Beautiful Ruins: A Novel (P.S.)

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Washington, Amis, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Bryan Washington, Martin Amis, and more—that are publishing this week.

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Memorial by Bryan Washington

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Memorial: “In Washington’s debut novel (after the collection Lot), the fractures in a couple’s relationship span from Houston, Tex., to Osaka, Japan. Ben, a day care teacher, lives with his cook boyfriend, Mike, in Houston’s slowly gentrifying Third Ward. When Mike’s mother, Mitsuko, arrives in Houston from Japan with plans to stay at Ben and Mike’s place, awkwardness ensues. Mike has just left for Osaka, to reconnect with his absent and now terminally ill father, and put Ben in charge of entertaining Mitsuko until he gets back. Ben eventually adjusts to having her around, just as he must navigate his changing relationship with his black middle-class family, who have always shied away from Ben’s HIV-positive status and talked around his father’s drinking. Meanwhile, in Osaka, Mike has found his father, Eiju, at the bar he owns, where Eiju has a dedicated assistant and crowd of regulars who have no idea Eiju’s dying or that he has a son. Mike starts working at the bar so he can spend Eiju’s final days with him. Though Mike still grapples with how to feel about Eiju, who made his biggest impact on Mike’s life by abandoning the family, father and son are able to build a tentative relationship. Tender, funny, and heartbreaking, this tale of family, food (Mike cooks for their Venezuelan neighbors; Mitsuko makes Ben congee), and growing apart feels intimate and expansive at the same time. Washington shows readers more of the unforgettable Houston he introduced in his stories, and comfortably expands his range into the setting of Osaka, applying nuance in equal measure to his characters and the places they’re tied to.”

Bonus Links:
Bryan Washington’s Houston Is a City of Multitudes
A Year in Reading: Bryan Washington

Inside Story by Martin Amis

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Inside Story: “Amis (The Zone of Interest) frames his consistently intelligent and compulsively readable ‘novelized autobiography,’ as he calls it, as a guide to writers. Along the way, the author crafts a dynamic series of paeans to three of his heroes—Saul Bellow, who became a kind of father figure; Christopher Hitchens, one of his best friends; and Philip Larkin, his father, Kingsley’s, lifelong friend—amid a wide-ranging survey of his own life. The book opens in 2016 with Amis living in Brooklyn with his wife, writer Isabel Fonseca, contemplating his own mortality, with a meta introduction to his reader (whom he imagines as an aspiring writer), but quickly turns to the lives of Bellow, Hitchens, and Larkin, and, eventually, their deaths: Bellow slips into dementia. Hitchens fights a losing battle with cancer. Larkin dies of cancer as well. Amis also relates the fascinating story of an early love of his, Phoebe Phelps, an enigmatic figure whom he admits was the inspiration for his first novel, The Rachel Papers, and whom he remained obsessed with for decades. There is much else on offer: critical aperçus and insightful digressions on Austen, Conrad, Nabokov, and other writers; an elegant gloss on the history of the modern novel; and opinions on Hitler, the Soviet Union, 9/11, the refugee crisis, and President Trump (‘the high-end bingo caller who occupies pole position in the GOP’). Amis again proves himself to be as savvy a thinker as he is a writer as he applies his insight and curiosity as a novelist to this stylish and genuine account of his development as a writer. The result reaches the heights of his finest work.”

