Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Helen Oyeyemi, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Halle Butler, David Means and more—that are publishing this week.
Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Gingerbread: “In Oyeyemi’s idiosyncratically brilliant latest (following Boy, Snow, Bird), she spins a tale about three generations of women and the gingerbread recipe that is their curse and their legacy. In an effort to understand her heritage, precocious British schoolgirl Perdita Lee recreates her family’s famed gingerbread recipe—but with additional ingredients that have near-fatal consequences. When she slips into a coma, her mother, Harriet, is forced to tell her the truth of their family. To do so, she must recount her upbringing in the mysterious country Druhástrana and the arduous journey that finally brought her and her mother, Margot, out of it. Harriet’s account is an astonishing tale of rigged lotteries, girls in wells, and the mystifying and meddling Gretel Kercheval, a childhood friend of Harriet’s who seems to have an awful lot to do with Harriet’s fate. Though Harriet and Margot do eventually manage to leave Druhástrana, they realize that it’s not quite as easy to master the outside world, especially not when there are more Kerchevals around to complicate things. Oyeyemi excels at making the truly astounding believable and turning even the most familiar tales into something strange and new. This fantastic and fantastical romp is a wonderful addition to her formidable canon.”
The New Me by Halle Butler
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The New Me: “Butler’s incisive latest (following Jillian) opens in winter in Chicago, where 30-year-old Millie is sweating inside her coat as she rides the crowded train to her temp position at the Lisa Hopper interior design showroom, where the uptight senior receptionist Karen calls her Maddie, and she gets paid $12 an hour to clip together mailers and answer the phone. Millie’s life is deeply stagnant—besides her temp position, she has one awful friend named Sarah, little to no social life, and a deep dependency on the crime show Forensic Files, which she watches nightly. It’s clear to Millie that something must change. When she receives an innocuous email from her temp agency, Millie mistakes it for an impending job offer, and throws herself into revamping her life. In short chapters, readers are treated to insights into the lives of the other women at Lisa Hopper, especially Karen, who has different plans for Millie’s future than what Millie is expecting. Though Millie’s mundane and self-destructive despondence sometimes feels all too familiar, Butler has nonetheless created an disquieting heroine with an indelible voice. Butler is a sharp and observant writer, who takes to task the tragicomedy of modern capitalism.”
Minutes of Glory by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Minutes of Glory: “Thiong’o’s outstanding collection (following Wrestling with the Devil: A Prison Memoir), set over decades in Kenya, follows a range of characters: mothers and children, fighters and martyrs, secret lives and shadows and priests. ‘And the Rain Came Down!’ is about Nyokabi, a childless woman who isn’t able to have relationships with mothers due to her overwhelming jealousy. One evening, in a storm, she finds a lost child and brings him home, intending to keep him. In ‘The Martyr,’ Mrs. Hill and her European settler neighbors are shocked to learn about a Caucasian couple who were murdered in their home. Mrs. Hill, who owns a tea plantation, considers herself to be a woman who trusts her servants, but nevertheless feels unsettled. Meanwhile, Njoroge, her servant, dislikes Mrs. Hill (she flaunts her kindness, and he’s been on the land longer than her) and believes that she does too much for the help, yet he finds that he has misguided loyalty. ‘Minutes of Glory,’ follows Beatrice, who scrapes by working in bars. She meets a fellow outcast and they become involved, yet a criminal act changes their trajectories. Thiong’o weaves together disparate stories of people attempting to deal with change in their lives, either chosen or forced upon them, showing his understanding of human nature, its frequent resistance to change, and its ability to surprise. This is a masterful collection.”
A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Woman Is No Man: “Rum’s pleasing debut employs two timelines to recount the story of a Palestinian family living in America. In the early 1990s, Isra is married off and moves to Brooklyn to live with her husband, Adam, and his culturally traditional parents, Fareeda and Khaled. While Isra stays home to cook and clean, Adam spends all of his time running the family’s deli, yet the couple is pressured by Fareeda to produce a son. Isra gives birth to four girls, however, fracturing family relations. The second story line jumps forward two decades to follow Deya, the oldest of Isra’s daughters, as she faces the prospect of her own arranged marriage. Deya lives with Fareeda and Khaled, as her parents died in a reported car crash when she was young, and as she resists Fareeda’s insistence on finding a suitor, preferring to attend college, Adam’s long-absent sister, Sarah, reaches out to her niece. The pair meet clandestinely, and Sarah reveals a far darker family history than Deya suspected. Rum’s short chapters crisscross timelines with the zippy pace of a thriller, yet repetitive scenes and unwieldy dialogue deflate the narrative. Though the execution is sometimes shaky, there’s enough to make it worthwhile for fans of stories about family secrets.”
Instructions for a Funeral by David Means
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Instructions for a Funeral: “For 30 years, Means (Hystopia) has examined the ways in which violence embeds trauma that warps the American character. This superb new collection covers similar geographic, characterological, and thematic ground, yet finds Means at his most compassionate and mischievous. In the title story, a man directs every last detail of his own send-off (‘Please tilt the coffin slightly toward the room so that a view of my body is unavoidable.’) in a letter that doubles as a tale of betrayal foretold. Often, stories contain told tales, creating an aura of oral history. In the wonderfully digressive ‘The Ice Committee,’ a Vietnam vet tries to tell a story he’s already told to a man who’s already heard it, about a story he once told someone else. In the gripping ‘El Morro,’ a dreamer holds two women captive from northern California to New Mexico with his ceaseless mania. Characters in ‘Fistfight, Sacramento, August 1950’ and ‘The Tree Line, Kansas, 1934’ interrogate explosions of violence with the attention to detail of the obsessed. What Means writes about his dying father in the autofictional ‘Confessions’ aptly describes his own distinct style of storytelling: ‘He is consumed in the vortex of the moment.’ Means spins intricate, highly textured yarns with great artistry, care, and an acute, empathetic eye. Treasures abound.”
Joy by Erin McGraw
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Joy: “McGraw’s fourth collection proves she’s a master of the form. Across these 53 brief stories, it is astonishing what she is able to conjure up in the span of a few pages. In ‘Second Sight,’ a married lesbian couple on the rocks has their relationship resuscitated after receiving unconventional help from one of the women’s mothers. Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra return to Ava’s home for a family gathering in ‘Ava Gardner Goes Home.’ There are stories told entirely in dialogue (‘Friendship’), in nonlinear order (‘Pebble’), and as a prayer (‘Prayer’). A few of the stories examine events from the viewpoints of different characters, such as ‘Comfort (1)’ and ‘Comfort (2),’ which tell the story of the killing of a young boy from both the unrepentant murderer and the grieving mother’s sides, or ‘Bucket (1)’ and ‘Bucket (2),’ in which an advice columnist receives a letter he thinks is from his wife before the second story reveals its true author. McGraw (The Good Life) is wise and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, with a seventh sense for the perfect turn of phrase (a mouth is “just on the brink of an expression,” a “dreamy girl… must have fallen into his hands like a plum”). This quintessential collection of stories serves as an homage to the form while showcasing McGraw’s stunning talent and deep empathy for the idiosyncrasies, small joys, and despairs of human nature.”
Also on shelves: Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden.