Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Kwan, Center, Iglesias, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Kevin Kwan, Katherine Center, Legna Rodríguez Iglesias, and more—that are publishing this week.

Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Sex and Vanity: “Kwan follows up his Crazy Rich Asians trilogy with an intoxicating, breezy update of E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View. Lucie Tang Churchill, 19, a privileged ‘hapa’ (she is half Chinese, half WASP) attends her richer friend Isabel’s wedding in Capri. After Lucie meets Isabel’s cousin George Zao, a rich, handsome, Chinese-Australian surfer, she becomes a ‘bundle of conflicting emotions,’ repulsed by her attraction to the ‘brooding weirdo [who] took himself much too seriously.’ Still, they hook up, at risk of jeopardizing Lucie’s reputation as an eligible bride. Four years later, Lucie and George’s paths cross in New York, only now Lucie is engaged to Cecil Pike. However, Lucy can’t get George out of her mind, and she is flummoxed by his kindness. When Lucy, George, and Cecil attend a film screening featuring a sex scene that reminds her of what she did with George in Capri, Lucie doubles down on suppressing her true desires. Kwan exploits the Forster frame for clever references—including Merchant and Ivory—and provides amusing footnotes. Kwan also relishes describing lavish meals and haute couture clothing, as well as Isabel’s decadent wedding and Cecil’s imaginative, over-the-top proposal. There are moments both catty and witty, but this delectable comedy of manners—the literary equivalent of white truffle and caviar pizza—is still pizza.”

What You Wish For by Katherine Center

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about What You Wish For: “Center’s quirky story (after Things You Save in a Fire) follows offbeat librarian Samantha Casey, who’s found the tight-knit family she’s always longed for and a place to call home in a small Texas beach town. The Kempner School, where she works, is a bright, cheery place, and principal Max Kempner sparks joy at every turn—until his sudden death from a pulmonary embolism. When Sam hears the news about Max’s replacement, Duncan Carpenter, she remembers Duncan as a former fellow teacher, crush, and all-around ‘human mood-enhancer.’ Sam sings Duncan’s praises as an ideal replacement until Duncan swoops in and declares the school a security ‘nightmare’ that he is determined to make a model of safety and security through a series of extreme measures. Soon, Sam schemes with the school’s cofounder Babette, Max’s widow, to stage a ‘Joy-bomb’ intervention, forcing Duncan to eat a sundae each day and perform juggling in front of the students at lunchtime in exchange for the privilege of keeping his job, in hopes of unearthing the fun Duncan and saving the school. In the process, Sam’s old crush on Duncan reignites. The cast of eccentric supporting characters adds to a fast-paced tale steeped with whimsical, yet sometimes outlandish, plot points. This is one for the beach bag.”

Inheritors by Asako Serizawa

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Inheritors: “Serizawa follows a winding maze through a Japanese family’s history in her dynamic debut collection. A family tree beginning with Masayuki (born in 1868) and continuing through to Mai (born in 2013) creates the work’s backbone, as Serizawa constructs a nonlinear narrative filled with abrupt turns, accidental betrayals, and supposed curses and myths. The opening story, ‘Flight’ (covering 1911–1981), follows Masayuki’s daughter, Ayumi, as she loses some of her memories while others become more vivid. In the collection’s standout, ‘Train to Harbin,’ Ayumi’s doctor brother contemplates his youthful nationalism in the years just after WWII and his role in the wartime occupation of China. In ‘Luna,’ set in 1986, Ayumi’s Japanese-American grand-niece Luna learns her father, Masaaki, was adopted and is of Korean heritage (not Japanese, as he believed), leading her to recall her earliest memories of visiting Japan. In ‘Passing,’ set in 2010, Luna returns to Japan to collect Masaaki’s possessions and ruminates not on ‘where he belonged’ but ‘how he wanted to fit in.’ The final two stories, ‘The Garden’ and ‘Echolocation,’ jump into the future to investigate the fallacies of perception and what cyber warfare might look like after Mai’s brother, Erin, develops a global VR climate simulator for predicting disaster. By showing Japan as both colonizer and colonized, Serizawa delivers an elegant, stimulating web of stories.”

The All-Night Sun by Diane Zinna

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The All-Night Sun: “Zinna’s intimate debut dazzles with original language, emotional sentience, and Swedish folklore as it plumbs the depths of grief, loss, and friendship. Lauren Cress, a 28-year-old woman teaching English comp at a small college outside of Washington, D.C., takes a leap out of her lonely, sedentary routine by agreeing to travel with Siri, an 18-year-old art student, to her home in Sweden. Until now, her life has been comprised of walking her dog, Annie; studying Latin to pass her insomniac nights; occasional one-night stands; and devoting much of her time to obsessively commenting on her students’ essays. These habits were formed as coping mechanisms after her parents died in a car crash 10 years earlier. Siri also lost her parents, and the women are intensely bonded by grief. Tension ensues after Lauren meets Siri’s older artist brother, Magnus, whom she was primed to dislike before the trip but can’t stop thinking about. This leads to a rift in Lauren and Siri’s friendship and a heartbreaking climax during the Midsommar celebration. The descriptions of the never-ending sunlight are inventive and luminous (‘when I think of our talks there, they can sometimes feel like sun in my eyes’). Zinna reaches an inspired emotional depth that, as the title signifies, never stops blazing.”

Age of Consent by Amanda Brainerd

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Age of Consent: “Brainerd’s bracing debut focuses on a group of teens at a Connecticut boarding school and an ill-spent summer in New York City. In 1983, classmates Eve Straus and Justine Rubin struggle with difficult parents, teenage crushes, and predatory older men. Eve comes from a wealthy Park Avenue home, while Justine is from New Haven, where her parents are struggling middle-class theater owners, too preoccupied with their own lives to guide her away from trouble. Justine is already growing rapidly into adulthood, while Eve is intent on losing her virginity. Eve’s English instructor trades grades for sex with her; Justine already lost her virginity at 14 to a family friend. While the goings-on at Griswold Academy are engaging, and a musical interlude at a David Bowie concert is well written, Brainerd’s tale really takes off in the second half, when the two young women navigate a gritty summer in New York City, where Eve works at a SoHo art gallery and Justine moves in with Eve’s childhood friend. Eve and Justine eventually drift apart, each envying the other’s life. On the surface, Brainerd’s tale is a nostalgic trip into the early 1980s, including an inspired evocation of the Downtown art scene, but her teenage characters make the greatest impact. The takes on parental neglect and the ways young women are taught to see sex as transactional make this more than a throwback.”

My Favorite Girlfriend Was a French Bulldog by Legna Rodríguez Iglesias

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about My Favorite Girlfriend Was a French Bulldog: “This profound and delightful novel-in-stories by Cuban poet Iglesias, her English-language debut, is a breathtaking exploration of identity, country, art, and family. Iglesias’s narrator slips with ease into a different voice in each chapter, though they all retain facets of her consciousness. In ‘Politics,’ the narrator explores her relationship with Cuba through the reminiscences of her dead grandfather. ‘Monster’ is written in a heightened bureaucratic voice, a formal choice that makes concrete the narrator’s stress as she navigates the emigration process. The chapters that follow reveal different aspects of the narrator’s identity—an erudite queer woman; a U.S. émigré; a poet with a deep knowledge of literary and musical history, and an all-consuming affection for her darling French bulldog. While the narrator worries about ‘being no one’ or ‘accepting, that you are no one here and now,’ Iglesias’s voice is too sure, too fresh, and too in command of form to be overlooked. Iglesias’s distinctive style carries her narrator on an unforgettable journey of self-discovery through language.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Nugent, Tenorio, Martin, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Benjamin Nugent, Lysley Tenorio, Andrew Martin, and more—that are publishing this week.

Fraternity by Benjamin Nugent

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Fraternity: “Terry Southern Prize–winner Nugent digs into Greek life at an unnamed western Massachusetts university in this winning collection (after Good Kids). In ‘God,’ Delta Zeta Chi members admiringly nickname a classmate God after she writes a poem calling out Delta president Newton as an ‘early detonator’ in bed. ‘The Treasurer’ stars incoming Delta treasurer Pete, whose dedication to the brotherhood impairs his reasoning after he’s sexually assaulted during a leadership test, while in ‘Ollie the Owl,’ Nugent conceives a comical alternate reality where the fraternity’s wooden owl mascot comes to life and attacks students. ‘Safe Spaces,’ the lone tale featuring a female protagonist, ponders the aimless nature of a broken heart, as dropout Claire, high on cocaine, seeks refuge at Delta house after being rebuffed by a former lover. While Nugent shows consistent talent for capturing the voices and shallow ambition of college students, he stumbles when he leaves the campus—the collection’s weakest story, ‘Fan Fiction,’ dawdles as Newton, the Delta president from ‘God,’ moves to Los Angeles and dates a famous director. Despite this aberration, the rest of the collection pulses with energy, and Nugent commendably weaves humor and drama to shine an unflinching light on the young adults convening behind fraternity walls. One can almost smell the stale beer on the page.”

