Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Sloane Crosley, Caleb Gayle, Kali Fajardo-Anstine, and more—that are publishing this week.
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Cult Classic by Sloane Crosley
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Cult Classic: “Crosley (The Clasp) offers a witty and fantastical story of dating and experimental psychology in New York City. After Lola, 37, bumps into two exes in two days, she suspects it’s more than coincidence. Then her friend Vadis, with whom she used to work at a prestigious psychology journal, drags her to a meeting held by a secretive startup named Golconda run by their charming former boss, Clive Glenn. Clive is putting an obscure theory to the test involving meditation and technological manipulation, in which participants can lure people from their past for a final interaction and closure. Lola balks at the cultlike reverence the others show for Clive, as well as their New Agey vibe, but also hopes to clarify whether she really wants to marry her glassmaker fiancé, Boots. With Boots away for two weeks in San Francisco, she signs up and spends every evening having brief interactions with exes, then returning to Golconda for debriefing. When a stressed-out Clive says they only have funding for one final encounter, Lola discovers something unsettling about the experiment. The accounts of Lola’s reckoning with her romantic history are thoroughly hilarious (describing the rush of boyfriends past, she narrates, ‘I experienced these men as no one is supposed to experience them, as if being propelled from a T-shirt gun’), and the details of online dating, which made her ‘the victim of a metric ton of rejection,’ are also sharply perceptive, rooting this very much in the real world. Crosley has found the perfect fictional subject for her gimlet eye.”
We Refuse to Forget by Caleb Gayle
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about We Refuse to Forget: “Gayle, a journalism professor at Northeastern University, debuts with an illuminating look at racial dynamics within Creek Nation. In the decades before the Creeks were forcibly relocated from the southeastern U.S. to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears, ‘Blacks could become formally adopted and identified as fully Creeks… when they put down roots in the Creek Nation.’ In 1866, a Black Creek leader named Cow Tom negotiated a treaty with the U.S. government that ‘gave certain Black people citizenship rights within the Nation.’ But the 1887 Dawes Act, which instituted a policy of determining Native American identity based on ‘a highly dubious measurement of how much ‘Indian blood’ one has,’ posed a significant challenge to Black Creeks, and the Nation’s 1979 constitution disenfranchised them. Gayle brilliantly untangles the interwoven threads of colonialism, racism, and capitalism by documenting the lives of Cow Tom’s descendants, including businessman and civil rights activist Jake Simmons Jr. and attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, who is currently waging a legal battle to reinstate tribal citizenship for Black Creeks. Sharp character sketches, incisive history lessons, and Gayle’s autobiographical reflections as a Jamaican American transplant to Oklahoma make this a powerful portrait of how ‘white supremacy divides marginalized groups and pits them against each other.’”
God’s Children Are Little Broken Things by Arinze Ifeakandu
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about God’s Children Are Little Broken Things: “Ifeakandu debuts with nine heartbreaking stories of gay men grappling with secret relationships in Nigeria. In ‘The Dreamer’s Litany,’ Auwal seeks help with his daughter’s medical bills from wealthy ‘Chief’ Emeka, with whom he’s having an affair; painful revelations follow. After Nonye’s father, Dubem, dies, she returns to Nigeria from the U.S., and uncomfortably accepts Dubem’s partner’s hospitality in ‘Where the Heart Sleeps.’ In the title story, Lotanna, a university student, has an up-and-down relationship with a music student, complicated by Lotanna’s visits with his volatile family and girlfriend. ‘What the Singers Say About Love’ includes a rare glimpse of a happy queer community amid a fraught story of two men whose relationship is tested after one, an aspiring pop singer, gets his big break. In ‘Mother’s Love,’ 34-year-old Chikelu’s mother misreads his grief over his ‘roommate’ Uchenna’s departure just before her visit, but the truth comes out in a surprisingly hopeful if uncertain ending. An understated style reflects the characters’ tendency to avoid speaking directly about their relationships, which encourages close reading and elicits a strong sense of what it is like for the characters to endure the perils of being gay in Nigeria. The author leaves readers with a painful and powerful group portrait.”
