he writes good books. Here, he returns to his literary roots in the story of a troubled family, the Hildebrandts, fractured by the cultural upheaval of the early 1970s. The novel is the first in a planned trilogy, with the Middlemarchian title “A Key to All Mythologies,” that will span three generations of the Hildebrandt clan. (Michael)
My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson: In her debut collection, Johnson explores a world (and country) ever on the brink and the people who choose to survive no matter the cost. In the titular novella, set in the near future, a Black descendant of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings is driven from her home by violent white supremacists. In another story, a single mother attempts to buy a home before the apocalypse happens. About the incandescent collection, Colson Whitehead writes: ““A badass debut by any measure—nimble, knowing, and electrifying.” (Carolyn)
I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness by Claire Vaye Watkins: Vaye Watkins, author of Gold Fame Citrus, and the beloved story collection Battleborn, now brings us her second novel, which, clearly, has the most badass title of all time. In it, a writer suffering from postpartum depression leaves her husband and baby to do a speaking engagement in Reno, only to end up deep in the Mojave Desert where she grew up. Jenny Offill writes, “There’s some kind of genius sorcery in this novel. It’s startlingly original, hilarious and harrowing by turns, finally transcendent.” A piece by Vaye Watkins, with the same memorable title, is available to read on Granta. (Edan)
Reprieve by James Han Mattson: Four contestants competing for a cash prize enter the final cell of Quigley House, a full-contact haunted escape room—but only three exit. Mattson’s second novel follows the survivors as they come to terms with how they are partially responsible for the tragedy. Rumaan Alam says, “But the brilliance of James Han Mattson’s novel is in deploying the haunted house as a metaphor for our nation, where the true scare is a cultural reckoning with whiteness itself.” (Carolyn)
Trust by Domenico Starnone (translated by Jhumpa Lahiri): Lovers Pietro and Teresa are trying to save their doomed relationship when they decide to do something impulsive: share the most shameful secret of their lives. When they break up, their lives diverge temporarily—until Teresa begins to reappear at the most inopportune times. Acclaimed Italian novelist and National Book Award finalist Starnone’s newest novel explores vulnerability, relationships, and the gulf between our public and private selves. (Carolyn)
Fight Nightby Miriam Toews: The award-winning author of Women Talking and All My Puny Sorrows is back with a novel as moving as it is full of humor. Swiv is a nine-year-old who lives in Toronto with her pregnant mother and lively grandmother. When Swiv is expelled from school, Grandma takes on the role of teacher. Swiv, in turn, assigns Grandma the job of writing her unborn brother, Gord. “You’re a small thing,” Grandma writes, “and you must learn to fight.” As Susan Cole, in Now Magazine, says, “Few authors mix humor and deep emotion with Toews’s skill.” (Claire)
The Pessimists by Bethany Ball: From Richard Ford to Edward Albee, Rick Moody to John Cheever, the American suburbs have always had a dark core underneath the façade of Levittown homes and perfectly manicured front lawns. Ball gives her own spin on the tribulations of suburban ennui in her aptly named new novel The Pessimists. Ball’s second novel is no mid-century rehash, however, because The Pessimists is very much a suburban gothic for our current American dystopia. The denizens of Connecticut’s Gold Coast include Virginia and Trip, the perfect couple, who secretly hoard a cache of basement weapons to survive the apocalypse, as well as the more conventionally despairing Richard and Margot whose trials only include infidelity and mental health crises. Both twistedly dark and wickedly funny, The Pessimists updates our narratives of suburban anguish for an age of American decline. (Ed)
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles: It’s June 1954, and 18-year-old Emmett Watson has just finished serving 15 months at the juvenile work farm for involuntary manslaughter. But when he returns home to Nebraska expecting to pick up his kid brother Billy and leave for California to start a new life, he gets a surprise. Two buddies from the work farm are waiting to take him the other way—to New York City, where beguiling characters and adventures await. Told from multiple points of view, the novel is reason to rejoice for Towles’s millions of fans, who made his first two novels, Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow, runaway international bestsellers. (Bill)
Pandemonium: A Visual History of Demonology by Ed Simon: Are you endlessly mixing up Asmodeus and Azazel? The Millions’ own Simon can help: he’s mapped out Satan’s family tree. When it comes to Western art and culture, the Devil certainly has been in the details for about five millennia now, and one could argue that his forte—conflict—is at the heart of any story worth reading. So, brush up your demonology with this singular, illustrated treatment that “celebrates the art of hell like never before.” (Il’ja)
Dreaming of You by Melissa Lozada-Oliva: This is a novel in verse, fitting for an acclaimed poet who has published three books of poetry. Dreaming of You follows a young Latinx poet who brings the pop star Selena back to life and embarks upon her own journey of hell, including a dead celebrity prom, in an exploration of celebrity, obsession, and identity. Terrance Hayes says of the book: “Melissa Lozada-Oliva’s kinetic, pop-operatic Dreaming of You is like some terrific amalgam of fan fiction and fantasy nonfiction; a Selena monograph made of memoir, myth and magic. Her partly satirical, partly ecstatic linguistics constitute a whole other sort of literary hybrid.” (Lydia)
The Days of Afrekete by Asali Solomon: In this new novel from the author of Get Down and Disgruntled, two women who knew each other in college before embarking on very different paths come together in mid-life in a tender, comic, searching novel inspired by Mrs. Dallowayand Sula. Danielle Evans says of the novel, “Asali Solomon illuminates what it means to grow away from what felt like the truest version of yourself, what the way back might look like, what Black women in particular are asked to give up, and what it might mean to refuse. Solomon is a treasure: wise, hilarious, and full of poignant insight.” (Lydia)
Search History by Eugene Lim: The author of the critically acclaimed 2017 novel Dear Cyborgs and The Strangers returns with a kaleidoscopic novel of art, grief, artificial intelligence, identity, and a man who is reincarnated as a dog. John Keene raves, “Lim has found a way to capture both the pointed specificity of the internet and its Borgesian infiniteness, in order to tell a picaresque tale about race and American culture, artificial intelligence, artmaking, storytelling, and so much more.” (Lydia)
Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit: Just when you think are you sick of hearing about George Orwell, Solnit, the author of more than 20 books, reveals a surprising side. Orwell was a passionate gardener, and especially enjoyed flowers. “If war has an opposite, gardens might sometimes be it,” the author writes, using this fresh insight to illuminate an absorbing mediation on Orwell’s work as a writer and antifascist. (Marie)
April in Spain by John Banville: The Booker Prize winner’s latest novel is a mystery set on the coast of the Basque Country in Spain. In San Sebastian, native Dubliner Quirke is struggling to relax and enjoy his time in the countryside, despite the pleasant locale and the amiable company of his wife. Then, one night, he spots a stranger in a bar who looks like April Latimer, the woman his brother murdered years before. He makes a call home to Ireland and summons Det. St. John Strafford, who flies down to Spain at the same time as a hit man, whose ultimate target may just be Quirke himself. (Thom)
On Girlhood, edited by Glory Edim: The inaugural book from Edim’s Well-Read Black Girl Library Series features 15 short stories from Black writers. The anthology—which is divided into the four themes of Innocence, Belonging, Love, and Self-Discovery—features short fiction from writers such as Jamaica Kincaid, Toni Morrison, Edwidge Danticat, and Rita Dove. Kirkus’ starred review calls it “a profound, prismatic collection” that “presents an expansive, decades-spanning view of Black girlhood.” (Carolyn)
The Nutmeg’s Curse by Amitav Ghosh: In the successor to his acclaimed book, The Great Derangement, Ghosh explores the origins of the current climate crisis—which he argues is rooted in the centuries-old colonialism and capitalism of Western civilization— through the history of nutmeg. Sunil Amrith writes: “The Nutmeg’s Curse brings to life alternative visions of human flourishing in consonance with the rest of nature—and reminds us how great are the vested interested that obstruct them.” (Carolyn)
On Animals by Susan Orlean: In her newest book, New Yorker staff writer and bestselling author Orlean has gathered essays all about animals and animal-human relationships. Whether writing about Biff, the champion boxer dog; Kevin Richardson, the lion whisperer; animal actors in Hollywood; or Keiko, the captive whale who forgot how to be free, Orlean manages to write with empathy, delight, and unending curioisty. Kirkus’ starred review says the book is “another winner featuring the author’s trademark blend of meticulous research and scintillating writing.” (Carolyn)
Cairo Circles by Doma Mahmoud: While living away from his conservative Egyptian family, Sheero, a wealthy undergraduate at NYU, is revealing in his freedom when a visit from the FBI—with news that his estranged cousin has perpetrated a terrible attack—upends his carefree life. Shifting back and forth in time, and spanning over several decades, Mahmoud’s debut novel follows a group of young Egyptians and Egyptian Americans as they struggle against familial, cultural, and class expectations. Raven Leilani says, “Cairo Circles is a deft meditation on how family and class can brighten and distort life’s trajectory and force us to grapple with how closely origin and desire are intertwined.” (Carolyn)

Cascade by Craig Davidson: A mother and son struggle to survive a car crash. A pro basketball player’s decision to punch a fan changes his life forever. Twins in a juvenile detention center discover the ugly truth about each other. In his six-story collection, Scotiabank Giller Prize nominee Davidson (Cataract City) returns to “Cataract City,” his fictionalized version of Niagara Falls, to explore unsettling familial relationships. Publishers Weekly’s starred review calls the collection “a blissful, wholly satisfying assemblage of cinematic stories, sure to please Davidson’s fans and attract newcomers.” (Carolyn)

The Swank Hotel by Lucy Corin: In the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, Em is working her mindless marketing job while she awaits to hear from Ad, her perpetually-missing sister. The novel oscillates between multiple points of view including Em; her manager, Frank; Frank’s decades-long lover, Jack; Em’s parents; and Tasio, who works for Em’s family and loves Ad. About Corin’s newest, Karen Russell says, “Here is a writer light years ahead of her time returning to explore the recent past of our ongoing American crises.” (Carolyn)
Greedy by Jen Winston: In what Publishers Weekly calls a “sparkling” and “wholly original” debut collection, Winston explores bisexuality, gender, and sex with humor, generosity, and earnestness.Winston’s essays explores her confusing and uncertain queer coming-of-age; the harmfulness of biphobia and bi stereotypes (and how to overcome them); the idea of being “queer enough;” and why being “too much” is the least you can do for yourself. (Carolyn)
The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven by by Nathaniel Ian Miller: Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, Miller’s novel follows 32-year-old Sven Ormson, who flees to a remote fjord with his dog after surviving a near fatal avalanche. After burrowing deep into his isolation and loneliness for decades, Sven’s life is forever altered by an unexpected visitor. Adam Johnson says the novel “illuminates the very nature of human yearning and perseverance,” and that Miller “ascends to the firmament of today’s most exciting young novelists.”(Carolyn)
I Will Die in a Foreign Land by Kalani Pickhart: In Pickhart’s debut, which is set during the the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution, four people lives overlap, intersect, and irrevocably change in the face of personal, political, and historical turmoil. The ambitious novel has garnered rave starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly (“ardent,” “sprawling,” “bighearted,” “It’s a stunner”) and Kirkus (“Innovative, emotionally resonant, and deeply affecting”). (Carolyn)
What Storm, What Thunder by Myriam J. A. Chancy: In her newest novel, Chancy (The Loneliness of Angels) follows an interconnected group of survivors—including musicians, architects, drug traffickers, lovers, and merchants—as they struggle to live, love, and hope in the aftermath of Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake. A rave starred review from Publishers Weekly says the novel “multilayered,” “dazzling,” and “lyrical” novel is “not to be missed.” (Carolyn)
We Imagined It Was Rain by Andrew Siegrist: Set primarily in Tennessee, the stories in Siegrist’s debut story collection explores mundane and life-altering moments with beauty, tenderness, and reverence. About the 2020 C. Michael Curtis Short Story Book Prize winner, Z.Z. Packer writes: ““Reading We Imagined It Was Rain is like entering a dream journal—every sense is heightened and stretched, every memory expanded and reassembled in the hopes of deciphering the past or surviving the present….A keen eye for the truths of the human condition—as well as a mastery of tone, detail, and imagery—make this writer one to watch.” (Carolyn)

The Devil’s Treasure by Mary Gaitskill: In her latest book, Gaitskill’s critiques and reflects on her life’s work. Presenting a bricolage of fiction, memoir, criticism, and visual art, she puts her past and current work in chorus with each other, including  her memoir, previous novels (including Veronica and The Mare), a novel in progress, and Gaitskill’s commentary and artwork. (Carolyn)

September 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.
Palmares by Gayl Jones: A signal event in publishing, this is the first of five of Jones’s new novels to be published after 20 years without a new book from the brilliant author of Corregidora, among other novels. (Read more about Jones’s career in this piece by Calvin Baker.) Palmares is a sprawling story set in 17th-century Brazil, and follows an enslaved woman named Almeyda who escapes to a fugitive slave settlement and embarks on a journey to find her lost husband. Imani Perri says that Jones’s work “represents a watershed in American literature. From a literary standpoint, her form is impeccable; from a historical standpoint, she stands at the very cutting edge of understanding the modern world, and as a Black woman writer, her truth-telling, filled with beauty, tragedy, humor, and incisiveness, is unmatched. Jones is a writer’s writer, and her influence is found everywhere.” (Lydia)
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead: Anyone who’s read the author’s The Colossus of New York knows no one writes more expansively and lovingly about New York City than Whitehead. Reminiscent of the work of Chester Himes, Harlem Shuffle starts with a heist and plays out in a beautifully recreated New York City of the early 1960s. A family saga, a genre-bending a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to New York, particularly Harlem. (Marie)
On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint by Maggie Nelson: Nelson returns to her signature blend of theory, scholarship, criticism, and personal revelation with a meditation on the thorny word “freedom,” and what it means in the world we live in today. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly writes, “Once again, Nelson proves herself a masterful thinker and an unparalleled prose stylist.” (Lydia)

The Spectacular by Zoe Whittall: Whittall’s third novel, The Best Kind of People, was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. She’s also a screenwriter with credits like The Baroness Von Sketch Show and Schitt’s Creek. This novel tells the story of a 22-year-old woman named Missy who is in a famous band; her mother, Carola, who is recovering from a sex scandal at a yoga center; and grandmother Ruth, who is 83 when Missy winds up crashing at her house. The three stories weave around questions about motherhood: what if you regretted it? Kristen Arnett says, “Whittall addresses motherhood and autonomy in ways I’ve never seen done before.” (Claire)

Bewilderment by Richard Powers: Powers follows The Overstory with a family story, which is also an earth story, about an astrobiologist struggling to raise his angry nine-year-old in the wake of his mother’s death, including using an experimental treatment that involves using the recorded patterns of her brain. In a starred review, Kirkus calls the novel a “taut ecological parable…A touching novel that offers a vital message with uncommon sympathy and intelligence.” (Lydia)
Matrix by Lauren Groff: Groff’s highly anticipated first new novel since Fates and Furies tackles the desire, creativity, and vision of women following “Marie of France” (based on based on 12th-century poet Marie de France) in an arc that covers actual historic event from the Crusades to the papal interdict of 1208. (Marie)

