Motor City Burning

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April 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.
Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel: Another twisty, intellectually meaty novel of the uncanny and otherworldly from Mandel, longtime Millions staffer and bestselling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel. This one spans 500 years, from 1912 to 2401, and features a bestselling author visiting Earth from her moon-based colony on a book tour, where she must field a million and one questions about her novel about a “scientifically implausible flu,” while the news warns of a mysterious new virus. That Mandel herself found herself answering a million and one questions about her own pandemic novel during the present pandemic no doubt lends this plot element some verisimilitude. (Michael)

Binding the Ghost by Ed Simon: Simon’s essays are some of the true hidden gems in our contemporary literary world. After the deconstructionism and with the rise of cultural studies, literature is often used as a vehicle to form a political conversation. “Art for art’s sake” seems to be a tradition that we now consider not only outdated but also narrow-minded. Binding the Ghost helps restore our pure pleasures in reading literature as what literature actually is. Simon’s essays are never dogmatic. He guides us through a theological perspective and inspires us to meditate on the many significant, yet often neglected, literary evolvements: the development of the alphabet, the mystic power of punctuation, how the novel and Protestantism construct a relationship with people. Binding the Ghost sings a genuine, beautiful hymn to the magic and wonder of poetry and fiction. (Jianan)

The Age of Astonishment: John Morris in the Extraordinary Century―From the Civil War to the Cold War by Bill Morris: Our own Morris (Motor City Burning, American Berserk) is back with a work of nonfiction that mixes the personal with history and traces the life of his grandfather, John Morris, who was born into a slave-owning Virginia family during the Civil War and died at the peak of the Cold War. In a starred review, Kirkus, hailed the book—which covers everything from Reconstruction, women’s suffrage, and Prohibition to the horrors of Jim Crow, two World Wars, and the advent of nuclear weapons—as “An entertaining combination of domestic and world history,” adding “[Morris] does a superb job of recounting a life amid a series of significant decades. His imaginative ‘mongrel’ approach—a mix of…biography, history, reportage, memoir, autobiography, and, when the record runs thin, speculation that flirts with fiction—is successful. An entertaining combination of domestic and world history.” (Adam B.)

Let’s Not Do That Again by Grant Ginder: Ginder’s (The People We Hate at the Wedding) newest novel follows Congresswoman Nancy Harrison as she runs for the U.S. Senate. Everything seems to be going well on the campaign trail until her daughter Greta is caught at a violent political protest in Paris. Crackling with humor and heart, Emily Gould says, “Grant Ginder is not afraid to ask what it means to fight for what’s right—for the country you serve, the world at large, and the flawed and impossibly complicated people you are bound to love.” (Carolyn)

Things They Lost by Okwiri Oduor: Caine Prize for African Writing winner Oduor explores a complicated mother-daughter relationship in her magical debut novel. Ayosa, the young protagonist, is deeply lonely, pained by past memories, and looking for an escape from her mother’s intoxicating yet detached presence. Onyeka Nwelue writes: “A narrative so profound, its humour shining so bright, that you’d think the author had written hundreds of books to have mastered the art of perpetual storytelling.” (Carolyn)

When Women Kill by Alia Trabucco Zerán (translated by Sophie Hughes): Illuminating the transgressive and disturbing nature of violence by and against women, International Booker Prize finalist Trabucco Zerán (The Remainder) explores four homicides committed by Chilean women during the twentieth century. About the genre-blurring new work, Giuseppe Caputo writes: “Equal parts essay, detective story, diary, and feminist discourse, its most moving and brilliant moment may be when Trabucco Zerán dramatizes the only case not yet depicted in art: the portrait of a new Medea, tragic and unsettling, but more than that, transgressive, hungry for another life.” (Carolyn)

Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel: In her debut novel, Patel reimagines the life of the titular Kaikeyi, the queen from the Indian epic, Ramayana. Born the only daughter of Kekaya’s kingdom, Kaikeyi looks to the Gods for guidance after her mother is banished—but it’s within the books of her youth that she discovers a life-changing (and reality-threatening) magic that was within her all along. Publishers Weekly’s starred review says: “Readers familiar with the source text will be wowed by Patel’s reimagining, while those new to the story will be won over by its powerful, multilayered heroine and epic scope.” (Carolyn)

I’ll Be You by Janelle Brown: Identical twin sisters and former child stars Sam and Elli were once close enough to be nearly one person, but their lives have drastically diverged in adulthood. When Elli goes missing, Sam must piece together the broken bits of Elli’s life and look back on the secrets that bond them. Angie Kim calls Brown’s (Pretty Things) newest novel a “powerful and moving portrait of the fiercely tenacious bonds of familial love.” (Carolyn)

The Lonely Stories edited by Natalie Eve Garrett: Garrett, who previously edited Eat Joy, compiles a 22-essay collection about the beauty, struggle, and universality of loneliness and solitude. Contributors include literary luminaries including Anthony Doerr, Yiyun Li, Megan Giddings, Jesmyn Ward, and Lidia Yuknavitch. “Surprising, sly, heart-stopping, celebratory—the essays in The Lonely Stories evoke the gamut of emotions, in the way of isolation itself,” says Claire Messud. (Carolyn)

