Burn It Down: Women Writing about Anger

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Tuesday New Release Day: Smith, Jones, Jemc, Dancyger, Marantz

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Zadie Smith, Saeed Jones, Jac Jemc, Lilly Dancyger, Andrew Marantz, and more—that are publishing this week.

Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.

Grand Union by Zadie Smith

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Grand Union: “In Smith’s smart and bewitching story collection, the novelist’s first (after the essay collection Feel Free), the modern world is refracted in ways that are both playful and rigorous, formally experimental and socially aware. A drag queen struggles with aging in ‘Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets’ as she misses the ‘fabled city of the past’ now that ‘every soul on these streets was a stranger.’ A child’s school worksheet spurs a humorous reassessment of storytelling itself in the postmodern ‘Parents’ Morning Epiphany.’ ‘Two Men Arrive in a Village,’ in which a violent duo invades a settlement, aspires to ‘perfection of parable.’ Some stories, including ‘Just Right,’ about a family in prewar Greenwich Village, and the sci-fi ‘Meet the President!,’ in which a privileged boy meets a lower-class English girl, read more like exercises. But more surprising and rewarding are stories constructed of urban impressions and personal conversations, like ‘For the King,’ in which the narrator meets an old friend for dinner in Paris. And the standout ‘The Canker’ uses speculative tropes to reflect on the current political situation: people live harmoniously in storyteller Esorik’s island society, until the new mainland leader, the Usurper, inspires ‘rage’ and the ‘breaking of all the cycles [Esorik] had ever known.’ Smith exercises her range without losing her wry, slightly cynical humor. Readers of all tastes will find something memorable in this collection.”

How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about How We Fight for Our Lives: “Poet Jones (Prelude to Bruise) explores sexual identity, race, and the bond between a mother and child in a powerful memoir filled with devastating moments. As a gay African-American boy growing up in Texas, Jones struggled to find his way. In 1998, at age 12, ‘I thought about being gay all the time,’ he writes, but at home the subject was taboo. Here, Jones candidly discusses his coming of age, his sexual history, and his struggle to love himself. He describes engaging in destructive behavior in college, including repeated relations with a sadistic, racist man, and their encounters graphically illustrate how sex and race can be used as weapons of hate. Jones writes that, at that grim time in his life, he appeared to others to be a happy young man: ‘Standing in front of the mirror, my reflection and I were like rival animals, just moments away from tearing each other limb from limb.’ Jones beautifully records his painful emergence into adulthood and, along the way, he honors his mother, a single parent who struggled to support him financially, sometimes emotionally, but who loved him unconditionally until her death in 2011. Jones is a remarkable, unflinching storyteller, and his book is a rewarding page-turner.”

False Bingo by Jac Jemc

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about False Bingo: “Jemc’s electric, nimble collection (after The Grip of It) plumbs its characters’ most intimate relationships and unearths potent hidden truths. In ‘Delivery,’ a father’s sudden spike in online shopping signifies a troubling development. In ‘Don’t Let’s,’ a woman stays in the Georgia Lowcountry, trying to clear her mind after leaving an abusive relationship, but finds signs of a ghost’s presence in her house. ‘Pastoral,’ about the work of a porn actress who has a husband and two sons, defies convention by having no conflict at all (‘There are no wolves at the door…. There is no obstacle that requires overcoming’). A woman’s stay at a wellness retreat is impinged upon by an overbearing fellow retreater in ‘Maulawiyah.’ In ‘Hunt and Catch,’ a woman named Emily is ominously followed by a man in a garbage truck (‘When he waved, Emily felt like someone had shoved the skin of her face in the direction of his hand’). In ‘Trivial Pursuit,’ an unnamed couple is irritated by the eccentricities of a couple known as the Board Game Couple before dumping them for the Artist Couple, followed by a succession of other couples, each with their own problems. Many of these stories are only a few pages, allowing Jemc to deliver a range of payoffs, some unsettling, some poignant, all evocative. This constantly shifting collection will leave readers beguiled.”

