Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Mohsin Hamid, our own Kate Gavino, Anthony Marra, and more—that are publishing this week.
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The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Last White Man: “On the first page of Hamid’s underwhelming latest (after Exit West), a white man named Anders wakes up to find he has mysteriously ‘turned a deep and undeniable brown.’ From this Kafkaesque beginning, Hamid spins a timely if unsatisfying racial allegory in which, one after another, the white inhabitants of an unnamed country become dark-skinned. Hamid mutes the power by harnessing his plot to the dishwater-dull Anders, who works at a gym, and his equally bland girlfriend, Oona, a yoga instructor. The lack of social context is also puzzling, with the story set in an unspecified time and place largely stripped of historical and cultural detail. Hamid employs a cool, spare prose style with little dialogue, leaving the reader to feel like the action of the novel is taking place behind a wall of soundproof glass. The glass briefly shatters when white militants come for Anders, though the author quickly turns back the threat. Later, when Oona’s mother, who indulges in right-wing conspiracy theories, is sickened by the sight of her white daughter in bed with dark-skinned Anders, Hamid taps the rich potential of his premise. For the most part, though, this remains stubbornly inert.”
A Career in Books by Kate Gavino
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Career in Books: “With quill-sharp narration and spot-on details, this delightful graphic novel from Gavino (Last Night’s Reading) depicts New York City publishing through the eyes of three Asian American NYU grads who share an apartment. Nina Nakamura, the most career-driven of the group, takes an assistant job at a large house. Silvia Bautista, an aspiring novelist, works for an indie press supported by the publisher’s ‘seemingly endless trust fund.’ Shirin Yap is hired at an academic press, possibly because the editor hoped she’d be able to speak Cantonese with their Hong Kong–based printer (Shirin is Filipina). Besides artistic fulfillment, their goal is to ‘make that Anthropologie money… non-sale section Anthro money!’ Their neighbor, 92-year-old Veronica Vo, turns out to be a Booker Prize winner whose subsequent books about the domestic lives of Asian American women have fallen out-of-print. Nina leads a charge to reissue Veronica’s work—success for Veronica will, of course, mean hope for their own ambitions, while righting one small historical wrong. Gavino peppers her savvy line drawings with price tags (‘Edith Wharton leather-bound edition, $279’), and applies actual numbers to her characters’ salaries and calculations. Specificity is the fire that fuels this witty social satire, in which fairness doesn’t always triumph, but friendship does.”
The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Rabbit Hutch: “Gunty debuts with an astonishing portrait of economically depressed Vacca Vale, Ind., centered on the residents of a subsidized apartment building nicknamed the Rabbit Hutch. The main character is 18-year-old Blandine Watkins, who grew up in foster care and dropped out of high school in junior year. In the opening scene, she is stabbed in her apartment by an unidentified assailant. Gradually, the causes of the crime emerge, followed eventually by the facts, as well as her fate. Along the way, Gunty delves into the stories of Blandine’s neighbors, brilliantly and achingly charting the range of their experiences. An erotic flashback of an infant’s conception at a motel on higher ground in Vacca Vale called the Wooden Lady (‘It’s like if manslaughter were a place,’ one reviewer describes it), where married couple Hope and Anthony hole up during a ‘1,000-year flood,’ contrasts with a devastatingly banal and ultimately traumatic sexual encounter between Blandine and her drama teacher the year before. There’s also a lonely woman who lives in a state of ‘flammable peace’ due to her sensitivity to noise, with whom Blandine shares her fascination with Catholic mystics before going off to sabotage a celebration involving the city’s gentrification scheme with voodoo dolls and fake blood. It all ties together, achieving this first novelist’s maximalist ambitions and making powerful use of language along the way. Readers will be breathless.”
Acceptance by Emi Nietfeld
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Acceptance: “Nietfeld debuts with a heart-pounding look at her path out of homelessness and the flawed systems she had to navigate along the way. Raised in Minneapolis in the early 2000s by a single mother, Nietfeld’s home was ‘filled to the top with garbage, and… covered with mouse and dog excrements.’ Despite the glaring signs of abuse, Nietfeld’s mother convinced therapists her daughter was mentally unwell. ‘No one would listen to me. No one would trust me,’ Nietfeld writes, describing in unsparing prose the revolving door of mental institutions she spun through before being put into foster care in her teens. Though her foster parents belittled her academic pursuits, she excelled in her studies and secured a scholarship to boarding school, where she spent school breaks alternating between prestigious academic camps and living in her car. After being accepted to Harvard, Nietfeld was sure her life would change, but as she reckoned with the school’s elitist culture and, later, the disillusionment that came from working in Silicon Valley, she realized the trauma ‘ingrained into my nervous system’ couldn’t be eradicated by the fleeting thrills and rewards of finding ‘status’ in America. It’s a sobering narrative, and Nietfeld’s raw resilience and candor will keep readers enthralled until the very last page. This hits hard.”
