A Room Called Earth: A Novel

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Strauss, Gross, and More


Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Darin Strauss, Jessica Gross, Madeleine Ryan, and more—that are publishing this week.

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The Queen of Tuesday by Darin Strauss

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Queen of Tuesday: “Strauss’s ambitious metafictional latest (after the NBCC Award-winning memoir Half a Life) blends autobiography and family history in an investigation of celebrity, memory, and the legacy of ambition. The queen of the title is Lucille Ball, who, in 1949, is a shrewd businesswoman whose funny faces subvert her beauty and add to her character, and whose domestic life is simulated in I Love Lucy, but the book’s beating heart is Isidore Strauss, a Jewish builder, and, as the reader will eventually realize, the author’s grandfather. Isidore meets Ball at a Coney Island event hosted by Fred Trump, and Strauss uses this detail to spin a story of a secret affair that explains why Isidore’s marriage falls apart. The book is so clearly a labor of love that would be almost churlish to point out how labored it can feel, as when the narrator muses for two pages about Desi Arnaz’s use and abuse of power, or when Isidore wallows in guilt for just one kiss. Strauss is at his best when harnessing Lucy’s vital comedic and sexual force, but it’s not sustained across the entire narrative. Still, the questions of how family legends both obscure and reveal the truth will keep readers turning the pages.”

Hysteria by Jessica Gross

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Hysteria: “A young woman’s downward spiral into alcohol and sex leads to a personal breakthrough in Gross’s intoxicating debut. After the unnamed protagonist hooks up with one of her psychiatrist parents’ colleagues, Dr. Langham, during a weekly dinner party, then with Sam, her roommate’s brother, during a chance encounter, she decides that the new bartender at a local dive, Pilz Bar, is Sigmund Freud reincarnated. Meanwhile, Sam appears at a friend’s house party, having developed feelings for her (‘I actually like you’), much to her frustration. Her complex feelings about older men coalesce when she returns to Pilz Bar to confront the man she calls ‘Freud,’ and an odd, imagined client-therapist relationship begins. Gross’s aptitude for shocking yet highly sensory prose propels the reader along the protagonist’s bender, all the way to rock bottom. The narrator’s perfectly rendered inner monologue, replete with her nuanced urges and obsessions, will make readers wonder if they’re getting to know her better than she knows herself, and Gross succeeds in capturing the complexities of sex addiction. It is every bit a page-turner as it is a descent into sexual madness.”

Middle Distance by Stanley Plumly

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Middle Distance: “Plumly (Orphan Hours), in his posthumous 12th collection, studies his own mortality ‘like a man in love with something,’ as he writes in ‘With Weather.’ In clear-eyed and powerful page-long lyric poems filled with questions and wonder, he takes readers from his Ohio childhood to Europe and into the natural world. Plumly’s life crossed with several other poets mentioned and conjured here, among them Galway Kinnell, Gerald Stern, and Wallace Stevens. Nature and memory are beautifully captured throughout, as in ‘Germans,’ a memoir piece about 11 WWII prisoners-of-war who helped out with his family’s lumber business in Virginia. ‘It takes time,’ he notes, ‘by hand, to humble a tree.’ In ‘White Rhino,’ the poem that opens the collection, he wonders, ‘How long a life is too long.’ In that poem’s final lines, he describes the rhino’s ‘great heart lifted down,/ the tonnage of my heart almost more than I can carry.’ That line echoes through the deeply felt poems and prose pieces of this meditative collection.”

Unwitting Street by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (translated by Joanne Turnbull)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Unwitting Street: “This collection by Polish-Russian-Soviet writer Krzhizhanovsky (1887–1950, The Return of Munchausen) mixes playful and morose tones in stories of the kooky and the condemned. At his most frolicsome, Krzhizhanovsky endows all things with consciousness, from a pair of pants in the amusing ‘Comrade Punt’ to books and letters in ‘Paper Loses Patience,’ in which all the world’s paper goes on strike, demanding that only the truth be printed. But many of these stories are darker, obliquely or directly addressing the changes wrought by the Russian Revolution, including the fates of people considered ‘superfluous’ under the new regime. The newly retired bank cashier in the bittersweet ‘The Window’ turns his apartment window into a replica of his old station at the bank, but the drunk, solitary letter writer in ‘Unwitting Street’ is more fatalistic: “logic demands that I be got rid of.” Even at his gloomiest, Krzhizhanovsky is clever and satirical in his descriptions, writing that ‘the standard of living has gone up to such an extent, it’s almost at our throats.’ Indeed, Krzhizhanovsky is at his best when finding levity in grave revelations; compared to his lively past work in translation, this shows a more somber side. The writer posthumously enjoys quite a few recent converts, and some will appreciate this darker turn.”

A Room Called Earth by Madeleine Ryan

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Room Called Earth: “Australian writer Ryan’s evocative debut features an autistic narrator negotiating her social obligations on Christmas Eve in Melbourne. As the unnamed, self-possessed woman, who finds ‘connection with my own species has been difficult,’ prepares to attend a party, her mind takes her through a series of digressions. Should she put chopsticks in her hair, or paint the chopsticks to match her outfit, or leave them in the drawer to serve their purpose as utensils? She considers the identities of the partygoers, whom she envisions as ‘Futuristic Shadow Beasts Without Faces,’ observes the foliage, and plays with her cat. Among people, she struggles to bridge the gulf between the hive of her mind and polite conversation, which she finds suffocating, whether dealing with a clingy ex-boyfriend or weathering the labels and words that she refuses to define her (‘Sometimes… I fear that change is impossible, and that persecution is inevitable for us all’). Eventually, she leaves with a man and contends with the languages of love and sex in an extended scene that begins awkwardly but turns into romance. While the dialogue is often long-winded, the interior monologues are vibrant and revealing. Ryan succeeds in capturing neurodiversity on the page.”

Also on shelves this week: Ache by Eliza Henry Jones.

Bonus Links:
Robert Birnbaum and Darin Strauss
Storytelling Is a Deadly Business: Krzhizhanovsky’s ‘The Letter Killers Club’
Dear Sugar: On Tiny Beautiful Things

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