Leisure Seeker, The: A Novel

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring McBride, Beha, Straub, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Eimear McBride, Samanta Schweblin, Chris Beha, Emma Straub, and more—that are publishing this week.

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Strange Hotel by Eimear McBride

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Strange Hotel: “McBride (A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing) delivers a globe-spanning travelogue set entirely in hotel rooms in this beguiling work. Lists of cities section off the narrative; in those flagged by an x, the protagonist, an unnamed itinerant woman, has experienced a tryst. Rather than chronologically plot these encounters, McBride presents them as a runaway train of the woman’s solipsistic thought as to their significance, leaving her at odds to draw conclusions. After rebuffing one man’s advances, she returns to her room and falls asleep watching loud TV porn. Sex with one man pushes her into suicidal contemplation; sex with another cheers her enough to consider joining him for breakfast the following morning (she doesn’t). In the final scene, McBride switches from third- to first-person narration, at which point the narrator reflects on how her past choices have ‘absented’ her from herself. The linguistic prowess found in McBride’s other books remains present, with the bravado slightly dialed down for emotional effect. McBride’s nebulous formalist structure could be described as a long prose poem masquerading as a novel. As a narrative, though, it is a half-formed thing.”

Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Little Eyes: “Schweblin (Fever Dream) unfurls an eerie, uncanny story of Furby-like robots that roll around and make animal sounds, connecting people throughout the world in unsettling ways. The dolls, called kentuki, are equipped with cameras and separate controllers, and their ownership is split between ‘keepers’ and ‘dwellers.’ The keeper purchases a doll, while the dweller buys its controller and watches through the kentuki’s camera via the internet. Schweblin catapults through a dizzying array of vignettes. Marvin, a boy in Antigua, secretly buys a kentuki ‘dweller’ controller using his mother’s savings. In South Bend, Ind., Robin and two of her friends conduct cam shows with their kentuki before the dweller begins spelling out increasingly alarming and sexual demands on the girls’ Ouija board. Emilia, a lonely woman in Lima, quickly takes on the dweller role with Eva, a woman in Germany, who buys dog toys and other pet distractions for Emilia to play with via the kentuki. Daring, bold, and devious, the idea fascinates despite the underdeveloped narrative, and the disparate vignettes fail to build toward a satisfying conclusion. Schweblin’s take on the erosion of privacy and new forms of digital connection yields an ingenious concept, but the sum is less than its parts.”

The Narcissism of Small Differences by Michael Zadoorian

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Narcissism of Small Differences: “Zadoorian (The Leisure Seeker) serves up a wry, unflinching tale of an underachieving couple in midlife crisis mode as the recession grips the industrial Midwest. Joe and Ana live in Ferndale, Mich., a mile outside Detroit, where they’ve been shacked up (but not married) for 15 years. Joe’s a freelance journalist just getting by, while Ana, once an aspiring documentary filmmaker, works in advertising and has become the breadwinner. Despite their cramped living quarters, they live in separate spheres. While Ana befriends and fantasizes over a coworker, Joe stays out late drinking and, while home, develops a heavy porn habit. After Ana catches Joe at the screen, she expresses doubts about their relationship and ongoing living situation. Things don’t get any easier at work. Ana questions how far she’s willing to stray from her progressive values to serve a Christian client, and Joe is reduced to a ‘telemarketing Willie Loman,’ selling ads for a newspaper. Zadoorian’s comedy of contemporary manners resonates by virtue of its introspective characters and depictions of the small moments in life that, taken together, have great significance. Piquantly titled chapters (‘Out Come the Freaks’) provide additional comic snap. Zadoorian’s subtle, timely story hits the mark.”

The Book of V.​ by ​Anna Solomon

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Book of V: “Solomon (Leaving Lucy Pear) models this clever, heartfelt triptych on The Hours, weaving a retelling of the biblical story of Esther with the linked stories of a senator’s wife and a Brooklyn mom. In the ancient Persian town of Susa, new king Ahasuerus banishes his wife, Vashti, after she refuses to strip for Ahasuerus’s friends. At a house party in 1970s Washington, D.C., Vee Kent’s husband, Sen. Alexander Kent, makes the same lewd request Ahasuerus made to Vashti. Vee refuses, and is sent packing by Alexander’s chief of staff. Vee takes refuge with her best friend, Rosemary, who’s converting to Judaism in solidarity with her husband. In 2016 Brooklyn, Lily is getting her kids ready for Purim when she learns that her mother, Ruth, has been diagnosed with cancer. Later, Lily connects with one of Ruth’s old friends, who shares surprising details about her mother’s identity and past experience. Solomon connects these stories in a way that’s fresh and tantalizing, with fascinating intergenerational discussions about desire, duty, family, and feminism, as well as a surprising, completely believable twist. This frank, revisionist romp through a Bible tale is a winner.”