Bonus Links:
Fiction Is Freedom: On Martin Amis
The Arcades Project: Martin Amis’s Guide to Classic Video Games

The Cold Millions by Jess Walter

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Cold Millions: “Walter (Beautiful Ruins) reconstructs the free speech riots of 1909–1910 in Spokane, Wash., in this superb tale of orphaned, train-hopping brothers Gig and Rye Dolan. After their mother dies from tuberculosis, Rye, 16, leaves their childhood home in Montana to join Gig. The brothers spend a year looking for seasonal work, then settle in Spokane, the ‘old Klondike town [that] had grown into a proper city,’ where ‘money flowed straight uphill’ and a $10 pair of gloves is a class-defining luxury. Rye is arrested during a riot and charged with disorderly conduct, and his lawyer introduces him to the sympathetic Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a New Yorker and union organizer who has come to Spokane to advocate for ‘the cold millions with no chance in this world.’ Gig and Rye also meet Ursula the Great, a bawdy vaudevillian who cavorts in corset and stockings with a caged cougar and wins Gig’s heart despite her romantic involvement with a mining boss. The novel’s cast mixes fictional characters and historical figures such as labor lawyer Fred Moore, police chief John Sullivan, and organizers John Walsh and Frank Little, and adds a literary layer to Gig’s self-determination (he travels with a library including White Fang and two volumes of War and Peace, ‘always on the lookout for the rest’). The sum is a splendid postmodern rendition of the social realist novels of the 1930s by Henry Roth, John Steinbeck, and John Dos Passos, updated with strong female characters and executed with pristine prose. This could well be Walter’s best work yet.”

Bonus Links:
Politics Is in Its DNA: On Jess Walter’s ‘The Cold Millions’
A Year in Reading: Jess Walter

The Collected Breece D’J Pancake by Breece D’J Pancake

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Collected Breece D’J Pancake: “In this vibrant collection, Pancake’s quirky, indelible prose is shadowed by the poignancy of his personal history. An intense, artistic misfit from rural West Virginia, Pancake died by suicide in 1979 at age 26, four years before The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake was published. In the front matter, Jayne Ann Phillips claims Pancake produced ‘some of the best short stories written anywhere, at any time,’ and James Alan McPherson notes how Pancake synthesized a Hemingway style with themes and characters inspired by his home state. And, indeed, the stories live up to the hype. Pancake balances muscular precision and economy with rich, evocative detail. In ‘The Mark,’ a struggling couple brushes aside the difficulties of the wife’s pregnancy to take their prize bull, Pride and Promise, to a fair. ‘Fox Hunters’ offers a bracing slice of West Virginia life, complete with junk cars in various stages of repair and an opossum or two. The successful protagonist of ‘The Salvation of Me’ learns that you can’t go home again. In addition to the stories and five fragments, the book includes a lengthy section of Pancake’s letters, which reads like a memoir. With its impressive quantity of annotation and tribute, this omnibus offers Pancake fans a deeper look at the artist and will go a long way to inviting others to join this legion.”

Bonus Link:
American Myth: The Short, Beautiful Life of Breece D’J Pancake

Invisible Ink by Patrick Modiano (translated by Mark Polizzotti)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Invisible Ink: “Nobel laureate Modiano delivers a mesmerizing, enigmatic novel in the vein of many of his best-known works. Like Missing Person, the book is about a private eye—albeit a shabby and halfhearted one—who once briefly worked for the Hutte Detective Agency in Paris, and like Dora Bruder, it centers on the investigation of an unsolved disappearance. But Modiano eschews the political overtones that drove those books, telling instead a story about growing old and the gaps and omissions that make up a life. Jean Eyben looks back on his 20s, when he was assigned to investigate the disappearance of Noëlle Lefebvre. As he searched, he had a series of phantomlike encounters with people whose lives each briefly intersected with Lefebvre’s in the 1960s. Her fate becomes a lifelong obsession, and Eyben recounts the story circuitously, as if remembering it as he writes, which casts an irresistible spell. As Eyben’s search deepens, he wonders whether Lefebvre has some connection to his own life. All of Modiano’s works are variations on a theme, and his newest is no different, but its dreamlike prose and a beguiling structural twist make it a worthy and satisfying addition to his accomplished oeuvre.”

Bonus Links:
Past Imperfect: On Patrick Modiano’s ‘Little Jewel’ and ‘The Black Notebook’
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mutt: On Patrick Modiano

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