No Walls and the Recurring Dream: A Memoir

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Cep, Lin, Grame, DiFranco, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Casey Cep, Chia-Chia Lin, Juliet Grame, Ani DiFranco, and more—that are publishing this week.

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Furious Hours by Casey Cep

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Furious Hours: “Journalist Cep makes her debut with a brilliant account of Harper Lee’s failed attempt to write a true crime book. Part one follows the career of Alabama preacher Willie Maxwell as five family members over several years die under mysterious circumstances, all with large life insurance policies held by the reverend, rumored also to be a voodoo priest. On June 18, 1977, Maxwell was shot dead in front of 300 people at his stepdaughter’s funeral in Alexander City, Ala. Part two focuses on his killer’s trial later that year, which Harper Lee attended. Along the way, Cep relates the history of courthouses, voodoo, Alabama politics, and everything one needs to know about the insanity defense. Part three charts the To Kill a Mockingbird author’s efforts to write about the trial, but in Alexander City she finds only myths, lies, and her own insecurities. By many accounts, Lee wrote a book and may have rewritten it as fiction, though no manuscript has ever been found. As to what happened to the years of work Lee did on the story, Cep notes, ‘Lee… was so elusive that even her mysteries have mysteries: not only what she wrote, but how; not only when she stopped, but why.’ Meticulously researched, this is essential reading for anyone interested in Lee and American literary history.”

The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Unpassing: “In Lin’s challenging debut, set in rural 1986 Alaska, a Taiwanese-American family struggles to cope with the loss of their youngest member. A week after the Challenger explodes, 10-year-old Gavin wakes up from a meningitis-induced coma, only to realize that his younger sister, Ruby, didn’t survive the illness. In the months that follow, the family slowly disintegrates. When not fighting with her husband, Gavin’s mother talks incessantly about taking their remaining three children and moving back to Taiwan. Gavin’s father, a water well driller, becomes despondent and erratic, staring into space or sawing holes in the ceiling to squelch a flying squirrel infestation. When he’s sued by a white family whose child became severely ill from an improperly installed water well, the ill-equipped and penniless parents run from the situation. They take the children and go on a “vacation” in the Alaskan boonies, forcing Gavin, his five-year-old brother, Natty, and their older sister, Pei-Pei, to sleep in the truck with the rest of their scavenged belongings. Upon their return to the repossessed house, the family squats in the eerie, empty shell as winter sets in—that is, until yet another catastrophe shatters the little they have left. The unrelenting bleakness of the novel might be too much for some readers, but Lin’s talent for vivid, laser-sharp prose—especially when describing Alaska’s stark beauty or the family’s eccentric temperament—is undeniable.”

China Dream by Ma Jian (translated by Flora Drew)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about China Dream: “Exiled Chinese writer Ma’s satirical novel (after The Dark Road) is a bold, searing indictment of present-day China and a lyrical exposé of the false utopia created by the Communist Party and its current leader-for-life, Xi Jinping. Written ‘out of rage’ according to Ma’s foreword, the fable subverts the propaganda of Xi’s Chinese Dream and chronicles the descent into madness of the louche, corrupt government functionary Ma Daode. Having played his part in the nasty factional violence of the Cultural Revolution, Ma has risen to become director of the China Dream Bureau, charged with replacing all private dreams with the collective, great China Dream. But he is increasingly unable to control his own dreams: dreams of fallen comrades, a martyred girlfriend, and the pitiful demise of his parents after he himself denounced them. After a disastrous appearance at an antigovernment demonstration during which his neighbors throw chicken bones and condoms to protest the razing of their neighborhood, and having made a fool of himself in a speech at a Golden Anniversary Dream ceremony in which his dreams overcome him, Ma is suspended from his position. He goes on a desperate search for a cure, extracting the recipe for the miraculous Old Lady Dream’s Broth, a hare-brained concoction of blood and tears he hopes will eradicate not only his, but all undesirable dreams. The book will surely be banned in China, as has Ma’s other works. This is an inventive yet powerful confrontation of China’s past and present.”

Rough Magic by Lara Prior-Palmer

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Rough Magic: “First-time author Prior-Palmer transforms from hopeless 19-year-old underdog into surprising champion of the grueling 2013 Mongol Derby in this exhilarating, visceral account of her attempt to win a 1,000-kilometer horse race across the Mongolian countryside. Driven by her own restlessness, Prior-Palmer, an English woman who had been working as an au pair in Austria, decided to enter the 10-day contest on a lark, unprepared for the arduous competition involving dozens of riders each racing a series of 25 wild ponies across Mongolia to recreate the horse-messenger system established by Genghis Khan. Struggling with an uncooperative pony at the beginning, the headstrong author battles GPS troubles (the devices show the participants straight line routes, rather than following the intended trails), minor nuisances (a group of boys chase and throw stones at her), and intense competition (she eagerly referred to logs at checkpoints to see who was ahead of her and by how long) as she discovers the race is as much an existential journey as it is a sports competition (‘The race reclaims me as an animal—my original form, my rawest self, my favorite way to be’). Filled with soulful self-reflection and race detail, this fast-paced page-turner is a thrill ride from start to finish.”

