Pictures from an Institution: A Comedy (Phoenix Fiction)

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Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2022 Book Preview

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In what has proved to be an endlessly trying year, we hope this list—which contains more than 175 books—will provide opportunities for you to be delighted, excited, and surprised. The second half of 2022 brings new work from Anuradha Roy, Mohsin Hamid, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Marianne Wiggins, Annie Proulx, Namwali Serpell, Ling Ma, Percival Everett,  Andrew Sean Greer, Yiyun Li, Kamila Shamsie, Celeste Ng, Lászlo’ Krasznahorkai, George Saunders, Ian McEwan, Orhan Pamuk, and Cormac McCarthy (who is publishing not one, but two new books; what an overachiever!). We also have anticipated debuts by Morgan Talty, Tess Gunty, Jonathan Escoffery, and Zain Khalid. There’s also new books by two Millions staffers: Kate Gavino and Anne K. Yoder. We hope you’ll find a book, or two, or ten to keep you company amid all of this.
While we try our best, we miss books every single time we put this list together and, as usual, we will continue with our monthly previews, beginning in August. Let us know in the comments what you’re anticipating in the second half of 2022.
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July
How to Read Now by Elaine Castillo: The author of the acclaimed novel America is Not the Heart now publishes a volume of criticism, essays destined to become classics–covering the lies told about fiction and empathy, the response to what Castillo calls “unexpected reader,” and the imperial and colonial ideas that undergird works of art and readings of them. Gina Apostol calls the collection, “a powerful punch in criticism’s solar plexus: Castillo’s take as the ‘unexpected reader’ is what literature needs now, both an absolute bomb and a balm—a master class in the art of reading. Her art is a corrective and a curative but also just a joy—humorous, insanely erudite, and absolutely necessary for our times.” (Lydia)
The Pink Hotel by Liska Jacobs: The perfect summer read just showed up on my doorstep and I can’t wait to dive in. The Pink Hotel is Jacobs’s third novel, and like her debut Catalina, she returns her sharp gaze and pleasing prose to Southern California. In this case, to a landmark hotel in Beverly Hills where small town newlyweds Kit and Keith have come for a honeymoon—as well as a possible job offer. When fires and protests engulf the city, chaos is unleashed. Kirkus calls the book a “sharp social satire” and Janelle Brown says it’s “heady and dark and dangerous.” (Edan)
The Great Man Theory by Teddy Wayne: Paul, a flailing New York academic, is writing a book entitled The Luddite Manifesto: How the Age of Screens is a Fatal Distraction, but his life goes south when he’s demoted into the adjunct ranks-and has to pick up Uber shifts to make ends meet. By turns funny and angry, with a healthy dose of poignant thrown in, this is the book for people who only think they’ve read all they ever want to read about the Trump era. (Michael)
1,000 Coils of Fear by Olivia Wenzel (translated by Priscilla Layne): Set during the 2016 U.S. prudential election season, playwright Wenzel’s debut novel follows an unnamed Black German woman splitting her time between Berlin and New York. Through memories, reflections, and an interview, the woman reveals much about her childhood, trauma, and her feelings about class, racism, and capitalism, as well as the dangers lurking internally and externally. Kirkus calls the debut “a prismatic novel, thoughtful and unsettling.” (Carolyn)
Brother Alive by Zain Khalid: When his closest confidantes leave behind their sons, imam Salim Smith adopts the three unrelated boys and they live above a Staten Island mosque. Despite their differences, the boys are held together by secrets, belief, and loyalty—which, in the end, may not be enough. “A novel with the polish and warmth of a stone smoothed in the hand after a lifetime of loving worry—original, darkly witty, sometimes bitter, and so very wise,” says Alexander Chee. “And certainly the debut of a major new writer.” (Carolyn)
Keya Das’s Second Act by Sopan Deb: New York Times reporter Sopan Deb’s debut novel is set in the world of Bengalis living in the New Jersey suburbs. Shantau Das is a man in exile — divorced from his wife, estranged from his traditional Bengali neighbors, no longer speaking with his elder daughter and, worst of all, tortured by regrets that he failed to accept his late daughter Keya after she came out as gay. The discovery of the unfinished manuscript of a play Keya was writing could release Shantau from his exile. By staging the play, the members of this splintered family realize they can pay homage to Keya while discovering new meanings of family, creativity and second chances. (Bill) 
After the Hurricane by Leah Franqui: From the author of America for Beginners, a woman leaves her life as a success story in New York to return to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, in a search for the father she hasn’t seen in years, a family mystery that interrogates success and explores family ties. (Lydia)
The Empire of Dirt by Francesca Manfredi (translated by Ekin Olap): Your first period often feels like the start of a curse; for 12-year-old Valentina, it may actually be one. The walls of the house she shares with her mother and grandmother start to bleed, the first of several plagues to descend on the family, as Valentina’s world falls into chaos. Maybe it’s a generational curse, as Valentina’s grandmother believes. Maybe it’s the fruit of decades of family secrets. Maybe it’s just what it feels like to grow up in a world hostile to women and girls. The English language debut of Italian author Francesca Manfredi, The Empire of Dirt is as elegant and precise as it is haunting. (Kaulie)
Bad Thoughts by Nada Alic: Alic’s sharp and funny debut story collection follows women—who party, obsess, dream, desire, and cope—within and against the confines of the modern world. T Kira Madden writes: “Alic offers a collection tracing the brutal and hilarious contours of humanity, with every sentence engined on the current between the two. Astute and unpredictable without ever veering into kitsch, Alic is a vital voice of our time.” (Carolyn)
Hawk Mountain by Conner Habib: A single father finds himself playing host to an old classmate who used to bully him back in high school. As they become reacquainted he learns that bullies don’t change much and that the impulse behind their behavior is quite often something other than hatred. This is the debut novel by the Dublin-based American author, a story the publisher calls a “tense story of deception, manipulation, and murder.” (Il’ja)
Calling for a Blanket Dance by Oscar Hokeah: A young Native American man is intent on finding “a place for himself” (author’s website) in a world seemingly bent on giving him anything but that. Drawing on a wealth of Indigenous tradition, Hokeah has produced in his debut a novel that underscores the quiet strength that arises when a family is true to its identity and the too common tragedy that results when identity is suppressed. (Il’ja)
Amanat edited by Zaure Batayeva and Shelley Fairweather-Vega: Amanat is a Kazakh word that refers to a promise, a moral commitment, and a cultural legacy to be cherished and protected. Likewise, the same-titled anthology introduces the most representative yet diverse voices from post-Soviet Kazakhstan. Together, they piece out the intergenerational history of a country that has been reshaped by politics several times in recent decades. In these stories, the wisdom, struggles, and resilience of the real people never cease to inspire us. (Jianan Qian)
Self-Portrait with Ghost by Meng Jin: Self-Portrait with Ghost is the first story collection by Meng Jin, the acclaimed author of Little Gods. Written during the recent years of political turbulence and social isolation, these stories teeter on a fulcrum between past and future, US and China, self and society. Compared with other times of human history, the contemporary age seems to reward us with generous access to knowledge and information. But Jin’s stories, in smart and unique ways, also remind us of the other side of the coin: we are constantly inventing and reinventing our self-images, and, despite seemingly more vehicles to express our thoughts, we do not have much real power. (Jianan Qian)
The Burning Season by Alison Wisdom: America is often spoken of as the “city on a hill,” a utopian refugee and site of spiritual yearning, yet very often the communities born from that Edenic vision are more like Jonestown or the Manson Family than they are paradise. Alison Wisdom, the author of the acclaimed novel We Can Only Save Ourselves, presents a particularly American fable in her latest book about married couple Rosemary and Paul, and their residence with an ultraconservative and misogynistic cult led by the charismatic Papa Jake in Dawes, Texas. Paul takes to the confines of the community with relative ease, while Rosemary is appropriately disquieted, especially as a series of symbolically fraught wild fires break out, and threaten to immolate those who’ve sought sanctuary in this potentially dangerous place. Papa Jake promises “Traces of heaven – the glory of God falling like light, feathers of the angels. Evidence of the presence of God, a miracle,” but Dawes is another American nightmare. Here in this community where women delete their period apps and wild fires threaten to burn the world, Wisdom provides a trenchant parable for our moment. (Ed Simon)
Crying in the Bathroom by Erika L. Sánchez: In her memoir-in-essays, Sánchez (I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter) writes about growing up the daughter of Mexican immigrants, her journey to becoming a bestselling writer, and everything in between with heart, humor, and vulnerability. About the essay collection, Sandra Cisneros says: “It’s only after you’ve laughed that you understand the heartbreak beneath the laughter. I relished especially the stories she shares about being a wanderer savoring her solitude, a rare gift for a woman, but absolutely essential for any writer.” (Carolyn)
Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin: A chance subway encounter between childhood friends leads to video game design stardom. Set over the course of thirty years, the novel follows these lifelong friends navigate love, loss, and fame in Massachusetts, Los Angeles, and all the real and virtual places in between. Publishers Weekly’s starred review calls the novel “an exhilarating epic” and “a one-of-a-kind achievement.” (Carolyn)
Sister Mother Warrior by Vanessa Riley: Riley’s (Island Queen) newest novel reimagines the true stories of two women during the Haitian Revolution: Marie-Claire Bonheur, the first Empress of Haiti, and Gran Toya, a free West African-born warrior. The two women, fights in their own right, meet when a war breaks out on Saint Domingue—and they both make their mark in the revolution that led to Haiti’s independence. Myriam J. A. Chancy calls the novel “richly imagined, meticulously researched, and fast-paced” that “encourages us to rethink history through fresh eyes.” (Carolyn)
The Earthspinner by Anuradha Roy: Booker Prize nominee Roy’s newest novel follows Elango, a Hindu potter, who becomes obsessed with rendering an image that came to him in a dream: a terracotta horse. Once the horse is complete, Elango struggles with heartbreak, religious violence, and an ever-changing community that may no longer accept him. Narrated by his student Sara, a lonely woman on the cusp of adulthood, the novel explores themes of love, loss, art, myth, nature, and the tension between the East and West. Publishers Weekly’s starred review says that this “novel of small tragedies” is “Roy’s best to date.” (Carolyn)
An Honest Living by Dwyer Murphy: Murphy, a former litigator and the editor-in-chief at CrimeReads, has produced an engaging noirish debut novel. A freelance lawyer in mid-aughts Brooklyn is approached by a mysterious woman calling herself Anna Reddick who offers him $10,000 cash to track down her missing husband, who, she believes, is pilfering rare true-crime books from her collection. Cue Chinatown. When the real Anna Reddick shows up, the story ricochets through a series of deceptions involving unscrupulous book sellers, a possible suicide, a sleazy real-estate developer and an eccentric female novelist. The writing is brisk, never showy, and Murphy delivers a loving snapshot of a New York that existed not so long ago but is already long gone. (Bill)
