Burning Girls and Other Stories

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Ishiguro, Nguyen, Banks, and More


Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Kazuo Ishiguro, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Russell Banks, and more—that are publishing this week.

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Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Klara and the Sun: “Nobel laureate Ishiguro takes readers to a vaguely futuristic, technologically advanced setting reminiscent of his Never Let Me Go for a surprising parable about love, humanity, and science. Klara is an Artificial Friend (AF), a humanlike robot designed to be a child’s companion. She spends her days watching humans from her perch in the AF store, fascinated by their emotions and hungry to learn enough to help her future owner. Klara, who is solar-powered, reveres the sun for the ‘nourishment’ and upholds ‘him’ as a godlike figure. Klara is eventually bought by teenager Josie and continues to learn about humans through her interactions with Josie’s family and childhood friend. When Josie becomes seriously ill, Klara pleads with the sun to make her well again and confronts the boundary between service and sacrifice. While the climax lends a touch of fantasy, Klara’s relationship with the sun, which is hidden at times by smog, touches on the consequences of environmental destruction. As with Ishiguro’s other works, the rich inner reflections of his protagonists offer big takeaways, and Klara’s quiet but astute observations of human nature land with profound gravity (‘There was something very special, but it wasn’t inside Josie. It was inside those who loved her,’ Klara says). This dazzling genre-bending work is a delight.”

The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Committed: “The sequel to Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize–winning The Sympathizer is an exhilarating roller-coaster ride filled with violence, hidden identity, and meditations on whether the colonized can ever be free. The fractured, guilt-ridden narrator, a veteran of the South Vietnamese Army, where he was a mole for the communists, goes by his assumed name Vo Danh, which means ‘nameless.’ He has survived reeducation and a refugee camp and is now living in early 1980s Paris, along with his devoutly anti-communist ‘blood brother,’ Bon, who doesn’t know he was a double agent. Vo Danh starts selling hashish for a Viet-Chinese drug lord called the Boss, whom he and Bon met in their refugee camp. The gig has him more vexed about the crime of capitalism than that of drug dealing, and he’s not expecting a turf war. Indeed, he’s chagrined to discover his rivals, French Arabs who share with him a legacy of colonization, want him dead. Meanwhile, there are opportunity for socializing, revenge, and reunions at the Vietnamese Union. The book works both as sequel and standalone, with Nguyen careful to fold in needed backstory, and the author’s wordplay continues to scratch at the narrator’s fractured sense of self (‘I am not just one but two. Not just I but you. Not just me but we’). Pleasures abound, such as the narrator’s hair-raising escapes, descriptions of the Boss’s hokey bar (‘This was the new and modern Orient, where opium was both cool and quaint, chic and cute, addictive and undemanding’), and thoughtful references to Fanon and Césaire. Nguyen continues to delight.”

Abundance by Jakob Guanzon

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Abundance: “Guanzon debuts with a harrowing story of a man’s desperation and unyielding love for his son. Single father Henry has less than $100 to his name, and he’s planning on spending it on his son Junior’s eighth birthday present: a night in a hotel with a real bed and cable TV instead of sleeping in Henry’s truck. Recently released from a five-year prison sentence for possession of homemade fentanyl pills, Henry washes himself in the bathroom of a McDonald’s and lives on junk food, while Junior’s mother, Michelle, is nowhere to be found. Each chapter is titled after the dwindling amount of cash Henry has, while flashbacks show Henry’s brief windfall from a pill sale and struggle to foot the hospital bill for Junior’s delivery. Junior and Henry are all the other has, and Henry holds out hope that a job interview he has lined up at a call center will give them a shot at escaping their life of itinerancy. Unfortunately, Junior grows increasingly ill from their meager diet, and a violent altercation in a parking lot threatens to derail Henry’s plans. Guanzon’s descriptions of grinding poverty are visceral (pocket change rattles in Henry’s pocket ‘like tiny shackles’), and Henry’s attempts to fend off relentless adversity for the sake of his son are heartbreaking. This one hits hard.”

What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about What’s Mine and Yours: “Coster (Halsey Street) returns with a rich if diffuse story of loss, betrayal, and systemic racism, centered on two families spanning the 1990s to the present, set mainly in the Piedmont area of North Carolina. In 1992, six-year-old Gee’s, father, Ray, gets killed in front of him. Noelle Ventura grows up on the other side of town, and though her father, Robbie, is from Colombia, she passes for white. In 2002, the two families intersect when Gee, who is Black, is bussed to Noelle’s high school. Her white mother, Lacey May, who struggled to support three children while Robbie was in jail, joins a group of parents who protest the school’s integration, a racist position that forces Noelle to choose between Lacey May and her growing love for Gee. In a series of abrupt shifts, Coster portrays Noelle as a housewife in 2018 Atlanta, and her Black husband, Nelson, who works as a photographer in 2018 Paris and sleeps with a white woman. In 2018, Lacey May’s daughters reluctantly return home to visit after hearing she has cancer, setting off a series of confrontations and reconciliations. While Coster’s exploration of race is powerful, the scattered plotting dampens the impact of the various stories. It’s undoubtedly ambitious, but it doesn’t hang together.”

