Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Patrick Radden Keefe, Jen Beagin, Irvine Welsh and more—that are publishing this week.
Vacuum in the Dark by Jen Beagin
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Vacuum in the Dark: “Beagin’s sharp and superb novel finds Mona, from previous novel Pretend I’m Dead, now 26, living in Taos, N.Mex., having followed the dying wishes of her ex-boyfriend, a man she met at a needle exchange and called Mr. Disgusting. Mona cleans houses for a living, shares a ranch house with an older married couple she calls Yoko and Yoko, and claims Fresh Air’s Terry Gross as an imaginary friend-slash-therapist. Prone to falling in love with her clients’ furniture and taking advantage of their absences to create a series of photographic portraits in their homes, Mona often breaches the professional distance between her and her clients. There’s the beautiful and blind therapist Rose, who has given Mona leave to conduct an affair with her husband, whom Mona has nicknamed Dark, and there’s Hungarian artists Lena and Paul, who ask Mona to model for them. Deadpan and savage, Mona has a dark and complicated history she is not afraid to weaponize. When Mona’s mother asks Mona to return to the apartment where she grew up in L.A., Mona must come to terms both with her difficult past and where she can go from here. Beagin pulls no punches—this novel is viciously smart and morbidly funny.”
Dead Men’s Trousers by Irvine Welsh
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Dead Men’s Trousers: “More than 25 years after they first appeared in Trainspotting, all four of Welsh’s hard-living Scottish friends reunite in Edinburgh, roped into an appropriately bizarre and macabre organ harvesting caper. Told from the perspectives of the four protagonists, the novel rolls slowly in the first half, updating their individual biographies separately—readers new to Welsh’s world need not be apprehensive—and setting up the brisker, and inevitably bollixed, execution of the theft plot. Two of these former reprobate mates have successfully escaped their pasts. Renton travels the globe as a music manager. Begbie, who runs into Renton on a plane in the opening chapter, is a successful artist living in California. Spud, whose narrative is most steeped in a slangy Scottish dialect, still lives on the edge and instigates the kidney-napping caper. Sick Boy, like Spud, is still in Edinburgh, and crashing with his sister, Carlotta, who screamingly blames him for the degeneration of her son, Ross, and husband, Euan, apparently on a debauched trip to Thailand. When the four finally get together, much comic mileage is wrung in rehashing old grievances. Not surprisingly, the crime unfolds like a Keystone Kops version of Ocean’s 11, but with an irrevocable final result. Welsh’s entire oeuvre crackles with idiomatic energy and brio, and this rollicking novel is no different.”
That Time I Loved You by Carrianne Leung
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about That Time I Loved You: “Leung (The Wondrous Woo) presents 10 sweet, sad, sympathetic stories set in Scarborough, Ontario, for a group portrait of immigrants, misfits, adults, adolescents, and teenagers, all of whom discover suburban comfort does not ensure happiness. The first story, ‘Grass,’ takes place in 1979, as 11-year-olds June and Josie ponder two suicides: Mr. Finley, the local softball coach, and Mrs. Da Silva, a housewife with an abusive husband. The girls cannot ask their parents for explanations, because death is one of many subjects parents prefer not to discuss with children. ‘Flowers’ shows Mrs. Da Silva’s last day, as she listens to flowers taunt her in her native Portuguese. In ‘Treasure,’ a woman named Marilyn who is admired by her neighbors turns out to be a thief. In ‘Sweets,’ June’s buddy Naveen gets beaten up when he wears his sister’s heart-shaped sunglasses to school. In ‘Things,’ comic book enthusiast Darren confronts a racist schoolteacher. ‘Wheels,’ ‘Kiss,’ and the title story explore June and Josie’s changing perspectives upon their first experiences of womanhood. Linked by recurring characters such as Darren’s Jamaican mother and June’s grandmother from Hong Kong, together the stories track June’s deepening understanding of the place she calls home. Crystalline prose, sharp storytelling, and pitch-perfect narration enhance Leung’s accessible and affecting depiction of how cruelty undermines and kindness fortifies people’s sense of community.”
