Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Marlon James, Alejandro Zambra, Sheila Heti, and more—that are publishing this week.
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Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Moon, Witch, Spider King: ” “, the antagonist of Black Leopard, Red Wolf, tells her side of the story in Booker Prize winner James’s brilliant second Dark Star fantasy, which chronicles life from childhood through to the search for the lost boy at the center of the first book. Furtive , the Moon Witch, manages to live far longer than most expect for a girl of ‘little use’ with no family ties. She witnesses mad kings rise and fall and women suffer at their hands, all while the Aesi, or the king’s chancellor, remains a constant at the right side of the throne. Sogolon becomes a living record of all the kingdom has been through—and to the Aesi, this makes her a threat. Now each works against the other as they try to find the lost boy for their own purposes. If book one centers on the nature of storytelling, this volume turns its focus to memory, archiving, and history as Sogolon works to correct the record. The two stories run parallel to and contradict each other, and James mines the distance between them to raise powerful questions about whether truth is possible when the power of storytelling is available only to a few. This is a tour de force.”
Chilean Poet by Alejandro Zambra, translated by Megan McDowell
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Chilean Poet: “Chilean writer Zambra (Multiple Choice) is best known in English for his experimental stories and novellas, tendencies he sheds to mixed results in this multigenerational story about South American poets. The reader first meets Gonzalo in 1991, when he is a teenager working out his first poems and his love for the beautiful Carla, who breaks up with him. Nine years later, the two meet by chance in Santiago, by which time Carla has a precocious son named Vicente. Nominally more responsible than the boy’s birth father, Gonzalo becomes a de facto stepfather to Vicente. In the second half, Zambra covers Vicente’s teenage years and his early efforts as a poet as he becomes entangled at 18 with an American journalist named Pru, 31, who has fled an abusive relationship to write a history of Chilean poetry, and with a duplicitous fellow poet, Pato López López (‘You guys are like Bolaño characters,’ Pru says of them). Eventually, Gonzalo and Vicente’s paths cross again, reuniting them as a surrogate family of poets. The painstaking details and plodding pace can make this a slog, but there’s no questioning Zambra’s deep affection for writers grasping at love. The author always shows a great deal of heart, but it comes through best in his shorter work.”
New Animal by Ella Baxter
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about New Animal: “Australian writer Baxter debuts with a raw and mordant story of a woman processing her grief, sexuality, and family relationships. Amelia Aurelia is in her late 20s and working as a cosmetic mortician at her stepfather Vincent’s mortuary, where the steady stream of corpses keeps her constantly aware of mortality. She deals with this by sorting her emotions into two ‘boxes,’ one for the living and one for the dead, and copes most nights by pursuing hookups. When her mother unexpectedly dies, Amelia becomes desperate for connection. Her older brother leans on the man and woman in his throuple for comfort, while Vincent turns to the bottle. Instead of staying for the funeral, Amelia flies to Tasmania to stay with her biological father and explores BDSM with random dates. She also takes a new funeral home job and processes her grief. Baxter delicately balances the emotional heft of the situation with dark humor (Amelia, asked how she identifies while on the way to a kink club, responds, ‘Human woman, tired, sad, on a date with you, not wholly sure what a sadist is’) and finds clever ways to push Amelia toward coming to terms with her limits. It adds up to a convincing look at a young woman’s path toward self-acceptance.”
Away to Stay by Mary Kuryla
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Away to Stay: “Family proves both an elusive dream and disquieting reality in Kuryla’s delightfully quirky debut. Olya, 12, gets her first taste of stability when her itinerant, duplicitous Russian émigré mother, Irina, brings her to the home of Jack, the man she claims is a cousin, in Riverside, Calif. Jack turns out to be a paranoid, trigger-happy ex-soldier haunted by memories of Afghanistan whose only real relationship is with his dog Bird, whom he served with overseas and has since dognapped from the same K-9 police unit he was unceremoniously discharged from. As Irina disappears on a harebrained scheme to become a ballerina and stalk Mikhail Baryshnikov, and with Child Protective Services closing in, Olya enters into a battle of wills with Jack to train the untrainable Bird. She also takes up with a mysterious neighbor named McFate; struggles to present a normal front to the rightfully concerned Nurse Fenton, a former coworker of Irina’s at the local hospital during a rare stint of gainful employment; and eventually joins Jack and McFate on a dog heist that threatens their delicate peace. Throughout, Olya pursues the deep secret kept from her by Irina: the identity of her father. Kuryla shines in her descriptions of the offbeat characters and their antics, and makes Olya’s relationships with the damaged men especially touching. It adds up to a captivating coming-of-age yarn.”
The Last Wild Horses by Maja Lunde (translated by Diane Oatley)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Last Wild Horses: “Like Lunde’s The History of Bees, her stellar latest hinges on a threatened species, this time the takhi, a rare ancient breed of horses. In 1880 St. Petersburg, a colleague brings zoologist Mikhail Kovrov the skull and hide of what looks like a takhi, which is believed to be extinct. Kovrov leaves his comfortable urban life to travel with animal-capture expert Wilhelm Wolff to Mongolia, where the remains were found, with a plan to bring living takhis to Europe to preserve their bloodline. Though they succeed in capturing the horses, Kovrov’s time with the passionate, fearless Wolff throws his beliefs about his identity and future into crisis. A century later, German veterinarian Karin realizes her longtime dream of flying a group of European-born takhis back to Mongolia to reestablish them in the wild. Joining her on the expedition is her son, Mathias, a heroin addict in unsteady recovery who hopes to win the love his mother has never seemed able to express. In 2064 Norway, Eve and her teenage daughter, Isa, inhabit the dystopia caused by climate change. Isa wants to join migrants seeking a more sustainable habitat, while Eve is determined to stay at the family’s defunct wild animal park to take care of its takhi, one of the world’s last, and her foal. Each of the segments are brilliantly complex, and they conclude with satisfying revelations. Throughout, Lunde delivers a perfect blend of gripping human stories, historical and scientific fact, and speculative elements. This standout should win her wider attention in the U.S.”
Pure Colour by Sheila Heti
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Pure Colour: “Heti (How Should a Person Be?) delivers an underwhelming fable, a sort of Generation X Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Here, God has created three kinds of people: bird, fish, and bear. Birds are ambitious, fish are socially minded, and bears love with focus and intensity. Mira, the main character, is a bird, born to a bear father, with whom she has an emotionally incestuous relationship. Annie, a fellow student at the American Academy of American Critics whom Mira has a crush on, is a fish. Heti romanticizes the characters’ time in school, which apparently took place shortly before the advent of smartphones: ‘They just didn’t consider the fact that one day they would be walking around with phones in the future, out of which people who had far more charisma than they did would let flow an endless stream of images and words.’ Mira is prone to overblown mysticism; after her father dies, she imagines she ‘felt his spirit ejaculate into her, like it was the entire universe coming into her body.’ Stricken by grief, she hopes for relief from Annie, though their contrasting animal natures complicate the relationship. Just what the point of it all is remains something of a mystery. Even Heti’s fans will be flummoxed.”