Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Lydia Davis, Preti Taneja, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Lydia Davis, Preti Taneja, 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.
Essays Two by Lydia Davis
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Essays Two: “In this riveting and erudite collection (after Essays One), Davis documents the adventures and challenges of her work as a translator, moving with ease between the technical challenges posed by a complex text and her personal relationship with literature. Several pieces describe her process of translating Proust’s Swann’s Way into English: ‘The Child as Writer’ provides critical and biographical insight as Davis diagrams the syntax of Proust’s ‘sophisticated and polished’ sentences, while in ‘Proust in His Bedroom,’ she reads his correspondence and pays a visit to his apartment in Paris. Sections are dedicated to her experience learning Spanish, Dutch, and Norwegian, often through context and logic: In ‘Learning Bokmal’ (an older form of Norwegian), Davis explains how she is exhilarated by ‘the fact of doing it by myself.’ In ‘Translating ‘Bob, Son of Battle: The Last Gray Dog of Kenmuir’,’ Davis describes her desire to keep a book from her childhood from being forgotten, and her project of modernizing the book’s language, while ‘Buzzing, Humming, or Droning’ considers the many Madame Bovary translations. Thorough, idiosyncratic, and inimitable, Davis is the kind of intelligent and attentive reader a book is lucky to find. Readers, in turn, are lucky to have this collection, a worthy addition to the Davis canon.”
 
Aftermath by Preti Taneja
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Aftermath: “Novelist Taneja (We That Are Young) explores colonialism, violence, and grief in this stunning experimental collection. Taneja taught creative writing for three years at a prison in Britain, until one of her students, Usman Kahn, went on to kill two people after his release. She digs into her subsequent grief and places it within the context of capitalism, white supremacy, and terrorism. ‘There is a hierarchy to grief,’ she suggests in ‘Disenfranchised grief,’ while in an essay titled ‘An event happens and,’ she writes ‘In moments of deep loss we become as children, trained to seek comfort in the old fairy tales: the fundamental good versus the fundamental evil.’ In ‘Violence as trauma as form,’ meanwhile, she wishes for ‘a different map… other words.’ Taneja writes with clarity, depth, and specificity about the role of writing as a source of survival and power, while remaining blunt and clear-eyed about the moments when words fail. She also turns a critical lens toward the way language shapes violence, suggesting in the epilogue that “Power tells a story to sustain itself, it has no empathy for those it harms.” This poetic, urgent, and self-reflective work will delight fans of Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends and Claudia Rankine’s Citizen.
People from My Neighborhood by Hiromi Kawakami (translated by Ted Goossen)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about People from My Neighborhood: “Kawakami’s magical and engaging collection (after Strange Weather in Tokyo) pulls the reader into a small Japanese community via stories told by unnamed narrators. In ‘The Secret,’ the narrator’s life changes upon meeting a child who never ages despite the two spending 30 years together. ‘Grandma’ follows a neighbor who plays cards with a child narrator and asks the child for money, until something causes their dynamic to change. ‘The Office’ features a gazebo where a man waits for ‘customers.’ The narrator brings a friend named Kanae to the gazebo, who is rude to the man, though they later discover the man has a surprising talent. In ‘Brains,’ Kanae encourages the narrator to tickle her older sister, a form of torture, because her sister’s nearly blue eyes make her look like a stranger, despite her Japanese features. In ‘The Hachirō Lottery,’ a group of families take turns caring for a neighborhood child who has 14 siblings. Everyone fortifies themselves against an alarming gravity-defying event in ‘Weightlessness,’ though Kanae convinces the narrator to sneak out of school to experience the phenomenon. Throughout, Kawakami effectively anchors the stories’ uncanny moments with everyday details. This thought-provoking, offbeat collection is worth a look.”
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Small Things Like These: ‘Irish story writer Keegan’s gorgeously textured second novella (after Foster) centers on a family man who wants to do the right thing. It’s almost Christmas in a small town south of Dublin, Ireland, in 1985. Bighearted coal dealer Bill Furlong makes deliveries at all hours, buys dinner for his men, plays Santa Claus for the local children, and cares for his five daughters along with his wife, Eileen. Meanwhile, rumors circulate about the ‘training school’ at a nearby convent, suggesting it’s a front for free labor by young unwed mothers to support a laundry service, but no one wants to rock the boat. When Bill is there on a delivery, a teenage girl begs him to take her with him, and he politely makes excuses. He also notices broken glass topping the walls. Eileen tells him to ‘stay on the right side of people,’ but he feels he should do something—not just because he imagines his own daughters imprisoned there, but because he was born to a 16-year-old unwed mother who could have suffered a similar fate. Keegan beautifully conveys Bill’s interior life as he returns to the house where he was raised (‘Wasn’t it sweet to be where you were and let it remind you of the past… despite the upset’). It all leads to a bittersweet culmination, a sort of anti–Christmas Carol, but to Bill it’s simply sweet. Readers will be touched.”
Also on shelves this week: Rifqa by Mohammed El-Kurd and In Transit by Nicholas Pierce.
 

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Patchett, Byatt, and Llosa

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Ann Patchett, A.S. Byatt, and Mario Vargas Llosa—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.
These Precious Days by Ann Patchett

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about These Precious Days: “In this eloquent collection, novelist Patchett (The Dutch House) meditates poignantly—and often with wry humor—on ‘what I needed, whom I loved, what I could let go, and how much energy the letting go would take.’ In ‘How to Practice,’ Patchett writes of her ‘journey of digging out’ and the feeling of lightness she begins to notice as she gets rid of possessions. In the title essay, she shares the story of Sooki, Tom Hanks’s publicist, whom Patchett invited into her home and offered solace and comfort as Sooki underwent pancreatic cancer treatments: ‘What Sooki gave me was a sense of order, a sense of God, the God of Sister Nena, the God of my childhood, a belief that I had gone into my study one night and picked up the right book from the hundred books that were there because I was meant to.’ Other essays cover the lessons Patchett learned on her first Thanksgiving away from home, insights from a year in which she didn’t go shopping, and what she’s picked up from Snoopy. The elegance of Patchett’s prose is seductive and inviting: with Patchett as a guide, readers will really get to grips with the power of struggles, failures, and triumphs alike. The result is a moving collection not easily forgotten.”

Medusa’s Ankles by A.S. Byatt

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Medusa’s Ankles: “These stories by Booker winner Byatt (Possession), three of which are previously uncollected, offer a scintillating look at three decades of the author’s work. Her stories transcend genre and stylistic limits, traversing through landscapes fantastical and real, as they bewitch, unnerve, and comfort the reader. ‘The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye’ blends the natural and supernatural worlds when a scholar falls in love with a djinn she released from a mysterious bottle from an Istanbul bazaar. ‘Dolls’ Eyes’ oscillates between the real and unreal too, as it follows a schoolteacher with a large collection of dolls, some of which are alive. In a similar vein, ‘The Lucid Dreamer’ presents a man for whom real life and dreams begin to mesh as he struggles to regain his ability to dream while processing the loss of his beloved. Grief resurfaces as a theme in ‘A Stone Woman,’ which blends fantasy and Scandinavian myth with the story of a woman who turns to stone after her mother’s death. ‘Racine and the Tablecloth’ is equally effective in the realist mode, detailing the power dynamics between a student and the vulturine headmistress at an all-girls’ boarding school. Each story showcases Byatt’s exquisite prose and her wide-ranging mastery of the short story form. For the uninitiated, this makes for a perfect entry point.”