Exalted by Anna Dorn
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Exalted: “Dorn (Vagablonde) returns with a hilarious and surprising chronicle of astrology packed with sharp cultural commentary. Dawn, a recently dumped Leo with a drinking problem and a penchant for arson, alternates between quoting her court-appointed therapist and astrology memes from @Exalted, her favorite Instagram account. The page is run by Emily, a Scorpio and failed actor who spends her afternoons at a burlesque club and tries to do enough online chart readings to scrape together the rent. When Emily receives a request for a reading from a man named Beau Rubidoux, she is shocked to find that his astrological placements are ‘exalted,’ astrology-speak for ideal. Despite the fact that Emily believes astrology is a ‘scam’ yet still ‘divine’ (blame it on her Gemini moon—’so ideologically chaotic’), she becomes convinced Beau is the love of her life. Meanwhile, Dawn drinks too much, overstays her welcome at various gay bars and friends’ houses, and keeps tabs on @Exalted. Told from the alternating perspectives of Dawn and Emily, this salacious trip barrels through Southern California as the two women’s startling connection is finally revealed. The narrative conveys a deep knowledge of astrology, which the characters skewer with sharp-witted observations (‘Freud,’ Emily claims, ‘is just Astrology for men’). Compulsively readable, this consistently shocks and delights.”
Just by Looking at Him by Ryan O’Connell
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Just by Looking at Him: “O’Connell navigates internalized homophobia and ableism in his hysterical debut novel (after the memoir I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves), a ripsnorter set in Los Angeles. Elliott, the protagonist, introduces readers to his ‘perfect’ boyfriend, Gus, whom he increasingly resents. After almost six years together, the two are in a rut of ordering takeout, drinking natural wine, and having dissociative sex. Elliott is living with cerebral palsy, and despite having a flashy job writing for television, he can’t help but think ‘modern life is hell.’ After an eyebrow-raising story from his boss involving hiring a sex worker, Elliott sets off on a trip of self-sabotage turned self-discovery, as he probes his relationships with sex and his body, alcohol, disability (‘I work very hard to appear palatable, easy to digest, the crostini of disability’), and his father. (Some of this may sound familiar to fans of O’Connell’s Netflix series, Special.) Here, O’Connell’s revelatory and charming humor adds dimension to a character who is unapologetic about his spiraling behavior despite claiming to know better. O’Connell leaves nothing on the table, and the result reads like a zippy, traffic-dodging trip up the 101 on a blinding afternoon.”
Fruiting Bodies by Kathryn Harlan
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Fruiting Bodies: “In Harlan’s enticing debut collection, primarily queer, female characters encounter surreal and fantastical situations. In the title story, the protagonist’s lover becomes mysteriously mycological, sprouting various types of mushrooms the partners can cook and enjoy—or use to poison an unwitting, uninvited guest. In the tense ‘The Changeling,’ two cousins kidnap the main character’s aunt’s hard-won ‘miracle baby,’ fearing he is a demonic doppelgänger. ‘Endangered Animals’ involves a road trip with two young women who share ambiguous and unpredictable feelings for each other. The story is set against a backdrop of the effects of climate change, and it offers a surprising twist. In another standout, ‘Is This You?,’ Maura is visited by versions of her former selves at various ages as her mother writes about Maura’s life, including a period of self-harm during Maura’s adolescence. Harlan’s prose is beautiful and vivid, and each story has elements of beauty and horror, evocative of, as the narrator of ‘Algal Bloom’ puts it, ‘nothing I had words for, like the end of the world.’ As that story’s protagonist defies the warnings against swimming in a potentially lethal pond, Harlan captures the essence of the collection: much splendor and quite a bit of squirm. This is well worth diving into.”
Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Woman of Light: “Fajardo-Anstine’s impressive if underdeveloped debut novel (after the collection Sabrina & Corina) recounts the harrowing multigenerational adventures of a family originating in the ‘Lost Territory’ of late 19th-century New Mexico and arriving in Denver by the 1930s. Depictions of the Lost Territory are vivid and well-informed. Pidre Lopez, the family’s anchor and a Puebloan Indigenous person, settles in Animas, Co., where he runs a Wild West show. The author describes it wonderfully: ‘a pistol crack, a long rifle’s pinging bullet, the exasperated neigh of a horse.’ The narrative centers for the most part on seer Luz ‘Little Light’ Lopez, who leads a hardscrabble life in 1930s Denver with her aunt Maria Josie and her brother, Diego, a snake charmer and womanizer. Luz entrances with visions dredged from reading tea leaves, but her gift of seeing often portends ominous circumstances such as racist violence from the KKK. Luz uses her family connections to become a secretary in a law office where she finds herself in a love triangle with her attorney boss and a young mariachi musician. Unfortunately, Fajardo-Anstine’s Denver lacks the same historical precision she gives to the Lost Territory portions, and is limited to a few plugged-in period details. Despite the uneven effort, it’s clear this author has talent to spare.”
Also out this week: Papers by Violaine Schwartz (translated by Christine Gutman).