Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Carey, Doshi, Lyon, and More


Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Edward Carey, Avni Doshi, Annabel Lyon, 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 Swallowed Man by Edward Carey

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Swallowed Man: “British writer and illustrator Carey (Little) brings his grotesque whimsy to this lackluster retelling of a harrowing episode from Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio. The story begins with Giuseppe Lorenzini having been swallowed by a giant sharklike creature. Giuseppe, who had been sailing the seas looking for his runaway wooden son, Pinocchio, takes up residence in the monster’s abdomen, finding refuge in a Danish ship the fish has also ingested. Thus sheltered and supplied (with food, drink, candles, and ink), he composes his autobiography, attempts some new carving projects, and, as time passes, succumbs to hallucinatory fits of madness. The humble craftsman is an orotund narrator, holding forth from the belly of the beast in high rhetorical style: ‘I am a monarch of space. Emperor of Inner Sharkland.’ Some of Collodi’s famous scenes (burning feet, growing nose) are briefly replayed, but the narrative is mostly devoted to Giuseppe’s backstory, including tepid accounts of the women he loved, and to his Crusoe-like survival strategy. In the most interesting sections, Carey dives into Giuseppe’s strained relationship with his own father that presages his tempestuous relationship with the impish Pinocchio, but these moments are few and far between. The book feels both slight and overstuffed, a prolonged exercise in style that brings little insight into Collodi’s classic.”

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Thousand Ships: “The women of the Trojan War take center stage in this excellent take on the Greek classics from Haynes (The Ancient Guide to Modern Life). Hopping through nearly a dozen perspectives, Haynes provides an enthralling reimagining of the lives of women from both Troy and Greek culture. There is Calliope, the muse who resents the poets demanding she supply them with inspiration; Andromache, who goes from princess to spoil of war when her husband, Hector, is killed by Achilles; and Penelope, who writes biting letters to Odysseus, asking him why it is that he doesn’t feel any urge to come home to her and their son. There are also the royal heroines, such as Clytemnestra, who seeks revenge against Agamemnon for sacrificing their daughter; and Helen, who is weary of being constantly blamed for her role in beginning the war and for plots and prophecies she has no power to stop. Cassandra, cursed with prophesies no one will ever believe, struggles to function when she knows exactly what will become of her and her family after the war. Haynes shines by twisting common perceptions of the Trojan War and its aftermath in order to capture the women’s experiences. Readers who enjoyed Madeline Miller’s Circe will want to take a look.”

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Burnt Sugar: “Doshi’s stunning debut, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, explores the murky, toxic relationship between a mother and daughter living in the Indian city of Pune. Antara, a reflective, recently married artist, notices something is off with her volatile, demanding mother, Tara. Doctors believe it’s early-onset dementia but can’t find biological evidence of the disease, causing Antara to wonder if her mother is willfully forgetting her. She concludes her mother named her Antara (‘Un-Tara’) ‘because she hated herself,’ setting up a dynamic in which the two women became pitted against each other. She reexamines her early years living in an ashram, where her mother landed after leaving her husband. There, Tara fell in love with the ashram leader but neglected her daughter, not seeing Antara for weeks at a time. The young Antara refused to eat and eventually resigned herself to self-sufficiency to avoid beatings from her mother. Tara’s rejection of her daughter continues after Antara’s grandparents send her to boarding school against her will and Tara neglects to intervene, and Tara later criticizes Antara’s teenage body. Yet by the captivating conclusion, Tara’s memory loss proves too much for Antara, causing the daughter to react in ways she never expected. Doshi’s portrayal of troubled mother-daughter intimacy is viscerally poetic. This has the heft and expansiveness of a classic 19th-century novel.”

No Heaven for Good Boys by Keisha Bush

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about No Heaven for Good Boys: “Bush’s vivid and heart-wrenching debut paints a jarring portrait of Dakar, Senegal, inspired by the author’s encounters with the talibés, boys forced by their teachers to beg on the street. The novel follows Ibrahimah, age six, as he fights for survival under the abusive hands of Marabout Ahmed, a duplicitous stranger who has tricked Ibrahimah’s parents into sending their child to join his older cousin Etienne to beg in Dakar under the guise of studying the Quran. Ibrahimah sustains himself with memories of his village and the family he left behind, in order to cope with the physical, verbal, and sexual abuse they endure from his and Etienne’s teacher, while Etienne determines to rescue them both. Snippets from the perspective of Ibrahimah’s family deepen the kaleidoscopic portrait of a family whose faith blinds them against hearsay about the talibés’ treatment. Ibrahimah is portrayed with realistic childlike innocence, which informs his occasional magical encounters with animals, such as a red bird that lands on his knee like a ‘ball of fire.’ Etienne, in contrast, has an all-knowing edge from the trauma he’s suffered. This tale of survival and familial love will move readers.”

Sergeant Salinger by Jerome Charyn

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Sergeant Salinger: “In this literary tour de force, Charyn (The Perilous Adventures of the Cowboy King) recreates J.D. Salinger’s experiences during WWII. The book begins with a bravura set-piece in which Sonny Salinger goes on a date with teen debutante Oona O’Neill to the Stork Club, where he rubs shoulders with columnist Walter Winchell, gangster Frank Costello, and his idol, Ernest Hemingway, before returning home to receive his draft notification. Assigned to the Army’s much-feared Counter Intelligence Corps, Sonny storms Utah Beach on D-Day, helps to liberate Paris, survives the Battle of the Bulge, and frees the inmates of a concentration camp, all the while carrying with him the work-in-progress that will one day become his masterpiece. One year after the end of the war and a nervous breakdown, Sonny returns home to his family in New York, accompanied by a German war bride and suffering from writer’s block. Charyn makes a persuasive case for how America’s most famous reclusive author endured the horrors of war and carried these memories into his postwar writing career. With standout scenes—Sonny’s disastrous bar mitzvah, a confrontation with Hemingway at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, a breakthrough in Bloomingdale’s bargain basement—Charyn vividly portrays Sonny’s journey from slick short story writer to suffering artist. The winning result humanizes a legend.”

Consent by Annabel Lyon

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Consent: “The lives of two pairs of sisters from Vancouver intersect in Lyon’s intense, intimate novel of love, grief, and murder (after The Sweet Girl). After 30-something Sara Landow’s mother dies in 2011, Sara assumes responsibility for her intellectually disabled younger sister, Mattie. A month later, when Sara returns from a short trip, Mattie has married their late mother’s handyman, Robert Dwyer. While Mattie had never been declared legally incompetent, Sara doubts she is capable of consenting to marriage, and tries to have it annulled. In 2015, the lives of 27-year-old twins Saskia and Jenny Gilbert are derailed when a car accident leaves Jenny in a coma. While Jenny is still unconscious in the hospital, a man is caught masturbating in her room. As Saskia, disturbed by the news, learns about Jenny’s practice of BDSM, Lyon alternates back to Sara as she grieves in the aftermath of Mattie’s death from a fall for which Robert was present, a few years after they married. When Sara and Saskia eventually meet, they process their sisters’ disturbing relationships. While the circumstances leading to the women’s connection are not entirely surprising, their reactions ramp up the novel toward a deliciously dark conclusion. Lyon’s mesmerizing novel perfectly captures the odd mix of love and resentment faced by caregivers.”

Also on shelves this week: The Copenhagen Trilogy by Tove Ditlevsen (translated by Tiina Nunnally).

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Eaton, Hubbard, Salesses, and More


Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Ellie Eaton, Ladee Hubbard, Matthew Salesses, 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 Divines by Ellie Eaton

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Divines: “Eaton’s intelligent debut follows freelance writer Josephine as she reflects on her past as a bully at a now-defunct all-girls English boarding school. In flashbacks to the mid-1990s, it’s revealed that Josephine’s lower-class roommate, Gerry Lake, suffered a fall from their dorm window that threatened her figure-skating career and led to a scandal that forced the school to close. Before the fall, Gerry had long been bullied by a group of classmates led by Josephine’s frosty best friend, Skipper. Insecure and lonely, Josephine befriends Lauren McKibbin (whose older brother, Stuart, handles maintenance for the school), despite a prohibition on socializing with ‘townies.’ As the girls grow closer, Josephine develops a crush on Stuart and tries to retain the good graces of her old crew by joining in on their bullying of Gerry, even after Gerry helps her deal with an upsetting incident involving Stuart. The book winds down on a satisfying note as a school reunion and Josephine’s travel for an assignment lead her to catch up with key characters and confront some unflattering things about herself. Eaton does a good job describing class tension and the misery of trying to fit into a social clique as a teenager. Josephine’s steady unraveling of her teenage dramas will keep readers riveted.”