Shiner by Amy Jo Burns

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Shiner: “In Burns’s layered, evocative debut novel (after the memoir Cinderland), trauma and hope pass from mother to daughter in a West Virginia family. Wren Bird is the 15-year-old daughter of a one-eyed snake-handling preacher, Briar Bird, and his wife, Ruby Day. Superstitious, charismatic, and devoted to a wife who openly despises him, Briar forces his family to live isolated in the mountains, resulting in few chances for Ruby and Wren to interact with the people of Trap, the nearest town. Their only regular visitor is Ruby’s childhood best friend, Ivy, whose deep connection with Ruby led her to settle with her family nearby. ‘It started with a burn,’ begins the novel—Ivy visits Ruby and Wren one fateful day, and her dress and hair catch on fire. Briar heals her, with nary a scar, but when she starts calling Briar ‘White Eye,’ Ruby and Wren question what happened to Ivy. As Wren contends with the ramifications of her father’s ‘miracle,’ she also begins to uncover the history behind his faith. Though the recursive structure stutters toward big reveals, making it difficult for readers to fully connect with any of the characters, Burns beautifully renders the isolated Appalachian landscape and the urgent desperation of her characters. Burns’s stunning prose is reason enough to keep an eye out for this promising writer’s next effort.”

Index of Self-Destructive Acts by Chris Beha

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Index of Self-Destructive Acts: “In this gripping family saga, Beha (The Whole Five Feet) sets a cast of New Yorkers on a path to ruin during the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Sam Waxworth is a data journalist who has become famous for the program he designed that accurately predicted much of the 2008 election results, including Obama’s meteoric rise to the presidency. As a result, he is offered a plum job at Interviewer magazine in New York and leaves his wife in Wisconsin, where she is finishing her last year of special education study. After his first articles for the publication go viral, he’s assigned to write a profile of Frank Doyle, a disgraced, left-wing–turned–right-wing political opinion writer. As Sam conducts his reporting, he becomes enmeshed with the Doyle family. Kit, Frank’s wife, is reeling from the collapse of her private investment bank. Eddie, their son and an Army veteran, suffers from PTSD after having served in Iraq. And Sam starts up a romantic relationship with 23-year-old Margo, Eddie’s sister and an aspiring academic, just as his wife decides to pay Sam a visit from Wisconsin. Filled with stunning acts of hubris and betrayal, Beha’s deliciously downbeat novel picks apart the zeitgeist, revealing a culture of schemers and charlatans. This cutting send-up of New York progressive elitism should do much to expand Beha’s audience.”

All Adults Here​ by ​Emma Straub

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about All Adults Here: “In Straub’s witty, topical fourth novel (after Modern Lovers), members of a Hudson Valley family come to terms with adolescence, aging, sexuality, and gender. After 68-year-old widow Astrid Strick witnesses an acquaintance get struck and killed by a bus in the center of Clapham, N.Y., she feels compelled to come clean with her children about her new relationship with Birdie, the local hairdresser, before it’s too late (‘there were always more school buses,’ she reasons). Astrid’s kids have their own issues to contend with. Thirty-seven-year-old Porter, pregnant via a ‘stud farm’ (aka a sperm bank), is having an affair with her old high school boyfriend, while Elliott, the oldest, is preoccupied with a hush-hush business proposal. Nicky, the youngest, and his wife have shipped their only child, 13-year-old Cecilia, up to live with Astrid after a messy incident at her Brooklyn school involving online pedophilia. Despite Cecilia’s fear of not fitting in, she finds friendship with a boy who longs to be recognized as a girl but isn’t ready to come out as trans. As per usual, Straub’s writing is heartfelt and earnest, without tipping over the edge. There are a lot of issues at play here (abortion, bullying, IVF, gender identity, sexual predators) that Straub easily juggles, and her strong and flawed characters carry the day. This affecting family saga packs plenty of punch.”

Also on shelves: Officer Clemmons by François S. Clemmons.

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