Tuesday New Release Day: Starring El Akkad, Kitamura, Hoby, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Omar El Akkad, Katie Kitamura, Hermione Hoby, 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.
What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about What Strange Paradise: “Akkad (American War) delivers a stirring if straightforward account of a young boy’s flight from Syria during the country’s civil war. Amir Utu sets out for Egypt with his mother, uncle/stepfather Younis, and baby stepbrother. When Younis boards a ferryboat overloaded with migrants, Amir follows him and ends up on a disastrous journey across the Mediterranean, of which he is the sole survivor. The details of what went wrong emerge gradually: first, Amir flees from soldiers on an unnamed island’s beach. He is then found by disaffected 15-year-old Vänna Hermes, who helps him evade detention. Here, Akkad explores a world in which migrants routinely wash up dead on the beach and are viewed as an inconvenience for wealthy tourists. The chapters alternate between the ‘Before’ and ‘After’ of Amir’s arrival on the island, chronicling the characters and challenges Amir faces on the boat and on land, and depicting the injustice, intolerance, and violence that refugees face in a hostile global landscape. The result is a moving if somewhat predictable story of survival and the need for compassion and camaraderie across languages, cultures, religions, and borders. While readers may find themselves wishing for more complexity, there is plenty of moral clarity.”

Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Nightbitch: “Yoder’s guttural and luminous debut blends absurdism, humor, and myth to lay bare the feral, violent realities underlying a new mother’s existence. An unnamed stay-at-home mother lives through a monotonous routine with her two-year-old son, while her kind yet mostly uninterested husband leaves for weeklong work trips each Monday. Things begin to change when the mother notices a patch of hair growing on the back of her neck; spots her new, curiously sharp canines in the mirror; and begins to feel a tail emerging from her lower back. Bewildered by her metamorphosis, the mother searches online for explanations with terms such as ‘looks like I was punched hard in both eyes.’ Horrified by the dizzying results, she treks to the library, a zone that promises the comfort of knowledge but is colonized by other mothers (‘She actively resisted making friends in a mom context and objected to the sort of clapping and cooing that went on in the library room… the happiness and positivity that would also be mandatory,’ Yoder writes). She checks out a book titled A Field Guide to Magical Women, which validates her experience and encourages her to embrace the freedom of her new animal nature. Bursting with fury, loneliness, and vulgarity, Yoder’s narrative revels in its deconstruction of the social script women and mothers are taught to follow, painstakingly reading between the lines to expose the cruel and downright ludicrous ways in which women are denied their personhood. An electric work by an ingenious new voice, this is one to devour.”

The Woman from Uruguay by Pedro Mairal (translated by Jennifer Croft)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Woman from Uruguay: “This introspective outing from Mairal (The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra) follows a writer’s eventful day as he travels from Argentina to Uruguay to game the exchange rate and collect advances on two books. Lucas Pereyra hopes the money will solve all his problems, including his marital strife with Catalina, who may or may not be having an affair. While in Montevideo, Lucas plans to meet up with Magalí Guerra Zabala, a woman he recently met at a festival, whom he has built up in his mind as another source of salvation. After securing the money from the bank—’a whole year in my pocket’—he rents a hotel room to pursue his ‘hormonal agenda’ with Magalí, though, as is to be expected, nothing goes as planned. Instead, Lucas has run-ins with a pit bull, a tattoo artist, thugs at the beach, and his old mentor. While Lucas’s objectifying of Magalí wears thin, the story ends beautifully and judiciously, as Lucas must decide what he wants and who he wants to be. It adds up to an intimate and mostly fresh look at middle age.”

Intimacies by Katie Kitamura

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Intimacies: “Kitamura’s plodding latest (after A Separation) follows a group of jet-setting young professionals in The Hague, where a translator finds herself enmeshed in the private lives of her colleagues. There’s something vaguely unseemly about the unnamed translator’s married suitor, Adriaan, as well as other characters, including her boss in Language Services, the preppy curator she house-sits for, and a book dealer who is mugged during a recent wave of violence. But it’s hard to discern what anybody is actually up to. Meanwhile, in the courts, the translator is entrusted with the cases of a recently extradited jihadist and a well-heeled former president of a West African country on trial for war crimes, with whom she must match wits. There are, unfortunately, plenty of unused opportunities for deeper character development; Adriaan in particular is built up as a nemesis, but he does little more than preen, while even less can be said of the various other dilettantes and sexual rivals. Subtle to a fault, this adds up to very little outside of a plethora of dinner scenes and undeveloped subplots, while the translator simply drifts through a Henry James–style chronicle of life abroad. Kitamura is a talented writer, but this one disappoints.”

Virtue by Hermione Hoby

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Virtue: “Hoby (Neon in Daylight) delivers an accomplished take on class and protests against racial injustice. ‘That was just what you did on weekends—brunch and protest,’ Luca Lewis wryly narrates in 2027, looking back on his time interning at a New York City magazine as a naive 22-year-old in 2016–2017. He yearns to befriend fellow intern Zara McKing, an attractive Black woman, but feels ashamed of his whiteness and unsure of how to be an ally. Luca also becomes enamored with Paula Summers, an artist working at the magazine, and her indie filmmaker husband, Jason Frank, and spends the summer with the couple and their five kids in Maine as Paula and Jason fight over how to respond to racial injustice (in the city, Jason took the kids to protests; in Maine, Paula insists on carrying on traditions such as a Fourth of July parade). Toward the end of the summer, Luca learns of a tragedy involving Zara during a protest. Hoby’s writing sparks with inventiveness (‘The sky had a passive-aggressive quality, bruised clouds withholding their light while telling you they were fine’), and she offers insights on the damage of power imbalances in relationships. This speaks volumes on the shallowness of white privilege.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Fung, Anam, Bell, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Pik-Shuen Fung, Tahmima Anam, Matt Bell, 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.
Ghost Forest by Pik-Shuen Fung

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Ghost Forest: “Fung’s moving debut follows an unnamed protagonist whose family immigrated to Vancouver from Hong Kong when she was three, right before the 1997 handover to Chinese rule. Her father, fearing he won’t be able to find a job abroad, stays in Hong Kong—and thus, their ‘astronaut family,’ coined by the Hong Kong media to describe families where the father stays behind for work, is born. The narrator grows up in Vancouver with her mother, grandparents and younger sister, born a year after they immigrated, and develops a complicated relationship with her father, whom she only sees twice a year. The time they do spend together, like when she lives with him during a summer internship in Hong Kong or when he visits her during her semester abroad in Hangzhou, China, is marred by criticism, arguments, and hurt feelings. But when her father develops liver disease, the narrator is suddenly faced with the reality that she and her father may never have the opportunity to fill in the gaps of their relationship. Woven throughout are stories from the narrator’s mother and grandmother, whose tales about their family provide both historical context and levity. The bracing fragments and poignant vignettes come together to make a stunning and evocative whole.”

The Startup Wife by Tahmima Anam

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Startup Wife: “Heavy lies the high-tech crown in Anam’s spectacular fourth novel (after her Bengal trilogy). Asha Ray, 30, a brilliant computer coder whose PhD project at Harvard involves the ‘reverse engineering of the brain,’ reconnects with Cyrus Jones, a high school crush she hasn’t seen in 13 years who has become an itinerant ‘humanist spirit guide,’ officiating weddings and baptisms for nonreligious people. She abandons her research and the two marry in an impulsive city hall wedding, then move into her parents’ house on Long Island. Asha and Cyrus find work at Utopia, a tech company whose mission is to ‘save humanity from the apocalypse.’ There, Asha throws herself into creating an ‘Empathy Module’ algorithm for a social networking app inspired by Cyrus’s spiritual work. The app, a ‘virtual parish’ called WAI (We Are Infinite) becomes a global sensation, and, after Cyrus gets the credit for it, his charismatic personality turns him into a ‘new messiah’ and threatens their marriage. A startling ending framed by a deadly, Covid-like pandemic drives the plot close to a disastrous abyss as a trend of ‘death ritual groups’ sparked by the app causes moral and ethical dilemmas. Anam provides a piercing perspective on marital and business institutions and gender bias and cultural clashes, and weaves in rich local color as Asha grows reacquainted with her childhood home and her parents’ Muslim community. This is a powerful statement on the consequences of public achievement on private happiness.”