Scorpionfish by Natalie Bakopoulos

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Scorpionfish: “In Bakopoulos’s ruminative follow-up to The Green Shore, 30-something Mira returns from the U.S. to Greece after her parents’ deaths to clean out the apartment she grew up in. The city she encounters is not the one of her childhood. Athens is plagued by strikes, drugs, the government debt crisis, and the junta, and refugees hoping for a better future have migrated to the city, ‘the safest dangerous place in the world.’ Like the city itself, Mira’s sense of self is in flux as she lingers in her parents’ apartment. Enter the Captain. Mira’s new neighbor is an older man recently separated from his wife and children who prefers the ‘placeless universality of the sea’ to land. Both spend the summer figuring out who they are in the wake of huge life changes as they explore the city with old friends: Fady and Dimitra, who have taken in a refugee; Aris, Mira’s ex-boyfriend, a rising politician and father-to-be; and Nefeli, an older artist Mira’s known since childhood, who understands, better than anyone, how the past, present, and future selves coexist. While Bakopoulos’s emphasis on themes of identity is at times heavy-handed, she skillfully captures the characters’ sense of feeling stuck between stations. This riff on the adage that you can never go home poses essential questions on what it means to belong.”

The Son of Good Fortune by Lysley Tenorio

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Son of Good Fortune: “Tenorio’s mordant and moving debut novel (after the collection Monstress) follows the travails of an undocumented Filipino immigrant mother and son. Nineteen-year-old Excel reluctantly makes the long trek back to the apartment where he grew up in Colma, Calif., from Hello City, a relaxed town of hippies and techies near the Mexican border, where he’d moved nine months earlier with his girlfriend, Sab. Excel has a debt in Hello City—$10,000, to be exact—and his only option is to ask for his old job at The Pie Who Loved Me, a restaurant where ‘pizza goes to die.’ His mother, Maxina, a former action star, lives with Joker, Maxina’s childhood martial arts instructor and a grandfather figure to Excel. These days, Maxina makes a living scamming American men seeking obedient Filipina wives online. Excel and Maxina have had a turbulent relationship since Excel’s 10th birthday, when Maxina told him they were tago ng tago (hiding and hiding)—but with such a large debt to pay back, the pizza earnings aren’t enough, and Excel turns to Maxina for help. Written with great empathy and sly humor, Tenorio’s tale of Excel and Maxima’s gradual reconciliation takes a searing look at the ways they’ve taken care of and failed each other. This is a wonderful achievement.”

Alice Knott by Blake Butler

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Alice Knott: “Butler (300,000,000) unwinds a vertiginous, deeply interior tale of art vandalism and a woman’s derangement. When a video showing the destruction of a Willem de Kooning painting goes viral, copycat crimes erupt across the world. The de Kooning, among other destroyed works, turns out to have been stolen from Alice Knott, an aging heiress isolated in her family home for decades. Traumatized by her childhood, Alice suffers from extreme dissociation and is bewildered by herself and her mother, father, stepfather, and twin (or ‘untwin’) brother. Her confusion extends even to the nature of her house, which shape-shifts in her mind (‘there always seemed to be new rooms, and different dimensions to the past ones’). As Alice becomes a suspect in the crimes, Alice Novak, a conceptual artist Butler confusingly describes as Alice Knott’s doppelgänger, dies, apparently during a performance. Meanwhile, acts of art-terror proliferate along with a pandemic of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease; natural disasters; and a contagious delirium that infects even the U.S. president. Butler’s penchant for ambiguities flowers in Alice’s convoluted ruminations, which predominate in this challenging novel. Unfortunately, the labyrinthine language will leave readers trapped alongside Alice in her harrowing hall-of-mirrors self, unmoored to any grounding context, and Butler’s attempt to portray mental illness is overwrought and tedious. The conceit and experimentation are fascinating and admirable, but miss their mark.”

Want by Lynn Steger Strong

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Want: “Strong’s impressive follow-up to Hold Still explores the energy it takes for women to sustain themselves in a world that leaves them feeling ‘less than, knocked down, not quite in control.’ Now living in New York City, Elizabeth and her unnamed husband are ‘eighties babies, born of plenty, cloistered by whiteness… brought up to think that if we checked off certain boxes we’d be fine.’ Elizabeth has a PhD, but tenure-track professorship remains out of reach, and her husband, the first in his family to attend college, once worked for Lehman Brothers and now struggles to get a carpentry business off the ground. Due to their unstable employment and scant insurance coverage for her C-section and root canals, they are deep in debt (‘my body almost single-handedly bankrupted us’). As the couple advance through the bankruptcy process, buoyed by their love for their young children and at times each other, Elizabeth becomes caught up in repeating an old pattern with her friend, Sasha, who is anxious about her pregnancy after a previous miscarriage. Strong unpacks the fraught history of Elizabeth and Sasha’s friendship dating back to their teenage years, delivering great insight on how the exhausted women have found themselves wanting—male attention, babies, choices, recognition, respect—as they compromise their dreams in order to survive. This is well worth a look.”

After the Body by Cleopatra Mathis

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about After the Body: “Over the last four decades, Mathis (Book of Dog) has quietly crafted lyrically precise, often harrowing poems in which the poet’s ‘throat is a long avenue of ice,/ cutting the familiar good words/ at their source.’ This generous volume draws from the poet’s recorded gifts and losses: poems of early and late motherhood, a child’s mental illness and institutionalization, human and nonhuman deaths within and beyond the poet’s purview. As the poet studies ‘the art of now and wait, to love/ what’s not a part of me,’ the swamps and bayous of her childhood home morph into the woods and coastlines of New England: ‘Some pinion/ connects who we are with whatever pulls us/ to walk into the evening’s wetland grasses/ in an air made of sounds we listen for/ …the grace of seeing that will save us.’ To these earlier works are added two dozen new poems of extraordinary acuity, many of them attempts to describe the wracking pain as the poet struggles with crippling illness. Rereading the poet’s past work through her present reveals hidden continuities. In these knowing poems, readers may recognize their own humanity, as well as the sometimes-impossible conditions of living.”

Cool for America by Andrew Martin

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Cool for America: “Martin (Early Work) captures young adults’ aimless searches for stability in this bleak, revealing collection. In ‘The Changed Party,’ during a rained-out vacation on the Jersey shore, Lisa and Gary, freshly reunited following a separation, discover their eight-year-old daughter Amanda’s compulsive habit of picking through the garbage and are troubled by a friend’s drinking. In the title story, an unnamed assistant professor spending the summer in Missoula, Mont., wrestles with a powerful attraction to his friend’s wife, who helps him recuperate from a broken leg. In ‘The Boy Vet,’ a baby-faced veterinarian pressures a softhearted literature PhD dropout to pay for emergency surgery on a stray dog. The protagonist of ‘Bad Feelings’ distracts himself from his mom’s surgery by going to ‘the third sequel to a blockbuster adaptation of a young adult book series’ despite having not seen the others, and loses his keys in the empty theater. Moments of cynical humor pop up amid drug use, tumultuous relationships, or other self-defeating outlets for the characters’ creative and personal frustrations. Though the people begin to blend together, each story has at least one or two standout, bleakly funny lines. Martin’s sardonic tales are decent, if not breathtaking.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Stein, Sullivan, Baker, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of  Leigh Stein, J. Courtney Sullivan, Calvin Baker, and more—that are publishing this week.

Self Care by Leigh Stein

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Self Care: “In this sharp satire, Stein (The Fallback Plan) revels in wellness culture gone toxic. Devin Avery and Maren Gelb are cofounders of Richual, a Goop-like lifestyle company seeking to ‘catalyze women to be global changemakers through the simple act of self-care.’ (That the company doesn’t have a maternity leave policy is a particularly juicy irony.) Richual uses sponsored content, paid influencers, confessional blog postings, and merchandise like ‘Believe Victims’ beach towels to attract and monetize its user base. Devin, rich and devoted to a strenuous dietary and beauty regimen, is the face of the company, while Maren, who got her start working for a nonprofit feminist organization and has a mountain of student loan debt, ensures Richual runs ‘like a well-moisturized machine.’ That machine hits a rough patch after a woman publishes an essay about the problematic sexual predilections of Evan, a former Bachelorette contestant and prominent male investor in Richual, threatening the company’s feminist bona fides and driving a wedge between its cofounders. The plot flies by, but the real appeal lies in Stein’s merciless skewering of startup culture, bloviating entrepreneurs, fatuous trends, and woker-than-thou internet denizens, a vanity fair of 20-somethings who are at once conspicuously privileged yet vulnerable, earnest yet hypocritical, navel-gazing yet engaged, independent-minded yet tribal. Stein’s sharp writing separates her from the pack in this exquisite, Machiavellian morality tale about the ethics of looking out for oneself.”