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki: The marvelous Ozeki—novelist, filmmaker, and Buddhist priest—publishes her first novel since A Tale for the Time Being. The new book is the story of Benny Oh, who hears voices—the voices of things that surround him, voices that become more and more insistent as his life becomes more and more chaotic. With her characteristic charm, empathy, and perspicacity, Ozeki writes Benny’s story of learning to hear, and manage, the voices, and hear himself along the way. David Mitchell says “This compassionate novel of life, love and loss glows in the dark. Its strange, beautiful pages turn themselves. If you’ve lost your way with fiction over the last year or two, let The Book of Form and Emptiness light your way home.” (Lydia)

The Archer by Shruti Swamy: Following her collection of short stories, A House Is a Body, which Kiese Laymon called “one of the greatest short story collections of the 2020s,” Swamy returns with a novel set in the Bombay of the 1960s and 1970s, following a young woman named Vidya as she pursues the art form of Kathak, an exacting dance, and confronts the dilemmas that pit art against the demands of wifehood in her time and place. C Pam Zhang called the novel “lush and sensual, tasted and felt, with striking images that play out like film behind the eyes. Swamy evokes an India that resists flat stereotype and teems with exuberance, beauty, and life. The Archer is timeless yet utterly modern as it asks what it means for a woman to make a life of art.” (Lydia)
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr: In 2014, Doerr’s breakout World War II novel All the Light We Cannot See managed to package abstruse physics and a sympathetic young Nazi into a thinking person’s literary thriller that dominated the bestseller lists for months. Seven years later, Doerr is back with another history-driven tale of a long-lost Greek manuscript, which turns up in the library of a spaceship seeking a habitable planet in the 22nd century. Other chapters take place during the 1453 siege of Constantinople and in present-day Idaho. “This is a marvel,” says an early review in Publishers Weekly. (Michael)
How to Wrestle a Girl by Venita Blackburn: The second collection by the author of Black Jesus and Other Superheroes is a series of fiercely observant stories, many of which follow a teenage girl in the aftermath of her father’s death. Set in Southern California, these stories follow her as she grapples with her emerging queer identity, along with the challenges of her life at school and her kinetic and complicated family. In other stories, we see a class of teenagers torment their teacher to the point of mental collapse, as well as another story in which a different group of teens devise a scheme to sell their excess fat and skin. (Thom)

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney: The most widely read, discussed, and argued-about literary novelist of the last five years, Sally Rooney, returns in September with Beautiful World, Where Are You. The contours will sound familiar to anyone versed in Rooneyana: a quartet of friends—Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon—travel, have sex, worry about having sex, worry about themselves and their friendships and aging into adulthood in a very uncertain world. But while Rooney’s plot contrivances may occasionally, at least in summary, seem pat and prefab, her keen and tersely delivered observations about the follies of youth, sex, and friendships never are. (Adam Price)
Chronicles from the Happiest People on Earth by Wole Soyinka: The first new novel in 50 years from the Nobel laureate in literature. Chronicles, the third novel from Soyinka, best known for his award-winning plays and poetry (and life of essential political activism), is part whodunit, part social indictment, and as powerful as anything that came before. A Nigerian doctor realizes someone is selling body parts from his hospital for use in ritualistic practices, and with the help of an old friend, he begins to search for the thief—but neither realizes how far the search will take them. Toni Morrison once praised Soyinka, saying “You don’t see things the same when you encounter a voice like that,” and here that voice still has all of its power, wit, beauty, and purpose. (Kaulie)
Harrow by Joy Williams: This novel, Williams’s first in two decades, follows the unlikely (and aged) rebels who sabotage corporations for their complicity in environmental destruction. Who better than Williams to capture pure-hearted but absurd efforts to retrieve paradise lost? (Nick M.)

Misfits by Michaela Coel: I May Destroy You was some of the most powerful television I have seen in recent years, an incredible exploration of trauma, violence, work, friendship, social media, and art (complete with a storyline about writers’ block). Subtitled A Personal Manifesto, Misfits is a book from Coel, who is both the brilliant mind behind the show and its star, built off the MacTaggart Lecture she delivered at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. Coel weaves stories of her own life with a call to honesty and action for everyone who has struggled to fit in. (Lydia)

Martita, I Remember You by Sandra Cisneros (translated by Liliana Valenzuela): The legendary Cisneros returns with a novel published as a dual English-Spanish edition, a story of a woman who leaves her Mexican American family in Chicago and spends wild young days in Paris, forming a friendship with two other women that resurfaces years later with the chance discovery of an old letter. (Lydia)

The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine: National Book Award finalist Alameddine’s sixth novel tells the story of Mina Simpson, a Lebanese doctor and trans woman who travels to the Greek island of Lesbos to provide aid at an infamous refugee camp. For decades, Mina has avoided traveling so close to her homeland, but she decided to visit the camp to accomplish something meaningful. But when she meets Sumaiya, a Syrian woman with terminal liver cancer, and tries to chart a course of treatment with the limited resources on the island, she’s forced to reckon with the scale of the migrants’ suffering, along with as her own limitations. (Thom)
A Calling for Charlie Barnes by Joshua Ferris: Acclaimed novelist and short story writer Ferris returns in 2021 with A Calling for Charlie Barnes. Charlie Barnes, a multiply divorced romantic and schemer whose hopes for delivery are dashed by the financial crisis and a medical disaster, gets one more chance for redemption in the form of his storytelling son. Ferris is one of the master chroniclers of our declining American empire and spirit—his special gift is delivering the bad news with both laughs and an enormous amount of empathy that, at his best, recalls the work of Emerson and Thoreau. In the words of Dana Spiotta, “Joshua Ferris is one of our best writers, and A Calling for Charlie Barnes is wonderful: fast and deep, urgent and brilliant. Ingeniously written, it had me up reading late into the night. A hilarious, intimate, and scathing takedown of so many American vanities.” (Adam Price)
The Water Statues by Fleur Jaeggy (translated by Gini Alhadeff): Even when considered alongside Jaeggy’s other singular and slim novels, The Water Statues is a peculiar book. Within, Jaeggy tells the story of family and isolation, and the inheritance of loneliness and emotional poverty that accompanies wealth (in line with Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, though that’s where comparisons end). This “strange and shimmering nonlinear text” is voluptuous yet melancholic and austere. Which seems in line with Jaeggy’s profession that, “One should be in one’s own void. Void is silence. Solitude. An absence of relationships…The void is a plant that must continually be watered.” (Anne)

The Magician by Colm Tóibín: Scribner describes Tóibín’s most recent project as “a stunning marriage of research and imagination” in this, his exploration of the life and art of Thomas Mann. Tóibín’s refined gift is about as perfect a match as could be imagined for the construction of a nuanced portrait of a complicated man and artist living in a complex period of modern history. (Il’ja)

Heart Radical by Anne Liu Kellor: Kellor’s memoir describes her travels through China as a young multiracial woman, relaying her years living in China, falling in love, speaking her mother tongue, working, traveling, and searching for what called her to a place that is both familiar and not. Cheryl Strayed said of the memoir, “I loved this book. It’s vulnerable, searching, insightful, riveting and beautifully written.” (Lydia)

Hao by Ye Chun: A collection of stories that take place in China and America within the Chinese Diaspora, spanning time and place and focusing on the lives and struggles of women as they wrestle with everything that attends migration, motherhood, and personhood. Lynn Steger Strong says of the collection, “Each of these stories is an individual world brought to life fully by the particularity of its language, by Ye’s extraordinarily far-reaching and deeply felt imagination, combined with her consistently stunning acuity and control.” (Lydia)

Kaya Days by Carl de Souza (translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman): Named for the days of protest and mourning that followed the death of Mauritian musician Joseph Réginald Topize, or Kaya, at the hands of police, the debut novel by de Souza follows a woman through Mauritius as she searches for her missing brother, delineating the many intersecting worlds of the island nation at a revolutionary moment. J.M.G. Le Clézio calls the novel “a searing, urgent, far-seeing dispatch that imprints the reality of Mauritius, at odds with its picture-postcard views, on the global consciousness. Carl de Souza is a formidable voice in Mauritian literature; his account is an indictment and a plea for understanding among its communities.” (Lydia)
The Morning Store by Karl Ove Knausgaard (translated by Martin Aitken): The mega-popular Norwegian author’s latest novel centers on a cast of characters who witness a bizarre astronomical phenomenon. On a normal night in August, a group of tangentially related people in the Norwegian resort town of Sørlandet watch as a massive star suddenly appears in the night sky. No one—including the astronomers—knows just what the star is or why it appeared. The days wear on, unusual and baffling things begin to occur, and the characters grapple with these events and their impact on their lives. (Thom)
Inter State by José Vadi: As award-winning writer Vadi examines California with anger and love in his first essay collection, he centers the ever-changing Golden State and includes wildfires, dive bars, the tech industry, farmwork, decay, and wealth. Nina Renata Aron describes Vadi as an “ethnographer-on-a-skateboard” and Publishers Weekly describes the book as “part love letter, part indictment.” Vadi’s writing style has received much advanced praise: Kirkus says that “at a line level, the book is outstanding, filled with long, breathless sentences, innovative syntax,” and Melissa Valentine recommends that “with smart prose and daring form, these are perfect essays for our complicated times.” (Zoë)

Margaret and the Mystery of the Missing Body by Megan Milks: Margaret, the once head dectective of the Girls Can Solve Anything club, is at a major crossroads in her life: her friends have abandoned her; she’s developed an all-consuming eating disorder; and she would rather solve cases than grow up. When she enters inpatient treatment for her anorexia, Margaret dusts off her dectective skills to solve mysteries—including, and especially, how to live and grow and become the person you’re meant to be. About Milks’ genre-bending debut novel, Torrey Peters writes: “What if all those nineties book series about girlhood had been truly honest about the process of growing up? You’d get this wonderful book: a comforting facade that opens into an entrancing and wildly innovative gut-renovation of the genre, with an interior that lays bare the hidden workings of life I wish I’d known on my own first run through adolescence. Brilliant.” (Carolyn)

The Body Scout by Lincoln Michel: Set in a distant (and increasingly possible) future devastated by climate change and endless pandemics, Kobo—a body-hacker who works as a baseball scout for Big Phrama-owne baseball teams—is struggling. When his brother is murdered on the baseball field, Kobo dives into a dangerous and corrupt underworld to hunt down the killer. “This novel is delightful in its brio and sharp as a tack in its inventiveness—and yet its greatest, most poignant gift is in asking: What does it mean to inhabit a body? A superb read,” says Esmé Weijun Wang. (Carolyn).

Letters to Amelia by Lindsay Zier-Vogel: Zier-Vogel’s debut novel follows 30-year-old Grace Porter, who is grieving the sudden end of her longterm relationship, as she discovers the love letters between Amelia Earhart and her lover, Gene Vidal. After Grace discovers she’s pregnant, she begins writing her own letters to Amelia—and searching for answers as to what happened to the infamous pilot. Jon McGregor calls Letters to Amelia “a wonderful novel about flight and passion, about love-letters and reaching out; a novel about how we never know quite what’s coming next, but still keep launching ourselves into the blue tomorrow.” (Carolyn)

Assembly by Natasha Brown: Assembly’s young, successful, Black protagonist is wondering how she can take control of her life while navigating a toxic career, contemplating her relationship with her wealthy white boyfriend, and worrying over potential life-or-death decision. Brown’s debut novel is a slim but affecting portrayal of the race, class, and sexual politics in contemporary Britain. Booker winner Bernardine Evaristo says: “Natasha Brown’s exquisite prose, daring structure and understated elegance are utterly captivating. She is a stunning new writer.” (Carolyn)

Other Girls to Burn by Caroline Crew: Winner of the Sue William Silverman Prize in Creative Nonfiction, Crew’s essay collection blends cultural criticism and personal essay to  explore the relationship between women and violence. Alexander Chee, who selected the collection for the prize, says: “The world turns in Crew’s vision, essay by essay, renewed or revealed in ways only she can provide, and all of it brought to us in a voice I’d follow into any topic—propulsive, lyrical, able to turn on a dime, as the expression goes. . . . An unforgettable debut. ” (Carolyn)

Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang: In her debut, coming-of-age memoir, Wang writes about moving to and living in New York City as an undocumented immigrant—as her family seeks out the ever-present and alluring American Dream. “Beautiful Country is the real deal,” writes Gish Jen. “Heartrending, unvarnished, and powerfully courageous, this account of growing up undocumented in America will never leave you.” (Carolyn)

The Breaks by Julietta Singh: In her newest work of nonfiction, Singh (No Archive Will Restore You) writes a gorgeous and poetic letter to her six-year-old daughter about everything from late-stage capitalism and climate change to queer families and parenting “at the end of the world.” Publishers Weekly’s starred review calls the slim books “a stunning work.” (Carolyn)

August Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

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We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!
Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers: In her ambitious fiction debut, the 2020 National Book Award-nominated poet meditates on African-American history from the colonial slave trade to our current, turbulent age. Ailey Pearl Garfield, the protagonist of the novel, grows up navigating W.E.B. Du Bois’s “Double Consciousness” in everyday life in the deep South. Her mother’s side of family was taken to the U.S. as enslaved people. The female members of her family, in particular, went through many shocking experiences. Coming of age, Ailey learns to fully embrace her heritage by exploring and understanding the traumatic memories of her family. (Jianan)
Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Moreno-Garcia follows up her bestselling Mexican Gothic with a noirish thriller set amid the political upheaval in 1970s Mexico City. A mousy secretary named Maite is envious of the racy life of her neighbor Leonora, a beautiful art student who goes missing. Determined to solve the mystery, Maite is soon joined in her quest by a hired thug named Elvis, who is also on Leonara’s trail. Linked by their shared love for old movies, comics and rock ’n’ roll, the unlikely duo is sucked into a world of students, radicals, Russian spies, hit men, and government agents who will kill to protect Leonora’s dark secrets. (Bill) 

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker: Booker Prize-winning Barker got her start writing about the English working-class women she grew up with. Eventually she branched out and wrote The Silence of the Girls, a retelling of The Iliad from the eyes of an enslaved girl. She has followed that with The Women of Troy, in which the conquered titular women, led by Briseis, plot their revenge against their Greek captors, whose triumphal trip home with their spoils is delayed by uncooperative winds. Once again, Barker uses blunt prose to tell human stories that strip the romance from one of literature’s enduring epics. (Bill)