China Room by Sunjeev Sahota

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about China Room: “Sahota’s engaging latest (after The Year of the Runaways) follows a teenage bride in rural Punjab during the British Raj. Mehar Kaur was five years old when she was promised to one of three brothers. In 1929, Mehar, now 15, is married along with two other women to the three, but Mehar still does not know which is her husband. The women live and sleep in the china room, and are alone with their husbands only on those nights when they meet in an unlit room for sex. Mehar mistakenly comes to believe that Suraj, the youngest, is her husband, leading her to drop her veil and sleep with him one afternoon. Suraj realizes what happened but doesn’t want to give her up, and Mehar falls in love with him, leading to heartbreaking consequences. Mehar is seen and treated as property, yet Sahota manages to give her the illusion of agency, providing an empathetic look at how she would prefer the world to be. Woven within Mehar’s affecting narrative is the less-developed story of her great-grandson, an unnamed man who narrates in 2019, recalling the summer of 1999, when he was 18 and left England for Punjab to battle his heroin addiction. Though the various parts are uneven, it’s well worth the time.”

A Passage North by Anuk Aradpragasam

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Passage North: “A young man ruminates about Sri Lankan history and his own life in the introspective latest from Arudpragasam (The Story of a Brief Marriage). After leaving a PhD program in India and spending two years as an NGO worker in Sri Lanka following the end of the civil war, Krishan returns home to live with his mother and frail paternal grandmother in Colombo. He then learns that his grandmother’s caretaker, Rani, has fallen into a well and died while visiting her family in the north. As Krishan wrestles with the appropriate response to the news, he also mulls over an email from Anjum, a bisexual Indian ex-girlfriend with whom he shared an intense relationship. Krishan decides to travel north for Rani’s funeral, and reflects on Rani’s life as the mother of two sons killed in the war, while he still fixates on his time with Anjum. He interrupts these reminiscences with lengthy summaries of poems and a documentary film, the latter providing historical background on the civil war in a way that sometimes feels forced. Overall, though, the elegant descriptions of Krishan’s sentiments helps smooth over the slow pace and spare plot (on cigarettes: ‘the present [was made] more bearable even when he wasn’t smoking because it meant the present was leading to something good’). Readers who enjoy contemplative, Sebaldian narratives will appreciate this.”

To Walk Alone in the Crowd by Antonio Muñoz Molina (translated by Guillermo Bleichmar)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about To Walk Alone in the Crowd: “Spanish writer Muñoz Molina, whose Like a Fading Shadow was shortlisted for the International Booker Prize, returns with an ambitious story of a writer-flaneur. An unnamed narrator enumerates his perceptions while walking in various cities: ‘I listen with my ears and with my eyes,’ he notes in the opening, set in Madrid. In New York City, he travels from the southern tip of Manhattan to the Bronx, to visit Edgar Allan Poe’s former cottage. Interspersed are wistful descriptions of his aging wife (‘She is enriched by the treasure of time’) and gauzy meetings in a Madrid café with a mysterious man whose ‘physical features were forgotten as soon as he was gone.’ The narrator also ruminates extensively on such writers as Poe, Charles Baudelaire, Thomas De Quincy, Herman Melville, and Walter Benjamin, noting how they fell in social status while practicing ‘a useless trade pursued by people of no practical sense.’ Most of the narrative is in short prose fragments, often headed by phrases that mimic ad copy (‘Go Wherever You Choose’). Occasionally the narrator breaks out into verse, cataloging terrorist attacks and deadly accidents. Some sections burst with political barbs (‘Donald Trump with his gold Lex Luthor hairpiece, misgoverning’). In the end, the solitary writer’s journeys and observations culminate in his discovery of solace in loving his wife, and his passion makes the narrative deeply rewarding. The result is a treasure trove.”

Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge (translated by Jeremy Tiang)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Strange Beasts of China: “Yan delivers a noirish, stylish bestiary in her English-language debut, reminiscent of such Chinese classics as The Book of Mountains and Seas and Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. In the mythical land of Yong’an City, humans live alongside a variety of quirky, beautiful beasts who are often almost indistinguishable from their human neighbors, aside from mild behavioral or physical characteristics. Sacrificial Beasts, for instance, have low-hanging earlobes with sawtooth edges. Sorrowful Beasts cannot smile, or else they die. Others enjoy fantasy novels or have a penchant for char siu pork. The main character, an unnamed cryptozoologist, spends her days smoking cigarettes, drinking at a dive bar, and documenting the stories of her beast-inhabited city. Many involve romances between humans and beasts that are taut with tragedy and friction. A painter, for instance, falls in love with the perfect bestial mate, but loses him after a mysterious incident involving his pregnant sister. The overall effect of Yan’s storytelling is dreamy and hypnotic, sometimes opaque but always captivating. These cryptic but well-told tales offer much to chew on.”

Appleseed by Matt Bell

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Appleseed: “Bell (In the House upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods) delivers a stirring take on climate change, complicity, and human connection. In separate narratives set centuries apart, three characters struggle to remain true to themselves in hostile worlds. In 18th-century Ohio, Chapman, a faun, wanders the wilderness with his human brother, planting apple trees that will feed future settlers and may someday grow the fruit Chapman hopes will make him fully human. In a postapocalyptic late 21st-century North America, a man named John confronts his role in the creation of the corporation that controls the world’s food supply, and plots to tear down the system. A thousand years from now, in an icy wasteland, humanoid C follows the directive of his previous iterations: find enough biomass beneath an endless glacier to regenerate life. An accident surfaces long-forgotten instructions, leading C across the ice to what may be humanity’s last stronghold. While each character’s situation appears bleak, the voices in this powerful tale continually seek something beyond the imperfection of human stewardship, as when John contemplates his complicity: ‘there’s no crime in being born into a harmful story but surely there’s sin in not trying to escape.’ This is an excellent addition to the climate apocalypse subgenre, and the way it grapples with humanity’s dramatic influence on the planet feels fresh and bracing.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Spiotta, Austin, Statovci, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Dana Spiotta, Emily Austin, Pajtim Statovci, 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.
Wayward by Dana Spiotta

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Wayward: “Spiotta (Innocents and Others) draws up a love letter to Syracuse, N.Y., in this wonderfully mischievous and witty story of a 53-year-old woman who flees the suburbs for the city. In 2017, Sam Raymond divides her time between working part-time at a historical house for fictional suffragette and Oneida Community member Claire Loomis, and her ‘bored-housewife pastime of attending open houses.’ After swooning over a run-down bungalow designed by a locally treasured architect, she buys the house and leaves her husband, Matt, and 16-year-old daughter, Ally, without much of an explanation. Matt assumes she’s leaving as part of her distraught reaction to Trump being elected president; it’s true that Sam’s outrage has peaked, and she’s been going to meetings with other enraged women, which Spiotta renders with ingenious complexity. When a pair of younger women confronts a gathering of older white feminists (‘All I know is that people our age, queer people, people of color—we didn’t elect him,’ one of the young women says), Sam’s reaction is mixed, as she feels caught between two generations. Sam then meets a self-described ‘Half Hobo’ from an online ‘Crones’ group, who advises Sam to resign herself to the coming apocalypse. But Sam still wants her life to have meaning, and she wants to reconnect with Ally, whose story of a secret affair with a 29-year-old man emerges in a parallel narrative. As Sam reckons with how Syracuse’s history is viewed by a younger generation (‘let’s salvage, not savage’), Spiotta pulls off a surprising dive into the Loomis story, which informs Sam’s relationship with her own mother and with Ally while shading in Sam’s interest in local lore. This is a knockout.”

