Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Sacks, Zambreno, Lawlor, McEwan, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Oliver Sacks, Kate Zambreno, Andrea Lawlor, Ian McEwan, 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 sign up to be a member today.

Everything in Its Place by Oliver Sacks

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Everything in Its Place: “In this lovely collection of previously unpublished essays, the late, celebrated author and neurologist Sacks (The River of Consciousness) muses on his career, his youth, the mental health field, and much more. Readers will learn of influences that molded Sacks’s brilliant mind, from the cephalopod specimens at the Natural History Museum in London to the ‘visionary, mystical’ 19th-century scientist Humphry Davy, whom Sacks dubs the ‘Poet of Chemistry.’ Of the many remarkable essays on medical conditions, ‘Travels with Lowell’ stands out for its sensitivity and nuance, as Sacks travels the world alongside a photographer with Tourette’s, interviewing others with the condition, including one man who could trace incidents of the syndrome back six generations in his family, yet was not officially diagnosed until age 38. Sacks also recalls being consulted in the case of actor/writer Spalding Gray, who became desperately, compulsively depressed after a brain injury in 2001 and died by suicide three years later. Sacks’s gentle, ruminative voice is a salve when investigating difficult subject matter, but there are plenty of lighter moments as well, as in a brief discussion of a topic dear to his heart—New York City’s many and varied streetlamps. Piercingly insightful and delightfully strange, Sacks’s final collection is a treat for the chronically curious.”

Appendix Project by Kate Zambreno

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Appendix Project: “Presented as a series of appendices to novelist and memoirist Zambreno’s previous work, Book of Mutter, this collection of 11 talks and essays reveals her anew as a master of the experimental lyric essay. In an allusive, fluid style worthy of Susan Sontag or Virginia Woolf, Zambreno roves wildly over what seem disparate reference points, but never fails to center the essays around approachable themes—most prominently, her mother’s death, also the subject of Book of Mutter. In one entry, Zambreno blends critical theory, philosophy, and memoir, moving from analyses of paintings by On Kawara, to musings on how Roland Barthes captures the ‘looping character of mourning, as it attempts and fails to be rendered into language,’ and on to experiences of new motherhood. In another piece initially devoted to her thoughts on turning 40, Zambreno ends by considering how to preserve one’s privacy even in personal writing, reflecting on why she omitted a revealing anecdote about her mother from Book of Mutter, but considered including a section about Marilyn Monroe’s death. For some, her book may seem esoteric and overly diffuse. But for most, the calm inquiry, wise voice, and poignant urgency behind every sentence will coalesce into a deeply reflective meditation on art, loss, and how ‘time makes the intensity of mourning pass—and yet, nothing is soothed.'”

Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Wunderland: “Epstein’s heartbreaking historical tour de force (after The Painter from Shanghai) juxtaposes Nazi-era Germany and 1980s New York City to devastating effect. The story opens in 1933: German schoolgirls Renate Bauer and Ilse von Fischer are best friends as Hitler comes to power and Jews become increasingly demonized. Renate is dating a young white supremacist and, along with Ilse, tries to join the Nazi-sponsored Bund Deutscher Madel. But after Renate discovers that her now-Christian father was born Jewish, Renate and her family are subjected to Gestapo questioning and blackmail. Ilse coldly drops her best friend, and, caught up in the growing nationalism, she betrays Renate’s family. In the East Village in 1989, Ava Fischer receives her estranged mother’s ashes and a sheaf of letters that outline her mother’s biggest regrets. She’s always felt unwanted by her mother, after being left for years in a German orphanage. But after she obtains the package, which contains a shocking secret about her parentage, everything suddenly makes a strange sort of sense. Epstein doesn’t stint on the horrifying details of the indignities dealt to Jews during Hitler’s reign. Man’s inhumanity to man—and the redemptive power of forgiveness—is on stark and effective display in Epstein’s gripping novel, a devastating tale bound for bestseller lists.”

The Heartland by Kristin L. Hoganson

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Heartland: “In this sophisticated, complex work, history professor Hoganson (Consumers’ Imperium) uses the history of Champaign County, Ill., to explore and question the American myth of its ‘heartland’ as a safe, insulated, provincial place—‘the quintessential home referenced by ‘homeland security.’’ The first chapter shows how white settlers in 1700s and 1800s emphasized local settlement to justify taking land from the mobile Kickapoo population of Central Illinois. Hoganson uses the raising of cattle and hogs in Champaign to trace shifting borders on the North American continent in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Then she dismantles the myth of the isolationist heartland with an analysis of Champaign’s involvement with organizations such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the International Institute of Agriculture. And she flips the ‘flyover country’ cliché, looking at how Champaign citizens are connected to the rest of the world by telegraph wires, the weather, migratory birds, and military planes. The final chapter follows the Kickapoo people’s experiences into the 20th century, demonstrating that, contrary to myth, nothing about the heartland’s geography makes it a safe place. Deeply researched with a well-proven argument, Hoganson’s book will attract many scholars as well as general readers who like innovative, challenging history.”