Harsh Times by Mario Vargas Llosa (translated by Adrian Nathan West)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Harsh Times: “Peruvian Nobel laureate Vargas Llosa (The Neighborhood) spins a complex and mostly propulsive tale of deception, centered on Guatemala’s political strife during the 1950s and ’60s. The Eisenhower administration latches onto a lie about communism taking root in the country via president Jacobo Árbenz, propagated by juggernaut banana importer United Fruit, which faces taxes for the first time under Árbenz’s regime. As part of its containment policy, and hoping to appease the company, the U.S. backs Lt. Col. Carlos Castillo Armas’s successful coup d’état. Once in power, the married Armas takes a lover, Marta Borrero Parra, who advises him and acts as conduit to his ear. Meanwhile, Dominican Johnny Abbes García is sent to Guatemala by his own country’s political leaders, who feel jilted by Armas, to orchestrate Armas’s assassination. Johnny takes a shine to Marta and befriends Armas’s director of security, Enrique Trinidad Oliva, with whom he plans the president’s murder. Vargas Llosa follows this trio up to and beyond Armas’s demise, as Johnny and Marta abscond to the Dominican Republic while Enrique is thrown in prison, and he employs a lovely Rashomon-style narration of Armas’s death through multiple perspectives. The fragmented storytelling leads to unnecessary murkiness at some points, but once the action kicks in, everything falls into place. Vargas Llosa writes with confidence and authority, and overall this hits the mark.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Seçkin, Sen, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Mina Seçkin, Mayukh Sen, 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 Four Humors by Mina Seçkin

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Four Humors: “Grief is the point of entry for this perceptive debut from Seçkin, the story of a young Turkish American college student’s complicated summer in Istanbul. Sibel, the daughter of immigrants, visits Istanbul before her senior year, ostensibly to help her paternal grandmother, who has Parkinson’s. She is there with her blond American boyfriend, Cooper, a helpful, culturally sensitive type who quickly becomes of a favorite of Sibel’s large, opinionated extended family. Sibel, on the other hand, is increasingly irritated by him, particularly as he nags her to visit the grave of her father, who died unexpectedly the previous winter. But Sibel has found it difficult to grieve a man with whom her relationship was difficult, and who, as she comes to discover, was keeping some pretty hefty secrets. Seçkin moves with poise from Sibel’s modern-day, deadpan tone to the stories of her older relatives, which are related as stand-alone narratives and are often entangled with Turkey’s tempestuous political history. The grandmother is particularly well drawn, with her ‘giant beige bras drying out on the laundry rack,’ her habit of watching soap operas, and her secrets. Things unfold at a measured pace, with a fairly straightforward plot that’s low on suspense. Like many debuts, this packs a lot in, with varying degrees of success. At its heart, though, it’s a moving family story.”

Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women who Revolutionized Food in America by Mayukh Sen

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Taste Makers: “In this dazzling debut, James Beard Award–winning food writer Sen looks at the lives of seven remarkable immigrant women whose passion for their homeland’s food transformed how Americans cook and eat. While he originally set out to write about immigration using food as his lens, Sen ended up ‘interrogating the very notion of what success looks like for immigrants under American capitalism.’ What results is a vibrant, empathetic, and dynamic exploration of culture, identity, race, and gender. The story of Iranian-born cookbook author Najmieh Batmanglij examines how America became, for her, ‘a wonderful place for the stateless,’ even as the prejudice she faced in the 1980s stifled the potential reach of her work. The late Chao Yang Buwei’s revolutionary How to Cook and Eat in Chinese (1945)—’a manual of gastronomic diplomacy’—and Elena Zelayeta’s Mexican cookbooks in the 1960s made their home cuisines palatable for an American audience, while the late acclaimed chef Norma Shirley resisted assimilation and eventually returned to Jamaica, because ‘making food for white Americans was never her chief aim.’ Thoughtfully written, Sen’s portrayals of his subjects reveal how rich and nuanced being ‘American’ can truly be. Food lovers with a big appetite for knowledge will gobble this up.”

Noor by Nnedi Okorafor

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Noor: “Convenience and comfort come at a cost in this probing, brilliant near-future odyssey from Okorafor (Remote Control). Anwuli Okwudili changed her name to Augmented Organism, or AO, as a nod to the body augmentations she’s used to compensate for her physical and mental disabilities over the years. Now she’s partially robotic, with various cybernetic limbs, organs, and implants produced by the mega company Ultimate Corp—and at times she feels more connected to Ultimate Corp’s machines than to her own people in Abuja, Nigeria. When AO is attacked while at the market, she inadvertently kills her assailants in self-defense, displaying the deadly range of her cybernetically enhanced capabilities. Branded a murderess, she goes on the run with Dangote Nuhu Adamu, or ‘DNA,’ a Fulani herdsman wrongfully accused of terrorism. Together, the fugitives battle never-ending sandstorms and evade both Ultimate Corp’s watchful eye and the Nigerian government’s retribution as they make their way across the desert. Okorafor exposes the cracks in this technology-driven, highly surveilled society as each detour in AO and DNA’s route adds layers of intrigue on the way to a jaw-dropping finale. Frequent instances of suicidal ideation may be triggering to some readers, but Okorafor handles heavy subjects well. This is a must-read.”

Chouette by Claire Oshetsky

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Chouette: “Oshetsky’s wild and phantasmagorical debut takes a Dantean journey through the violent fever dreams of a woman in the trials of pregnancy and early motherhood. Tiny, an accomplished cellist, believes she has been impregnated by her ‘owl-lover’ and that the baby inside her will most certainly be an ‘owl-baby.’ Her husband fails to understand this, and Tiny leads the reader into the lonely terror she feels as she considers abortion, followed by her overwhelming, hormone-driven desire to have and protect the child. When Chouette is born, she is indeed strange: winged, ferocious, and ugly. Tiny’s husband, who insists on calling his daughter Charlotte, goes to great lengths to try to fix her, taking her to dicey doctors offering outlandish cures. But encouraged by Tiny, Chouette is allowed to become her true self. Tiny feeds Chouette frozen pinkie mice, and she hunts gophers in the backyard. When the husband finally tries to wrest Chouette away from Tiny, it becomes a mortal battle between good and evil. Tiny’s day-to-day struggles with child-rearing, blood-soaked and feces-covered, on the one hand offer a familiar view of a young mother’s delirious tedium, with the desperation and horror made vivid and strange by Oshetsky’s parable. No reader who has cared for a tiny human being will fail to recognize the battleground this talented author has conjured.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Erdrich, Wideman, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Louise Erdrich, John Edgar Wideman, 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 Sentence by Louise Erdrich

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Sentence: “Pulitzer winner Erdrich (The Night Watchman) returns with a scintillating story about a motley group of Native American booksellers haunted by the spirit of a customer. In 2019 Minneapolis, Tookie, a formerly incarcerated woman, is visited at a bookstore by the ghost of Flora, a white woman with a problematic past. Despite being a dedicated ally of myriad Native causes, Flora fabricated a family lineage linking her to various Indigenous groups including Dakota and Ojibwe. Many of the story’s characters reckon with both personal and ancestral hauntings: Tookie with a childhood of neglect and her time in prison for unknowingly trafficking drugs; her husband, Pollux, a former tribal police officer, confronts his past experiences of using force after the murder of George Floyd; and Asema, a college student of Ojibwe and Sisseton Dakota descent, pieces together an ominous historical manuscript depicting the abduction of a 19th-century Ojibwe-Cree woman, which Flora’s daughter brought to the store. As the Covid-19 pandemic takes hold and the store pivots to mail orders, several of the characters join the protests against police brutality. More than a gripping ghost story, this offers profound insights into the effects of the global pandemic and the collateral damage of systemic racism. It adds up to one of Erdrich’s most sprawling and illuminating works to date.”

The Perishing by Natashia Deón

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Perishing: “Deón follows the critically acclaimed Grace with a provocative if unruly adventure through time featuring an immortal Black woman struggling to discover her destiny. Lou wakes up naked in an alley in 1930s Los Angeles as a teenager, with no memory of her past. Taken in by a foster family, she completes her education and becomes a journalist for the Los Angeles Times, where her beat consists of reporting on the deaths of ‘colored people—all shades of brown: Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Indian, Native American, and, depending on our country’s mood, Irish Catholic.’ Among those she interviews is a petty criminal who lives in an iron lung and a firefighter whom she has no memory of having met, but whose face she has drawn again and again for years. Interwoven are flashes of other lives, among them a murderess a century in the future, and the light-skinned lover of a Chinese doctor in 1871. These others are cognizant of their connection to Lou, but she knows nothing of them, and Deón burns a lot of pages with commentary on the various historical periods before elucidating Lou’s purpose. Lou does not discover who she really is, however, until the final pages, so though Deón can turn phrases in new and powerful ways, the story fails to find a satisfying ending. Deón is a very gifted writer, but this won’t go down as her best work.”

Admit This to No One by Leslie Pietrzyk

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Admit This to No One: “Pietrzyk dissects the messy interpersonal power dynamics of Washington, D.C., in this sharp debut collection of linked stories. In the opener, ‘Til Death Do Us Part,’ an unnamed Speaker of the House, whose sex scandals adjusted his status from ‘not-president’ to ‘never-president,’ is stabbed while meeting his 15-year-old daughter for dinner at the Kennedy Center. His 40-year-old daughter, Lexie, who initially assumes the assailant was one of the Speaker’s exes, hears the news in ‘Stay There,’ and abruptly departs her own art opening to visit him at the hospital. The Speaker’s exceptionally competent, longtime senior staffer, Mary-Grace, stars in ‘I Believe in Mary Worth,’ where she butts heads with an eager young female new hire, and the title story, which flashes back to the Speaker’s doomed presidential run in 1992. Some stories move beyond the Speaker’s family, including ‘People Love a View,’ where a couple on a first date witness an increasingly tense traffic stop, and ‘This Isn’t Who We Are,’ in which a white, middle-class ‘Northern Virginia’ woman, in a series of sentences starting with the word ‘pretend’ (‘Pretend that your desire to compliment her hair isn’t about you;), wrestles with her implicit racism and classism. Throughout, Pietrzyk writes with insight and wit, and makes even tertiary characters feel fully developed. This ambitious work is pulled off with verve.”