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead: “Runaway humor sustains an otherwise grim story in Austin’s exuberant debut. After a car accident in which 27-year-old Gilda breaks her arm, she visits an emergency room where she’s a frequent patient, then responds to an ad offering free mental health support at a church. There, a priest mistakes her for a job applicant, and she doesn’t correct him. After the interview, Gilda accidentally becomes a receptionist, taking over for the late Grace Moppet, who may have been the victim of a homicidal nurse. As the receptionist, Gilda rapidly falls prey to impostor syndrome, a problem she faced during her last job as a bookseller (‘I didn’t really get 1984 and… I hate poetry’). Meanwhile, Gilda, an atheist and a lesbian, makes awkward attempts to masquerade as a good Catholic, mistaking communion wafers for crackers, trying to understand hymns, catechism, baptism, and the blessed sacrament of confession. The plot thickens as Gilda responds to emails from one of her predecessor’s friends as Grace. What starts out as genuinely bleak affair, with a depressed Gilda considering suicide, becomes a brisk story underpinned by a vibrant cast. Fans of Helene Tursten’s An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good will find much to enjoy.”

Dear Miss Metropolitan by Carolyn Ferrell

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Dear Miss Metropolitan: “Ferrell’s innovative and harrowing debut novel (after the collection Don’t Erase Me) draws on the Ariel Castro kidnappings in Cleveland for a story about the abduction and captivity of three young women in Queens, N.Y., and their subsequent escape in 2007. Prior to their abductions in the late 1990s, each of the ‘victim-girls’ finds coping mechanisms to survive their difficult situations. Fern, 13, distracts herself from her mother’s drug abuse and lecherous boyfriends with Soul Train VHS tapes; Gwin, 15, skirts her mother’s increasingly radical Jehovah’s Witnesses ideas by grooving to Prince; and the quick-witted Jesenia, nearly 17, leaves Queens with her doting but violent boyfriend. The three are chained in a decrepit house and tortured by their sadistic captor, known only as ‘Boss Man,’ for close to 10 years. When they are finally discovered and freed, the surrounding community members, including Mathilda Marron, a newspaper advice columnist known as ‘Miss Metropolitan’ who has lived next door to the house the girls were held in for four decades, grapple with guilt over not discovering them sooner. Composed of an assemblage of fragments, photos, articles by Mathilda, and first-person narration from the victims, this effectively unpacks both individual and collective trauma. It’s blistering from page one.”

Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kuppersmith

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Build Your House Around My Body: “Kupersmith’s exceptional debut novel (after the collection The Frangipani Hotel) offers profound and original insight on Vietnam’s tortured history. Twenty-two-year-old Winnie, a mixed-race American woman, signs up to teach English in Saigon in an attempt to connect with the Vietnamese part of her heritage, and essentially dooms herself to failure: ‘her life would continue to be as empty as her luggage, wherever she went,’ Kupersmith writes. Winnie figures out how to placate her students by helping them learn American terms such as ‘booty call’ and ‘loaded nachos,’ and enters a more or less satisfactory romantic relationship with a fellow teacher, but then disappears. At this point, the chapters range widely beyond Winnie’s present-day story to the days, months, and years before and after her disappearance. These vivid vignettes—horrifying and hilarious by turns—are marvelously written and include nightmarish scenes of immolation, two-headed snakes, and other accounts of disappearing young women, as well as a memorable team of ghost hunters and a soul-swapping dog. The multiple pages of maps and dramatis personae at the novel’s opening help ground the reader through this disorienting but captivating opus, until the clues and characters coalesce in a way that’s both surprising and satisfying. Magic can be both benevolent and monstrous in Kupersmith’s work, and here she indelibly illustrates the ways in which Vietnam’s legacies of colonialism, war, and violence against women continue to haunt. This more than fulfills the promise of her first book.”

Bolla by Pajtim Statovci (translated by David Hackston)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Bolla: “Astounding writing distinguishes this portrait of love, loss, and war from Kosovo-born Finnish writer and National Book Award finalist Statovci (Crossing). The story alternates between the feverish recollections of Miloš and Arsim, whose paths cross briefly but indelibly in 1995 Kosovo, where Miloš, a Serb who is studying medicine, and Arsim, a married Albanian literature student, become lovers. Arsim recounts his disastrous marriage to Ajshe (she is ‘remarkably beautiful, silent as a drape’) and his doomed affair with Miloš, comparing himself and Miloš to ‘two birds that have crashed into the window,’ and describes how mounting ethnic tensions forced him and his family to flee their home (‘We Albanians are washed across the world like a handful of sand scattered into the sea,’ he reflects). In nonlinear passages extending to 2004, Miloš riffs on the horrors he encountered during the Balkan wars and reveals his deteriorating mental state. Woven throughout is the myth of the snake-like bolla, a daughter of God who is set free by the devil for a single day a year, conceived by Statovci as a metaphor for the men’s brief but powerful liaison. Statovci sustains a deeply somber tone as the characters struggle to endure while looking back on a sad past of missed opportunity, “exhausted by that speck of freedom.” It’s an eloquent story of desire and displacement, a melancholy symphony in a heartbreaking minor key. Statovci is a master.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Prose, Johnson, Sestanovich, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Francine Prose, Diane Johnson, Clare Sestanovich, 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.
The Vixen by Francine Prose

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Vixen: “Prose (Mister Monkey) holds up a mirror to a fractured culture in this dazzling take on America’s tendency to persecute, then lionize, its most subversive figures. In 1953, recent Harvard graduate Simon Putnam watches news of the Rosenberg execution on television with his parents in Brooklyn. Though Simon has profited from a Puritan-sounding name—and hopes to profit further—he’s from a liberal Jewish family; his mother attended the same high school as Ethel Rosenberg (and even keeps a small shrine to her in their apartment). It’s the height of the Red Scare, when ‘anyone could be accused’ and ‘everyone was afraid.’ Flash forward a year, and Simon’s literary critic uncle has landed him a job as junior editor at a prestigious but financially unstable publisher. When its founder, Warren Landry, gives Simon his first novel to edit, Simon is aghast to learn the project is a thinly veiled bodice ripper about the Rosenberg trial. It’s an unusual book for the publisher, but Landry, a WWII veteran who once ran psyops for the OSS, lays out the stakes: the publisher needs a win, and a pulp yarn that further vilifies the Rosenbergs and Communism seems like just the thing. Why a junior editor would be given such an important task is a slow-burn mystery that propels readers through Prose’s recreation of 1950s paranoia, complete with an appearance from Senator Joseph McCarthy’s minion and future Trump mentor Roy Cohn. Sidelong commentary on Landry’s sexual predation, shot through a lens informed by the #MeToo era, adds further resonance. This is Prose at the top of her game.”

Lorna Mott Comes Home by Diane Johnson

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Lorna Mott Comes Home: “Johnson (Flyover Lives: A Memoir) makes a welcome return to her wheelhouse in this propulsive domestic dramedy of manners. Having lived for more that 20 years in a village with the ‘exigent rectitude of formal, starchy France,’ Lorna Mott Dumas leaves her philandering husband, onetime museum curator Armand-Loup, whose life consists of ‘sex, cassoulet and Bordeaux,’ to return home to San Francisco, hoping to reboot her floundering professional life as an academic, establish a career on the lecture circuit, and reconnect with three grown children from her failed first marriage. Prime among the crises and misfortunes she encounters are Lorna’s pregnant and diabetic 15-year old granddaughter, Gilda. Lorna’s relationship with Gilda becomes a focus of the narrative, and it gradually gives her a sense of purpose. Meanwhile, Lorna may have left France behind, but it didn’t leave her. After a mudslide disinters the bones of a famous American painter back in the French village where she lived, Lorna is contacted by French police, entangling her in legal problems that eventually intertwine both story lines. Johnson’s usual razor-sharp prose and astute observations are on full display as she tweaks comic incidents arising out of her characters’ relationships. This provocative family chronicle resolves in a poignant ending with prospects for a promising sequel. The author’s fans are in for a treat.”

