little scratch: A Novel

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Gabbert, Manne, Marshall, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Elisa Gabbert, Kate Manne, Nate Marshall, and more—that are publishing this week.

The Unreality of Memory by Elisa Gabbert

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Unreality of Memory: “In this deeply contemplative but accessible essay collection, poet Gabbert (The Word Pretty) considers how accurately people perceive themselves and the world around them. She begins, in ‘Magnificent Desolation,’ by considering the spectacle of catastrophe, using the uneasy fascination people have with events such as 9/11 and the sinking of the Titanic to suggest that ‘horror and awe are not incompatible; they are intertwined.’ In ‘Vanity Project,’ Gabbert reflects on how people perceive their mirror images: are such images ‘real,’ or are they ‘mirror delusions’ in which one only sees what one expects to see? In her most involved and layered essay, ‘Witches and Whiplash,’ she delves deep into the history of psychogenic (mentally originating) and psychosomatic (both body and mind) disorders. In a fitting epilogue, Gabbert discusses French philosopher Henri Bergson, who ‘believed that memory and perception were the same’ and famously debated Einstein on the nature of time, leading Gabbert to wonder whether lived experience is distorted not by unreliable memory but by an unreliable perception of the present. Whatever the chosen topic, Gabbert’s essays manage to be by turns poetic, philosophical, and exhaustively researched. This is a superb collection.”

Last Call on Decatur Street by Iris Martin Cohen

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Last Call on Decatur Street: “Cohen’s thoughtful and vivid second novel (after The Little Clan) follows burlesque dancer Rosemary Grossman as she navigates friendship and loss on Twelfth Night in 2004 New Orleans. It’s been a year since Rosemary, now in her mid-20s, has seen her lifelong best friend, Gaby, after they fought about Rosemary’s job as a dancer at the Sugarlick. As children, the pair bonded while being ostracized in grade school: Rosemary for being poor, and Gaby for being black. Now, when Rosemary’s beloved dog, Ida, dies, she feels utterly alone. After her shift at the club, Rosemary wanders through the French Quarter, trying to track down a sometime lover. She befriends an affable street punk who’s questioning his sexuality and dealing with his own friend drama. Along the way, Cohen pens an eloquent love letter to New Orleans and captures her protagonist with succinct descriptions: ‘By the time I turned twenty, I was as old as I’ll ever be,’ Rosemary thinks, recounting how her problem with alcohol contributed to her losing a college scholarship, and realizing how her relative privilege contributed to her rift with Gaby. Cohen also aces the difficult feat of crafting a credible narrator who has blind spots. The lush language, fully realized characters, and tight storytelling make this a winner.”

The New Wilderness by Diane Cook

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The New Wilderness: “In this wry, speculative debut novel (after the collection Man v. Nature), Cook envisions a crowded and polluted near future in which only one natural area remains, the Wilderness State. Twenty people volunteer for a government experiment in how humans fare in the wilderness—it’s been so long since anyone tried that no one remembers. Among the volunteers are Glen, ‘an important person’ at a university; his wife, Bea; and Bea’s daughter, Agnes, and they, along with the others, collectively called ‘The Community,’ learn to eke out a precarious existence hunting with bows and arrows, tanning animal hides, and negotiating dangerous terrain. As the years pass unmarked other than with Bea noticing a fourth annual appearance of violet blossoms, the volunteers gradually abandon their commitments to the study, though they remain expected to obey rules enforced by Rangers—never stay in one place longer than seven days, never leave a trace—as members die off. More waitlisted refugees, called Newcomers, arrive from the city, and Bea perseveres, driven by hope for Agnes’s future. Cook powerfully describes the Community members’ transformation from city folk to primal beings, as they become fierce, cunning, and relentless in their struggle for survival and freedom, such as when Bea faces off with a mother coyote. Cook’s unsettling, darkly humorous tale explores maternal love and man’s disdain for nature with impressive results.”

