Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Anna Burns, Aravind Adiga, Brandon Taylor, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, William T. Vollmann, and more—that are publishing this week.
Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.
Little Constructions by Anna Burns
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Little Constructions: “Belfast native Burns’s raucous, exacting modernist crime novel (after the Booker Prize–winning Milkman) skewers men’s incomprehension of women. After a young woman named Jetty Doe confounds a gun shop owner in a town known as Tiptoe Floorboard by snatching a Kalashnikov rifle and throwing a pile of money at him in pursuit of a crime of passion, shop owner Tom Spaders, already traumatized from being stabbed by teenagers in a mugging the year before, copes with the shock by blubbering to a friend about the woman’s apparent ignorance over the type of gun she’d wanted. The story then zigs and zags through a wild chronicle of the Doe crime syndicate and its core members’ immediate family, whose similar-sounding names—Jotty, John, Johnjoe, Janet, Janine, etc.—belie their complex, distinct identities (on Julie Doe: ‘This fifteen-year-old was older than her mother’s thirtysomething friend’). Burns’s narrator is a garrulous raconteur who drops in damning characterizations of men (‘Why couldn’t she be quiet and just listen and remain quiet even after she’d listened?,’ one wonders about his wife) while unspooling the freewheeling account of the Doe family’s occult superstitions, their quirky sensitivity to noises, and the bloody brouhaha that follows the arrest of several gang members. While the narrator’s digressive woolgathering will test some readers’ patience, the acerbic gender commentary tightens the slack. Burns’s fans will find much to chew on.”
Amnesty by Aravind Adiga
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Amnesty: “Adiga (The White Tiger) briskly captures an undocumented immigrant’s moral dilemma over whether to help the police solve a murder or remain under the radar in this engrossing tale. After leaving Sri Lanka to attend college in Sydney, Dhananjaya ‘Danny’ Rajaratnam quits school, loses his student visa, and fails to gain refugee status, but he stays in Australia out of fear for his safety back home, where he was misidentified as a Tamil terrorist. He sleeps in a grocery storeroom and earns cash cleaning homes and doing odd jobs. For four years he escapes notice by authorities; even his leftist Vietnamese girlfriend, Sonja, doesn’t know he’s in the country illegally. After one of his clients—Indian-born Radha Thomas—is murdered, Danny deduces that her murderer is her lover, a violent man nicknamed the Doctor. Danny knows Radha and the Doctor frequented the creek where Radha’s body was discovered, and that the Doctor owned a jacket resembling the one wrapped around the body. Adiga recounts Danny’s thoughts, memories, doubts, and hesitation as well as his aborted phone calls with police and ominous contacts with the Doctor, all within a single day. With nuance and vivid faced by a range of Asian Australians while highlighting the dangers faced by the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Adiga’s enthralling depiction of one immigrant’s tough situation humanizes a complex and controversial global dilemma.”
Real Life by Brandon Taylor
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Real Life: “Taylor’s intense, introspective debut tackles the complicated desires of a painfully introverted gay black graduate student over the course of a tumultuous weekend. Wallace, a biochemistry student from Alabama at an unnamed contemporary Midwestern university, discovers his experiment involving breeding nematodes ruined by contaminating mold. Though distraught and facing tedious work, he reluctantly meets up with friends from his program to celebrate the last weekend of summer. He discloses to them the recent death of his estranged father, who did not protect him from sexual abuse by a family friend as a child. Wallace is perpetually ill at ease with his white friends and labmates, especially surly Miller, who unexpectedly admits a sexual interest in Wallace. Over the following two days, Wallace and Miller awkwardly begin a secret, volatile sexual relationship with troubling violence between them at its margins. As Wallace begins to doubt his future as an academic and continues to have fraught social interactions, he reveals more about his heartbreaking past to Miller, building toward an unsettling, unresolved conclusion between the two men. Wallace’s inconsistent emotional states when he’s in Miller’s company can be jarring; the novel is at its best and most powerful when Wallace is alone and readers witness his interior solitude in the face of the racism and loneliness he endures. Taylor’s perceptive, challenging exploration of the many kinds of emotional costs will resonate with readers looking for complex characters and rich prose.”
