Ancestor Trouble: A Reckoning and a Reconciliation

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Newton, Bergman, Folk, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Maud Newton, Megan Mayhew Bergman, Kate Folk, and more—that are publishing this week.
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Ancestor Trouble by Maud Newton

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Ancestor Trouble: “Newton debuts with a masterful mix of memoir and cultural criticism that wrestles with America’s ancestry through her own family’s complex past. While it’s often ‘cast as a narcissistic Western peculiarity,’ she argues that ‘ancestor hunger circles the globe’ as people have increasingly begun to search for ‘a deeper sense of community, less ‘I’ and more ‘we.” Newton, though, was raised on fanciful stories of her relatives—including a grandfather with 13 ex-wives, and her great-aunt Maude (the inspiration behind Newton’s writing pseudonym), who died young in an institution—and tales of murder, witchcraft, and spiritual superstition, all of which she interrogates here with a shrewd eye. As she ‘search[es] backward’ through her family’s history in an effort to find redemption and healing, she contextualizes their stories within the nation’s history of white supremacy and religious fundamentalism (her mother was a fervent evangelical who believed their ‘forebears had sinned in such a way as to open the door to a generational curse’). Most affecting is her rendering of her complicated relationship with her father and his own ‘racist bloodline,” likening her existence to ‘a kind of homegrown eugenics project.’ The result is a transfixing meditation on the inextricable ways the past informs the present.”

How Strange a Season by Megan Mayhew Bergman

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about How Strange a Season: “Bergman (Almost Famous Women) assembles an alluring collection centered on women grappling with their circumstances. In the opener, ‘Workhorse,’ a florist procures lavish installations of endangered plants to console herself over a tyrannical father and the heartbreak of a marriage on the rocks. In ‘Wife Days,’ a competitive swimmer measures her alone time against her time as a spouse. The daughter of a second-wave feminist in ‘The Heirloom’ covers costs on her ranch by allowing groups of hedge funders to crush cars with her bucket loader, while in ‘Peaches, 1979,’ a peach farmer desperately prays for rain. The novella-length ‘Indigo Run’ involves a God-fearing Southern family and their restless daughter who looks back on her childhood in the 1920s and ’30s, when she became embroiled in the revival ritual of a local preacher. Bergman emboldens her characters with wit and a shimmering sense of self-awareness. Her attention to details is often uncanny, such as the ‘Workhorse’ narrator’s description of her estranged husband after his return home from rehab: ‘his eyes were wider these days, like he was waiting for his addiction to meet him around the next corner.’ Though alienated from the lives they either once enjoyed or from the futures they yearn for, the characters demonstrate immense mettle. Bergman’s fans will savor each story.”

A House Between Earth and the Moon by Rebecca Scherm

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A House Between Earth and the Moon: “Thriller author Scherm (Unbecoming) pivots to literary science fiction in this polished but hollow big data parable centered on exposure, privacy, and lies in a near-future Earth plagued by climate disaster and frequent pandemics where smartphones are directly wired into people’s brains and data privacy is only for the rich. Michigan scientist Alex Welch-Peters’s life’s work—bioengineering carbon-capturing algae to slow global warming—succeeded only once. Now he’s on contract to replicate the discovery on the unfinished private luxury space station Parallaxis, a haven-to-be for 10 billionaires 220 miles above Earth. Meanwhile, socially inept researcher Tess is hired to train a behavior-prediction algorithm—with the Parallaxis team as test subjects. As the algorithm becomes increasingly coercive and drags in all those aboard Parallaxis, the researchers and their families get caught in a web of conflict and lies. Scherm’s crisp prose smooths over complex interpersonal machinations and tends to overexplain its own allegories, leaving character motivations and themes feeling obvious. The broad range of issues, meanwhile, all get the same scant treatment; rape culture, for example, becomes mere window dressing. Fans of Emily St. John Mandel or Liz Harmer will appreciate Scherm’s burning world, but miss the emotional intelligence.”

The Temps by Andrew DeYoung

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Temps: “DeYoung’s diverting apocalyptic adult debut (after the YA novel The Exo Project) delivers a smart critique of modern life. Mail room temp Jacob Elliot gets lost on his first day at Delphi Enterprises. He has no idea what the company does, and overhears cryptic conversations from higher-ups (‘We’ve got a scope-creep issue on the variable data extraction project and I need to force a decision,’ one says). There’s a big meeting with Delphi’s founder, but temps aren’t allowed. During the meeting, a strange yellow gas suffuses the room and turns people into ‘rage monsters,’ who all kill each other or themselves. The only survivors are Delphi’s 350 temps, all of whom are trapped inside the sealed building. Among them are Swati Sidana, who lumps Jacob in with her ex-boyfriend from college as ‘angry white boys’ but gives Jacob points for ‘seem[ing] gentler, less sure of himself’; and Morgan, a young woman who beta-tested video games for Delphi and offers clues as to what the company is up to. But by the time the group finds answers in the company’s computers, it might be too late to save themselves. DeYoung cleverly deconstructs academia, video game culture, and capitalism from the perspectives of the temps. The author has a lot to say, and has crafted a fine vehicle for doing so.”

Out There by Kate Folk

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Out There: “Folk debuts with a wonderful absurdist collection that explores the vagaries of human connections. In the title story, the narrator can’t tell if her new boyfriend is an especially refined ‘blot,’ one of the legions of catfishing androids who recently invaded internet dating, or just a tech bro who’s emotionally stunted. Shorter stories act as well-timed interludes, such as ‘The House’s Beating Heart,’ in which a house has a beating heart in a closet, a brain in the roof, and a stomach in the basement. Folk soars in ‘A Scale Model of Gull Point,’ in which a tourist island’s inhabitants—oppressed in ways simultaneously bonkers and viciously realistic—enact a reign of terror, and the crisis prompts a burst of maturity for the narrator, an art teacher whose sculpture career never took off after her MFA. ‘Big Sur,’ another highlight, follows the life of a blot who bunks in an SRO and attempts to get a girlfriend with messages like, ‘I love dogs… I would never hurt one deliberately.’ The story risks a sentimentality anathema to the previous stories’ cynicism, and pulls it off with aplomb. The whole perfectly balances compassion and caustics, and the author has an easy hand blending everyday terror with the humor that helps people swallow it. Folk impresses with her imagination as well as her insights.”

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