Hell of a Book by Jason Mott

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Hell of a Book: “Mott’s stunning fourth novel (after The Crossing) delves into the complex and fraught African American experience. The protagonist, a nameless Black author on his first book tour, is reeling from his newfound fame and the success of his book, Hell of a Book. As he flies to promotional events, often in a drunken stupor, the author reveals that his vivid imagination makes it difficult for him to distinguish reality from fiction. So when he encounters ‘The Kid,’ a 10-year-old boy with impossibly ebony skin, the author doubts the boy is real. The Kid, who uncannily resembles a recent victim of police violence, first appears at a hotel and continues to pop up during the book tour, leading the author to recall his own repressed trauma as a bullied Black boy in North Carolina. The author’s sobering recollections of his youth are punctuated with humorous and insightful encounters that include a discussion on national sociopolitical identity with Nicolas Cage and an improbable first date with a funeral director. Mott’s poetic, cinematic novel tackles what it means to live in a country where Black people perpetually ‘live lives under the hanging sword of fear.’ Absurdist metafiction doesn’t get much better.”

Something Wild by Hanna Halperin

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Something Wild: “Halperin’s bold and surprising debut explores the complexity of familial bonds in the face of domestic violence. Tanya and Nessa Bloom, sisters who were once very close but are now somewhat estranged, are visiting their childhood home in the Boston suburbs to help their mother, Lorraine, pack up and move out. But Nessa’s brief indulgence of nostalgia from perusing items in her bedroom (Tanya, ‘who looks forward with a vengeance… would have rolled her eyes,’ writes Halperin) gives way to a reckoning with their abusive stepfather, Jesse. On the first night, the sisters find their mother on the kitchen floor, bruised from a strangulation by Jesse. Soon, they learn this isn’t the first time Lorraine has been physically assaulted, and yet she is reluctant to press charges. Tanya, the younger and more levelheaded daughter, urges Lorraine to get a restraining order. But Nessa, with her distorted sense of self and an unhealthy attachment to their stepfather, is unsure. As contention between the sisters grows, a traumatic experience that altered their relationship threatens it again, except now the sisters have to protect each other as well as their mother. Unflinching and brave, Halperin’s story lays bare the characters’ nuanced and complicated responses to domestic violence. This haunting portrait of a broken family will stay with readers.”

Objects of Desire by Clare Sestanovich

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Objects of Desire: “Sestanovich’s intelligent debut collection demonstrates a gift for pithy detail that encapsulates the whole of a character’s personality or era of lived experience. In the title story, protagonist Leonora is hung up on an ex: ‘They had exchanged love letters and endured two or three pregnancy scares. Once, they had been accosted at knifepoint. They had gone to funerals together. Most of all, they had fought passionately.’ In ‘Annunciation,’ the passive ennui of recent graduate Iris is juxtaposed against the more definitive, if slightly absurd, lives of others: her married housemates are in a food-oriented polyamorous relationship with another couple; Iris’s best friend teaches her ‘to eat burgers and bagels and bacon—there was nothing as powerful as eating masculine foods with feminine grace.’ At times, the observations and jokes give way to poignant insights into the characters’ psyches: in ‘Wants and Needs,’ Val, misinterpreting a facial expression, is “filled with bitterness for all the faces that had refused to reveal themselves to her.” The collection finds cohesion around the quiet angst of mostly young, female narrators who long for experiences, other people, and states of being just beyond their grasp. These technically accomplished if not quite revolutionary stories demonstrate a high command of craft.”

Also on shelves this week: Mona at Sea by Elizabeth Gonzalez James.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Taylor, Rodriques, McKinney, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Brandon Taylor, Elias Rodriques, Kelsey McKinney 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.
Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Filthy Animals: “Taylor follows his Booker shortlisted Real Life with a sharp, surprising collection. Many of the stories cover a 24-hour period in Madison, Wis., beginning with the excellent ‘Pot Luck.’ Lionel, an exam proctor and mathematician who is recently out of psychiatric care following a suicide attempt, goes to a dinner party and meets Charles, a dancer. A mutual attraction emerges, despite some awkwardness and the presence of Charles’s partner, Sophie. ‘Flesh’ shifts perspective to Charles in his dance class the next morning, and delineates his complex dynamic with Sophie. ‘Proctoring,’ a standout featuring Lionel at work, further complicates the triangle. As the sequence continues, supporting characters are linked by various circumstances. (The client of a young woman who works as a home cook and a babysitter in ‘Little Beast’ turns out to be the doctor of one of Charles’s dance classmates.) In the marvelous ‘Meat,’ Lionel concludes, ‘All of life was shifting equations.’ Throughout, Taylor spins intimate narratives of fraught relationship dynamics and demonstrates a keen sensitivity to his characters’ fragile mental health. Taylor’s language sparks with the tension of beauty and cruelty, conveying a sense of desire and the pleasures of food and sex complicated by capricious behavior. The author has an impressive range, and his depictions of complex characters trapped in untenable situations are hard to forget.”

All the Water I’ve Seen Is Running by Elias Rodriques

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about All the Water I’ve Seen Is Running: “Rodriques’s fresh and rhapsodic debut follows a group of Florida high school friends who reunite to rediscover the ties that still bind them. Though their lives have diverged since graduation—’so much of the future became the past so quickly’—the friends, some Black, some white, meet again after seven years when Daniel, a Jamaican American teacher living with his boyfriend in Brooklyn, returns to his hometown of Jacksonville. He’s come to mourn his first love, a self-proclaimed redneck girl named Aubrey, who was killed in a truck crash with her drunk ex-boyfriend Brandon. Daniel reconnects with his teammates on the track team, Twig, Des, and Des’s girlfriend, Egypt; and Aubrey’s best friend, Jess. They drink and reminisce, but things get out of hand when Des and Daniel drive out to Brandon’s place to confront him. The lilting cadence of the friends’ dialogue as they contemplate what lies ahead adds particular resonance, as do Daniel’s reflections (‘They guarded me because they weren’t sure they were going to get out of Palm Coast themselves. But if I escaped, we all did’). This melancholy story is a startling and necessary addition to the canon of works that parse what it means to grow up in the American South.”

Songs in Ursa Major by Emma Brodie

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Songs in Ursa Major: “Brodie’s breezy debut draws on the American soft rock music scene of the 1960s and ’70s to mixed results. In the summer of 1969, ‘heir apparent of folk rock’ Jesse Reid is supposed to perform at a famous festival on an island off the coast of Massachusetts that bears more than a passing resemblance to Martha’s Vineyard. When Jesse is suddenly sidelined by a motorcycle accident, local band The Breakers, led by 19-year-old Jane Quinn, takes his place, to resounding success. Soon, Jesse’s manager offers to make Jane a star, and Jane visits gorgeous, tormented Jesse at his parents’ island mansion, where he is recovering from his injuries. After Jane and her band get a record contract and start touring with Jesse, Jane and Jesse become romantically involved, and she becomes aware of his increasing dependence on drugs. Brodie’s narrative is at its best when focused on the mechanics and politics of music production, which emerge from the perspectives of the band’s manager and sound engineer. Brodie also has a clear grasp of the hurdles faced by Jane as a female musician, but the romantic and erotic aspects of the novel are less convincing (‘his hands gripping her hips like handles on a plow’). In the end, this riff on A Star Is Born doesn’t transcend its well-worn origins.”

God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about God Spare the Girls: “Two sisters are rocked by the infidelity of their famous pastor father in McKinney’s promising debut. At the outset, Caroline Nolan is excited to leave for college and is helping her older sister, Abby, prepare for her wedding with Matthew, an oil rig worker. The sisters have always been expected to behave like their father, Luke—gracious and holy—which as a girl Caroline thought was a privilege, but now begins to question. Abby, meanwhile, has helped write her father’s sermons without receiving credit—one of which went viral with Luke encouraging a million teenagers to wear abstinence rings and take purity vows. Caroline secretly loses her virginity and worries her sister is settling for Matthew, whose strong feelings for Abby aren’t completely reciprocated. Then a woman from the congregation confesses to a relationship with Luke, leading the church board to put him on probation. Their mother stands by her man, but the sisters move into a ranch they inherited from their grandmother. As the weeks go by and the wedding nears, the sisters bond over their anger toward their father’s hypocrisy, which escalates with another revelation. While the ending is a bit abrupt, McKinney otherwise successfully wrangles her plot. This stirring debut about faith, secrets, and familial bonds will keep readers turning the pages.”