Living Weapon by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Living Weapon: “In his dazzling third collection, Phillips (Heaven) explores social ills while celebrating poetry’s ability to provide solace and sense during times of upheaval. Two prose poems anchor the book: the first, the standout of the collection, is ‘1776,’ in which Phillips imagines himself as a winged angel standing atop the Freedom Tower in New York City, observing the city below: ‘Lit streets run from it, electric arteries and veins. Manhattan’s never seemed so empty, so narrow, a pupil of a cat’s eye.’ Phillips imbues the book with the divisiveness and violence of the present moment: ‘We are all in prison./ This is the brutal lesson of the slouching century,// Swilled like a sour stone/ Through the vein of the beast.’ In ‘Mortality Ode,’ he narrates a scene in which several police officers enter a cellphone store and browse casually. Nothing dramatic occurs, but the simple presence of the officers conveys a tension born from the speaker’s subtle understanding that the police are a threat to his safety. In ‘Thoughts and Prayers,’ Phillips addresses the subject of gun violence directly, declaring that the refusal to take action to stop the epidemic is the real evil: ‘the end of endings; the death/ Of change.’ Phillips’s latest is lyrical, imaginative, and steeped in a keen understanding of current events.”
Home Making by Lee Matalone
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Home Making: “Rumpus columnist Matalone’s heady, lyrical debut overlays an adopted woman’s journey into motherhood with her daughter’s story of making a home for herself as an adult. Born in Tokyo to a Japanese mother and French father, Cybil is adopted by an American couple in Arizona in the 1950s and eventually has a daughter, Chloe, who, in the present, struggles to make a home out of a sprawling house she buys in Virginia while estranged from her husband, Pat, contrasting their old house with Le Corbusier’s aphorism, ‘A house is a machine for living in’ (‘machines break, become defunct’). In spare chapters, Mantalone moves back and forth in time to trace the shapes of Cybil’s and Chloe’s identities through their relationships to domestic spaces. As Chloe wanders from dining room to kitchen to closet in her new house, she ruminates on the varied meanings of home, reflecting on her childhood and contemplating a future with her best friend, Beau, a gay man who glibly encourages her, ‘As the great sculpture of pirouetting steel, Richard Serra, said, space is material.’ In measured prose, Matalone draws out connections between past and present to illuminate the mother and daughter’s shared sense of ambiguity toward motherhood. Matalone’s cool reflections on art and architecture will appeal to fans of Chris Kraus.”
The Lucky Star by William T. Vollmann
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Lucky Star: “Vollmann’s sprawling and provocatively playful novel revisits the sordid setting of his early collection The Rainbow Stories, where sexual desire shapes characters’ self-expression and pursuit of love, power, and human connection. A circle of friends is bonded by their relationship to a character named Neva, often referred to as ‘the lesbian.’ They meet at a San Francisco spot called the Y Bar in 2015, where they find support in their collective company and become a de facto family. Among them are the matriarch, a bartender named Francine; Shantelle, a transgender prostitute; the largely unnoticed hard-drinking barfly Richard, who provides florid narration; and the starry-eyed Frank, who has renamed himself after his icon, Judy Garland. Vollmann elaborately researched the tumultuous life of the real Garland, lending passion and credence to Richard’s extensive knowledge of the late singer. As Neva evolves from an innocent to an icon on par with Marlene Dietrich, at least in the eyes of the Y Bar circle, she guides and mentors their sexual self-discovery, helping define their boundaries and gain confidence. The Y Bar crowd’s otherwise static plotlines are tightened by the interweaving of their common experiences. Vollmann’s challenging novel is full of memorable moments.”
Also on shelves: Where You’re All Going by Joan Frank.
Here are six notable books of poetry publishing this month.
Through a Small Ghost by Chelsea Dingman
“I wanted to give you the world.” The narrator of “Memento Mori,” the first poem in Dingman’s new book, speaks those words to the child inside of her. And yet she knows “my body is / the house you will ever forget how to breathe in.” Dingman has the gift to see the world through a wound. In “Intersections,” the narrator encounters a mare “alone in a field, her belly / distended, ribs like ladder rungs.” The occasional wind rustles oak trees, and the mare “spits & shakes” as well. “I’ve seen this before,” the narrator says: “the way a woman’s body reaches // for its own ruin.” There’s wind elsewhere in this book, and its spirit and haunt is the perfect metaphor (I think of John 3:8–“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth.”). In “Postscript,” she writes: “A wind chime on my mother’s porch. / The prairies. The constant wind / tears through me like a new language. / Like it’s whispering empty empty empty.” These poems are hymns to a lost daughter. An affirmation. “How briefly the body is a story / where everything matters, // even its name.” And: “When the world // shows us that it’s incapable / of mercy, we stay up all night / & practice how to be merciful.” One of the best books this year.