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Machines Like Me: “McEwan’s thought-provoking novel (after Nutshell) is about the increasingly fraught relationship between a man, a woman, and a synthetic human. Opening in an alternate 1982 London in which technology is not dissimilar from today’s (characters text and send emails), 32-year-old Charlie spends £86,000 of his inheritance on the ‘first truly viable manufactured human with plausible intelligence and looks,’ who can pass for human unless closely inspected. His name is Adam (there are 12 Adams and 13 Eves total; the Eves sell out first), and Charlie designs Adam’s personality along with his neighbor and girlfriend Miranda. Soon, Adam informs Charlie that he ‘should be careful of trusting her completely,’ and quickly falls in love with her, thus inextricably binding their fates together. The novel’s highlight is Adam, a consistently surprising character who quickly disables his own kill switch and composes an endless stream of haiku dedicated to Miranda because, as he states, ‘the lapidary haiku, the still, clear perception and celebration of things as they are, will be the only necessary form’ as misunderstanding is eradicated in the future. The novel loses steam when Adam’s not the focus: much page space is devoted to a thread about an orphan boy, as well as Charlie’s thoughts and feelings about Miranda. Though the reader may wish for a tighter story, this is nonetheless an intriguing novel about humans, machines, and what constitutes a self.”

Also on shelves: Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor.

April Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

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—for more April titles, check out our First-Half Preview. 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.

Working by Robert A. Caro: Widely known—and celebrated—for his monumental biographies of LBJ and Robert Moses, Caro steps out from behind his subjects in Working, a collection of personal writings about, well, working. Here he describes his experiences searching Johnson’s presidential archives, what it was like to interview some of the major figures of the last half century, and how exactly he goes about structuring those massive, award-winning books. Think of it as a behind-the-scenes look at how “the greatest political biographer of our time” gets the job done. (Kaulie)

Women Talking by Miriam Toews: Canadians have come to accept that we can’t keep Toews to ourselves any longer. After her sixth novel, All My Puny Sorrows, became an international sensation, the timely and urgent Women Talking is set to do the same. It’s a fictionalized telling of real life rapes that took place in a remote Mennonite colony in Bolivia. After repeated attacks, a group of women are told they are lying about the violence or being punished by Satan. The narrative unfolds as they meet to decide what they will do: forgive, fight, or run. (Claire)

Let’s Tell This Story Properly by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi: This story collection by the author of the acclaimed epic novel, Kintu, is centered on the lives of Ugandans living in Britain, where they are both hyper-visible and unseen, excluded from British life as they work jobs in airport security, in hospitals, in caring for the elderly. In the title story, when the protagonist’s husband dies in England, her fellow Ugandans start a fund-raising drive to pay for transporting the body back home. Their motivation beautifully captures the dislocation of exile: “We are not burying one of us in snow.” It has been said that Makumbi has done for Ugandan writing what the great Chinua Achebe did for Nigerian literature. (Bill)

Walking on the Ceiling by Ayşegül Savaş: Of her family, global citizen (of Turkish descent) Savaş writes, “They share a ruthless knack of observation and an eye for the comedic . . . This is a family of runaway bandits and conspiring matriarchs, where uncles swagger around with pistols, illegitimate children emerge at every turn, family heirlooms . . . are nicked from brothel fires.” Evidently drawing on her own life, Savas’s debut novel is set in Paris (where she lives) and features a young Turkish woman who tells her family’s stories to a novelist friend. “Their intimacy deepens, so does Nunu’s fear of revealing too much . . . fears that she will have to face her own guilt about her mother and the narratives she’s told to protect herself from her memories.” Writes Helen Phillips, “This quietly intense debut is the product of a wise and probing mind.” (Sonya)
 

I Miss you When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott: An debut essay collection from the Emmy-winning TV host and beloved bookseller at Parnsassus Books in Nashville. Philpott’s inspiration came from readers who would beeline to the memoir section to pick up Eat, Pray, Loveor Wild, then ask, “What do you have like this, but more like me?” With essays that Ann Patchett calls relentlessly funny, self-effacing, and charming,” the result is a kind of wisdom that comes from making so many wrong turns they strangely add up to something that is exactly right. (Claire)

Optic Nerve by Maria Gainza (translated by Thomas Bunstead): Critically acclaimed Argentinian writer Maria Gainza’s first book translated in English. The story interweaves the narrator’s fascination and obsession with art and art history and her intimate experiences involving her family, romantic relationships, and work life. Mariana Enríquez declares, “In between autofiction and the microstories of artists, between literary meet-ups and the intimate chronicle of a family, its past and its misfortunes, this book is completely original, gorgeous, on occasions delicate, and other times brutal.” (Zoë)

Naamah by Sarah Blake: In a stunning, feminist retelling of Noah’s Ark, Blake’s debut novel focuses on Naamah (Noah’s wife) and their family in the year after the Great Flood. Full of desire, fury, strength, and wavering faith, Naamah becomes the bedrock on which the Earth is rebuilt upon. Written in poetic prose, Lidia Yuknavitch praises the novel as “a new vision of storytelling and belief” and “a new myth-making triumph.” (Carolyn)