We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about We Must Be Brave: “British author and translator Liardet’s moving American debut, set in WWII England, follows a childless woman discovering joy after she begins caring for a young girl. Ellen Parr is married to Selwyn, owner of the local mill in the village of Upton, near Southampton. In 1940, while helping evacuees of a nearby bombing who have arrived at Upton by bus, Ellen meets Pamela Pickering, a young child left alone on the bus. Ellen treats Pamela as the daughter she never had (Selwyn is impotent) for the next few years, until Pamela is eight and a relative of Pamela’s finds her and takes her to live with family members. Though distraught by Pamela’s departure, Ellen survives the devastation around her with the love and support of Selwyn, her childhood friend Lucy Horne, and other villagers who have been a constant presence in Ellen’s life. Over 30 years later, Ellen befriends Penny Lacey, a lonely young boarding school student in Upton. Ellen glimpses similarities between Pamela and Penny, and they form a life-changing friendship. Readers will be captivated by Ellen’s story, which is bolstered by a swift plot and characters who realistically and memorably grow.”
Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Say Nothing: “New Yorker staff writer Keefe (Snakehead) incorporates a real-life whodunit into a moving, accessible account of the violence that has afflicted Northern Ireland. The mystery concerns Jean McConville, a widowed mother of 10, who was snatched from her Belfast home by an IRA gang in 1972. While Keefe touches on historical antecedents, his real starting point is the 1960s, when advocates of a unified Ireland attempted to emulate the nonviolent methods of the American civil rights movement. The path from peaceful protests to terrorist bombings is framed by the story of Dolours Price, who became involved as a teenager and went on to become a central figure in the IRA. While formal charges were never brought against republican leader Gerry Adams in McConville’s murder, Keefe makes a persuasive case that McConville was killed at his order for being an informer to the British—and the author’s dogged detective work enables him to plausibly name those who literally pulled the trigger. Tinged with immense sadness, this work never loses sight of the humanity of even those who committed horrible acts in support of what they believed in.”
Mother Country by Irina Reyn
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Mother Country: “In Reyn’s excellent exploration of the immigrant experience, a Ukrainian transplant to the United States grapples with the convoluted legacy of her home country. Once head bookkeeper at an important gas pipe factory in east Ukraine, Nadia Andreevna now nannies for a family in Brooklyn, navigating an unfamiliar land of artisanal mayonnaise and American parenting. Nadia had fled the politically destabilized country in 2008, aiming to send for her daughter, Larissa—detained due to a bureaucratic loophole—immediately. But six years have passed, and she spends her days writing pleading letters to senators and obsessively tracking news reports that document mounting violence in her home region. As Nadia resorts to increasingly extreme measures to reunite with her daughter—including scouting American suitors for Larissa at nightclubs—the narrative periodically flips back to Nadia’s raw, affecting life as a single mother in Ukraine, fighting to carve out an existence for herself and her daughter amid a rapidly changing country. When Larissa’s immigration suddenly looms closer, Nadia must reckon with how her memories of Larissa—whom she has not seen for seven years—abut against reality, and learn to forge her way in a culture that poses frequent affronts to her identity. In beautiful and emotionally perceptive prose, Reyn (The Imperial Wife) probes the intimate ways cultures clash within individuals, forcing them to knit together disparate truths to make sense of the world, and provides a tender depiction of how mother-daughter bonds morph over time and space.”
Birthday by César Aira
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Birthday: “In this profound memoir, Aira (The Linden Tree) turns 50 and sees this benchmark as an opportunity to make changes in his life. A casual conversation with his wife leads him to a darker contemplation of youth wasted, a diminishment of artistic authority in his work, and his potentially bleak future. By exploring these fears in a series of loosely organized reflections and anecdotes, Aira comes to terms with his standing as an artist, his achievements, and his future. Immersed in his identity as a writer, he admits to a fetishistic attachment to stationery and pens, and to his struggles with life outside writing. In his early 40s, he began a grand project, a conscious departure from his ‘little novels,’ which he sees as marginal. He calls it the Encyclopedia, envisioning it as a comprehensive book of knowledge. But at 50, all he has is a collection of sketches and plans, with not a single page of manuscript, and it’s unlikely that this ambitious project will be finished. There are thoughtful anecdotes about Ludwig Wittgenstein, a waitress (and budding writer) whom he meets in a café, and Evariste Galois, a brilliant young mathematician killed in a duel in 1832. The reader gradually realizes Aira’s seemingly feigned self-deprecation is actually clear-eyed honesty, and the ostensible simplicity of the volume carries powerful and incisive ideas about life and aging.”
We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month—for more February titles, check out our First-Half Preview. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!
Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James: Following up his Man Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings, James has written the first book in what is to be an epic trilogy that is part Lord of the Rings, part Game of Thrones, and part Black Panther. In this first volume, a band of mercenaries—made up of a witch, a giant, a buffalo, a shape-shifter, and a bounty hunter who can track anyone by smell (his name is Tracker)—are hired to find a boy, missing for three years, who holds special interest for the king. (Janet)
Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li: Where Reasons End is the latest novel by the critically acclaimed author of Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life. Li creates this fictional space where a mother can have an eternal, carefree conversation with her child Nikolai, who commits suicide at the age of 16. Suffused with intimacy and deepest sorrows, the book captures the affections and complexity of parenthood in a way that has never been portrayed before. (Jianan)
The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang: Wang writes brilliantly and beautifully about lives lived with mental illness. Her first novel, The Border of Paradise, traces a family through generations, revealing the ways each becomes inheritors of the previous generation’s isolation and depression. In The Collected Schizophrenias, her first essay collection (for which she was awarded the Whiting Award and Greywolf Nonfiction Prize), Wang draws from her experience as both patient and speaker/advocate navigating the vagaries of the mental healthcare system while also shedding light on the ways it robs patients of autonomy. What’s most astonishing is how Wang writes with such intelligence, insight, and care about her own struggle to remain functional while living with schizoaffective disorder. (Anne)
American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson: It’s the mid-1980s and American Cold War adventurism has set its sights on the emerging west African republic of Burkina Faso. There’s only one problem: the agent sent to help swing things America’s way is having second, and third, thoughts. The result is an engaging and intelligent stew of espionage and post-colonial political agency, but more important, a confessional account examining our baser selves and our unscratchable itch to fight wars that cannot be won. (Il’ja)
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli: The two-time finalist for the National Book Critic’s Circle Award has written a road novel for America in the 21st century. In the book, a family of four set out from their home in New York to visit a place in Arizona called Apacheria, a.k.a. the region once inhabited by the Apache tribe. On their way down south, the family reveals their own set of long-simmering conflicts, while the radio gives updates on an “immigration crisis” at the border. (Thom)
The White Book by Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith): In 2016, Kang’s stunning novel The Vegetarian won the Man Booker Prize; in 2018, she drew Man Booker attention again with her autobiographical work The White Book. There are loose connections between the two—both concern sisters, for one, and loss, and both feature Han’s beautiful, spare prose—but The White Book is less a conventional story and more like a meditation in fragments. Written about and to the narrator’s older sister, who died as a newborn, and about the white objects of grief, Han’s work has been likened to “a secular prayer book,” one that “investigates the fragility, beauty and strangeness of life.” (Kaulie)
Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad: NYFA Fellow Sudbanthad’s debut novel, Bangkok Wakes to Rain, has already been hailed as “important, ambitious, and accomplished,” by Mohsin Hamid, and a book that “brilliantly sounds the resonant pulse of the city in a wise and far-reaching meditation on home,” by Claire Vaye Watkins. This polyphonic novel follows myriad characters—from a self-exiled jazz pianist to a former student revolutionary—through the thresholds of Bangkok’s past, present, and future. Sudbanthad, who splits his time between Bangkok and New York, says he wrote the novel by letting his mind wander the city of his birth: “I arrived at the site of a house that, to me, became a theatrical stage where characters…entered and left; I followed them, like a clandestine voyeur, across time and worlds, old and new.” (Anne)
The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison: A new collection of nonfiction–speeches, essays, criticism, and reflections–from the Nobel-prize winning Morrison. Publishers Weekly says “Some superb pieces headline this rich collection…Prescient and highly relevant to the present political moment…” (Lydia)
Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken: It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since McCracken published her first novel, The Giant’s House, perhaps because, since then, she’s given us two brilliant short story collections and one of the most powerful memoirs in recent memory. Her fans will no doubt rejoice at the arrival of this second novel, which follows three generations of a family in a small New England town. Bowlaway refers to a candlestick bowling alley that Publishers Weekly, in its starred review, calls “almost a character, reflecting the vicissitudes of history that determine prosperity or its opposite.” In its own starred review, Kirkus praises McCracken’s “psychological acuity.” (Edan)
All My Goodbyes by Mariana Dimópulos (translated by Alice Whitmore): Argentinian writer Dimópulos’s first book in English is a novel that focuses on a narrator who has been traveling for a decade. The narrator reflects on her habit of leaving family, countries, and lovers. And when she decides to commit to a relationship, her lover is murdered, adding a haunting and sorrowful quality to her interiority. Julie Buntin writes, “The scattered pieces of her story—each of them wonderfully distinct, laced with insight, violence, and sensuality—cohere into a profound evocation of restlessness, of the sublime and imprisoning act of letting go.” (Zoë)
