Burning Butch

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Egan, Mandel, Vuong, Stuart, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Jennifer Egan, our own Emily St. John Mandel, Ocean Vuong, Douglas Stuart, and more—that are publishing this week.
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The Candy House by Jennifer Egan

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Candy House: “Egan returns to the fertile territory and characters of A Visit from the Goon Squad with an electrifying and shape-shifting story that one-ups its Pulitzer-winning predecessor. I’ll see your PowerPoint chapter, Egan seems to say, and raise you a chapter in tweets, and another in emails and texts. In the near future, a platform called Own Your Unconscious allows memories to be uploaded to the cloud and accessed by anyone. ‘Counters’ seek to ferret out ‘proxies’ that help hide ‘eluders’ who resist merging their ‘gray grabs’ to the collective in order to leave their online personae behind. Not everyone sees this as panacea, and a countermovement called Mondrian arises. Appearances from music producer Bennie Salazar, his mentor Lou Kline, and their lovers and children provide sharp pleasures for Goon Squad fans, and Egan cleverly echoes the ambitious, savvy marketing schemes of real-world tech barons with Own Your Unconscious. It casts its spell on Bennie, whose punk rock days with the Flaming Dildos are long past: ‘Tongue-in-cheek nostalgia is merely the portal, the candy house, if you will, through which we hope to lure in a new generation and bewitch them,’ he writes in an email. Twisting through myriad points of view, narrative styles, and divergent voices, Egan proves herself as perceptive an interpreter of the necessity of human connection as ever, and her vision is as irresistible as the tech she describes. This is Egan’s best yet.”

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Sea of Tranquility: “In Mandel’s stunning latest, people find themselves inhabiting different places and times, from early 20th-century Canada to a 23rd-century moon colony. Edwin St. Andrew’s wealthy British family banishes him to Canada after his unpatriotic opinions disrupt a dinner party. Walking in the dense forest near tiny Caiette, B.C., in 1912, he suddenly hears haunting violin music and a human bustle. In 2020 Brooklyn, avant-garde composer Paul James Smith shapes a composition around a fragmentary video shot by his late half sister Vincent (both characters appeared in Mandel’s The Glass Hotel). Its footage of the forest outside Caiette, where Vincent was raised, is abruptly interrupted by a black screen and a collage of sounds including violin notes, a ‘dim cacophony’ reminiscent of a train station, and ‘a strange kind of whoosh.’ Author Olive Llewellyn leaves her home on the moon’s second colony in 2203 to promote her bestselling ‘pandemic novel’ on Earth. As a new virus spreads through Australia, she fields questions about a scene in the book, based on personal experience, in which a character listening to violin music in an Oklahoma City airship terminal feels briefly transported to a forest. In 2401, the secretive, powerful Time Institute is concerned by the glitch that Edwin, Vincent, and Olive have all experienced. When they send investigator Gaspery-Jacques Roberts back in time to discover more, the novel’s narratives crystallize flawlessly. Brilliantly combining imagery from science fiction and the current pandemic, Mandel grounds her rich metaphysical speculation in small, beautifully observed human moments. By turns playful, tragic, and tender, this should not be missed.”

Time Is a Mother by Ocean Vuong

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Time Is a Mother: “Vuong’s powerful follow-up to Night Sky with Exit Wounds does more than demonstrate poetic growth: it deepens and extends an overarching project with 27 new poems that reckon with loss and impermanence. Braiding past and present, Vuong’s speakers contextualize personal traumas within larger systems of dehumanization. Gold becomes a key visual motif for capitalist tendencies: ‘There is sunlight here, golden enough to take to the bank’ and ‘Because everyone knows yellow pain, pressed into American letters, turns to gold.’ His skillful technique is evident in elegies such as ‘Dear Rose,’ which describes a mother’s life punctuated by poignant asides (‘are you reading this dear/ reader are you my mom yet/ I cannot find her without you’). ‘Dear T’ offers a meditation on the artistic process: ‘look—a bit of ink on the pad/ & we’re running down the street again/ after the thunderstorm/ platelets still plenty// in veins beneath your cheek.’ Yet there’s a new, biting insouciance and self-awareness in Vuong’s voice, ‘Oh no. The sadness is intensifying. How rude,’ turning his trademark epigrammatic flair to darkly humorous effect: ‘Because when a man & a man/ walk hand in hand into a bar/ the joke’s on us.’ This fantastic book will reward fans while winning this distinctive poet new ones.”

Let’s Not Do That Again by Grant Ginder

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Let’s Not Do That Again: “Ginder (The People We Hate at the Wedding), a former congressional intern and speechwriter for White House chief of staff John Podesta, delivers an effervescent family drama about a man’s attempts to salvage his mother’s Senate run after a PR disaster. In Paris, Greta Harrison hurls a bottle through a restaurant window during a political protest. In Manhattan, Greta’s congresswoman mother, Nancy, attempts to deflect the fallout of her daughter’s headline-grabbing behavior as the story jeopardizes her Senate campaign. She’s the kind of politician who spouts unapologetic lines like ‘America is disappointing… that’s why we do what we do,’ and until Greta’s stunt, that approach has worked. Nancy feverishly appeals to her perpetually single gay son Nick, urging him to put aside his work writing a Joan Didion musical to bring Greta home from Paris. The task is tougher than it looks, but in Ginder’s hands, it yields devilish hilarity. Greta is under the spell of swarthy, seductive Xavier, a celebrity-seeking fascist troll, but he’s no match for Nick and Nancy, who swoop in to settle some unfinished family business. Ginder dexterously describes the machinations of his caffeine-fueled lead and lights up the pages with bubbly, rapid-fire dialogue among such supporting characters as Nancy’s assistant, Cate, and Xavier’s other gal pal, Colette. Politics and blood loyalty can become a slippery slope, but here they’re a perfect combination. This smart and seamless comedy is nonstop fun.”

