Death in Her Hands: A Novel

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Moshfegh, Hogeland, Gallagher, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Ottessa Moshfegh, Anna Hogeland, Leigh N. Gallagher, and more—that are publishing this week.
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Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Lapvona: “Moshfegh’s deliriously quirky medieval tale (after Death in Her Hands) revolves around a disabled shepherd boy’s test of faith. Marek, 13, is abused by his father and raised by Ina, a midwife and witch who once nursed him as an infant. Still, Marek possesses a childlike faith in God. He’ll need it. All is not well in the fiefdom of Lapvona: a plague ravages the people, a drought sours the earth, starvation spreads, and high atop a hill overlooking the village sits greedy Lord Villiam, a man who ‘believe[s] that his appetite [is] nothing but a physical symptom of his greatness’ and consequently hoards all the food. Down below, Ina trades villagers psychedelic mushrooms for bread and eggs, and the mushrooms give people alternately visions of heaven and hell, either a respite from or an enhancement of the daily nightmare wrought on them by Villiam. Moshfegh’s picture of medieval cruelty includes unsparing accounts of torture, rape, cannibalism, and witchcraft, and as Marek grapples with the pervasive brutality and whether remaining pure of heart is worth the trouble—or is even possible—the narrative tosses readers through a series of dizzying reversals. Throughout, Moshfegh brings her trademark fascination with the grotesque to depictions of the pandemic, inequality, and governmental corruption, making them feel both uncanny and all too familiar. It’s a triumph.”

The Long Answer by Anna Hogeland

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Long Answer: “Hogeland’s lackluster debut follows a group of women and charts their feelings about their pregnancies. First, pregnant narrator Anna gets a call from her older sister, Margot, with the news that Margot had a miscarriage. Some weeks later, Margot calls Anna to talk about her friend Elizabeth, and Anna thinks about how she’s jealous of Elizabeth’s friendship with Margot, which deepened after Elizabeth, who is also pregnant, confided a secret to Margot. At a prenatal yoga class, Anna meets a young woman, Corrie, who shares a story about an earlier pregnancy followed by abortion. Then Hogeland delves into a problem with Anna’s pregnancy, and her writer husband’s attempts to write a story about it. Later, Anna travels to Joshua Tree, Calif., where she meets an older woman named Marisol, who tells her a story about her own pregnancy and approaching menopause, which Anna uses in her own attempt at writing fiction. The gestures at metafiction feel undercooked (‘This was never supposed to be part of this novel,’ Anna narrates in the middle of the Marisol episode), though Hogeland does a nice job showing the degree to which the women’s lives are shaped by reproduction. Still, this doesn’t quite cohere.”

The Catch by Alison Fairbrother

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Catch: “In Fairbrother’s perceptive debut, a young journalist is left reeling and looking for answers after her father’s sudden death. Ellie Adler, 24, a reporter at a D.C. news website, heads home to Maryland to visit her poet father, James, and her stepfamily. Ellie, the oldest, is happy believing she’s her father’s closest confidante and shares his writerly interests. Days later, he dies of a heart attack, and a bereft Ellie reads his most famous poem, ‘The Catch,’ at his funeral service, where an unknown woman attends. Later, Ellie begins looking into the woman’s relationship with James, and tries to piece together why he bequeathed Ellie an unfamiliar tie rack and gave the lucky baseball she’d always wanted to a stranger named L.M. Taylor. Meanwhile, Ellie begins questioning her relationship with her boyfriend, an older, married man, after her roommate learns of the affair. She also parlays a work assignment into an investigation of Taylor’s osprey conservation on the Chesapeake Bay to learn more about him. The minutiae of James’s estate eventually wears thin, but Fairbrother ably captures Ellie’s fractured world as a child of divorce, which fuels her motivation. This is a promising start.”

Girls They Write Songs About by Carlene Bauer

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Girls They Write Songs About: “Bauer’s appealing if aimless latest (after Frances and Bernard) follows the friendship of two women in New York City from the late 1990s through the aughts. Charlotte Snowe and Rose Pellegrino apply for a staff editor job at a music magazine, and that’s where they meet; Rose gets the job and Charlotte eventually gets hired as an editor. The two quickly develop a close bond, but jealousies both romantic and professional eventually rear their heads. When Rose sets aside her writing commitments to marry Peter, Charlotte takes it as a personal affront and it eventually becomes a wedge between them, and as one ascends in her career, the other’s decline is put into greater relief. There’s not much of a plot, just a bunch of time in bars, clubs, and restaurants and conversations that don’t quite pass the Bechdel test (lots of talk about men, their bosses, relationships, and sex), and by the end it just sort of fizzles out. Still, Bauer has a talent for exacting language, particularly when describing the characters’ attempts at navigating an era in which it feels like feminism is over (‘We were neither selfish enough nor selfless enough to become heroines’). There are better stories of moving to the city, but this makes for a charming enough time capsule.”

Who You Might Be by Leigh N. Gallagher

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Who You Might Be: “Gallagher harnesses the turbulence and cadence of adolescence in this ambitious if uneven debut. Two of the novel’s three sections are set in the 1990s, starting with the account of best friends Meghan and Judy, both 14, as they slip away for the weekend to attend a house party thrown by a girl Meghan met online. When they get to the address, they’re greeted by a disturbed elderly woman and follow her upstairs. What they find is shocking and traumatic. Gallagher then introduces Caleb and Miles, who were uprooted from their privileged San Francisco enclave for Ann Arbor, Mich., after their mother accepted a prestigious academic position. Caleb seeks thrills among the industrial ruins of Detroit and falls in with Tez, a graffiti artist, but old ‘beefs’ between Tez and another artist culminate in a shocking assault whose consequences will reverberate across decades. Gallagher is at her best when conveying the vulnerable, yearning space between childhood and maturity, such as when Miles scurries through the dark with his companions in a former department store marked for demolition and suddenly becomes scared (‘not of getting in trouble… but of finding himself unable to rise to whatever unknown challenges came’). Gallagher falters in the third section, speeding toward a conclusion where the disparate characters collide in 2016 Brooklyn. Despite some missteps, Gallagher perfectly captures a generation’s dislocated vibe.”

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