Kaleidoscope by Cecily Wong: The second novel from Wong, Kaleidoscope follows Riley Brighton, second daughter of a rag-to-riches Chinese American family who found their fortune in a “globally bohemian,” culturally appropriating shopping chain, as she tries to make sense of a staggering loss and her own place in the Brighton story. Celeste Ng calls it “a moving portrayal of the tangled knot of sisterhood and the dizzying spiral of grief. Cecily Wong’s dazzling second novel deftly explores the complex push-pull of family and ambition, and the ways we learn to define ourselves in—and out of—our loved ones’ orbits.” (Kaulie)
Harry Sylvester Bird by Chinelo Okparanta: Harry Sylvester Bird is a young white man from Pennsylvania with racist parents who embarrass him, leading him to mount a project of personal redemption in adulthood that involves a “Transracial-Anon group” and eventually goes awry. Kirkus calls it a “tart, questioning exploration of how deep racism runs.” (Lydia)
Sirens & Muses by Antonia Angress: Sirens & Muses, Angress’s debut novel, is already drawing glowing comparisons to that famous campus-novel debut The Secret History, if The Secret History had the art fascination of The Goldfinch. “An intriguing exploration of art and wealth spearheaded by messy, engrossing characters” (Kirkus), Sirens & Muses follows four artists through a year at an elite art school and then into the heart of New York City during Occupy, raising and upending questions of beauty, class, money and artistic identity along the way. For fans of Tartt, obviously, but also of Writers & Lovers, The Interestings, and all stories of art, desire, and the search for an authentic self. (Kaulie)
Shmutz by Felicia Berliner: The great masculine, priapic enfant terrible of Jewish American literature was Philip Roth, whose sexual foibles and neuroses came in for ample investigation across his corpus. All those shiksas, the STD anxieties, that scene with the liver in Portnoy’s Complaint. And yet Jewish women were often made the punchline of that formidable canon, the jokes about overbearing mothers and nagging wives. Now, in a voice evocative of Erica Jong, Felicia Berliner answers the Rothian tradition in Shmutz, with a cover evoking the erotic congruencies of Purim hamantaschen. Unlike Roth, Berliner takes religious seriously, exploring the intersection of the physical and spiritual in the story of Raizl, a young Hasidic college student who is awaiting for her arranged marriage but in the meantime becomes increasingly addicted to internet porn. “But the videos imprinted in her memory will not be erased and sealed shut. No angel will come to wipe away her knowledge.” Desire and guilt, faith and ecstasy – Berliner proves that such human categories are never diametrically opposed, but rather always enmeshed together in the throes of their own combative passion. (Ed Simon)
Gods of Want by K-Ming Chang: National Book Award “5 Under 35” honoree Chang (Bestiary) returns with a story collection—steeped in feminism, queerness, and fabulism— that focuses on the lives, loves, memories, myths, and secrets of Asian American women. About the debut collection, Dantiel W. Moniz says: “Full of mythic desire, joy and pain disguised as the other, and navigating the precarious balance of how to belong to a land while still belonging to oneself, Gods of Want is bursting with language and images so striking, so sure of their own strength, I found myself stunned.” (Carolyn)
The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories by Jamil Jan Kochai: From the Pen/Hemingway finalist Jamil Jan Kochai, comes a stunning new story collection that captures contemporary Afghanistan and the Afghan diaspora in America. A young man’s video game adventure mutates into an investigation of his father’s war memories. Two married medical doctors choose to take care of their fellow countrymen despite the disappearance of their own son. A college student in the US launches a hunger strike against the Israeli violence against Palestine. Jamil’s stories blur the line between fantasy and reality, and even comedy and tragedy. He breathes new life into the narratives of war and displacement. (Jianan Qian)
Fire Season by Leyna Krow: A suicidal banker sees opportunity in an illegal scheme. A new-to-town con man’s time may finally be running out. A future-seeing woman entertains both these men with her power. In her debut novel, Krow (I’m Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinking) follows these three people as their lives converge and are irreparably changed when a fire devastates their town. Anna North says the novel is “an arresting take on magic, science, disaster, and salvation that’s eerily resonant with the fire seasons we find ourselves living through today.” (Carolyn)
Total by Rebecca Miller: As a fan of Miller’s previous short story collection, Personal Velocity, published way back in 2001, I was happy to learn that her new book is a return to short fiction. Almost all the stories center on women, exploring desire, infidelity, motherhood, and technology. Publishers Weekly calls the collection “alluring,” while Kirkus describes it as “a beautifully constructed, acutely felt, morally honest collection.” (Hannah)
Life Ceremony by Sayaka Murata (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori): Murata’s (Earthlings) first collection to be translated into English features 12 stories about what it means to be human here and now, in the future, and in alternate realities only the author can dream of. In a starred review, Kirkus calls the collection “beautiful, disturbing, and thought-provoking.” (Carolyn)
Briefly, a Delicious Life by Nell Stevens: Creative inspiration is a kind of haunting. The sudden appearances, the inexplicable coincidences, the deep mystery of where the voice you’re hearing is actually coming from. Nell Stevens’ novel Briefly, a Delicious Life investigates such creative hauntings, literal and otherwise, in the story of Bianca, the ghost of a fifteenth-century girl who inhabits the Charterhouse, a former monastery in Mallorca. Almost four centuries after her death, and Bianca falls in love with a new resident, the beautiful nineteenth-century French novelist George Sand who has arrived with her lover, the composer Frederic Chopin. “I died in 1473, when I was fourteen years old, and had been at the Charterhouse ever since,” Bianca says, yet “After I died, I found myself in a time of beautiful women,” with one spectral eye towards the oblivious Sand. Stevens provides a haunting (in all senses of the word) and evocative magical realist account of creativity and gender, sexuality and inspiration, a ghost story both gothic and beautiful. (Ed Simon)
Dirtbag, Massachusetts by Isaac Fitzgerald: Fitzgerald publishes a memoir in essays about the many lives he has lived, inculding time in a Boston homeless shelter in his youth. The big-hearted Fitzgerald explores masculinity, self image, self-acceptance, and life in what Marlon James calls “A heart on the sleeve, demons in check, eyes unblinking, unbearably sad, laugh-out-loud funny revelation.” (Lydia)
Half Outlaw by Alex Temblador: Temblador’s first novel for adults follows Raqi, an orphaned girl, now woman, who receives a call that the addict uncle that raised her is dead and his motorcycle club has invited her on his Grieving Ride. Though she wants to decline, the club leader dangles a promise: if she attends, he will give her the address of her paternal Mexican grandfather. Desperate to have familial connection, Raqi agrees and sets off on cross-country trek where she will discover more about herself, her family, and her upbringing than she ever could have imagined. Tarfia Faizullah says: “With tender rigor, Temblador takes on the complexities of both chosen and inherited family and culture, while also taking us on a thrilling heroine’s journey.” (Carolyn)
The Man Who Could Move Clouds by Ingrid Rojas Contreras: This memoir by Contreras (Fruit of the Drunken Tree) looks back on her childhood in a politically-fraught Colombia in the 1980s and 1990s. After suffering a bout of amnesia in her young adulthood, she returns to Colombia to reacquaint, reorient, and rediscover her familial history. “The Man Who Could Move Clouds is a memoir like no other, mapping memory, myth, and the mysteries and magic of ancestry with stark tenderness and beauty,” raves Patricia Engel. “A dreamlike and literal excavation of the powers of inheritance, Ingrid Rojas Contreras has given us a glorious gift with these pages.” (Carolyn)
Other Names for Love by Taymour Soomro: A novel about masculinity, family, and desire following a 16-year-old Fahad during a summer in rural Pakistan, where a connection with another boy will haunt him through adulthood in London and then an eventual return to the scenes of the past. (Lydia)
Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty: A collection of 12 linked stories following David, a boy growing up in the Panawahpskek (Penobscot) Nation of Maine in the present day, detailing incidents funny, painful, traumatic, and formative to its characters. A review in the New York Times Book Review raves “Talty forms a rich and vast picture of what it is to be alive, with stunning clarity, empathy and unwavering honesty.” (Lydia)
Denial by Jon Raymond: “Hopeful” isn’t a word typically associated with cli-fi, and yet, John Raymond’s fourth novel, Denial, defies expectations in this way. Set in the year 2052, Denial depicts a world ravaged by climate change but that has avoided the catastrophe that it could have been due to a global protest movement that broke up the fossil fuel corporations and placed former executives on trial for crimes against the environment. The twist in this story comes when a journalist tracks down and plans to confront one of the most notorious executives who fled the country and escaped punishment in Mexico. As Jenny Offill praises: it’s “as fast-paced as a thriller, but the mystery at the heart of it is not who committed the crime but how to live in its eerie aftermath.” (Anne)
Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield: The first novel from the author of salt slow, Our Wives Under the Sea follows Miri as she struggles to understand what has happened to her wife, Leah, fresh back from a deep sea mission gone wrong. In a starred review, our sister site Publishers Weekly describes it as “a moody and intimate debut… both a portrait of a marriage and a subtle horror fantasy;” Kristin Arnett calls it “one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s not only art, it’s a perfect miracle.” (Kaulie)
The Poet’s House by Jean Thompson: Claire, a woman in her twenties, begins working for Viridian, a poet whose career has been defined by her work and love affair with Mathias, a prominent poet. As she spends time within this insular literary circle, Claire considers Viridian’s life choices and compromises and develops her own relationship with words. Julia Alvarez describes The Poet’s House as “a coming-of-age novel, a novel of manners (Jane Austen, make some room on that big bench, dear), a page-turning narrative with laugh-out-loud scenes, and ultimately a hopeful, affirming book about how words can stir the mystery in us, help us find ourselves, and maybe even make us, however reluctantly, bigger versions of ourselves.” Jean Thompson’s most recent book has received starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist. (Zoë)
Big Girl by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan: Set in Harlem, this debut coming-of-age novel follows a young girl growing up in Harlem in the ‘90s, navigating an Upper East Side prep school, exploring her artistic talents and hungers of all kinds, and facing intense maternal-line pressured to be thin and perfect. Starred review from Publishers Weekly – “A treasure.” (Sonya)
August
Mothercare by Lynne Tillman: Lynne Tillman has a way of perceiving and writing that’s both nuanced and incisive. Her philosophical memoir, Mothercare: On Love, Death, and Ambivalence, grapples with the challenges of caring for a dying parent, the innavigable US healthcare system, and a daughter’s ambivalence and grief—specifically in the context of the emotions that arise while caring for a difficult parent. As artist Gregg Bordowitz champions, “Only Lynne Tillman can write a clear-eyed account examining a topic that is anything but clearly comprehensible. This is a book about caring for the ill and dying, loss, regret, resentment, and contradictory emotions; all the mysteries of human attachments through their various transformations.” (Anne)