The Hundred Wells of Salaga by Ayesha Harruna Attah: An account of 19th-century Ghana, the novel follows twoyoung girls, Wurche and Aminah, who live in the titular city which is a notorious center preparing people for sale as slaves to Europeans and Americans. Attah’s novel gives a texture and specificity to the anonymous tales of the Middle Passage, with critic Nadifa Mohamad writing in The Guardian that “One of the strengths of the novel is that it complicates the idea of what ‘African history’ is.” (Ed)
The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer: This much sought-after debut, which was the object of a bidding war, is based on the life of Lee Miller, a Vogue model turned photographer who decided she would rather “take a picture than be one.” The novel focuses on Miller’s tumultuous romance with photographer Man Ray in early 1930s Paris, as Miller made the transition from muse to artist. Early reviews suggests that the novel more than lives up to its promise, with readers extolling its complicated heroine and page-turning pacing. (Hannah)
Adèle by Leila Slimani (translated by Sam Taylor): Slimani, who won the Prix Goncourt in 2016, became famous after publishing Dans le jardin de l’ogre, which is now being translated and published in English as Adèle. The French-Moroccon novelist’s debut tells the story of a titular heroine whose burgeoning sex addiction threatens to ruin her life. Upon winning an award in Morocco for the novel, Slimani said its primary focus is her character’s “loss of self.” (Thom)
Notes From a Black Woman’s Diary by Kathleen Collins: Not long after completing her first feature film, Losing Ground, in 1982, Collins died from breast cancer at age 46. In 2017, her short story collection about the lives and loves of black Americans in the 1960s, Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?, was published to ringing critical acclaim. Now comes Notes From a Black Woman’s Diary, which is much more than the title suggests. In addition to autobiographical material, the book includes fiction, plays, excerpts from an unfinished novel, and the screenplay of Losing Ground, with extensive directorial notes. This book is sure to burnish Collins’s flourishing posthumous reputation. (Bill)
Mother Winter by Sophia Shalmiyev: This debut is the memoir of a young woman’s life shaped by unrelenting existential terror. The story is told in fragmentary vignettes beginning with Shalmiyev’s fraught emigration as a young child from St. Petersburg, Russia to the United States, leaving behind the mother who had abandoned her. It closes with her resolve to find her estranged mother again. (Il’ja)
The Cassandra by Sharma Shields: Mildred Groves, The Cassandra’s titular prophetess, sometimes sees flashes of the future. She is also working at the top-secret Hanford Research Center in the 1940s, where the seeds of atomic weapons are sown and where her visions are growing more horrifying—and going ignored at best, punished at worst. Balancing thorough research and mythic lyricism, Shields’s novel is a timely warning of what happens when warnings go unheeded. (Kaulie)
A People’s Future of the United States edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams: An anthology of 25 speculative stories from a range of powerful storytellers, among them Maria Dahvana Headley, Daniel José Older, and Alice Sola Kim. LaValle and Adams sought stories that imagine a derailed future—tales that take our fractured present and make the ruptures even further. Editor LaValle, an accomplished speculative fiction writer himself (most recently The Changeling, and my personal favorite, the hilarious and booming Big Machine), is the perfect writer to corral these stories. LaValle has said “one of the great things about horror and speculative fiction is that you are throwing people into really outsized, dramatic situations a lot…[including] racism and sexism and classism, biases against the mentally ill”—the perfect description for this dynamic collection. (Nick R.)
Nothing but the Night by John Williams: The John Williams ofStoner fame revival continues with the reissue of his first novel by NYRB, first published in 1948, a story dealing with mental illness and trauma with echoes of Greek tragedy. (Lydia)
Vacuum in the Dark by Jen Beagin: Whiting Award winner Beagin is back with a sequel to her debut novel, Pretend I’m Dead. Two-years older, Mona is living in New Mexico and working as a cleaning woman. In an attempt to start over, Mona must heal wounds both new and old—and figure out who she wants to be. Dark, sharp, and poignant, Publishers Weekly’s starred review calls the novel “viciously smart and morbidly funny.” (Carolyn)
Willa & Hesper by Amy Feltman: Feltman’s debut coming-of-age novel follows two queer woman who meet at their MFA program, fall in love, and then break up. In an effort to heal, both leave New York and travel to their respective ancestral homelands: Germany (Willa) and Tbilisi, Georgia (Hesper) Author Crystal Hana Kim called the novel “a lyrical, timely story about love, heartbreak, and healing.” (Carolyn)
The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman: In a follow-up to their UK edition, editors Shukla (The One Who Wrote Destiny) and Suleyman (Outside Looking On) gather 26 writers and scholars to write on the immigrant experience—many of which are in response to post-2016 America—including Porochista Khakpour, Teju Cole, Alexander Chee, and Jenny Zhang. With “joy, empathy, and fierceness,” Publishers Weekly’s starred review called the collection “a gift for anyone who understands or wants to learn about the breadth of experience among immigrants to the U.S.” (Carolyn)
Looking back at this hectic old year, I am reminded of that Nora Ephron quote: “Whenever I read a book I love, I start to remember all the other books that have sent me into rapture, and I can remember where I was living and the couch I was sitting on when I read them.”