Via Negativa by Daniel Hornsby

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Via Negativa: “A former Catholic priest grapples with his unorthodox clerical career in Hornsby’s affecting debut. Father Dan, ousted from his rectory in Indiana for clashing with its conservative leaders, takes his ‘mobile monk’s cell’ of a car on the road, packing plenty of Prince CDs and sporting a new beard that is ‘halfway between a Francis and a Peter.’ Denver is the destination, home of his old friend Paul, who became a Unitarian minister after marrying a man. Along the way, Dan rescues a coyote after witnessing it being hit by a minivan and, at a bar in Kansas, is asked by the bar’s owner to take a pistol off her hands. Dan accepts, and gets the idea to use it on James Bruno, a retired pedophile priest. As he makes stops at kitschy tourist destinations and dithers over releasing the coyote he’s named Bede, Dan reflects on how he chafed at pastoral duties, believing he would have ‘done much better in some remote monastery on a chalky Italian cliff… or some other century.’ As he drives, he reveals a heartbreaking secret that propels the looming confrontation with Bruno, farther down the road in Montana. Dan’s regrets and doubts about his impact as a priest come through amid acerbic humor, and the kinetic prose keeps the melancholic, slow burn kindled throughout. Hornsby has got the goods, and his stirring tale of self-reflection, revenge, and theological insight isn’t one to miss.”

Little Scratch by Rebecca Watson

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Little Scratch: “Watson experiments with line breaks, repetition, and columns to express the unnamed narrator’s frenetic consciousness over a single day in this inventive, immersive debut. The narrator wakes with memories of an uncomfortable sexual encounter, after dreaming about it from an out-of-body perspective. Meanwhile, she registers a persistent itch that causes her to scratch herself raw (‘blood under my nails from fucking scratching in my sleep’). As the novel progresses through the narrator’s routine and commute to her unsatisfying job at a London news agency (‘got to do this thing again, the waking up thing, the day thing, the work thing’), she struggles to resist scratching her arms and legs. Competing thoughts often run parallel in two columns, with intensity indicated in all caps and dialogue in italics. Watson’s clever convention and set pieces are not simply flourishes but integral to the plot and themes. There’s much relatable humor in the heroine’s everyday snafus, such as her struggle for coherence while speaking with a male colleague, and a tedious task with a glue stick, the low point of her workday. The tone shifts as the narrator begins to consider that she was raped, and the last third of the novel becomes genuinely harrowing and unsettling. Watson’s haunting, virtuosic performance is well worth a look.”

Finna by Nate Marshall

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Finna: “‘[M]y hope is like my language is like my people: it’s Black,’ writes Marshall (Wild Hundreds) in his rich and reflective second collection. In four sprawling, intertwining sections, Marshall explores masculinity, the effects of community and familial relationships, and the role of Black language in imagining a livable future. ‘you better imagine/ like your life depends/ because it does,’ he writes. In the first of these sections, Marshall stages a drama between his own understanding against that of a white supremacist living in Colorado (also named Nate Marshall) who serves as a foil that appears periodically as the poet reflects on his own changing life. Marshall is a wizard of the anecdote, finding resonance without over-explaining. ‘[A] poem for Justin’ emerges out of a nephew’s wish for such a poem; ‘conceal’ takes seriously the competing impulses of a grandmother’s contradictory life; and in ‘scruples,’ Marshall writes, ‘i spill finna from my mouth/ like 2 cheeks full of pop,’ a warning of ‘all the hesitation I shook loose.’ This is a memorable, thought-provoking, and impactful collection.”

Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women by Kate Manne

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Entitled: “Cornell University philosopher Manne (Down Girl) delivers a hard-hitting and outrage-inspiring interrogation of the links between male entitlement, both individual and systemic, and misogyny. Addressing entitled male sexual behavior, Manne scrutinizes ‘himpathy,’ ‘herasure,’ and victim blaming in the public response to sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh and Stanford University student Brock Turner, and analyzes issues of consent and ‘social programming’ in the viral New Yorker short story “Cat Person” and a woman’s account of her distressing sexual encounter with comedian Aziz Ansari. Manne also documents discrepancies in the medical care received by men and women, and claims that the assumption of the male body as a default leads health-care professionals to doubt women’s accounts of their own pain. In the political realm, Manne cites studies showing that women seeking power must be ‘exceptionally communal’ to a degree not required of their male peers to explain the rise and fall of Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign. Manne concludes with an avowal that girls and women are justifiably entitled to be valued, cared for, and believed, and gives readers a powerful framework for understanding and confronting challenges in their own lives. This incisive feminist treatise is a must-read.”

Also on shelves this week: Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women by Lyz Lenz.

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