Mother in the Dark by Kayla Maiuri: A story about a family who moves from city to suburb and up the class hierarchy, throwing their family order in disarray and leading to a confrontation that tests the bonds between mother, daughters, and sisters. Daniel Loedel calls it “a gorgeous novel with profound insights into what keeps a family together and what it takes to shake off the stranglehold of the past.” (Lydia)
Paul by Daisy Lafarge: Poet Lafarge’s debut novel follows Frances, a 21-year-old British graduate student, who is volunteering on a farm in southern France. When she arrives, she meets the farm’s wildly charismatic and mysterious owner, Paul. As their physical and emotional connection deepens, Frances realizes what she stands to lose—and how she must save herself. Alexandra Kleeman writes, “Daisy Lafarge’s debut is a force to be reckoned with: all sinewy prose and sharp compulsion, with deep insight about the choreography of power and its eerie, unsettling flavor.” (Carolyn)
Bad Sex by Nona Aronowitz: Our historical moment is, once again, particularly in need of clear-eyed, unrepentant, and radical understandings of women’s identity and sexuality. Fifty years after Second Wave Feminism envisioned different ways of existing in the world, and the Supreme Court along with its fellow travelling prudes, scolds, and puritans have stripped women of their fundamental rights, the misogynistic and theocratic impulse still strong in the American psyche. A writer for Teen Vogue, which has surprisingly been one of the most consistent of progressive political voices during our revanchist age, and Nona Aronowitz calls upon the example of her own mother, feminist theorist Ellen Willis, to answer questions about “What exactly, do I want? And are my sexual and romantic desires even possible amid the horrors and bribes of patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy?” Within Bad Sex, Aronowitz introduces readers to fervent sluts and ambiguous wives, radical lesbians and liberationist lovers, all to discover how we reconcile ourselves and our desires in this time when both are under assault. (Ed Simon)
When We Were Bright and Beautiful by Jillian Medoff: Set on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Cassie, the only daughter to the uber wealthy Quinn family, returns home when her youngest brother, Billy, is accused of rape by his ex-girlfriend. As the family fights to get Billy acquitted and cleared of all charges, Cassie struggles with her privilege, belief in her brother, and the secrets in her past that threaten to unravel it all. Kirkus calls the novel “a layered and compelling peek into the darkest consequences of privilege,” while Publishers Weekly says “Medoff does a good job developing Cassie’s complicated feelings, and leaves readers reflecting on the family’s intergenerational abuse of power.” (Carolyn)
Witches by Brenda Lozano (translated by Heather Cleary): “The two narrative voices in Brenda Lozano’s Witches, Zoé, a journalist from Mexico City and Feliciana, an indigenous curandera, or healer, based in a small town, are connected by the murder of a third. Paloma was Feliciana’s cousin, as well as a curandera and a muxe, or trans woman, who mentored Feliciana in the curandera’s practices, a position usually reserved for men. Witches examines and intertwines a multitude of binaries– the two Mexicos, white and indigenous cultures, and femininity and machista masculinity. The result “is a story of the world’s repeated failure to control feminine power and the sheer magic of language itself,” proclaims Catherine Lacey. (Anne)
All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews: Sneha graduates into the worst days of an American economic recession. Fortunately enough, she finds an entry-level company job and starts to explore new friendships and romance. But life never goes as one expects. Before long, Sneha steps into deep trouble which jeopardizes her job and everything else. All This Could Be Different captures the authentic adventure of an immigrant: how she manages to forge a bond with the US through love and community. Sarah Thankam Mathews’s tender and beautiful prose renders the story unforgettable. (Jianan Qian)
Acting Class by Nick Drnaso: In a follow-up to his Booker-longlisted graphic novel, Sabrina, Drnaso’s newest follows ten strangers—including a bored married couple, a single mother, and an ex-con—who meet at a community center acting class and find themselves under the spell of their mysterious and dubious leader, John. Kevin Barry says: “”Masterfully told, artfully layered, and beautifully rendered, Acting Class shows again that Nick Drnaso is attuned to a particular American ennui and eeriness like no other artist currently at work.” (Carolyn)
Touch by Olaf Olafsson: In this quiet drama an aging Icelandic restaurant owner isn’t about to allow the global pandemic to stop him from seeing his first love again. Along the way he discovers that their 50 years of separation and the distance from his home to hers in her native Japan are but the least of the obstacles to be overcome in any quest for resolution. (Il’ja)
A Map for the Missing by Belinda Huijuan Tang: After years of living in the US, Tang Yitian receives a phone call from his mother: his father has disappeared from their native rural village in China. Yitian’s homecoming results in not only revealing the mystery of his family, but also a confrontation with a choice he made in his youth. Both he and his childhood friend Tian Hanwen made great efforts in trying to attend university in the city. But while Yitian successfully rose to a professorship in the US, Hanwen was left behind, becoming the housewife of a local bureaucrat. A Map for the Missing delves into China’s political landscape in recent decades and examines the price of making your own life decision. (Jianan Qian)
Dogs of Summer by Andrea Abreu (translated by Julia Sanches): This lyrical novel is set in a working-class neighborhood in Tenerife, far from the Canary Islands’ posh resorts. During one oppressively hot summer, the 10-year-old narrator and her best friend Isora experience changes in their bodies and their volatile emotions — from love to jealousy, admiration, obsession and submission. The story, laced with Canary Islands dialect and bachata lyrics, builds to a crescendo when desire and violence fuse. (Bill)
The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty: In Gunty’s debut novel, four teenagers formerly in the foster care system live in a run-down apartment building nicknamed the Rabbit Hutch. The novel expands and contracts temporally and spatially as Gunty delves into the lives, desires, dreams, and fates of the building’s residents. Mark Z. Danielewski says: “The Rabbit Hutch aches, bleeds, and even scars but it also forgives with laughter, with insight, and finally, through an act of generational independence that remains this novel’s greatest accomplishment, with an act of rescue, rescue of narrative, rescue from ritual, rescue of heart, the rescue of tomorrow.” (Carolyn)
The Ghetto Within by Santiago H. Amigorena (translated by Frank Wynne): French-Argentine writer Amigorena’s English language debut, which won the Prix des libraires de Nancy, reimagines the life of his Jewish grandfather and the guilty silences that echoed throughout his family for generations. A starred review in Kirkus’ calls the autobiographical novel (one in a series by the author) “a bleak, affecting portrait that points to immeasurable collateral damage.” (Carolyn)
The Hundred Waters by Lauren Acampora: Sometimes the suburbs aren’t so bad – nice yard, more space, settled feelings – but for Louisa, a semi-retired Manhattan photographer, they begin to feel like a stultifying “fairytale quicksand” sucking at everything she once lived for. Her efforts to revitalize her hometown’s art center help keep her head above water, but life only begins to regain some real interest when Gabriel, an intense young artist, comes to town and captivates both Louisa and her preteen daughter, Sylvie, to dangerous effect. The latest from Acampora, author of The Paper Wasp and The Wonder Garden, The Hundred Waters is “arresting,” “enjoyably offbeat,” (Publishers Weekly) and carried by the voice of Louisa, who’s many things but never your standard bored suburbanite. (Kaulie)
Mother of Strangers by Suad Amiry: Set in Jaffa between 1947 and 1951, architect and non-fiction writer Amiry’s debut novel follows a young couple, Subhi and Shams, falling in love while the Palestine as they once knew it—bustling, beautiful, and prosperous—falls apart around them. Booklist’s starred review calls the novel “a powerful story of love, loss, and the destruction of a nation.” (Carolyn)
The Women Could Fly by Megan Giddings: The Women Could Fly is set in an oppressive society in which witch trials occur and the State mandates women to marry at 30 or relinquish their autonomy. Josephine Thomas is almost 30 and ambivalent about marriage, but more concerned about her mother who disappeared more than ten years ago. The Women Could Fly has been compared to work by Octavia E. Butler, Shirley Jackson, and Margaret Atwood. As Alexandra Kleeman describes, “Born of a radical imagination and executed with piercing elegance and skill, The Women Could Fly recalls legendary works of dystopian fiction but casts a spell all its own. Giddings is a rare and utterly original voice bridging the speculative and the all-too-real.” (Zoë)
The Last White Man by Mohsin Hamid: A speculative imagining of widespread racial “turnover,” the novel takes its inspiration from Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and adapts/shapes it for our times: “One morning Anders, a white man, woke up to find he had turned a deep and undeniable brown.” It turns out Anders is not alone. Havoc and reckonings of all kinds–– interpersonal, societal, psycho-emotional – ensue. (Sonya)
Stories from The Tenants Downstairs by Sidik Fofana: Set in a low-income Harlem high rise, where the threat of gentrification looms large, Fofana’s debut collection features eight interconnected stories about the tenants as they deal with personal struggles and find hope amid precarity. Mateo Askaripour says: “Yes, Stories from the Tenants Downstairs is funny, and yes, it is a collection that will make your jaw drop several times, but its true power lies in what it has to say about community, and how this road called life is more bearable when we walk it together. What a gift Fofana’s writing is, especially now.” (Carolyn)
The Fortunes of Jaded Women by Carolyn Huynh: Vietnamese American women in Orange County fall victim to an ancestral curse brought on by a witch, the result of which is havoc wreaked on the love lives of three sisters and even the next generation. What do you do to get rid of a curse? Consult a psychic and never give up. Nancy Jooyoun Kim raves of the book “sharp, smart, and gloriously extra, The Fortunes of Jaded Women pays homage to the counterfeit-Louis-Vuitton queens of the Vietnamese diaspora and West Coast witches everywhere.” (Lydia)
Cyclorama by Adam Langer: The past and present collide in a Chicago high school production of The Diary of Anne Frank, one in 1982 and one in 2017, where the longstanding abuses of power of the director finally surface, and the story at the heart of the play is interwoven with the grim dynamics of Trump-era America. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly calls the novel “an outstanding performance.” (Lydia)
Meet us by the Roaring Sea by Akil Kumarasamy: A genrebending novel set in the near future, when a young woman deals with the fallout of a family catastrophe through translating an old manuscript and getting involved with a strange AI project. Cathy Park Hong raves, “”Akil Kumarasamy is a singular talent. In her novel Meet Us By the Roaring Sea, Kumarasamy has braided together stories that are original, fresh, and breathtakingly imaginative as she reflects on the ethics of care in the age of digital capitalism. I love this book.” (Lydia)
