Mothers: Stories

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Cusk, Pham, Silber, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Rachel Cusk, Larissa Pham, Joan Silber, and more—that are publishing this week.
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Second Place by Rachel Cusk

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Second Place: “Cusk’s intelligent, sparkling return (after Kudos) centers on a woman in crisis. The narrator, M, is a writer living on an isolated coastal marsh with her second husband, Tony. They have built a guest cabin on their property, which they call the ‘second place.’ Through a mutual friend, M invites a painter, L, to stay in the cabin. L’s art deeply affected M 15 years earlier when she was a young mother and was struck by the work’s ‘freedom’ and how it was ‘elementally and unrepentingly male down to the last brushstroke.’ To her surprise, L accepts, before canceling. M’s daughter, Justine, and her new boyfriend, Kurt, who reminds M of her first husband, move into the cabin just before L shows up with a gorgeous young woman named Brett. The characters enter an uneasy equilibrium on the marsh as allusions of a global financial disaster fill in the backdrop. L paints portraits of everyone except M—which devastates her. Cusk expertly handles the logistics of the crowded setting, building tension as the characters form unexpected, temporary alliances—Kurt and L, Brett and Justine—and M’s isolation increases. There is the erudition of the author’s Outline trilogy here, but with a tightly contained dramatic narrative. It’s a novel that feels timeless, while dealing with ferocious modern questions.”

Pop Song by Larissa Pham

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Pop Song: “Pham reinvents the memoir in a stirring debut that explores the power of language, art, and love. As an Asian American woman who felt alienated early on in her life, she poured herself into studying art and poetry to reconcile her need for closeness. In 11 essays, she interrogates desire in all its forms, beginning with an evocative piece about finding solace in the act of running. She aspires to the ‘affable stride’ of fellow runner and novelist Haruki Murakami, but instead she runs ‘as if trying to lose my mind.’ Throughout, Pham examines the emotionality of other artists’ and writers’ work and lives—from Barthes to Georgia O’Keeffe to Louise Bourgeois—as a way to better understand her own. In ‘Blue,’ she reflects on escaping mental burnout in New Mexico, and remembers the painter Agnes Martin’s flight from New York, after a schizophrenic episode: ‘Agnes’s voices and visions didn’t inform her art-making process, but… dictated her actions—where to be, what to eat, what to own.’ Ever-present, too, is the haunting of past lovers and her own sexuality, captured in prose that’s both beautiful and gutting. ‘If I could own it… become a woman with agency. It wouldn’t matter if I still hurt. At least I’d be able to describe it.’ This is a masterpiece.”

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Sorrowland: “Solomon’s outstanding third novel (after The Deep) revisits the themes of memory and responsibility through two new lenses: horror and contemporary thriller. Vern, an albino, intersex, Black child raised in a cult known as the Blessed Acres of Cain, flees to the woods as a seven-months-pregnant 15-year-old, giving birth to twins she names Howling and Feral. The new family is pursued by ‘the fiend,’ who appears to the nearly blind Vern as ‘a white blur.’ The fiend scatters animal carcasses throughout the woods (often pointedly targeting animal families to send a message to Vern and her children) and sets dangerous fires. For four years Vern raises her twins without other human contact, until a cataclysmic encounter with the fiend, fearsome changes in her own body, and relentless hauntings drive her to seek answers in the world outside the woods. This plot is the most accessible of Solomon’s work to date, but they use the deceptively simple story to delve deep into Vern’s struggle to forge her own identity without buckling under the weight of history. As in their debut, An Unkindness of Ghosts, Solomon often packs so much into each image that the result can be overwhelming. They display a maturing control of their craft, employing a breathtaking range of reference that will enable any reader, from horror geek to Derridean academic, to engage with this thrilling tale. This is a tour de force.”

A Lonely Man by Chris Power

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Lonely Man: “In this beguiling literary thriller about the ethics of storytelling, Power (Mothers) examines the plundering tendencies of oligarchs and writers alike. Robert Prowe, an English novelist living in Berlin, strikes up a friendship with fellow writer Patrick Unsworth, who shares an outlandish tale: having been hired to ghostwrite the autobiography of dissident Russian oligarch Sergei Vanyashin and entrusted with compromising information about Putin’s regime, he is now being tracked by Russian agents. Moreover, Vanyashin and various figures in his circle have died under suspicious circumstances. Robert can’t decide if his new acquaintance is lying or ‘playing out some fantasy,’ but decides to use Patrick’s story, without his permission, as the basis for a new novel. Robert’s ‘twenty-four fucking carat’ material comes with a cost, as ominous signs emerge that he and his family could be in danger. For a novel filled with so much trickery, there are some slack sections, for example, when Robert prepares his family’s summer house in Sweden or returns to London for a funeral. Furthermore, the bond between the two men isn’t quite magnetic enough for the reader to feel the sting of the eventual vampiric betrayal. By and large, though, Power maintains an elegant sense of intrigue around the lengths writers will go for a good story.”