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Mexican Gothic: “Moreno-Garcia’s energetic romp through the gothic genre (after Gods of Jade and Shadow) is delightfully bonkers. In the 1950s, Noemí, a flirtatious socialite and college student, travels from Mexico City to rescue her cousin Catalina from the nightmarish High Place, a remote Mexican mountain villa. Catalina has recently married the chilly, imperiously seductive Virgil Doyle, heir to a now defunct British silver mining operation. Beset by mysterious fevers, Catalina has written to her uncle, Noemí’s father, telling him, ‘This house is sick with rot, stinks of decay, brims with every single evil and cruel sentiment.’ Noemí clashes with Virgil’s father, Howard—who subscribes to theories of eugenics—along with a set of oddly robotic British servants. Beset by horrifying dreams and visions, and unsettled by a peculiar fungus that grows everywhere, Noemí soon fears for her own life as well as Catalina’s. In a novel that owes a considerable debt to the nightmarish horror and ornate language of H.P. Lovecraft, the situations in which Noemí attempts to prevail get wilder and stranger with every chapter, as High Place starts exhibiting a mind of its own, and Noemi learns that Howard is far older than he appears to be. Readers who find the usual country house mystery too tame and languid won’t have that problem here.”

Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Friends and Strangers: “Sullivan’s intimate, incisive latest (after Saints for all Occasions) explores the evolving friendship between a new mother and her babysitter. After journalist Elisabeth Ronson moves with her husband, Andrew, and infant son, Gil, from Brooklyn to Upstate New York, Elisabeth struggles with the demands of motherhood and faces loneliness and disconnection. Then she hires Sam O’Connell, an art student at the nearby women’s college, to babysit. Elisabeth likes the upbeat Sam, though she has misgivings about Sam’s 30-something boyfriend, Clive, who proves to be untrustworthy,. Elisabeth and Sam correspond over Christmas break while Sam visits Clive in London and Elisabeth spends the holiday entertaining her parents and in-laws at home. Elisabeth and Sam argue about Clive, and Elisabeth’s father-in-law, George, provides another source of tension: Elisabeth finds his leftist rants tiresome, while Sam, via email, takes encouragement from George to campaign for improved working conditions on her campus, and struggles to understand if Elisabeth sees her as a friend or employee. Observations on domestic and social interactions add weight to Sullivan’s inquiry into Elisabeth and Sam’s interior lives, showing where the cracks seep into their friendship. Readers will be captivated by Sullivan’s authentic portrait of modern motherhood.”

A More Perfect Reunion by Calvin Baker

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A More Perfect Reunion: “In this rich, meditative account, novelist Baker (Grace) identifies the current ‘backlash of white bigotry’ following the election of the first African-American president as a moment of national reckoning akin to the Continental Congress, the Civil War, and the civil rights movement. In the process of examining why and how those earlier opportunities to ‘escape from the original sin and eternal problem of race’ by fully integrating blacks and other minority groups into American society fell short, Baker offers a wide-ranging and erudite analysis of U.S. history, politics, and culture—from the arrival of the first slave ship at Port Comfort, Va., in 1619 to discriminatory policies built into FDR’s New Deal and an interracial adoption story line on the TV show This Is Us. He critiques identity politics (‘my grievance versus your grievance’) on both the right and the left, and accuses liberals of preserving racist power structures by reaching compromises with white supremacists in order to advance piecemeal progressive reforms. Though Baker doesn’t make the mechanisms for ‘extend[ing] the full social contract’ to African-Americans clear, he paints an incisive picture of the gaps—in wages, education, life expectancy, and criminal justice—that he says need to be closed in order for the promise of democracy to be fulfilled. This powerful call to action resonates.”

Also on shelves: Destination Wedding by Diksha Basu.

Bonus Links from Our Archive:
Loving That Wild Thing: Leigh Stein’s ‘Land of Enchantment’
Arrested Development: Leigh Stein’s ‘The Fallback Plan’

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Doyle, Burton, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Roddy Doyle, Susan Burton, and more—that are publishing this week.

Love by Roddy Doyle

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Love: “This witty, satisfying novel about male friendship, aging, and guilt from Doyle (A Star Called Henry) dramatizes language’s inadequacies when it comes to affairs of the heart. ‘The words are letting me down,’ says Dubliner Joe to Davy, his old friend visiting from England, while telling him that he has left his wife for another woman, Jessica, whom they both briefly adored as young men. Over pints at several pubs, the two 50-something Irishmen get back into their old rhythms and revive, or occasionally reinvent, the past. Joe grasps for the right metaphors or analogies with which to explain his life-altering decision to Davy as much as to himself, ‘testing the words’ for how they sound. Davy, burdened by his own sense of guilt with regard to his rapidly declining father, is at times intrigued, bored, contemptuous, resentful, provoking, or supportive of his friend as Joe circles around his infidelity with an almost Jamesian vagueness. Some readers may chafe at Doyle’s leisurely unfolding of the plot, though the two men are nothing if not good company. By closing time, Doyle has focused the novel’s rambling energy into an elegiac and sobering climax. This one is a winner.”

Empty by Susan Burton

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Empty: “This American Life producer Burton debuts with an unfiltered discussion of how binge eating and anorexia plagued her throughout her adolescence and into her 20s and turned her into a ‘desperate wreck.’ Around the time she entered puberty, Burton began worrying about getting fat; she started controlling her portions and took ‘perverse pleasure in [her] smallness.’ Burton ably recreates her anxiety-filled youth, when she struggled with her parents’ divorce, her mother’s alcoholism, and with eating disorders. She offers raw descriptions of binging late at night in her kitchen as a teen, eating ice cream, muffins, and power bars to fill a void (‘This was tearing things, a frenzy’), then, later in life, starving herself to the point that she developed osteoporosis, all in an effort to feel ‘light’ and ’empty.’ Burton traces her issues with food back to her grandmother, who obsessed about weight, but offers no easy answers about what ultimately drove her own behavior. Physically healthy now, she writes that she remains ‘inflexible, paranoid, and self-loathing about food,’ and is still on the road to recovery, aided by therapy, writing, and family support. Burton convincingly conveys the desperation and darkness of eating disorders.”

Barcelona Days by Daniel Riley

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Barcelona Days: “A volcano grounds a pair of 29-year-old New Yorkers at the end of their 2017 Barcelona vacation in Riley’s emotionally grinding latest (after Fly Me). Whitney, a rising television producer, suggests that she and her fiancé, Will, each sow their wild oats over the two months she’ll spend working in L.A., before their planned trip to Barcelona. They agree to three sexual encounters with strangers, and in Barcelona, they disclose the details of their hookups in light-hearted banter. The next morning, an ash cloud from Iceland indefinitely postpones their return flight, and the fallout of their experiment begins to strain the relationship. At a party, they bump into Jack Pickle, the star of their alma mater’s basketball team, and Jenna Leonard, a quirky college student from Southern California. Then Will and Jenna attend a concert together, ramping up Whitney’s jealousy as she goes back to Jack’s apartment. The next morning, both accuse the other of cheating, and their argument upends the already fractured relationship. While Riley’s cool, sensuous prose evokes the ‘promise of being trapped in the city forever,’ pages of acrimony between Will and Whitney and a lurid backstory involving Jenna throttle the tale’s momentum. There are better stories of love on the rocks.”

Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Tokyo Ueno Station: “In Yu’s coolly meditative, subtly spectral tale (after Gold Rush), Kazu, a former denizen of a Tokyo tent city, looks mournfully on the past. Kazu lingers around Ueno Park in present-day Tokyo, where he once spent several years camping among the homeless, and spends the days people-watching and reminiscing. He recalls his birth in 1933 in rural Soma; remembers how he sought work for long stretches away from his family, including a grueling stint doing construction work in preparation for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics; and replays his response to the death of his only son at 21, in 1981 (‘My shock, my grief, my anger were all so great that crying felt inadequate’), which led him to drift away and spend more time alone in Tokyo. After two decades pass, he winds up living in the park. The banal conversations he overhears in the present from middle-class park visitors clash with the bleak recollections of his perpetual misfortune, along with the fraught history of the park as a mass grave and site of rebellion, details that emerge in Kazu’s remembered conversations with a fellow homeless man. The novel’s melding of memory and observation builds toward Kazu’s temporary eviction from the park in 2006. Yu’s spare, empathetic prose beautifully expresses Kazu’s perspective on the passage of time; he feels a ‘constant absence from the present, an anger toward the future.’ This slim but sprawling tale finds a deeply sympathetic hero in a man who feels displaced and longs for connection after it’s too late.”