Edge Case by YZ Chin: In a follow-up to her award-winning story collection, Though I Get Home, Chin’s debut novel follows Edwina, a Malaysian immigrant living in New York City, after she is abandoned by her husband. As she searches for him, Edwina thinks back on their relationship—and navigates her feelings of isolation, uncertainty, and (perhaps misplaced) loyalty. About the book, Chia-Chia Lin writes: “A quirky story of loss and limbo, Edge Case immerses us in the worries, hopes, and absurdities of life on a work visa in America.” (Carolyn)
The President and the Frog by Carolina De Robertis: Inspired by the life of Uruguay’s former president José Mujica, De Robertis’ latest novel follows the 82-year-old protagonist (the “Poorest President in the World”) as he’s interviewed by a journalist. Switching between the present and memories of the past, the president—a former guerrilla, revolutionary, and political prisoner—remembers the most monumental moments of his life. About this survival story, Madeline Miller writes: “Playful and profound, unearthly yet deeply rooted, this sublime and gripping novel is above all about hope: that within the world’s messy pain there is still room for transformation and healing.” (Carolyn)
Savage Tongues by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi: Written with the intensity of early Duras and Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment, Savage Tongues, Van der Vliet Oloomi’s third novel, is “relentless in the best way.” Iranian-American Arezu returns to her father’s Spanish pied-a-terre that she has just inherited, conjuring the memory of an intense and catastrophic affair she had 20 years previous. With the help of a dear friend, Arezu excavates and puts words to her past trauma in this novel about love, friendship, identity, and displacement. As Garth Greenwell attests, Savage Tongues “lives at the border of memory and dream, restlessly seeking a logic that can transform cruelty into love.” (Anne)

Real Estate by Deborah Levy: Real Estate, the third and final book of Deborah Levy’s ‘living autobiography,” takes on the idea of home and houses in many iterations: the haunted, the literary, and what homespace means to a woman writer. Levy considers much about unreal estate too, as the narrator collects her fantasy dream homes. “Domestic space,” Levy observes, “if it is not an affliction bestowed on us by patriarchy, can be a powerful space.” And in essence, puts forth what has always been at the heart of this project, “to embody and make present a female mind.” (Anne)

Something New Under the Sun by Alexandra Kleeman. Following You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine and a story collection, Intimations, Kleeman returns to the novel form with East Coaster Patrick coming to Hollywood to oversee the film adaptation of one of his books. He ends up, with the help of a former child star, on a mission to find out the secrets of WAT-R, a synthetic water in this satirical and imaginative novel about climate change, consumerism, fake news, informational overload, and a Hamlet problem. (Marie)
Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So. This is the debut collection of Cambodian American So, who tragically died suddenly in 2020 (his Year in Reading was published posthumously at The Millions). The collection slipstreams between humor and pathos—as suggested in the title “Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts,” a story that appeared in The New Yorker—as the characters carry the residue of the Khmer Rouge genocide through immigration, race, sexuality, friendship, and family. “Like beams of wry, affectionate light, falling from different directions on a complicated, struggling, beloved American community,” says George Saunders. (Marie)
All’s Well by Mona Awad: “Dear Readers: This is one wild book!,” said Margaret Atwood on Twitter, “No holds barred.” It’s the story of Miranda Fitch, who had an accident that ended her acting career and left her with chronic back pain. She’s on the verge of losing her teaching job at a college, and facing a mutinous cast, when three strange benefactors show up. They know about her past and make alluring promises for the future—what could go wrong? If you had the pleasure of reading Awad’s acclaimed novel Bunny, you know the answer is everything and the result will be, as Heather O’Neill says, “equal parts brilliant and hilarious.” (Claire)

The Turnout by Megan Abbott: “Ballet flows through their veins,” says the description of this book, and Abbott’s many fans will know how unnerving these five words will turn out to be. This is the 10th novel from the bestselling author who looks at femininity and power like no one else. It’s about a ballet studio run by two sisters with long necks, taut buns, and pink tights. When a suspicious accident happens just before the annual performance of The Nutcracker, an interloper arrives and threatens to upset everything. (Claire)
Agatha of Little Neon by Claire Luchette: The eponymous Agatha of Luchette’s debut novel has been a nun for nine years when her parish closes and she and her three sisters must move to a former mill town to take over a halfway house. In Woonsocket, Agatha becomes a teacher at an all-girls’ school and must face the world without her fellow nuns and the comfort of their closed world. Cristina Henríquez says the book is “blazingly original, wry, and perfectly attuned to the oddness—and the profundity—of life” and Karen Thompson Walker highlights Luchette’s “sneaky deadpan wit.” (Edan)
Radiant Fugitives by Nawaaz Ahmed: Ahmed’s debut novel, about three generations of women from a Muslim Indian family, is told from the point of view of heroine Seema’s baby—at the moment of its birth. Publishers Weekly, in its starred review, calls it “dazzling, heartrending,” and Peter Ho Davies named it “a rare marvel, an intimate epic of faith and family, love and politics, knit together by a magical omniscience of profound compassion.” If that’s not enough for you, rumor has it that the ending is brilliant, and reframes the entire book. (Edan)

The Shimmering State by Meredith Westgate: There’s a new drug on the streets of LA: Mem, in the form of shimmering pills, contains happy memories selected to treat Alzheimer’s patients. It’s also a hit on the black market and among the elite, offering users short glimpses of someone else’s life. Though Lucien and Sophie came to the drug in different ways, it leads them both to a rehab facility run by Mem’s producers—though they’re sure they’ve run into each other before. Our own Lydia Kiesling calls The Shimmering State “hypnotic,” “a shimmering, dreamlike experience of multiple lives that collide and repel,” and, ultimately, a “beautifully dystopian shot at redemption.” (Kaulie)

Three Rooms by Jo Hamya: Virginia Woolf said we women writers need rooms of our own; Hamya’s unnamed narrator can only manage a succession of domestic way-places, a small collection of rented rooms and childhood bedrooms. It’s 2018 and the mood in Britain is dark, smothered by both increasingly obvious inequality and instability and the realization that nobody knows what to do about it. Meanwhile, the narrator of Three Rooms shuffles from research job to temp gig, spending a lot of time online and searching for her place in the world, wondering when it all became so hard. If this sounds dark, it may be, but there’s no denying it strikes a chord, amplified by the beautifully spare prose—think Rachel Cusk, fresh from grad school. (Kaulie)

Against White Feminism by Rafia Zakaria: Journalist Zakaria has written a rebuttal to the feminism promulgated by white upper-middle-class women, including the “aid-industrial complex,” in a book that focuses on women of color and rejects “white feminism’s global, long-standing affinity with colonial, patriarchal, and white supremacist ideals.” (Lydia)

Names for Light by Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint: Winner of the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize, Myint’s lyrical memoir shifts from her family’s roots and her birth in Myanmar to her childhood in Bangkok and San Jose, moving through her own life and the lives of her family members, narrating events in both the near and distant past. In a starred review, Kirkus calls the book “An imaginative and compelling memoir about what we inherit and what we pass on.” (Lydia)

The Luminous Novel by Mario Levrero (translated by Annie McDermott): This is the latest posthumously translated novel from the Uruguayan Levrero, whose Montevideo apartment was, to quote his translator McDermott, “the centre of a small universe…his legendary literary workshops, which followed an ‘unmethodical method’ designed to put people in touch with their imagination, produced hundreds of students who consider themselves his disciples.” Here, a novelist receives a generous grant that produces an insuperable writer’s block. As with Empty Words, in which the protagonist attempts “graphological self-therapy” (handwriting exercises) to better himself, this is a digressive, Sternean tale in which interruption becomes a kind of illumination. (Matt)

Blind Man’s Bluff by James Tate Hill: In his debut memoir, Hill details how he hid his blindness from the world for nearly 15 years. After he was diagnosed with Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy at 16, he discovered how to pass as sighted in ingenious, robust, and dangerous ways—until his life began to crumble under the weight of his denial. Rebecca Makkai writes, “Told with humor and grace, Blind Man’s Bluff is a story of reinventions—ones both enormous and minute, ones both forced and earned. It’s also an education, and an illumination.” (Carolyn)

Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy: In a follow-up to her national bestselling novel, Migrations, McConaghy writes about twins Inti and Aggie Flynn, who are both dealing and healing from trauma. Biologist Inti and her colleagues are attempting to rewild the remote Scottish Highlands and things seem to be going well—until a man is found dead and Inti makes a life-altering decision. Booklist’s starred review calls the novel “a powerful meditation on humanity, nature and the often frightening animalistic impulses lurking within us all.” (Carolyn)

Ramadan Ramsey by Louis Edwards: Guggenheim Fellow and Whiting Award winner Edwards returns with his newest novel follows two families across decades and continents. Set in 1999 New Orleans, Alicia Ramsey, a young Black woman, and Mustafa Totah, a Syrian immigrant, meet and fall in love before Mustafa returns to Syriah not knowing Alicia is pregnant with his son, Ramadan. Years later, 12-year-old Ramadan sets off to find his father—a journey that leads him through a hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, Istanbul, and Alleppo. Alice Randall writes: “An immediate global classic, Ramadan Ramsey joins the ranks of Sula, Oliver Twist, and Moll Flanders, as a tale named for a character that invites readers into a world both hyper-local and universal.” (Carolyn)

The Perfume Thief by Timothy Schaffert: Schaffert’s (The Swan Gondola) newest novel is full of decadence, intrigue, and danger. Clementine, a 72-year-old queer ex-pat and former con artist, is living in Pariss when she’s  roped into her final—and perhaps most dangerous—job: to steal the recipe book of a missing Parisian perfumer before it falls into the hands of the Nazis forever. About the novel, our own Emily St. John Mandel writes: “This is historical fiction at its finest, vivid and beautifully rendered.” (Carolyn)

 When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen: When Mira left her small, segregated hometown, she also left behind her white best friend Celine, the haunted Woodsman plantation, and Jesse, the boy she quietly loved. When she returns to attend Celine’s wedding on Woodsman plantation, which is now a vacation resort, Mira realizes no renovation could bury the property’s racist history nor the ghosts seeking revenge on their tormentors’ descendants. “This is a novel, like Octavia Butler’s Kindred, that reminds its readers that as long as people don’t acknowledge how much of the past still shapes the present, it will bring its whips, its hatchets, and fists to make us learn,” says Megan Giddings. (Carolyn)

The Human Zoo by Sabina Murray: In her newest novel PEN Faulkner winner Murray writes about Christina “Ting” Klein, a Filipino-American journalist, who has left New York to escape her impending divorce and traveled to Manila to begin book research. With Procopio “Copo” Gumboc’s authoratarian regime casting a long shadow, Ting slips seamlessly back into upper class Manila life—until a tragedy threatens to completely upend her life. Maaza Mengiste writes, “This novel pulses with that most difficult of urgent truths: running away only leads us back to ourselves but that might be exactly what saves us in the end.” (Carolyn)

Something Wonderful by Jo Lloyd: A man seeks out his father who abandoned him at a festival. Two women hunt butterflies in the runup to World War I. A rural Welsh community catch flashes of their ultra-wealthy, but invisible, neighbors. In award-winning Lloyd’s debut collection, people are looking for ways to better themselves, their lives, and the world around them. The story collection has garnered praise from Hilary Mantel (calling Llyod “a major talent”) and Karen Russell (“Her sentences could rouse the dead (and do, in this excellent book)”). (Carolyn)

Gordo by Jaime Cortez: Visual artist and graphic novelist Cortez sets his debut collection in a migrant workers camp in rual California in the 1970s. Some, but not all of the, stories focus on the title character Gordo, the young (and likely queer) son of documented migrant farm workers, as he comes of age. Kirkus’ starred review says the stories “serve as unvarnished, even fond, testaments to a tough, queer life.” (Carolyn)

Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2021 Book Preview

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We’ve just an entered an amazing six-month stretch for book-lovers. The second of half of 2021 brings the first novel from the legendary Gayl Jones in more than 20 years, and the first novel from Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka in nearly 50. How often do we get new work from Louise Erdrich, Colson Whitehead, Richard Powers, Ruth Ozeki, Jonathan Franzen, Margaret Verble, Percival Everett, Joy Williams, Sandra Cisneros, John Edgar Wideman, A.S. Byatt, Rabih Alameddine, Donald Antrim, and Maggie Nelson—all in one six-month period? Never! It doesn’t happen! We’ve got hotly anticipated books from Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, Sally Rooney, Venita Blackburn, Omar El Akkad, Tiphanie Yanique, and Claire Vaye Watkins. We’ve got novels and memoirs and stories. There are just so many exciting books headed our way.

We miss books every single time we do this, and as usual, we will continue with our monthly previews, beginning in August. Let us know in the comments what you’re looking out for, and look forward to 2022, when more delights awake, on the page, if nowhere else.

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July

What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad: In his acclaimed bestselling debut, American War, El Akkad demonstrated his ability to capture complex political events and place them on a personal scale. With his new novel, What Strange Paradise, he has done it again, this time asking questions about the global refugee crisis. It opens with the sinking of a dilapidated ship and bodies washing up on the shores of a small island. A nine-year-old Syrian boy, Amir, survives the wreck and is rescued by a teenage girl. The novel tells the story of their bond. As the publisher says, it’s “beautifully written, unrelentingly dramatic, and profoundly moving.” (Claire)

Night Bitch by Rachel Yoder: The startling cover of this debut first caught my attention, then the premise itself: a stay-at-home mother has reason to believe that she’s turning into a dog. When her husband dismisses her worries, she turns to a book of magic and then a multi-level marketing scheme. Started during Jami Attenberg’s #1000WordsofSummer challenge, it’s been optioned for a film that will star Amy Adams and which Yoder herself will adapt. One way or the other, you’re going to be talking about this book. (Hannah)

Wayward by Dana Spiotta: The author of Eat the Document and Stone Arabia now graces us with a deep-dive into women: Mothers as daughters, their daughters, their daughter’s grandmothers as mothers. Taylor Antrim called it both “affecting” and “Gloriously cool.” (Marie Myung-Ok Lee) 

Razorblade Tears by S.A. Crosby: Crosby’s arrival last year with his pedal-to-the-metal rural noir debut Blacktop Wasteland was a sorely needed bright spot in an otherwise miserable pandemic year. In his sophomore novel, Ike Randolph, a Black ex-con, learns that his son has been murdered along with his white husband Derek, and joins forces with Derek’s father, another former criminal with ties to the underworld, to find the killers. (Michael)

Appleseed by Matt Bell: In the past, two brothers planted apple seeds. In the near future, climate change and capitalism destroy orchards and much else. Still farther out, ice blankets us all. In Bell’s 600-page mythic thriller, readers move forward through each era. In the real world, we hope to slow the pace. (Nick M.)