The Parted Earth by Anjali Enjeti

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Parted Earth: “Enjeti documents the impact of India’s Partition on successive generations in her immersive debut novel (after the essay collection Southbound). In 1947, British India is on the brink of being decolonized, with the lives of millions hanging in the balance. Hindu teenager Deepa Khanna’s doctor parents confront escalating hostilities from Hindu Indians because of their willingness to treat Muslims, while Deepa becomes secretly attracted to her Muslim friend Amir. After Deepa’s parents are killed in an attack, she moves to London and Amir leaves for Pakistan. The story then shifts to Deepa’s granddaughter Shan, who, following a miscarriage and subsequent divorce in 2016, begins digging into her past, finally uncovering the reason for her grandmother’s aloofness. Deepa’s experience renders her ‘unknowable’ to Shan, filling Deepa with a grief that ‘seemed to burden generations of Khannas’ with guilt. Meanwhile, other stories emerge of the Partition, from characters such as Shan’s neighbor, Chandani Singh, who supports Shan through her difficulties, and Chandani’s late husband, Harjeet, spinning an increasingly broad set of voices. While no less affecting, these supporting accounts receive an imbalanced, sometimes disproportionate attention that can detract from the novel’s main characters. Still, this intergenerational account of remembering and reconciliation sits comfortably alongside works of its kind.”

Things We Lost to the Water by Eric Nguyen

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Things We Lost to the Water: “Nguyen’s captivating debut spans three decades to chronicle the lives of a Vietnamese refugee family. In 1978, Hư ơ ng arrives in New Orleans with her two sons, five-year-old Tuấ n and infant Bì nh. They settle in the Versailles Arms project on the eastern outskirts of the city, where the hurricane alarm reminds Hương of the war, and she mails tape recordings to Cô ng, the husband she left behind. Her messages receive no reply until finally, in a terse postcard, Công urges her to forget him. Hương tells her sons their father died, and over the years, the boys grow to follow different paths. In 1991, Tuấn falls in with a Vietnamese gang, the Southern Boyz. The next summer, Bình, who insists everyone call him Ben, takes refuge in books and a romance with an older white boy. A couple years later, Ben finds Hương’s old letters to Công and confronts her, shattering their increasingly fragile bond. As the characters spin away from each other, Nguyen keeps a keen eye on their struggles and triumphs, crafting an expansive portrayal of New Orleans’s Vietnamese community under the ever-present threat of flooding, and the novel builds to a haunting conclusion during Hurricane Katrina. Readers will find this gripping and illuminating.”

Secrets of Happiness by Joan Silber

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Secret of Happiness: “A crushing indiscretion comes to light in the sharp latest from National Book Critics Circle Award winner Silber (Improvement). The story is initially narrated by Ethan, a gay Manhattan attorney who discovers his businessman father, Gil, has led a secret double life after Gil is hit with a paternity suit by a Thai woman named Nok. Gil suffers several strokes and decides to recover with his Thai family, and awkward visitations ensue at Nok’s apartment, where Gil calls Nok Abby, Ethan’s mother’s name. The situation’s emotional complexity unfolds and expands through accounts from a diverse range of interconnected narrators, juggled by Silber with uncanny dexterity. In addition to witty and genially confident Ethan, there’s Abby, who now teaches English in Thailand; Ethan’s half brother, Joe, who feels uneasy about the return from Bangkok of his younger brother Jack, whom Joe had recently freed from jail by bribing the police; various characters’ ex-lovers and their exes; a Nepalese film director; and others. These perspectives become an extended family of sorts conjoined by love yet tormented by the past. As more layers peel away across continents, the fallout of Gil’s affair trickles down through Silber’s intricate and emotionally elaborate study of emotional ties. This mesmerizing story of love, lies, and the consequences of betrayal brims with heart and intelligence.”

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