Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Colson Whitehead, Gayl Jones, Joy Williams, and more—that are publishing this week.
Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today.
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Harlem Shuffle: “Two-time Pulitzer winner Whitehead (The Nickel Boys) returns with a sizzling heist novel set in civil rights–era Harlem. It’s 1959 and Ray Carney has built an ‘unlikely kingdom’ selling used furniture. A husband, a father, and the son of a man who once worked as muscle for a local crime boss, Carney is ‘only slightly bent when it [comes] to being crooked.’ But when his cousin Freddie—whose stolen goods Carney occasionally fences through his furniture store—decides to rob the historic Hotel Theresa, a lethal cast of underworld figures enter Carney’s life, among them the mobster Chink Montague, ‘known for his facility with a straight razor’; WWII veteran Pepper; and the murderous, purple-suited Miami Joe, Whitehead’s answer to No Country for Old Men’s Anton Chigurh. These and other characters force Carney to decide just how bent he wants to be. It’s a superlative story, but the most impressive achievement is Whitehead’s loving depiction of a Harlem 60 years gone—’that rustling, keening thing of people and concrete’—which lands as detailed and vivid as Joyce’s Dublin. Don’t be surprised if this one wins Whitehead another major award.”
Palmares by Gayl Jones
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Palmares: “Jones (Mosquito) reemerges after a 21-year hiatus with an epic and inventive saga that weaves together magic, mythology, and Portuguese colonial history. Eight-year-old Almeyda is enslaved on a 17th-century Brazilian plantation when her enslaver welcomes a man who seeks the blood of a Black virgin for a cure. While an herbal drink from her mother serves as protection, the price for it comes heavy as the mother is sold and separated from her. Later, as a young woman, Almeyda is rescued and taken to Palmares, a hidden settlement for freedom seekers. There, she is chosen by settlement member Anninho and the two are married. Soon after, Palmares is razed by Portuguese soldiers and its leader, King Zumbi, is killed. While in the soldiers’ custody, Almeyda wakes to find her husband gone. Determined to reunite with him, Almeyda escapes again to journey through Brazil. She hears of a New Palmares and that Zumbi’s spirit may still be alive, perhaps transformed into a bird, and apprentices with a medicine woman who knows Anninho and gives her a lead on his whereabouts. The magical elements are difficult to get an initial purchase on, as they aren’t given much explanation, but Jones brings her established incisiveness and linguistic flair to the horrifyingly accurate portrayal of racial struggle. All in all, it’s a triumphant return.”
The Spectacular by Zoe Whittall
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Spectacular: “Whittall (The Best Kind of People) delivers a clear-eyed portrait of maternal ambivalence in her impressive latest. Missy Wood, 21, is on a mission to have her tubes tied. She’s about to go on tour with her band, the Swearwolves, and doesn’t want to worry about getting pregnant. Though two doctors say she’ll regret the move and refuse to do it, her bandmate Billy had no trouble getting a vasectomy. (‘I told him I was the lead singer in a band. He got it immediately. Isn’t that sexist?’) While Missy is held up in Vancouver by U.S. customs agents for carrying cocaine, she reads a magazine story about an ashram sex scandal that mentions her mother, who left Missy when she was 13 and whom Missy hasn’t been able to locate. Whittall switches points of view between mother and daughter as their paths gradually converge, and adds an extensive and extraneous section from the point of view of Missy’s paternal grandmother, Ruth, on Ruth’s earlier life in Turkey. Whittall is excellent at writing the small, intimate details and sharp dialogue, as well as the mostly propulsive plot, while making no bones about opinions on gender inequities. Whittall is a great storyteller, and her latest does not disappoint.”
The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Wrong End of the Telescope: “A Lebanese doctor travels to the island of Lesbos to help refugees and confront her past in the profound and wonderful latest from Alameddine (The Angel of History), a meditation on loss, resilience, and love. Born in Beirut but long settled in the U.S., Mina Simpson is trans and estranged from every member of her family except her older brother Mazen, who flies to the island to assist her. Soon, their paths cross that of a blocked Lebanese writer. The chapters alternate between Mina’s account of her time on Lesbos, where she treats a Syrian woman named Sumaiya who is dying from liver cancer and pleads with Mina not to tell her family, and second-person narration directed at the writer, who encouraged Mina to write about the refugees because he didn’t feel up to the task (‘You weren’t able to find the right words even after numerous sessions on your psychiatrist’s couch,’ Mina narrates). Confronted by the pain so many refugees describe, Mina recalls the lost world of her own childhood and bonds with Sumaiya over their shared desire to protect their families from the truth. As Mina and her writer-interlocutor are each consumed by the effort to communicate the horror of the refugee experience, Alameddine crafts a wise, deeply moving story that can still locate humor in the pit of hell (Mina, agreeing to let the writer tell her story, jokes, ‘Whatever you do … don’t fucking call it A Lebanese Lesbian in Lesbos’). This is a triumph.”