Intimacies by Katie Kitamura: The author of the haunting novel A Separation, returns with a novel of a woman who goes to work as an interpreter at the International Court in the Hague, a place where her work and life and those of her friends and acquaintances intersect in explosive ways. Dana Spiotta calls Intimacies “a haunting, precise, and morally astute novel that reads like a psychological thriller…Katie Kitamura is a wonder.” (Lydia)

Seek You: A Journey through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke: The graphic novel is the ideal format for a book on loneliness. Sometimes only a sole image can conjure the feeling of longing and vulnerability, and other times, you need both words and images to visualize sublime vulnerability. Radtke seamlessly guides readers through the history of loneliness, with striking drawings and thoughtful reflections on the lengths humans have gone to combat or avoid their lone selves. Never has a study on loneliness made me feel less alone. (Kate)

The Startup Wife by Tahmima Anam: He was a boy, she was a girl; she’s a brilliant coder and he gets the credit. In Anam’s newest novel, Asha Ray is a generational coding talent who runs into—and quickly marries—her high school crush. Together they enter the rabid startup world with an idea: what if tech rituals replaced religion? But startup bro-culture doesn’t leave much room for Asha, and if tech innovators get to be gods, where does that leave everyone else? Anam’s own startup experiences underpin the book’s sharp and knowing satire, but at its core The Startup Wife is about much more than skewering our modern silicon messiahs. (Kaulie)

Ghost Forest by Pik-Shuen Fung: In this touching and delicate debut, Fung approaches the big political event—the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997—at an intimate and personal level. Before the Handover, the family of the protagonist immigrate to Vancouver like many other Hong Kongers back then. However, her father immigrates only nominally. In real life, he remains in Hong Kong to make money. The novel starts with his unexpected death that leaves the young protagonist with many unresolved questions. This is a fascinating epic of a Chinese-Canadian family, heartbreaking, daring, and relieving. (Jianan Qian) 

The Second Season by Emily Adrian: Four years ago, in an essay published right here at The Millions, I asked why there hasn’t been a Great American Basketball Novel yet. Well, there is now: The Second Season, by Adrian. And no less an expert than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar agrees, calling it “A riveting, insightful, and touching story.” The Second Season tells the story of basketball announcer Ruth Devon—loosely based on Doris Burke, as most NBA fans will recognize—as she attempts to become the first female NBA announcer on national television, while, like so many women, juggling the competing demands of maternal and professional identities. Adrian writes with a knowledge and passion for the game, but fandom is not a prerequisite for falling in love with this brilliant, warm, and funny book. (Adam Price)

The Beginners by Anne Serre (translated by Mark Hutchinson): French author Serre has stated that the writer’s only responsibility is to seduce: “You have to build a trap, a wonderful trap, that the reader is only too happy to fall into.” It’s a seduction she’s performed in the tight, fabulist tales of her two previous books translated into English—The Fool and The Governesses. And now, in her third, The Beginners, she tells a tale of a literal seduction, where Anna, an art critic, who 20 years into a stable romantic partnership experiences a coup de foudre that she must give herself over to. (Anne)

A Shock by Keith Ridgway: It’s been almost a decade since Irish writer Ridgway produced his cult crime novel Hawthorn & Child. He has finally given his fans A Shock, a string of loosely linked stories set in neighboring London houses occupied by druggy characters who appear, disappear, then reappear. They shout at rats. They hide inside walls and in attics. They realize that the sound of a washing machine actually improves a Charles Mingus recording. Here’s how Ridgway writes: “His skin was a leathery peel. A wet dry thing. He had been scraped and reapplied to himself and now he was dying in the street like an ant on a fire.” Hell, yes. (Bill)

We Want What We Want by Alix Ohlin: Heidi Julavits, author of The Folded Clock, puts it well when she says Ohlin’s work is, “spoken of in the same reverent breath as Lorrie Moore and Joy Williams.” This is a new collection from the award-winning author of Dual Citizens. The stories are about people who test boundaries, like Vanessa, who comes home from a year away volunteering to find a childhood friend in her father’s bed, or Amanda, who drives upstate to rescue a cousin from a cult only to find an alluring situation. Each story is, “diamond-sharp,” says the publisher, “sparkling with pain, humor, and beauty.” (Claire)

China Room by Sunjeev Sahota: Sahota was one of the Granta Best Young British Novelists of the Decade in 2013 and his The Year of the Runaways was shortlisted for the Man Booker and the Dylan Thomas Prize. His new novel, partially inspired by his family’s history, jumps between 1929 and 1999 but begins with a new bride, Mehar, in Punjab in 1929, as she tries to learn about her husband and becomes wrapped up in secrets that will reverberate through the decades. Kamila Shamsie calls the novel “A gorgeous, gripping read.” (Lydia)

Virtue by Hermione Hoby: Hoby’s new novel, after Neon in Daylight, follows a young man named Luca as he goes to New York for an internship at a magazine and is pulled both into the dreamy summer orbit of a wealthy white couple, and into a conversation about race, injustice, and privilege that has profoundly different consequences for Luca than it does for his fellow intern, a Black woman named Zara. Jia Tolentino says of Hoby, “with bewitching precision, she captures the ominous beauty and soft underbelly of our protest summers. The result is both a sumptuous portrait of all-consuming attraction and a compassionate indictment of shallow social conscience. I loved this novel, and sank deep into its radiance and rot.” (Lydia)

Fierce Little Thing by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore: In her latest novel, bestselling author Beverly-Whittemore has written a Secret History-esque tale of suspense about a group of childhood friends and the secret that haunts their adulthood. The book’s got all the ingredients for the perfect summer read: short breathless chapters; a sinister cult in the wilds of Maine; and beautiful, sharp prose. In its starred review, Kirkus calls it: “A compelling study of power, sociopathy, and the possibilities of survival.” (Edan)

Give My Love to the Savages by Chris Stuck: A debut collection of short stories linked by the experience of Black men from different walks of life, in places across the United States, as they find themselves on the receiving end of a racist slur.  Victor LaValle says of the collection “You’re going to laugh, you’re going to gasp, you’re going to wonder if you’re allowed to enjoy this book and then you’re going to be laughing all over again. This is Black satire with bite, like Zora Neale Hurston used to do, with a smile and a sharp elbow. A touch of Paul Beatty, a dose of Dolemite, and a serving of Dorothy Parker, too. Give My Love to the Savage sannounces Chris Stuck as a fearless talent, a debut that’ll make your sides and your heart hurt.” (Lydia)

Embassy Wife by Katie Crouch: This novel portrays and skewers the modern ex-pat life in this tableau of Fulbrighters and Diplomats—not all of them are what they claim to be—in Namibia. Natalie Baszile says of the novel, “Keenly observed and expertly crafted, Katie Crouch’s Embassy Wife is a wickedly irresistible novel.” (Lydia)

A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam: Arudpragasam’s second novel, after the critically acclaimed The Story of a Brief Marriage, follows a man named Krishan as he travels from Colombo to the northern part of Sri Lanka when he learns of the sudden death of his grandmother’s caretaker. The journey becomes, among other things, a meditation on the 30-year civil war. The Financial Times raved, “It can take just two novels to establish a writer as one of the most individual minds of their generation. With his new novel, a revelatory exploration of the aftermath of war, Arudpragasam cements his reputation. It calls to mind the work of W.G. Sebald. . . . [An] extraordinary and often illuminating novel.” (Lydia)

A Touch of Jen by Beth Morgan: A work of satirical, psychedelic horror that follows two service workers obsessed with an influencer type as they travel to the Hamptons and insinuate themselves into her world with unexpected results.  Kristen Arnett raved “Morgan has created a fabulous monster here, legitimately Frankensteined herself a wicked, unflinching, dynamite novel out of razor-sharp dialogue, toxic social media culture, and the nonsense notion that the self is just another brand to be endlessly plumbed for content. Wildly hilarious and absolutely terrifying, A Touch of Jen is truly a touch of genius. I loved every minute of it.” (Lydia)

August

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers: In her ambitious fiction debut, the 2020 National Book Award-nominated poet meditates on African-American history from the colonial slave trade to our current, turbulent age. Ailey Pearl Garfield, the protagonist of the novel, grows up navigating W.E.B. Du Bois’s “Double Consciousness” in everyday life in the deep South. Her mother’s side of family was taken to the U.S. as enslaved people. The female members of her family, in particular, went through many shocking experiences. Coming of age, Ailey learns to fully embrace her heritage by exploring and understanding the traumatic memories of her family. (Jianan)

Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Moreno-Garcia follows up her bestselling Mexican Gothic with a noirish thriller set amid the political upheaval in 1970s Mexico City. A mousy secretary named Maite is envious of the racy life of her neighbor Leonora, a beautiful art student who goes missing. Determined to solve the mystery, Maite is soon joined in her quest by a hired thug named Elvis, who is also on Leonara’s trail. Linked by their shared love for old movies, comics and rock ’n’ roll, the unlikely duo is sucked into a world of students, radicals, Russian spies, hit men, and government agents who will kill to protect Leonora’s dark secrets. (Bill) 

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker: Booker Prize-winning Barker got her start writing about the English working-class women she grew up with. Eventually she branched out and wrote The Silence of the Girls, a retelling of The Iliad from the eyes of an enslaved girl. She has followed that with The Women of Troy, in which the conquered titular women, led by Briseis, plot their revenge against their Greek captors, whose triumphal trip home with their spoils is delayed by uncooperative winds. Once again, Barker uses blunt prose to tell human stories that strip the romance from one of literature’s enduring epics. (Bill)

Edge Case by YZ Chin: In a follow-up to her award-winning story collection, Though I Get Home, Chin’s debut novel follows Edwina, a Malaysian immigrant living in New York City, after she is abandoned by her husband. As she searches for him, Edwina thinks back on their relationship—and navigates her feelings of isolation, uncertainty, and (perhaps misplaced) loyalty. About the book, Chia-Chia Lin writes: “A quirky story of loss and limbo, Edge Case immerses us in the worries, hopes, and absurdities of life on a work visa in America.” (Carolyn)

The President and the Frog by Carolina De Robertis: Inspired by the life of Uruguay’s former president José Mujica, De Robertis’ latest novel follows the 82-year-old protagonist (the “Poorest President in the World”) as he’s interviewed by a journalist. Switching between the present and memories of the past, the president—a former guerrilla, revolutionary, and political prisoner—remembers the most monumental moments of his life. About this survival story, Madeline Miller writes: “Playful and profound, unearthly yet deeply rooted, this sublime and gripping novel is above all about hope: that within the world’s messy pain there is still room for transformation and healing.” (Carolyn)

Savage Tongues by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi: Written with the intensity of early Duras and Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment, Savage Tongues, Van der Vliet Oloomi’s third novel, is “relentless in the best way.” Iranian-American Arezu returns to her father’s Spanish pied-a-terre that she has just inherited, conjuring the memory of an intense and catastrophic affair she had 20 years previous. With the help of a dear friend, Arezu excavates and puts words to her past trauma in this novel about love, friendship, identity, and displacement. As Garth Greenwell attests, Savage Tongues “lives at the border of memory and dream, restlessly seeking a logic that can transform cruelty into love.” (Anne)

Real Estate by Deborah Levy: Real Estate, the third and final book of Deborah Levy’s ‘living autobiography,” takes on the idea of home and houses in many iterations: the haunted, the literary, and what homespace means to a woman writer. Levy considers much about unreal estate too, as the narrator collects her fantasy dream homes. “Domestic space,” Levy observes, “if it is not an affliction bestowed on us by patriarchy, can be a powerful space.” And in essence, puts forth what has always been at the heart of this project, “to embody and make present a female mind.” (Anne)

Something New Under the Sun by Alexandra Kleeman. Following You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine and a story collection, Intimations, Kleeman returns to the novel form with East Coaster Patrick coming to Hollywood to oversee the film adaptation of one of his books. He ends up, with the help of a former child star, on a mission to find out the secrets of WAT-R, a synthetic water in this satirical and imaginative novel about climate change, consumerism, fake news, informational overload, and a Hamlet problem. (Marie)

Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So. This is the debut collection of Cambodian American So, who tragically died suddenly in 2020 (his Year in Reading was published posthumously at The Millions). The collection slipstreams between humor and pathos—as suggested in the title “Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts,” a story that appeared in The New Yorker—as the characters carry the residue of the Khmer Rouge genocide through immigration, race, sexuality, friendship, and family. “Like beams of wry, affectionate light, falling from different directions on a complicated, struggling, beloved American community,” says George Saunders. (Marie)

Paris Is a Party, Paris Is a Ghost by David Hoon Kim: Henrik Blatand is alienated from his identity as a Japanese man, as he is the adoptive son of Danish parents. After his girlfriend, Fumiko, dies by suicide, this darkly comic novel follows Henrik following Fumiko’s body to its dissection by a medical student. Publishers Weekly called this debut “splendid.” (Marie)

The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You by Maurice Carlos Ruffin: Ruffin’s first novel, We Cast a Shadow, was a powerful dystopian satire that featured a Black lawyer’s obsessional quest to obtain a “demelanization” procedure for his biracial son. In an interview, Ruffin described how his legal training (he worked in corporate law and then for the Social Security Administration), afforded him a unique view of society, an “X-ray that allows us to see behind walls, the studs and pillars that make up the structure of a house.” Here, Ruffin turns his penetrating gaze on his hometown, the Big Easy, in a collection Publishers Weekly calls “a rich tour of hardscrabble New Orleans.” (Matt)

All’s Well by Mona Awad: “Dear Readers: This is one wild book!,” said Margaret Atwood on Twitter, “No holds barred.” It’s the story of Miranda Fitch, who had an accident that ended her acting career and left her with chronic back pain. She’s on the verge of losing her teaching job at a college, and facing a mutinous cast, when three strange benefactors show up. They know about her past and make alluring promises for the future—what could go wrong? If you had the pleasure of reading Awad’s acclaimed novel Bunny, you know the answer is everything and the result will be, as Heather O’Neill says, “equal parts brilliant and hilarious.” (Claire)

Several People are Typing by Calvin Kasulke: Rife with office humor, Internet speak, and sharp criticisms of capitalism, Kasulke’s extremely online debut novel is composed entirely of Slack messages. Employed by a New York-based PR firm, mid-level employee Gerald works from home—as his consciousness trolls the company’s Slack channels. As work emergencies emerge and romances blossom, Gerald begins to question his work-life situation and attempts to find his body. Kasulke’s satirical novel has garnered praise from the likes of Carmen Maria Machado (“an absurd, hilarious romp”); Hilary Leichter (“a Greek chorus of modern strife”); and Daniel Lavery (“a winsome, light-footed book with deceptive staying power”). (Carolyn)

The Turnout by Megan Abbott: “Ballet flows through their veins,” says the description of this book, and Abbott’s many fans will know how unnerving these five words will turn out to be. This is the 10th novel from the bestselling author who looks at femininity and power like no one else. It’s about a ballet studio run by two sisters with long necks, taut buns, and pink tights. When a suspicious accident happens just before the annual performance of The Nutcracker, an interloper arrives and threatens to upset everything. (Claire)

Skinship by Yoon Choi: A constellation of Korean American families populates this debut collection, praised by Chang-rae Lee as “immediately dazzling and impressive, and yet the closer and deeper you look, the more you appreciate the sheer countless brilliance.” Roxane Gay says, “These stories of Korean American families are delicately plotted, subtle and immensely pleasurable to read.” (Marie)

In the Country of Others by Leïla Slimani: Slimani is both a novelist and a diplomat in the government of Emanuel Macron, and those seemingly divergent vocations have more in common than might be first assumed. Both require a genius for empathy, an ability to translate experiences, and and understanding of what’s important to leave in and what’s crucial to leave out. Her latest book In the Country of Others, first in a planned trilogy, recounts the lives of French Mathilde, married to a Moroccan solider stationed in France during the Second World War. Having returned to his home country, Mathilde negotiates the difficulty of literally being “in the country of others” at a moment of post-colonial awakening in North Africa. Asking what it means to exist between cultures, and how we negotiate the ever-shifting complexities of privilege and identity, the book acknowledges that such questions are as far from abstract as imaginable, and as intimate as the marriage bed, for “How can you be two things at once? Are you obliged to choose one side over the other?” (Ed)

