An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Spiotta, Austin, Statovci, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Dana Spiotta, Emily Austin, Pajtim Statovci, and more—that are publishing this week.
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Wayward by Dana Spiotta

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Wayward: “Spiotta (Innocents and Others) draws up a love letter to Syracuse, N.Y., in this wonderfully mischievous and witty story of a 53-year-old woman who flees the suburbs for the city. In 2017, Sam Raymond divides her time between working part-time at a historical house for fictional suffragette and Oneida Community member Claire Loomis, and her ‘bored-housewife pastime of attending open houses.’ After swooning over a run-down bungalow designed by a locally treasured architect, she buys the house and leaves her husband, Matt, and 16-year-old daughter, Ally, without much of an explanation. Matt assumes she’s leaving as part of her distraught reaction to Trump being elected president; it’s true that Sam’s outrage has peaked, and she’s been going to meetings with other enraged women, which Spiotta renders with ingenious complexity. When a pair of younger women confronts a gathering of older white feminists (‘All I know is that people our age, queer people, people of color—we didn’t elect him,’ one of the young women says), Sam’s reaction is mixed, as she feels caught between two generations. Sam then meets a self-described ‘Half Hobo’ from an online ‘Crones’ group, who advises Sam to resign herself to the coming apocalypse. But Sam still wants her life to have meaning, and she wants to reconnect with Ally, whose story of a secret affair with a 29-year-old man emerges in a parallel narrative. As Sam reckons with how Syracuse’s history is viewed by a younger generation (‘let’s salvage, not savage’), Spiotta pulls off a surprising dive into the Loomis story, which informs Sam’s relationship with her own mother and with Ally while shading in Sam’s interest in local lore. This is a knockout.”

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead: “Runaway humor sustains an otherwise grim story in Austin’s exuberant debut. After a car accident in which 27-year-old Gilda breaks her arm, she visits an emergency room where she’s a frequent patient, then responds to an ad offering free mental health support at a church. There, a priest mistakes her for a job applicant, and she doesn’t correct him. After the interview, Gilda accidentally becomes a receptionist, taking over for the late Grace Moppet, who may have been the victim of a homicidal nurse. As the receptionist, Gilda rapidly falls prey to impostor syndrome, a problem she faced during her last job as a bookseller (‘I didn’t really get 1984 and… I hate poetry’). Meanwhile, Gilda, an atheist and a lesbian, makes awkward attempts to masquerade as a good Catholic, mistaking communion wafers for crackers, trying to understand hymns, catechism, baptism, and the blessed sacrament of confession. The plot thickens as Gilda responds to emails from one of her predecessor’s friends as Grace. What starts out as genuinely bleak affair, with a depressed Gilda considering suicide, becomes a brisk story underpinned by a vibrant cast. Fans of Helene Tursten’s An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good will find much to enjoy.”

Dear Miss Metropolitan by Carolyn Ferrell

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Dear Miss Metropolitan: “Ferrell’s innovative and harrowing debut novel (after the collection Don’t Erase Me) draws on the Ariel Castro kidnappings in Cleveland for a story about the abduction and captivity of three young women in Queens, N.Y., and their subsequent escape in 2007. Prior to their abductions in the late 1990s, each of the ‘victim-girls’ finds coping mechanisms to survive their difficult situations. Fern, 13, distracts herself from her mother’s drug abuse and lecherous boyfriends with Soul Train VHS tapes; Gwin, 15, skirts her mother’s increasingly radical Jehovah’s Witnesses ideas by grooving to Prince; and the quick-witted Jesenia, nearly 17, leaves Queens with her doting but violent boyfriend. The three are chained in a decrepit house and tortured by their sadistic captor, known only as ‘Boss Man,’ for close to 10 years. When they are finally discovered and freed, the surrounding community members, including Mathilda Marron, a newspaper advice columnist known as ‘Miss Metropolitan’ who has lived next door to the house the girls were held in for four decades, grapple with guilt over not discovering them sooner. Composed of an assemblage of fragments, photos, articles by Mathilda, and first-person narration from the victims, this effectively unpacks both individual and collective trauma. It’s blistering from page one.”

Build Your House Around My Body by Violet Kuppersmith

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Build Your House Around My Body: “Kupersmith’s exceptional debut novel (after the collection The Frangipani Hotel) offers profound and original insight on Vietnam’s tortured history. Twenty-two-year-old Winnie, a mixed-race American woman, signs up to teach English in Saigon in an attempt to connect with the Vietnamese part of her heritage, and essentially dooms herself to failure: ‘her life would continue to be as empty as her luggage, wherever she went,’ Kupersmith writes. Winnie figures out how to placate her students by helping them learn American terms such as ‘booty call’ and ‘loaded nachos,’ and enters a more or less satisfactory romantic relationship with a fellow teacher, but then disappears. At this point, the chapters range widely beyond Winnie’s present-day story to the days, months, and years before and after her disappearance. These vivid vignettes—horrifying and hilarious by turns—are marvelously written and include nightmarish scenes of immolation, two-headed snakes, and other accounts of disappearing young women, as well as a memorable team of ghost hunters and a soul-swapping dog. The multiple pages of maps and dramatis personae at the novel’s opening help ground the reader through this disorienting but captivating opus, until the clues and characters coalesce in a way that’s both surprising and satisfying. Magic can be both benevolent and monstrous in Kupersmith’s work, and here she indelibly illustrates the ways in which Vietnam’s legacies of colonialism, war, and violence against women continue to haunt. This more than fulfills the promise of her first book.”

Bolla by Pajtim Statovci (translated by David Hackston)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Bolla: “Astounding writing distinguishes this portrait of love, loss, and war from Kosovo-born Finnish writer and National Book Award finalist Statovci (Crossing). The story alternates between the feverish recollections of Miloš and Arsim, whose paths cross briefly but indelibly in 1995 Kosovo, where Miloš, a Serb who is studying medicine, and Arsim, a married Albanian literature student, become lovers. Arsim recounts his disastrous marriage to Ajshe (she is ‘remarkably beautiful, silent as a drape’) and his doomed affair with Miloš, comparing himself and Miloš to ‘two birds that have crashed into the window,’ and describes how mounting ethnic tensions forced him and his family to flee their home (‘We Albanians are washed across the world like a handful of sand scattered into the sea,’ he reflects). In nonlinear passages extending to 2004, Miloš riffs on the horrors he encountered during the Balkan wars and reveals his deteriorating mental state. Woven throughout is the myth of the snake-like bolla, a daughter of God who is set free by the devil for a single day a year, conceived by Statovci as a metaphor for the men’s brief but powerful liaison. Statovci sustains a deeply somber tone as the characters struggle to endure while looking back on a sad past of missed opportunity, “exhausted by that speck of freedom.” It’s an eloquent story of desire and displacement, a melancholy symphony in a heartbreaking minor key. Statovci is a master.”

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