The Dawn of Everything by David Wengrow and David Graeber

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Dawn of Everything: “he transition from hunter-gatherer life to agriculture, urbanism, and civilization saw a blossoming of egalitarian politics and social order, according to this sweeping manifesto. Surveying 26,000-year-old European graves, Stone Age Turkish towns, the musings of 17th-century Iroquois philosophers, and more, archaeologist Wengrow (What Makes Civilization?) and anthropologist Graeber (Debt), who died last year, critique conventional theories of historical development. Far from simplistic savages living in a state of ‘childlike innocence,’ they argue, hunter-gatherers could be sophisticated thinkers with diverse economies and sizable towns; moreover, agriculture and urbanism did not necessarily birth private property, class hierarchies, and authoritarian government, they contend, since many early farming societies and cities were egalitarian and democratic. Vast in scope and dazzling in erudite detail, the book seethes with intriguing ideas; unfortunately, though, the authors’ habitual overgeneralizations—’one cannot even say that medieval [European] thinkers rejected the notion of social equality: the idea that it might exist seems never to have occurred to them’—undermine confidence in their method of grand speculation from tenuous evidence. (For example, they see ‘evidence for the world’s first documented social revolution’ in the damaged condition of elite habitations in the 4,000-year-old ruins of the Chinese city of Taosi.) Readers will find this stimulating and provocative, but not entirely convincing.”

O Beautiful by Jung Yun

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about O Beautiful: “In Yun’s revelatory sophomore outing (after Shelter), a former model turned freelance journalist’s big magazine assignment sends her back to her hometown in North Dakota. Elinor Hanson grew up near the Bakken Formation with her Air Force father, who is white, and her Korean mother, and the assignment, which she took over from a former professor, Richard, involves reporting on the oil boom in nearby Avery, N.Dak. On the flight from New York City, Elinor faces sexual harassment and discrimination for being Asian, experiences that recur throughout the novel. As Elinor interviews men who came from all over the country in pursuit of the economic opportunities provided by the oil industry, she learns that some of her former grad-school colleagues are preparing to sue Richard for sexual harassment. Elinor also begins asking around town about a woman who disappeared two years earlier, but her editor, who is romantically involved with Richard, admonishes her not to write a ‘dead-girl story.’ By the end of Yun’s tightly plotted narrative, Elinor has figured out the angle of her story in a way that ties together the drama around Richard and the problems in her hometown. Yun successfully takes on a host of hot button subjects, drilling through them with her protagonist’s laser-eyed focus.”

Look for Me and I’ll Be Gone by John Edgar Wideman

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Look for Me and I’ll Be Gone: “Two-time PEN/Faulkner winner Wideman’s bold latest (after You Made Me Love You) resonates with themes of racial identity, incarceration, poverty, and history. The stage is set with a quick one-two: the brief stream-of-consciousness opening story, ‘Art of Story,’ and ‘Last Day,’ in which the narrator ponders visiting his brother in prison, where his Blackness is felt in ‘hard, rigid, premeditated’ overtones. A boy’s sadness is palpable in the gorgeous ‘Separation’ as he stands by his beloved grandfather’s coffin while the narrator recounts the family’s heritage as a tender requiem. A letter written to R&B legend Freddie Jackson forms the soul of the epistolary ‘Arizona’ as the narrator travels to prison with his son and his lawyers so his son can continue serving a life sentence for murder. A brother anxiously awaits a reunion, 44 years in the making, with his formerly incarcerated brother in ‘Penn Station.’ Other gems feature Wideman’s piercing observations; in ‘BTM,’ the narrator recounts seeing the three letters painted on the side of a building in New York City, then transformed to ‘BLM,’ and reflects on the ‘hopelessness of railing against race.’ Wideman’s memorable collection reinforces his reputation as a witty and provocative social observer and raconteur who challenges stereotypes and creatively reaffirms the realities of Black American life.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Shteyngart, McCarthy, Davies, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Gary Shteyngart, Tom McCarthy, Peter Ho Davies, 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.
Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Our Country Friends: “Shteyngart (Lake Success) returns with the droll and heartfelt story of a Russian American couple who invite a group of friends to ride out the lockdown with them on their Hudson Valley ‘estate’ in March 2020. Sasha Senderovsky, a bumbling writer, clumsily prepares for his guests: ‘Because he did not believe in road marks or certain aspects of relativity, the concept of a blind curve continued to elude him,’ Shteyngart writes of Sasha’s driving, which ends with a case of liquor shattered in the trunk. Sasha’s wife, Masha, bans smoking on the property, which Sasha allows his friend Ed Kim to break immediately after showing Ed to his bungalow, one of five along with the main house. There’s also Vinood Mehta, a once aspiring writer whose abandoned manuscript factors into a late-breaking plot involving jealousy and betrayal. The couple’s eight-year-old adopted daughter, Nat, who is of Chinese descent and is obsessed with K-pop, bonds with their friend Karen Cho, who, like Ed, is Korean, and Shteyngart drops in about as many illuminating details about the Korean diaspora as he does about Russian immigrants and their American children. The author shows great care for his characters, making Sasha’s vulnerability particularly palpable when an uncertain screenwriting project threatens his financial stability. Shteyngart’s taken the formula for a smart, irresistible comedy of manners and expertly brought it up to the moment.”

The Making of Incarnation by Tom McCarthy

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Making of Incarnation: “McCarthy’s acclaimed previous novels all revealed a fascination with spatial diametrics and information theory, and the intricately calibrated latest (after Satin Island) soars even further from plot and character conventions with a study of motion, data, and trajectory. At the center of many looping narratives is Pantarey Motion Systems, whose chief engineer, Mark Phocan—who had a boyhood epiphany during a mishap at an exhibition of Joan Miró paintings where he first encountered camera playback technology—oversees the company’s various models comprising vectors and the measurement of bodies through all matter of space. Its interests include motion capture studios, various experiments with wind tunnels and water tanks, the course of an affair between Norwegian dignitaries, a mysterious client looking into the copyright of dance moves and, most prominently, the special effects department working on a science fiction movie called Incarnation. Crucial to Pantarey’s work are the boxes created by form-and-motion innovator Lillian Gilbreth to measure the pathway of workers through factories, one of which—Box 808—has gone missing. The search for the missing motion-map provides one more course through a series of set pieces that meditate on topics as diverse as the physics of space travel and the pathway of the bullet that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand. (There are also airplanes, astronauts, and Russian spies.) McCarthy arcs and zigzags through the parameters of contemporary fiction and achieves a brilliant new form. The whooshing, trawling result is the epitome of sui generis.”

New York, My Village by Uwem Akpan

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about New York, My Village: “Akpan’s ambitious debut novel (after the collection Say You’re One of Them) follows a Nigerian writer in New York City as he navigates myriad permutations of racism and prejudice. Ekong Otis Udousoro has a four-month fellowship in 2016 to understudy with a small U.S. publisher and edit an anthology of stories about Nigeria’s civil war of the late 1960s. Ekong, a member of Annang tribe (a ‘minority of minorities’), has his visa denied twice before finally securing entry with help from his stateside editor-in-chief. The all-white publishing house greets Ekong with friendly overtures, but his diverse neighbors in Hell’s Kitchen offer only icy stares, leading him to take refuge in Times Square and at Starbucks. While fighting for underrepresented authors and against bloodthirsty bedbugs, Ekong learns that first impressions don’t always reveal true character. Throughout, he strives to bear witness to the atrocities and lingering animosities of the Biafran War among compatriots living in the Bronx, in New Jersey, and in his village back home. Akpan writes as much to educate as to entertain, adding lengthy and lucid historical passages with footnotes to source material along with excerpts from the book Ekong is editing. This layered novel tells more than it shows, but it’s well worth listening to.”

Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Island of Missing Trees: “Booker-shortlisted Shafak (10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World) amazes with this resonant story of the generational trauma of the Cypriot Civil War. Just before Christmas in the late 2010s, 16-year-old Ada Kazantzakis confounds her London classmates by screaming during class. Shortly after, Ada and her botanist father, Kostas, receive a visit from Meryem, an aunt she’s never met, the older sister of her dead mother, Defne. Ada feels growing shame about the scream, and is surly toward the free-spirited Meryem, who spouts strange adages such as, ‘We’re not going to search for a calf under an ox.’ Shafak then jumps back to 1974, when Greek Cypriot Kostas and Turkish Cypriot Defne had assignations in a taverna built around a living fig tree, which narrates part of the book and offers lessons on the human condition via anecdotes about insects and birds. Kostas’s mother, meanwhile, prompted by her disapproval of the courtship and worried over growing violence, sends him to London. Defne and Kostas are later reacquainted in the early 2000s on Cyprus, where she works searching for bodies of the disappeared. The reunion uncovers delicate secrets while expertly giving a sense of the civil war’s lingering damage, and by the end Ada’s story reaches an unexpected and satisfying destination. Shafak’s fans are in for a treat, and those new to her will be eager to discover her earlier work.”