Also on shelves this week: Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Spencer, Phillips, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of  Scott Spencer, Lucie Britsch, Ashleigh Bryant Phillips, and more—that are publishing this week.

An Ocean Without a Shore by Scott Spencer

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about An Ocean Without a Shore: “Spencer returns to the characters from River Under the Road in this unsatisfying sequel about unrequited love and betrayal. Kip Woods, a supporting character in River, provides a first-person confession as he awaits sentencing for a criminal conviction. His criminal actions, which are revealed at the end, are motivated by his long-secret love for the now broke but once famous screenwriter Thaddeus Kaufman. Whenever Thaddeus needs Kip to do something for him—buy his land to avoid foreclosure, care for his daughter Emma, or provide Thaddeus with insider stock tips—Kip is eager to help. Spencer makes Kip’s codependent devotion to Thaddeus as palpable as Kip’s struggles with his romantic feelings (‘If love is a sinking ship, you do want to go down with it’). The men’s bromantic chats are engaging highlights, especially when Thaddeus toys with Kip by suggesting they hike the Appalachain Trail together (‘Just to be two creatures in the great outdoors. I think that would be amazing’), and they show how Kip endures Thaddeus despite his increasingly odious behavior. While the narrative gets disjointed when Spencer shifts away from Kip, such as a depiction of Thaddeus in crisis when his father dies, the climax between the two friends is heartbreaking and explosive. Still, Spencer boxes Kip into a corner that feels disappointingly contrived.”

Sad Janet by Lucie Britsch

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Sad Janet: “In Britsch’s darkly comic debut, a deadpan, abrasive narrator muses on her depression. ‘There’s no word in the English language that properly describes this feeling I have, the one that makes other people uncomfortable,’ Janet thinks. After getting a degree in postmodern feminist science fiction, Janet takes a job at a dog shelter out in the woods with an equally depressed boss and a slightly sunnier co-worker. Everyone she knows, including her parents and boyfriend, is on one antidepressant or another, and they’re all attempting to get Janet, who clings to what she calls her ‘manageable melancholia,’ to do the same. What plot there is revolves around whether Janet will take a newly invented pill designed to increase one’s appreciation of Christmas—181 days away at the start of the novel, yet heavy on Janet’s mind—and if she does, if it will work. Meanwhile, she spends her time napping, drinking, and curling up on dog beds pretending to be a dog. Preternaturally self-aware, Janet has a gift for homing in on her own emotional state and everyone else’s, which Britsch renders in rueful, knowing prose that may land or miss, depending on if the reader can relate to pronouncements such as ‘the cool kids call it melancholia, because of that Lars von Trier movie.’ Still, Britsch’s monologue about the experience of unhappiness is undeniably infectious.”

Sleepovers by Ashleigh Bryant Phillips

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Sleepovers: “In Phillips’s blunt, life-affirming debut collection, characters in rural, hardscrabble North Carolina grapple for hope while being sustained by a soundtrack of Today’s Country Hits on FM radio and a diet of Duck Thru hot dogs. In ‘Shania,’ the unnamed seven-year-old protagonist is awed by her friend, named after the country music star, and the girls are united in their desire to become blood sisters. Their friendship is cut short after domestic violence erupts in Shania’s decrepit house. ‘The Locket’ is about the unlikely bond between Shirley, a 60-year-old pool custodian with a simple mind who often relfects on her painful childhood, and Krystal, a teenage babysitter with an impressive dive. Before meeting Krystal, Shirley’s sole companion is the spirit of her long-dead horse, Norma. After Krystal coaxes Shirley into lending her a prized locket, the consequences are devastating. The title story shifts between describing fourth-grade Nicki and her friends’ sleepovers and the tribulations of Nicki’s father. After he loses his leg in an accident, the community raises money for an artificial leg, but it doesn’t quite fit. Phillips demonstrates an impressive ease at depicting transition, trauma, and loss, brilliantly evoking a close-knit world held together by the strength of friendship. This collection stands out in the field of current Southern fiction.”

The Taste of Sugar by Marisel Vera

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Taste of Sugar: “Vera (If I Bring You Roses) follows the shifting fortunes of a Puerto Rican family after U.S. occupation in this intense, emotional saga. In 1889, 17-year-old Valentina Sanchez, head full of fantasies of Paris trips and grand romance, marries handsome coffee farmer Vicente Vega despite her family’s objections. She returns with him to his unwelcoming family in Utuado, where the vagaries of the coffee harvest delay their move from the isolated mountains. After three years, they move into a crudely built home, where happy times are overshadowed by the accidental death of their young daughter. When Vicente loses his farm in 1900 due to economic hardships following American occupation, the family leaves for Hawaii to work on sugar plantations. A series of tragedies and indignities ensues—the couple’s son drowns at sea on the way to the islands, and they’re greeted in Hawaii by squalid living conditions—before Vera ends the book on a slightly hopeful, if unresolved note, as the family bonds with other Puerto Rican families in Hawaii. Vera pieces together the epic tale with acute moments of crushing pain and disillusion overcome by the strong characters’ implacable resilience. The novel’s deeply felt mixture of the characters’ sorrow and joy offers a vibrant glimpse of the history of Puerto Ricans in Hawaii.”

Vera Kelly Is Not a Mystery by Rosalie Knecht

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Vera Kelly Is Not a Mystery: “Knecht’s excellent sequel to Who Is Vera Kelly? picks up with ex-CIA agent Vera in 1967 New York City, as she tries to solve a mystery in an era when only men are expected to do the job. Vera’s poetry professor girlfriend, Jane, announces she’s had enough of not feeling wanted, and leaves. Then Vera loses her editing job at a TV station after her boss finds out she’d been dating a woman. She decides to fall back on her old skills and becomes a private detective. When the Ibarra family asks Vera to find their nephew’s child, Félix, who was sent to New York from the Dominican Republic amid political unrest, Vera takes on the case. Meanwhile, Vera balances the emotional consequences of her breakup with a new love interest: the bartender at her favorite, oft-raided, bar. When Vera realizes the Ibarras aren’t who they say they are, her mission becomes a different one: find Félix and his real parents, reunite them, and throw the fake Ibarras off the scent. This leads her to the Dominican Republic, where the police mistake her for a spy. Knecht brilliantly captures Vera’s emotions, and shines with keen observations of the varied settings. This winning literary page-turner gives a strong sense of a smart, queer, and complex person navigating an unfriendly world.”

Animal Spirit by Francesca Marciano

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Animal Spirit: “Marciano’s sharp-eyed and effortlessly graceful collection (after Rules of the Wild), set largely in the author’s native Italy, explores the ways people’s animalistic instincts drive relationships. In ‘Terrible Things Could Happen to Us,’ wealthy family man Sandro falls in love with his yoga teacher, and Marciano’s lack of sentimentality keeps things taut until a devastating denouement, which leaves Sandro speechless, ‘like an actor who has forgotten his lines.’ In ‘The Girl,’ a middle-aged Hungarian tries to convince a young Italian woman to join the circus and help in his snake-charming act. The title story follows two couples sharing an island vacation house as their varying degrees of uncertainty about their futures coalesce around a midnight encounter with a sheep—or is it a poodle?—that may or may not need to be rescued. In ‘There Might Be Blood,’ Diana decamps to Rome to write her long-deferred novel. Rather than writing, she obsesses over seagulls, which plague the city and prevent her from enjoying her terrace near Piazza Navona. Diana decides to enlist Ivo, a falconer, whose birds, Queen and Darko, can hunt the gulls. In this story, and throughout the collection, Marciano skillfully uses her characters’ relationships with animals as metaphors to explore their humanity. Polished and compulsively readable, this is a real treat.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Lansky, Oates, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Sam Lansky, Joyce Carol Oates, and more—that are publishing this week.

