Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Anna Wiener, Garth Greenwell, Meng Jin, Zora Neale Hurston, and more—that are publishing this week.
Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Uncanny Valley: “Technology journalist Wiener looks at Silicon Valley life in this insider-y debut memoir that sharply critiques start-up culture and the tech industry. In 2013, Wiener left an assistant job at a New York literary agency to work for an e-book start-up run by young men who were uninterested in reading books. That job led to a move to San Francisco, where she worked in customer support at a data analytics start-up, then at a start-up that focused on software development. Wiener humorously describes the employee perks at the office (‘a miniature theme park’ with a wraparound bar, a roof deck, a speakeasy), though she decided to primarily work from home ‘in sagging leggings.’ Wiener writes of how she struggled to be taken seriously in a male-dominated industry that lacked diversity; attended lavish work events—at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Lake Tahoe—while San Francisco’s homeless population increased; communicated with coworkers using just emoji; and watched 20-somethings get rich overnight. She eventually became disillusioned with her job (‘I was burning out and failing up’) and left in 2018 to pursue writing, but not before buying up her vested stock options. Wiener is an entertaining writer, and those interested in a behind-the-scenes look at life in Silicon Valley will want to take a look.”
Cleanness by Garth Greenwell
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Cleanness: “A young American teacher’s reckonings with intimacy and alienation compose the through line of Greenwell’s elegant and melancholy volume (after What Belongs to You). Nine stories track the unnamed narrator, who teaches literature in Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia. Documenting the narrator’s relationship with R., a Portuguese university student, and its dissolution, the stories are touchstones in his emotional development, from an attempt to shepherd a student through the crisis of first love in ‘Mentor,’ to an encounter with homophobia in the midst of an outpouring of national solidarity in ‘Decent People.’ As the teacher’s hopes of a life with R. fade, he returns to sex with men he meets online, which proves both dangerous, as in the chilling ‘Gospodar,’ and revelatory, as in his encounter with the self-abnegation of the young man he calls Svetcheto, ‘Little Saint.’ Unresolved regarding his own character, ‘how little sense of myself I have, how there was no end to what I could want or to the punishment I would seek,’ the narrator struggles to guide the young people he teaches, conscious of the chasm of experience and expectation between them. Greenwell writes about sex as a mercurial series of emotional states and is lyrical and precise in his descriptions of desires and motivations he suggests are not subject to control or understanding. This is a piercingly observant and meticulously reflective narrative.”
Little Gods by Meng Jin
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Little Gods: “Jin’s stunning debut follows 17-year-old Liya on her journey to China with the ashes of her recently deceased mother, a mysterious and mercurial woman whom Liya both loved and resented. Su Lan, her mother, was a former physicist from China who died in America, where she had lived and worked for nearly two decades. Intertwined with Liya’s grief-stricken quest is the voice of Zhu Wen, Su Lan’s former neighbor in Shanghai, whose memory of Su Lan as a beautiful, charismatic, and fiercely brilliant physics student in a happy marriage to a handsome doctor does not square with the woman Liya knows. The third narrative strand belongs to Yongzong, Su Lan’s husband and Liya’s father, who has long lost touch with Su Lan and has never known Liya. Liya arrives in China with only her mother’s last known address, in Shanghai, where Su Lan had once lived with Yongzong. On first meeting Zhu Wen there, Liya realizes just how little she knew about her mother. Liya then visits the small mountain village where her mother was raised, and goes to Beijing, where she finds out what happened during the night of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, when she was born and Su Lan began to transform from a promising young student to a living ghost. Artfully composed and emotionally searing, Jin’s debut about lost girls, bottomless ambition, and the myriad ways family members can hurt and betray one another is gripping from beginning to end. This is a beautiful, intensely moving debut.”
We Wish You Luck by Caroline Zancan
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about We Wish You Luck: “Zancan’s inventive, addictive second novel (after Local Girls) follows the bonds, ambitions, and betrayals within a group of aspiring writers at a low-residency MFA program. The book is narrated as a collective ‘we’ by the students at competitive Fielding College, but the story focuses on three particular students: Leslie, a spitfire who wants to write erotica and make money; Hannah, who attracts Leslie’s attention after she submits in workshop a short story about a young woman who has lost her mother; and Jimmy, a talented poet whose mysterious background is a source of gossip in the program. Also at Fielding is their teacher, Simone, a new faculty member and former model with a bestselling debut novel under her belt. Zancan spends much of the first act wittily conveying the unique textures of a writing program, and convincingly shows the closeness that develops between Leslie, Hannah, and Jimmy. But when Jimmy experiences a devastating critique of his poems in a workshop led by Simone, the dark turns of the story are set into motion. Zancan excels at portraying the claustrophobia and competitiveness that can arise when someone is near others who share the same goals. This ambitious novel about love and revenge reads like a thriller, while asking probing questions about what it means to make art and how artists influence each other, for better or worse.”
Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick by Zora Neale Hurston
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: “This arresting collection from Hurston (Barracoon) includes eight previously unpublished works, mostly set in or featuring characters from her hometown of Eatonville, Fla. Many of the stories draw on folklore and mythology to dramatize conflicts around gender, class, and migration. In ‘John Redding Goes to Sea,’ a young boy named John dreams of leaving his small Florida town and continues to dream of leaving after he’s grown up. Delayed at first by his mother, who neither understands nor approves of her son’s wanderlust, and then his wife, John finally gets an opportunity, undaunted by a portentous, impending storm. In ‘Magnolia Flower,’ a young couple’s stealing of time together away from the woman’s overbearing, abusive father is framed as a bedtime story shared by an anthropomorphic river to a splashing brook after it disrupts the river’s slumber (‘ ‘Oh, well,’ the river muttered, ‘I am wide awake now, and I suppose brooks must be humored’’). Hurston ingeniously uses the cadence of her characters’ speech to denote regionalism and class—there’s a marked difference between how her Eatonville characters speak and how her Harlem characters speak. Arranged chronologically, the collection offers an illuminating and delightful study of a canonical writer finding her rhythm.”
Also on shelves this week: Track Changes by Sayed Kashua.
New York Magazine has an excerpt up from Zora Neale Hurston’s long-lost manuscript, Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo, the first-person account of Cudjo Lewis, the only living survivor of the final slave ship to land in America. Barracoon will finally, 87 years later, be published next week.