Win Me Something by Kyle Lucia Wu

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Win Me Something: “Wu’s compassionate debut traces one woman’s search for belonging via her memories of growing up in two households. Willa Chen’s upbringing and biracial identity left her feeling caught between worlds. Her parents’ divorce when she was young meant splitting her time between her white mother’s house in New Jersey and her Chinese American father’s in Upstate New York. Both of her parents’ second families—her white stepfather and half brother, and her white stepmother and two mixed-race half sisters—never seem to have room for Willa. At 24, she takes a job as a nanny for an upper-class white family, the Adriens, in New York City. The job becomes a live-in situation, and Willa grows closer to the daughter, Bijou, and the parents, particularly mother Nathalie. As her relationship with the family deepens, Willa confronts memories of her own childhood, and when one of her half sisters moves to the city for college, she hopes to make a connection. Through the characters’ kinships—some familial, some chosen—Wu brilliantly lays out the complicated dynamics of love, belonging, and care that exist within all relationships. Fans of Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age will love this.”

Blue-Skinned Gods by SJ Sindu

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Blue-Skinned Gods: “Sindu’s marvelous coming-of-age story (after Marriage of a Thousand Lies) features a young healer in Tamil Nadu, believed to be an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, who eventually breaks away from his domineering father. Kalki Sami has blue skin and black blood, and his father, Ayya, has built an ashram for the family to live in, where Kalki, on the eve of his 10th birthday, must undergo three tests, beginning with the performance of a miracle. After struggling to heal Roopa, a sick girl brought to the ashram, he doubts the prophecy about him. Kalki may be seen by strangers as a guru, but as a teen he is easily swayed by Ayya; his cousin, Lakshman, who is his best friend; and Roopa, whose condition eventually improves and with whom Kalki falls in love. After Lakshman leaves the ashram, Kalki travels to New York City as part of a ‘world healing tour’ conceived by Ayya to promote Kalki, where the cousins unexpectedly reunite, and Kalki learns some news that breaks his life in two. Sindu juxtaposes the closed world of the ashram with Kalki’s vibrant experiences in New York, where he performs with Lakshman’s band, the Blue-Skinned Gods; eats meat; and ‘figures out who I was and who I was going to be.’ The imagery is vivid—’my body a colony of ants puttering in all directions’—and the slow-burn narrative by the end becomes incandescent. Sindu’s stunning effort more than delivers on her initial promise.”

God of Mercy by Okezie Nwọka

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about God of Mercy: “Nwoka’s dense, mythologically charged debut takes place in an Igbo village in an unspecified area of Africa, at an unspecified time. There, magic is a part of daily life, the inhabitants attribute their fortunes to the Igbo gods, and young, mute Ijeoma discovers she can fly. Her dissolute father, Ofodile, decides this power is dangerous, and, without the knowledge of Ijeoma’s mother or the rest of the community, exiles her to Precious Word Ministries, where she is abused, caged, and regarded as a witch. After years of maltreatment, during which she writes hundreds of diary entries entreating the village god Chukwu to save her, she and her rebellious friend Ikemba make plans to escape, and their scheming brings about magical and transformative consequences. Nwoka immerses the reader in an often-bewildering world, and though readers unfamiliar with the culture will have a tough time making sense of the parameters, those who stick with it will be rewarded with a rich sense of place. This stirring coming-of-age story holds its own in a recent wave of feminist fiction set in Africa.”

Pity the Beast by Robin McLean

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Pity the Beast: “McLean (Reptile House) returns with a category-defying novel of revenge, survival, and transcendence in modern-day Montana. While Ginny and her husband, Dan, assist a mare with a difficult birth on their ranch, the couple fights bitterly about Ginny’s infidelity with a neighbor, Shaw. Locals arrive to help with the foaling, and as the night wears on, drunken arguments turn violent: Dan rapes Ginny, and nearly all of the men do, as well, urged on by her sister, Ella. Presuming Ginny dead, they toss her inert body into the pit for dead livestock. But Ginny survives and emerges with an avenging fury and strikes back at one of her assailants with a plank spiked with nails. Armed with a stolen horse, weapons, provisions, and memories of her tough Granny, she flees into the mountains, hoping to have the authorities bring the men to justice. Hot in pursuit, though, are Dan, Ella, Ella’s husband, and two other men. The story of the posse alternates with prehistoric myth, natural history, excerpts from an imaginary western, data from 22nd-century extraterrestrial botanists, and the wise ‘thoughts’ of superintelligent, telepathic mules. But, however provocative, these passages don’t manage to integrate with the main narrative. Raw and elemental, searing yet wry, this has much to say on law and lawlessness, sexual politics, and humans’ animal nature.”

Chasing Homer by László Krasznahorkai (translated by John Batki, musical performances by Szilveszter Miklós, illustrated by Max Neumann)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Chasing Homer: “Krasznahorkai’s strange and engrossing novella (after Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming) reads like a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie dreamed up by Beckett and Kafka. Killers with an unknown motive are chasing the narrator, who has become by necessity an autodidact of survival skills, through Croatia along the Adriatic Coast. At a tourist bar in Korčula, holed up after being chilled to the bone by ominous gusts of the ‘Bora,’ the hero overhears a tour guide convince a couple to let him lead them on a tour of Mljet, a small island believed by its inhabitants to be the true location of Odysseus’s sojourn with Calypso, and follows them there. The hero’s account up to this point has been filled with reports of fast, chaotic, unpredictable movement to ward off the hunters, and of pledges to resist the animalistic pleasures in life, which would lead to doom, but at Korčula, something changes. Batki’s translation exquisitely captures the grace underlying the hero’s frenetic mindset (‘I must plunge, from the edge of a moment right into its midst, just like some Moby-Dick, or a dying butterfly between two flower petals’), as do the vignettes scored by free jazz drummer Szilveszter Miklós for each chapter (accessible via QR codes that appear in the text). Whether on a large canvas or small, Krasznahorkai never ceases to impress.”

The Art of Revision: The Last Word by Peter Ho Davies

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Art of Revision: “Novelist Davies (A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself) draws on his experience teaching at the University of Michigan’s writing program in this terrific guide to revising fiction. ‘Perhaps our ultimate resistance to revision, to doneness is that it prefigures death—the final draft, the last word,’ Davies writes. He rejects Thomas Wolfe’s categorization of writers as either ‘putter-inners’ or ‘taker-outers’ and posits that revision is the process of finding out what one really means to do with a story and involves both cutting out ‘darlings’ (or the ‘scaffolding… that can be taken down after the story is built’) and by adding when more is needed. Along the way, Davies surveys the methods writers have used for revision, including those of Frank O’Connor and Isaac Babel, and the relationship between Raymond Carver and editor Gordon Lish—in each case, he shows why revisions were made and how they changed a story. Davies also devotes a chapter on knowing when one is done with a story—a moment, he says, ‘when you understand why you told your story in the first place, what your intent actually was.’ Full of spirit and sound advice, this survey will be a boon to writers.”

Also on shelves this week: Sacred City by Theodore C. Van Alst.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Mahmoud, Davidson, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Doma Mahmoud, Craig Davidson, 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.
Cairo Circles by Doma Mahmoud

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Cairo Circles: “Mahmoud’s uneven debut explores the discrepancies of class and wealth in modern Cairo and the Egyptian diaspora through multiple strands of plot that jump back and forth in time and merge only tangentially. In mid-2000s New York City, wealthy Sheero, an undergraduate at NYU, is gleefully breaking every Muslim law in the book, doing lines of cocaine daily and living with his girlfriend, Carmen, a non-Muslim. Then his cousin Amir sets off a suicide bombing in the city’s subway, killing several other people and leading the FBI to question Sheero. Mahmoud then shifts to Cairo several years earlier for a story involving Sheero’s friend Taymour, whose housemaid’s 11-year-old daughter, Zeina, vanishes, possibly kidnapped. As Zeina’s younger twin brothers, Omar and Mustafa, grow up, their lives diverge, with Omar becoming a drug dealer and later a chauffeur for Taymour, and nerdy, depressed Mustafa studying mechanical engineering. Mahmoud explores the complexities of life in contemporary Cairo through the aftermath of the 2011 revolution. Individually, his characters are well developed, and his grasp of recent history is firm and illuminating. But almost every dramatic situation fizzles out, as the action becomes decreasingly credible and the narrative connections increasingly strained. It’s an ambitious effort with many striking details of life, but it’s undermined by its convoluted structure.”