American Estrangement by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh: Essayist, playwright, and short story writer Sayrafiezadeh won accolades for his visceral memoir When Skateboards Will Be Free, about his experience growing up in Pittsburgh the son of an Iranian father and a Jewish mother who were committed members of the Socialist Workers Party. The consummate outsider, Sayrafiezadeh examines our nation’s sins with a particularly clear eye, and his latest collection of short stories, American Estrangement, is no exception. Gathering stories from The New Yorker and The Paris Review, Sayrafiezadeh provides a portrait of a country racked by unemployment, drug addiction, and a sense of despair, earning him comparisons to George Saunders and Denis Johnson. In an interview with The New Yorker, Sayrafiezadeh explained that “One of the questions I wanted to pose…was how can we ‘know’ ourselves if we’re not equipped with the necessary vocabulary?” American Estrangement supplies some of that vocabulary. (Ed)

Agatha of Little Neon by Claire Luchette: The eponymous Agatha of Luchette’s debut novel has been a nun for nine years when her parish closes and she and her three sisters must move to a former mill town to take over a halfway house. In Woonsocket, Agatha becomes a teacher at an all-girls’ school and must face the world without her fellow nuns and the comfort of their closed world. Cristina Henríquez says the book is “blazingly original, wry, and perfectly attuned to the oddness—and the profundity—of life” and Karen Thompson Walker highlights Luchette’s “sneaky deadpan wit.” (Edan)

Radiant Fugitives by Nawaaz Ahmed: Ahmed’s debut novel, about three generations of women from a Muslim Indian family, is told from the point of view of heroine Seema’s baby—at the moment of its birth. Publishers Weekly, in its starred review, calls it “dazzling, heartrending,” and Peter Ho Davies named it “a rare marvel, an intimate epic of faith and family, love and politics, knit together by a magical omniscience of profound compassion.” If that’s not enough for you, rumor has it that the ending is brilliant, and reframes the entire book. (Edan)

Image Control by Patrick Nathan: Novelist Nathan (Some Hell) makes his nonfiction debut with this investigation of how fascism spreads through images, in particular the rapid-fire memes and photographs that come to us via social media, fragmenting our attention and numbing our response. With its mix of personal anecdote and political critique, the book has been compared in early reviews to Susan Sontag’s nonfiction, but to me it sounds like a cousin to George Trow’s prescient Within the Context of No Context, about the alienating effects of television and mass media. (Hannah)

The Shimmering State by Meredith Westgate: There’s a new drug on the streets of LA: Mem, in the form of shimmering pills, contains happy memories selected to treat Alzheimer’s patients. It’s also a hit on the black market and among the elite, offering users short glimpses of someone else’s life. Though Lucien and Sophie came to the drug in different ways, it leads them both to a rehab facility run by Mem’s producers—though they’re sure they’ve run into each other before. Our own Lydia Kiesling calls The Shimmering State “hypnotic,” “a shimmering, dreamlike experience of multiple lives that collide and repel,” and, ultimately, a “beautifully dystopian shot at redemption.” (Kaulie)

Silent Winds, Dry Seas by Vinod Busjeet: Mauritius-born Busjeet spent 29 years working in economic development, finance, and diplomacy before publishing his debut novel, Silent Winds, Dry Seas, which, coincidentally, traces the spilling, connected stories of a family as told by Vishnu Bhushan following his return to the island after decades away. A coming-of-age story, a time-spanning narrative web, a compelling introduction to Mauritius and the breakthrough novel of a confident and original writer, Silent Winds “dazzles” (Publishers Weekly) as it surveys the emotional depths just off the Mauritian shore. (Kaulie)

Three Rooms by Jo Hamya: Virginia Woolf said we women writers need rooms of our own; Hamya’s unnamed narrator can only manage a succession of domestic way-places, a small collection of rented rooms and childhood bedrooms. It’s 2018 and the mood in Britain is dark, smothered by both increasingly obvious inequality and instability and the realization that nobody knows what to do about it. Meanwhile, the narrator of Three Rooms shuffles from research job to temp gig, spending a lot of time online and searching for her place in the world, wondering when it all became so hard. If this sounds dark, it may be, but there’s no denying it strikes a chord, amplified by the beautifully spare prose—think Rachel Cusk, fresh from grad school. (Kaulie)

Against White Feminism by Rafia Zakaria: Journalist Zakaria has written a rebuttal to the feminism promulgated by white upper-middle-class women, including the “aid-industrial complex,” in a book that focuses on women of color and rejects “white feminism’s global, long-standing affinity with colonial, patriarchal, and white supremacist ideals.” (Lydia)

Names for Light by Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint: Winner of the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize, Myint’s lyrical memoir shifts from her family’s roots and her birth in Myanmar to her childhood in Bangkok and San Jose, moving through her own life and the lives of her family members, narrating events in both the near and distant past. In a starred review, Kirkus calls the book “An imaginative and compelling memoir about what we inherit and what we pass on.” (Lydia)

Seeing Ghosts: A Memoir by Kat Chow: Founding member of NPR’s Code Switch, Chow is unusually fixated and worried over her parents dying, so much so that her mother made a joke about it. Then her mother dies unexpectedly, devastating the family. Ocean Vuong calls this memoir “a courageous act of excavation and salvage.” (Marie)

Immediate Family by Ashley Nelson Levy: Levy’s debut novel is a short, powerful exploration of family written as an address from a woman to her brother, a boy from Thailand who was adopted by a white family from suburban California when he was three years old. Rachel Khong wrote of the novel, “This unsparing and absorbing family portrait broke my heart and remade it a hundred times over. In prose that is distilled, astute, and precise, Immediate Family covers the territory of life that words are often insufficient for, those challenges that are at once isolating and universal—waiting, the imperfect love that binds a family, what you choose and what is chosen for you.” (Lydia)

The Luminous Novel by Mario Levrero (translated by Annie McDermott): This is the latest posthumously translated novel from the Uruguayan Levrero, whose Montevideo apartment was, to quote his translator McDermott, “the centre of a small universe…his legendary literary workshops, which followed an ‘unmethodical method’ designed to put people in touch with their imagination, produced hundreds of students who consider themselves his disciples.” Here, a novelist receives a generous grant that produces an insuperable writer’s block. As with Empty Words, in which the protagonist attempts “graphological self-therapy” (handwriting exercises) to better himself, this is a digressive, Sternean tale in which interruption becomes a kind of illumination. (Matt)

Leave Society by Tao Lin: In Lin’s newest novel, novelist Li travels back and forth between New York City and Taipei. As the years pass, Li worries over his parents’ health, takes psychedelics, writes autofiction, and contemplates the universe. “Leave Society is a warm, funny, hearteningly nonconformist book that changed the way I think about natural health, wellbeing, and the great mystery,” says Melissa Broder. (Carolyn)

September

Palmares by Gayl Jones: A signal event in publishing, this is the first of five of Jones’s new novels to be published after 20 years without a new book from the brilliant author of Corregidora, among other novels. (Read more about Jones’s career in this piece by Calvin Baker.) Palmares is a sprawling story set in 17th-century Brazil, and follows an enslaved woman named Almeyda who escapes to a fugitive slave settlement and embarks on a journey to find her lost husband. Imani Perri says that Jones’s work “represents a watershed in American literature. From a literary standpoint, her form is impeccable; from a historical standpoint, she stands at the very cutting edge of understanding the modern world, and as a Black woman writer, her truth-telling, filled with beauty, tragedy, humor, and incisiveness, is unmatched. Jones is a writer’s writer, and her influence is found everywhere.” (Lydia)

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead: Anyone who’s read the author’s The Colossus of New York knows no one writes more expansively and lovingly about New York City than Whitehead. Reminiscent of the work of Chester Himes, Harlem Shuffle starts with a heist and plays out in a beautifully recreated New York City of the early 1960s. A family saga, a genre-bending a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to New York, particularly Harlem. (Marie)

On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint by Maggie Nelson: Nelson returns to her signature blend of theory, scholarship, criticism, and personal revelation with a meditation on the thorny word “freedom,” and what it means in the world we live in today. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly writes, “Once again, Nelson proves herself a masterful thinker and an unparalleled prose stylist.” (Lydia)

The Spectacular by Zoe Whittall: Whittall’s third novel, The Best Kind of People, was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. She’s also a screenwriter with credits like The Baroness Von Sketch Show and Schitt’s Creek. This novel tells the story of a 22-year-old woman named Missy who is in a famous band; her mother, Carola, who is recovering from a sex scandal at a yoga center; and grandmother Ruth, who is 83 when Missy winds up crashing at her house. The three stories weave around questions about motherhood: what if you regretted it? Kristen Arnett says, “Whittall addresses motherhood and autonomy in ways I’ve never seen done before.” (Claire)

Bewilderment by Richard Powers: Powers follows The Overstory with a family story, which is also an earth story, about an astrobiologist struggling to raise his angry nine-year-old in the wake of his mother’s death, including using an experimental treatment that involves using the recorded patterns of her brain. In a starred review, Kirkus calls the novel a “taut ecological parable…A touching novel that offers a vital message with uncommon sympathy and intelligence.” (Lydia)

Matrix by Lauren Groff: Groff’s highly anticipated first new novel since Fates and Furies tackles the desire, creativity, and vision of women following “Marie of France” (based on based on 12th-century poet Marie de France) in an arc that covers actual historic event from the Crusades to the papal interdict of 1208. (Marie)

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki: The marvelous Ozeki—novelist, filmmaker, and Buddhist priest—publishes her first novel since A Tale for the Time Being. The new book is the story of Benny Oh, who hears voices—the voices of things that surround him, voices that become more and more insistent as his life becomes more and more chaotic. With her characteristic charm, empathy, and perspicacity, Ozeki writes Benny’s story of learning to hear, and manage, the voices, and hear himself along the way. David Mitchell says “This compassionate novel of life, love and loss glows in the dark. Its strange, beautiful pages turn themselves. If you’ve lost your way with fiction over the last year or two, let The Book of Form and Emptiness light your way home.” (Lydia)

The Archer by Shruti Swamy: Following her collection of short stories, A House Is a Body, which Kiese Laymon called “one of the greatest short story collections of the 2020s,” Swamy returns with a novel set in the Bombay of the 1960s and 1970s, following a young woman named Vidya as she pursues the art form of Kathak, an exacting dance, and confronts the dilemmas that pit art against the demands of wifehood in her time and place. C Pam Zhang called the novel “lush and sensual, tasted and felt, with striking images that play out like film behind the eyes. Swamy evokes an India that resists flat stereotype and teems with exuberance, beauty, and life. The Archer is timeless yet utterly modern as it asks what it means for a woman to make a life of art.” (Lydia)

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr: In 2014, Doerr’s breakout World War II novel All the Light We Cannot See managed to package abstruse physics and a sympathetic young Nazi into a thinking person’s literary thriller that dominated the bestseller lists for months. Seven years later, Doerr is back with another history-driven tale of a long-lost Greek manuscript, which turns up in the library of a spaceship seeking a habitable planet in the 22nd century. Other chapters take place during the 1453 siege of Constantinople and in present-day Idaho. “This is a marvel,” says an early review in Publishers Weekly. (Michael)

How to Wrestle a Girl by Venita Blackburn: The second collection by the author of Black Jesus and Other Superheroes is a series of fiercely observant stories, many of which follow a teenage girl in the aftermath of her father’s death. Set in Southern California, these stories follow her as she grapples with her emerging queer identity, along with the challenges of her life at school and her kinetic and complicated family. In other stories, we see a class of teenagers torment their teacher to the point of mental collapse, as well as another story in which a different group of teens devise a scheme to sell their excess fat and skin. (Thom)

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney: The most widely read, discussed, and argued-about literary novelist of the last five years, Sally Rooney, returns in September with Beautiful World, Where Are You. The contours will sound familiar to anyone versed in Rooneyana: a quartet of friends—Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon—travel, have sex, worry about having sex, worry about themselves and their friendships and aging into adulthood in a very uncertain world. But while Rooney’s plot contrivances may occasionally, at least in summary, seem pat and prefab, her keen and tersely delivered observations about the follies of youth, sex, and friendships never are. (Adam Price)

Chronicles from the Happiest People on Earth by Wole Soyinka: The first new novel in 50 years from the Nobel laureate in literature. Chronicles, the third novel from Soyinka, best known for his award-winning plays and poetry (and life of essential political activism), is part whodunit, part social indictment, and as powerful as anything that came before. A Nigerian doctor realizes someone is selling body parts from his hospital for use in ritualistic practices, and with the help of an old friend, he begins to search for the thief—but neither realizes how far the search will take them. Toni Morrison once praised Soyinka, saying “You don’t see things the same when you encounter a voice like that,” and here that voice still has all of its power, wit, beauty, and purpose. (Kaulie)

The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova: Fantasy, magical realism, family: When Orquídea Divina, the matriarch of an extended family, tells them to come home and collect their inheritance, they hope for answers about the strange magic and deep secrets Orquídea holds—and instead see her transformed, leaving only more questions behind. Years later, the family—some of whom now have magic of their own—are on the run from a man hunting them down and must trace Orquídea’s roots back to her native Ecuador, where everything started. Publishers Weekly calls Córdova’s first adult novel “radiant,” “thrillerlike,” and “inspired.” (Kaulie)

The War for Gloria by Atticus Lish: In this follow-up to the smash debut Preparation for the Next Life, a 15-year-old boy becomes his mother’s caretaker when she’s diagnosed with ALS. Then his estranged father comes back into their lives. In Lish’s story of mothers and sons, perhaps the father must be destroyed in order for the boy to become a man. (Nick M.)

Harrow by Joy Williams: This novel, Williams’s first in two decades, follows the unlikely (and aged) rebels who sabotage corporations for their complicity in environmental destruction. Who better than Williams to capture pure-hearted but absurd efforts to retrieve paradise lost? (Nick M.)

The Trees by Percival Everett: Local law enforcement won’t help a pair of detectives solve a string of murders, which is to be expected. Those detectives finding a second body—a man who resembles Emmett Till—at each crime scene? Not so much. When similar murders occur across the country, what follows is a provocative page-turner focused on racialized police violence. (Nick M.)