Broken People by Sam Lansky

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Broken People: “Lansky follows his addiction memoir The Gilded Razor with a riveting novel about an L.A. writer named Sam who recently published a memoir about his drug and alcohol addiction. Sam, 28, and a friend plan to visit a shaman in Portland, Ore., on the strength of a testimonial that the shaman ‘fixes everything wrong with you in three days.’ With humor, verve, and cut-to-the-bone revelations, Lansky takes readers on an enthralling adventure as Sam reckons with his anxiety and discomfort with his body. Over three days in Portland, thanks to the shaman’s perspicacious insight, drumbeating, chanting, and careful administration of ayahuasca, Sam enters a mode of deep self-reflection. Lansky’s mesmerizing descriptions are unflinchingly raw as Sam examines his life choices, his self-obsession, and his mistreatment of men in his life, particularly Charles, his first real love. Lansky also offers a canny snapshot of modern gay life, with the specter of HIV hovering over intimate relationships. While Sam’s whining about his body occasionally grates, the author keeps the reader on his side with an endless supply of wit. Lansky’s tale of self-acceptance offers surprising depth.”

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Pizza Girl: “In Frazier’s playful and unflinching debut, a pregnant 18-year-old pizza delivery driver dreams of a new life. The unnamed narrator, overwhelmed by anxiety about her pregnancy and her family, wants out of the house she grew up in, where she lives with her mother and her boyfriend, Billy, in suburban L.A. Enter Jenny Hauser, a 39-year-old stay-at-home mother who orders a large with pepperoni and pickles for her fussy son. From the moment Jenny opens her door, the narrator nurses a dream of escaping with her (‘I wanted to take her hand and invite her to come with me whenever I ran away’). The narrator comes to befriend Jenny and learns she is unhappy in her marriage; thinking of how her dead father abused her mother, she assumes Jenny is abused as well. At home, the narrator turns cold toward Billy and her mother, and embraces her isolation the way her deceased abusive father once did, by turning to alcohol. Her frequent intoxication colors her view of her relationship with Jenny, whom she manages to kiss once and makes a valiant but dangerous and unnecessary effort to rescue. Frazier’s characters are raw and her dialogue startlingly observant (‘The environment can suck a dick—I’m driving my F-150 to work again,’ one regular tells her). This infectious evocation of a young woman’s slackerdom will appeal to fans of Halle Butler and Ottessa Moshfegh, and will make it difficult not to root for the troubled and spirited pizza girl.”

Outside the Lines by Ameera Patel

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Outside the Lines: “Set in contemporary Johannesburg, South Africa, playwright and actor Patel’s exceptional debut is told by five narrators of different races and religions, whose paths cross in unexpected ways. Cathleen Joseph, the sly, drug-addled teenage daughter of a once well-to-do family, enters the terrifying world of addiction; meanwhile, her ineffectual father, Frank, sinks deeper into depression. Flora, the Josephs’ maid, is attracted to handsome, silent housepainter Runyararo, and begins to reexamine the part she has played in the lives of her employers. Runyararo, who recently arrived from Zimbabwe and whose goal is to send money back home to his family, is on the lowest societal rung and an easy target for exploitation. Farhana, who’s the girlfriend of Flora’s son, Zee, and has ‘dimples deep enough to hide secrets,’ must find a way to reconcile her Muslim beliefs with a future made uncertain by her being pregnant with Zee’s child. One lie alters the lives of all of them, leading to a brutal, impulsive act of rage. Patel displays an exceptional ability to plumb the depths of her characters, each of whose points of view throws light on the realities of the other narrators. Rays of hope and gentle overtures to love lift this vibrant novel.”

Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. by Joyce Carol Oates

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.: “Oates’s quintessential examination of grief (after Pursuit) draws on the closing lines of Walt Whitman’s ‘A Clear Midnight,’ which reverberate and reappear throughout this weighty chronicle of a family’s reckoning with the death of a father and husband. John Earle ‘Whitey’ McClaren, the 67-year-old ‘lynchpin’ of a Hudson, N.Y., family, and longtime mayor of a nearby town, is tased, beaten, and suffers a stroke after he intervenes during an incident of police brutality against Azim Murthy, a stranger to Whitey whom he registers as a ‘dark-skinned young man.’ Oates’s dispassionate description of the scene peels back the layers of fear and assumption that led the police to treat Azim and Whitey so brutally, retelling the events from Azim’s point of view. After Whitey dies, Jessalyn, his 61-year old widow, and their five squabbling children struggle to pick up the pieces. While Jessalyn casts about in semi-coherence—’stumbling through the illogic of a primitive philosopher just discovering quasi-paradoxes of being, existence, nothingness and the (limited) capacity of language to express these’—her children fear she is approaching a nervous breakdown. More concerning to them is the presence of Hugo Martinez, a mustachioed 59-year-old poet and their mother’s new suitor, who recites the Whitman poem during an awkward Thanksgiving dinner, and whom they fear will jeopardize their inheritance even as his presence has a life-affirming affect on their mother. With precise, authoritative prose that reads like an inquest written by a poet (‘death makes of all that is familiar, unfamiliar’), Oates keep the reader engaged throughout the sprawling narrative. This is a significant and admirable entry in the Oates canon.”

Also on shelves: The Clearing by Allison Adair.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Bennett, Bertino, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Brit Bennett, Wayétu Moore, Alexandra Petri, Marie-Helene Bertino, David Mitchell, and more—that are publishing this week.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Vanishing Half: “Bennett (The Mothers) explores a Louisiana family’s navigation of race, from the Jim Crow era through the 1980s, in this impressive work. The Vignes twins, Desiree and Stella, were born and raised in Mallard, La., the slave-born founder of which imagined a town with ‘each generation lighter than the one before.’ In the early 1940s, when the twins are little, they witness their father’s lynching, and as they come of age, they harbor ambitions to get out. Desiree, the more headstrong sister, leads Stella to New Orleans when they are 16, and after a few months, the quiet, studious Stella, who once dreamt of enrolling in an HBCU, disappears one night. In 1968, 14 years later, still with no word from Stella, Desiree is back in Mallard with her eight-year-old daughter, Jude, having left her abusive ex-husband. When Jude is older, she makes her own escape from Mallard to attend college in Los Angeles. At a party, Jude glimpses a woman who looks exactly like Desiree—except she couldn’t be, because this woman is white. Eventually, the Vignes twins reunite, reckoning with the decisions that have shaped their lives. Effortlessly switching between the voices of Desiree, Stella, and their daughters, Bennett renders her characters and their struggles with great compassion, and explores the complicated state of mind that Stella finds herself in while passing as white. This prodigious follow-up surpasses Bennett’s formidable debut.”

Parakeet by Marie-Helene Bertino

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Parakeet: “Bertino (2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas) impresses with this dreamlike, sardonic novel about a woman questioning her impending marriage while processing the trauma of a terrorist attack. Holed up in a Long Island inn during the week leading up to her wedding, a 36-year-old woman, known only as the bride, is visited by her dead grandmother, a first-generation American, in the form of a parakeet. The bird commands her to find her estranged sibling, Tom, a successful and reclusive playwright. The bride attends Tom’s play, titled Parakeet, which depicts a fictionalized version of an anti-immigrant attack on a coffee shop she worked in when she was 18 (the bride describes herself as appearing ‘ethnically ambiguous’; she is of Basque and Romany descent). Later, the bride is startled to see her mother in the mirror, and continues to be unsettled by her pending transition into the role of ‘wife’ (‘I get the sense that the number of people who are married is not equal to the number of people that give the institution much thought’). These thoughts lead to an affecting description of the bride’s memory of being wounded in the coffee shop rampage. The bride’s conflicted emotions come to a head as the novel builds to a satisfying end. Fans of Rivka Galchen will delight in Bertino’s subtly fantastical tale.”

Nothing Is Wrong and Here Is Why by Alexandra Petri

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Nothing Is Wrong and Here Is Why: “Washington Post columnist Petri (A Field Guide to Awkward Silences) takes on the Trump presidency and related issues with this superb and stinging collection of new and previously published pieces. She skewers triumphal accounts of Trump’s inauguration (sarcastically writing that ‘Bono, and Bruce Springsteen, and Elton John, and the Rolling Stones, and Beyoncé, and all the top artists were there’), mocks conspiracy theories by recasting the ‘deep state’ as a regional college (‘Does Deep State have a football team? No, but it controls the outcomes of all football games’), and analyzes the Mueller Report with a pitch-perfect parody of a middle-school book report (‘One way in which this book did not succeed was its lack of female characters’). Also included is Petri’s Post column ‘Trump’s Budget Makes Perfect Sense and Will Fix America, and I Will Tell You Why,’ which the White House, mistaking it for sincere praise, publicized in its ‘1600 Daily’ e-newsletter in 2017. But the best essays are those in which she is dead serious, including 2018 pieces on families separated at the Mexican border and Christine Blasey Ford’s decision to reveal her past with now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Acidic and spot-on, Petri’s work captures the surreal quality of Trump’s tenure as perhaps no other book has.”