Romances by Lisa Ampleman
The first two poems of Ampleman’s new collection follow Andreas Capellanus, a likely pseudonym for the author of a 12th century satirical volume on courtly love. Ampleman immediately brings him to the present day with her own form of humor–a little whimsical, a little absurd, always clever (Rule #2: “Unrequited love is like insulation–toxic / cotton candy hidden beneath gypsum board. / It will keep you warm all winter.”). But Ampleman turns in her own direction to create a farcical take on contemporary love, yet one stitched with real sentiment. In “Love-Scrawls,” the narrator thinks about how we “carve trees, scrape the bark to make our confession, / our affinities simplified to initials / in a lopsided heart.” Not to mention the affirmations on bathroom stalls and biceps. We know that “flesh stretches, ink fades,” but love is not logical. Love is unpredictable, of course (this could be the only book to include a sonnet sequence dedicated to Courtney Love–“I transcribe and mimeograph you for the sake / of those who’ve loved and lost, or sighed / over a sonnet.”). Ampleman is the perfect guide for this subject.
Living Weapon by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
In his prose introduction to this collection, Phillips writes that “we all make art with the same material–time, art is made of time.” Time–inexorable, constant, unconcerned with us despite our obsession with it–plays a distinct role in his new book. He imagines history as a lover who “promises you a kiss / When she comes to bed.” Until then, she, “like every night this summer, stays up / To watch her shows.” History wakes you not with the light of dawn, but “just the white haze of her cell. / You stayed half-awake in the lit darkness / Thinking she owed you something.” Maybe a kiss, maybe more, but then the “light turned off as if it never happened. / And nothing came to you because you were / Owed absolutely nothing.” There’s a touch of Stevens here, of Warren. In another poem, “We wander round ring after ring of life, / One after another, blossoms of light / To which we’re but a mere flotsam of bees.” Remember: “Yesterday’s newspapers becomes last week’s / Newspapers spread like a hand-held fan / In front of the face of the apartment / Door.” The truths of Phillips’s book are plain and perceptive, harsh and oddly soothing.
A Nail the Evening Hangs On by Monica Sok
Sok has an impressive sense of story in this debut collection. In “American Dancing in the Heart of Darkness,” the narrator, of Cambodian heritage, is in Phnom Penh for the Water Festival. She is surrounded by American students, and considers “maybe I’m American too.” She and the other students stay at the Golden Gate Hotel, where she orders room service–“fresh young coconut, a club sandwich, and French fries”–delivered by a “woman with a bruised face and a silver tray” who has to walk seven floors to her room. The woman will make the same trip almost nine times that night to other rooms, American rooms. The next morning, hundreds are killed and injured in a human stampede at Koh Pich, and the narrator hears from her family. The Americans nod in recognition at the horror, but the narrator is no traveler. Confused, and dizzy with grief, she goes “to the Heart of Darkness, the nightclub empty but open. / We dance with Khmer boys.” The calls announcing deaths continue to arrive that night. It’s an early poem in the book, but Sok never lets up, her detailed sense creating almost constant suspense and tension in this collection. A significant new voice.
Praise Song for My Children: New and Selected Poems by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley
These are affirming poems–songs, truly. In the title poem, Wesley writes “Let me come to you at dawn, my children, / my calabash, wet from the early dawn’s / water-fetching run.” Wet, tired, and yet determined: “Let me come to you bearing tears on my face / after the war, after the villages have crumbled / under the weight of grave hate.” The power of Wesley’s collected work here is established in the book’s first poem, “Some of Us Are Made of Steel,” blessedly inspirational verse for a world that needs it: “life has made us cry. / But in our tears, salt, healing, salty, and forever, / we are forever. Yes, some of us are forever.” In one poem, Wesley is thankful for graces common and uncommon, including suffering. Such willingness to see the grace in pain informs the rest of her book, steeped in elegies and remembrances that avoid nihilism. “When I meet my mother,” Wesley writes, “she will take / from my tired hands, this bundle of rotten / leaves and the pail of tears / I have brought to her.” She writes of Liberia and war, and leaving Liberia–but hopefully not forever. “One of these days / there will be rejoicing / all over the place,” she promises. “All of us refugees / will come home again.”
Still Life by Ciaran Carson
The late Carson’s final volume begins with the word “Today,” and that first line ends with the phrase “here I am”–an appropriate formulation. His long lines, their ends pushing past the margin and running down the center, create a root in the present. Carson speaks often of his terminal diagnosis in these poems: “How strange it is to be lying here listening to whatever it is going on. / The days are getting longer now, however many of them I have left. / And the pencil I am writing this with, old as it is, will easily outlast their end.” There is a bravery in offering oneself over to elegy, although the book never feels maudlin–owing to Carson’s range, his almost ravenous curiosity.