Spilt Milk by Courtney Zoffness

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Spilt Milk: “Zoffness, director of the creative writing program at Drew University, debuts with a keenly perceptive collection of essays that considers, among other topics, family dynamics, motherhood, and her ‘inconsistent’ relationship to Judaism. In “The Only Thing We Have to Fear,’ Zoffness worries she’s passing along her childhood anxieties to her first-born. ‘Ultra Sound’ recounts her attempts to become closer to her mother, who was once in a band that opened for the Doors, yet never played any of her recordings for her children. ‘How to read such caginess?’ Zoffness asks. In ‘Holy Body,’ she attends a ritual cleansing at a mikvah center while visiting a childhood friend from Jewish summer camp. Zoffness connects her personal experiences to larger cultural moments, reflecting, for instance, on her four-year-old son’s obsession with becoming a police officer amid the Black Lives Matter protests: ‘My son still misunderstands what officers say when taking people into custody. You’re unarrested, the LEGO officer in his left hand says to a LEGO wrongdoer in his right.’ Zoffness delivers masterful essays in a fresh, vulnerable voice readers will want to hear more of.”

The Life of the Mind by Christine Smallwood

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Life of the Mind: “Literary critic Smallwood debuts with the brilliant story of a young academic powering through her existential dread. Dorothy languishes in ‘adjunct hell’ at a university in New York City, teaching up to four literature and writing courses per semester (including a course she designed titled ‘Writing Apocalypse’), while her affable boyfriend helps pay the bills from her two therapists. Each fall, she holds out an ever-dwindling hope to land one of the several jobs that open up in her field. She’s just had a miscarriage, and as the weeks pass, she muses on the menstrual blood and tissue discharge that results from her at-home Cytotec treatment. Dorothy is an intensely cerebral creature. Her narration of interactions with others, whether exchanging text messages with a friend, giving money to a panhandler, or parrying with her peers, is filtered by literary analysis, often to hilarious effect (‘This man is an albatross around my neck,’ she thinks, after the panhandler she’d dubbed the ‘Ancient Mariner’ follows her to another subway car). As she confronts her emotions about losing the unplanned pregnancy and reconsiders her ideas about endings, both literary and corporeal, she begins to reconnect with herself. Dorothy’s sharp, witty narration makes this book something special (‘In the asymmetrical warfare of therapy, secrets were a guerrilla tactic,’ she decides, after putting off a session with her primary therapist). The result is like the glorious love child of Ottessa Moshfegh and Sally Rooney.”

Brother, Sister, Mother, Explorer by Jamie Figueroa

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Brother Sister Mother Explorer: “Figueroa’s masterly debut explores the grief and trauma of two half siblings. Four months after the death of their mother, Rosalinda, Rufina and Rafa Rivera, 28 and 30, make a pact: if they collect enough money performing for the tourists visiting their high desert town in the American Southwest over the course of a weekend, the depressed Rafa will live, traveling in search of new beginnings, instead of taking his own life. The siblings take to the streets, performing for white tourists who listen, entranced, at Rufina’s melodious, seductive whistling, or gaze intently at Rafa as he gleans meaning from the symbols he sees in people’s shadows. The siblings are haunted by the ghosts of those long gone, including that of Rufina’s stillborn baby, and by memories of their mother’s enigmatic former lover, the Explorer. Meanwhile, repeated intrusions of those who only wish to help—such as a cop who gives them a pass for performing without a permit as long as they don’t come back—add to the difficulty in achieving their goal. Though the novel brims with spellbinding prose, magical elements, and wounded, full hearted characters that nearly jump off the page, its most remarkable feature is perhaps its piercing critique of the white Anglo tourists’ tendency to romanticize people of color, as well as Figueroa’s examination of the traumatic effect this attitude can have on those who are deemed ‘the Other.’ This cleverly constructed and deeply moving account enthralls.”

Burning Girls and Other Stories by Veronica Schanoes

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Burning Girls and Other Stories: “Schanoes reinterprets and unpacks old, familiar tales in this powerful debut collection of 13 speculative stories. The pieces vary in subgenre, including fabulism, historical fantasy, and surrealism, but all are united by common threads of revolution, female power, revenge, and trauma both historical and personal. ‘The Revenant,’ told with a mild, distant tone that belies its deadly serious subject matter, reimagines the urban legend of Bloody Mary. In ‘Phosphorus,’ a woman dying of ‘phossy jaw’ joins a factory girls’ strike. The Shirley Jackson Award–winning title novella is the standout, following Deborah, a Jewish witch and healer, as she flees anti-Semitic violence in 19th-century Poland while being pursued by a jealous demon. Dark pacts, willful daughters, and young punks in fishnets abound, and the collection suffers somewhat from the limited range of perspectives, with a few of the pieces striking similar notes. But at their best, these stories are rousing, political, and visceral, even gut-churning. Fans of Kirsty Logan, Daniel M. Lavery, or Catherynne M. Valente will find much to enjoy.”

Foregone by Russell Banks

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Foregone: “In this sinuous if uneven novel, Banks (Lost Memory of Skin) depicts the protean character of a filmmaker who turns the camera on himself at the end of a storied career. In the last stages of an incurable cancer, Canadian documentarian Leonard Fife sits to be interviewed in his Montreal apartment for a film being made by his former student, Malcolm. Fife’s life has been built around lies and evasions, and now he seeks to set the record straight, though the confession is directed less to the public than to his third and current wife, Emma. Instead of answering questions about his Errol Morris–like style, Fife delivers a leisurely self-portrait of serial flight: running away from home in Massachusetts as a teenager; leaving his first wife and young daughter as a confused young bohemian to be a writer; abandoning his second wife and young son to dodge the draft in 1968. However, only some of Fife’s confessions might be true, as one side effect of his medication is ‘confabulation.’ Fife’s reminiscences are generally vivid, though the spell is dissipated by the weaker scenes in which, for instance, Emma repeatedly objects to proceeding with the interview and the sycophantic Malcolm reiterates the novel’s themes in windy proclamations. Still, Banks keeps the audience rapt.”

Also on shelves this week: The Scapegoat by Sarah Davis.

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