Disgruntled: A Novel

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Solnit, Strout, Gaitskill, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Rebecca Solnit, Elizabeth Strout, Mary Gaitskill, and more—that are publishing this week.
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Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Orwell’s Roses: “Solnit carefully charts the life of George Orwell (1903–1950) by focusing on his love of roses and all things natural in this brilliant survey (after Recollections of My Nonexistence). Her study of the ‘sublimely gifted essayist’ and novelist is not a biography, she notes, rather ‘a series of forays from one starting point, that gesture whereby one writer planted several roses.’ After reading an essay in which Orwell expounds upon the power of trees, Solnit begins to see his writing differently, spotting more ‘enjoyment’ in his work. She follows Orwell’s ‘episodic’ life from his birth in northern India to coal mines in England, to Spain, and through his marriages, but begins with and returns often to his midlife in Wallington, England, where he rented a cottage in 1936 and planted his roses. She also traces her own interests that mirror his, such as climate, class, and politics—Orwell wrote ‘about toads and spring but also about principles and values and arguing with an orthodoxy.’ A disquisition on the suffragists’ song ‘Bread and Roses’ and a look at the rose trade in Bogotá happen along the way, but Solnit never loses sight of Orwell and his relationship to nature: ‘Outside my work the thing I care most about is gardening,’ he wrote. Fans of Marta MacDowell’s biographies of gardening writers will appreciate this lyrical exploration.”

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Oh William!: “Loneliness and betrayal, themes to which the Pulitzer Prize–winning Strout has returned throughout her career, are ever present in this illuminating character-driven saga, the third in her Amgash series, after Anything Is Possible. Narrated by Lucy Barton, now a successful writer, the story picks up after the death of Lucy’s second husband as she navigates her relationship with her unfaithful first husband, William, the father of her two grown daughters. Lucy and William are still close friends, and though William has also remarried, he still needs Lucy, and she him. When William discovers he has a half sister, he summons Lucy, rather than his current wife, to visit where she lives in Maine. Lucy’s quest—indeed Strout’s quest—is to understand people, even if she can’t stand them. ‘We are all mythologies, mysterious. We are all mysteries, is what I mean,’ she reflects. The strength of Lucy’s voice carries the reader, and Strout’s characters teem with angst and emotion, all of which Strout handles with a mastery of restraint and often in spare, true sentences. ‘But when I think Oh William! don’t I mean Oh Lucy! too? Don’t I mean Oh Everyone, Oh dear Everybody in this whole wide world, we do not know anybody, not even ourselves! Except a little tiny, tiny bit we do.’ It’s not for nothing that Strout has been compared to Hemingway. In some ways, she betters him.”

Monster in the Middle by Tiphanie Yanique

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Monster in the Middle: “Yanique (How to Escape from a Leper Colony) inventively juxtaposes the start of a new relationship with family histories in this sumptuous saga. Fly Lovett meets Stela Jones in early 2020 during the lockdown in New York City, while he’s enrolled in grad school for music theory and she’s doing teacher training for high school biology. Yanique builds up to their meeting by recounting their parents’ failed relationships, as well as their own. Fly’s father, Gary, a Black man who deploys an idiosyncratic range of religious practices to cope with his mental illness, holds a flame for a white girlfriend well into his marriage with Ellenora and past the birth of their son, Earl, in 1991. Earl, rechristened Fly by a scamming preacher, later has his heart broken in college by a woman who uses sex as a missionizing tool. Meanwhile, Stela’s mother, an orphan from Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands, raises Stela with her second husband. Stela breaks off an engagement to her first love, a South African–born white American, after a traumatic experience on her semester abroad in Ghana. Each arc reads as an evocative short story and an episode in the two protagonists’ complex set of unraveled connections. This introspective exploration of first and lasting loves will hit the spot with fans of character-driven family dramas.”

