Pharma: Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Nagamatsu, Sanchez, Wang, and More


Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Sequoia Nagamatsu, David Sanchez, Weike Wang, and more—that are publishing this week.
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How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about How High We Go in the Dark: “Nagamatsu’s ambitious, mournful debut novel-in-stories (after the collection Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone) offers a mosaic portrait of the near future, detailing the genesis and fallout of an ancient alien plague reawakened from a Neanderthal corpse thanks to the melting permafrost in the Siberian tundra. Combining the literary and the science fictional, each subtly interconnected chapter examines a point of failure during the dying days of the great human experiment: in the social safety net, in marriages, in families, and in compassion for non-humanoid life-forms. As the flu-like pandemic intersects with increasing climate change and exposes society’s flaws, the characters bear witness to a massive extinction event happening to them in real time. Nagamatsu can clearly write, but this exploration of global trauma makes for particularly bleak reading: the novel offers no resolutions, or even much hope, just snapshots of grief and loss. (Those with weak stomachs, meanwhile, will want to skip the ‘Songs of Your Decay’ for its graphic descriptions of corpse decomposition.) Readers willing to speculate about a global crisis not too far off from reality will find plenty to think about in this deeply sad but well-rendered vision of an apocalyptic future.”

All Day Is a Long Time by David Sanchez

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about All Day Is a Long Time: “Sanchez’s shimmering debut uses rapid-fire prose and dark humor to sketch the hardscrabble coming-of-age of a boy on the Florida Gulf Coast. The troubled David tells of Xanax blackouts in high school classrooms, shooting up oxycodone and meth at home, running away at 14 to pursue a girl, and a series of stints in the Palm Beach County jail, before and after he turns 18. Flush with ‘energy, rage, and terrible longing,’ David burns through a series of behavioral therapists and rehab facilities and trades sex for meth. The school wrestling team becomes a temporary distraction before a full-on return to drug stupors and near-lethal blackouts. The frenetic scenes are saturated with panic, stress, and simmering desperation, and the narration can be overly gloomy; its saving grace arrives when David, already a casual reader of Descartes, takes a community college literature course, and new possibilities open up for him. Sanchez is a daring, clever writer: a passage on the particulars of smoking crack is as vivid as David’s sober awakening and his yearning to make amends with family. This gritty and engrossing account of a man traversing into and out of hopelessness will stay with readers.”

The Hard Sell by Evan Hughes

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Hard Sell: “Journalist Hughes (Literary Brooklyn) takes a revelatory deep dive into the ignominious history of the pharmaceutical manufacturer Insys Therapeutics, the leadership of which was convicted in 2019 of federal racketeering and conspiracy charges. John Kapoor, the founder of the Arizona company, and others had bribed doctors to prescribe their fentanyl-based pain medication Subsys even when medically unnecessary. Insys also persuaded physicians to delegate seeking prior authorizations for insurance coverage to an Insys contractor, a practice that Hughes notes is tantamount to a kickback (‘If you write our product instead of the other one, we’ll pay for the grunt work’). Hughes does an excellent job of illuminating the inner workings of Big Pharma’s malicious practices; for example, it was routine practice for sales reps to document their pitches, and some of those notes referenced lies about the medications being pushed (such as OxyContin being less addictive than other opioids). To avoid legal jeopardy, several major drug manufacturers altered their record-keeping systems so as to eliminate the risk of an employee recording incriminating information. While the arc of this story won’t surprise readers familiar with the recent Purdue Pharma headlines, this is a powerful indictment of abhorrent industry practices. It’s a worthy complement to Gerald Posner’s Pharma: Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America.”

Joan Is Okay by Weike Wang

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Joan Is Okay: “Wang’s profound latest (after Chemistry) portrays two generations of a grieving Asian American family. Joan, a 36-year-old self-possessed physician, works long hours at her Manhattan hospital’s ICU and lives alone in a sparsely decorated apartment despite the insistence of her well-to-do brother, Fang, that she move to Connecticut to be closer to him and his family. But when their father, who has lived in Shanghai with their mother ever since Joan went to college, dies after a stroke, Joan begins to feel unmoored. Their mother then returns to the U.S. after 18 years, only to be stranded in Connecticut due to the pandemic travel bans. Because of language barriers, her old age, and lack of a driver’s license, she depends on her children to get around and to communicate. Wang offers candid explorations of family dynamics (‘berating is love, and here I was at thirty-six, still being loved,’ Joan reflects after Fang shames her for not going with him and their mother on a fancy Colorado skiing trip), and Joan’s empathy for her ailing patients, as well as her disapproving brother and sister in law, are consistently refreshing. It adds up to a tender and enduring portrayal of the difficulties of forging one’s own path after spending a life between cultures.”

A Dream Life by Claire Messud

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Dream Life: “Messud (The Burning Girl) offers an intriguing if slight domestic drama. When Alice Armstrong’s husband, Teddy, gets a job in Sydney, Australia, she moves there with him and their two young children, Sadie and Martha, from New York City. Their imposing new house, dubbed Chateau Deeds after its owners, offers Alice ‘a hiatus from reality,’ but it also requires tremendous upkeep, which proves too much. The first two housekeepers Alice hires don’t work out, leading a friend to recommend getting live-in help. The choices presented by her applicants leave her feeling ‘assailed by the arbitrariness, the strange irrelevance, of her Australian existence.’ Alice hires Simone Funk, a choice that may be foolhardy—Simone tells wild, possibly tall tales about being a runway model as a teen. Simone also has an outburst that may be a red flag (‘Stuck-up cow. She doesn’t know the first thing about me,’ Simone says of a house guest). There is some chilliness between Alice and Simone, and things come to a head after it’s revealed that Simone has Alice’s daughters massage her. Messud keeps readers on tenterhooks waiting for a shoe to drop, and when it does, everything recalibrates. The story may be slim, but the writing is crisp—’Guilt swept across their features like a veil’—and so is Messud’s attention to detail. This is worth savoring.”

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