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grame

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna: “Grames’s vivid and moving debut follows its heroine from a childhood in the early 20th century in a tiny Calabrian mountain village to her family’s immigration to America when she is 19 and then through a long life including a marriage about which she has decidedly mixed feelings, many jobs, and even more children. When the novel begins in the present, Stella is 100 years old and has been brain-damaged for the past 30 years following a fall that required an emergency lobotomy and that left her with a mysterious hatred for her lifelong best friend, her younger sister Tina. The novel’s unnamed narrator, one of Stella’s granddaughters, reconstructs her life history with the help of Tina and other family members. She shapes it around Stella’s numerous near-death experiences, which include being gored by a pig and choking on a chicken bone. Grames keeps the spotlight on stubborn, independent, and frequently unhappy Stella, while developing a large cast of believably complicated supporting characters and painting sensually intricate portraits of Calabria and Connecticut. With her story of an ‘ordinary’ woman who is anything but, Grames explores not just the immigrant experience but the stages of a woman’s life. This is a sharp and richly satisfying novel.”

The Archive of Alternate Endings by Lindsey Drager

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Archive of Alternate Endings: “Traversing time and space, the captivating latest from Drager (The Lost Daughter Collective) employs nonlinear structure and the cyclical, 75-year path of Halley’s Comet to link centuries of siblings and partners to the fairy tale ‘Hansel and Gretel.’ In 1835, storytellers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collect versions of the narrative, and in one, Hansel is banished to the forest for being gay. Wilhelm recognizes the impact this discovery has on his brother, whom he suspects is homosexual. In 1986, a computer programmer constructing an early form of the internet contracts AIDS and visits the Witch, who dedicates herself to comforting ailing gay men in their final days. A lesbian sent to an asylum in 1910 has an affair with one of her nurses, watches for the comet, and crafts a series of illustrations of ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ while in 1456, Johannes Gutenberg shows his sister the magic of his new printing press by duplicating copies of the fairy tale. Stretching as far back as the comet’s pass in 1378, which incorporates interactions between a real Hansel and his sister, and forward to 2365, when the comet passes an Earth void of life, Drager’s plot is ambitious and emotionally resonant, making for a clever, beguiling novel.”

Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Exhalation: “Hugo- and Nebula-winner Chiang’s standout second collection (after 2002’s Stories of Your Life and Others) explores the effects that technology and knowledge have on consciousness, free will, and the human desire for meaning. These nine stories introduce life-changing inventions and new worlds with radically different physical laws. In each, Chiang produces deeply moving drama from fascinating first premises. The title story follows a scientist whose self-experimentation reveals both the origin and eventual fate of consciousness. In ‘What’s Expected of Us,’ a small device horrifically alters human behavior. Chiang’s rigorous worldbuilding makes hard science fiction out of stories that would otherwise be fable, as in the Hugo and Nebula-winning novelette ‘The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,’ a time travel story that employs both relativistic physics and an Arabian Nights–style structure. Others grapple with robots parenting humans, humans parenting AIs, the Fermi paradox, quantum mechanics, and what it means to be a sentient creature facing a potentially deterministic universe. As Chiang’s endnotes attest, these stories are brilliant experiments, and his commitment to exploring deep human questions elevates them to among the very best science fiction.”

No Wall and the Recurring Dream by Ani DiFranco

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about No Wall and the Recurring Dream: “DiFranco, a Grammy Award–winning musician and political activist, makes her literary debut in this powerful reflection on her life and career. Born in 1970, DiFranco grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., the daughter of an aeronautical engineer father and an architect mother, who designed their wall-less, ‘donut-shaped’ house. DiFranco credits her father with forming her “musical subconscious” by introducing her to the music of composer Aaron Copland, guitarist John Fahey, and folk musician Pete Seeger; her mother, meanwhile, instilled in her a sense of social activism. DiFranco began her musical career as a preteen, learning the piano and the guitar while writing her own songs. After her parents separated, she moved out of her mother’s house at age 15, finding spare rooms with friends and even sleeping in the bus station. DiFranco immersed herself in music (‘I began my musical journey at the intersection of Suzanne Vega and John Martyn’), and moved to New York City in 1989, where she studied poetry and feminism at the New School. In 1990, she cofounded Righteous Babe Records and released her self-titled debut record. Throughout, DiFranco writes of her self-doubts and romantic hardships, including her 2003 divorce from husband Andrew Gilchrist; she also discusses her advocacy for women’s reproductive rights (she herself had two abortions; she now has two children). Honest and passionate, DiFranco’s memoir will resonate with her many fans.”

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