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February Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

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We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!

Want to know about the books you might have missed? 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.

 

Pure Colour by Sheila Heti: This is a touching, funny, and philosophical novel about a woman looking to find her place in the world. When Mira leaves home for school, she meets a charismatic woman named Annie, who, as the publisher describes, “opens Mira’s chest like a portal.” After Mira’s father dies, she enters the strange dimension of acute grief and finds a world of insight inside. As the publisher says, it’s a “contemporary bible, an atlas of feeling, and an absurdly funny guide to the great (and terrible) things about being alive.” (Claire)

Very Cold People by Sarah Manguso: The eighth book by pithy stylist Manguso happens also to be her debut novel. She’s written across genres—from poetry collections to nonfiction works (OngoingnessThe Two Kinds of Decay), and her previous book, 300 Arguments, is an aphoristic autobiography. Her novel, Very Cold People, is an “empathic bildungsroman” about a young girl coming of age in an austere (and very cold) Massachusetts town. Lauren Groff says Very Cold People “knocked me to my knees” with a story that “is devastatingly familiar to those of us who know the loneliness of growing up in a place of extreme emotional restraint.” (Anne)

Recitatif by Toni Morrison: The literary giant Morrison’s first published story, and the only short story she ever wrote, is now republished for the first time since 1983 with an introduction by Zadie Smith, who writes, “When [Morrison] called Recitatif an ‘experiment’ she meant it. The subject of the experiment is the reader.” (Lydia)
Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James: The second installment of James’s Dark Star trilogy now arrives, continuing the grand saga of Black Leopard, Red Wolf, and has been greeted with great acclaim. In a starred review, Booklist writes, “If Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a penciled comic panel, Moon Witch, Spider King is the version rendered by James the inker: the geography, myth, magic, and people of this epic setting are revisited to add shading and detail in a recursive procedure that results in a vibrant tapestry begging for infinite return trips.” (Lydia)

Antiquities and Other Stories by Cynthia Ozick: The present edition centers on Ozick’s masterful novella—Antiquities—about the struggles of a former trustee of the long-defunct Temple School for Boys who’s trying to write his memoirs while fending off senescence. But the modern world just keeps butting in on memory. The volume includes four previously uncollected stories by the author: “The Coast of New Zealand,” “The Bloodline of the Alkanas,” “Sin,” and “A Hebrew Sibyl.” (Il’ja)

Chilean Poet by Alejandro Zambra, translated by Megan McDowell: In this story, Gonzalo, an obscure Chilean poet, isn’t much good at relationships, but just maybe his ex-stepson and budding poet Vincente will prove to be. The thing that has always made Zambra’s writing irresistible (to me, anyway) is his attention to the seemingly inconsequential matters that render our lives so flush with consequence. Chilean Poet will almost certainly amble along Zambra’s wonderfully original, laconic literary path. (Il’ja)

Clean Air by Sarah Blake: In a follow-up to her gorgeous, award-winning debut, Naamah, poet Blake explores the post-climate apocalypse where tree pollen poisoned the air and killed billions. Ten years later, the survivors (including Izabel, a restless mother, and her family) live in domes and have begun to build a new normal—until an unknown person begins slashing through the barrier and exposing people to the deadly air. Angie Kim writes, “Clean Air is an amazing blend of page-turning mystery, important commentary about environmental destruction, and poignant portraiture of maternal love.” (Carolyn)

Vladimir by Julia May Jonas: Jonas’s unnamed narrator—a 50-something, tenured English professor at a small liberal arts school—finds herself at the center of a campus scandal: her husband is under investigation for having inappropriate relationships with his students. As she navigates the notoriety, she finds herself becoming deeply sexually obsessed with her new colleague, Vladimir, a young, married novelist. A book that explores power, gender, and desire, which Adrienne Brodeur calls “a whip smart and ferociously clever tale of swirling allegiances, literary rivalries, and romantic tripwires detonating hidden mines.” (Carolyn)

Scoundrel by Sarah Weinman: As the Crime columnist for The New York Times Book Review, author of The Real Lolita, and editor of Unspeakable Acts, Weinman is one of the best at getting beyond sensation to understand the intersection of crime and our larger culture. This book is her investigation into the wrongful exoneration of killer Edgar Smith and how his editor, the women who loved him, friends, and the courts were among those he manipulated into helping set him free—only for him to re-offend again. Booklist calls it, “a psychologically fascinating must-read.” (Claire)

Wildcat by Amelia Morris: Morris’s debut explores new motherhood and toxic female friendships set against the backdrop of contemporary Los Angeles. Our own Edan Lepucki said of the book, “Wildcat is that rare novel I’m always in the mood to read: at once laugh-at-loud funny and deeply serious, page-turning and smart. Amelia Morris tackles contemporary motherhood—with its social media-induced peer pressure, its confusing isolation, its complicated beauty—with the sharpest wit and a tenderness that takes my breath away. I loved this book. I want to press it into the hands of…everyone.” (Lydia)

Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh: The abortion debate gets personal in Haigh’s timely sixth novel. Claudia, a counselor at the Mercy Street clinic, smokes weed to cope with the stress of guiding young women through the choice of their lives while a rabidly pro-life activist shames women online for visiting the clinic and plots to travel from his remote cabin to “save” Claudia. “I’m just going to say it: Jennifer Haigh is the greatest novelist of our generation,” says Joanna Rakoff, author of My Salinger Year. “And Mercy Street is her best novel yet.” (Michael)

How to Be Normal by Phil Christman Though the Midwest is by far the largest geographical region of the United States, diverse in culture, history, and ideology, it’s still often slurred as “flyover country” and reduced to a set of often inaccurate red state stereotypes. Writer, professor, and theorist of the middle American sublime Christman complicated those tropes in his excellent set of essays Midwest Futures, which was both narratively and structurally innovative in how it moved beyond the tired tropes of a million New York Times think pieces. In his follow up, How to Be Normal, Christman presents essays on a variety of topics ranging from race and masculinity to religion and pop culture, all written in the tone of a subversive self-help guide. Engaging a belles-lettristic negative capability, Christman takes on the big subjects while always remembering that the point of criticism is to more fully be a person, part of “our little attempts that we make at building a home in this world.” (Ed)

When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East by Quan Barry: In the latest from the author of We Ride Upon Sticks, two identical twins—brothers who fell out years before after one rejected the monastic life they shared—set out across Mongolia to find a great lama reincarnate. The brother who remained a monk, Chulun, struggles to get along with his estranged twin, Mun, a task that only gets more difficult as the terrain pushes their differences to the breaking point. Throughout, Chulun wrestles with questions of faith and brotherhood, along with the futility in trying to hold on to one set of beliefs in a world that seems to change by the minute. (Thom)

Dead Collection by Isaac Fellman: An archival love story between a TV star’s widow and an archivist with a condition (vampirism) that keeps him hiding in the basement. Jordy Rosenberg called it “A moving and provocative novel, that caresses the decay nibbling at the hard edges of postmodern officescapes, exposing a sexy, neurotic, cinematic vampire love story bubbling up from the ruins.” (Lydia)

Cost of Living by Emily Maloney: An essay collection by an emergency room technician who came to the work after her teenage suicide attempt put her into the tortuous cycle of medical debt—a burden that might touch anyone who has the misfortune of needing medical care in our broken American system, where a broken leg can lead to financial ruin. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly raves, “Maloney artfully unpacks the fraught connection between money and health in her brilliant debut collection. Maloney is masterful at beginning in a place of skepticism and ending with empathy, all while weaving in her own fascinating story.” (Lydia)

New Animal by Ella Baxter: This strange, sexy, wonderful novel by Australian author Baxter follows a woman who works in her family’s mortuary and processes the grief of a loved one’s passing by an exploration of local kink clubs. Kirkus wrote in a bewildered but supportive review, “this unusual novel navigates the most treacherous of emotional territories—the fault lines between love and grief, sex and death—with a deliberate lack of grace and real charm.” (Lydia)

Away to Stay by Mary Kuryla: A novel of the Inland Empire following a working class immigrant family struggling to keep afloat and housed in an unforgiving economy. Lexi Freiman says of the novel, “Kuryla has an unflinching eye for the dark strangeness of domestic life and her ravishing prose only deepens the provocation. A powerful and stunningly original book.” (Lydia)

Nightshift by Kiare Ladner: Set in late-nineties London, Ladner’s debut novel follows Meggie, a twenty-three-year-old literature student, as she becomes deeply obsessed with Sabine, her mysterious and fascinating coworker. Meggie takes the night shift alongside Sabine in order to be closer to her, even though she’s giving up everything she knows for a person who she may never know. “Nightshift is one of the most exciting and provocative debuts I’ve read in years,” Julianne Pachico says. “Daring and dark, it explores themes of nihilism, escape, and desire, with classic noir echoes of Patricia Highsmith.” (Carolyn)

The Goodness of St. Rocque by Alice Dunbar-Nelson: Danielle Evans (The Office of Historical Corrections) writes the introduction to this short story collection from Dunbar-Nelson, the Harlem Renaissance poet, essayist, and activist, that explores the Creole community—from Bourbon Street to the bayou—in the late-nineteenth century. This edition, published as part of the Modern Library Torchbearer series, also features selected stories from Dunbar-Nelson’s first collection, Violets and Other Tales. (Carolyn)