The Doctors Blackwell by Janice P. Nimura

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Doctors Blackwell: “Historian Nimura (Daughters of the Samurai) probes the lives of the pioneering Blackwell sisters, Elizabeth (1821–1910) and Emily (1826–1910), in a captivating biography. The author charts the ambitious Elizabeth’s path, as she became the first woman to receive a medical degree from an American medical college, at Geneva College in 1849, and went on to further study medicine in England and work at a maternity hospital in France, where an infection cost her her left eye and, thus, surgical career. The elder Blackwell sister emerges as an impressive but intimidating figure, a rigid idealist who equated illness with moral weakness and who disdained the suffrage movement even as she did much to advance the state of women. As Emily follows in her sister’s footsteps, she is depicted more endearingly, as having a genuine interest in her patients and the ‘daily, steady effort of medical practice’ that Elizabeth lacked. Though Emily often labored in her strong-willed sister’s shadow, she was instrumental, Nimura argues, in the success of their New York Infirmary, founded in 1857. In recounting the lives of two ambitious figures who opened doors for many who came after them, Nimura casts a thoughtful and revelatory new light onto women’s and medical history.”

The Rib King by Ladee Hubbard

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Rib King: “Hubbard (The Talented Ribkins) delves into issues of race, vengeance, redemption, and rage in this inventive historical. Beginning in 1914, the narrative follows groundskeeper August Sitwell and the other Black servants working for the Barclays, a once affluent Southern white family whose fortune is rapidly dwindling. As labor strikes and racial violence grow in their unnamed city, Sitwell begins to take an interest in the three orphans who have been hired to work as kitchen apprentices for Miss Mamie Price, the house cook. But his relationship to the boys and to the rest of the staff is put to the test when Mr. Barclay agrees to sell the recipe for Mamie’s meat sauce to one of his associates, who plans to market it locally and and use Sitwell’s likeness as the brand’s image—all without Sitwell’s or Mamie’s approval. Haunted by a brutal episode of violence instigated by Sitwell’s mother’s employer in Florida when he was a boy, Sitwell commits a startling act that alters the lives of everyone who works in the Barclay household. Hubbard’s prose brims with unspoken tensions and a prevailing sense of dread as she skillfully explores how the characters are impacted by trauma. Shocking and thought-provoking, Hubbard’s latest cements her status as an American original.”

Also in stores this week: Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing versus Workshopping by Matthew Salesses and Pretty Tripwire by Alessandra Lynch.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Saunders, Enríquez, Gurganus, and More


Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from George Saunders, Mariana Enríquez, Allan Gurganus, 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.

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: “Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo) offers lessons from his graduate-level seminar on the Russian short story in this superb mix of instruction and literary criticism. In surveying seven stories by Anton Chekhov, Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, and Nikolai Gogol, Saunders concludes that the secret to crafting powerful fiction is, ‘Always be escalating. That’s all a story is, really: a continual system of escalation.’ Each story is presented in full, along with Saunders’s commentary: on Chekhov’s ‘In the Cart,’ Saunders asks, ‘why we keep reading a story,’ and on Tolstoy’s ‘Master and Man,’ he writes that facts can ‘draw us in’ when the ‘language isn’t particularly elevated or poetic.’ Saunders’s teaching style, much like his fiction, is thoughtful with touches of whimsy, as when he breaks the action of Turgenev’s ‘The Singers’ into a table and compares the short story writer to a roller-coaster designer. The writing advice, meanwhile, is expansive: revising, he writes, involves intuition, and he views a story as a conversation. His closing note for writers is to ‘go forth and do what you please.’ Saunders’s generous teachings—and the classics they’re based on—are sure to please.”

Aftershocks by Nadia Owusu

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Aftershocks: “In her enthralling memoir, Whiting Award–winner Owusu (So Devilish a Fire) assesses the impact of key events in her life via the metaphor of earthquakes. The biracial daughter of an Armenian mother and Ghanaian father, Owusu’s early life was fractured by her parents’ divorce and multiple moves necessitated by her father’s U.N. career. Living in Rome at age seven, she was visited by her long-absent mother on the day a catastrophic quake hit Armenia, seeding an obsession with earthquakes ‘and the ways we try to understand the size and scale of impending disaster.’ She believed ‘an instrument in my brain’—a kind of emotional seismometer—picked up vibrations and set off protective alarms. Her shaky relationship with her stepmother Anabel, meanwhile, worsened in her teens after her father’s death from cancer. College in Manhattan offered escape, but at 28 she was devastated by Anabel’s claim that her father died of AIDS: ‘Although… Anabel was a liar… the alarm continued to sound.’ A subsequent breakup with a boyfriend released long-suppressed anxiety, and she spent a week sitting in a chair in her apartment—’almost like sitting in my father’s lap,’ and it was only then that she could contemplate the complex love she, her mother, and her stepmother felt for her father. Readers will be moved by this well-wrought memoir.”

The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata by Gina Apostol

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata: “Filipino writer Apostol (Insurrecto) revises her playful 2009 novel, winner of the Philippine National Book Award and appearing in the U.S. for the first time, to highly entertaining effect. Framed as the expansive, postmodern memoir of the visually impaired Raymundo Mata, the book combines Mata’s reminiscences of the 1890s revolution against Spanish colonial forces and his involvement with the secret revolutionary Katipunan society with references to revered real-life 19th-century nationalist Filipino writer Jose Rizal. In a note commenting on the new edition, Apostol describes the book’s eccentric intricacies by noting how it was ‘planned as a puzzle: traps for the reader, dead end jokes, textual games, unexplained sleights of tongue.’ The narrative is studded with hilarious argumentative footnotes between an editor, a translator, and a scholar of Mata’s work, producing dueling Nabokovian narratives: Mata’s diaries and the conflicting commentaries, all suffused perfectly with Apostol’s dense, demanding style. As the story of the revolution faces off with literary histrionics, all is resolved with a gut-punch conclusion. Apostol’s unique perspective on facts versus fiction would make for a perfect Charlie Kaufman movie.”

That Old Country Music by Kevin Barry

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about That Old Country Music: “Irish writer Barry follows Night Boat to Tangier with a rather mixed story collection. ‘The Coast of Leitrim’ and ‘Deer Season’ tread well-worn romantic territories, depicting doomed and all-too familiar relationships. ‘Who’s-Dead McCarthy,’ about a morbid townie chatterbox, is entertaining, yet it ends with a punch line that falls flat. On the other hand, the title story, which follows a pregnant teen as she waits for her criminal fiancé to return from a robbery, pulses with electricity and emotion, despite its abrupt conclusion. ‘Toronto and the State of Grace’ showcases the author’s gift for dialogue and wit, as a brash son and his elderly mother hold court in a sleepy pub, drinking their way through the pub’s liquor and showering the barkeep with stories. And ‘Roma Kid’ transforms what initially seems to be a depressing runaway child story into a fairy tale of finding family and purpose. As always, Barry can’t write a bad sentence (‘A light rain began to fall and it spoke more than anything else of the place through which she moved’), but the too-tepid stories don’t do justice to the author’s considerable talents. This won’t go down as one of Barry’s finer works.”

Hades, Argentina by Daniel Lodel

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Hades, Argentina: “An Argentinian American unspools his dark memories of the Dirty War in Loedel’s mesmerizing debut. Tomás Orilla, a naive medical student, was drawn into Argentina’s dangerous political miasma in 1976 to impress his first love, the left-wing activist Isabel. The reader first meets Tomás in 1986 in New York City, where Tomás had fled 10 years earlier with a forged passport. Now married to an American woman, he shares with her a conveniently selective version of his story (‘the full, fleshed-out story still wasn’t one I was eager to examine, much less hand over’). Tomás returns to Buenos Aires after receiving a call from Isabel’s mother, who is terminally ill with cancer. There, he encounters what appears to be the ghost of a former mentor who takes him to a crypt underneath an old detention center, where he relives a series of horrifying events, some of which he was party to in the lead-up to a difficult choice he made for his own survival. The theme of ghosts is bent a few ways—ghosts appear in memories, the crypt, and on the street—and it becomes an apt, poignant descriptor for the people who were disappeared and the agony of their loved ones who had to carry on without knowing what happened to them. Loedel’s unflinching look at human frailty adds a revelatory new chapter to South American Cold War literature.”