Burn It Down edited by Lily Dancyger

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Burn It Down: “Editor Dancyger collects essays from 22 female writers contemplating (and unleashing) anger, continuing the #MeToo ethos of emotional transparency and righteous indignation, to bracing and powerful effect. The writers are a diverse group and cover a wide range of experiences. Samantha Riedel recalls unlearning a lifetime of aggressive masculine social conditioning after transitioning from male to female, while still harnessing the power of anger to scare off harassers and put TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) in their place. Lisa Marie Basile documents years of suffering from a chronic illness and having her symptoms minimized by doctors and friends alike, declaring her refusal to be dismissed: ‘There is too much beauty in being alive to silence my intuition, to ignore my body, to not sing its needs and demand they be met.’ Evette Dionne writes of the ‘angry black woman’ stereotype, and how it silences women and shapes perceptions of famous African-American women such as Serena Williams. Other rage-inducing topics include intentional misgendering, religious discrimination, sexism in the classroom, and perimenopause. As Dancyger notes in her introduction, women’s anger has long been trivialized and discredited, but this collection allows that anger the space to flourish. It is a cathartic and often inspiring reading experience.”

Ghosts of Berlin by Rudolph Herzog

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Ghosts of Berlin: “Everyday problems are complicated by weird plot thickeners in these seven vivid and intriguing stories from the author of A Short History of Nuclear Folly. A filmmaker as well and the son of director Werner Herzog, Herzog writes relatively lengthy stories told in short cuts; the reader has time to inhabit the world of the protagonist before the plot turns dark, often with a strain of deadpan humor. In ‘Needle and Thread,’ Bjorn is so wrapped up in his corporate dealings that he ignores, at his own peril, the pleas of his daughter, Alena, about a figure lurking in her bedroom. In ‘Key,’ the admittedly neurotic violinist Stiebel struggles to adjust to his new apartment and a move to Berlin. He develops a complicated relationship with a prickly neighbor named Wondrak, who triggers inexplicable emotions in him. In ‘Tandem,’ Greek immigrant and language teacher Dmitri finds himself drawn to his sweet German student Lotte, until she commits a shockingly rapacious act. The common thread in the stories is the city of Berlin and the dark shadows in its history. These links unfold in different ways as each story progresses. That this history is rarely addressed directly adds tension and resonance. The macabre mischief in Herzog’s tales is far from benign and speaks eloquently to the anxiety of modern life.”

The Furies by Katie Lowe

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Furies: “Lowe’s powerful and atmospheric debut features a troubled young woman who becomes entangled in witchcraft and murder at a private British all-girls school. Soon after starting at Elm Hollow Academy, teen Violet Taylor falls in with Alex, Grace, and their chain-smoking, impossibly cool ringleader, Robin, and begins drinking, shoplifting, and taking drugs. She especially bonds with Robin and joins an exclusive study group where the girls explore the ‘great women of art and literature,’ including the rumors that Elm Hollow’s founder was a powerful witch. After Violet is sexually assaulted , she and her friends perform a dark revenge ritual involving animal sacrifice. When the brutalized body of student Emily Frost, who was missing for months, is found in the elm in Elm Hollow’s courtyard, the girls pin her murder on the dean, leading to further shocking violence. Lowe’s sinuous prose weaves a disturbing tale of friendship, obsession, and revenge, and readers must decide whether Violet is a trustworthy narrator. Those who thrill to dark coming-of-age tales with a dash of the uncanny will find much to enjoy.”

Antisocial by Andrew Marantz

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Antisocial: “Marantz, a staff writer at the New Yorker, makes a timely and excellent debut with his chronicle of how a ‘motley cadre of edgelords’ gleefully embraced social media to spread their ‘puerile’ brand of white nationalism. In examining how ‘the unthinkable became thinkable’ in American politics, he narrates that tech entrepreneurs disrupted the old ways of vetting and spreading information—including the traditional media of which Marantz identifies himself as a part—but refused to take up a role as gatekeepers, and the white nationalists seeped in like poison. Marantz profiles alt-right figures and tech titans alike: vlogger Cassandra Fairbanks, Proud Boys leader Gavin McInnes, antifeminist Mike Cernovich, Reddit founder Steve Huffman (who experimented with gatekeeping by deleting the site’s forum dedicated to the ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy theory), The Filter Bubble author and tech entrepreneur Eli Pariser, and clickbait startup CEO Emerson Spartz, who opines, ‘If it gets shared, it’s quality.’ A running theme is how journalists should cover ‘a racist movement full of hypocrites and liars,’ and, indeed, Marantz doesn’t shy away from asking pointed questions or noting his subjects’ inconsistencies. This insightful and well-crafted book is a must-read account of how quickly the ideas of what’s acceptable public discourse can shift.”

October Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around).  Here’s what we’re looking out for this month—for more October titles, check out our Second-Half Preview. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!

Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.

Find Me by André Aciman: In a most-anticipated list, Aciman’s Find Me may be the most anticipated of all. Set decades after Oliver and Elio first meet in Call Me by Your Name, this novel follows Elio’s father Samuel, who while traveling to Rome to visit his son meets a young woman who changes his life; Elio, a classical pianist who moves to Paris; and Oliver, a New England college professor and family man who yearns to return to Italy. I’m aching to read this and I know I’ll be aching while reading it too. (Carolyn)

The Topeka School by Ben Lerner: The pre-pub blurbs for Lerner’s third novel are ecstatic, with his publisher calling it a breakthrough and Claudia Rankinedescribing it as “a powerful allegory of our troubled present.” Set in late 1990s Kansas, it centers on a lefty family in a red state. The mother is a famous feminist author; the father, a psychiatrist who specializes in “lost boys.” Their son, Adam Gordon, is a debate champion who unwittingly brings one of his father’s troubled patients into his friend group, to disastrous effect. (Hannah)

Grand Union by Zadie Smith: Grand Union is the first short story collection of Zadie Smith, the award-winning author of White Teeth and The Autograph Man, among others. Ten unpublished new stories will be put alongside with ten of her much-applauded pieces from The New Yorker and elsewhere. Everything, however familiar or small it may seem in daily life, glows in Smith’s brilliant observation. Grand Union is a wonderful meditation on time and place, past and future, identity and the possibility of rebirth. (Jianan Qian)

How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones: A 2014 NBCC finalist for his poetry collection Prelude to Bruise, How We Fight for Our Lives tells Jones’ coming-of-age as a black gay boy and man in the South via prose-poetry vignettes. From the publisher: “Blending poetry and prose, Jones has developed a style that is equal parts sensual, beautiful, and powerful—a voice that’s by turns a river, a blues, and a nightscape set ablaze.” (Sonya)

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha: Your House Will Pay is a propulsive and well-plotted novel set in Los Angeles where crime and tension are at an all-time high. In Cha’s narrative that explores race, class, and community in Los Angeles, her characters must confront their histories and truth. Catherine Chungdescribes Your House Will Pay as “a devastating exploration of grief, shame, and deeply buried truths.” (Zoë)

 

Ordinary Girls by Jaquira Díaz: In her debut memoir, Jaquira Díaz mines her experiences growing up in Puerto Rico and Miami, grappling with traumas both personal and international, and over time converts them into something approaching hope and self-assurance. For years, Díaz has dazzled in shorter formats—stories, essays, etc.—and her entrée into longer lengths is very welcome. (Nick M.)

Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl by Jeannie Vanasco: The CDC estimates 1 in 5 women in the U.S. are raped in their lifetimes, but concealed in those conservative, anonymized figures is the mind-bending enormity of 33,000,000 individual women and their stories. In her latest memoir, Jeannie Vanasco shares hers. Remarkably, Vanasco interviews the former friend who raped her 15 years ago, interweaving their discussions with conversations involving her close friends and peers to produce an investigation of trauma, its effects, and the ways they affect us all. “Courageous” is an inadequate word to describe this project, let alone Vanasco herself. (Nick M.)