The Last Wild Horses by Maja Lunde (translated by Diane Oatley): The newest novel by Lunde, whose debut The History of Bees won the Norwegian Bookseller’s Prize, touches down in multiple timelines—1881 Russia, 1992 Mongolia, and a dystopian 2064 Norway—with takhi, a rare ancient breed of horses, serving as the through line. In each of the eras, people risk and sacrifice everything and everyone to save these magnificent creatures from certain extinction. Publishers Weekly’s starred review says: “Throughout, Lunde delivers a perfect blend of gripping human stories, historical and scientific fact, and speculative elements. This standout should win her wider attention in the U.S..” (Carolyn)

Love by Maayan Eitan: Following the life of a young sex worker, Eltan’s ethereal and emotional debut novel caused an uproar when it was originally published in Israel. As she meets men and befriends others in the business, the woman presents a hazy, truth-blurring narrative of her life in and out of the male gaze. Nell Zink calls Eltan “a pensive rebel seductress and a literary trickster” and her novel “so emotionally persuasive, so transparently metaphorical, so startlingly concrete, so obviously not true, that it had everyone in Israel convinced it was straight-up autofiction.” (Carolyn)

Other People’s Clothes by Calla Henkel: Two New York City college art students studying abroad in Berlin sublet an apartment from Beatrice Becks, a notorious thriller writer. In the darkened apartment the girls become increasingly obsessed with Beatrice and convinced she is using them as inspiration for her next novel —so they decide to give her something to write about. Megan Abbot calls the novel “darkly funny, psychologically rich and utterly addictive,” and a “witty, harrowing tale of twisty female friendships, slippery identity and furtive secrets.” (Carolyn)

Pages by Hugo Hamilton: The protagonist of Hamilton’s latest is a copy of Joseph Roth’s novel, The Rebellion, who narrates the story of its life, existence, and rescue from a Nazi book burning. Nearly a century after it was written and saved, Lena Knecht—the granddaughter of the book’s safeguard—travels to Germany with the book in tow to decipher a handwritten map on its last page. Sebastian Barry calls the novel “A masterpiece. Full of great sentences. But also sort of obliteratingly moving, strange, and right.” (Carolyn)

The Selfless Act of Breathing by J.J. Bola: When Michael, a British-Congolese high school teacher, suffers a life-changing loss, he decides to leave his life in London behind and travel to America. In an attempt to leave his painful past behind, Michael finds himself making new connections, having adventures, and realizing no one can outrun themselves. Mateo Askaripour writes: “In a world that makes it difficult for many of us to articulate our suffering, The Selfless Act of Breathing is a necessary invitation to scream when we feel like screaming, cry when we feel like crying, and prioritize our own often-neglected needs for love.” (Carolyn)

Please Miss by Grace Lavery: In her genre-blurring debut memoir, UC Berkeley professor Lavery uses humor, criticism, and philosophy to explore themes such as addiction, queerness, academia, and trans identity. About this smart, erotic, and metafictional book, Maggie Nelson writes: “Come for the laugh out loud miniature windsock on page one, stay for the fascinating analysis of a discarded pig part in Jude the Obscure, end up profoundly moved and profoundly grateful for this supremely intelligent, innovative, and important tale which is, as Lavery brilliantly puts it, ‘like all the rest, different from all the rest.’” (Carolyn)

The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk (translated by Jennifer Croft): Paginated in reverse, Nobel laureate Tokarczuk’s newest novel follows Jacob Frank, a charismatic religious leader, as he gathers followers and spreads his gospel throughout Eastern and Southeastern Europe in the late 18th century. Narrated by those who came in contact with him, the novel offers a kaleidoscopic and fictionalized view of a beloved, reviled, and controversial historical figure. Publishers Weekly’s starred review calls the book a “subtle and sensuous masterpiece” that “will undoubtedly be read and talked about by lovers of literature for years to come.” (Carolyn)

Cleopatra and Frankenstein by Coco Mellors: When Cleo, a twenty-four-year-old British painter, meets Frank, a forty-something businessman, her life is on the brink: her expiring student visa means she will have to leave Manhattan. Frank can offer everything she could dream of and more—and six months after meeting the two are married. Their whirlwind romance changes their lives and the lives of their friends and families forever. Kirkus’ starred review says: “At its core, it’s a novel about how love and lovers are easily misinterpreted and how romantic troubles affect friends and family…A canny and engrossing rewiring of the big-city romance.”

They Said They Wanted Revolution by Neda Toloui-Semnani: Journalist Toloui-Semnani’s debut novel explores her family’s devastating, complicated, and activist past. In 1979, her Iranian political activist parents left the U.S. to join the revolution in Iran, which was a decision that left her father dead and changed her family’s trajectory forever. “The old quote (turned old cliché) that a revolution devours its own (or its children) is not just a truism for Neda’s Persian family but a tragedy that came to define her,” says Hooman Majd. “This history—of not just revolution but also dual identity—is seldom told with such raw emotion and devastating beauty.” (Carolyn)

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