Also on shelves this week: What You Can See from Here by Mariana Leky (translated by Tess Lewis) and Forever by James Longenbach.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Lee, Henkin, Fung, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Jonathan Lee, Joshua Henkin, Keenan Norris, 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.
The Great Mistake by Jonathan Lee

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Great Mistake: “Lee (High Dive) dissects the life and murder of Andrew Haswell Green, one of New York City’s preeminent city fathers and adversary of the corrupt Boss Tweed, in this ambitious outing. In November 1903, at the age of 83, Green—a onetime comptroller and architect of Central Park, the Museum of Natural History, and the Brooklyn Bridge—steps outside his Park Avenue home and is shot dead by a man in a bowler hat in broad daylight. To uncover the motive, Lee moves backward and forward in time. The detective assigned to the case probes the entanglements of wicked and wealthy bawd Bessie Davis and unstable gunman Cornelius Williams, who seems to have acted on private struggles. In chapters devoted to Green’s past, the reader learns of his father’s failing Massachusetts farm, his apprenticeship in Trinidad, and close friendship with New York governor and future presidential candidate Samuel Tilden, whose rise prefigures Green’s own pursuit to become ‘an elegant man.’ Lee’s two-tiered structure falters slightly under the weight of Green’s copious resume, but he sustains a captivating strangeness in his depiction of the period, such as the practice of hunting stray dogs on city streets for a bounty. By and by, a dynamic all-American character emerges, making for an audacious historical.”

Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Morningside Heights: “Henkin (The World Without You) brilliantly conveys the complexities of a New York City family in this humane, compulsively readable tale. In 2006, Shakespeare scholar Spence Robin, 57, is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, and his wife, Pru Steiner, is forced to return his book advance. Their daughter, Sarah, a med student, arrives from Los Angeles on a delayed flight, and Pru wryly reassures Sarah not to worry (‘It’ll be good practice for when you’re a doctor. You’ll be keeping people waiting for the rest of your life’). The focus then turns to Arlo Zackheim, Spence’s son from his first marriage, whose vagabond, self-centered mother left him with an emptiness he finds hard to fill. At 15, Arlo came to live with Spence for two years, and the marked contrast between his past and living with an erudite, structured father; a kind stepmother; and a bright younger sister is drawn with humor and insight. Henkin reaches further back to describe how Pru escaped her Orthodox Jewish family in Ohio and landed in grad school at Columbia University in 1976, and shows how Spence was a wunderkind in Columbia’s English department, making the tragedy of his illness particularly poignant. Equally well handled is Pru’s transformation from wife and lover to caretaker—wrenching changes that Henkin conveys without dissolving into sentimentality or cliché, but rather leaving readers with a kernel of hope. This is a stunning achievement.”

The Confession of Copeland Cane by Keenan Norris

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Confession of Copeland Cane: “Norris (Brother and the Dancer) delivers a powerful treatise on the double consciousness of a young Black man in this dystopian look at police oppression and surveillance in the 2030s. Coming of age in East Oakland amid racial terror in the form of televised police brutality and the ‘Ghetto Flu’ (alternately defined as a deadly flu similar to Covid-19 and the myriad challenges faced ‘due to living in the hood’) 18-year-old Cope Cane becomes a fugitive after his role in a protest that turned violent. Beloved by his swap meet queen mother and unemployed father, Cope, who previously landed a private school scholarship, now chronicles his transformation into a societal threat to freshman journalism student Jacqueline. In alternate chapters, Cope and Jacqueline unpack the complexities of miseducation, poverty, and policing, and give a nightmarish view of media-security empire Soclear Broadcasting. Cope’s persuasive and irresistible ‘confession’ to Jacqueline emerges in nonsequential strands, circling around the crime he’s suspected of having committed while outlining the economic, legal, and social disparities faced by a dark-complected person in a politically divided country ravaged by a global pandemic. In Cope, Norris has created a voice that cannot be ignored.”

Also on shelves this week: Last Comes the Raven by Italo Calvino (translated by Ann Goldstein).

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Galchen, Zambreno, Emezi, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Rivka Galchen, Kate Zambreno, Akwaeke Emezi, 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.
Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch: “Galchen’s captivating latest (after the children’s adventure Rat Rule 79) follows an illiterate widow as she confronts accusations of being a witch in 1618 Germany. As soldiers and plague spread across the Holy Roman Empire at the start of the Thirty Years’ War, 74-year-old Katharina Kepler’s own troubles play out on a grand scale after her neighbor (whom Katharina calls ‘the Werewolf’) accuses Katharina of poisoning her and manages to convince others that they, too, have been afflicted or targeted by Katharina’s witchcraft. Katharina must fight to clear her name with the help of her three children—her youngest son, a bullheaded pewter guildsman; her daughter, a kindly pastor’s wife; and her eldest son, an expert in horoscopes who works as the Imperial Mathematician—and her kindly, quiet neighbor Simon, who documents Katharina’s case for posterity and risks his own reputation by serving as Katharina’s guardian in court. Mesmerizing details abound, such as the torture inflicted on those accused of witchcraft, and the herbal remedies Katharina relies upon. Galchen portrays her characters as complicated and full of wit as they face down the cruelties dealt to them (a man called ‘the Cabbage,’ demanding Katharina release a curse on his sister, threatens her with a ‘vain sword… something a nobleman might commission and then reject at the last moment, leaving the sword maker in a bind’). This is a resounding delight.”

Animal by Lisa Taddeo

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Animal: “In Taddeo’s underwhelming debut novel (after the nonfiction narrative Three Women), a re-traumatized woman faces her painful past. Joan, 37, leaves New York City for Los Angeles after her boss, Vic, with whom she had been having an affair, shoots himself in front of her at a restaurant. Witnessing Vic’s death brings back memories for Joan, who lost her parents to a gruesome act of violence when she was 10, which left her orphaned and with a sizable inheritance. Joan believes a young woman named Alice, a yoga teacher in L.A., whom she’d never met, holds the key to understanding the night of her parents’ death, and the reason is initially withheld from the reader as well as Alice, after the two women form a superficial intimacy revolving around men and how terrible they are. Unfortunately, Alice suffers from thin characterization that renders her little more than a device for Joan’s development. And though the men are certainly horrible, especially the ones in Joan’s life—including her dead father—Taddeo misses an opportunity for a more critical exploration of female rage, relying instead on the shock value of the third act’s violent scenes. Recent novels such as A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers have treated similar themes with more imagination and depth.”

We Two Alone by Jack Wang

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about We Two Alone: “Wang’s elegant debut delves into the heterogeneity of the Chinese diaspora in stories that take the reader to settings as disparate as 1920s Canada and Nazi-occupied Vienna. Wang is equally convincing with the voice of the insecure Oxford undergraduate whose parents run a Chinese takeaway in ‘Belsize Park,’ as he is with a washed-up Chinese American hockey player and deadbeat dad living in modern-day Florida in ‘Allhallows.’ In ‘The Nature of Things,’ a pregnant wife from Vancouver’s Chinatown is living in Shanghai on the eve of the 1937 Japanese attack. The title story is the longest, and the standout; its protagonist is Leonard Xiao, a Chinese-American actor in his late 40s whose career never quite got off the ground. Having so long wanted to prove his Harvard physicist father wrong about the viability of his career choice, Leonard poignantly grapples with the reality that this may never happen. Occasionally the stories feel as if they end prematurely and avoid narrative conflict, but Wang’s prose is subtle and economical, well suited to his themes of disappointment, alienation, and departure. As the stories build on one another, they create a portrait full of both nuance and grace.”

