Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Catherine Chung, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Helon Habila, Darcy Steinke, and more—that are publishing this week.
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The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Tenth Muse: “Chung’s impressive, poignant second novel (after Forgotten Country) explores the intersections of intellectual and familial legacies. Nearing the end of her life but still on the verge of solving the elusive Riemann hypothesis, Katherine is a noted mathematician who did her graduate work in the mid-20th century, at a time when women scholars were still a rarity. As Katherine recounts the highs and lows of her academic and romantic pursuits, she reflects on the various discoveries she’s pursued—both in her field of study and into her family history—inquiries that became inextricable while Katherine was pursuing her doctorate at MIT and learning revelations about her parentage following her father’s heart attack. Having grown up believing herself the daughter of a white father and a Chinese mother, Katherine is stunned to learn the truth of her family history. The stories of betrayal and sacrifice also end up informing her professional work in surprising ways through a storyline involving stolen math proofs. Chung persuasively interweaves myths and legends with the real-world stories of lesser-known women mathematicians and of WWII on both the European and Asian fronts. The legacy that Katherine inherits may defy the kinds of elegant proofs to which mathematicians aspire, but Chung’s novel boldly illustrates that truth and beauty can reside even amid the messiest solutions.”
The Travelers by Regina Porter
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Travelers: “At the emotional heart of Porter’s expansive and ambitious debut lies a particularly dark incident. A young black couple, Agnes Miller and Claude Johnson, are stopped by a pair of white police officers on a road in rural Georgia. It’s 1966, and the tragic events that ensue continue to haunt Agnes more than four decades later. Agnes is just one of more than half a dozen major characters whose often overlapping stories populate Porter’s novel, which freely ranges back and forth through the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Agnes’s husband, Eddie, develops a fascination with the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which he has a copy of while serving in Vietnam, and their daughter, Claudia, grows up to become a Shakespeare scholar. She marries a white Joyce scholar, Rufus, whose philandering father reveals the existence of a secret half-brother late in life. Eloise, Agnes’s foster sister (and eventual lover) from her teenage years is inspired by aviator Bessie Coleman to live a bold and fearless life. These individual stories, among many others, are memorable, but the novel’s sprawling structure and abundance of narrative perspectives engender an emotional distance from all but the most stirring scenes, not to mention a lack of unifying theme or narrative arc for readers to latch onto. Virtually any of the novel’s beautifully written chapters could excel as a short story; collectively, they fall short of a fully realized novel.”
Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Fleishman Is In Trouble: “Brodesser-Akner’s sharp and tender-hearted debut centers on hapless 41-year-old New York hepatologist Toby Fleishman, recently separated from his driven wife, Rachel, and alternately surprised and semidisgusted to find his dating apps ‘crawling with women who wanted him,’ who prove it by sending him all manner of lewd pictures. After an increasingly rocky 14-year marriage, Toby has asked Rachel, who owns a talent agency and makes a lot more money than he does, for a divorce, because she is always angry and pays little attention to their two preteen kids. But then, as Toby is juggling new girlfriends, dying patients, and unhappy children, Rachel disappears, leaving Toby to cope with logistics more complicated than he anticipated. The novel is narrated by Toby’s old college friend Libby (a device that’s occasionally awkward), a former magazine journalist now bored with life as a housewife in New Jersey. Though both she and the novel are largely entrenched on Toby’s side, Libby does eventually provide a welcome glimpse into Rachel’s point of view. While novels about Manhattan marriages and divorces are hardly a scarce commodity, the characters in this one are complex and well-drawn, and the author’s incisive sense of humor and keen observations of Upper West Side life sustain the momentum. This is a sardonically cheerful novel that readers will adore.”