The Sign for Home by Blair Fell

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Sign for Home: “A man sets out to find the one who got away in Fell’s sweet debut. Arlo Dilly, a 23-year-old deaf and blind Jehovah’s Witness, has been sheltered and isolated under the guardianship of his uncle, Brother Birch, and longtime interpreter, Molly. After he enrolls in a summer writing course, he searches for another interpreter to assist Molly in class. Cyril Brewster takes the gig and alerts Arlo to the extent that Molly had been derelict in her interpreting duties, making decisions on Arlo’s behalf without consulting him. Meanwhile, a school assignment stirs up Arlo’s memories of Shri, the girl he fell in love with at a boarding school for the deaf, and the events that led to his expulsion. Then, a reunion with an old friend reveals that Shri might still be alive, contrary to what Molly and Brother Birch had told Arlo, so he enlists Cyril’s help to find her. But after Brother Birch catches wind of the plan, he fires Cyril and restricts Arlo’s limited independence, prompting Arlo to strike out for New York City alone and leaving Cyril and Molly to team up to find him and then reunite him with Shri. Fell writes with a deep compassion and keen attention to the experiences of living with deafness and blindness. This heartfelt romance is hard to resist.”

The Age of Astonishment: John Morris in the Extraordinary Century―From the Civil War to the Cold War by Bill Morris

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Age of Astonishment: “Novelist Morris (Motor City Burning), a staff writer at The Millions, delivers a poignant biography of his grandfather, John Morris, a University of Georgia philologist. Though Morris touches on the technological and political upheavals of his grandfather’s lifetime, he pays the greatest attention to racial issues, noting that John was born on a Virginia plantation in 1863 and died in 1955, the same year Emmett Till was murdered. While some of his peers in Virginia and Georgia dove into Lost Cause fanaticism, John saw slavery as evil and once drove his daughter to a farmhouse where a Black man had been lynched because ‘he wanted her to know about [it] and think about [it] and never forget.’ Elsewhere, Morris discusses John’s support for women’s suffrage and surmises that he sympathized with striking laborers. Though Morris does an admirable job contextualizing his grandfather’s life, he often veers into speculation, as when he imagines that John would have seen nationwide racial violence during the Red Summer of 1919 as ‘a perverse vindication of his decision to remain in the South.’ Still, this is an immersive and moving portrait of a quietly decent man and his monumental era.”

The Unwritten Book by Samantha Hunt

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Unwritten Book: “Novelist Hunt (The Dark Dark) scours literature for ‘alphabets and signs’ of the dead in her stirring nonfiction debut. As she writes, ‘The dead leave clues, and life is a puzzle of trying to read and understand these mysterious hints before the game is over.’ Her investigation centers on an unfinished novel written by her late father, Walter, parts of which (as well as her annotations of it) are mixed in with her thoughts on what it means to be human. As she considers the novel (about a magazine editor confronted by a society of people who believe dreams can spill over into reality), Hunt reflects on her relationship with her father, including his alcoholism and the love of stories they shared. Like her father, Hunt thinks of books as waypoints: ‘In books we can find our ways back to the worlds we thought were lost, the world of childhood, the world of the dead.’ Hunt writes in touching detail and with heartfelt prose: ‘There is exquisite beauty and storytelling in the smallness. Reading life and death like a book.’ Both intimate and incisive, this genre-melding collection will make readers want to hold their loved ones close.”

Young Mungo by Douglas Stuart

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Young Mungo: “The astonishing sophomore effort from Booker Prize winner Stuart (Shuggie Bain) details a teen’s hard life in north Glasgow in the post-Thatcher years. Mungo is 15, the youngest of three Protestant siblings growing up in one of the city’s poverty-stricken ‘schemes.’ The children’s alcoholic mother leaves them periodically for a married man with children of his own. Mungo’s father is long gone, and Mungo’s sister, Jodie, looks after their household as best she can. Hamish, Mungo’s hooligan brother and ringleader of a gang of Protestant Billy Boys, is a constant threat to Mungo, who, tender of heart and profoundly lonely, is at the mercy of his violent moods. Even after Mungo meets the kindred James, a Catholic boy who keeps pigeons, he is overwhelmed by his self-loathing, assuming all the calamity around him is somehow his fault. He doesn’t have a clue what it is he wants. All he knows is that amid the blood and alcohol and spittle-sprayed violence of his daily existence, James is a gentle, calming respite. Their friendship is the center of this touching novel, but it also leads to a terrifying and tragic intervention. Stuart’s writing is stellar—a man’s voice sounds ‘like he had a throatful of dry toast’; a boy has ‘ribs like the hull of an upturned boat.’ He’s too fine a storyteller to go for a sentimental ending, and the final act leaves the reader gutted. This is unbearably sad, more so because the reader comes to cherish the characters their creator has brought to life. It’s a sucker punch to the heart.”

Also on shelves this week: Burning Butch by R/B Mertz and When Women Kill by Alia Trabucco Zerán (translated by Sophie Hughes).

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