Delphi by Clare Pollard: Prophecy has always appealed to the human mind because the terror of what comes next can otherwise only be satiated by the grueling process of just waiting to see. For those ancient Greeks who made their way to the Oracle at Delphi, there was the hope that those seers could answer appeals about what awaited the pilgrim. Madness, of course, also threatens the prophet and the pilgrim, for it’s easy for the required humility to be replaced by an understandable hubris regarding tealeaves, palms, or sheep livers. Clare Pollard’s ingenious novel Delphi acknowledges both the desire threat of prophecy in her tale of its unnamed narrator, an English classics professor writing about ancient oracles right as Covid-19 sequesters Londoners in their homes, the pestilence just beginning to unleash its sufferings upon the world. Plague and prophecy, two vestiges of the pre-modern world that Pollard shows can’t always be so easily repressed, for in Delphi there is a return to that March 2020 when all of us wished we could know how the days, weeks, and months ahead would unfold, though whether that would have made any difference or not is a question for Cassandra. (Ed Simon)
Haven by Emma Donoghue: Bestselling author Donoghue returns with historical fiction about three monks who travel to a remote island—whose presence came to their leader in a dream—off the coast of Ireland. Esi Edugyan writes: “This is a patient, thoughtful novel with much to say about spirituality, hope, and human failure, and about the miracle of mercy.” (Carolyn)
The Devil Takes You Home by Gabino Iglesias: The decorated thriller writer Gabino Iglesias (author of Zero Saints and Coyote Songs) may or may not have been channeling Walter White when he created his new protagonist Mario, a father who’s buried in debt due to his daughter’s cancer diagnosis. After agreeing to go to work as a hit man, Mario discovers, to his surprise, that he’s good at the job. This propulsive, gut punch of a thriller then teams Mario with an old friend and Mexican drug cartel insider who has a plan to snatch the cartel’s $2 million cash shipment. Mario accepts this suicide mission, figuring he’ll wind up rich or with a bullet in his head. (Bill)
Boulder by Eva Baltasar (translated by Julia Sanches): Baltasar’s (Permafrost) newest novel the narrator “Boulder,” a cook on a merchant ship, as she falls in loved with Samsa, a young Icelandic woman. Eventually the two women move in together and Samsa decides, at 40, that she wants to have a child—though Boulder finds herself wanting to flee. Kirkus’ starred review says: “A novel that lionizes the desire to be alone even as it recognizes the beauty and grace found within a family.” (Carolyn)
Moth by Melody Razak: Set during the Indian Partition in 1947, British Iranian writer Razak explores the devastation and tumult experienced by one Brahmin family. When their daughter Alma’s engagement is meddled with, their entire world—as a family, as a nation—is changed forever. Starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Kirkus call the literary debut “exceptional.” (Carolyn)
Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah: Nobel laureate Gurnah’s latest is a multi-generational exploration of colonial violence and displacement in east Africa through the lives of three young people: siblings Ilyas and Afiya—who are endlessly brutalized by family, country, and war—and Hamza, a fellow townsperson who, upon his return from war, falls in love with Afiya. Phil Klay says: “A work of extraordinary power, giving us a colonial world with utmost intimacy, capturing its cruelties and complexities, immersing us in vividly evoked characters, showing us moments of incredible tenderness and beauty, and quietly reordering our sense of history.” (Carolyn)
My Government Means to Kill Me by Rasheed Newson: The coming-of-age debut by television writer and producer Newsom (The Chi, Narcos, Bel-Air) follows Earl “Trey” Singleton III, a gay, Black teenager, who flees his wealthy family and travels to 1980s New York City where he has personal, political, and social awakenings. About the novel, Xochitl Gonzalez writes, “Newson’s Trey and his determination to live life on his own terms, even in the face of death all around him, brings into three dimension an era of New York Queer life that, too often, has been flattened and whitewashed by history.” (Carolyn)
A Career in Books by Kate Gavino: In this graphic novel, recent NYU grads Silvia Bautista, Nina Nakamura, and Shirin Yap are roommates and friends who work in the publishing industry. They discover that Veronica Vo, their neighbor, is a Booker Prize winner whose books are out of print, and they take action to reissue her work. Booklist praises A Career in Books, stating that “While Gavino empathically showcases independent APA women in search of fulfillment, she also lovingly celebrates Asian American publishing with clever inclusions…Presented in delightful four-part, black-and-white panels, Gavino’s memorable characters manage the quotidian, dissect challenges, navigate change, and celebrate triumphs—together.” (Zoë)
Bonsai by Alejando Zambra (translated by Megan McDowell): This latest addition to the translated work of the author of the fabulous “Chilean Poet” is described by the Chilean press (Capital) as “Brief as a sigh and forceful as a blow.” Deceptively simple, this profound tale of ephemeral love will, despite the brevity of the telling, haunt you. (Il’ja)
Perish by LaToya Watkins: A multi-generational, multi-perspective family novel set in Texas, about a Black family whose members gather at the death bed of their matriarch. Secrets, trauma, culpability, and forgiveness arise for each family member is various ways. The debut novel by Watkins, a Texas native. (Sonya)
All the Ruined Men by Bill Glose: In his new linked story collection, combat veteran Glose writes about American soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq—and the physical, mental, and emotional battles they faced once off the battlefield. For fans of Phil Klay, Kevin Powers, and Tim O’Brien, according to the publisher, Kirkus’ starred review says the collection contains “painfully honest and consistently empathetic glimpses of modern American soldiers in war and peace.” (Carolyn)
Bright by Kiki Petrosino: The first full-length essay collection from acclaimed poet Petrosino, a work of memoir, archival research, history, literary study, formal experimentation, and reflection on Petrosino’s experience of girlhood in a Black and Italian family in Pennsylvania. Ross Gay calls it “an astonishing lyric archive of the body—who it’s made of; what’s imposed upon it; what’s extracted from it—the result of which is one of the most moving, and incisive documents on the brutalizing fictions of race that I’ve ever read.” (Lydia)
Tomorrow in Shanghai by May-lee Chai: A new collection of stories by the author of, most recently, Useful Phrases for Immigrants, following characters from the present day to the future, from China to France to a colony on mars. Charles Yu says of the book, “May-lee Chai’s abundant gifts as a writer are on full display in this collection.” (Lydia)
The Performance by Claudi Petrucci (translated by Anne Milano Appel): All the world’s a stage…In this English-language debut, Claudia Petrucci provides a fresh take on an age-old issue: the blurred lines between art and life. In the novel, set in Milan, a woman working in a grocery store returns to the acting profession she once loved. She is an incandescent actor but soon suffers a complete breakdown, showing signs of life only when reading scripted scenes. What follows is a tangled Pygmalion story in which her boyfriend and her theater director conspire, each with his own motives, to shape her anew according to their own script. (Matt)
Dead-End Memories by Banana Yoshimoto (translated by Asa Yoneda): Debuting in the US for the first time, but published originally in Japan twenty years ago, each of the five stories in this volume focus on women who endure “sudden and painful events” and then “quietly discover their ways back to recovery.” (Nick M.)
Properties of Thirst by Marianne Wiggins: Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist Wiggins returns with a novel about the Rhodes family. Set against the backdrop of World War II, Rocky Rhodes, the patriarch, mourns the death of his wife, protects his California ranch, and his children, Sunny and Stryker. When the war brings itself to their front door, the Rhodes family must navigate their ways through love, loss, and personal and national tragedies. Kirkus’ starred review writes: “This majestic novel will satisfy those thirsting for an epic saga of love, family, and the complexities of the American way.” (Carolyn)
Water over Stones by Bernardo Atxaga (translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Thomas Bunstead): From the prolific author of Nevada Days, a new novel about a small village in the Basque country, spanning the 1970s to 2017, following boys whose lives are intertwined in an insular community in the shadow of Franco’s Spain. In a starred review, Kirkus calls it “a quietly remarkable offering.” (Lydia)
American Fever by Dur e Aziz Amna: To balance on the hyphen between the word “American” and whatever nationality, race, or religion which precedes it can often be a precarious position, as centuries of literature about immigration has shown. Dur e Aziz Amna does what every great writer within this tradition does – indeed whatever immigrant to America has done – to retell that familiar story of exile and prejudice, discovery and glory once again, but to make it indelibly and completely her own. Her debut novel American Fever follows sixteen-year-old Pakistani exchange student Hira as she acclimates to the alien land of rural Oregon during the Obama years, discovering both her own fissures and complexities, as well as those of the nation that she’s to reside in for this long year. In a review of another book, she explains that it contains “some of the most haunting passages on exile, displacement, and the impossibility of return that I have ever read,” which is also an appropriate description of American Fever’s singular poetics of estrangement. (Ed Simon)
September
Voices in the Dead House by Norman Lock: Set in Washington, D.C., field hospitals between 1862 and 1863, Lock’s newest novel explores the interior lives, thoughts, and conflicted feelings of Walt Whitman and Louisa May Alcott as they care for wounded Civil War soldiers. Kirkus’ starred review calls Voices in the Dead House—the ninth installment in Lock’s American Novel Series (published by Bellevue Literary Press)—“a haunting novel that offers candid portraits of literary legends.” (Carolyn)
Fen, Bog, and Swamp by Annie Proulx: Proulx brings her talents to nonfiction environmental writing and research, exploring the history of wetlands worldwide and how they have been maligned and drained, even while they are crucial to our planet’s survival. A book that travels from Canada to Russia to England and to other damp, crucial patches of the planet, taking us on what Bill McKibben calls “an unforgettable and unflinching tour of past and present, fixed on a subject that could not be more important. A compact classic!” (Lydia)
Sweet, Soft, Plenty Rhythm by Laura Warrell: Circus Palmer, jazz trumpeter and old-school ladies’ man, is no stranger to the temptations of dangerous love. In her debut novel, Warrell assembles a lush orchestra of female voices to sing a story about passion and risk, fathers and daughters and the missed opportunities of unrequited love. When Circus learns that the woman closest to his heart, the free-spirited drummer Maggie, is pregnant by him, his reaction to the news sets the chorus of women to singing a song that’s soulful and gripping. The novel’s title comes from the great Jelly Roll Morton. (Bill)
Tell Me I’m An Artist by Chelsea Martin: Joey has just started art school in San Francisco, and she isn’t sure she’s supposed to be there – her emotionally abusive mother certainly doesn’t think she is. Her friend Suz, on the other hand, seems born to be an artist, due in part to her privileged, sophisticated upbringing. Over the course of the school year, Joey tries to find her own creative identity while remaking Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, a movie she’s never seen, and navigating a complicated web of talent, privilege, and ambition. “Anyone who has ever tried to do meaningful work in spite of the growing suspicion that nothing matters will find a home in this hilarious, heart-piercing book, and a memorable companion in its young but wise narrator,” writes Emily Gould. (Kaulie)