The Dragons, the Giant, the Women by Wayétu Moore

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Dragons, the Giant, the Women: “In this beautiful memoir of dislocation, a young girl flees war-torn Liberia with her family to America. Moore (She Would Be King) begins with herself as a five-year-old living with her sisters, grandparents, and father in Monrovia. When the 1990 civil war erupts with terrifying massacres by rebels overthrowing president Samuel Doe (who Moore imagines as ‘the Hawa Undu dragon, the monster in my dreams, the sum of stories I was too young to hear’), the family heads for Sierra Leone, hoping to get to America. Moore describes this desperate trek in the lyrical voice of her younger self, a dreamy girl who filters the danger through a folktale lens. The middle section tracks her childhood after her family resettles in Texas, then her trauma-plagued young adulthood in Brooklyn (‘nightmares were old friends’), and racially fraught romances (‘I never feared my blackness, until the men,’ referring to the black men she first dated in college). The book’s final section holds a mirror to the first, describing in her mother’s voice her mother’s journey from New York back to Africa to rescue her lost family. Building to a thrumming crescendo, the pages almost fly past. Readers will be both enraptured and heartbroken by Moore’s intimate yet epic story of love for family and home.”

The Lightness by Emily Temple

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Lightness: “Temple’s engrossing debut, by turns smart thriller and nuanced coming-of-age story, is set in a high-altitude spiritual retreat known as the Levitation Center, rumored to occupy the only American land where levitation is possible. Olivia Ellis is 15 when her long-unreliable Buddhist father, John, who separated from her mother several years before, disappears from her life after attending a Center retreat. The following summer, Olivia signs up for the retreat’s residential program for teenage girls, hoping to find some clues as to John’s whereabouts. When the enigmatic resident Serena, whose friends Janet and Laurel sneak out nightly to visit her private tent on the mountainside, invites Olivia to join their group and announces that they will learn to levitate, Olivia is eager to belong and to master her father’s religion. Serena plies the girls with alcohol and coaxes guidance from Luke, the Center’s seductive young gardener, who she says has levitated before. By the time Olivia begins doubting Serena’s motives for encouraging dangerous methods, such as fasting and choking, events are spiraling beyond her control. While the frequent asides on fairy tales, etymology, and various intellectual concepts can feel distracting and distancing, the lush, intelligent prose perfectly captures the narrator’s adolescent yearning. Temple’s exploration of the power young women have over each other will appeal to fans of Susan Choi and Emma Cline.”

Ornamental by Juan Cárdenas

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Ornamental: “A powerfully intoxicating drug is at the center of Cárdenas’s atmospheric, nightmarish English-language debut. Somewhere in Colombia, on an estate near a major city, a doctor observes the drug’s effects on four women ‘from the inferior classes.’ In the process, he grows fascinated with a woman known as number 4, who is unique in her response to the drug—while numbers 1, 2, and 3 sleep or become sexually aroused, 4 speaks in ‘fantastically deformed discourses,’ including an apparent memory of her mother, disfigured by plastic surgery, and a political speech involving ‘the Ministry of Destitution.’ Meanwhile, the doctor’s relationship with his wife, a cocaine-addicted artist, stagnates while she prepares for a new show of her work. In spare and economical prose, Cárdenas sketches a highly stratified world, where drugs link high society and neighborhoods that are ‘a single crush of old houses and ruins.’ Cárdenas is less interested in plot than juxtaposing the contradictory philosophies of the wealthy, elitist doctor; his artist wife, who believes in ‘the mysticism of grace’; and the intelligent and damaged Number 4, who insists on ‘the authentic grace of people like me, who outfit themselves in everyone else’s debris.’ Still, the overall effect offers both thrills and chills.”

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Exciting Times: “In Dolan’s wry, tender debut, a young Dubliner navigates her love life and sexuality. Ava, 22, has a murky friendship with London-born and Oxford-educated banker Julian, in his late 20s, whom she’d met at a bar during her first month in Hong Kong, where she teaches English. They treat each other with ironic regard, speaking mostly in quips about his privilege and their mutual maybe-attraction. Ava moves into his flat, and they soon start sleeping together. The novel picks up speed after Julian travels to London for work and Ava meets Edith Zhang, who is both different from Julian in many ways—stylish, female, a Hong Kong local—and similar—boarding school, Cambridge, a well-off family. On Ava’s 23rd birthday, Edith kisses her, and they fall headlong into an earnest, garrulous, and secret love, as Edith isn’t out to her family. When Julian writes to say he will be returning in a month, Ava, who hasn’t disclosed the true nature of her and Julian’s relationship to Edith, must decide what she really wants. Dolan starts slowly, but gradually the ironic distancing of Ava’s narration is pierced by questions from Ava’s students and her transformative relationship with Edith. Dolan’s smart, brisk debut works as charming comedy of manners, though it packs less of a punch when it comes to class consciousness.”

The Fallen by Carlos Manuel Álvarez

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Fallen: “Four members of a Havana family tell the story of its collapse a generation after the Cuban Revolution in Álvarez’s elegant debut. The revolving cast of narrators includes Diego, a young man with violent tendencies serving compulsory military duty; Mariana, his bewildered epileptic mother; Maria, Mariana’s secretive daughter; and Armando, the father of the family. As the family receives harassing phone calls (‘Your husband is a communist informant… Your daughter is a pervert’), the fabric of their lives and their minds begins to fray. Armando, authoritarian and rigidly adherent to the communist party, is plagued by nightmares and alcoholism. (While drunk, he is a mournful prophet: ‘The future came and went, war never came, and no one noticed.’) The family remembers the starvation and terror during ‘the difficult years’ of the revolution in a series of fable-like anecdotes—these fragments are especially potent displays of Álvarez’s eye for detail. Occasionally, verbal slippage occurs between Álvarez’s poetic vantage and the voices of the characters, though Wynne’s translation gracefully honors the four voices of the family in startling and sharp language. Álvarez’s fittingly surreal gloss of insight on her characters’ generational divide gives the book real power.”

A Burning by Megha Majumdar

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Burning: “In Majumdar’s audacious debut, a politically conscious English tutor who works with an aspiring film actor is wrongfully accused of terrorism. After an ill-advised Facebook post criticizing the police’s response to a train bombing in Bengal, Jivan, a Muslim, is charged with the attack. Jivan has an alibi; she was on her way to tutor Lovely, whose testimony might be able to save Jivan from execution. A right-wing party luminary, hoping to gain political mileage from the case, bribes one of Jivan’s former teachers from grammar school in exchange for his false testimony about Jivan, and his lies in court lead to Jivan being jailed. A large portion of the chapters devoted to Jivan, told in the first person, come in the form of expository monologues to Purnendu, a reporter. Lovely’s dialect-heavy passages speak to her difficult life as a hijra (a third gender in India), and her desire to become a star despite being marginalized. Majumdar expertly weaves the book’s various points of view and plotlines in ways that are both unexpected and inevitable. This is a memorable, impactful work.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Coetzee, Masad, Jollett, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of J.M. Coetzee, Ilana Masad, Mikel Jollett, and more—that are publishing this week.
Death of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Death of Jesus: “The thoughtful, clear-eyed final installment of Nobel laureate Coetzee’s Jesus trilogy picks up three years after The Schooldays of Jesus. David, now age 10, remains an enigmatic prodigy, skilled at soccer, dance, and arcane mathematics, and living under the watchful eye of his ruminative adopted father, Simon—who again narrates—and Ines, his protective adoptive mother. The family, living in a Spanish-speaking town called Estrella in an unnamed country, is disrupted when Dr. Julio Fabricante, the director of a local orphanage, challenges David and his friends to play soccer against the orphans’ team. Almost immediately, David is enchanted by the orphans, and runs away to live with them. After David comes down with a mysterious neurological disorder that makes him prone to sudden falls, he returns home to Simon and Ines. Simon notices changes in David; he is aloof with Simon and Ines and unsettled by questions about the afterlife. David has also attracted a band of followers who treat him with messianic devotion as he recites stories from Don Quixote. Like in previous volumes, Coetzee’s simple, clean prose is guided by philosophical questions, and Simon’s humanistic reflections provide a thrilling contrast to David’s bumpy journey of faith and acceptance of his mortality. This is an ambitious and satisfying conclusion.”
All My Mother’s Lovers by Ilana Masad