To Write as if Already Dead by Kate Zambreno

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about To Write as if Already Dead: “In this clever hybrid work, Zambreno (Drifts) interrogates her fascination with French writer and photographer Hervé Guibert, whose novel To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life (1990) controversially outed friend Michel Foucault of having died of AIDS. In the first of two parts, Zambreno sets out to explore ‘the problem of a friendship,’ first between herself and a famous author she met under a pseudonym online, then between Foucault and Guibert, before the novel—which traces Guibert’s own suffering with AIDS and featured a character named Muzil, based on Foucault—was written. ‘At what point,’ she wonders, ‘does the writing become an act of betrayal?’ Part two takes a diaristic turn, covering Zambreno’s pregnancy-related ailments and the daily demands on her as a working mother, as the act of writing becomes more difficult: ‘I need to push it out as if through my body… even if the thinking is fickle, even if it changes over time.’ As her investigation turns to the financial and material needs motivating her to write in the first place, it morphs into a feverish quarantine journal wherein she questions the meaning of language during crisis, especially the use of first-person writing. The author’s fans will savor this cascading meditation on what makes writing possible and necessary.”

Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Dear Senthuran: “Emezi (The Death of Vivek Oji) reflects on their spiritual and creative evolution in this gorgeous epistolary memoir. Among the cast of recipients they address are friends, family, an ex-lover, Toni Morrison, and Senthuran Varatharajah, their German translator, who inspired the work’s form. Originally from Aba, Nigeria, Emezi identifies as ogbanje, an Igbo spirit that’s also a god. They are ’embodied but not human,’ an existential tension that governed their life as they traveled the globe in their 20s in search of home and themselves. Emezi eventually settled down in New Orleans in 2019, but their search for self continues in each letter as they shed old ‘masks,’ outgrow relationships, and undergo a hysterectomy to align their human body with their ‘spiritself.’ Emezi details the loneliness that comes with being ‘estranged from the indigenous Black realities’ and is unwavering in their demand that readers meet them on their terms, even if they might be considered ‘too strange, too arrogant.’ Yet in consistently captivating prose, Emezi demonstrates that it is precisely this unyielding belief in themself that catapulted their career, clinching literary awards and six-figure book deals. Those interested in broadening their metaphysical understanding of the world would do well to pick up this spellbinding work.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Ford, Arnett, St. Aubyn, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Ashley C. Ford, Kristin Arnett, Edward St. Aubyn, 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.
Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Somebody’s Daughter: “Journalist Ford debuts with a blistering yet tender account of growing up with an incarcerated father. She retraces her childhood in 1990s Fort Wayne, Ind., where she lived in a family anchored by her weary mother, whose anger bubbled over frequently, and a judgmental but loving grandmother. Felt throughout is the shadowy presence of her father, who was serving a 24-year sentence for rape. The moving narrative unfolds with tales of childhood misadventures with her younger brother, frequent library visits, and days spent anywhere but home: ‘I told myself being away was the only way we were going to make it out.’ Ford writes vividly of having to weather her mother’s rage (which ‘drained the light from her eyes’) and rotating cast of boyfriends, while navigating her own sense of shame and abandonment as a teenager fighting to be ‘loved ferociously and completely’ in a series of painful relationships. Though she rarely visited her father in prison, he wrote to her often, and ‘his letters were clues to where I’d come from.’ When they finally reconnected before his release, Ford describes their tearful reunion and reconciliation with devastating clarity. ‘Somewhere, in the center of it all, was my father’s favorite girl.’ This remarkable, heart-wrenching story of loss, hardship, and self-acceptance astounds.”

With Teeth by Kristen Arnett

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about With Teeth: “Arnett (Mostly Dead Things) paints a complex picture of a queer family in this well-sculpted drama. Protagonist Sammie and her wife, Monika, have a son, Samson, who proves to be an ornery and enigmatic child. (Among other things, he willfully lets a strange man attempt to abduct him at the age of four and later carries a school project doll of himself everywhere.) Sammie is the more anxious and hands-on of the parents; she works part-time as a copy editor, while laid-back Monika excels as a lawyer. In addition to doubting her fitness as a parent, Sammie misses the social life she had pre-Samson and ‘didn’t like the way other women looked at her wife, didn’t like the fact that no one looked at her that way anymore.’ By the time Samson’s 16, he has become a skilled swimmer and retains much of his inscrutable personality, Sammie and Monika have separated, and Sammie struggles with dating. Arnett’s prismlike prose is supplemented by vignettes focused on peripheral characters, such as Samson’s teachers, which add some maximalist flair to the domestic story. With its vividly rendered characters, this offers an intense rendition of a modern family.”

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Other Black Girl: “Harris debuts with a dazzling, darkly humorous story about the publishing industry and the challenges faced by a Black employee. Nella Rogers, an overworked editorial assistant, navigates white privilege and microaggressions as the only Black person in her department at New York City trade publisher Wagner Books. That is until the arrival of chic Hazel-May McCall. Nella withstands being mistaken for Hazel, ‘the Other Black Girl,’ and reviewing a problematic manuscript written by a bestselling white author with horribly one-dimensional depictions of a Black single mom. Many of the company’s higher-ups have the trappings of material success (Ivy League pedigrees, renovated summer homes), and their attempts to cultivate diversity fall flat, notably with the publisher’s ‘Diversity Town Halls’ and its sheepish attempts to deal with racism (‘the elephant in the room,’ Harris writes, ‘No one really knew what the elephant was. Or where the elephant was’). When Nella receives an anonymous note reading ‘Leave Wagner. Now,’ her hopes for a career at the company begin to crumble. Meanwhile, Hazel, seemingly undeterred by office politics, is not the ally she appears to be. While the novel overflows with witty dialogue and skillfully drawn characters, its biggest strength lies in its penetrating critique of gatekeeping in the publishing industry and the deleterious effects it can have on Black editors. This insightful, spellbinding book packs a heavy punch.”

Bewilderness by Karen Tucker

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Bewilderness: “Tucker astonishes in her devastating debut, a harrowing account of addiction, friendship, and loss. Irene, an isolated 19-year-old in rural North Carolina, meets Luce, a fellow server at a grimy pool hall. They form an intimate friendship that becomes nearly addictive: within hours of their meeting, Irene believes Luce ‘understood me better than anyone, maybe even my own mother.’ Both also battle an opiate addiction. They look at the moon and see an OxyContin pill, ‘a giant 30 just waiting for someone to reach up and snatch it.’ Throughout, they find themselves in scenarios that are equal parts devastating and funny, as they scam and grift to fund their pill habit by committing return fraud at Walmart and selling placebos from their birth control packs to college kids. But their bond begins to break after Luce meets Wilky, a sergeant at the nearby military base who is set on getting clean from a pill addiction of his own and moving with Luce to Florida for a fresh start. Tucker does a wonderful job locating Irene’s and Luce’s desire to live a better life beneath their tough exteriors, as when, while buying pills from an old woman, Irene offhandedly remarks, ‘Bodies are such fragile things.’ This keen awareness consistently adds depth and devastation. No matter the characters’ genuine longing to change, they are bound to their cyclical, unrelenting patterns. This is a stunning accomplishment.