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Detransition, Baby: “Peters’s sharp comedy (after Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones) charts the shifting dynamics of gender, relationships, and family as played out in three characters’ exploration of trans femininity. Reese, a trans woman from the Midwest now living in New York City, is in the throes of an affair with a kinky, dominant, and married man. Ames, Reese’s ex who has detransitioned since their breakup three years earlier, is now with his boss, a divorced cis woman named Katrina. When Katrina gets pregnant, Ames must reckon with his gender once again. Katrina intends to get an abortion if Ames leaves her, and he comes up with a solution so crazy it just might work. He cannot be a father, but he can be a parent (‘He knew, however, that Katrina didn’t have the queer background to allow for that distinction’), and Reese, more than anything, wants to be a mother; desperate, Ames asks Reese if she will be a co-mother; he also confesses to Katrina that he once lived as a woman. As Reese, Katrina, and Ames reckon with the possibility and difficulties of forming a family, their quick wit gets them through heavy scenes (Reese on Katrina’s ‘AIDS panic’: ‘How retro’). Peters conceives of a world so lovable and complex, it’s hard to let go.”

Summerwater by Sarah Moss

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Summerwater: “Moss’s taut latest (after Ghost Wall) turns a rain-drenched park in the Scottish Highlands into a site of tension and unease for a group of vacationing strangers. The book opens with a middle-aged woman going for a run in the early morning, her family still asleep in their rented cabin. As she follows the trail past an illegally pitched tent, she considers the trope of a dangerous man in the woods. From here on out, each chapter introduces a new point of view among the mix of English tourists and Scots who watch and pass judgment upon one another without interacting, and situations such as a teenage boy’s ill-advised kayak trip across a rough loch and a teenage girl’s sneaking out at night keep the reader wondering if this is the kind of book where the worst thing will happen. As the noises of late-night revelry from one cabin draw attention from all others, many of whom describe its dwellers wrongly as ‘foreign’ or ‘those Romanians,’ the suspense builds. Meanwhile, a series of lyrical interludes describing the park’s elements of nature and eons of evolution provide delightfully ironic contrasts to the small human dramas. Readers unafraid of a bit of rain will relish this.”

Inland Sea by Madeleine Watts

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Inland Sea: “Australian writer Watts punctuates her eloquent debut with deep-seated anxiety about climate change. For the most part, the story follows a young woman’s downward spiral after she graduates from college and faces a bleak future. The unnamed protagonist finds work as an operator at a call center connecting those in need to appropriate organizations. The rote job turns daunting when calls suddenly pour in, saturating her in horrific reports of floods, fires, and violence. Meanwhile, her personal life remains chaotic as she continues her relationship with an emotionally abusive ex, and indulges in heavy drinking along with nightly hookups, of which she observes, ‘I wanted to be undone. I wasn’t interested in protecting myself.’ Snapshots of her childhood reveal an angry father and her parents’ messy divorce, and the journal entries of real-life 19th-century explorer John Oxley, the narrator’s great-great-great-grandfather, find their way into the story. Oxley’s search for Australia’s inland sea is mirrored in the narrator’s bleak outlook on the future (‘The sea need only rise a few meters for… the rock and sand and red gibber plains to become submerged once more’). While the narrative moves haphazardly, the prose is consistently rich and loaded with imagery. Watts’s bold, unconventional outing makes for a distinctive entry into the climate fiction genre.”

Life Among the Terranauts by Caitlin Horrocks

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Life Among the Terranauts: “Vigorous and supremely crafted, Horrocks’s second collection (after the novel The Vexations) explores human frailties, desires, and mechanisms for survival. In ‘The Sleep,’ family man Al Rasmussen persuades the fellow residents of his moribund Midwestern town to sleep through the winter (‘ ‘Don’t try to convince me,’ Al said, ‘that anything worthwhile happens in this town during January and February. I’ve lived here as long as you have’ ’). A posse of high school girls are haunted by their favorite fortune-telling games in ‘Better Not Tell You Now,’ and a former-cult member turned real estate agent takes his estranged son on a Boston-area college tour in ‘Chance Me.’ After a gruesome act of violence in ‘Teacher,’ an elementary school teacher considers whether one can really know how a student will turn out. The title story, one of the most arresting and inventive of the bunch, follows a small group of scientists, engineers, and a philosopher who live in an isolated artificial ecosystem, vying for the chance to win a small fortune. With 187 days to go and their faith in survival unraveling into disorder, the possibility of cannibalism becomes increasingly likely. Horrocks’s linguistic finesse and narrative range is impressive, and she brings incisive humor, pathos, and wit to her characters and their predicaments. The result is an immersive and engaging work that astutely captures the complexities of the human condition.”

The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Mariana Enríquez (translated by Megan McDowell)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Dangers of Smoking in Bed: “The alleys and slums of Buenos Aires supply the backdrop to Enriquez’s harrowing and utterly original collection (after Things We Lost in the Fire), which illuminates the pitch-dark netherworld between urban squalor and madness. In the nightmarish opener, ‘Angelita Unearthed,’ the bones of a rotting child reanimate after being dug up; likewise, in ‘Back When We Talked to the Dead,’ the dead foretell dread using a Ouija board. Themes of obsession and the arcane come to light in ‘Our Lady of the Quarry,’ where a band of teenage girls turn to witchcraft to snare the object of their desires; ‘Meat,’ which follows two grave-robbing fans of a recently deceased rock star; and ‘Where Are You, Dear Heart?’, in which a self-described ‘heartbeat fetishist’ gets off by holding a stethoscope to a diseased man’s chest. Things grow darker still in ‘Rambla Triste,’ as the victims of a pedophile ring are resurrected in Barcelona as “incarnations of the city’s madness,” and in ‘Kids Who Come Back,’ the book’s epic and visceral centerpiece, in which the missing, damned, and destitute begin returning home. (Which isn’t to discount the grotesque title story or the exorcism at the heart of ‘The Well.’) Finally, there are the pair of film fanatics who undertake made-to-order pornography only to quickly get in over their heads in ‘No Birthdays or Baptisms.’ Enriquez’s wide-ranging imagination and ravenous appetite for morbid scenarios often reaches sublime heights. Adventurous readers will be rewarded in these trips into the macabre—and hopefully they’ll be able to find their way back.”

The Uncollected Stories of Allan Gurganus by Allan Gurganus

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Uncollected Stories of Allan Gurganus: “Gurganus’s vital collection (after Lost Souls) portrays small-town Americans, mostly oddballs and misfits, at moments of self-discovery as recounted in their own authentic voices. Several stories take place in fictional Falls, N.C., once called ‘the Athens of This Far into Eastern North Carolina,’ according to the tour guide in ‘The Deluxe $19.95 Walking Tour of Historic Falls (NC).’ Small-town residents like Falls’ know each other’s secrets and relish the telling. In ‘The Mortician Confesses,’ a 60-year-old undertaker has sex with a corpse, and the man’s sad story is colorfully told by the cop who caught him. In ‘Unassisted Human Flight,’ a reporter investigates a local legend of a man said to have flown almost a mile as a boy of eight. The characters can also be heroic, as when a 65-year-old widower rescues his neighbors during Hurricane Floyd in ‘Fourteen Feet of Water in my House,’ and an Ivy League doctor saves a Midwestern town from cholera in ‘The Wish for a Good Young Country Doctor,’ set during the 1850s. Among the greatest entries in this stellar work are ‘My Heart Is a Snake Farm,’ featuring a spinster whose life in a crumbling Florida motel brightens when a slippery charmer opens a reptile tourist attraction, and ‘He’s at the Office,’ which details a son’s efforts to help his 80-year-old father, a WWII veteran mentally stuck in the 1940s. Simultaneously funny and compassionate, literary and lowbrow, Gurganus’s stories trawl the mysteries of the human heart and surface with wonderful results.”

Also on shelves this week: Pedro’s Theory by Marcos Gonsalez.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Knausgaard, Davies, North, and More


Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Karl Ove Knausgaard, Peter Ho Davies, Anna North, 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.

In the Land of the Cyclops by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about In the Land of the Cyclops: “In this dense and thought-provoking essay collection, Knausgaard (My Struggle) once again displays his knack for raising profound questions about art and what it means to be human. While Knausgaard brings complexity to his studies of paintings and photographs, analyzing the function of myths in German artist Anselm Kiefer’s paintings and wondering ‘how are we to understand’ Francesca Woodman’s mid-20th-century photographs, the essays pick up when Knausgaard writes about literature. Among the most successful pieces are ‘To Where the Story Cannot Reach,’ which contains his musings on craft and his relationship with his editor (whom Knausgaard has ‘absolute trust in’); the title essay, which asks, ‘What is literary freedom?’ when writers are told ‘what they should and shouldn’t write about’; and an exploration of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (‘If [it] were published today, there is no doubt in my mind that tomorrow’s reviews would be ecstatic’). In ‘All That Is Heaven,’ he eloquently compares art to dreams, writing, ‘art removes us from and draws us closer to the world, the slow-moving, cloud-embraced matter of which our dreams too are made.’ Though unevenly paced, the volume tackles knotty subjects and offers nuggets of brilliance along the way. These wending musings will be catnip for Knausgaard’s fans.”