Cascade by Craig Davidson

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Cascade: “The six tales in Davidson’s wonderful and gritty collection return to the bucolic backdrop of Cataract City, a stand-in for Niagara Falls (and the title of Davidson’s earlier novel). Energized by a familial bond and propelled by tragedy, the opener, ‘The Ghost Lights,’ depicts the frenzied rush of a car crash’s survivors. That bloodline bond hinges and anchors other stories where family runs deep regardless of occupation or circumstance, as in ‘The Vanishing Twin,’ in which two teenage twin brothers trade stories of their ‘devilry’ from inside the walls of a juvenile correctional facility and realize just how different they are from each other. The struggles of a burned-out social worker in the emotionally resonant ‘Friday Night Goon Squad’ are palpable as she attempts to assuage her clients’ family issues while desperately trying to start a family of her own. A circus performer and a firefighter in ‘Medium Tough’ and ‘Firebug’ have their respective crosses to bear, and Davidson portrays each vividly. Throughout, the author displays deep empathy and conveys emotional resonance. The result is a blissful, wholly satisfying assemblage of cinematic stories, sure to please Davidson’s fans and attract newcomers.”

The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven by by Nathaniel Ian Miller

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven: “Miller’s captivating debut bears out its eponymous narrator’s observation that ‘a life is substantially more curious, and mundane, than the reports would have it.’ Sven Ormson, an indolent Swedish mill worker with a spotty employment history and a fascination with polar exploration, decides in 1916, at age 32, to take on a two-year contract mining coal on the island of Spitsbergen on the edge of the Arctic Sea. Before his contract is up he loses an eye during an avalanche, an event that convinces the already misanthropic Sven to shun further contact with fellow humans. So begins his apprenticeship as a trapper during the harsh winter months when all but three other hunters have left his portion of the island. Though Sven keeps to himself as much as possible, inevitable friendships and family ties eventually draw him into contact with others, even as his life remains relatively untouched by historical events unfolding just beyond his sphere for the next 30 years. Miller offers a marvelously detailed look at a way of life and a profession practiced in an extreme environment, and though purportedly based on a historical figure, the character’s colorfully rendered experiences are the stuff of powerful dramatic fiction. This has Miller off to a promising start.”

Also on shelves this week: Dreaming of You by Melissa Lozada-Oliva and On Girlhood, edited by Glory Edim.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Solnit, Strout, Gaitskill, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Rebecca Solnit, Elizabeth Strout, Mary Gaitskill, 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.
Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Orwell’s Roses: “Solnit carefully charts the life of George Orwell (1903–1950) by focusing on his love of roses and all things natural in this brilliant survey (after Recollections of My Nonexistence). Her study of the ‘sublimely gifted essayist’ and novelist is not a biography, she notes, rather ‘a series of forays from one starting point, that gesture whereby one writer planted several roses.’ After reading an essay in which Orwell expounds upon the power of trees, Solnit begins to see his writing differently, spotting more ‘enjoyment’ in his work. She follows Orwell’s ‘episodic’ life from his birth in northern India to coal mines in England, to Spain, and through his marriages, but begins with and returns often to his midlife in Wallington, England, where he rented a cottage in 1936 and planted his roses. She also traces her own interests that mirror his, such as climate, class, and politics—Orwell wrote ‘about toads and spring but also about principles and values and arguing with an orthodoxy.’ A disquisition on the suffragists’ song ‘Bread and Roses’ and a look at the rose trade in Bogotá happen along the way, but Solnit never loses sight of Orwell and his relationship to nature: ‘Outside my work the thing I care most about is gardening,’ he wrote. Fans of Marta MacDowell’s biographies of gardening writers will appreciate this lyrical exploration.”

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Oh William!: “Loneliness and betrayal, themes to which the Pulitzer Prize–winning Strout has returned throughout her career, are ever present in this illuminating character-driven saga, the third in her Amgash series, after Anything Is Possible. Narrated by Lucy Barton, now a successful writer, the story picks up after the death of Lucy’s second husband as she navigates her relationship with her unfaithful first husband, William, the father of her two grown daughters. Lucy and William are still close friends, and though William has also remarried, he still needs Lucy, and she him. When William discovers he has a half sister, he summons Lucy, rather than his current wife, to visit where she lives in Maine. Lucy’s quest—indeed Strout’s quest—is to understand people, even if she can’t stand them. ‘We are all mythologies, mysterious. We are all mysteries, is what I mean,’ she reflects. The strength of Lucy’s voice carries the reader, and Strout’s characters teem with angst and emotion, all of which Strout handles with a mastery of restraint and often in spare, true sentences. ‘But when I think Oh William! don’t I mean Oh Lucy! too? Don’t I mean Oh Everyone, Oh dear Everybody in this whole wide world, we do not know anybody, not even ourselves! Except a little tiny, tiny bit we do.’ It’s not for nothing that Strout has been compared to Hemingway. In some ways, she betters him.”

Monster in the Middle by Tiphanie Yanique

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Monster in the Middle: “Yanique (How to Escape from a Leper Colony) inventively juxtaposes the start of a new relationship with family histories in this sumptuous saga. Fly Lovett meets Stela Jones in early 2020 during the lockdown in New York City, while he’s enrolled in grad school for music theory and she’s doing teacher training for high school biology. Yanique builds up to their meeting by recounting their parents’ failed relationships, as well as their own. Fly’s father, Gary, a Black man who deploys an idiosyncratic range of religious practices to cope with his mental illness, holds a flame for a white girlfriend well into his marriage with Ellenora and past the birth of their son, Earl, in 1991. Earl, rechristened Fly by a scamming preacher, later has his heart broken in college by a woman who uses sex as a missionizing tool. Meanwhile, Stela’s mother, an orphan from Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands, raises Stela with her second husband. Stela breaks off an engagement to her first love, a South African–born white American, after a traumatic experience on her semester abroad in Ghana. Each arc reads as an evocative short story and an episode in the two protagonists’ complex set of unraveled connections. This introspective exploration of first and lasting loves will hit the spot with fans of character-driven family dramas.”

The Days of Afrekete by Asali Solomon

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Days of Afrekete: “In Rona Jaffe Award winner Solomon’s illuminating latest (after Disgruntled), two middle-aged women who were friends at Bryn Mawr reflect on sexuality, race, and selfhood. While Liselle Belmont prepares to host a dinner party for her husband, Winn, at their house in Philadelphia after his failed state legislative bid, she remembers her mother’s taunts about her upper echelon lifestyle, habitually delivered with an ‘acid whoop of laughter.’ On a whim, Liselle leaves a phone message with her old friend and lover Selena Octave. Solomon flashes back to the women’s years at Bryn Mawr, where they met in the school’s first Black literature course taught by a Black professor (and which was overcrowded by white students), and digs into the nuances of campus lesbianism and racial politics. Since then, Selena has been in and out of a psychiatric hospital for anxiety, and the two have fallen out of touch. Liselle reflects on her ‘ever twoness as the Black mistress of a tiny plantation,’ complete with a housemaid, and Solomon focuses on Selena’s sensitivity to racial trauma, such as her interest in writing about the MOVE bombing in West Philadelphia in 1985. When Selena finally receives Liselle’s message, and as Liselle frets about Winn’s legal troubles, the outcome is unexpected and powerful. Solomon brings wit and incisive commentary to this pristine take on two characters’ fascinating and painful lives.”

I Will Die in a Foreign Land by Kalani Pickhart

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about I Will Die in a Foreign Land: “In Pickhart’s ardent, sprawling debut, a set of memorable characters attempt to lay bare the truths of recent conflicts in the Ukraine. Among the thousands of demonstrators gathered in Kyiv in 2013 and 2014 to protest Russian interference, the reader meets four whose lives have been shattered by the consequences of their country’s tragic history, which until 1991 never once included independence. Katya has fled Boston and a failing marriage to treat Euromaidan protesters in a makeshift triage site at St. Michael’s Monastery. While tending to a mortally wounded old Soviet pianist named Aleksandr Ivanovich, she discovers cassette tapes the onetime KGB agent recorded, addressed to his long-lost daughter. Katya also treats Misha Tkachenko, a selfless and courageous engineer from a town near Chernobyl whose wife died of radiation sickness. Misha has returned to the violent streets day after day, looking out for his friend and sometime lover Slava, another protester, blue-haired and fiery. Together their stories, which the author weaves in and out of the novel nonchronologically, create a portrait of the complicated and calamitous region. As Katya and Misha grow closer, Slava meets a doomed journalist with whom she falls in love, and through revelations in Aleksandr’s tapes, the reader learns how indelibly connected each of these major characters—and very many minor ones—are. This bighearted novel generously portrays the unforgettable set of characters through their determination to face oppression. It’s a stunner.”