The Days of Afrekete by Asali Solomon

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Days of Afrekete: “In Rona Jaffe Award winner Solomon’s illuminating latest (after Disgruntled), two middle-aged women who were friends at Bryn Mawr reflect on sexuality, race, and selfhood. While Liselle Belmont prepares to host a dinner party for her husband, Winn, at their house in Philadelphia after his failed state legislative bid, she remembers her mother’s taunts about her upper echelon lifestyle, habitually delivered with an ‘acid whoop of laughter.’ On a whim, Liselle leaves a phone message with her old friend and lover Selena Octave. Solomon flashes back to the women’s years at Bryn Mawr, where they met in the school’s first Black literature course taught by a Black professor (and which was overcrowded by white students), and digs into the nuances of campus lesbianism and racial politics. Since then, Selena has been in and out of a psychiatric hospital for anxiety, and the two have fallen out of touch. Liselle reflects on her ‘ever twoness as the Black mistress of a tiny plantation,’ complete with a housemaid, and Solomon focuses on Selena’s sensitivity to racial trauma, such as her interest in writing about the MOVE bombing in West Philadelphia in 1985. When Selena finally receives Liselle’s message, and as Liselle frets about Winn’s legal troubles, the outcome is unexpected and powerful. Solomon brings wit and incisive commentary to this pristine take on two characters’ fascinating and painful lives.”

I Will Die in a Foreign Land by Kalani Pickhart

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about I Will Die in a Foreign Land: “In Pickhart’s ardent, sprawling debut, a set of memorable characters attempt to lay bare the truths of recent conflicts in the Ukraine. Among the thousands of demonstrators gathered in Kyiv in 2013 and 2014 to protest Russian interference, the reader meets four whose lives have been shattered by the consequences of their country’s tragic history, which until 1991 never once included independence. Katya has fled Boston and a failing marriage to treat Euromaidan protesters in a makeshift triage site at St. Michael’s Monastery. While tending to a mortally wounded old Soviet pianist named Aleksandr Ivanovich, she discovers cassette tapes the onetime KGB agent recorded, addressed to his long-lost daughter. Katya also treats Misha Tkachenko, a selfless and courageous engineer from a town near Chernobyl whose wife died of radiation sickness. Misha has returned to the violent streets day after day, looking out for his friend and sometime lover Slava, another protester, blue-haired and fiery. Together their stories, which the author weaves in and out of the novel nonchronologically, create a portrait of the complicated and calamitous region. As Katya and Misha grow closer, Slava meets a doomed journalist with whom she falls in love, and through revelations in Aleksandr’s tapes, the reader learns how indelibly connected each of these major characters—and very many minor ones—are. This bighearted novel generously portrays the unforgettable set of characters through their determination to face oppression. It’s a stunner.”

The Devil’s Treasure by Mary Gaitskill

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Devil’s Treasure: “Gaitskill’s curious new project (after the novella This Is Pleasure) looks back on four of her previous novels and a memoir, splices them with critical self-reflections, and threads the needle with a short work in progress. The slight frame story concerns a seven-year-old girl named Ginger who journeys to hell through a hole in her backyard. As she makes her way back home, she encounters nightmarish reflections, demonic strangers, and Satan himself. But the bulk of the book is excerpts from past books including Veronica (2005), about a budding fashion model, and The Mare (2015), concerning two girls who come of age in upstate New York, where one visits from Brooklyn over the years as part of the Fresh Air Fund, and ride horses together. Hence the reader has several versions of troubled suburban girlhood, haunted or abusive fathers, and barbed early friendships, bordered by long sections in which Gaitskill reflects on her use of the themes, recalls the conditions and intent behind the books’ composition, and responds to her critics. As an experiment, this doesn’t quite come together. At its best, it functions as a showcase for Gaitskill’s powerful back catalog, but more often the indulgent structure fails to hold and obscures her intent. While her insights will prove valuable to her most ardent fans, everyone else can take a pass.”

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