Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from David Sedaris, Maria Adelmann, Leesa Cross-Smith, and more—that are publishing this week.
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Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Happy-Go-Lucky: “Unrest, plague, and death give rise to mordant comedy in this intimate collection from Sedaris (Me Talk Pretty One Day). The author covers rude service workers, difficulties in his own life, and goings-on in ‘Eastern Europe countries no one wants to immigrate to’ where ‘[T]hugs guard parked BMWs and stray dogs roam the streets…. There are cats too, grease-covered from skulking beneath cars, one eye or sometimes both glued shut with pus.’ He faces mask sticklers in a Target checkout line, sees a drunken mask scofflaw on a flight, and communes with BLM protesters while deploring their ‘lazy’ slogans. Much of the book has a dark edge, as it recounts the decline and death of his 98-year-old father; Sedaris voices still rankling resentments—'[a]s long as my father had power, he used it to hurt me’—and recounts his sister’s accusations that their father sexually abused her. As always, Sedaris has a knack for finding where the blithe and innocent intersect with the tawdry and lurid: ‘His voice had an old-fashioned quality… like a boy’s in a radio serial,’ he writes of a Nintendo-obsessed 11-year-old; ‘ ‘Gee willikers!’ you could imagine him saying, if that were the name of a video game in which things blew up and women got shot in the back of the head.’ Sedaris’s tragicomedy is gloomier than usual, but it’s as rich and rewarding as ever.”
How to Be Eaten by Maria Adelmann
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about How to Be Eaten: “Adelmann’s funny and poignant debut novel (after the collection Girls of a Certain Age) invokes classic and modern fairy tales to portray a group of traumatized women. Six women, all public figures, join a mysterious group therapy experiment facilitated by the handsome if preternaturally bland Will. Every Friday evening, they meet in a YMCA rec room to drink coffee and share their experiences. First up is Bernice, who was whisked into a whirlwind romance with a tech billionaire nicknamed ‘Bluebeard’ for his blue-dyed beard. Everything was great until Bernice discovered his secret habit of imprisoning and murdering women in his mansion. Then there’s Ashlee, a ‘survivor’ of a Bachelor-esque dating show; and Ruby, who as a child was swallowed by a wolf. Adelmann’s retelling of ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ is particularly good; it involves Raina, the oldest of the group, and includes a stunning revelation during one of Will’s sessions of an imp-human sex scene. In the background is a running commentary about the power structure of narratives (‘Morals create a labyrinth of rules geared toward blaming the victim,’ says Bernice, quoting a woman who later became one of Bluebeard’s victims). Revisionist fairy tales are nothing new, but Adelmann’s are elevated by accomplished prose and wry humor. It’s a fresh and inventive gem.”
Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Yerba Buena: “In LaCour’s solid adult debut (after the YA novel Watch Over Me), two Los Angeles women navigate the uncertainties of their 20s and their complicated pasts. Sara Foster ran away from home at 16 after her girlfriend died under mysterious circumstances that may have involved Sara’s family. Now she’s a bartender whose signature cocktails are in high demand at the popular restaurant Yerba Buena. Emilie Dubois, who is part Creole, spent her early life as the ‘steady daughter’ and ‘good girl,’ but with a sister in and out of rehab, her parents getting divorced, and her grandmother dying, she begins to search for her authentic self rather than continue passing as white and straight. After Emilie takes a job designing flowers at Yerba Buena, she embarks on an affair with the married owner, Jacob Lowell, while Sara occasionally takes home women from the bar. Though the chemistry is palpable between Emilie and Sara, the story turns out to be less about a love affair than what the women each need for themselves. Sometimes the alternating points of view between Sara and Emilie feel interchangeable, but LaCour writes with beauty and clarity about how a relationship is not a substitute for the characters’ mutual need to love themselves. This doesn’t break new ground, but it gets the job done.”
Walk the Vanished Earth by Erin Swan
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Walk the Vanished Earth: “Swan’s ambitious but flawed debut follows a family through many generations from the plains of Kansas to the sands of Mars. In 1873, Samson, an Irish immigrant, hunts buffalo on the prairie. In 1975, his descendant, a mute, 11-year-old girl named Bea, gives birth to a son named Paul, who becomes an engineer. In 2018, Paul devises a plan to rebuild New Orleans after it’s submerged in a worldwide cataclysm. In 2027, in the Floating City Paul helped design, Paul and his poet daughter, Kay, entertain David, who dreams of mankind finding a new home on Mars. In 2073, a nomadic Martian named Moon contacts survivors on Earth and considers becoming a mother, and a section set in 2046 delves into the lineage that connects Moon to Paul’s family. Swan has limited success with the sci-fi elements; the futuristic backgrounds fail to persuade, the technology involved in the characters’ journey from Earth to Mars is glossed over, and the choppy, nonchronological narrative muddies the water. On the other hand, Moon and the other characters are created with true depth of feeling, and the consideration of motherhood as its meaning changes over time lands as just short of epic. There’s a lot to admire, but it bites off a bit too much.”
Planes by Peter C. Baker
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Planes: “Inspired by the North Carolina Stop Torture Now coalition, Baker’s arresting debut charts the effects of rendition on an Italian Muslim convert and an American former anti-war activist. Amira, 32, feels like an outcast living in the small Rome apartment she once shared with her Moroccan husband, Ayoub, who was detained in Pakistan, then extradited and tortured for suspicion of unspecified crimes. When Ayoub returns after years of silence except for the redacted letters he sent to Amira, he is not the man Amira once knew, and though an American lawyer is working on his case, the future seems dubious for them both. Running alongside this narrative is the story of Melanie, a real estate agent in North Carolina who is cheating on her husband with Bradley, a member of the local school board. Bradley also happens to be the president of Atlantic Industries, a small Air America–style operation that stands accused of providing rendition flights. Now, Melanie becomes consumed with guilt over her hesitancy to help her old activist friends dig into Bradley’s shadowy activities. Baker masterly juggles the two concurrent story lines, never losing the urgency of either as Amira and Melanie grapple with hard truths and seek justice and indemnification. Along the way, the author digs deep into the nuances of love, pain, betrayal, and the promise of deliverance. This moving debut buzzes with relevance.”
Half-Blown Rose by Leesa Cross-Smith
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Half-Blown Rose: “A woman grapples with love and the emotional turmoil that comes with it in the long-winded latest from Cross-Smith (This Close to Okay). In Paris, 44-year-old Vincent works as an art teacher. She also makes jewelry, entertains friends in a posh apartment, and is embroiled in a love affair with Loup, one of her students. Though her life may seem like an expat’s dream, she’s there because her estranged husband, Cillian, published a bombshell of an autofictional novel revealing his past relationship with another woman, which involved a secret pregnancy. Now, Vincent emails with Cillian’s ex, Siobhan, and Cillian and Siobhan’s son, Tully, with whom she unexpectedly becomes fast friends. After Vincent’s work visa expires, she is forced to choose between her former life with Cillian and the new one she’s built in Paris. Cross-Smith offers a refreshing take on a woman’s story of midlife upheaval, but there isn’t much in the way of narrative momentum, and Vincent’s vacillation between Cillian and Loup ends up feeling like the author is merely spinning her wheels. This has its moments, but it’s not Cross-Smith’s best.”