The Furrows by Namwali Serpell: At a beach in the Baltimore suburbs, a sister watches her brother disappear into the waves: “You were alone out there and the world took you back in, reclaimed you into its endless folding.” Serpell’s latest novel, which follows her expansive debut The Old Drift, begins with an epigraph from Marcel Proust: “People do not die for us immediately, but remain bathed in a sort of aura of life which bears no relation to true immortality but through which they continue to occupy our thoughts in the same way as when they were alive.” The Furrows chronicles the overpowering “aura of life” of the presumably drowned boy as he swims through the consciousnesses of those who mourn him. (Matt)
If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery: In the 1970s, when political violence swept over their native Kingston, Topper and Sanya moved to Miami. But before long, the couple and their two children witness the discrepancy between the American dream and the stark reality. They fight their way against racism and natural and financial disasters. In the family’s worst days, even their pet fish commits suicide perhaps out of despair. Delicately crafted with irony and love, these linked stories explore the home and a sense of belonging in an age governed by the caprice of whiteness and capitalism. (Jianan Qian)
Runaway by Erin Keane: A memoir by the poet and current EIC of Salon, telling the story of her mother’s experience as a teenage runaway, leaving home and ending up in New York at age 15, only to marry a man many years her senior, and exploring the cultural and personal currents that contribute to our formation. (Lydia)
The Means by Amy Fusselman: Amy Fussleman, the author of multiple nonfiction books such as Idiophone, Savage Park, and The Pharmacist’s Mate, has written her first novel. The basic plot: “Shelly Means, a wealthy stay-at-home mom and disgraced former PTA president, is poised to get the one thing in life she really wants: a beach house in the Hamptons.” The Means is such a fast-paced, breezy comedic novel that you may find yourself surprised that Fusselman deftly and directly leads you to existential dilemmas and the absurdity of capitalism and striving for more. The Means has received advanced praise from John Hodgman, Sarah Manguso, A.M. Homes, and more. (Zoë)
Broken Summer by J. M. Lee (translated by An Seon Jae): On his 43rd birthday, Lee Hanjo wakes up to find that his wife has disappeared. Moreover, she has secretly written a novel about the sordid true self of a famous artist who in every way resembles Hanjo. Upon the publishing of that novel, Hanjo has to reckon on a particular summer in his younger days when he chose to cover up a tragic event with lies. As one of Korea’s best storytellers, J. M. Lee is famous for creating twists after shocking twists. Notedly, the charm of Lee’s stories originates from not only a mastery of craft but also a deep understanding of human nature. (Jianan Qian)
The Backstreets by Perhat Tursun (translated by Darren Byler and Anonymous): To get away from the misery and poverty of the countryside, an unnamed Uyghur man moves to the Chinese capital of Xinjiang. However, his new life is rife with cold stares and rejections. While roaming the streets in the thick fog of winter pollution, his mind also wanders between desires and reality, memories and imaginations. Written by a leading Uyghur writer, poet, social critic, and a native of Xinjiang, The Backstreets is a sobering fable about contemporary society: how the halos of a major city gloss over political surveillance, social violence, and the racialization of ethnicity. Sadly, the astonishing absurdities in the story capture the stark realities. (Anonymous)
Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha: Once you learn about poet, filmmaker, and artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, it’s hard not to feel the pull of her presence and influence, still as strong as ever decades after the publication of Dictee. The restored edition of her groundbreaking work features the original cover and high-quality reproductions of the interior layout as Cha intended them, “faithfully [rendering] the book as an art object in its authentic form.” Whether you already have a beat-up copy of the book from college or not, this edition is worth getting for your shelf as yet another way to keep Cha’s unparalleled work alive, still here, still thriving. (Kate)
Concerning My Daughter by Kim Hye-jin (translated by Jamie Chung): A mother-daughter story told from the perspective of a socially conservative Korean mother who struggles to accept her daughter’s sexual identity and the idea of a nontraditional life & family. Those values come into question again as she cares for a female patient at the nursing home where she works — a professionally successful woman with no children. The world has changed, and everyone’s coping & evolving; this specific cultural & generational perspective surely has universal resonance and poignancy. (Sonya)
All That’s Left Unsaid by Tracey Lien: After her brother is murdered inside a crowded restaurant, Ky, a young Vietnamese-Australian woman, returns home to find out what happened and why. “All That’s Left Unsaid is a stunning debut, an unputdownable mystery combined with a profoundly moving family drama about the ways we hurt and hide from those we love most—and how we mend and strengthen those lifelong bonds,” says Angie Kim. (Carolyn)
How We Disappear by Tara Lynn Masih: A collection of stories about disappearance and absence that range from Belgium to the Siberian Taiga and even feature a cameo from Agatha Christie, a book that Claire Boyles calls “a powerful collection.” (Lydia)
What We Fed to the Manticore by Talia Lakshmi Kolluri: The debut collection from Kolluri, What We Fed to the Manticore is “a dazzling, daring bestiary” (Aimee Nezhukumatathil) and “a world of incredible imagination and daring” (Claire Comstock-Gay). Animals narrate these nine stories – there’s a hound in mourning, existential vultures, pigeons and donkeys and rhinos, oh my – but that doesn’t mean they’re Disney-cute. Instead, Publishers Weekly writes in a starred review, they weave together into an “exquisite” whole that explores climate change and natural disruption as well as human kindness and animal joy. (Kaulie)
Sacrificio by Ernesto Mestre-Reed: The first novel from Mestre-Reed (The Second Death of Unica Aveyano) in nearly two decades is set in Cuba in 1998, and follows a group of young, HIV-positive counterrevolutionaries who are planning to violently overthrow the Casto regime. Kimberly King Parsons says, “Compelling and sinuous, bleak and darkly funny, Sacrificio is a book about queer desire, the mutability of language, and layer upon layer of deceit: self-deception, family betrayals, and the disinformation of spies and governments.” (Carolyn)
On the Rooftop by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton: Award-winning novelist Sexton follows her luminous books A Kind of Freedom and The Revisioners with a novel of music, family, gentrification, and mid-century San Francisco, told via the story of a mother who dreams of musical success through her daughters’ girl group, The Salvations, as the landscape of the city shifts all around them. Kaitlyn Greenidge says of the novel ““On the Rooftop further cements Margaret Wilkerson Sexton as a deft chronicler of Blackness in America. A deeply felt, big hearted exploration of family, sisterhood and gentrification, this is the kind of expansive, lush novel that envelops with charm while provoking with its fierce intelligence.” (Lydia)
I Walk Between the Raindrops by T.C. Boyle: Titled after a 2018 story first published in The New Yorker, I Walk Between the Raindrops collects a number of the famously prolific author’s most recent works of short fiction. In the title story, a woman in a bar takes a seat beside a man trying to celebrate Valentine’s Day with his wife, then tries to convince him that she has ESP. In “Thirteen Days,” passengers on a cruise ship are quarantined off from the rest of the world, to disastrous effect. And in “Hyena”, Boyle introduces the reader to a zoological curiosity – a hyena living in the South of France. (Thom)
Bliss Montage by Ling Ma: This story collection, from the author of the brilliant novel Severance, offers eight tales with wild, fantastical premises. In one, a pregnant woman has an arm protruding from her vagina, and, in another, a film professor has a Narnia-like world inside his office wardrobe. Publishers Weekly says most of the stories are “enchanting, full of intelligence, dry humor, and an appealing self awareness.” In its starred review, Kirkus calls the collection “haunting and artful.” (Edan)
The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li: Yiyun Li is perhaps best known for her short stories, often published in the New Yorker, whose quiet elegance and emotional power recall the likes of another master of the form, William Trevor. But she’s an equally remarkable novelist, and returns in September with The Book of Goose, a moving story of female friendship. This intricate story begins in the postwar rural provinces of Paris, where Fabienne and Agnes develop a writing game: bold Fabienne will come up with stories and timid Agnes will write them out. Now, adult Agness is telling their story in The Book of Goose, a beguiling tale of intimacy and obsession from one of our most capacious and generous talents. (AOP)
Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson: London, 1926, in the glittering world of Soho nightclubs. A grand dame of this world, club owner Nellie Coker, mother of six, advances and defends both her empire and her clan. Fans of Atkinson (Life After Life, the Jackson Brody detective novels) will bask in her vividly drawn characters and intricate plot. (Sonya)
Lucy by the Sea by Elizabeth Strout: Rejoice! A new Elizabeth Strout novel. In her latest, the Pulitzer Prize winning author revisits her protagonists from My Name is Lucy Barton and Oh William! This time, it’s the COVID pandemic, and Lucy’s ex-husband William has taken her from Manhattan to a small town in Maine. In its starred review, Publishers Weekly describes it this way: “Loneliness, grief, longing, and loss pervade intertwined family stories as Lucy and William attempt to create new friendships in an initially hostile town.” (Edan)
Ti Amo by Hanne Ørstavik (translated by Martin Aitken): The unnamed narrator of Ørstavik’s newest novel takes care of her husband, who has late stage cancer, and meditates on their life together and apart. “A remarkably frank and finely sieved account of two people approaching the ultimate parting of the ways,” writes Kirkus’ starred review. (Carolyn)
Days Come and Go by Hemley Boum (translated by Nchanji Njamnsi): A chronicle about a rapidly changing Cameroon, this novel tells the story of three generations of women. Anna, a matriarch in Paris, Abi, her daughter, and Tina, a teen who comes under the influence of a militant terrorist faction. In different ways, they all confront, love and politics, tradition and modernity. “A page-turner,” says the publisher, “by way of Frantz Fanon and V. S. Naipaul.” And Radio France Internationale says it’s as epic as it is gripping, promising “something of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.” (Claire)
How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water by Angie Cruz: A new novel from the author of Dominicana, the life of a woman told through her required sessions of job counseling following her Great Recession layoff in middle age from the factory she had worked for years. Carolina De Robertis says of the novel, “This book is a miracle; prepare to be astonished.” (Lydia)
Lessons by Ian McEwan: In recent years, McEwan has specialized in short, sharply observed extended novellas (Nutshell, The Children Act, The Cockroach), but here the British Booker-winner goes big, turning in a 450-page epic spanning 70 years in the life of one man caught in the web of late 20th century history, from the Suez Canal Crisis to the Covid-19 pandemic. (Michael)
The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell: Able to pull off a memoir as well as contemporary fiction, O’Farrell continues with historical fiction. Her previous novel, Hamnet, was a The New York Times best seller and National Book Award winner, and now The Marriage Portrait travels to Renaissance Italy in the 1550s. Lucrezia de’ Medici is the third daughter to a grand duke. When her older sister dies, Lucrezia’s fight becomes not just for a kind of autonomy, but for her very survival. As the publisher says, it’s, “Full of … beauty and emotion.” (Claire)