Phantoms by Christian Kiefer: Kiefer’s previous novel The Animals, was downright masterful, and I’ve been anticipating Phantoms ever since. In this new novel, veteran John Frazier returns shaken from the Vietnam War to witness a dispute between his family and their former neighbors, a Japanese-American family that was displaced during World War II and sent to an internment camp. The jacket copy calls it “a fierce saga of American culpability.” Luis Alberto Urrea says, “Christian Kiefer is a masterful writer, and this magisterial novel is aching with beauty and power. This is a great book.” I, for one, cannot wait! (Edan)
The Parisian by Isabella Hammad: In her debut novel, Plimpton Prize winner Hammad explores Palestinian history through the life, love, and journey of Midhat Kamal, a young man from a wealthy family. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly writes “In her exceptional debut, Hammad taps into the satisfying slow-burn style of classic literature with a storyline that captures both the heart and the mind.” (Carolyn)
 
Miracle Creek by Angie Kim: This debut has it all—a novel of the Korean immigrant experience, a courtroom thriller, an exploration of controversies over autism therapies (specifically here, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, BOT). Kirkus calls it “deeply satisfying” and says “it should be huge.” (Marie Myung-Ok)
 
 

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi: In this novel’s opening section, Dave and Sarah, two new students at a prestigious performing arts high school, fall madly in love under the watchful eye of a charismatic acting teacher. But in a second segment, set 12 years later, a change in narrative viewpoint calls into question everything the reader has understood to have happened before. Early reviews are highly polarized. Publishers Weekly says the novel is “destined to be a classic” while a reader on Goodreads, speaking for a number of other dissatisfied early readers, complained “the payoff wasn’t worth the ick.” (Michael)


Normal People by Sally Rooney: Rooney, the Irish author known for the acclaimed Conversations with Friends, has written a second novel about the lives of young people in modern Ireland. The protagonists of Normal People are teenagers named Connell and Marianne, who develop a strange friendship that both are determined to hide. Years pass, and as the two get older, their relationship grows steadily more complicated. (Thom)
 

A Wonderful Stroke of Luck by Ann Beattie: How do our charismatic teachers set the stage for the rest of our lives? That’s one of the questions that Ann Beattie tackles in this novel. When a former New England boarding school student named Ben looks back on his childhood, he starts to questions the motives of his superstar teacher. Later on, his teacher gets in contact, and Ben has to grapple with his legacy. (Thom)
 
The Limits of the World by Jennifer Acker: Meet the Chandarias. Premchand is a doctor. His wife Urmila imports artisanal African crafts. Their son Sunil is studying for a doctorate in philosophy at Harvard. But for all their outward success, theirs is a family riven with secrets, and when the family is forced to return to Nairobi, where Premchand and Urmila were born, Sunil reveals an explosive secret of his own: his Jewish girlfriend, who has accompanied the family on the trip, is already his wife. (Michael)
What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About edited by Michele Filgate: A collection of essays about subjects too painful or explosive to broach among families. Based on Filgate’s essay of the same name, about being abused by her stepfather, the essay features work from a stellar lineup of writers like Kiese Laymon, Carmen Maria Machado, Brandon Taylor, André Aciman, and Leslie Jamison, among others. (Lydia)
 

The Affairs of the Falcóns by Melissa Rivero: After fleeing Peru in the 1990s, the Falcón family—Ana, Lucho, and their two children—settles in New York City. Under the shadow of their undocumented status, Ana must go to incredible lengths to give her family a better, safer life.  Rumaan Alam writes the novel is “at once a timeless work and a book we urgently need now.” (Carolyn)
 
Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor: In a reissue from Vintage Books, Lawlor’s genre-bending debut follows Paul Polydoris—a shapeshifting bar tender who can change his gender and appearance whenever he wants. Through Paul’s abilities, Lawlor explores identity, sexuality, and intimacy. Garth Greenwell writes, “Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl is quite simply one of the most exciting—and one of the most fun—novels of the decade.” (Carolyn)
 
Prince of Monkeys by Nnamdi Ehirim: A debut novel about a young, middle-class Nigerian named Ihechi, and his search for identity as he enters adulthood. When a tragedy throws his whole life off-course, he finds himself aligned with the political elite—and at odds with the people he grew up with. Publishers Weekly writes, “A vivid, astute portrait of Nigeria—and its people—in the throes of upheaval.” (Carolyn)
 
Arid Dreams by Duanwad Pimwana: Pimwana’s debut collection features thirteen stories about ordinary Thai characters who dream of richer, more extraordinary lives. Set in a rapidly-changing Thailand, the stories explore class, gender, and desire. YZ Chin writes, “Arid Dreams is full of uncanny character studies that reveal entire social structures and relationship dynamics with a few deft sentences.” (Carolyn)
 
If I Had Two Lives by Abbigail N. Rosewood: A young women, who grew up in a military encampment in Vietnam, immigrates to New York to find a new home. She tries to forget her past and the country that bore her but she is drawn back after a tragedy. The debut novel explores love, identity, loss, and the ever-present past. (Carolyn)

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