Misfits by Michaela Coel: I May Destroy You was some of the most powerful television I have seen in recent years, an incredible exploration of trauma, violence, work, friendship, social media, and art (complete with a storyline about writers’ block). Subtitled A Personal Manifesto, Misfits is a book from Coel, who is both the brilliant mind behind the show and its star, built off the MacTaggart Lecture she delivered at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. Coel weaves stories of her own life with a call to honesty and action for everyone who has struggled to fit in. (Lydia)

Martita, I Remember You by Sandra Cisneros (translated by Liliana Valenzuela): The legendary Cisneros returns with a novel published as a dual English-Spanish edition, a story of a woman who leaves her Mexican American family in Chicago and spends wild young days in Paris, forming a friendship with two other women that resurfaces years later with the chance discovery of an old letter. (Lydia)

The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine: National Book Award finalist Alameddine’s sixth novel tells the story of Mina Simpson, a Lebanese doctor and trans woman who travels to the Greek island of Lesbos to provide aid at an infamous refugee camp. For decades, Mina has avoided traveling so close to her homeland, but she decided to visit the camp to accomplish something meaningful. But when she meets Sumaiya, a Syrian woman with terminal liver cancer, and tries to chart a course of treatment with the limited resources on the island, she’s forced to reckon with the scale of the migrants’ suffering, along with as her own limitations. (Thom)

A Calling for Charlie Barnes by Joshua Ferris: Acclaimed novelist and short story writer Ferris returns in 2021 with A Calling for Charlie Barnes. Charlie Barnes, a multiply divorced romantic and schemer whose hopes for delivery are dashed by the financial crisis and a medical disaster, gets one more chance for redemption in the form of his storytelling son. Ferris is one of the master chroniclers of our declining American empire and spirit—his special gift is delivering the bad news with both laughs and an enormous amount of empathy that, at his best, recalls the work of Emerson and Thoreau. In the words of Dana Spiotta, “Joshua Ferris is one of our best writers, and A Calling for Charlie Barnes is wonderful: fast and deep, urgent and brilliant. Ingeniously written, it had me up reading late into the night. A hilarious, intimate, and scathing takedown of so many American vanities.” (Adam Price)

Civilizations by Laurent Binet (translated by Sam Taylor): Binet’s fictions explore and exploit cracks in history. His bestselling first novel, HHhH, fictionalized the assassination of a high-ranking Nazi official, and his more recent The Seventh Function of Language made a thriller out of literary critic Roland Barthes’s death. In Binet’s latest, Civilizations, he spins a counterfactual history of civilization where the Vikings discovered the Americas, Christopher Columbus and his men were captured upon their arrival, and the last Incan emperor repurposes Columbus’s fleet to sail to Europe, divide and conquer (using Machiavelli’s The Prince as his guide). (Anne)

The Water Statues by Fleur Jaeggy (translated by Gini Alhadeff): Even when considered alongside Jaeggy’s other singular and slim novels, The Water Statues is a peculiar book. Within, Jaeggy tells the story of family and isolation, and the inheritance of loneliness and emotional poverty that accompanies wealth (in line with Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, though that’s where comparisons end). This “strange and shimmering nonlinear text” is voluptuous yet melancholic and austere. Which seems in line with Jaeggy’s profession that, “One should be in one’s own void. Void is silence. Solitude. An absence of relationships…The void is a plant that must continually be watered.” (Anne)

Out of the Ruins: The Apocalyptic Anthology edited by Preston Grassman: Now here’s an idea whose time has come: an anthology from top writers who share a fascination with what worlds look like—and how humans change—after they’ve gone through an apocalyptic crisis. Among the contributors are The Millions staff writer Emily St. John Mandel, the British fantasy writer China Mieville, Clive Barker, Samuel R. Delaney, Carmen Maria Machado, and many more. This mix of new and classic stories asks questions that need to be asked in moments like the one we’re living through now. What makes us human? And who will we be when we come out of the ruins? (Bill)

Lean Fall Stand by Jon McGregor: The newest novel by McGregor—who has thrice been longlisted for the Booker Prize—takes place in the aftermath of an Antarctic expedition gone terribly wrong. When veteran technician Robert Wright suffers a life shattering accident, his life—and how he approaches and interacts with the world—is changed forever. A starred review from Publishers Weekly calls the novel “stunning” and a “gorgeous work [that] leaves an indelible mark.” (Carolyn)

The Magician by Colm Tóibín: Scribner describes Tóibín’s most recent project as “a stunning marriage of research and imagination” in this, his exploration of the life and art of Thomas Mann. Tóibín’s refined gift is about as perfect a match as could be imagined for the construction of a nuanced portrait of a complicated man and artist living in a complex period of modern history. (Il’ja)

The Blue Book of Nebo by Manon Steffan Ros: With the greater part of the planet devastated by a nuclear disaster, a mother and son struggle to survive in a remote Welsh village. Despite their desolate existence, the pair soon learn that in an emptied land there is still plenty of room for secrets and plenty of time for grace. (Il’ja)

The Actual Star by Monica Byrne: Reincarnation, a Belizean cave, 2000 years of connected narrative: mix them together and you have The Actual Star, an indescribable “epic saga of three reincarnated souls” from the author of The Girl in the Road. As it interweaves three stories, separated by millennia, the novel follows twin Mayans who become royalty, a young American woman on a trip abroad, and a group of futuristic people trying to survive after massive climate change. Already drawing comparisons to Octavia Butler’s Earthseed series and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, The Actual Star is for those who love complexities and questions that transcend single lives. (Kaulie)

Heart Radical by Anne Liu Kellor: Kellor’s memoir describes her travels through China as a young multiracial woman, relaying her years living in China, falling in love, speaking her mother tongue, working, traveling, and searching for what called her to a place that is both familiar and not. Cheryl Strayed said of the memoir, “I loved this book. It’s vulnerable, searching, insightful, riveting and beautifully written.” (Lydia)

An Ideal Presence by Eduardo Berti (translated by Daniel Levin Becker): The Argentinian novelist Berti wrote this after a “medico-literary residency” at a palliative care facility, and the first offering from the new press Fern Books is a highly fictionalized account of the myriad stories of the workers who make this vital department of human life run. Carmen Maria Machado says of the book, “An Ideal Presence is about death, yes, but more than that, it’s a meditation on the complicated business of living. A funny, tender book.” (Lydia)

Crazy Sorrow by Vince Passaro: Nearly 20 years after his debut novel, Violence, Nudity, Adult Content, Passaro returns with a novel about the tumults of a relationship that spans four decades in the ever-changing New York City. (Lydia)

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull: Author of The Lesson, which was shortlisted for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, Turnbull returns with the first in a fantasy saga, one that involves police brutality, werewolves, and other monstrous things. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly lauds, “The expert combination of immersive prose, strong characters, sharp social commentary, and well-woven speculative elements” that make “for an unforgettable experience.” (Lydia)

Hao by Ye Chun: A collection of stories that take place in China and America within the Chinese Diaspora, spanning time and place and focusing on the lives and struggles of women as they wrestle with everything that attends migration, motherhood, and personhood. Lynn Steger Strong says of the collection, “Each of these stories is an individual world brought to life fully by the particularity of its language, by Ye’s extraordinarily far-reaching and deeply felt imagination, combined with her consistently stunning acuity and control.” (Lydia)

Kaya Days by Carl de Souza (translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman): Named for the days of protest and mourning that followed the death of Mauritian musician Joseph Réginald Topize, or Kaya, at the hands of police, the debut novel by de Souza follows a woman through Mauritius as she searches for her missing brother, delineating the many intersecting worlds of the island nation at a revolutionary moment. J.M.G. Le Clézio calls the novel “a searing, urgent, far-seeing dispatch that imprints the reality of Mauritius, at odds with its picture-postcard views, on the global consciousness. Carl de Souza is a formidable voice in Mauritian literature; his account is an indictment and a plea for understanding among its communities.” (Lydia)

Talk to Me by T.C. Boyle: What if we could actually talk to the animals? What would they have to say? These are the questions at the heart of Boyle’s tale of a latter-day Dr. Doolittle, an animal behaviorist named Guy Schermerhorn, who teaches a chimp to speak in sign language. This attracts a young female student to his lab, setting off an interspecies love triangle that, since this is T.C. Boyle we’re talking about, promises to be as unsettling as it is hilarious. (Michael)

The Morning Store by Karl Ove Knausgaard (translated by Martin Aitken): The mega-popular Norwegian author’s latest novel centers on a cast of characters who witness a bizarre astronomical phenomenon. On a normal night in August, a group of tangentially related people in the Norwegian resort town of Sørlandet watch as a massive star suddenly appears in the night sky. No one—including the astronomers—knows just what the star is or why it appeared. The days wear on, unusual and baffling things begin to occur, and the characters grapple with these events and their impact on their lives. (Thom)

Inter State by José Vadi: As award-winning writer Vadi examines California with anger and love in his first essay collection, he centers the ever-changing Golden State and includes wildfires, dive bars, the tech industry, farmwork, decay, and wealth. Nina Renata Aron describes Vadi as an “ethnographer-on-a-skateboard” and Publishers Weekly describes the book as “part love letter, part indictment.” Vadi’s writing style has received much advanced praise: Kirkus says that “at a line level, the book is outstanding, filled with long, breathless sentences, innovative syntax,” and Melissa Valentine recommends that “with smart prose and daring form, these are perfect essays for our complicated times.” (Zoë)

In the Shadow of the Yalı by Suat Derviş (translated by Maureen Freely): Dervis (1905-1972) is a well-known Turkish author, feminist, and socialist who was placed under house arrest for her political beliefs and later exiled from Turkey for a decade. Described by Selim İleri as “a novel that examines love from a Marxist perspective,” In the Shadow of the Yalı takes place when Turkey is transitioning from the Ottoman Empire to the new Republic. The story follows Celile, who finds herself in an unexpected and passionate love affair. Ilana Masad declares that Derviş’s English-language debut “is a rare gem—a romantic character study, a social novel, and a feminist critique on patriarchy and capitalism.” (Zoë)

October

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen: Whether he’s insulting Oprah or posing self-importantly as “The Great American Novelist” on the cover of Time, Franzen has a singular talent for arousing public contempt. But the fact is he writes good books. Here, he returns to his literary roots in the story of a troubled family, the Hildebrandts, fractured by the cultural upheaval of the early 1970s. The novel is the first in a planned trilogy, with the Middlemarchian title “A Key to All Mythologies,” that will span three generations of the Hildebrandt clan. (Michael)

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson: In her debut collection, Johnson explores a world (and country) ever on the brink and the people who choose to survive no matter the cost. In the titular novella, set in the near future, a Black descendant of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings is driven from her home by violent white supremacists. In another story, a single mother attempts to buy a home before the apocalypse happens. About the incandescent collection, Colson Whitehead writes: ““A badass debut by any measure—nimble, knowing, and electrifying.” (Carolyn)

I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness by Claire Vaye Watkins: Vaye Watkins, author of Gold Fame Citrus, and the beloved story collection Battleborn, now brings us her second novel, which, clearly, has the most badass title of all time. In it, a writer suffering from postpartum depression leaves her husband and baby to do a speaking engagement in Reno, only to end up deep in the Mojave Desert where she grew up. Jenny Offill writes, “There’s some kind of genius sorcery in this novel. It’s startlingly original, hilarious and harrowing by turns, finally transcendent.” A piece by Vaye Watkins, with the same memorable title, is available to read on Granta. (Edan)

Reprieve by James Han Mattson: Four contestants competing for a cash prize enter the final cell of Quigley House, a full-contact haunted escape room—but only three exit. Mattson’s second novel follows the survivors as they come to terms with how they are partially responsible for the tragedy. Rumaan Alam says, “But the brilliance of James Han Mattson’s novel is in deploying the haunted house as a metaphor for our nation, where the true scare is a cultural reckoning with whiteness itself.” (Carolyn)

Trust by Domenico Starnone (translated by Jhumpa Lahiri): Lovers Pietro and Teresa are trying to save their doomed relationship when they decide to do something impulsive: share the most shameful secret of their lives. When they break up, their lives diverge temporarily—until Teresa begins to reappear at the most inopportune times. Acclaimed Italian novelist and National Book Award finalist Starnone’s newest novel explores vulnerability, relationships, and the gulf between our public and private selves. (Carolyn)

The House of Rust by Khadija Abdalla Bajaber: Winner of the inaugural Graywolf Press African Fiction Prize, Bajaber’s debut novel—a fabulist bildungsroman—follows a Hadrami girl who takes to the sea after her fisherman father goes missing. The magical novel has already garnered praise from Shailja Patel (“The House of Rust is as labyrinthine, magical and multilayered as Mombasa itself”) and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (“…Bajaber is a radiant addition to the constellations of transcultural literature”), among others. (Carolyn)

Fight Night by Miriam Toews: The award-winning author of Women Talking and All My Puny Sorrows is back with a novel as moving as it is full of humor. Swiv is a nine-year-old who lives in Toronto with her pregnant mother and lively grandmother. When Swiv is expelled from school, Grandma takes on the role of teacher. Swiv, in turn, assigns Grandma the job of writing her unborn brother, Gord. “You’re a small thing,” Grandma writes, “and you must learn to fight.” As Susan Cole, in Now Magazine, says, “Few authors mix humor and deep emotion with Toews’s skill.” (Claire)

The Pessimists by Bethany Ball: From Richard Ford to Edward Albee, Rick Moody to John Cheever, the American suburbs have always had a dark core underneath the façade of Levittown homes and perfectly manicured front lawns. Ball gives her own spin on the tribulations of suburban ennui in her aptly named new novel The Pessimists. Ball’s second novel is no mid-century rehash, however, because The Pessimists is very much a suburban gothic for our current American dystopia. The denizens of Connecticut’s Gold Coast include Virginia and Trip, the perfect couple, who secretly hoard a cache of basement weapons to survive the apocalypse, as well as the more conventionally despairing Richard and Margot whose trials only include infidelity and mental health crises. Both twistedly dark and wickedly funny, The Pessimists updates our narratives of suburban anguish for an age of American decline. (Ed)

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles: It’s June 1954, and 18-year-old Emmett Watson has just finished serving 15 months at the juvenile work farm for involuntary manslaughter. But when he returns home to Nebraska expecting to pick up his kid brother Billy and leave for California to start a new life, he gets a surprise. Two buddies from the work farm are waiting to take him the other way—to New York City, where beguiling characters and adventures await. Told from multiple points of view, the novel is reason to rejoice for Towles’s millions of fans, who made his first two novels, Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow, runaway international bestsellers. (Bill)

Oh William! By Elizabeth Strout: William has remained close enough with his ex-wife Lucy that, after years of separation, she’s agreed to help him investigate a family secret. Together, they uncover past infidelity and hidden branches of his family tree. How well do any of us know one another; how can we share with others what we don’t know ourselves? (Nick M.)