Less is Lost by Andrew Sean Greer: If you, as I did, loved the Pulitzer-Prize winning Less, then you’ll be excited to learn that Greer has penned a sequel about the lovable writer, Arthur Less. This time, Less is on a road trip in the States with a famous science fiction author and his black pug named Dolly. Hilarity ensues. Publishers Weekly says, “Fans will eat this up.” (Edan)
Natural History by Andrea Barrett: In six interconnected stories, National Book Award winner Barrett’s (Ship Fever) new collection features cherished characters from other works and completes narrative arcs she began weaving decades (and multiple books) ago. Kirkus’ starred review writes: “Barrett depicts the natural world and the human heart with wonder, tenderness, and deep understanding. More superb work from an American master.” (Carolyn)
Three Muses by Martha Anne Toll: A debut by The Millions contributor and winner of the Petrichor Prize for Finely Crafted Fiction, Three Muses tells the story of John Curtin, a Holocaust survivor who was forced to sing for the kommandant at a concentration camp. His life intertwines with Katya Symanova, the Prima Ballerina of the New York State Ballet who is struggling with a controlling choreographer in her life. The novel is billed by the publisher as a, “love story that enthralls,” and Paul Harding says it, “captivates…from the first page to the last.” (Claire)
Stay True by Hua Hsu: A memoir from the brilliant New Yorker staff writer, who describes a formative friendship he had as a young man in the Bay Area–a friendship formed around what the two young men had in common and what they didn’t, and one that ended when his friend suffered a violent and early death. Rachel Kushner calls the book, “exquisite and excruciating and I will be thinking about it for years and years to come.” (Lydia)
The Family Izquierdo by Rubén Degollado: A story of family told through three generations of a Mexican American family suffering from misfortune that feels like a curse. Luis Alberto Urrea writes, “anyone with a family will find themselves in these pages.” (Lydia)
Lungfish by Meghan Gilliss: A mother takes her child to an uninhabited Island off the coast of Maine while her husband detoxes, forced to rely on the gifts and nature and her own memories to survive a period of exile. Paul Yoon calls Lungfish “a force of nature—a deeply felt marvel of a book that navigates grief, parenthood, and the mysteries of family with unrelenting power and precision. Here is a story about the islands we build and carry with us. Here is storytelling at its best.” (Lydia)
The Deceptions by Jill Bialosky: Plutarch claims that an ancient Greek fishermen, out for his day’s catch, heard a thundering proclamation delivered from the heavens – “The great god Pan is dead.” For early Christians it was taken as a sign of the obsolescence of the gods, that the oracles had fallen mute. Except those old gods never died, not really. In Jill Bialosky’s latest novel The Deceptions, her unnamed narrator discovers this only too well in her incantatory, hallucinogenic, and ecstatic perambulations through the white-marble halls of the Metropolitan Museums of Art’s Greek and Roman collections. A soon-to-be-published poet grappling with both the collapse of her marriage and the departure of her child, the narrator finds refuge in the echoing halls of the museum, the wells of Parnassus perhaps running unseen down Fifth Avenue. Poetry and inspiration, obsession and divinity, all come under Bialosky’s purview in her elegantly constructed fable of trying to create while everything else falls apart. (Ed Simon)
The Village Idiot by Steve Stern: Award-winning author Stern’s newest novel offers a luminous and extraordinary portrait of artist Chaim Soutine (1893-1943), whose artistic ambition was the fire he tended to, in spite of everything, his entire life. Kirkus’ starred review calls the book “poignant,” “richly colorful,” and “outstanding.” (Carolyn)
Kick the Latch by Kathryn Scanlan: Kathryn Scanlan’s voice is “original” (per master of the short story, Amy Hempel) and her writing both economic and innovative, as demonstrated in her third book, Kick the Latch, and her first to be published by literary tastemakers New Directions. Interviews with a horse trainer named Sonia forms the basis of this novel that captures the arc of the rough and joyous life of a trainer at the racetrack. In this feat of synthesis reminiscent of Charles Reznikoff’s Testimony, Scanlan “has performed a magical act of empathic ventriloquy,” according Lydia Davis. (Anne)
Best of Friends by Kamila Shamsie: The author Home Fire and winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction returns with a story of a relationship between two women that starts in youth in Karachi and picks up in London in middle age, when they must come to terms with an unresolved conflict of the past. Ali Smith calls the book, “A shining tour de force about a long friendship’s respects, disrespects, loyalties and moralities.” (Lydia)
The Complicities by Stacey D’Erasmo: The Complicities is a suspenseful, compelling novel that raises the questions: How do we reckon with corruption and our own complicity? Samantha Hunt describes The Complicties as a “gripping, human tale of our crimes—financial, environmental, self-delusional” and adds that “D’Erasmo weaves a thriller of a tale, exposing sticky webs of corruption that entangle our lives and fates, even those who fantasize about their innocence, redemption and escape.” (Zoë)
No Windmills in Basra by Diaa Jubaili (translated by Chip Rosetti): Prolific Iraqi novelist and short story writer Jubaili now publishes a collection of shorter flash fiction, set in southern Iraq and incorprating fantasy, magical realism, and humor to tell brief and dazzling stories that touch on the city’s long years of war. (Lydia)
The Logos by Mark de Silva: When a frustrated artist / jilted lover is offered a gig that’s too good to be true, he does what comes naturally and takes it. With the revelation that the line between creativity and exploitation (and obscurity and fame) is really not all that fine, the price of one’s soul seems fair. Coming in over 1,000 pages, the novel may depress your annual “I’ve read” count but will offer hefty insight on the limits of human perception and the limitlessness of human vanity the likes of which we haven’t enjoyed since William Gaddis was around to make us think. (Il’ja)
It Won’t Always Be Like This by Malaka Gharib: The growing landscape of Asian American literature is staking captivating ground within graphic novels, and this is no more apparent than in the work of Malaka Gharib. As the follow up to her irresistible debut, I Was Their American Dream, It Won’t Always Be Like This explores Gharib’s experiences growing up with her Egyptian father’s new family and her observations about language and culture, all told through her signature humor, specificity, and eagle-eyed reflections on identity. (Kate)
October
Pretend It’s My Body by Luke Dani Blue: A debut collection of ten short stories exploring dysphoria, transition, and life itself in a fantastic and surreal vein. A.E. Osworth calls the book “a twisted, tense triumph of a book that at once resists a cis gaze and insists that everyone, regardless of gender, has experienced moments of intense transition. The stories are imaginative, the characters idiosyncratic, and the sentences delicious.” (Lydia)
Home Bound by Vanessa A. Bee: Fans of Bee’s writing know her as a gifted, astute essayist on matters political and personal for Current Affairs and other outlets, but she is also a lawyer who has lived around the world in many different settings. Her debut, a memoir, explores these journeys through space, class, circumstance from babyhood in Cameroon, to life with her adoptive family in France, to life with her mother in London and then Nevada during the housing crisis, to Harvard Law school and a break with young marriage and evangelical Christianity. I cannot wait to read this. (Lydia)
Stroller by Amanda Parrish Morgan: Morgan’s entry in Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons series is about all things stroller: its history as both a parenting and status symbol; the ways strollers aid and impede parents; and how, as an object, the stroller has come under scrutiny by those who believe more firmly in baby wearing. The stroller, like most things associated with parenting, is deeply political and emotional and cultural. Lynn Steger Strong says: “Part object history, part capitalist critique, a consistently acute and deeply felt depiction of the pleasures, traps, thrills, and dangers of early parenthood, Amanda Parrish Morgan’s Stroller compellingly depicts the history and taxonomy of this most weighty and unruly device, ally, and antagonist.” (Carolyn)
Before All the World by Moriel Rothman-Zecher: Original, daring, experimental, moving, poignant, engaging – Moriel Rothman-Zecher’s Before All the World asks if since we can’t go home again, might it just be possible to build a new one? With shades of Tony Kushner and Cynthia Ozick, Rothman-Zecher envisions the denizens of the Philadelphia speakeasy Cricket’s at the tale end of Prohibition, an establishment catering to gay men. This is where the Jewish immigrant Leyb has an awakening from the torpor of his traumatic childhood, one of the few survivors from an eastern European shtetl destroyed by pogrom. Poetic and magical, Before all the World understands how our worlds are made by words, and in the altering of the later we may as yet redeem the former, a central commandment, axiom, and incantation being “ikh gleyb nit az di gantze velt iz kheyshekh” – “I do not believe that all the world is darkness.” (Ed Simon)
Is Mother Dead by Vigids Hjorth (translated by Charlotte Barslund): Hjorth has written a fascinating tale about the Norwegian postal system (Long Live the Post Horn!) and composed a best-selling work of autofiction revolving around incest that caused her sister (who also writes novels) to sue her. In her latest work to appear in English, an ex-pat artist returns to Norway to oversee a retrospective of her work and attempts to contact, and then stalks, her estranged mother. Publishers Weekly called this “a gripping tale of obsession about an artist and her frayed relationship with her family.” (Matt)
Singer Distance by Ethan Chatagnier: Ethan Chatagnier’s Singer Distance tells the story of Crystal Singer, a 1960s MIT grad student set on solving mathematical proofs some Martian intelligence has been carving on the surface of the red planet. With the help of her boyfriend, Rick, she intends to put her answer to the test, but her disappearance sets Rick on a different path. Singer Distance is the best kind of literary sci-fi, the kind of novel that makes the reader appreciate the mystery and beauty of our little, infinite universe. As Adrienne Celts says, “Singer Distance pulled me in from the very first page… this book is a love song to our desire for understanding, the scientific drive for progress, and the thread of faith that runs through both. An outstanding debut novel.” (AOP)
Lech by Sara Lippmann: Lech is the ambitious debut novel of an excellent new prose stylist. On one level, it’s about a woman recovering from an abortion at a vacation property in Sullivan County NY. But Lippmann expertly weaves together many voices—among them an eccentric aging landlord, a grief-stricken Hasid, a scheming real estate agent looking for her break, her dogged daughter longing for her way out, and her addict boyfriend—to explore themes of community, parenthood, and overcoming the legacy and burden of the past. No less of an expert in multi-POV novels set in the Catskills (me) blurbed Lech as following, “Sara Lippmann’s Lech is a superb Jewish gothic, an expertly pitched polyvocal tale of family, loss, and redemption. By turns funny, beautiful, lewd and heartbreaking, Lippmann delivers a literary performance with all the timing and energy of a great Borscht Belt comic.” (AOP)
When We Were Sisters by Fatimah Asghar: The debut novel from poet Fatimah Asghar is a lyrical Bildungsroman, tracing the lives of orphaned siblings raising themselves and one another as Muslims in America. (Nick M.)