Travelers by Helon Habila
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Travelers: “The plight of contemporary African refugees is the dramatic core of this moving tale. The nameless narrator of the book’s opening (the novel is divided into six sections with different characters, but the narrator connects all of them) is a native Nigerian finishing work on his dissertation, who accompanies his American wife on her art fellowship to Berlin. While she paints, he falls in with a community of students who hail from Malawi, Senegal, and other African nations. Through the characters’ friendships and associations, Habila (The Chibok Girls) relates the stories of a number of asylum seekers who fled wretched circumstances and now face uncertain prospects (among them a former doctor working in Berlin as a nightclub bouncer and a man who escaped with his family from an armed Somalian rebel who was determined to marry the man’s 10-year-old daughter). The narrator comes to know the depths of their desperation himself when, returning from Switzerland, he loses his papers and is deported to a refugee camp in Italy. ‘Where am I? Who am I? How did I get here?’ cries one refugee, summing up the sense of dislocation and loss of identity they all feel, yet Habila never presents them as objects of pity, but rather as exemplars of human resilience. Readers will find this novel a potent tale for these times.”
Roughhouse Friday by Jaed Coffin
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Roughhouse Friday: “Coffin’s lyrical account of his eventful initiation into the world of amateur boxing takes readers to southeast Alaska. Unsettled after college, Coffin (A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants) sets out westward from Maine, finally landing in Sitka after a thousand-mile solo sea kayak trip. He tutors at-risk students and, feeling isolated, takes up boxing at the local gym, eventually signing up for a Roughhouse Friday, an event in which anyone can fight for three one-minute rounds. As Coffin measures himself against a motley assortment of local fighters—including a 57-year-old ivory carver and the ‘Hoonah Hooligan,’ a high school legend from a Tlingit village—he confronts his own emotional displacement caused by the childhood divorce of his Thai mother and tough Vietnam vet father, who imparted ideals of manhood through ‘his versions of Arthurian legends.’ In measured, lucid prose, Coffin writes of fight night scenes (‘The fight ring stood in the middle of the barroom, over the dance floor, glowing beneath neon tubes of light’) and of the insecurity of angry young men. He finds that he is losing faith in his father’s heroic myths even as he struggles to embody them; nevertheless, it’s his father to whom he continually turns for answers up until the end. This is a powerful, wonderfully written exploration of one’s sense of manhood.”
Flash Count Diary by Darcey Steinke
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Flash Count Diary: “Simultaneously contemplative and messily visceral, this extraordinary fugue on menopause, a book ‘situated at the crossroads between the metaphysical and the biological,’ centers on the experience of the aging woman. Finding a kinship with killer whales, the only other species that experiences menopause and lives long past the reproductive years, novelist Steinke (Sister Golden Hair) begins with Lolita, the female whale who has been kept in a tiny pool at the Miami Seaquarium since the 1970s, and ends with a trip to Seattle to see Granny, a 104-year-old pod matriarch. In between, Steinke describes the discomfort, panic and isolation that can be caused by hot flashes, sleeplessness, and emotional and cognitive shifts; explores both the frustration and appeal of the cultural invisibility of older women; and considers what it means to develop a sexuality that does not focus on intercourse. She affirms menopause as part of what it means to be female and human, in contrast to the medical view of menopause as a pathology to be treated with hormone replacements and vaginal rejuvenation. Her ability to translate physical and emotional experiences into words will make menopausal readers feel profoundly seen and move others.”
A Sand Book by Ariana Reines
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Sand Book: “The fourth book from Reines (Mercury) is ambitious in its scope and artistic vision, offering a postmodern take on the epic poem. Like some of the major long-form poets who have preceded her, among them H.D., Lorine Niedecker, and Adrienne Rich, Reines inhabits and renegotiates the space of the long poem. This sprawling book in 12 parts considers Hurricane Sandy, the mountains of Haiti, and Twitter, offering conceptually interesting passages and a wholly original response. Despite these strengths, the poems in this volume occasionally traffic in abstraction, failing to ground vague concepts in sensory detail: ‘Many of us had succumbed to quivering/ Idiocy while others drew vitality from careers.’ Throughout the book, Reines’s enjambments heighten the sense of irony that characterizes her approach to the feminist epic. She writes, for example: ‘Nothing she meant to make a big/ Deal of, only some tiny budging/ Of memory.’ The poems operate primarily on the level of ideas, rather than through lyrical language, though the speaker’s deadpan tone does not always succeed in creating the sense of momentum needed to propel the reader through this textual landscape.”