Not many books sent me into rapture this year. About a year ago I became an official book recommender, and with the absolutely immense privilege of reading for work sometimes comes the frustration of not always being able to give books all the time you’d like to, as well as the danger of reading as obligation, which can occasionally lead to burnout. I had to find a way to keep up with the current releases while I was simultaneously working on my own writing and attempting to gravitate towards my own personal reading list (which isn’t all, you know, books that came out this year)—all the while dozens of books started arriving through the door every single day, threatening to take over the small apartment in which I live. Let’s say it took some adjustment.
I do remember some random moments of pure peace, like being immersed in Fire Sermon in Berlin, last winter, and reading it all on a leather armchair which sat under an old GDR poster of the life cycle of the malaria mosquito. The city was raging with life and plans, but it was winter and the weather was brutal—and the book was pulling me in harder than the possibility of all the raves in the world. Or like the weeks in spring that I spent on a Cheryl Strayed binge—I finally caught up with her books and, combined with her podcast, putting myself in her orbit for a while felt like healing.
The following felt like cheating, and I enjoyed these books so: reading The Folded Clocks on a solitary week on the beach; reading Cool for You this fall, as the days got abruptly shorter in London; rereading Too Much and Not the Mood on a writing residency in the summer as the rain just would not stop pouring, and underlying almost every sentence.
I read some splendid debut novels: Freshwater, Ponti, America Is Not the Heart, Pretend I’m Dead. And second novels: Normal People (even if its extreme hype can feel a bit exhausting) and Circe are stunning.
I read some breathtaking (literally—I remember gasping at several points during all of them) story collections: Things to Make and Break by May-Lan Tan, Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Mothers by Chris Power (which, like Normal People, isn’t out in the U.S. yet and American readers are in for a treat).
I found solace and channels for my rage in Heather Havrilesky’s What If This Were Enough? and Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad. I found permission and awe in Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. I laughed with and felt endless tenderness and admiration for Caca Dolce by Chelsea Martin, and recently finished How to Murder Your Life which left me broken and wishing I could hug Cat Marnell.
This year was also full of fantastic fiction and nonfiction by some faves (Ottessa Moshfegh, Rachel Cusk, Sheila Heti, Deborah Levy, Rachel Kushner, Melissa Broder) but that, as they say, is not news by this point.
I ended the year listening to the audiobook of Becoming, which meant more than 19 hours of Michelle Obama reading me her life story, which did GOOD things to me and I recommend.
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The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize announced their 7-title shortlist, narrowed down from their 26-title longlist. The prize awards $10,000 to the author of the best debut novel of the calendar year.
Here is the 2018 shortlist, with bonus links where available (and several titles mentioned in our Great Book Preview!):
Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat
Pretend I’m Dead by Jen Beagin
There There by Tommy Orange
Trenton Makes by Tadzio Koelb
The Center for Fiction will announce the winner of the First Novel Prize in December.
The Center for Fiction announced their 2018 First Novel Prize longlist this morning. The award is given to the “best debut novel published between January 1 and December 31 of the award year,” and the prize-winning author receives $10,000.
The Millions has a special connection to this list: our editor Lydia Kiesling made the list with her debut novel, The Golden State (out in September)!
Here is the 2018 longlist (featuring many titles from our Great Book Preview) with bonus links when applicable:
America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo
Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
Brass by Xhenet Aliu
Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg
The Devoted by Blair Hurley
The Distance Home by Paula Saunders
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao
The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling (Read more of Lydia’s work here)
If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim
Inappropriation by Lexi Freiman
Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li (Our interview with Li)
The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat
The Pisces by Melissa Broder (Our interview with Broder)
A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza (Featured in Garth Greenwell’s Year in Reading)
Pretend I’m Dead by Jen Beagin
Restless Souls by Dan Sheehan
Sabrina by Nick Drnaso
Sadness is a White Bird by Moriel Rothman-Zecher
Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon
Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik
There There by Tommy Orange
Trenton Makes by Tadzio Koelb
What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan
Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith
The Wonder That Was Ours by Alice Hatcher