The Visible Unseen by Andrea Chapela (translated by Kelsi Vanada): Chapela, one of Granta’s Best Young Spanish-Language Novelists of 2021, uses her scientific and literary background to explore the cultural schism between these two worlds. In this lyrical, formally-unique essay collection, she uses mirrors as a way to explore ideas of perception, meaning, and reality. Jazmina Barrera writes: “Andrea Chapela lends us her eyes—the clear, intimate gaze of a chemist and writer—to help us delve into the matter that we are made of and the mysteries surrounding us. Literature and science merge in the substance of these essays—these wise, beautiful, soulful, astonishing experiments.” (Carolyn)
The Hero of This Book by Elizabeth McCracken: The latest from the award-winning and compulsively readable author of Bowlaway and The Souvenir Museum, The Hero of This Book follows an unnamed narrator (McCracken?) as she wanders the streets of London and grieves her mother, who loved the city. It’s more than that, though – of course it is – and as the narrator tells story after story about her extraordinary, determined mother and the quirky family they shared, the novel expands, spiraling outwards and in to include meditations on memory, memoir, and all the complexity of a remarkable parent-child relationship. As Kirkus puts it – “Novel? Memoir? Who cares. It’s a great story, beautifully told.” (Kaulie)
Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng: This story is set in a world that is dystopian — a society being consumed by fear – and close to our own. A twelve-year-old named Bird lives with his father, who is a former linguist who now shelves books at Harvard University’s library. Bird’s mother, a Chinese American poet, seemingly abandoned the family three years before. A mysterious letter leads Bird on a search to find her. Ng barely needs an introduction as the author of the number one bestseller Little Fires Everywhere and the much-loved Everything I Never Told You. (Claire)
Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet: The National Book Award finalist builds a surreal and finely textured world in her new novel, which follows Gil, a man who walks all the way from New York to Arizona in a Hail Mary bid to recover from heartbreak. Not long after he arrives in the desert, new neighbors move into the (literal) glass house next door, kicking off a strange and unsettling process that sees Gil’s life begin to mesh with theirs. (Thom)
The Impatient by Djaili Amadou Amal (translated by Emma Ramadan): Author and activist Amal’s English language debut follows three women living in Cameroon who seek freedom from the cultural traditions that bind them—and the happiness they hope is on the other side of oppression. The Impatient was shortlisted for the 2020 Prix Goncourt and won the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens. (Carolyn)
Liberation Day by George Saunders: The Booker Prize winner (for Lincoln in the Bardo) is back with his first new collection of short fiction since 2015’s Tenth of December. In “Love Letter,” an elderly man in a dystopian, uncannily believable future sends a letter to his grandson urging him not to take righteous actions that might endanger him with the unnamed fascists running their country. In “Ghoul,” the author returns to amusement parks as a setting, bringing readers to a Hell-themed section of an underground park in Colorado. And in “Elliott Spencer”, an eighty-nine-year-old finds himself brainwashed and stripped of his memory so he can be forced to work as an astroturfed political protester. (Thom)
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver: The famed author of The Poisonwood Bible returns with an Appalachian story inspired by the Dickens classic David Copperfield. In a single-wide trailer, the protagonist is born to a teenaged single mother, bereft of any wealth apart from his late father’s good looks and scrappy talent for staying alive. As the novel follows his life, he moves through foster care, takes jobs that break child labor laws, tries to learn in crumbling schools, and runs into painful addictions familiar to anyone with firsthand knowledge of the opioid crisis. Throughout, the protagonist reflects on his own invisibility in a culture with a waning interest in rural life. (Thom)
Get ’em Young, Treat ’em Tough, Tell ’em Nothing by Robin McClean: In Robin McClean’s first novel Pity the Beast, an adulterous woman is beaten, raped and left for dead in a lime pit, after which she escapes and is pursued by her attackers across a sublime, pitiless Western landscape. The revenge plot may feel familiar but McLean’s language is anything but: antiquated, ribald, mythic, intense and always surprising. This second book is a collection of stories in which McClean deploys her unique orotund style in more concentrated doses. (Matt)
Hugs and Cuddles by João Gilberto Noll (translated by Edgar Garbelotto): In this posthumous genre- and gender-bending novel, Noll (1946–2017) writes about a man embarking on a transgressive journey of self-discovery while his nation is ravaged around him. “Noll is a hero of Brazilian literature who deserves to be widely known in the English-speaking world,” says Jenny Offill. (Carolyn)
Blood Red by Gabriela Ponce (translated by Sarah Booker): In Ponce’s English language debut, an unnamed narrator details the aftermath of her failed marriage— and the bloody, impulsive, and provocative nature of seeking autonomy above all else. Mónica Ojeda writes: “This book is savage. Ponce’s prose is full of passion, that is, full of desire and pain. That’s why it feels so alive, like a bleeding heart pumping inside your head.” (Carolyn)
The Consequences by Manuel Muñoz: A collection of stories set mostly around Fresno in the 1980s, telling the stories of Mexican and Mexican Americans in California, many of them farmworkers who feed the country while facing deportation, abuse, and poverty imposed by an inhuman economy. Muñoz tells both the large and the small struggles, and illuminates moments of love and care alongside pain and hauntings figurative and literal. Sandra Cisneros raves of the book “Haunting, powerful, humble, precise, this collection shook my being. Manuel Muñoz is a great American writer who sees with his heart—as great as Juan Rulfo in writing about the poor. I wish I had written these stories.” (Lydia)
Life Is Everywhere by Lucy Ives: Ives’ (Cosmogony) newest novel takes place on a warm November night in Manhattan 2014. In the midst of a breakup with her husband, Erin finds herself locked out of her apartment, so she goes to the next best place: the university library where she’s a grad student. Inside her bag, she has documents that may just change her entire life. Jesse Ball says, “The superb Lucy Ives slays enemy and friend alike in this multivalent successor to Jarrell’s Pictures from an Institution.” (Carolyn)
A Minor Chorus by Billy-Ray Belcourt: In Belcourt’s debut novel, an unnamed narrator returns to northern Canada intent on writing “an autobiography of his rural hometown.” In conversations with its ostensibly lonely, disconnected residents, connections are made, and secrets discovered. (Nick M.)
The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler: Nayler’s debut novel follows marine biologist Ha Nguyen, who has just received a career-changing invitation: to study a species of recently discovered octopus in the waters of the Con Dao Archipelago. These exceptionally intelligent and dangerous creatures hold the key to potential scientific breakthroughs and absolute fortunes for those that harness their powers—but those studying and hunting them may have underestimated their true capabilities. Kawai Strong Washburn writes: “With a thriller heart and a sci-fi head, The Mountain in the Sea delivers a spooky smart read. Artificial intelligence, nascent animal sentience, murderous flying drones: like the best of Gibson or Atwood, it brings all of the plot without forgetting the bigger questions of consciousness, ecocide, and scientific progress.” (Carolyn)
Nights of Plague by Orhan Pamuk (translated by Ekin Oklap): The Nobel Prize laureate, Orhan Pamuk imagines a plague wreaking havoc on the fictional island of Mingheria in the Ottoman Empire. To control the epidemic, the Ottoman sultan sends off his most trustworthy medical expert, an Orthodox Christian. But some of the residents of the island, because of their religious beliefs, refuse to follow the quarantine mandates. To make things worse, a mysterious murder happens. With themes that feel weirdly relevant, Nights of Plague helps us to reflect on our chaotic realities with a sobering distance and perspective. (Jianan Qian)
The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy: Now pushing 90, the poet laureate of American violence has written not one, but two new books for this fall. In the first, salvage diver Bobby Western finds a wrecked plane containing nine bodies still buckled into their seats, but missing the pilot’s flight bag, the plane’s black box, and the flight’s tenth passenger. How is this possible? It’s Cormac McCarthy, so the answer is likely to be terse, perverse, and quite bloody. (Michael)
The Singularities by John Banville: In this, his 20th novel, Banville brings back a character from an earlier read, convicted murderer Felix Mordaunt. Recently released from prison, the pseudonymous Mordaunt returns to his childhood home to wreak havoc on the idiosyncratic family with ties to his past now residing there. Throw in some highly imaginative esoteric physics and Banville’s stylistic gift and the menacing edge of this novel should prove a good accompaniment to when the heavy weather sets in this autumn. (Il’ja)
The Enhancers by Anne K. Yoder: Brilliant, longtime Millions staff writer Yoder publishes a dizzying, kaleidoscopic novel of three teenage friends navigating the journey to adulthood in a techno-pharmaceutical society that looks a lot like reality. Patrick Cottrell says of the book “The Enhancers asks, ‘How do I distinguish between what’s me and what’s chemical?’ Animated by the absurdity of a Yorgos Lanthimos film, The Enhancers is a wildly original and contemporary tale about chemical augmentation, memory, yearning, and loss. Imagine the fearlessness and wild imagination of Jenny Erpenbeck if she had a background in the pharmaceutical industry and you might come close to approximating the tremendous brilliance of Anne Yoder.” (Lydia)
The Revivalists by Christopher M. Hood: The Icelandic permafrost is thawing, the Shark Flu is decimating the planet, and a loving couple’s only daughter has joined a cult in far off California. There is no doubt about what to do: when the going gets tough, the tough go to California to save their girl proving that though the grid be shaky and the currency fragile, yet greater than these is love. (Il’ja)
Which Side Are You On by Ryan Lee Wong: A curator and bicultural writer & critic, Wong centers his debut novel on the relationship between an Asian American activist and his once-activist mother, during this current time of racially-motivated police brutality. A novel about family roots, Black-Asian relations, morality, and pleasure. Apparently it’s funny too. (Sonya)
Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro: After years of memoirs, Shapiro returns to fiction with her new book, a novel she revived from an old manuscript she started a decade ago. As befitting the host of the podcast, “Family Secrets,” Shapiro’s new novel circles around the hidden past of a constellation of characters who are haunted by a fatal car crash. We meet her characters at three pivotal moments in their lives: NYE 2000, on the eve of Y2K; December 2010; and early 2020, right before the pandemic began to take over. (Hannah)
Some of Them Will Carry Me by Giada Scodellaro: In her genre-, tone-, and style-defying debut collection, Scodellaro’s short stories center Black women in moments of change, upheaval, and disruption. Katie Kitamura writes: “This is a book of wonders, full of intricate beauty, and Giada Scodellaro is an extraordinary talent.” (Carolyn)
Entry Level by Wendy Wimmer: Winner of the Autumn House 2021 Fiction Prize, Wimmer’s debut story collection features 15 stories centered around people who are underemployed—and how they confront, subvert, and navigate the systems and forces hellbent on keeping them down. Deesha Philyaw, who selected the book for this prize, says: “The stories are, at turns, heartfelt and hilarious, wry and whimsical, full of magic and mayhem. These are well-crafted love stories, ghost stories, and stories of everyday people just trying to navigate life’s cruelties and impossibilities.” (Carolyn)
Weasels in the Attic by Hiroko Oyamada (translated by David Boyd): The acclaimd author of The Factory and The Hole, whose work Hilary Leichter called “surreal and mesmerizing” returns with a novel of marriage and gender roles in contemporary Japan, revisiting the same characters in different settings, including an exotic pet store and a home infested with weasels. (Lydia)