Bomb Shelter by Mary Laura Philpott: In a follow-up to her bestselling memoir-in-essays, I Miss You When I Blink, Philpott’s newest collection explores the extraordinary and the mundane with humor, anxiety, and hope. Poet Maggie Smith writes: “At the heart of Bomb Shelter is a truth parents know deeply: ‘I felt the universe had entrusted me with so much more than I could possibly keep safe.’ I put this book down feeling less anxious as a mother and more inspired as a writer.” (Carolyn)

Indelible City by Louisa Lim: Journalist Lim (The People’s Republic of Amnesia) uses reporting and memoir to sketch a vivid portrait of her native Hong Kong’s past and present. Often hidden from its own citizens, Lim uncovers the inspiring, complicated, and rebellious history of her city and its citizens. “The best book about the indelible city to date,” says Ai Weiwei. “Irresistibly real and emotionally authentic, it shines with a shimmering light rarely seen in political narrative. A truly extraordinary elegy.” (Carolyn)

Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black by Cookie Mueller: Initially published as the first volume of Semiotext(e)’s Native Agents series, a new edition of Mueller’s 1990 classic is being republished in full alongside two dozen additional stories and essays. Olivia Laing’s introduction grounds the work in its historical, social, and personal contexts, while the collection at large offers a fuller understanding of the life and work of Mueller, the legendary underground actress, artist, and East Villager. (Carolyn)

The Sign for Home by Blair Fell: Fell—a playwright, television writer, and two-time winner of the Doris Lippman Prize in Creative Writing—publishes his debut novel about Arlo Dilly, a DeafBlind Jehovah’s Witness, who falls in love with a mysterious girl at boarding school only to lose her. Years later, Arlo uncovers the lost memory and goes on a journey with his friends to find the love he lost—and, perhaps more importantly, who he can be. (Carolyn)

New to Liberty by DeMisty D. Bellinger: Set in rural Kansas, Bellinger’s debut novel in three parts follows three women living decades apart—but connected nonetheless. In 1933, Greta falls in love with a woman from a nearby farm. In 1947, Greta begins a secret interracial relationship with a white man. In 1966, Sissily makes an unexpected stop in Liberty, Kansas and stumbles upon long held secrets. Chris Harding Thornton says: “The novel’s imagery, whether steeped in beauty, horror, love, or terror, stitches itself into your own fabric, becoming a part of you long after you’ve turned the last page.” (Carolyn)

A Revolution of the Mind by MV Perry: Ellen “Boo” Harvey is caught in a depressive spiral that leaves her isolated from her friends and family, and alone with a manic mind she no longer recognizes. Boo’s mental and physical illnesses feel totally inescapable and all-consuming until she meets Jude, a mental illness advocate who teaches her how to advocate for those who are often left behind. In the Independent Book Review, Audrey Davis calls the direct and unsparing debut “a provocative, emotional novel unafraid to bare its teeth.” (Carolyn)

Burning Butch by R/B Mertz: In their coming-of-age memoir, Mertz explores growing up in a divorced, ultraconservative, Catholic household in the early aughts. Clinging to Catholocism while exploring their sexuality and queerness, Mertz wonders if they will have to choose between their selfhood and the community they’ve always known. “Mertz’s extraordinary and stunning debut memoir extends and deepens the tradition begun by Feinberg for ‘butch’ life, butch recognition, gender non-conformity, and queerness by writing the catastrophic and world-shattering repressions that radical Christianity can inflict on children, people, and communities,” writes Dawn Lundy Martin. “In this gorgeously written, powerful and moving literary accomplishment, Mertz reminds us of the sheer miracle that any of us queer kids are alive.” (Carolyn)

How to Adjust to the Dark by Rebecca van Laer: In van Laer’s debut novella, poet Charlotte looks back on her early twenties through her poetry. Blending prose, poetry, theory, and analysis, she analyzes her poems, remembers the selves she birthed and buried, and questions whether pain is necessary in order to make art. Lindsay Lerman writes: “Like Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be, van Laer takes so-called ‘women’s writing’ and opens it up, showing us what exists beyond cliché and easy answers.” (Carolyn)

Benefit by Siobhan Phillips: A debut novel exploring a literature student looking back on her elite fellowship at Oxford University. Years after she completed the Weatherfield fellowship, literature PhD Laura is struggling to find her footing in academia—until she’s drawn back into the secret-filled world of the academic elite and discovers long buried secrets. Jessica Winter says, “Deadpan and dread-filled, shadowed by the specters of war and late capitalism, Benefit probes both the futility and necessity of intellectual work, all in the wry, wise voice of an uncommonly clear-eyed friend.” (Carolyn)

Paradais by Fernanda Melchor (translated by Sophie Hughes): In her newest novel, Melchor (Hurricane Season) explores racism, classim, and violence through two teenage outsiders orbiting around and wreaking havoc in a luxury apartment complex. Samanta Schweblin writes: “Fernanda Melchor has a powerful voice, and by powerful I mean unsparing, devastating, the voice of someone who writes with rage and has the skill to pull it off.” (Carolyn)

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