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about All My Mother’s Lovers: “A tragic accident leads to soul-searching in Masad’s smart, heartfelt debut. Maggie Krause is enjoying an intimate moment with her girlfriend when her younger brother, Ariel, calls to say that their mother, Iris, has died in a car accident. Scrambling to get home to her brother and her dad, Maggie reflects on her complicated relationship with her mother, who was never comfortable with Maggie’s sexuality. After Maggie flies home to California, she finds college-age Ariel struggling to deal with their father, Peter, who is almost catatonic with grief. Because no one else will do it, Maggie makes arrangements for Iris’s funeral and shivah. Then Maggie finds Iris’s will, and with it, a small stack of letters Iris wanted to be mailed in the event of her death. But Maggie doesn’t recognize any of the men the letters are addressed to—and is upset and insulted that her mom would have written letters to strange men but not to her children. Maggie decides to deliver the letters by hand, and as she meets the recipients, she learns that Iris’s life was nothing like what Maggie thought it was. This remarkable portrait of a daughter’s opaque relationship with her mother reflects the strangeness and beauty of coming to see one’s parent fully as a human being.”
Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Hollywood Park: “In this arresting debut memoir, Jollett, frontman of the indie band Airborne Toxic Event, writes of escaping a California cult named Synanon—where he lived in the 1970s until age five—with his mentally unstable mother and older brother. He recalls his impoverished, lonely youth; his family’s struggles with addiction; his challenging relationship with his parents; and the ways music and therapy saved him. Synanon started out as a commune and a drug and alcohol treatment facility (Jollett’s father was treated there for heroin addiction) but became a cult when the facility’s leader became more domineering and began forcing parents and their children to live in separate locations. While there, Jollett and his brother were left in the care of various cult members and rarely saw their parents. Jollett engagingly narrates his story, which includes living, after leaving Synanon, in Oregon with his mother, a needy narcissist who brainwashed him into believing that kids take care of their moms, not the other way around; loving his father while hoping to never be like him; and dealing with his addict brother. Jollett also talks about turning pain into music, getting help for abandonment issues, and finding love and starting a family. All this results in a shocking but contemplative memoir about the aftermath of an unhealthy upbringing.”
The First Actress by C.W. Gortner

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The First Actress: “Gortner (The Romanov Empress) captures the drama and pathos of legendary actor Sarah Bernhardt’s life in this enchanting work. The illegitimate child of a Jewish courtesan, Bernhardt is raised in Brittany until her wet nurse can no longer house her. In 1852, Sarah’s mother, Julie, sends her unloved, eight-year-old daughter to boarding school in Versailles. After Sarah’s theatrical gifts shine in a school play, one of her mother’s longtime patrons helps arrange acting training for her as well as a contract with the august Comédie-Française. The school’s rigid adherence to tradition clashes with Sarah’s questioning approach, and she leaves the Comédie in the first of many stormy changes from one theatrical company to the next. Becoming pregnant by Comte Émile de Kératry, an aristocratic paying lover, she decides to keep the baby—her only child, Maurice—despite the social taboo and the comte’s rejection. After Bernhardt does heroic work as a volunteer nurse and infirmary manager during the Franco-Prussian War, she becomes one of the most acclaimed actors of her age through a mix of talent, hard work, and savvy self-promotion. Skillful first-person narration evokes Bernhardt’s fierce energy and tempestuous liaisons, the vulnerability borne of her wounding childhood, and her struggles against misogyny and anti-Semitism. Gortner does justice to this trailblazing celebrity and her fascinating era.”
Red Dress in Black and White by Elliot Ackerman

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Red Dress in Black and White: “In Ackerman’s wry if convoluted latest (after Waiting for Eden), the story of an unhappy marriage is suffused with pointed commentary on Turkey in the months following the 2013 Gezi revolt. Catherine, an American, lives in Istanbul with her Turkish husband, Murat, a real estate developer, and their adopted seven-year-old son, William. Catherine and Murat each sacrificed early artistic ambition, she for the marriage and he for his career, and she finds comfort in an affair with Peter, a freewheeling American photojournalist on a Cultural Affairs grant for a loosely defined art project. After Catherine hatches a plan to flee to the United States with Peter and William, Murat intervenes with the help of an American diplomat. Much of the book’s action takes place on the day Catherine tries to leave in November 2013, interspersed with flashbacks to pivotal moments in the characters’ lives—Peter’s coverage of the protests to contest the development plan for Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park, Murat’s complicated dependence on Istanbul’s ‘reliably corrupt’ government for business, and the shocking disclosure of William’s birth mother’s identity—that add weight to the story of a marriage and a city embroiled in conflict. Still, the big reveal arrives too late and doesn’t quite offer enough payoff to justify such dense plotting. This falls short of Ackerman’s best work.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Khakpour, Sittenfeld, Zambreno, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Porochista Khakpour, Curtis Sittenfeld, Kate Zambreno, Stephanie Danler, and more—that are publishing this week.

Brown Album by Porochista Khakpour

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Brown Album: “In this wonderful essay collection, novelist Khakpour (The Last Illusion) passionately and wittily explores the writing life and the Iranian-American experience. Not surprisingly, political concerns abound; Khakpour recalls, early in the Trump presidency, hearing of deportations in her majority-Muslim apartment building and encountering rumors that naturalized citizens such as herself—her family left Iran soon after the revolution—would be targeted. She threads memoir throughout, touching on her family life and on her years as ‘he only Iranian not only in my grade but in the whole elementary school, middle school, and high school.’ In recounting the writing of her first novel, Sons and Other Flammable Objects, Khakpour offers a revealing set of reflections on the travails and joys of being a writer, as she finishes the manuscript and submits it to the publisher, hits assorted prepublication snags, and embarks on the reading and book festival circuit. She also shares the pitfalls of being known as an Iranian-American writer, or, due to her novel’s themes, a ‘9/11 author.’ Lovers of the essay and those interested in immigrant literature will be particularly delighted, but any reader can enjoy Khakpour’s passionate and enlightening work.”

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Rodham: “In this entertaining political fantasy, Sittenfeld (Eligible) imagines Hillary Clinton’s personal and professional life if she and Bill had gone their separate ways instead of marrying. The novel begins with an intimate perspective on historical events: At Wellesley’s 1969 graduation, Hillary feels the exhilaration of speaking her mind in public. Two years later, she meets Bill at Yale Law School. He is handsome, larger than life, proud of his Arkansas roots. She is ambitious, smart, hardworking, and opinionated. They fall in love and discuss marriage, but break up because of Bill’s philandering. Bill runs for president in 1992 but drops out of the race. Hillary, meanwhile, is a year into her first term as senator from Illinois. When she runs for president, in 2016, Bill is one of three primary challengers. Scenes with cameos from Donald Trump prove livelier than familiar elements like Hillary’s chocolate chip cookies, which she brings to a Yale potluck. Still, Sittenfeld movingly captures Hillary’s awareness of her transformation into a complicated public figure (‘The feeling was in the collapse, the simultaneity, of how I seemed to others and who I really was’) Readers won’t have to be feminists (though it would help) to relish Sittenfeld’s often funny, mostly sympathetic, and always sharp what-if.”

Drifts by Kate Zambreno

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Drifts: “Zambreno’s immersive, exciting experiment in autofiction (after Book of Mutter) features a writer setting out to write a book called Drifts. The narrator, beholden to a contract, describes herself ‘filled with an incandescence toward the possibility of a book.’ She meditates on the life of Rilke, reads Wittgenstein, and, in photo-studded accounts of walks around New York, patterns her work after those of Robert Walser and W.G. Sebald. But mostly, the narrator describes her time spent not writing: she cares for her dog, Genet; makes notes while on walks; emails her friends; and procrastinates by surfing the internet. Thus, Zambreno offers an enticing chronicle of how a book might actually be written—dramatizing how a writer’s work affects her life, and vice versa—filled with small moments of magic (‘Today, after writing about my lost raccoon cat, I spy her’). After the narrator discovers she is pregnant, she turns toward developing a portrait of a writer contending with her own body. Zambreno succeeds at capturing her narrator’s experience of time and the unavoidable transformations it brings. The result is a captivating deconstruction of the writer’s process that will reward readers in search for meaning.”

Stray by Stephanie Danler

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Stray: “Novelist Danler (Sweetbitter) returns to her hometown of Los Angeles and comes to a reckoning in this forceful, eviscerating memoir. Her three-part narrative—Mother, Father, Monster—creates a domino effect of abandonment and humiliation as those she loves topple her. ‘People often act against common sense when they’ve fallen in love with a fantasy,’ she writes, describing both the tumbledown Laurel Canyon cottage she rents with the advance on her first novel and her disillusionment with her parents and the married lover she calls the Monster. Danler, writing in precise, elegant prose, outlines her family’s disintegration: her father left his wife, Danler, and her sister as young girls; her mother worked and raised the children as she slid into alcoholism and began to physically abuse her daughters. Sent to live with her disinterested father in Colorado, Danler quickly realized ‘he couldn’t love anyone’ yet ‘was charmed by his cruelty.’ Self-destructive relationships followed, including the unavailable Monster, ‘a colonizer… who declares ownership without concrete investment in the country.’ As the publication date of her debut novel drew near, a friend’s comment—’You fought so hard for this life and now you won’t let yourself have it’—propelled her to sever connections with all three and instead establish ‘tiny building blocks of trust’ in loving, enduring relationships. The result is a penetrating and unforgettable tale of family dysfunction.”

Here We Are by Benjamin Taylor

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Here We Are: “Taylor (The Hue and Cry at Our House) begins his loving ‘partial portrait’ of his best friend and ‘chosen parent,’ author Philip Roth, in 2018, when the ailing literary lion, nearing death, comforts Taylor: ‘I have been to see the great enemy, and walked around him, and talked to him, and he is not to be feared. I promise.’ He meditates on Roth’s virtues and vulnerabilities: he had ‘insatiable emotional appetites… he seethed with loathing or desire,’ Taylor writes. He was passionate about his beloved hometown of Newark, N.J., which he ‘endlessly rediscovered through [his] alchemical imagination.’ One of Roth’s more curious vulnerabilities, Taylor notes, was that, though hailed as a great sexual libertine of 20th-century literature, Roth was plagued by fears of disapproval ‘as acutely as any itch in the loins.’ His irritants included bitterness about not winning a Nobel Prize, and disliking George Plimpton’s ‘supreme self-assurance.’ Taylor weaves many of the pair’s lighter moments throughout, including their ritual Sunday night Chinese dinners and their spirited movie nights (Taylor preferred Hollywood classics; Roth was a Kirosawa and Fellini fan). ‘I’m not who I’d have been without him,’ he concludes. This tender-hearted and eloquent paean to long-term friendships will hold special appeal among Roth fans.”

Also on shelves: Things You Would Know if You Grew Up Around Here by Nancy Wayson Dinan.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Ford, Millet, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Richard Ford, Lydia Millet, Tracy O’Neill, and more—that are publishing this week.

Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today.

Sorry for Your Trouble by Richard Ford

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Sorry for Your Trouble: “Pulitzer-winner Ford’s middling collection (after Let Me Be Frank with You) showcases men experiencing glimmers of epiphanies amid the process of mourning. In ‘The Run of Yourself,’ a lawyer from New Orleans lives a quiet existence in Maine after his wife’s untimely death, and a chance meeting in a bar with a younger woman leads to a platonic sleepover and an eye-opening morning walk on the beach. In ‘Second Language,’ Jonathan, a widower who made his millions in Texas oil, begins a new life in New York City with a shaky marriage. After his new wife’s mother dies, Jonathan comforts her while realizing they will never really understand each other. In the standout story, ‘Displaced,’ 16-year-old Henry reels from his father’s death and lives in a rooming house with his mother in Jackson, Miss. Henry befriends Niall, an Irish-American teenager; after they get drunk, Henry lets Niall kiss him, and though he’s open to being comforted, he’s unwilling to explore a sexual relationship. Ford’s unrelenting exploration of life’s bleakness and sadness makes these stories enervating, particularly compared to his previous work, though his clear, nuanced prose continues to impress. Ford is a supremely gifted writer, but he’s not at his best here.”

A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Children’s Bible: “Millet follows up Sweet Lamb of Heaven with a lean, ironic allegory of climate change and biblical comeuppance. A group of friends, successful ‘artsy and educated types,’ plan an ‘offensively long reunion’ at a summer house ‘built by robber barons in the 19th century,’ somewhere on the East Coast. They bring along their children, ranging in age from prepubescent to 17, who devise inventive ways to ignore them. With the young teenage narrator, Evie, Millet perfectly captures the blend of indifference and scorn with which the teenagers view their boozy parents, emblematic of humanity’s dithering in the face of environmental catastrophe: ‘They didn’t do well with long-term warnings. Even medium-term.’ After a massive storm interrupts the summer idyll and brings looting and riots to New York and Boston, the parents lose themselves to booze and cocaine and the children flee with a menagerie of rescued animals, seeking refuge at a farmhouse. This lurid section, in which they are besieged by armed raiders searching for food, is shaky, and allusions to biblical tales such as Noah’s Ark and the Ten Commandments feel facile, but the novel regains its footing once parents and children reunite, with the children calling the shots. Millet’s look at intergenerational strife falls short of her best work.”

Quotients by Tracy O’Neill

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Quotients: “O’Neill’s esoteric follow-up to The Hopeful centers on the deceit-filled relationship between Alexandra Chen, an American woman, and Jeremy Jordan, an Englishman, who meet and begin dating in London in May 2005. Alex works in international public relations (‘She had practiced how to sell a country on her selling their country’), while Jeremy, a hedge fund analyst, tries to keep his past as a British intelligence officer stationed in Belfast during the Troubles a secret from Alex. Alex has troubles of her own—her brother, Shel, ran away at 13, and she’s been looking for him ever since. After Alex accepts an advertising job in New York City that December, Jeremy follows her and they get married. O’Neill’s narrative is tinged with commentary on the rise of digital and social media, which drives a wedge between screen-obsessed Alex and analog Jeremy. Then, in 2008, a journalist friend of Alex’s does his own digging on Shel and raises alarms from Jeremy’s old intelligence contacts after the story unearths NSA secrets. As the details of the couple’s pasts come to light, their marriage is put in jeopardy. O’Neill’s oblique, sometimes opaque prose wears on the reader, though it also offers flashes of insight on the characters’ frequent incomprehension of one another. This would-be techno thriller takes on a bit too much.”

Book of the Little Axe by Lauren Francis-Sharma

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Book of the Little Axe: “Francis-Sharma (’Til the Well Runs Dry) delivers a satisfying and perceptive transnational family saga. In 1830 Montana, Victor Rose struggles to complete an Apsaalooke vision quest, while his best friend, Like-Wind, passes through their tribe’s initiation rite. Victor and his mother, Rosa Rendon, flee after Victor witnesses the drowning death of a young woman who’d spurned him for Like-Wind, to avoid potential suspicion. While traveling, Victor discovers the journal of Creadon Rampley, a hardworking young wanderer from the States seeking gold in Trinidad, in Rosa’s belongings. Here, the narrative flashes back to Rosa’s childhood in Trinidad as the daughter of a prosperous free black farmer and blacksmith. When the British seize control of the colony and attempt to edge out all non-European landowners, Rosa’s father takes desperate measures to keep the land, eventually settling on marrying Rosa’s sister Eve to Creadon. Back on the trail, Victor and Rosa run into trouble on their way to Kullyspell territory. Like-Wind, having reluctantly led two Frenchmen to Victor and Rosa, is killed by one of the Frenchmen during a fight with them as Victor defends Rosa from their sexual assault. Creadon’s writings and Rosa’s memories disclose a cascade of family secrets that explains how Rose and Creadon ended up in North America. In this masterly epic, the pleasure lies in piecing everything together.”

The Anthill by Julianne Pachico

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Anthill: “At the start of Pachico’s uneven sophomore effort (after The Lucky Ones), 28-year-old half-Colombian and half-British Maria ‘Lina’ Carolina returns to her birthplace of Medellín, Colombia, for the first time in 20 years. Anxious and aimless, she has left behind a foundering academic career in England to volunteer at The Anthill, a school founded by Mattías (‘Matty’), whom Lina’s mother had raised with Lina in Colombia. After a disarming initial reunion with Matty, who is scarred and embittered by his experiences in the city when it was more dangerous (‘You won’t be able to recognise who was once a guerilla or who was once a paramilitary,’ he tells her), Lina makes friends with the school’s other volunteers and grows close to the children. However, as Matty tells the other volunteers a different version of his childhood story from the one Lina remembers, Lina is disturbed by the children’s sightings of a strange, dirty boy who vanishes whenever Lina turns to look at him. While plot inconsistencies, underdeveloped characters, and awkward second-person narration lessen the narrative’s emotional impact, Pachico navigates issues of class, war, and violence with intelligence and grace. This lopsided tale falls somewhere between literary fiction and commercial mystery without quite finding its footing.”

Bonus Links from Our Archive:
Tossed on Life’s Tide: Richard Ford’s Let Me Be Frank with You
Across the Border: Richard Ford’s Canada
Recession Reading: Independence Day by Richard Ford
The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford: A Review
A Year in Reading 2014: Lydia Millet
A Year in Reading 2012: Lydia Millet
A Year in Reading 2007: Lydia Millet