Seven Empty Houses by Samanta Schweblin (translated by Megan McDowell): Samanta Schweblin’s collection Seven Empty Houses announced her arrival in 2015 at the vanguard of a new generation of terrific Latin American writers, and in late-October it will finally be published in English. The proximity to Halloween is appropriate, given Schweblin’s idiosyncratic mode of tense and unsettling literary horror. As in Fever Dream and Little Eyes, two of my favorite books of the last two years, something is always creeping around these empty houses: a ghost, a fight, trespassers, a list of things to do before you die, a child’s first encounter with a dark choice or the fallibility of parents. In the words of O, the Oprah magazine, Seven Empty Houses is “A blazing new story collection that will make you feel like the house is collapsing in on you.” (AOP)
Cocoon by Zhang Yueran (translated by Jeremy Tiang): Cheng Gong and Li Jiaqi are childhood friends. After many years of separation, they reunite and find a shared interest in the stories of their grandparents’ generation. What happened on that rainy night in the deserted water tower in 1967? How did that event impact both families and the generations after? Zhang Yueran, one of the most renowned young writers from China, tells the story of the country’s past in a different perspective and with a unique insight. In her beautiful and meaningful prose, hope and love reside where trauma heals. (Jianan Qian)
On a Horse at Night by Amina Cain: “Without planning it, I wrote a diary of sorts. Lightly. A diary of fiction. Or is that not what this is?” writes author Amina Cain, in her first book of nonfiction and her second book with Dorothy, On a Horse at Night: On Writing. In a series of essayistic inquiries, Cain meditates on her own cannon of writers, which includes Marguerite Duras, Elena Ferrante, Renee Gladman, and Virginia Woolf, as well as topics like female friendship, so that encountering this book feels like an intimate conversation on books and reading and life. Turkish author Ayşegül Savaş compares the book to “light from a candle in the evening: intimate, pleasurable, full of wonder,” with Cain acting “as our generous, gentle guide.” (Anne)
November
Toad by Katherine Dunn: The previously unpublished novel of Katherine Dunn, a novelist and boxing journalist who died in 2016. Toad tells the story of Sally Gunnar, who is reclusive but keeps company with a goldfish, a garden toad, and a door-to-door salesman. It’s billed as the perfect precursor to Dunn’s Geek Love, which, published in 1989, was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Bram Stoker Prize. Toad has the “same keen observations, taboo-shirking verve, and singular characters,” the publisher says, “that made Geek Love a cult classic.” (Claire)
The Islands by Dionne Irving: A collection of stories of women in diaspora, leaving Jamaica and the effects of colonialism and looking for new places to set down roots, from 1950s London to 1960s Panama to the New Jersey of today, in a collection that Vanessa Hua calls “”By turns mordant and poignant…a deeply moving exploration of diaspora. Her dazzling cast of characters search for home and belonging. Incisive and impressive.” (Lydia)
They’re Going to Love You by Meg Howrey: Howrey’s (The Wanderers) newest novel oscillates between New York City during the AIDS crisis and present-day Los Angeles. Growing up, Carlisle would travel from Ohio to New York to spend a few weeks in the summer with her father Robert and his partner James in their Greenwich Village brownstone. Drawn to the ballet world, like her mother before her, Carlisle dreams of living with her father full time—until an affair irreparably changes their family dynamic forever. Chloe Angyal says: “Howrey’s moving, taut prose has captured the sacredness and profanity of ballet, family, and of life itself.” (Carolyn)
Aesthetica by Allie Rowbottom: An Instagram influencer past her prime at 35 considers a life-changing, life-altering new surgery to return her to original self in a novel that takes on mainstream aesthetics in the era of #metoo, and arrives not a moment too soon, from the author of the acclaimed JELL-O Girls. Samantha Leach says of the novel “Much will be made of how perfectly Aesthetica captures influencer culture, but the genius of this novel is how far it extends past our current moment. In biting yet empathetic prose, Allie Rowbottom explores the ethos of American image making.” (Lydia)
Small Game by Blair Braverman: From the author of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube, a memoir about learning to drive sled dogs in the arctic, comes a debut novel about a Survivor-style reality TV show. In this page-turner, Mara, a “survival school” teacher, is shocked when she is cast in a competition show in which she and three other strangers will have to survive on their own for six weeks in an undisclosed, wild location. There’s a big payday for her if everything goes right. When things go wrong, Mara can’t tell if it’s the producers’ doing, or if she’s wrapped up in something worse. (Hannah)
We All Want Impossible Things by Catherine Newman: You’re probably already familiar with Newman from her blogging, her memoirs, or her children’s books. If you’re a parent, someone has definitely emailed one of her essays to you. (“It Gets Better” is a classic.) We All Want Impossible Things is her first book for adults, a tearjerker about two lifelong friends, Edith and Ashley, who have known each other since they went to their first R.E.M. concerts. But now Edi is dying from ovarian cancer, and Ashley is trying to figure out how she’s going to get through the rest of her life without her best friend. KJ Dell’Antonia calls it “The funniest, most joyful book about dying—and living—that I have ever read.” (Hannah)
Now Is Not The Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson: In an interview for Entertainment Weekly, Wilson says that his fourth book is the one he’s been trying to write for years. It follows Zeke and Frankie, two teenaged kids who meet one summer in small-town Tennessee and forge a connection making art together. Years later, the events of that summer threaten to upend Frankie’s settled adult life. If you haven’t read a Kevin Wilson book, novelist and bookseller Emma Straub sums it up best: “just like all of Kevin’s books, Now Is Not The Time to Panic is totally its own thing: mysterious, hypnotic, wonderful. I love following his brain, wherever it goes.” (Hannah)
Flight by Lynn Steger Strong: Flight, the third novel by the author of the much-lauded Want, centers on a family reuniting for Christmas, their first holiday after the matriarch has died. Over three days they must face old conflicts and resentments, and figure out what to do with their mother’s house—and then a child from the town goes missing. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney promises, “You will want to gulp this down in one sitting,” and Rumaan Alam calls it, “Suspenseful, dazzling, and moving.” (Edan)
Participation by Anna Moschovakis: Author, poet, and translator Anna Moschovakis, in conversation about her first novel, Eleanor, or, the Rejection of the Progress of Love, asks, “What is the political value of a feeling? To feel bad about events in the world. To feel guilty. To feel implicated in the systems we participate in. What is the status of those feelings?” It seems that her second novel, Participation, is an elaboration upon these questions, as it examines communication in the time of rupture. Within, two reading groups, Love and Anti-Love, fall apart among political upheaval and environmental collapse and results in a mirroring and refraction of out current state of being. As Dana Spiotta says, “Moschovakis is a brilliant and singular writer with a terrific feel for this cultural moment.” (Anne)
Fourteen Days edited by Margaret Atwood: In this Atwood-edited serial novel, a cast of characters navigate the early days of the COVID-19 lockdowns in a Lower East Side apartment building together and apart. The twist? Each chapter is anonymously written by literary darlings including Meg Wolitzer, Luis Alberto Urrea, R. O. Kwon, and Louise Erdrich. (Carolyn)
Dr. No by Percival Everett: What’s it mean to be an expert on nothing? In my life, not much, but in mathematics, something cool. However it seems professor Wala Kitu can be manipulated—by a villain who wants convinces him to help break into Fort Knox and steal a box of nothing. Once attained, nothing is going to spread… but you’ll need to read Everett’s caper to see exactly how. (Nick M.)
Strega by Johanne Lykke Holm: A group of nine teenagers go to work in a Gothic Alpine hotel where things go awry and one of them disappear in a novel that was short-listed for the European Union Prize for Literature. (Lydia)
 
The Magic Kingdom by Russell Banks: Two-time Pulitzer finalist Banks returns with a novel about Harley Mann, a property speculator, who is recording his life story. As he remembers his past, Harley ruminates on his participation in a Shaker community in the Florida swamplands—and how his life was forever changed by the search for utopia. Paul Auster says: “Banks is still working at full blast, creating work as good as anything he has ever done and—is it possible?—perhaps even better.” (Carolyn)
My Pinup by Hilton Als: The electric critic, essayist, and Pulitzer Prize winner Als follows White GIrls with a two-part memoir, ranging over his own life and others, including Prince and Dorothy Parker, with scenes from queer nightlife and the AIDS crisis. (Lydia)
A Mountain to the North, a Lake to the South, Paths to the West, a River to the East by Lászlo’ Krasznahorkai (translated by Ottilie Mulzet): Described by the publisher as “an unforgettable meditation on nature, life, history, and being”, I can offer that this is the author’s most vatic work, which is saying something. It’s the simple story of a prince who sets off in search of the most sublime garden of all and indeed, may have found it in an ancient Kyoto monastery. In this brief novel, Krasznahorkai’s studied stream of consciousness narrative style is marked by the hermeneutic gaps characteristic of haiku and its requirements to read between the lines and devote time for silent contemplation of what is read. Quite beautiful. – (Il’ja)
The Age of Goodbyes by Li Zi Shu (translated by YZ Chin): The Age of Goodbyes explores how politics distort, erase, and scandalize personal memory. The novel contains three storylines: a conventional omniscient voice in the first narrative tells the fate of a woman—Du Li An—after Malaysia’s 1969 race riots; the second follows a close third-person narrative of a critic who investigates a writer also named Du Li An; the third thread is a second person narrative which assumes that “you” are trying to discover the truth of “your” family after “your” mother’s death. An acclaimed debut of one of Southeast Asia’s most renowned young writers, The Age of Goodbyes is an absolute gem that the Chinese literary world has to offer. (Jianan Qian)
December
Scatterlings by Resoketswe Martha Manenzhe: South African author Manenzhe’s award-winning debut novel is about an interracial family whose lives are upended by South Africa’s Immorality Act of 1927, which outlawed sexual and marital relationships between white and Black people. With their family now criminalized, they must come to terms with their past and struggle against their uncertain future. (Carolyn)
Stella Maris by Cormac McCarthy: In this second part of McCarthy’s surprise two-volume novel, Alicia Western – sister of Bobby, the salvage diver from the first volume, The Passenger – admits herself to the hospital carrying $40,000 in a plastic bag. A doctoral candidate in math at the University of Chicago, Alicia is a paranoid schizophrenic and she refuses to talk about her brother. McCarthy has long been knocked for the relative thinness of his female characters, so it will be interesting to see how he handles a complex, grieving woman in the grip of psychosis. (Michael)
Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion by Bushra Rehman: A Pakistani-American, coming-of-age queer love story set in Corona, NY in the 80’s, from the former poet laureate of Queens. From novelist Karen Russell: “Rehman’s storytelling shares the elliptical grace of poetry. Her deeply sensitive protagonist, Razia, comes into sharp-focus like a shaken photograph, and Queens rears off the page in all its glorious vibrancy and complexity… A stunning novel from a vital writer.” (Sonya)
No One Left to Come Looking for You by Sam Lipsyte: A punk rock mystery set in a bygone New York of 1993 by the author of The Ask. Steven Soderbergh says of the book “Reading this book is like being duct-taped to a chair with wheels and shoved down a steep hill into eight lanes of oncoming traffic.” (Lydia)
A Dangerous Business by Jane Smiley: Set in 1851 in Gold Rush California, as the country creeps toward Civil War, Smiley’s latest is a murder mystery that follows widow Eliza Ripple, who has turned to prostitution to make ends meet. Although Eliza enjoys the financial secucrity in her new line of work, she gets scared when young women start turning up dead outside of town and decides to look into the murders on her own with the help of her friend Jean. Does the title refer to Ripple’s investigation? Or is it just what it means to be a woman in America? (Hannah)

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