On Immunity: An Inoculation

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Cline, Gyasi, Biss, Ferrante, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Emma Cline, Yaa Gyasi, Eula Biss, Elena Ferrante, and more—that are publishing this week.
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Daddy by Emma Cline
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Daddy: “Cline follows up her bestselling The Girls with a probing, low-key collection that speaks to the raw nerves of everyday people as they struggle against pressures both personal and perennial. Families torn apart by secrecy and regret feature in ‘What Can You Do with a General,’ in which a family’s Christmas Eve is darkened by the prospect of euthanizing their dog, and ‘Northeast Regional,’ where a father facing his missteps in life is summoned to the boarding school where his son was expelled after a violent incident. A woman caring for a child of celebrities becomes thrust into a scandal in ‘The Nanny,’ and retreats to a family friend’s house in the canyons north of Los Angeles. Two adolescent girls undertake a disastrous attempt to get the attention of a near-stranger in ‘Marion.’ Cline’s ability to peer into the darker corners of her characters’ lives and discern desolation is also on display in ‘A/S/L,’ which follows a young girl in and out of rehab, while a son living in his film producer father’s shadow debuts his terrible movie in ‘Son of Friedman.’ The subtlety of these 10 stories may surprise readers expecting the same luridness Cline brought to The Girls, but the payoffs are as gratifying as they are shattering.”
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Transcendent Kingdom: “Gyasi’s meticulous, psychologically complex second novel (after Homegoing) examines the consequences of a Ghanian family’s immigration to Huntsville, Ala. Gifty, the only member of the family born in the United States, is six years into a doctorate in neuroscience at Stanford, where she is attempting to see if she can alter the neural pathways leading to addiction and depression. Her project is motivated by the fate of her beloved older brother who died from a heroin overdose when she was in high school, and by the condition of her depressed mother, who is staying at Gifty’s apartment. Though she now determinedly puts her faith in science, Gifty still feels the pull of her evangelical upbringing, and she struggles to reconcile the two opposing belief systems while juggling her dissertation and care for her mother, plus a growing attraction to her awkward lab mate. The narrative moves smoothly between the present and Gifty’s childhood, with episodes such as a summer spent in Ghana with her aunt during a previous phase of her mother’s depression rising in the background while Gifty works her way up in her field. Gyasi’s constraint renders the emotional impact of the novel all the more powerful: her descriptions of the casual racism endured by the family, particularly at the hands of their nearly all-white church in Alabama, is more chilling for being so matter-of-fact. At once a vivid evocation of the immigrant experience and a sharp delineation of an individual’s inner struggle, the novel brilliantly succeeds on both counts.”


Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and Revolution in the Americas by Roberto Lovato
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Unforgetting: “Salvadoran-American journalist Lovato recounts in this anguished memoir his 2015 trip to El Salvador to investigate the country’s horrific gang wars. Along the way, he visits mass graves, and speaks with a gang chieftain enamored of the Hunger Games novels and a police official who hints at extrajudicial executions of gang suspects. In Lovato’s telling, the carnage is an American tragedy: El Salvador’s current gangs were founded in California by refugees from the country’s civil war in the 1980s, in which thousands of civilians were killed by the U.S.-backed military and right-wing death squads battling FMLN insurgents. It’s also a personal story as he revisits his work with the FMLN and a love affair with a traveling companion. He weaves in the troubled saga of his father, who as a boy in 1932 witnessed La Matanza, a massacre of thousands of Salvadoran peasants and Indigenous people by an earlier generation of death squads. Mixing fraught reminiscence with vivid reportage—his driver, a Salvadoran Army veteran, recalls a mission to recover the corpses of comrades: ‘When we started picking them up, we yanked the meat right off them, like when you have a fried fish and the skin and meat fall right off’—Lovato delivers an intimate, gripping portrait of El Salvador’s agony.”
Ruthie Fear by Maxim Loskutoff
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Ruthie Fear: “Loskutoff’s superb debut novel (after the collection Come West and See) sets a revisionist contemporary western in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana. Ruthie Fear is abandoned as a toddler by her mother and raised by her father, Rutherford, a man ‘angry at the rich, the government, and Ruthie’s departed mother in varying order and intensity.’ One night, on the outskirts of No-Medicine Canyon, six-year-old Ruthie and her dog, Moses, see a terrifying headless creature. She and her friend Pip then spend years searching for this ‘wrongness in the woods.’ As earthquakes, mudslides, and droughts make Ruthie feel ‘shadowed by violence,’ mill jobs dry up, and developments and mansions are constructed, creating brutal divides among the rich and poor, the whites and Salish natives, and the ‘arrogant’ scientists who work at a local lab and look down on the ‘uneducated rednecks’ who live in trailers and spend their money on machine guns. At 15, Ruthie, still obsessed with the headless creature, attends a protest at the lab, where she imagines evil, unnatural deeds taking place. Loskutoff captures the vast and lonely land along with its beauty with breathtaking descriptions of violence and empathy, and ends with a shocking and poignant surprise. With its humor and heart, Loskutoff’s harrowing tale offers a heroine to root for. This one hits hard.”
Having and Being Had by Eula Biss
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Having and Being Had: “Biss (On Immunity) delivers a stylish, meditative inquiry into the function and meaning of 21st-century capitalism, inspired by becoming a homeowner for the first time. In essay-length ruminations divided into four sections (‘Consumption,’ ‘Work,’ ‘Investment,’ and ‘Accounting’), Biss draws from incidents in her own life as an upper-middle-class Chicagoan and engages with works of literature, history, sociology, economics, and psychology. Disillusionment with items in a furniture store prompts a consideration of cultural critic Lewis Hyde and “the strange unspecific desire” of consumerism. Biss also reflects on her young son’s education in the difference between cost and value as he earns the money to purchase and trade Pokémon cards with his friends. She examines women’s labor through the works of Marxist social scientist Silvia Federici, novelist Virginia Woolf, and authors Joan Didion and Gertrude Stein, and analyzes popular culture, including the contract dispute behind Donna Summer’s song ‘She Works Hard for the Money’ and the anti-capitalist messages of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? Biss doesn’t shy away from acknowledging her own privilege, and laces her reflections with unexpected insights and a sharp yet ingratiating sense of humor, though she doesn’t push too hard for change, either in her own life or her readers’. Still, this eloquent, well-informed account recasts the everyday world in a sharp new light.”
Mill Town by Kerri Arsenault
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Mill Town: “In this powerful investigative memoir, book critic Arsenault examines her relationship with Mexico, Maine, her now-downtrodden hometown. In 2009, Arsenault returned there from Connecticut after her grandfather died; while in this town (pop. 2,600) that owes its existence to a nearby 118-year-old paper mill, she decided to resume research on the Arsenault family’s French-Canadian lineage. She quickly learns of the environmental havoc wrought by the mill, which earned Mexico the nickname of ‘Cancer Alley,’ and uncovers the many obituaries citing people who ‘died after a battle with cancer’ believed to be caused by ash emitted by the mill (dubbed ‘mill snow’) that also crept into her family’s home. From there, Arsenault embarks on a decade-long probe into the environmental abuses of a company that supported her family for three generations. ‘The legacies powerful men construct almost always emerge from the debris of other people’s lives,’ she writes, yet her inquiry only deepened her bond with Mexico (‘We can and probably should go back to confront what made us leave, what made us fall in and out of love with the places that create us, or to see what we left behind’). Arsenault paints a soul-crushing portrait of a place that’s suffered ‘the smell of death and suffering’ almost since its creation. This moving and insightful memoir reminds readers that returning home—’the heart of human identity’—is capable of causing great joy and profound disappointment.”
The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Lying Life of Adults: “A single comment can change a life, or for Giovanna, the adolescent only child of a middle-class Neapolitan couple in the early 1990s and narrator of Ferrante’s sumptuous latest (after The Story of the Lost Child), it can set it in motion. ‘She’s getting the face of Vittoria,’ Giovanna’s father, Andrea, says about her, referring to Giovanna’s estranged aunt Vittoria, whom Andrea disdains and calls ugly. The comment provokes Giovanna into seeking out Vittoria on the other side of Naples, where she finds a beautiful, fiery woman, consumed by bitterness over a lover’s death and resentful of Andrea’s arrogance at having climbed the social ladder. Andrea can’t save Giovanna from Vittoria’s influence, and their relationship will affect those closest to Giovanna as family secrets unravel and disrupt the harmony of her quiet life. Giovanna’s parents’ devastating marital collapse, meanwhile, causes her to be distracted at school and held back a year, and prompts Giovanna into a steely self-awareness as she has her first sexual experiences along a bumpy ride toward adulthood. Themes of class disparity and women’s coming-of-age are at play much as they were in Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, but the depictions of inequality serve primarily as a backdrop to Giovanna’s coming-of-age trials that buttress the gripping, plot-heavy tale. While this feels minor in comparison to Ferrante’s previous work, Giovanna is the kind of winning character readers wouldn’t mind seeing more of.”
Bonus Links from Our Archive:—Occupy Author Photo: On Elena Ferrante, Privacy, and Women WritersElena Ferrante Names the Devil and Slays the MinotaurOutside the Neighborhood: Reading Italy Through Elena FerranteLook at Your Game, Girl: On Emma Cline’s ‘The Girls’A Year in Reading: Roberto LovatoA Year in Reading: Eula BissAn Inoculation Against Mistrust: Eula Biss’s ‘On Immunity’

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