A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself by Peter Ho Davies

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself: “Davies (The Fortunes) delves into fatherhood in his thoughtful latest, intertwining musings on pregnancy, marriage, family life, and work. The unnamed narrator, a writer and creative writing professor, makes the difficult decision with his wife to terminate their pregnancy after the fetus tests positive for mosaicism and their doctor gives them a long list of potential birth defects. A subsequent successful pregnancy brings new fears over their son’s development, as the couple processes their internalized shame over the abortion and their son’s potential autism (‘Abortion is shameful, because pregnancy is shameful, because sex is shameful, because periods are shameful. It almost makes me relieved we had a boy,’ the wife says). Davies explores their emotions in unflinching honesty, as the narrator contends with lingering fears over getting their son tested for autism. Davies’s smooth prose and ruminations on language (a synonym for ‘imagine,’ the narrator considers, is also ‘to conceive’) are the stars of this work. While an anticlimactic, philosophical conclusion somewhat undermines the narrator’s character development after he embraces his role as a father, it resonates with the key theme of paradoxes. Davies’s meditation on the complexities of parenthood is at once celebration and absolution, finding truth in human contradictions.”

The Prophets by Robert Jones

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Prophets: “This is a first novel, but I hope it took years and years to write since it is so powerful and beautiful. It is an antebellum story of a flourishing Mississippi plantation some people refer to as ‘Nothing’ and others call ‘Elizabeth,’ the name of the owner’s mother. This is a love story of two gay enslaved men, Isaiah and Samuel (not their original African names), who’ve been assigned to look after the horses and who work together in perfect harmony in the barn.

With astonishingly real details, Jones creates a convincing picture of slave life, everything from transportation in ships (where those captives who had died from hunger or wounds or disease were just thrown overboard) to the arrival, in this case, at a vast cotton plantation, where they are branded, forced with whipping to work harder and faster, insulted, mocked and, if they’re female, raped.

Jones’s women are all sharply delineated, starting with the ‘king’ of a tribe in Africa, a woman-warrior who lives with her several wives. The main women on the plantation—Be Auntie, Sarah, Puah, Essie—have their own clearly delineated identities and complex psychologies. What is unprecedented in this novel is its presentation of the two gay male slaves, each endowed with his own personality, which never merges with a stereotype.

In fact, Jones’s compassionate understanding extends even to the whites (who are referred to as toubab, a Central African locution): ‘When they approached, she had figured out something that had been like a splinter in her foot: the easy thing to believe was that toubab were monsters, their crimes exceptional. Harder, however, and even more frightening, was the truth: there was no such thing as monsters. Every travesty that had ever been committed had been committed by plain people and every person had it in them.’ Which is not to say Jones lets his slave owners off easily. They were hypocritical Christians, sadists who raped their chattel, who worked their slaves until they could do no more and called them ‘lazy’: ‘They stepped on people’s throats with all their might and asked why the people couldn’t breathe.’ Whites kidnapped black children and then called slave parents ‘incapable of love.’

The lyricism of The Prophets will recall the prose of James Baldwin. The strong cadences are equal to those in Faulkner’s Light in August. Sometimes the utterances in the short interpolated chapters seem as orphic as those in Thus Spake Zarathustra. If my comparisons seem excessive, they are rivaled only by Jones’s own pages and pages of acknowledgments. It seems it takes a village to make a masterpiece.”

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Black Buck: “Askaripour eviscerates corporate culture in his funny, touching debut. Darren, a young Black man, lives with his mom in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood and manages a midtown Manhattan Starbucks. He’s content with his life and girlfriend, Soraya, but people tell him he could do more—he was valedictorian at Bronx Science, after all. Opportunity knocks when Darren persuades Rhett Daniels, the CEO of tech startup Sumwun and a Starbucks regular, to change his usual order. Rhett is impressed (his response: ‘Did you just try to reverse close me?’) and invites Darren to an interview, which leads to a sales job before he understands what the company actually does (it’s a platform for virtual therapy sessions). Darren makes good money, but struggles to keep up his commitments to his family and Soraya as Rhett pulls him into heavy after-hours partying. When an employee in China is charged with murder, Sumwun crashes, and so does Darren’s life. In an author’s note, Askaripour suggests the book is meant to serve as a manual for aspiring Black salesmen, and the device is thrillingly sustained throughout, with lacerating asides to the reader on matters of race. (‘The key to any white person’s heart is the ability to shuck, jive, or freestyle. But use it wisely and sparingly.’) Darren, meanwhile, is alternately said by various white characters to resemble Malcolm X, Sidney Poitier, MLK, and Dave Chappelle, while he struggles to hold onto a sense of self, which the author conveys with a potent blend of heart and dramatic irony. Askaripour is always closing in this winning and layered bildungsroman.”

After the Rain by Nnedi Okorafor

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about After the Rain: “Upon Chioma’s arrival to the remote Nigerian village where her great-aunt and grandma live, heavy, unseasonable rain begins to fall, in this vibrant, succinct graphic adaptation by Jennings (Kindred) and Brame (Baaaad Muthaz) of Okorafor’s short story ‘On the Road.’ On the third night of rainfall, a boy with brains busting out of his broken skull calls on Chioma and declares her ‘it.’ A Chicago detective, Chioma isn’t easily shaken by gore, but even she isn’t able to grasp the strange happenings that follow, the unknowable entity that stalks her, and what that entity will do when it catches her. Though, the original is open to interpretation, the adaptation, which was created in conjunction with Okorafor, outright states a moral to the story: ‘I am Nigermerican… and where those two parts meet is where I am whole again,’ slightly marring the enigma of the ending. But Brame’s bold and arresting use of color and shading lends an unnerving atmosphere to the setting, while his attention to facial expressions injects the panels with emotion. This mostly faithful adaptation honors Okorafor’s voice and paints a potent portrait of Nigeria and its folklore.”

Outlawed by Anna North

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Outlawed: “North’s knockout latest (after The Life and Death of Sophie Stark) chronicles the travails of a midwife’s daughter who joins a group of female and nonbinary outlaws near the end of the 19th century. Eighteen-year-old newlywed Ada, unable to conceive a child, fears she will be accused of witchcraft, a fate common to the women in her Dakota territory community. After Ada’s former friend has a miscarriage and accuses Ada of casting a spell on her, Ada’s mother helps her flee to a nunnery, where a Sister suggests she join a nearby gang known as Hole in the Wall. Ada becomes a ‘doctor’ to the motley group led by the Kid (to whom no gender pronouns are attributed—’‘Not he, not she,’ Elzy said. ‘The Kid is just The Kid’’). The outlaws plan to create a town where nonconforming people can belong. The tense plot takes many turns through Ada’s increasingly violent adventures with the gang, beginning with a botched holdup of a wagon laden with gold. As the novel barrels toward a surprise ending, it’s further strengthened by Ada’s voice and reflections, which preserve a sense of immediacy: ‘distances that had once seemed vast were now so small that my enemies could cross them in an instant.’ The characters’ struggles for gender nonconformity and LGBTQ rights are tenderly and beautifully conveyed. This feminist western parable is impossible to put down.”