False Bingo by Jac Jemc: The unsettling horror that made Jac Jemc’s The Grip of It such an unnerving read has mutated into an uneasiness that infiltrates the everyday lives depicted in False Bingo, Jemc’s second book of short stories. Jemc’s characters are misfits and dislocated, and their encounters often cross the line where fear becomes reality. There’s a father with dementia who develops an online shopping addiction and an outcast mulling over regret as he taxidermies animals. In essence False Bingo is a “collection of realist fables exploring how conflicting moralities can coexist: the good, the bad, the indecipherable.” (Anne)

Holding On To Nothing by Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne: This debut novel set in the mountains and hollows of Eastern Tennessee will charm you with its warmth and love for its characters, a cast that includes a dog named Crystal Gale. (Which has to be one of the best pet names in fiction.) The novel centers on Lucy Kilgore, a young woman who was planning to leave small town Tennessee but instead ends up getting shotgun-married to Jeptha Taylor, a bluegrass musician with a drinking problem. With too little money and too much alcohol in their lives, their little family is doomed from the start, but Lucy can’t help trying to hold everyone together. (Hannah)

Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi (translated by Marilyn Booth): Alharthi’s novel, which won the 2019 Man Booker International Prize, is the first by an Omani woman to be translated into English. Following the lives of three sisters and their families, the novel examines a rapidly changing Omani culture through their familial sagas, dramas, loves, and losses. Publishers Weekly’s starred review called it an “ambitious, intense novel” that “rewards readers willing to assemble the pieces of Alharthi’s puzzle into a whole.” (Carolyn)

Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson: Longlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize, Winterson’s latest novel follows a fictionalized Mary Shelley as she creates Frankenstein, or rather Winterson’s reimagining of it. In modern-day, Brexit Britain, Ry Shelley—a transgender doctor—falls in love with a professor specializing in AI. There’s also sex dolls and a cryogenics facility of dozens of bodies—medically dead but not gone yet. The novel questions what is means to be human—then, now, and in the future. With starred reviews from both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, the former called the novel “beguiling, disturbing, and full of wonders.” (Carolyn)

Eat Joy edited by Natalie Eve Garrett (illustrated by Meryl Rowin): Writer and author Garrett has gathered 31 illustrated essays about comfort food from some of the finest writers working today—including Edwidge Danticat, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Anthony Doerr,  Carmen Maria Machado, and Alexander Chee among others. About the collection, writer Kiese Laymon says: “This is the first collection that ever made me want to sensually eat, cook, write, and thank all the wonderful makers of the most memorable memories in my life.” (Carolyn)

Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur: In the summer of her fourteenth year, Brodeur, former editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and current Executive Director at Aspen Words, is woken by her mother—brimming and joyful—and told a secret: she’s been kissed by a man who is not her husband. The secret becomes the foundation of their warped relationship as Brodeur becomes her mother’s most trusted friend and expected facilitator of her extramarital affair. This graceful and heartbreaking memoir explores complicity, forgiveness, and complex familial relationships. “This layered narrative of deceit, denial, and disillusionment is a surefire bestseller,” writes Publishers Weekly.  (Carolyn)

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout: In a follow-up to her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Olive Kitteridge, Strout returns with 13 interconnected stories about Olive, her neighbors, and her hometown of Crosby, Maine. Receiving starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus, the latter writes: “Beautifully written and alive with compassion, at times almost unbearably poignant.” (Carolyn)

Burn It Down edited by Lily Dancyger: “Throughout history, angry women have been called harpies, bitches, witches, and whores,” so begins the introduction of Dancyger’s anthology on women’s anger. The twenty-two essay collections includes works by Leslie Jamison, Melissa Febos, Evette Dionne, and Rowan Hisayo Buchanan among others. Exploring anger from a multitude of perspectives, the essays show the varying ways anger manifests in our lives—and gives it a place to take up space and have a voice. (Carolyn)

Exquisite Mariposa by Fiona Alison Duncan: Duncan’s metafictional debut follows a fictional Fiona Alison Duncan as she navigates her new life in Los Angeles—and consumed by her journey into “the Real,” an almost unattainable state of consciousness. Kirkus’ starred review writes: “The novel is highbrow and lowbrow; about everything and nothing; and wholly of this particular cultural moment—in a good way.” (Carolyn) 
 

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