Dogs of Summer by Andrea Abreu (translated by Julia Sanches)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Dogs of Summer: “Abreu’s emotionally resonant debut charts the tumultuous friendship between two 10-year-old girls over the course of the summer of 2005 in the Canary Islands. The unnamed narrator is fascinated by her brazen and enigmatic friend, Isora, the granddaughter of Chela, an abusive matriarch who manages the neighborhood minimarket and cares for Isora after her mother’s suicide. Isora calls the shots in the friendship and nicknames the narrator ‘Shit.’ In potent, stream-of-consciousness prose, Abreu details the girls’ long summer days spent in each other’s presence: the afternoons dedicated to memorizing the lyrics of Aventura songs, dipping their toes in the canal and imagining they’re at San Marcos beach, and the timid narrator eating burnt cake just so Isora may watch her after the latter is forced into a diet by the overcritical Chela. (Isora also develops an eating disorder.) Along the way, Abreu ingeniously picks apart the submissive narrator’s conflicting feelings of resentment, admiration, and sexual curiosity, and reveals the way these emotions quickly turn devastating once a traumatic assault changes the power dynamics upon which the girls’ friendship is based. Abreu’s exhilarating chronicle of a young friendship is not to be missed.”
Properties of Thirst by Marianne Wiggins
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Properties of Thirst: “Pulitzer Prize finalist Wiggins (Evidence of Things Unseen) returns with a powerful epic set on a Southern California ranch during WWII. Rocky Rhodes named the ranch Three Chairs, after Thoreau’s idea that three chairs are for ‘society’—or ‘company,’ as Rocky puts it. A widowed scion of a wealthy family back east, he lives there with his daughter, Sunny, and his twin sister. Sunny has a twin brother, Stryker, who is presumed to have died in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Rocky has spent much of his fortune battling the Los Angeles Water Board, furious that the city has stolen all the local water. Things get worse when Schiff, a young lawyer from the Department of the Interior, is sent to the area to establish an internment camp for Japanese Americans. Morally outraged himself, Schiff befriends the Rhodes family and falls for Sunny, a self-taught cook who takes inspiration from notes left by her mother. Here, Wiggins’s wordplay is stellar, as when the properties of a souffle become metaphor for the emotions of those about to eat it: ‘Sunny folded one thing—the inflated egg whites—into the other, le fond—with the greatest care, aware of both their fragile properties.’ The dialogue is full of grit, and Wiggins manages to capture a big swath of mid-century America by placing a blue-blooded family into a desert inland complete with adobe haciendas, desert blooms, and Hollywood movie sets, while throughout, the Rhodes hold out hope for Stryker’s survival. Wiggins’s masterpiece is one for the ages.”
Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Mercury Pictures Presents: “Marra’s meticulously crafted latest (after the collection The Tsar of Love and Techno) follows a host of outsiders as they try to make it through pre-WWII Italy and wartime Los Angeles with some of their morals intact. Teenage Maria Lagana and her mother leave Italy for Los Angeles after Fascists exile her father. By 1941, Maria is B-movie producer Artie Feldman’s second-in-command. Artie, a toupee-wearing loudmouth with a heart of gold (he’ll hire any down on their luck European exile), is at war with the censors, his twin brother/business partner, and the bankers with a stake in Mercury Pictures. Marra skillfully switches between small-town Sicily and a still-small Los Angeles where, post–Pearl Harbor, Maria must register as an internal enemy and her Chinese American boyfriend, Eddie, has to flee assailants who are convinced he’s a Japanese spy. The plot is intricate: Artie tries to release a political movie and fend off creditors, Maria and Eddie plot to make a film, a Berlin-born model-builder recreates her city, a Sicilian photographer flees Italy. While Marra’s pleasure in the details and argot of the past occasionally feels like overkill, this tough-minded, funny outing exemplifies what Maria calls the democratic promise of ‘the miniaturist’s gaze,’ in which ‘all were worthy.’ Thanks to Marra, the pleasure is contagious.”