Walking on Cowrie Shells by Nana Nkweti

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Walking on Cowrie Shells: “Nkweti’s beautiful and immersive debut collection challenges hackneyed depictions of a monolithic Africa through an array of dynamic stories that reflect the heterogeneity of Africans and the Cameroonian diaspora. The satirical ‘It Just Kills You Inside’ features a PR man who capitalizes on a fast-spreading zombie virus in Cameroon, which turns into a cash cow after refugee camps and the adoption of African zombie babies become Hollywood’s latest cause célèbre. In ‘The Statistician’s Wife,’ 40-year-old economist Elliot Coffin Jr.’s interview with two homicide detectives in the aftermath of Elliot’s wife’s murder is punctuated by disturbing statistics on the number of women in Nigeria who are murdered by their husbands. Other stories switch between diary entries and narrative, as in the heartrending ‘Dance the Fiya Dance,’ in which linguistic anthropologist Chambu evades her cousin’s attempts at matchmaking while grappling with her own ambivalence toward motherhood. Whether Nkweti is writing about water goddesses, zombies, or aspiring graphic novelists, she reveals and celebrates the rich inner lives of those who do not fit neatly into social and cultural categories. But the author’s prose shines the brightest; Nkweti’s sentences soar, enthralling the reader through their every twist and turn, and often ending with a wry punch (a fledgling church headquartered in a Brooklyn apartment is ‘still undergoing a slow renovation that has spanned from Easter Sunday the year prior into an unknown future—unto the end of days, perhaps’). This is a groundbreaking and vital work.”

How the Word Is Passed by Clint Smith

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about How the Word Is Passed: “Poet and Atlantic staff writer Smith debuts with a moving and perceptive survey of landmarks that reckon, or fail to reckon, with the legacy of slavery in America. Visiting Monticello plantation, Smith describes how Thomas Jefferson’s self-perception as a ‘benevolent slave owner’ often conflicted with his actions. On a tour of Angola prison, Smith discusses how nonunanimous jury verdicts fueled the “convict leasing system” that replaced slave labor in post-Reconstruction Louisiana, and notes that when the state switched from the electric chair to lethal injection in 1991, Angola inmates refused to build the prison death bed. At the Blandford Cemetery for Confederate soldiers in Petersburg, Va., Smith questions on-site historians about the ethical implications of preserving a place of honor for the defenders of slavery. He also checks in at the annual Juneteenth festival in Galveston, Tex., and takes an illuminating walking tour of underground railroad sites in New York City. Suffused with lyrical descriptions and incisive historical details, including Robert E. Lee’s ruthlessness as a slave owner and early resistance by Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois to the Confederate general’s ‘deification,’ this is an essential consideration of how America’s past informs its present.”

The Portrait of a Mirror by A. Natasha Joukovsky

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Portrait of a Mirror: “Set in the upper echelons of New York City and Philadelphia, Joukovsky’s droll if uneven debut reads like Gossip Girl all grown up. Young tech CEO and certified ‘golden boy’ Charles Wesley Range IV shares a sprawling Manhattan loft with his stunning, quick-witted enterprise architect wife, Diana Whalen, where the almost-happy newlyweds mount a series of passive-aggressive maneuvers against one another. Meanwhile, 30-something Vivien Floris, a poised visiting curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, prepares to marry Dale McBride, a dashing consultant and aspiring novelist who lives in Philadelphia. While Diana and Dale are assigned to work on the same project, grade school crushes Vivien and Wes reunite for a fateful night. As the drama unfolds, the characters’ affairs get predictably tangled. The author uses the backdrop of Vivien’s exhibition on Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the figure of Narcissus for astute observations on the core characters’ self-involvement, though the story feels weighed down by too many less-rewarding tangents about professional mishaps and exchanges between the peripheral players, who find their incestuous social world alternately beneficial and stultifying. In the words of a mutual friend of the couples, ‘The one percent is such a small place.’ While readers will enjoy the view of an insular, rarified world, they’ll also wonder what the fuss is about.”

Double Blind by Edward St. Aubyn

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Double Blind: “St. Aubyn (the Patrick Melrose novels) expounds on epigenetics, rewilding, art, neuroscience, and philosophy in this sublime character-driven novel. With his usual elegant prose, St. Aubyn follows three friends—Francis, Olivia, and Lucy—through a transformative year. Naturalist Francis meets biologist Olivia at a ‘megafauna’ conference in Oxford and feels an instant ‘subterranean attraction.’ He later anxiously awaits her visit to the Sussex estate he has vowed to reclaim with its deer, pigs, cattle, and ponies, envisioning an ‘English savannah.’ Meanwhile, Olivia anticipates Lucy’s arrival from New York to London, where she’s taken a job with a venture capital firm headed by the scheming Hunter Sterling. Lucy’s also blindsided by unexplainable muscle spasms that lead to the ‘high tech phrenology’ of a graphically detailed brain biopsy. While she is recovering with Francis and Olivia in Sussex, Hunter helicopters in with caviar, blinis, and vodka. Add the sudden, unexpected appearance of 34-year-old schizophrenic Sebastian Tanner, whose true identity threatens to square the friends’ already fraught triangle and lends an element of mystery. The four embark on a pharmacologically fueled journey from England to Cap d’Antibes to Big Sur, leading to a surprising and enthralling moral and ethical dilemma. St. Aubyn brings off a seemingly effortless and provocative examination of the mind and its refractions. This one’s not to be missed.”

Also on shelves this week: What Makes You Think You’re Awake? by Maegan Poland.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Flanagan, Kawakami, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Richard Flanagan, Mieko Kawakami, 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.
The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Living Sea of Waking Dreams: “Man Booker winner Flanagan (The Narrow Road to the Deep North) shines in his fierce, surrealistic look at a family’s dissolution in a recognizable if dystopian Australia that’s ravaged by wildfires. Amid the fires, 56-year-old Anna, an award-winning Sydney architect, makes reluctant trips to Hobart, Tasmania, to check on her mother, Francie. After Francie suffers a catastrophic brain hemorrhage, Anna’s older brother Tommy, an unsuccessful artist who has been shouldering Francie’s care, hopes to let her die in peace. Guilt-ridden over her earlier neglect of her family and unprepared to face her mother’s mortality, Anna instead sides with their younger brother, Terzo, and orders aggressive treatment. Francie begins hallucinating as the increasingly invasive interventions fail, and despite Francie’s delusions, which come through when Francie musters the energy to speak, Anna finds new tenderness in her time with her mother. Meanwhile, Anna’s left ring finger painlessly but inexplicably vanishes, soon followed by a kneecap and a nipple. Though she sees the body parts of others disappearing, too (her 22-year-old son gradually fades away to a few fingers), no one comments or reports on the eerie phenomenon. Amid all of these losses, her complacency about her once rewarding life vanishes. Juxtaposing measured prose with passages that jolt and tumble, and realistic depictions of medical issues with Francie’s phantasmagoric visions (‘the mountain plains outside her window full of fires and sandstorms where, nightly, women queued in one area for abortions and in another for orgies, where fleeing people turned into plants only to perish in flames’), Flanagan’s novel illuminates the dangers of taking the world and one another for granted. Its intensity, urgency, and insights are unforgettable.”

Revival Season by Monica West

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Revival Season: “West’s explosive debut charts the spiritual reckoning of a Baptist faith healer’s daughter. Fifteen-year-old Miriam Horton accompanies her family on an annual summer revival tour centered on evangelical conversion and healing throughout the present-day Midwest and South. As in years past, her father, Rev. Samuel Horton yearns to break the ‘two-thousand soul mark,’ his ever-elusive goal for a successful revival season. Her father’s tour of perfunctory healing ends in Bethel, N.C., where a drunken man confronts the reverend, accusing him of fraud. Horton rebukes the man, then beats him in an uncontrollable fit of rage. Miriam surreptitiously watches the confrontation and its aftermath, and as a result her relationship with her father and her own views about spiritual healing are irrevocably altered. After returning home to East Mansfield, Tex., Miriam makes her first attempt at healing prayer with her best friend, Micah, who has become seriously ill with diabetes. More secret healings ensue, as Miriam’s personal spiritual awakening runs counter to the biblical injunctions stressed by her father and the Church. West does a fantastic job illuminating the struggles faced by women and girls in the Southern Baptist evangelical movement, and the change in Miriam is palpable and moving. West’s deep understanding of her characters and community makes for essential reading.”