A Year in Reading: Thomas Beckwith

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Like everyone, I had a rough year, a Sartrean nightmare of overwork, loneliness and dread, but I did get through it with no real catastrophes, and that (in 2020) is a blessing. Unfortunately, my coping strategies did not include “tons of reading,” which means I now know I will not self-actualize through the apocalypse. In light of this failing, I don’t feel qualified to stick to recommending books, so I’m invoking a COVID Exception and listing certain things that got me through this, ranging from types of content to products that helped me stay healthy. I recommend them wholeheartedly if you need to stave off a psychic break!
Kenji’s Cooking Show (with J. Kenji López-Alt)
I’ve always been a huge sucker for food TV. Way back in the 2000s, I fought depression by mainlining reruns of Good Eats, which foreshadowed my eventual addiction to the stars of Food Youtube. Now, I survive by watching episodes of Kenji’s Cooking Show, the quarantine brainchild of food genius J. Kenji López-Alt, who strapped on a Go-Pro and started filming his home cooking in response to the lockdowns in March. Whenever I was having a bad day at work, or simply remembering that Trump had not died of Covid, I’d play his recipes for Oyakadon or Swedish Meatballs and sink into the depths of my easy chair. 
Cocktail Instruction Videos
Look, I drank too much this year. I’ve always loved cocktails, particularly elaborate ones that grow their own handlebar mustaches, which is why Cocktail Youtube was undoubtedly bad for my health. But it was great for my happiness, so I’m shouting out the stalwarts of my rotation, among them (in no particular order) “Behind the Bar,” “The Educated Barfly,” “How to Drink,” and “Steve the Bartender.” I’ll be in dire straits if I’m watching them this avidly a year from now, but in the meantime, let’s toast the bar nerds who made this year go down smoothly.
The Best of Internet Literature
Despite the pompous title above, this is not an actual anthology. This is a Twitter thread, sparked by Defector Media co-owner Patrick Redford, that chronicles the best of what could be called Internet Writing. After reading through all the replies, I spent a week assailing my family with quotes, particularly lines from the ur-cringe classic “Negroni Season” and Tim Faust’s Heart of Darkness-like masterpiece “I Played ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’ on a Bar Jukebox Until I Got Kicked Out.” (My only real quibble with the thread is it’s missing this great by Danny Lavery.)

Adjustable Dumbbells
There’s a reason these sold out immediately in March–not only are they easy to use, they’re tough to manufacture in a way that makes them difficult to scale. This forced a half-assed gym rat like me to wait months for prices to go down, and it pains my cardigan-wearing soul to report they were totally worth it. (I’m not even sure if I’ll go back to the gym, in the After Times!)
Rocket League
Speaking of physical activity, did you know there’s a video game in which people play soccer with cars? I knew this game existed for years—a pair of FIFA-loving friends of mine tried to shame me into getting it, repeatedly—but the ides of 2020 are what drove me to take the plunge. Like all great video games, it awakens some part of me that hasn’t evolved since I was nine, and that part wants nothing more than to gun it in a virtual Lamborghini. 
Comfort Reading
I did read some fiction this year, mostly in the form of short stories I read a long time ago and loved. I can’t list them all here because I don’t remember them in detail, but I do know that “Chablis” by Donald Barthelme, “Brownies” by Z.Z. Packer, “The Entire Northern Side was Covered with Fire” by Rivka Galchen, “Axolotl” by Julio Cortázar, “Wild Swans” by Alice Munro and “Fragments” by Joshua Ferris all got a reread at some point. Each of these stories gave me strength in low moments, and I trust they’ll keep doing so until I’m dead.

More from A Year in Reading 2020

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Joukhadar, Celan, and van Heemstra


Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Zeyn Joukhadar, Paul Celan, and Marjolijn van Heemstra—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 Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Thirty Names of Night: “Joukhadar’s evocative follow-up to The Map of Salt and Stars explores a 20-something Syrian-American trans man’s journey of self-discovery. The unnamed protagonist—he later goes by the name he gives himself, Nadir—is an aspiring artist in Brooklyn who likes to go out dancing with friends and enjoys listening to his friend Sami play the oud. Nadir lives with his grandmother, Teta, and is haunted by the death of his mother years ago in a fire. After Nadir finds a diary belonging to a Syrian artist named Laila, in an old tenement inhabited by Syrian-Americans, he becomes obsessed with finding the print of a rare bird by Laila. As the story unfolds, Nadir’s narration and direct addresses to his mother (‘your presence is still here, everywhere, your hand on everything’) expands to include Laila’s voice (‘The day I began to bleed was the day I met the woman who built the flying machine’) as Nadir blossoms into his trans identity. Scenes with Sami, with whom Nadir falls in love, are particularly affecting. Quietly lyrical and richly imaginative, Joukhadar’s tale shows how Laila and Nadir live and love and work past the shame in their lives through their art. This is a stirring portrait of an artist as a young man.”

A Memory Rose Into Threshold Speech: The Collected Earlier Poetry by Paul Celan (translated by Pierre Joris)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Memory Rose Into Threshold Speech: “This ambitious bilingual edition completes Joris’s herculean effort to translate all of Celan’s poetry into English. Celan’s experiences of trauma as a Holocaust survivor permeate poems such as ‘Todesfuge’ (‘Deathfugue’): ‘Black milk of dawn we drink you at night/ we drink you at noon death is a master from Deutschland/ we drink you evenings and mornings we drink and drink.’ Celan expresses the propulsive, hypnotic unraveling of the world through his fragmented refrain. Elsewhere, he paints himself as a perpetual outsider: ‘Blacker in black, I am more naked./ Only as a renegade am I faithful./ I am you when I am I.’ The importance of seeing and witnessing comes up again and again throughout: ‘Gaze-trade, finally, at untime:/ imagefast,/ lignified,/ the retina—:/ the eternity-sign.’ Joris’s introduction and commentary provide useful historical and literary context. This admirable translation presents the early work of an eminent German language postwar poet to a new audience.”

In Search of a Name by Marjolijn van Heemstra (translated by Jonathan Reeder)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about In Search of a Name: “Van Heemstra’s perceptive if tepid English-language debut confronts the transformation of family myth and the hazards of historical memory. When writer and narrator Marjolijn van Heemstra was 18, she was bequeathed a ring that once belonged to her late distant uncle Bommenneef, upheld by her family as a hero of the Dutch resistance during WWII. Fifteen years later, a pregnant Marjolijn, who had promised to name her first-born son after her uncle, sets out to better understand the man who was to be ‘the blueprint for my son.’ As her quest for more information leads her to the national archives and reconnections with far-flung relatives, Marjolijn begins to realize Bommenneef might not have been as heroic as her family insists. In a plot punctuated by the travails of a complicated pregnancy, Marjolijn’s investigation touches critical questions about the past and its relation to the present. How do the stories one tells come to supplant the truth? Is it better to preserve an idealized family history than mess it up with facts? Unfortunately, the monotonous and observational narrative, mired in mundane particulars, fails to provide insight on these deeper mysteries. Readers expecting an immersive family drama will be disappointed.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Baxter, Reyes, and More


Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Charles Baxter, Dolores Reyes, 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 Sun Collective by Charles Baxter

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Sun Collective: “Baxter’s first novel in over a decade (after The Soul Thief) juggles satirical social critique and family drama, resulting in a messy yet engrossing tale of activism and aging. Retired Minneapolis engineer Harry Brettigan spends his days searching for his adult son, Tim, who fell out of touch months earlier, and sweetly bickering with his wife, Alma. After Alma faints one day, she starts talking with their pets and is drawn to the Sun Collective, a community group that offers resources to homeless people. There, she befriends a younger couple, Ludlow and Christina, and Harry balks when Ludlow details his homicidal vision for ‘effective microviolence’ against suburbanites to achieve the Sun Collective’s full potential. As Harry reckons with his relationships to Alma and Tim, he also travels down the rabbit hole of the Sun Collective to parse its true intentions; along the way, Tim reappears as a saved Collective member; the Sandmen, an extremist group that allegedly murders vagrants, emerge; and there’s a series of mysterious deaths. Throughout, Baxter smartly lampoons America’s political state and adds enough odd details to offset the occasionally murky plot threads. Readers willing to wade through the diversions will find a thoughtful study of anger, grief, and hope.”

Eartheater by Dolores Reyes (translated by Julia Sanches)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Eartheater: “A high school dropout reluctantly uses her clairvoyant power to find missing women and children in Argentinian writer Reyes’s lurid debut. The unnamed narrator develops a habit of eating dirt in the wake of her mother’s violent death, earning her the name Eartheater and shame for her family, especially the aunt now raising her and her older brother, Walter. When a beloved teacher goes missing, the young teenage narrator eats the dirt from the school’s courtyard and draws an explicit picture of the teacher’s body outside of a nightclub, which gets her sent to the principal. After the teacher’s body is discovered where the narrator drew her, the aunt leaves the siblings to fend for themselves, and the narrator drops out of school while Walter supports them both by working as a mechanic. The narrator prefers to drink beer and play video games with Walter and his friends from their unnamed barrio, and occasionally accepts cash for her visions from family members of missing people. Reyes crafts an alluring, unsettling edge to the plot developments, including the narrator’s first sexual experiences and the city’s pervasive violence, by collapsing the narrator’s age and the passage of time, preserving aspects of her young girlhood and her angst-ridden teenage years as she grows older. Reyes’s coming-of-age portrait stands out for her unflinching look at a teen’s exploration of sex and death.”

