Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Francine Prose, Diane Johnson, Clare Sestanovich, and more—that are publishing this week.
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The Vixen by Francine Prose
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Vixen: “Prose (Mister Monkey) holds up a mirror to a fractured culture in this dazzling take on America’s tendency to persecute, then lionize, its most subversive figures. In 1953, recent Harvard graduate Simon Putnam watches news of the Rosenberg execution on television with his parents in Brooklyn. Though Simon has profited from a Puritan-sounding name—and hopes to profit further—he’s from a liberal Jewish family; his mother attended the same high school as Ethel Rosenberg (and even keeps a small shrine to her in their apartment). It’s the height of the Red Scare, when ‘anyone could be accused’ and ‘everyone was afraid.’ Flash forward a year, and Simon’s literary critic uncle has landed him a job as junior editor at a prestigious but financially unstable publisher. When its founder, Warren Landry, gives Simon his first novel to edit, Simon is aghast to learn the project is a thinly veiled bodice ripper about the Rosenberg trial. It’s an unusual book for the publisher, but Landry, a WWII veteran who once ran psyops for the OSS, lays out the stakes: the publisher needs a win, and a pulp yarn that further vilifies the Rosenbergs and Communism seems like just the thing. Why a junior editor would be given such an important task is a slow-burn mystery that propels readers through Prose’s recreation of 1950s paranoia, complete with an appearance from Senator Joseph McCarthy’s minion and future Trump mentor Roy Cohn. Sidelong commentary on Landry’s sexual predation, shot through a lens informed by the #MeToo era, adds further resonance. This is Prose at the top of her game.”
Lorna Mott Comes Home by Diane Johnson
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Lorna Mott Comes Home: “Johnson (Flyover Lives: A Memoir) makes a welcome return to her wheelhouse in this propulsive domestic dramedy of manners. Having lived for more that 20 years in a village with the ‘exigent rectitude of formal, starchy France,’ Lorna Mott Dumas leaves her philandering husband, onetime museum curator Armand-Loup, whose life consists of ‘sex, cassoulet and Bordeaux,’ to return home to San Francisco, hoping to reboot her floundering professional life as an academic, establish a career on the lecture circuit, and reconnect with three grown children from her failed first marriage. Prime among the crises and misfortunes she encounters are Lorna’s pregnant and diabetic 15-year old granddaughter, Gilda. Lorna’s relationship with Gilda becomes a focus of the narrative, and it gradually gives her a sense of purpose. Meanwhile, Lorna may have left France behind, but it didn’t leave her. After a mudslide disinters the bones of a famous American painter back in the French village where she lived, Lorna is contacted by French police, entangling her in legal problems that eventually intertwine both story lines. Johnson’s usual razor-sharp prose and astute observations are on full display as she tweaks comic incidents arising out of her characters’ relationships. This provocative family chronicle resolves in a poignant ending with prospects for a promising sequel. The author’s fans are in for a treat.”
Hell of a Book by Jason Mott
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Hell of a Book: “Mott’s stunning fourth novel (after The Crossing) delves into the complex and fraught African American experience. The protagonist, a nameless Black author on his first book tour, is reeling from his newfound fame and the success of his book, Hell of a Book. As he flies to promotional events, often in a drunken stupor, the author reveals that his vivid imagination makes it difficult for him to distinguish reality from fiction. So when he encounters ‘The Kid,’ a 10-year-old boy with impossibly ebony skin, the author doubts the boy is real. The Kid, who uncannily resembles a recent victim of police violence, first appears at a hotel and continues to pop up during the book tour, leading the author to recall his own repressed trauma as a bullied Black boy in North Carolina. The author’s sobering recollections of his youth are punctuated with humorous and insightful encounters that include a discussion on national sociopolitical identity with Nicolas Cage and an improbable first date with a funeral director. Mott’s poetic, cinematic novel tackles what it means to live in a country where Black people perpetually ‘live lives under the hanging sword of fear.’ Absurdist metafiction doesn’t get much better.”
Something Wild by Hanna Halperin
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Something Wild: “Halperin’s bold and surprising debut explores the complexity of familial bonds in the face of domestic violence. Tanya and Nessa Bloom, sisters who were once very close but are now somewhat estranged, are visiting their childhood home in the Boston suburbs to help their mother, Lorraine, pack up and move out. But Nessa’s brief indulgence of nostalgia from perusing items in her bedroom (Tanya, ‘who looks forward with a vengeance… would have rolled her eyes,’ writes Halperin) gives way to a reckoning with their abusive stepfather, Jesse. On the first night, the sisters find their mother on the kitchen floor, bruised from a strangulation by Jesse. Soon, they learn this isn’t the first time Lorraine has been physically assaulted, and yet she is reluctant to press charges. Tanya, the younger and more levelheaded daughter, urges Lorraine to get a restraining order. But Nessa, with her distorted sense of self and an unhealthy attachment to their stepfather, is unsure. As contention between the sisters grows, a traumatic experience that altered their relationship threatens it again, except now the sisters have to protect each other as well as their mother. Unflinching and brave, Halperin’s story lays bare the characters’ nuanced and complicated responses to domestic violence. This haunting portrait of a broken family will stay with readers.”
Objects of Desire by Clare Sestanovich
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Objects of Desire: “Sestanovich’s intelligent debut collection demonstrates a gift for pithy detail that encapsulates the whole of a character’s personality or era of lived experience. In the title story, protagonist Leonora is hung up on an ex: ‘They had exchanged love letters and endured two or three pregnancy scares. Once, they had been accosted at knifepoint. They had gone to funerals together. Most of all, they had fought passionately.’ In ‘Annunciation,’ the passive ennui of recent graduate Iris is juxtaposed against the more definitive, if slightly absurd, lives of others: her married housemates are in a food-oriented polyamorous relationship with another couple; Iris’s best friend teaches her ‘to eat burgers and bagels and bacon—there was nothing as powerful as eating masculine foods with feminine grace.’ At times, the observations and jokes give way to poignant insights into the characters’ psyches: in ‘Wants and Needs,’ Val, misinterpreting a facial expression, is “filled with bitterness for all the faces that had refused to reveal themselves to her.” The collection finds cohesion around the quiet angst of mostly young, female narrators who long for experiences, other people, and states of being just beyond their grasp. These technically accomplished if not quite revolutionary stories demonstrate a high command of craft.”
Also on shelves this week: Mona at Sea by Elizabeth Gonzalez James.