The Devil’s Treasure by Mary Gaitskill

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Devil’s Treasure: “Gaitskill’s curious new project (after the novella This Is Pleasure) looks back on four of her previous novels and a memoir, splices them with critical self-reflections, and threads the needle with a short work in progress. The slight frame story concerns a seven-year-old girl named Ginger who journeys to hell through a hole in her backyard. As she makes her way back home, she encounters nightmarish reflections, demonic strangers, and Satan himself. But the bulk of the book is excerpts from past books including Veronica (2005), about a budding fashion model, and The Mare (2015), concerning two girls who come of age in upstate New York, where one visits from Brooklyn over the years as part of the Fresh Air Fund, and ride horses together. Hence the reader has several versions of troubled suburban girlhood, haunted or abusive fathers, and barbed early friendships, bordered by long sections in which Gaitskill reflects on her use of the themes, recalls the conditions and intent behind the books’ composition, and responds to her critics. As an experiment, this doesn’t quite come together. At its best, it functions as a showcase for Gaitskill’s powerful back catalog, but more often the indulgent structure fails to hold and obscures her intent. While her insights will prove valuable to her most ardent fans, everyone else can take a pass.”

Wednesday New Release Day: Starring Ball, Orlean, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Bethany Ball, Susan Orlean, 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 Pessimists by Bethany Ball

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Pessimists: “An expensive private school in an affluent Connecticut suburb becomes the focal point for three families in Ball’s appealing if predictable sophomore effort (after What to Do About the Solomons). City expats Gunter and Rachel meet fellow Petra School parents Tripp and Virginia at a New Year’s Eve party thrown at their house, where doomsday prepper Tripp stockpiles guns in the basement. Tripp’s best friend, Richard, is there with his wife, Margot, but he’s pursuing Virginia, a novelist with no shortage of fawning male fans who appreciate her looks as much as her work. There’s also a trickster principal named Agnes, a secret cancer, an accidental near-murder, and an extramarital affair almost happens, and while the threads occasionally captivate, no single plot line prevails, and the many asides fizzle out with almost no consequence. Unfortunately, the narrative’s emotional flatness (as well as that of the characters) makes this feel somewhat schematic, and the plot is too intricate for its own good. Despite some moments of charm, this feels like it’s missing a sense of purpose.”

When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky by Margaret Verble

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky: “In this richly imagined historical from Pulitzer finalist Verble (for Maud’s Line), a young Cherokee woman performs as a horse-diver at an amusement park in Nashville, Tenn. It’s 1926, and automobiles and movies are starting to make electric streetcars and live-entertainment venues obsolete, but Two Feathers’s novelty act is still a big draw at Glendale Park, built at the end of a trolley line. One day, as Two Feathers and her horse are performing, a giant sinkhole opens up and swallows them. Two’s beloved mare, Ocher, dies in the fall, and Two’s leg is broken. With her act no longer possible and her future uncertain, Two recuperates in her dormitory. Her friends rally to her side, notably Hank Crawford, the descendant of enslaved people and a plantation owner. But owning land and having light skin don’t guarantee protection from the deadly dangers of Jim Crow, and Verble shows how Crawford takes various matters into his own hands rather than go to the racist police. Visions of the departed haunt many of these characters, and the dead have an impact on the present. When a hippo dies and a beloved bear cub is found dead, Two discerns how and why they were killed, and, later, after a man is found scalped, prejudice leads some to suspect Two of the murder. Verble beautifully weaves period details with the cast’s histories, and enthralls with the supernatural elements, which are made as real for the reader as they are for the characters. This lands perfectly.”

MacArthur Park by Judith Freeman

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about MacArthur Park: “Freeman returns to characters from her first novel, The Chinchilla Farm (1991), for a story of two women whose lives range well beyond the origins of their small Utah town. In 1984, Verna Fields’s husband leaves her, prompting her to travel to Los Angeles and move in temporarily with her old friend Jolene Carver, now a renowned feminist performance artist who left their town and their faith after being disillusioned by her parents’ infidelity. Shortly after Verna’s arrival, Jolene divorces her husband, Vincent, and ends up in Europe, where her artistic reputation continues to blossom. Three years later, Verna marries Vincent, an eccentric, self-absorbed musician and composer who introduces her to the arts, and she eventually publishes a collection of short stories and a book about Raymond Chandler. After a 30-year absence, Jolene, diminished in health, reappears in L.A. and asks Verna to drive her to their hometown for one last visit. During their trip, jealousies, secrets and passions are revealed, underscoring their opposing views on life: Verna prefers a cocoon of complacency with married life, while Jolene feels the radical feminist views she adopted in the 1970s still apply. Despite some tedious pedantic dialogue, Freeman manages to convey the bonds and challenges of the women’s friendship. The author’s fans will appreciate this layered story.”

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Small Pleasures: “In Chambers’s affecting latest (after the YA mystery Burning Secrets), the year is 1957 and Jean Swinney is a single Englishwoman approaching 40 who cares for her demanding mother and lives for the small pleasures in life—like pottering in her vegetable patch or loosening her girdle at the end of the day. Jean works as features editor for the North Kent Echo. Her new assignment is to interview Gretchen Tilbury, who claims to have delivered a child through virgin birth. Wanting to keep an open mind, Jean meets with the no-nonsense Gretchen, who was confined to an all-female nursing home, St. Cecilia’s, with rheumatoid arthritis at the time of conception. Jean also meets Gretchen’s charming 10-year-old daughter, Margaret, and her dedicated husband, Howard. Jean arranges for Gretchen and Margaret to undergo medical tests at Charing Cross Hospital to prove if parthenogenesis actually took place. As the months pass, Jean becomes more and more enmeshed in the lives of the Tilbury family even as her friendship with Howard threatens to turn into something more. Chambers does an excellent job of recreating the austere texture of post-WWII England. In Jean, the author creates a character who strives admirably to escape her cloistered existence. Chambers plays fair with Gretchen’s mystery, tenderly illuminating the hidden yearnings of small lives.”

We Imagined It Was Rain by Andrew Siegrist

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about We Imagined It Was Rain: “In his debut collection of loosely connected stories set mostly in Tennessee, some of which draw on local folklore, Siegrist shows a remarkable ability to evoke the missing pieces in his characters’ lives. As the title suggests, water, in all its variations, is central to these tales of lost love, memory, and transformation. In the haunting ‘Heirloom,’ Cole, who has lost his son and moved to a cabin in the woods, meets Tia, a young woman who tells him about a coffin full of water buried in the hills. At the end of the story, she lures him into the dark forest where he can smell the ‘heavy scent of salt from a buried sea.’ Rae, a young woman in ‘Beneath Dark Water,’ lives in fear of her physically abusive boyfriend, Darcy, a heavy drinker. In ‘Shouting Down the Preacher,’ a man has lost his wife and his calling to infidelity, and blames himself when his former church floods. Even in the midst of the author’s piercing look into the human heart, however, there is humor, albeit dark. ‘Elephants’ and ‘How to Hang a Circus Elephant’ are connected stories about Mary, a rogue elephant who has to be shot, hanged, and buried. Her tusks, rumored to be visible aboveground, give the town an odd notoriety. With their universal themes, Siegrist’s folkloric stories have plenty of appeal.”

On Animals by Susan Orlean

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about On Animals: “New Yorker staff writer Orlean (The Library Book) delivers an entertaining and informative look at various animals in this clever collection of essays. According to Orlean, her ‘animalish’ personality has driven her to track down critters her whole life, as well as stories of humans as animalish as she. In ‘Lady and the Tigers,’ she profiles a tiger owner in Jackson, N.J., while ‘Little Wing’ sees her documenting a teenager’s relationship to her carrier pigeons in Boston. The essays are well researched and showcase a keen journalistic eye, as in ‘Lion Whisperer,’ which covers Kevin Richardson’s frolicsome relationship with lions, and ‘The Rabbit Outbreak,’ which details the spread of a disease in rabbits across the globe. Orlean’s prose dazzles when she uses human metaphors to describe the natural world, conjuring up hilariously vivid images: Biff, a show dog, has ‘the earnest and slightly careworn expression of a smalltown mayor’; Keiko the whale, who starred in Free Willy, is ‘a middle-aged piebald virgin living as good a life as captivity could offer’; and carrier pigeons are ‘muttering to themselves like old men in a bingo hall.’ While not all the essays land (some leave something to be desired in Orlean’s examination of the human-animal relationship), they’re nonetheless packed with spirit. Animal lovers will find much to savor.”

Also on shelves this week: The Nutmeg’s Curse by Amitav Ghosh.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Franzen, Toews, Watkins, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Jonathan Franzen, Miriam Toews, Claire Vaye Watkins, 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.
Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Crossroads: “Franzen (Purity) returns with a sweeping and masterly examination of the shifting culture of early 1970s America, the first in a trilogy. The action is centered on the small Illinois town of New Prospect, where the each of the Hildebrandts is experiencing a sea change. The father, Russ, is an associate minister at First Reformed Church and has developed an illicit attraction to a new parishioner, the widow Frances Cottrell, whose zest for life makes Russ feel a renewed sense of his ‘edge.’ Russ is also embroiled in a yearslong feud with Rick Ambrose, who runs the church’s youth organization, Crossroads. Clem, Russ’s oldest son, is at college and having a sexual awakening with his girlfriend, Sharon, who pleads with him not to drop out and lose his deferment (‘I’m going to do whatever they want me to do, which probably means Vietnam,’ he says, referencing his low lottery number). Becky, Clem’s younger sister, inherits a large sum of money from an aunt and isn’t sure if she should share it with her brothers, especially Perry, who is brilliant but cold and self-medicates with weed and ’ludes. All of the characters’ sections are convincingly rendered, and perhaps best of all are those narrated by Russ’s wife, Marion, who had a psychotic breakdown 30 years earlier that she is just starting to come to terms with. As complications stack up for the Hildebrandts, they each confront temptation and epiphany, failure and love. Throughout, Franzen exhibits his remarkable ability to build suspense through fraught interpersonal dynamics. It’s irresistible.”

Fight Night by Miriam Toews

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Fight Night: “Toews (Women Talking) continues her consideration of the theme of women’s self-determination in this indelible and darkly hilarious portrait of an unforgettable Toronto family. Framed as a long letter to eight-year-old Swiv’s absent father in her brisk, matter-of-fact voice, it also features letters to her mother and others. After being expelled from school for fighting, she grows closer to her larger-than-life grandmother, Elvira, who ‘has one foot in the grave’ and dives into homeschooling with gusto, convening so-called editorial meetings and devising assignments to write letters to one another. Meanwhile, Swiv’s mother, Mooshie, a pregnant actor, is prone to dramatic and sometimes violent mood swings, leading Swiv to fear Mooshie might succumb to the same mental illness that led to her aunt’s and grandfather’s suicides. The harder-edged Mooshie, who wants a ‘cold IPA and a holiday’ for her birthday, and the exuberant Elvira, are both brash and fearless, traits that alternately embarrass and inspire Swiv. Through these women’s letters and stories, readers glimpse histories of grief, loss, and abuse, making Grandma’s assertion that ‘joy… is resistance’ even more powerful. The moving conclusion, which has its roots in a plan for Swiv and Elvira to visit family members in California, shuns sentimentality and celebrates survival. Fierce and funny, this gives undeniable testimony to the life force of family. It’s a knockout.”

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Lincoln Highway: “Towles’s magnificent comic road novel (after A Gentleman in Moscow) follows the rowdy escapades of four boys in the 1950s and doubles as an old-fashioned narrative about farms, families, and accidental friendships. In June 1954, 18-year-old Emmett Watson returns to his childhood farm in Morgen, Neb., from a juvenile detention camp. Emmett has been released early from his sentencing for fighting because his father has died and his homestead has been foreclosed. His precocious eight-year-old brother, Billy, greets him, anxious to light out for San Francisco in hopes of finding their mother, who abandoned them. Plans immediately go awry when two escaped inmates from Emmett’s camp, Duchess and Woolly, appear in the Watsons’ barn. Woolly says his grandfather has stashed $150,000 in the family’s Adirondack Mountains cabin, which he offers to split evenly between the three older boys. But Duchess and Woolly take off with Emmett’s Studebaker, leaving the brothers in pursuit as boxcar boys. On the long and winding railway journey, the brothers encounter characters like the scabrous Pastor John and an endearing WWII vet named Ulysses, and Billy’s constant companion, a book titled Professor Abacus Abernathe’s Compendium of Heroes, Adventures, and Other Intrepid Travelers, provides parallel story lines of epic events and heroic adventures. Woolly has a mind for stories, too, comparing his monotonous time in detention to that of Edmond Dantès in The Count of Monte Cristo and hoping eventually to experience a ‘one-of-a-kind kind of day.’ Towles is a supreme storyteller, and this one-of-a-kind kind of novel isn’t to be missed.”

April in Spain by John Banville

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about April in Spain: “Banville’s slow-moving eighth crime thriller featuring Irish pathologist Quirke (after 2015’s Even the Dead) finds Quirke and his wife, Evelyn, vacationing in San Sebastián, Spain. When the couple forget to buy an oyster-opening tool, Quirke tries to use a nail scissors instead and accidentally wounds himself badly enough that Evelyn insists they go to a hospital. There, he’s initially examined by Angela Lawless, an Irish physician who looks familiar, but who never returns to the exam room, leaving another doctor to tend to the injury. Her appearance and her initials lead Quirke to suspect that she’s actually April Latimer, a woman believed to be dead. April’s brother, who was sexually involved with his sibling, had confessed to killing her before taking his own life. Quirke shares his suspicions with his daughter, Phoebe, who had been April’s friend, and Phoebe travels to Spain to see for herself. Meanwhile, a psychotic hit man emotionally attached to his gun lurks in the background. The melodramatic ending doesn’t compensate for a story line too slight for the book’s length. Banville has been much better.”

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about My Monticello: “Johnson wrestles with questions of racial identity, post-racial society, and the legacies of slavery in her masterly debut collection. The pitch-perfect opener, ‘Control Negro,’ follows Cornelius, a Black history professor whose peers mistake him for a janitor and whom white students mock with racist jokes, prompting him to plot with a married Black graduate student to have a son together and give him opportunities equal to those of ‘Average Caucasian Males.’ In the experiment, the ‘Control Negro’ doesn’t learn the identity of his father, and Cornelius observes from a distance, hopeful his son will turn out better. Other stories reckon with institutionalized racism in schools (‘Something Sweet on the Tongue’) and the collateral damage wrought by the trauma endured by immigrants prior to leaving their homelands (‘King of Xandria’). The superb title novella is set in the near future in Charlottesville, Va., where the Unite the Right rally has cast a long shadow and white supremacists pillage the downtown area. A collective of BIPOC residents decamp to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, seeking refuge. There’s Da’Naisha Hemings Love; her white boyfriend, Knox; and her other largely Black and brown neighbors. Love and her grandmother, MaViolet, descend from the Jefferson-Sally Hemings lineage, and thus occupy a unique position in the group. The author’s riveting storytelling and skill at rendering complex characters yield rich social commentary on Monticello and Jefferson’s complex ideologies of freedom, justice, and liberty. This incandescent work speaks not just to the moment, but to history.”

Reprieve by James Han Mattson

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Reprieve: “Mattson (The Lost Prayers of Ricky Graves) returns with the smart and harrowing story of a killing at a haunted house. In 1997, Victor Dunlap, a bank manager who used to teach English in Thailand, agrees to participate in a full-contact escape room–style challenge at Quigley House in Lincoln, Nebr. His four-person team includes his fiancée, Jane Roth, who is obsessed with Halloween but finds being handcuffed, shocked, and muzzled with electrical tape by the haunted house’s staff to be a bit too much; and Jaidee Charoensuk, a university student whom Victor had taught in Kanchanaburi, and who sought Victor out in the U.S. because he had a crush on him. The house supplies a fourth teammate, Bryan Douglas, a Black university student whose throat is slit in the house by Leonard Grandton in front of the others, who initially think it’s part of the act. Leonard had developed a friendship with the man who owns Quigley, before becoming needy and erratic. The tense, well-paced story—meted out in snippets of courtroom transcriptions during Leonard’s trial and chapters from various characters’ points of view, including Bryan’s cousin Kendra, who recently moved to Lincoln from Washington, D.C., and whose friend back east was concerned about her ‘managing all that white’—gradually reveals thematic connections as everyone grapples with understanding why Bryan was killed. It adds up to a canny use of horror as metaphor for themes of guilt, race, and sexuality.”