Here Is the Beehive by Sarah Crossan

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Here Is the Beehive: “In Irish writer Crossan’s beautifully written first adult novel (after the YA book Being Toffee), a married London lawyer and mother of two has an affair with her client, Connor Mooney, a married father of three. Ana finds her husband, Paul, to be ‘homely’ and ‘compassionate,’ and feels unsatisfied in their marriage, which mostly consists of communicating by ‘grunts and nods.’ Ana and Connor meet up in hotel rooms when they can, but Ana wants more from the relationship; while she is willing to give up her family for Connor, he’s hesitant to leave his wife. The three-year affair ends with Connor’s death, the cause of which is initially kept from the reader. Ana hears the news from the unsuspecting Rebecca, who calls to inform Ana in her capacity as the lawyer of Connor’s estate. Ana is devastated and unable to mourn her lover openly, and is left with nothing but a password-protected photograph of him on her computer. Then she secretly changes Connor’s will and declares herself the executor, ‘so I could know your life and befriend your wife and keep you for a while.’ The book, structured in five parts, explores Ana’s grief, guilt, and loss in stunning, spare lyrical prose, which appears like verse on the page as dialogue breaks into snippets of Ana’s consciousness. Told from the point of view of a highly flawed Ana, this mesmerizing story will have readers hooked.”

Nights When Nothing Happened by Simon Han

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Nights When Nothing Happened: “Han’s ambitious if mixed debut follows the travails of a Chinese immigrant family living in the wealthy Dallas suburb of Plano. Patty Cheng is the breadwinner, whose long hours designing microchips pulls her away from her photographer husband, Liang, and their two children, Jack and Annabel, 11 and five. On Thanksgiving Day in 2003, a misunderstanding leads to an accusation by Annabel’s best friend of a ‘bad touch’ by Liang, which snowballs into more trouble for Liang involving the police after Liang and Jack neglect to set the record straight. The family’s survival is dependent on a slippery sense of identity and difficulty in belonging in the Texas suburb, which permeate the narrative amid other unfortunately underdeveloped themes (duty vs. love, genteel racism). Most of the characterizations are convincing, though Annabel, even in close third-person narration, comes across as overly precocious (‘If Annabel could understand what an overreaction was, she could understand what an overreaction wasn’t’). Still, as Liang struggles through the consequences of the accusation, Han succeeds in drawing the portrait of a new American family while demonstrating a talent for creating a sense of place through the eyes of immigrants. The premise is intriguing, but Han doesn’t quite stick the landing.”

Lord the One You Love Is Sick by Kasey Thornton

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Lord the One You Love Is Sick: “Thornton’s brutal, moody debut collection crafts a tapestry of hidden secrets and cruel undercurrents in rural Bethany, N.C., revolving around the heroin overdose of troubled 23-year-old Gentry. ‘I Shall Not Wait’ picks up with Gentry’s lifelong best friend, Dale, a cop who abandoned his drug-dependent buddy, whose decline seemed unstoppable, ‘like a train barreling toward the weak spot in the tracks.’ Dale becomes psychologically unmoored by the guilt, while his wife wonders if their marriage will survive. ‘Valley of the Shadow’ follows Gentry’s mother, Nettie, following Gentry’s death. She’s angry and in mourning, left alone with her agoraphobic younger son, Ethan, who’d bonded over video games with Gentry. In ‘Trespasses,’ Ethan finds a new friend in Abigail, a neighbor who’s been sexually abused by her father. More characters unravel with each successive story, which chronicle the deep and sprawling impact made by Gentry’s death as inner lives are exposed, unlikely friendships are forged, and gossipy whispers persist at the local diner. Thornton taps the vernacular, attitudes, and prejudices of small Southern townsfolk with eerie precision. These stories collectively coalesce into a resonant, emotionally searing nexus of hard truths, buried secrets, and emotional pain that readers won’t soon forget. Thornton’s accomplished stories are full of insights on their rural American setting and inhabitants’ psychology.”

The Orchard by David Hopen

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Orchard: “Hopen commingles religious philosophy and dangerous behavior in his ambitious debut. Aryeh, 17, has always felt somewhat alienated from his deeply devout orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn’s Borough Park, so when his father’s job loss prompts a family move to southern Florida, Aryeh welcomes the opportunity to start over for senior year. He lands a coveted spot at elite Kol Neshama Academy, a modern Orthodox school whose students will undoubtedly drive their luxury cars all the way to the Ivy League. Despite his unfashionable attire and lack of social and academic sophistication, Aryeh is taken under the wing of the school’s golden boy, Noah. Noah’s risk-taking circle of friends in turn introduce Aryeh (soon redubbed Andrew) to the pleasures of secular life. Aryeh is especially fascinated by charismatic, emotionally complicated Evan, who has an emotional hold over Aryeh’s love interest, Sophia, and the group test their faith with daring escapades such as midnight speedboat rides (‘if you’re the worthy one, you survive,’ Evan says, fast approaching a jetty). Later, experiments with LSD bring on visions of God. Aryeh’s insecurities and longings are on full display in his insightful—if at times overwrought—narration. Though the students’ lengthy philosophical and scriptural debates initially seem ponderous, their thematic connections become increasingly apparent as the novel nears its moving climax. This isn’t your average campus novel, and despite its lumps, is all the better for it.”

The Best of Brevity, edited by Zoe Bossiere and Dinty W. Moore

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Best of Brevity: “In this marvelous, diverse anthology, Brevity editors Moore and Bossiere collect the literary journal’s best nonfiction pieces, none longer than 750 words. Readers will find some familiar names, including Roxane Gay and Jia Tolentino, but also gems from lesser-known writers. They include poets such as Diane Seuss, whose entry comprises a single run-on sentence capturing a parent’s fury and fatigue while dealing with a child’s drug addiction, and Lori Jakiela, who recalls a conversation in which her terminally ill mother argued with her about the fate of Lori’s soul while teaching her to make a nut-roll. Elsewhere, book reviewer Julie Hakim Azzam writes poignantly of Palestine as ‘a phantom limb that continues to send pain signals through the nerves.’ Among the fiction writers, Patricia Park reflects on Americans’ and North and South Koreans’ differing beauty standards, and Torrey Peters crafts a powerful found essay out of violent details from a 2014 report on transgender murder victims. Closing out the book, Bossiere and Moore include a list of additional recommended reading. This collection will be an asset to writing teachers and students, and a joy to essay fans.”

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (translated by Geoffrey Trousselot)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Before the Coffee Gets Cold: “Japanese playwright Kawaguchi’s evocative English-language debut is set in a tiny Tokyo café where time travel is possible. In four connected tales, lovers and family members take turns sitting in the chair that allows a person to travel back in time for only as long as it takes a single cup of coffee to cool. In ‘Husband and Wife,’ a nurse goes back in time to visit her husband before his Alzheimer’s erased her from his memory; in ‘The Sisters,’ a woman visits her younger sister, who died in an accident while trying to visit her, to apologize for not seeing her. Kawaguchi’s characters embark on lo-fi, emotional journeys unburdened by the technicalities often found in time travel fiction—notably, they are unable to change the present. The characters learn, though, that even though people don’t return to a changed present, they return ‘with a changed heart.’ Kawaguchi’s tender look at the beauty of passing things, adapted from one of his plays, makes for an affecting, deeply immersive journey into the desire to hold onto the past. This wondrous tale will move readers.”

Also on shelves this week: The Age of Skin by Dubravka Ugrešić (translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac) and Together in a Sudden Strangeness, edited by Alice Quinn.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Evans, Lethem, Atwood, and More


Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Danielle Evans, Jonathan Lethem, Margaret Atwood, 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 Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Office of Historical Corrections: “Evans (Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self) brings her usual wit and keen eye to her latest collection, which offers seven stories that explore the complexity of human emotions and relationships. While every story offers a discrete narrative, recurring themes of pain, loss, fear, and failed relationships give the collection a sense of unity. The title novella is the crowning jewel, a historical mystery centered around a Black historian whose job in Washington, D.C., is complicated when she is sent on a dangerous assignment to the site of a 1937 lynching in Wisconsin. The rest of the stories, however, are hit-or-miss. ‘Why Won’t Women Just Say What They Want’ is a witty exploration of a male artist’s love life and his bizarre project of apologizing to the women he hurt. ‘Alcatraz;’ is a sad, touching story that explores how an unjust incarceration destroys a family. However, ‘Boys Go to Jupiter,’ in which a white college student deals with ‘collective anger’ after a photo of her in a Confederate-flag bikini goes viral, fails to say anything of note about race or racism. Despite its shortcomings, this is a timely, entertaining collection from a talented writer who isn’t afraid to take chances.”
One Night Two Souls Went Walking by Ellen Cooney
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about One Night Two Souls Went Walking: “A hospital chaplain working the night shift recalls encounters with patients, coworkers, and a therapy dog named Bobo Boy in Cooney’s illuminating latest (after The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances). The unnamed 30-something chaplain, who wears her white collar with bright-colored blouses rather than clerical black, first became curious about the nature of souls in her childhood. She mentions her large family and two ex-lovers, but her focus is on the ill, injured, and dying strangers she’s assigned to help—such as the bus driver involved in a crash where four people died, the bank teller who wants to be sure the angel carrying her into the afterlife is strong enough not to drop her, and the 91-year-old stroke victim nurses believe suffers from dementia. When a therapy dog escapes his handler, the chaplain remembers Bobo Boy, the beloved deceased mixed-breed therapy dog with a gift for providing comfort and a tendency to break loose. Brief, vivid portraits of Bobo Boy, doctors, nurses, patients and the chaplain herself form a memorable collage of souls in need. Cooney’s uplifting novel captures extraordinary moments of sadness, pain, and grace, as one woman brings light to life’s darkest moments.”
Somewhere in the Unknown World by Kao Kalia Yang
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Somewhere in the Unknown World: “Hmong-American memoirist Yang (The Latehomecomer) tells the stories of fellow refugees who have ended up in Minnesota in this lyrical and frequently harrowing account. Her profile subjects include her uncle, who fought for the CIA in Laos only to be left behind when the U.S. pulled out of the country; a Bosnian war survivor who worked for an American aid organization at a refugee camp in Sudan; a young Karen man who fled Burma as his people were systematically murdered by the government; and an Iraqi woman whose grandfather was killed by Saddam Hussein’s soldiers. Through the story of a Vietnamese-American chef restoring his family’s restaurant, Yang also offers a moving portrait of University Ave. in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Once anchored by Henry Ford’s manufacturing plants, by the 1970s University Ave. had been left behind to drug dealers, gangs, and ‘immigrants and refugees.’ Yang details how a wave of ‘small mom and pop businesses’ began opening along the avenue, transforming it ‘from an abandoned, dying street into a vibrant enclave of diverse businesses.’ This heartfelt and exquisitely written account shines a poignant light on the immigration debate.”
The Arrest by Jonathan Lethem
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Arrest: “Lethem (The Feral Detective) returns with a lukewarm tale of an apocalypse set in the very near future. Sandy Duplessis worked as a screenwriter in Los Angeles with his friend Peter Todbaum. Then came the Arrest, an unexplained event that caused computers and other technology to stop working and reduced everyone to locavores. In the aftermath, Sandy, who calls himself Journeyman, ends up in rural Maine working as a butcher and delivering food grown by his sister, Maddy. When Todbaum shows up and starts pursuing Mandy, their simple life gets complicated. The locals feel threatened by Todbaum’s presence, and Sandy, who is unnerved by Todbaum’s claim that he predicted the Arrest, wonders if his old friend can be trusted, while Maddy, who begins sleeping with Todbaum, becomes his sole defender. Lethem’s prose is as great as ever (‘Journeyman was a middle person, a middleman. Always locatable between things, and therefore special witness in both directions, to extremes remote to one another, an empathic broker between irreconcilable poles—or so he flattered himself’), but despite the fine writing, the plot fails to coalesce into something engaging, the Arrest remains murky, and many scenes feel disjointed. Still, the project crackles and hums with witty dialogue and engaging ideas. While it’s not entirely satisfying, Lethem’s fans won’t mind.”
Also on shelves this week: Dearly by Margaret Atwood and an expanded reissue of How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Krauss, Cárdenas, and More


Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Nicole Krauss, Mauro Javier Cárdenas, 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.

To Be a Man by Nicole Krauss 

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about To Be a Man: “This triumphant first collection from Krauss (Forest Dark) crisscrosses the globe in 10 ambitious stories written over two decades that wrestle with sexuality, desire, and human connection. In one of the greatest stories, ‘Seeing Ershadi,’ a dancer believes she spies the star of the Iranian film Taste of Cherry while in Japan for a performance, and believes she must save the actor from the suicide he commits in the film. After a friend tells her of her own unique encounter with the actor years earlier, the dancer faces the depth of her fanatic and obsessive state. Another highlight, ‘Future Emergencies,’ is set shortly after 9/11 and remains timely as its female protagonist navigates a New York City where gas masks are distributed for free and local governments warn of vague threats. ‘I Am Asleep but My Heart Is Awake,’ another standout, concerns a woman visiting her dead father’s apartment in Tel Aviv, only to find a stranger living in a back room, and the collection’s title story breaks a woman’s interactions with several men into four parts to ruminate on gender norms and expectations. Krauss’s style is marked by a willingness to digress into seemingly superfluous details, yet the minutiae helps the author conjure a series of realistic environments, allowing each story feel lived in. This is a spectacular book.”

Bring Me the Head of Quentin Tarantino by Julián Herbert (translated by Christina MacSweeney)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Bring me the Head of Quentin Tarantino: “The playful, surreal collection from Mexican writer Herbert (Tomb Song) evokes a version of contemporary Mexico where pretentious critics and conceptual artists rub up against ultra-violent drug cartel leaders. In the title story, a cheerfully verbose film scholar and Tarantino fan is kidnapped by a drug lord who looks exactly like the director and wants Tarantino dead, but not before learning as much as he can about Tarantino from the narrator. Those who know how to manipulate words and ideas tend to come out on top, such as the ghostwriter in the wry and scatological ‘The Ballad of Mother Teresa of Calcutta’ who conceives a fiendish plan to punish the clients who neglect to pay him. Herbert ventures into fantasy in several of the stories, including the dark ‘Z,’ in which most of the population of Mexico City—apart from the narrator and a few others—is in one stage or another of turning into ‘nascent vegetal man-eaters in a perpetual and pestilential state of putrefaction.’ While not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach, Herbert’s stories use a light touch to explore the dilemma of the intellectual enmeshed in a crudely vicious world. This provocatively cerebral volume should amuse those with a taste for literary horror.”

The Harpy by Megan Hunter

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Harpy: “An unquenchable thirst for revenge drives Lucy, a wife and mother, to the brink of madness in Hunter’s sleek, supernatural thriller (after The End We Start From). Things begin as Lucy makes a consensual razor cut on husband Jake’s thigh. The story then flashes back to a phone call from Lucy’s acquaintance David Holmes, who says Jake is having an affair with his wife, Vanessa, who works with Jake. Short italicized sections charting Lucy’s obsession with, and evolution into, the mythical half-bird harpy creature alternate with a tightly controlled chronological narrative. Jake tearfully declares he will end the affair, but he doesn’t, while Lucy grows passive, observing how their relationship has become ‘a series of non-communications’ and fights. A détente is reached by Lucy and Jake in a mutual desire to protect their sons, and eventually Jake reignites the couple’s sexual relationship. When David asks Lucy to persuade Jake to seek another job, she cuts David off abruptly, unable to share that she’s designed her own course of punishment for Jake. Shortly after, Lucy catches Jake in a lie, which propels the novel to its dark conclusion. Lucy’s narration is irresistible, though the harpy sections, which suggest Lucy is physically transforming, are underdeveloped by comparison. Hunter maintains suspense until the final act of her satisfactory tale.”

Collected Stories by Shirley Hazzard

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Collected Stories: “The early work of late Australian writer Hazzard (1931–2016), winner of the National Book Award for The Great Fire, makes for an outmoded collection, propelled by themes of mid-century bourgeois disillusionment—affairs, arguments, disappointing relationships, time spent at country houses, and trips to Europe. Despite the heavy emotional atmosphere, Hazzard’s prose has the restraint and polish of glossy magazine writing, offering crisp, easy descriptions of her desperate characters. Unfortunately, the stories never quite achieve the depth they seemingly aim for, especially in those about the staff of an international peacekeeping organization from People in Glass Houses (1967). Mildly irreverent depictions of petty pensioned bureaucrats—like Achilles Pylos, who seeks to replace his plain-looking secretary for a more charming one in ‘The Story of Miss Sadie Graine’—may have caused a stir when originally published, but they aren’t sharp enough to resonate in an era where unsatisfactory working conditions are standard fare. Meanwhile, ‘Vittorio,’ about a wizened Italian professor who discovers his female tenant might return his romantic interest, ends with a thudding banality: ‘He could scarcely breathe, from the stairs and from astonishment. He had never been so astonished in his life.’ These stories feel like quaint antiques from a bygone time.”