Cheat Day by Liv Stratman

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Cheat Day: “Stratman debuts with a sweet, smart account of one woman’s attempt to add some spark and direction to her humdrum everyday. Kit, 34, is stuck in a rut: she can’t muster the nerve to quit a job managing her sister’s bakery in the same Brooklyn neighborhood where she grew up; she’s ambivalent about having kids; restless in a marriage to her well-intentioned, workaholic husband; and still mourning the death of the grandmother who raised her. To snap out of it, she reaches for a solution she’s tried many times before: a diet. This time she embarks on the 75-day Radiant Regimen, her most ambitious wellness overhaul yet. But as she starts to master her food cravings, she begins to indulge in her attraction to a carpenter, leading to an intense affair, and the derailment of her self-makeover. Soon, Kit, realizing the ‘lucky’ life she leads, must acknowledge her failures and open up about impulses if she want to save her marriage: ‘What I know now is there is no recipe for a clean marriage.’ The uneasy relationship Kit has with her various appetites is at the heart of things, and the narrative’s success rests on her wry, insightful narration, which expounds on the inanities of the daily calculus of diet planning with hilariously cringy detail. This is a treat.”

Heaven by Mieko Kawakami (translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Heaven: “Kawakami (Breasts and Eggs) returns with a searing account of bullying and adolescent angst. In the vast, violent wasteland of middle school, the 14-year-old unnamed narrator endures horrific physical abuse from a group of sadistic classmates, assuming it’s due to his lazy eye. In graphic detail, Kawakami describes the escalating harm brought to him, from his being made to ingest toilet water, a goldfish, and scraps of food from a pet rabbit’s cage, to having chalk stuffed up his nose, being shoved into a locker, and an excruciatingly brutal confrontation in a gym, leaving him with the heartbreaking ‘desire to disappear.’ When he receives an anonymous note in his desk seeking friendship, he suspects it’s a prank, but discovers it’s from a female schoolmate who is also being humiliated. They meet in the school stairwell to share stories and later take summer excursions out of town, and suffer a stunning final encounter with their adversaries, during which one of the culprits explains the unexpected and startling reasons behind the attacks. This incident is particularly harrowing, and Kawakami unflinchingly takes the reader through the abyss of depraved, dehumanizing behavior with keen psychological insight, brilliant sensitivity, and compassionate understanding. With this, the author’s star continues to rise.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring McElroy, Ripatrazone, Shepard, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Alex McElroy, our own Nick Ripatrazone, Jim Shepard, 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.

The Atmospherians by Alex McElroy

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Atmospherians: “McElroy’s impressive debut novel (after the chapbook Daddy Issues) lands a well-crafted jab at toxic masculinity and attempts to control it. Sasha Marcus, creator of a popular wellness brand for women, is a social media sensation until her foul response to an internet troll gets her cancelled. Suddenly unemployed, at home, and with men’s rights activists demonstrating outside her apartment, Sasha is desperate. So when her visionary if misguided childhood friend, Dyson, reaches out with a proposal to start a cult, Sasha agrees. Housed at an abandoned property, the cult—named The Atmosphere—has one mission: to save white men from themselves. Dyson, a failed actor with an eating disorder, recruits the men under the false pretense of job training. Operations begin with men being forced to purge their food after meals, followed by hard labor around the property and therapy sessions with Sasha. As the pressure builds and a job offer lingers in Sasha’s voicemail, her friendship with Dyson is tested. Things worsen when The Atmosphere appears in the news, and Sasha is presumed to be the sole leader. The author conveys Sasha’s dilemma in rich prose and haunting images, using a finely honed satirical lens. This notable debut makes hay with the miasma of contemporary culture.”

In the Event of Contact by Ethel Rohan

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about In the Event of Contact: “Rohan (The Weight of Him) delivers a striking collection about loners. In the title story, Ruth copes with an extreme aversion to touch, which began in kindergarten after a boy’s constant touching caused her to have a seizure. As a teen, Ruth is taught at home by a private tutor, a man whose inappropriate methods to cure Ruth shocks her two triplet sisters. In ‘Everywhere She Went,’ a 26-year-old narrator is reminded of her friend Hazel, who went missing when they were children, after her boyfriend mentions a co-worker with the same name. The narrator is haunted all over again by foggy memories of her friend, and reflects on how the disappearance has made it difficult for her to bond with others ever since. In ‘Rare, but Not Impossible,’ Margo returns home to Dublin from New York City for a friend’s wedding, disappointed to find her parents didn’t make the trek to the airport for her. While describing Margo’s cab ride, Rohan writes, ‘No matter where she was, she never sounded like she belonged.’ Margo’s role in the wedding makes her feel more isolated and alienated. Rohan makes the most of situations in which her protagonists grapple with what it feels like to be different and unable to be close with others. This is worth a look.”

Nervous System by Lina Meruane (translated by Megan McDowell)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Nervous System: “Chilean writer Meruane’s razor-sharp novel (after Seeing Red) follows a young woman struggling to complete a dissertation in astrophysics. Ella’s doctoral work is going nowhere; she can’t even decide on a topic, something she keeps secret from her partner, El, and her father, who has poured his life savings into her education. (Her father, in turn, has kept his investment in her education a secret from Ella’s stepmother and half siblings.) Desperate, Ella invokes the spirit of her mother, who died in childbirth, praying for her to afflict her with a disease that will excuse her from her teaching responsibilities. Obsession with illness and injury is the overriding subject of the narrative—Ella manifests an undiagnosable spinal pain, El is injured in an explosion, her stepmother’s breast cancer returns. Her father, himself a doctor, is hospitalized. Meruane is a writer of undeniable talent; her portrayal of the body as a site of suffering is nuanced and unflinching. The years of dictatorship and ‘still-undiscovered graves’ in Ella’s unnamed ‘preterit country,’ and the migrant ‘problem’ in her ‘country of the present,’ where people speak a different language, add more dark layers. While there isn’t much in the way of momentum, on a sentence level it’s unimpeachable. The result is a challenge, but one that gives the reader much to chew on.”

Let the Record Show by Sarah Schulman

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Let the Record Show: “Novelist and AIDS activist Schulman (Maggie Terry) recounts the successes and failures of the New York chapter of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) in this fine-grained history. Drawing on interviews with 188 members of ACT UP New York, Schulman showcases the diverse array of people who worked to raise awareness about AIDS, and notes their simultaneous involvement in related issues including homelessness, gender inequity in medicine, and needle exchange programs. She also explains how ACT UP New York leveraged an ‘inside/outside’ strategy in which some members worked collaboratively with politicians and health officials while others created dramatic acts of protest, such as the 1989 infiltration of the New York Stock Exchange, when seven activists handcuffed themselves to a banister in a VIP balcony and threw fake hundred-dollar bills onto the trading room floor to pressure a pharmaceutical company to lower the $10,000-per-year price tag of the AIDS medication AZT. Readers less familiar with ACT UP may wish for a clearer explanation of its organizational structure and more narrative cohesion than Schulman provides. Still, her firsthand perspective and copious details provide a valuable testament to the courage and dedication of many unheralded activists.”

Phase Six by Jim Shepard

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Phase Six: “In this disappointing apocalyptic thriller from Shepard (The Book of Aron), a pandemic—exponentially more lethal than Covid-19—originates in a remote Greenland village and spreads worldwide, infecting millions within weeks. Eleven-year old Aleq, one of the only survivors of the initial outbreak, may hold the key to finding a way to stop the seemingly uncontainable contagion. The CDC tasks two investigators, epidemiologist Jeannie Dziri and lab wonk Danice Torrone, to inspect the decimated village in hopes of finding clues to head off a looming global disaster. While Dziri tries to find insights in the emotionally battered boy’s memories, Torrone crunches data in a race against time as more people become sick and die horrific deaths. The author has clearly done some impressive research into infectious diseases, but some readers may have a visceral reaction—not so much because of the heartbreaking similarities to the coronavirus and the millions who have died because of it, but because of the plot’s predictability and the lack of an ending. Shepard has done better.”

Also on shelves this week: Tastes Like War by Grace M. Cho and Wild Belief: Poets and Prophets in the Wilderness by our own Nick Ripatrazone.