Search History by Eugene Lim

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Search History: “Montage is the message in the elliptical, swirly latest from Lim (Dear Cyborgs), who delivers a post-human manifesto on loss, identity, and the transfigurative potential of art. Billed as ‘a murder mystery, an outdated owner’s manual… a broken novel,’ this outing opens with a ‘dysthymic artificial intelligence scientist’ experimenting with machines capable of creating poetry and prose on behalf of a galactic corporation while a robot named César Aira discusses cyborg aesthetics with his own ex-wife. A no less outlandish plot soon bubbles up in New York City. Based on an overheard conversation, a grieving friend of the late Frank Exit—outré pianist, drug aficionado, virtual reality explorer—becomes convinced that Frank has been reincarnated as a robot dog named Izzy and teams up with an amnesiac clown-school graduate calling herself Donna Winters, who is herself convinced that the dog holds the key to being reunited with her deceased mother, to steal Izzy from the enigmatic Doctor Y before they can escape by rocket to the far side of the moon. Meanwhile, a group of old friends gather at the restaurant they’ve dubbed ‘Inauthentic Sushi’ to discuss dreams, ghosts, and the lives of Asian American entertainers. Also in the mix is an autobiographical interlude concerning Lim’s mother, and a poet and nurse named Muriel. The resulting novel is profound and casually bonkers, featuring a drift of photographs, screen grabs, and an eclectic lexicon of quotations from W.G. Sebald, David Byrne, and more that reveal the shuffled heritage of Lim’s distillation. This brilliant sui generis takes storytelling to new heights.”

I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness by Claire Vaye Watkins

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness: “In this vivid if overstuffed outing from Watkins (Gold Fame Citrus), a writer named Claire Vaye Watkins returns to her hometown of Reno for a reading. The trip is meant as a brief respite for Claire from her husband and daughter, but it becomes a monthslong stay as she grapples with memories of those who are gone. Her late father, Paul, a member of the Manson Family, was described by her mother, the late Martha, as the cult’s ‘number one procurer of young girls.’ Martha, meanwhile, died when Claire was in her 20s, either by an accidental opiate overdose or by suicide. She also remembers an ex-boyfriend who died in a car crash. And as Watkins catalogs her ‘maternal ambivalence’ and ‘wifely rage,’ she breaks the rules of her open marriage by falling in love with an extramarital partner. While Claire’s memories provide the narrative thrust, nearly a third is spent on her family’s history, including letters from Martha to her cousin from 1968 through the ’70s (‘I think I’m mentally ill. Love is a fucking hassle’), and the material doesn’t quite illuminate Claire’s story or develop the plot. What makes this work is Claire’s raw sense of pain on the page, and the evenhanded honesty with which Watkins portrays her actions. Thought Watkins overreaches, her talent is abundant.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Knausgaard, Doerr, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Karl Ove Knausgaard, Anthony Doerr, and more—that are publishing this week.
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The Morning Star by Karl Ove Knausgaard (translated by Martin Aitken)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Morning Star: “Knausgaard’s first traditional novel since the 2008 translation of A Time for Everything offers a dark and enthralling story of the appearance of a new star. The action, which verges on horror, teems with brutalized people and animals behaving unpredictably. Arne, a teacher with a drinking problem whose bipolar wife, Tova, often disappears on long walks, observes a horde of crabs crossing the road toward the glare of the star. He and eight other narrators alternately react to the astrological event—and yet the turbulence of their home lives overrides their capacity to grasp its shocking effects. Among the players are Kathrine, a Church of Norway priest who is struggling with her marriage; Solveig, a nurse who recognizes a patient from when she was young; Jonnstein, a caustic reporter who gets a tip on a serial killer after committing adultery; and Egil, who is connected to many of the threads, and whose interpolated essay provides a dose of philosophy and one of the strongest narrative beats. Knausgaard wheels wildly and successfully through various forms. His focus on the beauty and terror of the mundane will resonate with fans of My Struggle as they traverse this marvelous, hectic terrain. For the author, it’s a marvelous new leap.”

Chronicles from the Happiest People on Earth by Wole Soyinka

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Chronicles from the Happiest People on Earth: “Nobel Prize winner Soyinka’s first novel in almost 50 years (after the essay collection Beyond Aesthetics) delivers a sharp-edged satire of his native Nigeria. The tone is set early, as an omniscient narrator caustically refers to the country as the home of ‘the Happiest People in the World,’ a status bolstered by a Nigerian governor’s creation of ‘a Ministry of Happiness,’ to be led by the governor’s spouse. Soyinka presents a dizzying array of characters and plotlines to bolster the notion that his country’s ‘success’ is a facade built on corruption and lies. This is perhaps best illustrated by the story line involving Dr. Kighare Menka, a surgeon particularly adept at treating the victims of terror attacks. Menka’s approached by representatives of Primary Resources Management, dedicated to combating waste by maximizing ‘human resources.’ Menka learns that behind the slogans is a business plan to obtain body parts for an affluent clientele, and that he’s viewed as a steady source for the limbs and organs the venture needs. Soyinka injects suspense as well with a whodunit plot. Those with a solid grounding in current Nigerian politics are most likely to pick up on allusions to events and personalities that will elude the lay reader. Still, the imaginatively satirical treatment of serious issues makes this engaging on multiple levels.”

A Calling for Charlie Barnes by Joshua Ferris

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Calling for Charlie Barnes: “NBA and Booker finalist Ferris (To Rise Again at a Decent Hour) returns with a compassionate metafictional portrait of a flawed father and his crumbling notion of the America dream. Jake Barnes, the sincere but unreliable narrator, sets out to recount the life of his dad, Charlie Barnes, aka ‘Steady Boy,’ a corporate gadfly and small business schemer who never made it through college. After multiple marriages, a few kids, and countless failed ideas for making it big—clowns and weedkiller, flying toupees—Steady Boy is working from his basement when he’s diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Jake takes it upon himself to gather his older brother Jerry and his resentful half sister Marcy, both of whom believe Steady Boy is a fraud. Ferris makes the quotidian sing, such as Jake’s description of a ‘thundering, brain-clearing sneeze’ while Steady Boy retrieves the morning paper from the curb. Ferris also flirts with a cheesy happy ending, until it becomes likely that this, too, is a fraud, prompting readers to wonder if Ferris is toying with them via Jake, who channels his namesake from The Sun Also Rises, he of the Lost Generation who no longer believes in anything. Despite the heavy subject matter, the story is often quite funny, and the themes at its core are those that will forever preoccupy humankind: purpose and death, but, mostly, love. Of Ferris’s work, this is the big kahuna.”

Things Are Against Us by Lucy Ellmann

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Things Are Against Us: “In this offbeat essay collection, novelist Ellmann (Ducks, Newburyport) addresses complex systemic ills alongside petty grievances in an acerbic and hilarious litany of complaints. The title essay features a tirade against ‘things’ that are constantly being lost or broken or otherwise creating a nuisance, and is punctuated with the personified hijinks of various objects: ‘Rugs grab you and knock you over whenever they can. Needles prick you. They sit in the sewing box waiting patiently to prick you some day.’ Several essays contend with sexism, including ‘Three Strikes,’ which calls for women to institute a sex and work strike until the demand of ‘female supremacy’ is met (Ellmann draws from historical examples to prove its efficacy along the way). Elsewhere, Ellmann rails against air travel, bras, and electricity. Readers of Ducks, Newburyport will be familiar with her expansive writing style, which here manifests as a plethora of footnotes, some of which point to sources for further reading or illustrate the author’s points, while others are tangents on ancillary topics (such as the ‘spiraling vaginas’ of fruit flies) and can occasionally be disorienting. Nevertheless, fans of feminist satire will delight in these rants and ruminations.”

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Cloud Cuckoo Land: “Pulitzer winner Doerr (All the Light We Cannot See) returns with a deeply affecting epic of a long-lost book from ancient Greece. In the mid-22nd century, Konstance, 14, copies an English translation of Cloud Cuckoo Land by Antonius Diogenes with her food printer’s Nourish powder while aboard the Argos, an ark-like spaceship destined for a habitable planet. She found the book in the Argos’s library, and was already familiar with Diogenes’s story of a shepherd named Aethon and his search for a book that told of all the world’s unknown lands, because her father told it to her while they tended the Argos’s farm. Her father’s connection to the Diogenes book is gradually revealed, but first Doerr takes the reader farther back in time. In chapters set in and around Constantinople leading up to the 1453 siege, two 13-year-old children, Anna and Omeir, converge while fleeing the city, and Omeir helps Anna protect a codex of Cloud Cuckoo Land she discovered in a monastery. Then, in 2020 Lakeport, Idaho, translator Zeno Ninis collaborates with a group of young children on a stage production of Cloud Cuckoo Land at the library, where a teenage ecoterrorist has planted a bomb meant to target the neighboring real estate office. Doerr seamlessly shuffles each of these narratives in vignettes that keep the action in full flow and the reader turning the pages. The descriptions of Constantinople, Idaho, and the Argos are each distinct and fully realized, and the protagonists of each are united by a determination to survive and a hunger for stories, which in Doerr’s universe provide the greatest nourishment. This is a marvel.”