Monster in the Middle by Tiphanie Yanique: How do you determine who you’re meant to be with? How do you know if a relationship is meant to last? Award-winning novelist Yanique considers these questions in Monster in the Middle. Matthew Salesses declares, “Tiphanie Yanique is one of our very best writers. This book is another marvel.” The novel centralizes the relationship of Fly and Stela and their emotional inheritance, and it is set in the United States, Ghana, and Virgin Islands across decades. Natasha Trethewey calls the novel “a compelling exploration of how we become who we are and how we manage to find our way to love. In her lyrical prose, the myriad possibilities of being—the accidents of birth, of sex, of race and geography, the choices we make, our compulsions—coalesce into something that feels, gloriously, like destiny.” (Zoë)

The Every by Dave Eggers: Author, editor, and publisher Eggers has written a sequel to his bestselling novel The Circle, this time looking at the outsized power of tech monopolies. It’s about what happens when The Circle, the world’s largest social media company, merges with the most dominant e-commerce site to become The Every. The novel follows two employees of The Every who try to dismantle the company from the inside. In order to do some of his own dismantling, Eggers has MacGyvered a unique distribution strategy so that pub-date hardcover copies of his book will be exclusively available through independent booksellers; a paperback version will be rolled out six weeks later on a variety of e-commerce platforms (including Amazon). (Hannah)

Silverview by John le Carré: Devotees of le Carré’s work will likely not be surprised that, despite his passing last December, he’s still producing novels. Billed as “an encounter between innocence and experience and between public duty and private morals,” this posthumous release gives another—final?—glimpse into the secrets we all wish could stay that way, delivered by the premier diagnostician of the predicament brought on by modernity. (Il’ja)

The Jealousy Man by Jo Nesbø (translated by Robert Ferguson): So, when the “king of all crime writers” (Daily Express) has sold 45 million books in 50 languages, it’s probably time to put out a short story collection. And Nesbø has: 560 pages of chills inflicted by assortment of creeps, including a peeping tom, an assassin, a father out for post-apocalyptic vengeance, and a detective with a score to settle. Not for the faint of heart. (Il’ja)

Pandemonium: A Visual History of Demonology by Ed Simon: Are you endlessly mixing up Asmodeus and Azazel? The Millions’ own Simon can help: he’s mapped out Satan’s family tree. When it comes to Western art and culture, the Devil certainly has been in the details for about five millennia now, and one could argue that his forte—conflict—is at the heart of any story worth reading. So, brush up your demonology with this singular, illustrated treatment that “celebrates the art of hell like never before.” (Il’ja)

Dreaming of You by Melissa Lozada-Oliva: This is a novel in verse, fitting for an acclaimed poet who has published three books of poetry. Dreaming of You follows a young Latinx poet who brings the pop star Selena back to life and embarks upon her own journey of hell, including a dead celebrity prom, in an exploration of celebrity, obsession, and identity. Terrance Hayes says of the book: “Melissa Lozada-Oliva’s kinetic, pop-operatic Dreaming of You is like some terrific amalgam of fan fiction and fantasy nonfiction; a Selena monograph made of memoir, myth and magic. Her partly satirical, partly ecstatic linguistics constitute a whole other sort of literary hybrid.” (Lydia)

Between Certain Death and Possible Future, edited by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore: The AIDS crisis and its trauma still looms large, a shadow over generations of queer people, but we often talk about those who came of age before and those who came later. Here, in a collection of 36 personal essays, the focus is on the generation in the middle—those who grew up during the epidemic and fully internalized its trauma early in their lives and as part of their identities. Between Certain Death and Possible Future contains stories of chosen families, lost communities, conventional wisdom rejected, and new wisdom shared; Dean Spade calls it “a must read for this moment.” (Kaulie)

One Friday in April: A Story of Suicide and Survival by Donald Antrim: Antrim, a brilliant novelist, short story writer, and memoirist, now explores suicide and names it as an illness in its own right in his new book, a work of memoir. The book begins with an account and excavation of a terrifying day in 2006 when Antrim found himself in crisis on the roof of a building, and recounts the years of struggle that followed as he fought for his life. A work of solace for the many people who have encountered this fear or lived with its aftermath. (Lydia)

The Days of Afrekete by Asali Solomon: In this new novel from the author of Get Down and Disgruntled, two women who knew each other in college before embarking on very different paths come together in mid-life in a tender, comic, searching novel inspired by Mrs. Dalloway and Sula. Danielle Evans says of the novel, “Asali Solomon illuminates what it means to grow away from what felt like the truest version of yourself, what the way back might look like, what Black women in particular are asked to give up, and what it might mean to refuse. Solomon is a treasure: wise, hilarious, and full of poignant insight.” (Lydia)

Empty Wardrobes by Maria Judite de Carvalho (translated by Margaret Jull Costa): First published in Portugal in 1966, this novel is translated into English from the first time by Costa with an introduction by Kate Zambreno, who calls it “a compact, merciless tragedy.” In it, three generations of women live in thrall to the choices and thoughtlessness of men, and the central character mourns a husband who lived as a kind of messianic figure, until she learns a secret that throws all of his past acts into a new, awful light. (Lydia)

The Loneliest Americans by Jay Caspian Kang: New York Times Magazine writer-at-large, Vice News correspondent, and author of the novel The Dead Do Not Improve, interrogates identity and what it means to become, and to feel, “American.” (Marie)

When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky by Margaret Verble: A new novel from the Pulitzer Prize finalist for Maud’s Line takes place in the 1920s at Glendale Park Zoo, a now-defunct but once famous zoo in Nashville, where a daredevil horse-diver—a Cherokee woman—forges a friendship with a the scion of a Black landowning family and a zookeeper haunted by memories of World War I, while around them in segregated Nashville, apparitions and other frightening things swirl. (Lydia)

Search History by Eugene Lim: The author of the critically acclaimed 2017 novel Dear Cyborgs and The Strangers returns with a kaleidoscopic novel of art, grief, artificial intelligence, identity, and a man who is reincarnated as a dog. John Keene raves, “Lim has found a way to capture both the pointed specificity of the internet and its Borgesian infiniteness, in order to tell a picaresque tale about race and American culture, artificial intelligence, artmaking, storytelling, and so much more.” (Lydia)

Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit: Just when you think are you sick of hearing about George Orwell, Solnit, the author of more than 20 books, reveals a surprising side. Orwell was a passionate gardener, and especially enjoyed flowers. “If war has an opposite, gardens might sometimes be it,” the author writes, using this fresh insight to illuminate an absorbing mediation on Orwell’s work as a writer and antifascist. (Marie)

April in Spain by John Banville: The Booker Prize winner’s latest novel is a mystery set on the coast of the Basque Country in Spain. In San Sebastian, native Dubliner Quirke is struggling to relax and enjoy his time in the countryside, despite the pleasant locale and the amiable company of his wife. Then, one night, he spots a stranger in a bar who looks like April Latimer, the woman his brother murdered years before. He makes a call home to Ireland and summons Det. St. John Strafford, who flies down to Spain at the same time as a hit man, whose ultimate target may just be Quirke himself. (Thom)

A Time Outside This Time by Amitava Kumar: In the latest from the author of Immigrant, Montana, a professor and writer named Satya goes to a well-known artist’s retreat, where he finds the outside world increasingly difficult to ignore. A certain rage-filled president keeps tweeting, a virus is spreading across the globe, and seemingly every day brings another attention-grabbing news story. As time passes and the distractions don’t let up, Satya begins to synthesize these stories into a new novel, a contemporary story about the lies we tell ourselves and other people. (Thom)

Spring and Autumn Annals by Diane DiPrima: A work of memoir and elegy by one of the great, under-recognized women Beats, a year after her death. Begun as letters to a friend, the dancer Freddie Herko, who died by suicide, the work is both a meditation on friendship and an account of a Brooklyn childhood that turned into a Village adulthood in the thick of a pivotal cultural moment. Chris Kraus says of the book: “Diane di Prima is one of the greatest writers of her generation, and this book offers a window into its lives.” (Lydia)

Still Life by Sarah Winman: Words you don’t expect to see in a publisher’s book description: “Big-hearted story of people brought together by the ghost of E.M. Forster.” Also file under: I want to read more, please. Still Life may not have actual ghosts, but Forster’s influence certainly shows in this, the fourth novel from Winman, author of When God was a Rabbit and Tin Man. A story of intergenerational friendship, love, and art, Still Life begins in 1944 in a Tuscan wine cellar, where a young soldier spends a life-changing evening talking to Evelyn, a much older art connoisseur (and accused spy) with memories of Forster and her own room with a view. (Kaulie)

November

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich:Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Erdrich’s new book follows Tookie, a formerly incarcerated Ojibwe woman who takes a job in a Minneapolis bookstore after serving an absurdly long sentence. When one of the bookstore’s best customers dies, her ghost returns to the store to haunt Tookie. The ghost’s appearance leads Tookie and a fellow bookseller to a shocking personal discovery of historical consequence. Taking place over the course of a year, from All Soul’s Day 2019 to All Soul’s Day 2020, Erdrich confronts a year of pandemic and protest. (Hannah)

Look for Me and I’ll be Gone by John Edgar Wideman: For more than half a century, two-time PEN Award-winning novelist and short story author Wideman has very much been a writer’s writer. His magisterial The Homewood Trilogy made the Black neighborhood of his Pittsburgh youth as mythic as William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, and if there were any literary justice in the United States, Wideman would be as widely known as the Nobel laureate. Arguably the last of the great modernist writers, Wideman combines stream of consciousness and the American vernacular in a style that recalls Joyce and Baldwin, and is yet entirely his own. His sixth collection of short stories, Look for Me and I’ll be Gone, gathering previously published material from The New Yorker, among other literary journals and magazines, returns to Wideman’s familiar themes of race and identity, punishment and injustice, Pittsburgh and Blackness. As Wideman said in an interview from Callaloo in 1989, “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” (Ed)

Medusa’s Ankles by A.S. Byatt: Byatt demonstrated her long-form virtuosity in the wide ranging and beguiling Possession, and here shows her versatility in this collection of short stories. David Mitchell admires the range of these stories, both in theme and style, and Byatt’s “portraitist’s eye.” (Marie)

The Art of Revision: The Last Word by Peter Ho Davies: Davies, author of The Fortunes and A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself, has joined an illustrious line of writers, from Charles Baxter to Edwidge Danticat, in penning an “art of” book, my favorite craft books series, published by Graywolf Press. Davies sheds light on an often invisible part of writing—rewriting—by showing drafts of his own work as well as early drafts of Carmen Maria Machado and Flannery O’Connor, among others. He also uses the topic of revision to consider how it is not only the work that changes, but the writer, too. (Edan)

The Perishing by Natashia Deón: Critically acclaimed writer Deón returns with The Perishing, a speculative and historical novel recommended for readers who love Octavia Butler and N. K. Jemisin. Deón’s second novel focuses on Lou, who finds herself in Los Angeles in the 1930s without any recollection of how she arrived, becomes the first Black journalist at The Los Angeles Times, and experiences flashbacks of various time periods. As Lou starts to believe she’s immortal and that she has arrived with an important and specific purpose, threats to her safety arise. Publishers Weekly and Library Journal have highlighted The Perishing as a fall must-read. (Zoë)

Win Me Something by Kyle Lucia Wu: As a biracial Chinese-American woman, Willa Chen has drifted through high school and college, struggling to come to some kind of peace with herself. But when she begins working as a nanny for the Adriens, a wealthy white New York City family, she is confronted with all of the things she never had. After moving in with the Adriens, Willa must come to terms with her complicated childhood and finally begin to define her adult life. As Crystal Hana Kim, author of If You Leave Me says: “Win Me Something is an observant, contemplative story about the complex reality of growing up with a mixed identity in two starkly different mixed families. Kyle Lucia Wu deftly weaves back and forth between Willa’s teenaged years and her adult life to explore loneliness, uncertainty, and a singular, persistent question―where do I truly belong?” (Adam Price)

White on White by Ayşegül Savaş: “Beauty avoids our grasp because it’s made of the same, ephemeral texture as imagination,” the Paris-based Turkish writer Savaş writes in her essay, “On Invisible Beauty,” published in our very own pages. Beauty and art are subjects Savaş returns to in her second novel, White on White. When, by virtue of proximity, a student of Gothic nudes becomes a companion and repository of stories told by her artist landlord, she becomes a student not only of art but of life. Lauren Groff compares White on White’s elegance to “an opaque sheet of ice that belies the swift and turbulent waters beneath. (Anne K. Yoder)

New York, My Village by Uwem Akpan: In Akpan’s debut novel (following Say You’re One of Them, his bestselling, critically-acclaimed collection), Nigerian editor Ekong Udousoro, who is working on a collection about the Biafran War, relocates to New York City after receiving a publishing fellowship—only to discover the dark side of an industry that smiles in his face while disparaging his home, race, and culture. Elif Batuman writes: “Unforgettable characters, deeply realistic and ‘relatable’ interpersonal conflicts, a contagious love of life, fresh insights into the crazy-making properties of racist ideology: New York, My Village has it all.” (Carolyn)

Sacred City by Theodore C. Van Alst: A follow-up to Van Alst’s debut, Sacred Smokes, the story tracks a young man guided by an ancestral band only he (and the reader) can see, leading us on a path toward the inevitable conclusion that “Chicago was, is, and always will be Indian Country.” (Il’ja)

Chasing Homer by László Krasznahorkai (translated by John Batki, musical performances by Szilveszter Miklós, illustrated by Max Neumann): Brief (only 96 pages), collaborative, and propulsive—Chasing Homer is a chase story the likes of which you’ve not yet experienced in a book. The story: a being with no past, for whom only the present moment exists, blends into every terrain in a desperate attempt to elude the hunt and outrun death. It’ll be weird but it’ll be good. (Il’ja)

The Four Humors by Mina Seçkin: As someone whose vade mecum is Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, I’m especially excited for Seçkin’s debut novel, in which a young woman analyzes her illness according to the four humors theory. (My problem: excess of phlegm.) Taking place over a summer in Istanbul, where the woman has travelled to care for her ailing grandmother, the novel balances the protagonist’s humor-gazing with stories of her family’s and Turkey’s history. The premise faintly echoes two other recent medico-literary works of quackery and experimental treatment: Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk. (Matt)

The Making of Incarnation by Tom McCarthy: A novel that explores the varied “intersection(s) of technology and the human” and the limits, or lack thereof, of imagination. McCarthy stirs together the art of raising 12 children, counting sheep, and the laws of motion to paint a compelling portrait of the drives that inhabit and inhibit us. A wild ride. (Il’ja)

Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women who Revolutionized Food in America by Mayukh Sen: Nowadays many people write or produce videos about food and culture, but Mayukh Sen is arguably the first one who makes you feel the American kitchen sizzling with wonder. Taste Makers carefully selects seven extraordinarily courageous, brilliant, and loving immigrant women who dedicate their lives to what Americans take for granted in their diet today. James Beard Award-winning writer Sen’s impeccable research accurately restores the lives of these women; his lively prose style matches the vivacity of his heroines. More importantly, he both entertains and challenges our previous mental association of women and food. After reading this group biography, perhaps what we see on our mundane plate is no longer the same as before. (Jianan)

Love in the Big City by Sang Young Park: Contradictions abound in Sang Young Park’s English-language debut, and that’s exactly how it should be. The Seoul inhabited by the book’s hero, Young, is filled with joy, sadness, anxiety, heartbreak, languor, and intensity—sometimes all in one chapter. As Young grows, yearns, and makes messy mistakes, readers will find themselves rooting for him all the way until the brilliant end. (Kate)

Noor by Nnedi Okorafor: Widely known—and loved, and awarded—for her genre-bending, Africanfuturist novels and stories (see: Who Fears Death, Lagoon), Okorafor is back with a vivid and unpredictable rush of a new novel. Anwuli Okwudili—or AO, for Artificial Organism—is a woman who relies on her many body augmentations to live. But when someone gets hurt, she’s forced to go on the run, heading into and across the deserts of Northern Nigeria with a Fulani herdsman, DNA, alongside her and the world watching the “saga of the wicked woman and the mad man” unfold in real time. (Kaulie)