Aphasia by Mauro Javier Cárdenas

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Aphasia: “Cárdenas follows up his wild and intelligent The Revolutionaries Try Again with an exercise in extreme navel-gazing narrated by Antonio Jose Jiménez, a Colombian immigrant to the U.S. who is described by his sister as ‘a moron who allowed himself to be conned by my mother.”’Antonio’s ex-wife has left for the Czech Republic with their two young daughters, spurring Antonio into a long reconsideration of his circumstances. He’s an analyst at an investment company, and lately he’s been using a dating website for would-be sugar daddies as a way to meet women. He also has to deal with his mentally ill sister, who is convinced her family is conspiring against her with Barack Obama. But mostly, Antonio reads to keep his mind off of things: Bruno Schulz, László Krasznahorkai, and Thomas Bernhard, a cavalcade of writers’ writers that leads Antonio to transcribe their sentences and even attempt a style parody here and there. Finally, he hopes to unravel the story of his parents and childhood in Bogotá, but new memories complicate what he thinks he knows of his past. Few if any of these potentially intriguing plotlines are resolved, leaving the reader with what feels like notes toward a novel. Cárdenas’s literary experiment never quite coheres.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Washington, Amis, and More


Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Bryan Washington, Martin Amis, 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.

Memorial by Bryan Washington

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Memorial: “In Washington’s debut novel (after the collection Lot), the fractures in a couple’s relationship span from Houston, Tex., to Osaka, Japan. Ben, a day care teacher, lives with his cook boyfriend, Mike, in Houston’s slowly gentrifying Third Ward. When Mike’s mother, Mitsuko, arrives in Houston from Japan with plans to stay at Ben and Mike’s place, awkwardness ensues. Mike has just left for Osaka, to reconnect with his absent and now terminally ill father, and put Ben in charge of entertaining Mitsuko until he gets back. Ben eventually adjusts to having her around, just as he must navigate his changing relationship with his black middle-class family, who have always shied away from Ben’s HIV-positive status and talked around his father’s drinking. Meanwhile, in Osaka, Mike has found his father, Eiju, at the bar he owns, where Eiju has a dedicated assistant and crowd of regulars who have no idea Eiju’s dying or that he has a son. Mike starts working at the bar so he can spend Eiju’s final days with him. Though Mike still grapples with how to feel about Eiju, who made his biggest impact on Mike’s life by abandoning the family, father and son are able to build a tentative relationship. Tender, funny, and heartbreaking, this tale of family, food (Mike cooks for their Venezuelan neighbors; Mitsuko makes Ben congee), and growing apart feels intimate and expansive at the same time. Washington shows readers more of the unforgettable Houston he introduced in his stories, and comfortably expands his range into the setting of Osaka, applying nuance in equal measure to his characters and the places they’re tied to.”

Bonus Links:
Bryan Washington’s Houston Is a City of Multitudes
A Year in Reading: Bryan Washington

Inside Story by Martin Amis

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Inside Story: “Amis (The Zone of Interest) frames his consistently intelligent and compulsively readable ‘novelized autobiography,’ as he calls it, as a guide to writers. Along the way, the author crafts a dynamic series of paeans to three of his heroes—Saul Bellow, who became a kind of father figure; Christopher Hitchens, one of his best friends; and Philip Larkin, his father, Kingsley’s, lifelong friend—amid a wide-ranging survey of his own life. The book opens in 2016 with Amis living in Brooklyn with his wife, writer Isabel Fonseca, contemplating his own mortality, with a meta introduction to his reader (whom he imagines as an aspiring writer), but quickly turns to the lives of Bellow, Hitchens, and Larkin, and, eventually, their deaths: Bellow slips into dementia. Hitchens fights a losing battle with cancer. Larkin dies of cancer as well. Amis also relates the fascinating story of an early love of his, Phoebe Phelps, an enigmatic figure whom he admits was the inspiration for his first novel, The Rachel Papers, and whom he remained obsessed with for decades. There is much else on offer: critical aperçus and insightful digressions on Austen, Conrad, Nabokov, and other writers; an elegant gloss on the history of the modern novel; and opinions on Hitler, the Soviet Union, 9/11, the refugee crisis, and President Trump (‘the high-end bingo caller who occupies pole position in the GOP’). Amis again proves himself to be as savvy a thinker as he is a writer as he applies his insight and curiosity as a novelist to this stylish and genuine account of his development as a writer. The result reaches the heights of his finest work.”

Bonus Links:
Fiction Is Freedom: On Martin Amis
The Arcades Project: Martin Amis’s Guide to Classic Video Games

The Cold Millions by Jess Walter

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Cold Millions: “Walter (Beautiful Ruins) reconstructs the free speech riots of 1909–1910 in Spokane, Wash., in this superb tale of orphaned, train-hopping brothers Gig and Rye Dolan. After their mother dies from tuberculosis, Rye, 16, leaves their childhood home in Montana to join Gig. The brothers spend a year looking for seasonal work, then settle in Spokane, the ‘old Klondike town [that] had grown into a proper city,’ where ‘money flowed straight uphill’ and a $10 pair of gloves is a class-defining luxury. Rye is arrested during a riot and charged with disorderly conduct, and his lawyer introduces him to the sympathetic Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a New Yorker and union organizer who has come to Spokane to advocate for ‘the cold millions with no chance in this world.’ Gig and Rye also meet Ursula the Great, a bawdy vaudevillian who cavorts in corset and stockings with a caged cougar and wins Gig’s heart despite her romantic involvement with a mining boss. The novel’s cast mixes fictional characters and historical figures such as labor lawyer Fred Moore, police chief John Sullivan, and organizers John Walsh and Frank Little, and adds a literary layer to Gig’s self-determination (he travels with a library including White Fang and two volumes of War and Peace, ‘always on the lookout for the rest’). The sum is a splendid postmodern rendition of the social realist novels of the 1930s by Henry Roth, John Steinbeck, and John Dos Passos, updated with strong female characters and executed with pristine prose. This could well be Walter’s best work yet.”

Bonus Links:
Politics Is in Its DNA: On Jess Walter’s ‘The Cold Millions’
A Year in Reading: Jess Walter

The Collected Breece D’J Pancake by Breece D’J Pancake

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Collected Breece D’J Pancake: “In this vibrant collection, Pancake’s quirky, indelible prose is shadowed by the poignancy of his personal history. An intense, artistic misfit from rural West Virginia, Pancake died by suicide in 1979 at age 26, four years before The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake was published. In the front matter, Jayne Ann Phillips claims Pancake produced ‘some of the best short stories written anywhere, at any time,’ and James Alan McPherson notes how Pancake synthesized a Hemingway style with themes and characters inspired by his home state. And, indeed, the stories live up to the hype. Pancake balances muscular precision and economy with rich, evocative detail. In ‘The Mark,’ a struggling couple brushes aside the difficulties of the wife’s pregnancy to take their prize bull, Pride and Promise, to a fair. ‘Fox Hunters’ offers a bracing slice of West Virginia life, complete with junk cars in various stages of repair and an opossum or two. The successful protagonist of ‘The Salvation of Me’ learns that you can’t go home again. In addition to the stories and five fragments, the book includes a lengthy section of Pancake’s letters, which reads like a memoir. With its impressive quantity of annotation and tribute, this omnibus offers Pancake fans a deeper look at the artist and will go a long way to inviting others to join this legion.”

Bonus Link:
American Myth: The Short, Beautiful Life of Breece D’J Pancake

Invisible Ink by Patrick Modiano (translated by Mark Polizzotti)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Invisible Ink: “Nobel laureate Modiano delivers a mesmerizing, enigmatic novel in the vein of many of his best-known works. Like Missing Person, the book is about a private eye—albeit a shabby and halfhearted one—who once briefly worked for the Hutte Detective Agency in Paris, and like Dora Bruder, it centers on the investigation of an unsolved disappearance. But Modiano eschews the political overtones that drove those books, telling instead a story about growing old and the gaps and omissions that make up a life. Jean Eyben looks back on his 20s, when he was assigned to investigate the disappearance of Noëlle Lefebvre. As he searched, he had a series of phantomlike encounters with people whose lives each briefly intersected with Lefebvre’s in the 1960s. Her fate becomes a lifelong obsession, and Eyben recounts the story circuitously, as if remembering it as he writes, which casts an irresistible spell. As Eyben’s search deepens, he wonders whether Lefebvre has some connection to his own life. All of Modiano’s works are variations on a theme, and his newest is no different, but its dreamlike prose and a beguiling structural twist make it a worthy and satisfying addition to his accomplished oeuvre.”

Bonus Links:
Past Imperfect: On Patrick Modiano’s ‘Little Jewel’ and ‘The Black Notebook’
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mutt: On Patrick Modiano