Kaya Days by Carl de Souza (translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Kaya Days: “De Souza’s electric English-language debut recounts Mauritius’s 1999 Kaya riots over two days as seen through the eyes of a young girl. Teenager Santee leaves her village to pick up her younger brother Ramesh in the large town of Rose-Hill, not knowing that the singer Kaya has been jailed and found dead in his cell, or that the discovery has sparked riots in town. A case of mistaken identity leads to the owner of a gambling den trying to rape her. She gets away and into the first cab that stops. Halfway through the night, after the driver ditches Santee, she meets Ronaldo moments before a group of young men flip the cab and light it on fire. Santee’s perspective is delivered in a dreamlike rush as she allows chance encounters to pull her along. In the streets, gardens, and gorges of the burning city, Santee continues her search for Ramesh. Encountering Chinese, Creole, Hindu, and Muslim Mauritians, her circuitous trek opens up the otherwise anonymous nature of the mob to find personal stories and uncover human community. De Souza’s unpredictable, propulsive tale is a rip-roaring trip teeming with beauty, anger, possibility, and helplessness.”
Inter State by José Vadi
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Inter State: “Part love letter, part indictment, this moving debut essay collection from Vadi captures the changing landscape of California. A native Californian, aging skateboarder, and poet, Vadi laments in deeply felt prose California’s transformation. ‘Standing in the Shadows of Brands’ covers the rise in homelessness in the Bay Area as the tech economy reshaped the city’s culture and skyline, while ’14th and Jackson’ describes the diminishing of a ‘decade’s worth of artistic potential’ in Oakland as the city has gentrified. The title essay bears witness to the quickly vanishing landmarks of the California to which his grandparents came as migrants from Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl—and sees Vadi heading toward ‘the only local landmark I know, a skate park.’ Things often come back to skateboarding—’but then I remember those visceral, intrinsic moments when the earth beneath our skateboards shook, and we asked one another with our eyes, Did you feel it?’—and many of his references will land best for readers familiar with San Francisco and Los Angeles. But even those who have never stepped foot in California will recognize Vadi’s anguish and frustration in watching the place change. The provocative observations will please essay fans.”
Margaret and the Mystery of the Missing Body by Megan Milks
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Margaret and the Mystery of the Missing Body: “Milks’s engaging debut novel (after the collection Kill Marguerite) blends the tropes of classic girl fiction like Nancy Drew with a 16-year-old sleuth’s tumultuous exploration of her queer identity. Margaret Worms, president of the Girls Can Solve Anything club, now spends her days alone, operating as the club’s sole remaining member in an attempt to forget her now-fractured friendships and developing anorexia. But when her disorder leads to repeated fainting spells and visits to her doctor, Margaret is shipped off to the Briarwood Residential Treatment Center, where she encounters the magnetic and rebellious Carrie, a roommate and romantic interest; kindhearted doctors; and even a suffragist ghost—all of whom prompt Margaret’s reckoning with her own body, gender identity, and desires. Weaving together flashbacks, pop culture references (GCSA originated as the Shady Bluff Baby-Sitters Club), and accounts of old GCSA cases, Milks’s dynamic, fast-paced novel beams with wonderful insight, even as its various timelines and registers do not always meld into a consonant whole. The book’s exploration of eating disorders, mental illnesses, and healing is superbly nuanced, as Milks carefully dives into the clinic’s various characters’ histories. Throughout, this is emotionally complex and illuminating.”
Assembly by Natasha Brown
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Assembly: “Brown’s provocative and lyrical debut follows a young Black British woman’s navigation of the racism and sexism at her investment banking job while she contends with a breast cancer diagnosis. Brown opens with three third-person vignettes describing an unnamed woman’s sexual harassment from a man she works with, who calls her hair ‘wild’ and her skin ‘exotic,’ then shifts to a first-person account from an unnamed woman, possibly the same one, of why she chose to work for banks. ‘I understood what they were. Ruthless, efficient money-machines with a byproduct of social mobility.’ Her ‘Lean In feminist’ work friend thinks the narrator’s white boyfriend will propose during an upcoming visit to his parents’ estate, but the narrator can tell her would-be mother-in-law hopes it’s a passing fling. Before the trip, she gets the results of a biopsy and tells her boyfriend there’s nothing to worry about. She also reflects ominously on the doctor’s admonishment on her resistance to getting surgery (‘that’s suicide’), and on the notion that a successful Black person can ever ‘transcend’ race. References to bell hooks’s writing on decolonization and Claudia Rankine’s concept of ‘historical selves’ bolster her fierce insights. This is a stunning achievement of compressed narrative and fearless articulation.”
Harrow by Joy Williams
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Harrow: “Pulitzer finalist Williams (The Quick and the Dead) returns with a dystopian saga of environmental cataclysm that is by turns triumphant, damning, and beguiling. Sometime in the near future, Khristen is sent to a boarding school in the desert of the American West by her mother, a woman haunted by the fact that she believes Khristen briefly died as an infant and came back to life. After the school is shut down, Khristen sets off across a decimated landscape only to end up lodging at a remote hotel inhabited by elderly ecoterrorists, visionaries, and would-be assassins, led by their host, Lola. Among these residents, Khristen also meets a strange 10-year-old named Jeffrey, and together they face the environmental ruination and human depravity that mark the new world these characters all inhabit, while still remembering ‘the old dear stories of possibility’ and noting how ‘no one wanted them anymore, but nothing had replaced them.’ Rollicking with language that is at once biblical and casual, this builds like a sermon to a fever pitch. Williams’s well-known themes of social decline and children in danger are polished to a gorgeous luster in this prescient page-turner. The result serves as both an indictment of current culture and a blazing escape from it.”
Also on shelves this week: Other Girls to Burn by Caroline Crew.