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett: A new collection of personal essays from the beloved Patchett, including a meditation on a surprising and beautiful bond formed with Tom Hanks’s assistant, a woman named Sooki, which is basically indescribable outside of the essay that describes it, but which you can read here at Harper’s. (Lydia)

Blue-Skinned Gods by SJ Sindu: Roxane Gay writes that Blue-Skinned Gods, the second novel from Sindu, is “consummate storytelling,” “heart breaking and exhilarating”; others have called it stunning, profound, a marvel. In Tamil Nadu, India, a young boy named Kalki is born with impossibly blue skin. He is believed to be—and is worshipped as—Vishnu reincarnated, but he begins to have his doubts. As his relationships with his community and family begin to crumble, Kalki lands in New York City, seeking refuge in the city’s underground rock scene as he works to discover exactly who—and what—he is. (Kaulie)

God of Mercy by Okezie Nwọka: A debut novel set in an Igbo village where the forces of colonialism have not found root now finds itself at odds with its neighboring colonized villages, with dire consequences for its heroine Iljeoma, a girl who can fly. Maisy Card calls the novel “a profound exploration of religion, faith, and compassion from a gifted storyteller. Okezie Nwọka creates a richly imagined postcolonial landscape that is at once otherworldly, tragically human, and completely unforgettable.” (Lydia)

Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King: King follows five critically acclaimed novels, most recently Euphoria and Writers and Lovers, with her first collection of short stories. Ann Patchett raved that the new offering “moved me, inspired me, thrilled me. It filled up ever chamber of my heart. I loved this book.” (Lydia)

Pity the Beast by Robin McLean: Following her debut collection Reptile House, this novel of the western U.S. jumps back and forth in time from prehistory to far in the future, focusing its eye on the time in between, during which a woman named Ginny has just cheated on her husband. A new feminist western about which J.M. Coetzee raved, “Not since Faulkner have I read American prose so bristling with life and particularity.” (Lydia)

Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart: In what may be the season’s first explicitly Covid-19 novel, funny-sad author Shteyngart chronicles eight friends, including a Russian-born novelist and his wife, their child obsessed with K-pop, a Korean American app developer, and various other artistes isolated upstate in March of 2020 for a Boccaccian idyll in which they are safe from a deadly virus but not from themselves, their hungers, and their pasts. Looking forward to the hyper-observant author’s take in what Salman Rushdie pegs it as “A powerful fable of our broken time.” (Marie)

Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak: On Cyprus, a Greek Christian boy and a Turkish Muslim girl share a secret courtship. One day, war changes everything. Years later, curious about her family history, a London girl returns to the island where her parents met, where she’s never been. What does she find? (Nick M.)

December

I’m Not Hungry but I Could Eat by Christopher Gonzalez: As the title implies, all the protagonists in this story collection struggle with midnight cravings to some extent. A college graduate attends the bachelor party of a high school crush and has the confusing desire rekindled; a cat-sitter accidentally troubles his friend with the excessive grease of French fries and his undue longing for connection. Though those crucial, intimate moments of self-discovery, the physical sense of hunger gains a metaphorical weight as the constant human yearning for where we can call a home. (Jianan)

Tell Me How to Be by Neel Patel: Patel follows up his collection If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi with a novel of mother-son and other forms of love and rediscovery set against the backdrop of ’90s R&B. Akash leaves Los Angeles for Illinois, where his widowed mother, Renu, is selling the family home. As they pack up, both confront the errors and regrets of the past. Susie Yang says of the novel ,“Once in a while there comes a book that reminds us of why we read: to feel, to question, to grow…The emotional truth of this indelibly portrayed family and their messy lives will leave you weeping and shattered.” (Lydia)

The Women I Love by Francesco Pacifico (translated by Elizabeth Harris): Pacifico composed a series of idiosyncratic lockdown dispatches from Rome for n+1 in which he mused on his father’s hip replacement and wrote a tongue-in-cheek breakup letter to his writing career. Not so fast, as he has an exuberant new work out in English. Pacifico’s previous novel to be translated, Class, was a bright-young-things tale about Italian ex-pats in New York City. His latest, The Women I Love, is set in Italy and features a middle-aged writer anatomizing the women—lovers, colleagues, relatives—who enrich and complicate his life. (Matt)

‘Give My Love to the Savages’: Featured Fiction from Chris Stuck

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In today’s edition of featured fiction, curated by our own Carolyn Quimby, we present an excerpt—a portion of the short story “Lake No Negro”—from Chris Stuck’s debut story collection, Give My Love to the Savages.
The book earned praise from the likes of Victor LaValle, who described the collection as “Black satire with bite,” and Publishers Weekly, which said, “Stuck brings uncompromising humor and judicious characterizations, offering piercing insights on the complexity of his characters’ experiences. The author’s perfect balance of absurdism and realism makes these stories shine.”
LAKE NO NEGRO
Andre had never been with a white woman, an older woman, a conventionally beautiful woman, much less one he’d just met. But here he was. Her name was Farrah, and they’d stumbled onto each other in the beginner class at the Rock and Rope, a large indoor rock-climbing gym in the southeast part of town. Their instructor randomly paired them up, and for an hour, they scaled a three-story modular wall called the Slab. It was a good partnership. Andre and Farrah picked their way up the climbing holds like spiders up a web. But every time they reached the top, Andre found her giving him a high five or a hug, holding on to him, he noticed, a little longer than she needed to.

She was in her early forties, Andre guessed, and not hurting in the cash department. She possessed the grooming and physique of someone with a salon and trainer at her beck and call. In Portland, so many people were scribbled with tattoos, looking so eccentric and pasty, that Farrah’s mainstream glow made her unusual. She didn’t look at all like the lead singer of some shaggy folk band. Quite the contrary. She looked like a perky blond aerobics instructor.

As she showered, he lay in bed, sex drunk. He reclined against his wad of pillows and fell into a parade of dreams he never used to have back east. In one, he was an ironclad warrior atop a powerful white steed. In another, he was the commander of an army of soldiers. When he opened his eyes after a fourth little dream, he found she was gone. On the pillow next to him was a note, though. It said, “Dinner. My place. Saturday. 6pm.” Underneath she’d written the address, some town in the suburbs called Lake Oswego.
* * *
Andre was twenty-six and from DC. He’d journeyed west to spice up his life. Farrah was from Northern California, but she hadn’t said why she’d relocated or what she did for a living. Andre didn’t push. Over his six months in Portland, he’d learned that this city lacked the irony or speed found in most American cities. The place was so strange and carefree that he incorrectly assumed no one there was employed or even aspired to be. He figured Farrah was, in all likelihood, one of “those Californians” vilified by Portland’s liberals, those wealthy Californians who bought up the cheap real estate and spit it back on the market at a profit, something Andre wasn’t that invested in.

That Saturday, he prepared for his dinner date by renting an electric car and whizzing down to the Pearl District to buy some dress clothes at a shop called the Social Ladder. He checked himself out in the store’s three-way mirror and suddenly thought of his old life. Just a year before, he’d been the definition of metrosexual. He was an up-and-coming yet

bored financial analyst who’d amassed a pretty decent savings. He got his hair cut weekly. He clipped his fingernails every Sunday night and often tended to his closet of expensive suits and coats.

Since he’d come to Portland, however, he’d let himself go. His hair was in naps. He shaved infrequently. And what clothes he had, he lugged down to a Laundromat in a trash bag once

every two weeks, washing them without separating the colors from the whites, something his ex, Nina, used to do that drove him nuts. “You’re so uptight,” she used to always say. “Why do you have to be so weird?”

He missed the tidiness of his old life as well as those designer clothes he’d given to the Goodwill like a dope before he’d moved. Andre imagined a homeless person living on the DC streets, looking like Denzel Washington with all his nice threads, while he was across the country looking like a bohemian. He ran his fingers over his naps, took out his phone, and found one of the few Black barbershops in Portland. He had his head shaved to the scalp, his goatee cut off like a tumor. At home, he dressed and doused himself in cologne, and since he’d recently started smoking weed again, he took a quick bong hit to ease his mind.
* * *
As he traversed the city, fairly zooted, he got introspective. He didn’t know why, but memories of Nina had been clamping down on him from out of nowhere. She was partly why he’d moved west, to forget about her even if she’d already forgotten about him. As he neared Lake Oswego, he had a vision of his last night in DC, when he’d made the Titanic-size boo-boo of calling her one last time.

When she answered, the endeavor showed promise. Her voice was bubbly, happy, like how it used to be. When she realized it was him, though, she sounded like a bored customer-service rep. He waded through the awkward salutations, which yielded some info: She was well. She was active. And she was living with her parents, a fact he was pleased to hear since it made her sound a little pitiful.

“Are you working?” he said.

“Sure. My writing and pottery are going really well.”

“No. I mean actual employment. Something that, you know, makes money.”

She simply said yes. She was a barista.

He laughed when she flamboyantly rolled the “r” in “barista.” “Isn’t that just a pretentious way of saying you pour coffee?”

“If you think Italian is pretentious, then yes,” she said. “My boyfriend owns the shop.”

That was the first blow. Boyfriend. And it was just like her to throw it in when he wasn’t expecting it. He didn’t say anything for what seemed like minutes and tried to recover by asking the guy’s name.

“Alastair.”

That was the second blow. The name was so blue blood, so Caucasian, that he didn’t know whether to die laughing or curl up in a ball and weep. Andre imagined a towheaded cricket player, someone with an accent, someone related to the British royal family. Instantly, he wanted to murder him, but he thought he did a good job hiding that. “Well, great. I’m glad for you. I guess you’ve finally made it.”

“Why?” she said. “Because he’s white?”

“That’s not what I meant.” He should’ve stopped there, purely out of embarrassment. This conversation was going to get around to everyone they knew. But he was a little drunk at the time. What honest-to-goodness whiskey drinker would quit now? Forge on, the liquor told him. Break new ground. “Let me ask you this. Does he call you ‘Lovie’ when you fuck? Do you guys have cucumber sandwiches afterward?”

She just sighed.

“Tell the truth. When you guys get married, he’ll want you to wear a tiara, won’t he?” He heard himself squeal in delight.

“You know what? Unlike your weird ass, he’s extremely sensitive and caring and loving and brilliant. He’s a poet.”

“Oh, well, of course he is. Only a poet deserves so many adjectives bestowed upon him.” Andre stopped to laugh again. He was astounded she hadn’t hung up on him yet. He would’ve hung up on himself by then. Of course, that was exactly when she did.
* * *
As Andre entered Lake Oswego, he was drenched in that jealousy again. He thought his feelings for Nina had faded. He thought he’d forgotten all about Alastair and his great poetry. He hadn’t even had the chance to tell her he was leaving town. Just the idea of them and the snooty kids they’d have made Andre want to go back to his apartment and sulk.

But according to his GPS, he was almost to Farrah’s, close enough that it would’ve been stupid to turn back. Perhaps getting blackout drunk in front of total strangers would take his mind off things. Then he could pack his crap and move to LA or Seattle, or to DC to get his job back.

Remarkably, though, as he escaped the throughways and drove deeper into the woods, Andre found his fog burning off. The avenues turned twisty and lush. Just driving them made his high come back. He’d heard Lake Oswego had been nicknamed Lake No Negro, but no one ever told him if it was because the town, like the rest of Portland, was just really white or if it was really white and anti-Black. Every section of town had a strange nickname anyway. So, who knew? There was no one on the street, white or otherwise. Andre expected to see mansions and topiaries and wrought iron gates everywhere. Instead, the houses were vague structures shrouded in overgrown vegetation, the homes of wealthy people who didn’t trim their hedges.

Andre wound over to South Shore Boulevard, gliding until his GPS said he’d arrived. His electric car sat silent as he assessed the residence from the street. It was ultramodern and white, more a structure than a house. It sat below street level on a lakefront property, looking like those Frank Lloyd Wright homes Nina talked about. Andre coasted down the gravel drive and passed a cedar-clad carport with a Jaguar, an SUV, and Farrah’s Mercedes parked inside.

He walked up to the door with some carnations and a bottle of Champagne, the real kind, from the Champagne region of France. It was a piece of knowledge Nina had pounded into his brain after he’d once brought home a case of Korbel thinking it was the good shit. He’d picked this bottle, a blanc de noir that set him back a chilly one-fifty, simply to impress but also because he liked the name. The French guy in the wine shop said it meant “white from black grapes,” which had a sense of transformation about it, like “water into wine” and “lemons into lemonade.”

Andre rang the doorbell, and it produced a classical tune that lasted a minute. Just as it reached its final note, the door was snatched open by a young Asian woman who stood there in a gray sweatshirt with the neck cut out. Andre introduced himself and said he was there for dinner, but she just sized him up, after which she crossed her arms and screamed, “Farrah, your stupid friend’s here!”

Andre thought of cracking a joke, but the way she thinned her eyes at him made him decide against it.

The interior of the house was a collection of marble and concrete, stainless steel and wood. Andre felt like he was walking into an issue of Architectural Digest. The foyer’s ceiling was a huge sheet of glass, a window to the sky. As he stood there, a large chandelier exploded with light, and there was Farrah, gliding down the wooden staircase in a kimono. She greeted him with outstretched arms, the way rich people did on TV.

She said she was glad he’d arrived, surveying him with a smile and evidently approving. “You clean up good.” She petted his shaved head and face. “I’m glad you got rid of the goatee. It didn’t suit you. You look like a little boy now.”

Andre didn’t know how to take that. And he was still a little high. “Thanks.” He looked at the Asian woman, who was looking back at him like a repulsed teenager.

Farrah then startled him by rubbing her nose against his, and the Asian woman said, “Are you fucking kidding me?” under her breath.

That was when an older white guy emerged atop the staircase, tucking his dress shirt into his slacks. He looked to be in his midsixties, the distinguished air of a politician radiating from every pore. He jogged down the steps obligingly, his knees cracking. “Tanya,” he said to the Asian woman. “Shouldn’t you be getting dressed?”

Like a chastened child, she said, “All right,” stomping down the hallway to the back of the house and blowing through the patio doors.

When Andre turned back to Farrah, he found her and the old guy studying him. The guy was as tan as Farrah. His silver hair swooped back from his forehead in a perfect wave. “I’m Dennis.” He reached out his meaty hand. “You must be Andre.”

It was at that moment that everything aligned. He looked from Farrah to Dennis, who now stood behind her with his hand on her shoulder, his lips pinched in a half smile, as if to say, “You got it, buddy. I’m the father.” Andre thought he could even see a resemblance.

“I didn’t know this was a family dinner.” Farrah looked at Dennis and smiled. “Well, that’s what we are. One big happy family.”

“Come on in.” Dennis guided him down the hallway, which dropped them into a recessed great room. To the left was a stainless steel kitchen that looked like a small factory. To the right was a living room, sunken even lower, with numerous African masks on the wall. When Andre first moved to town, some drunk guy in a bar told him, “Tip numero uno, bro. Don’t ever go to the suburbs. People are weird out there.”

Standing in that sparkling room now, though, Andre couldn’t quite believe that.

Excerpt from Give My Love to the Savages: Stories by Chris Stuck. Published by Amistad. Copyright © 2021 HarperCollins.

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)