Quiet Chaos: A Novel

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Darnielle, Allende, White, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from John Darnielle, Isabel Allende, Edmund White, and more—that are publishing this week.
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Devil House by John Darnielle

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Devil House: “In this riveting metafictional epic, Mountain Goats singer-songwriter Darnielle (Universal Harvester) flays the conventions of true crime to reveal the macabre and ordinary brutality behind sensationalized stories of violence. True crime writer Gage Chandler has spent the last five years living in the ‘Devil House’ in Milpitas, Calif., where he’s been working on a book about an unsolved murder that took place there in 1986, during the height of the Satanic Panic. Interspliced with Gage’s investigation are long excerpts from one of his previous books, The White Witch of Morro Bay, which recounts the gruesome end for two teenage boys who broke into their teacher’s apartment. Gage’s multilayered narrative of the Devil House murders slowly builds from conjecture to the victims’ ventriloquized voices, lending itself well to Darnielle’s themes about the artifice of the genre: ‘Formalities, when carefully tended, quietly congregate to make form,’ Gage notes. This masterwork of suspense is as careful with its sharp takes as it is with the bread crumbs it slowly drops on the way to its stunning end. It operates perfectly on many levels, resulting in a must-read for true crime addicts and experimental fiction fans alike.”

Defenestrate by Renee Branum

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Defenestrate: “Branum’s quirky and poignant debut focuses on a family beset by bad falls. Unreliable narrator Marta and her twin brother, Nick, both in their 20s, have grown up with an anxious Catholic Czech mother who believes the family is cursed because their great-grandfather pushed a man to his death from an under-construction church steeple. Marta and Nick cope with the ever-present superstition and their own fears by acting out scenes from Buster Keaton movies. After their father’s death from heart failure, they spend several years living in Prague, and upon returning to their Midwestern city, Nick falls from a fifth-floor window, injuring himself severely, and Marta must reckon with her own problems, including her alcohol abuse. As Marta begins to forge a new relationship with her mother, and to untangle the codependent dynamic with her brother, she takes tentative steps toward building a life apart from the family curse. Moody and descriptive rather than plot-driven, Branum’s narrative jumps blithely through time without missing a step. While readers may guess the secrets Marta is careful to conceal from herself, the collage of striking scenes and reflections offers frequent delights. Readers willing to go out on a limb will find much to savor.”

Perpetual West by Mesha Maren

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Perpetual West: “Maren’s meticulously observed sophomore effort (after Sugar Run) is a quasi-thriller about life on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2005, 21-year-old Elana and her husband, Alex, move from Virginia to El Paso, Tex., where Alex is a sociology grad student. Alex, who was born in Mexico and adopted by Pentecostal missionaries from West Virginia, is drawn to his native country and, along with Elana, spends time exploring Juarez. There, he meets Mateo, a lucha libre wrestler to whom he is sexually attracted. When Elana flies east for a family emergency, Alex takes off with Mateo to visit Mateo’s hometown of Creel. Then, after Elana returns to El Paso, Alex is nowhere to be found, and she discovers he left his cellphone behind. Following a single clue—an ATM withdrawal from Creel—Elana sets out in search of Alex. Meanwhile, he and Mateo have been kidnapped by the nephew of a narcotraficante, who demands the wrestler compete for him. The ending feels a bit abrupt, but the author does an expert job of showing Elana and Alex’s separate arcs, and their story dramatizes border life in a nonclichéd fashion. It adds up to an admirable if imperfect vehicle for examining the gulf between the two countries’ cultures and people.”

Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Goliath: “A desolated Earth is the vivid backdrop for this harrowing, visionary sci-fi novel from Onyebuchi (Riot Baby). A highly politicized viral pandemic has divided America, and conservatives who resent regulations leave the planet to establish the first space colony. Radiation and pollution due to climate change soon cause wealthy, privileged parties to follow to the Colonies in a drastic, extraterrestrial form of white flight, leaving the disadvantaged abandoned on the hazardous Earth with little help. Decades later, Jonathan and David, a white couple from the Colonies, move to New Haven with romantic ideas of starting a new life on Earth. The perspectives of Black New Haven laborers Linc and Bishop form a sharp contrast, and they know better than to idealize their circumstances. These are just a few of the large cast Onyebuchi cycles through in a collection of narrative vignettes that allows readers glimpses of a land plagued by the persistent nightmares of racism, gentrification, radiation poisoning, and escalating street violence. Onyebuchi’s biblically inspired cautionary tale offers a hauntingly beautiful portrait of the decaying planet, though the mosaic structure and blurring timelines can sometimes take readers out of the narrative as they work to piece events together. Still, the emotions are raw and real, and Onyebuchi doesn’t shy away from the more heart-wrenching moments. It’s urgent, gorgeous work.”

Manywhere by Morgan Thomas

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Manywhere: “Thomas’s visionary and keenly observed debut collection concerns itself with searchers (the book is dedicated to ‘anyone who’s gone looking for themselves in the archives’). In several stories, contemporary queer people attempt to track down historical echoes of themselves, whether in possibly forged letters by an intersex member of the Jamestown colony (‘The Daring Life of Philippa Cook the Rogue’); an oral history about a namesake’s disappearance (‘The Expectation of Cooper Hill’); or, in ‘Taylor Johnson’s Lightning Man,’ a photo from Ellis Island of a woman who wore men’s clothes and hawked lightning rods. Other protagonists turn misunderstandings into opportunities for personal mythmaking. ‘Transit’ follows a teenage nonbinary person on their way home from an eating disorder treatment center who tells a fellow train passenger they’re a vampire, a running joke from the treatment center that gets taken literally. In ‘Bump,’ crossed wires between co-workers lead a trans woman to fake a pregnancy. Throughout, Thomas renders their characters’ explorations in rhythmic litanies (‘I took it off. The bump settled into the concavity of the sink. I envied the sink for so easily cupping it. How long did I stand there, considering the shape of my body, bumpless, the two separate shapes?’). This profoundly illuminates how the characters come by the stories they tell and those they choose to tell themselves.”

Fuccboi by Sean Thor Conroe

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Fuccboi: “Conroe delivers a striking and hyper-stylized debut about a young male writer, also named Sean Thor Conroe, whose lexicon reflects Drake lyrics and the scrolls of Reddit and Twitter. In Conroe’s linguistic world, every love interest is a ‘bae,’ every shine of glory is a ‘flex,’ everything subtle is ‘lowkey,’ and every suspicion is merely ‘sus.’ Sean, having graduated from Swarthmore but still yet to establish himself in the literary world, works as a messenger for Postmates, indulges in Adderall and Molly, and nurses a broken heart over a girl he calls ‘ex bae.’ His life, though, slowly falls apart as he develops an intensely debilitating skin condition almost akin to leprosy. Along the way, Sean demonstrates a passion for Nietzsche, Bolaño, and Wittgenstein, and offers credible insights on their work, sometimes by comparing it to hip-hop or vice versa. He also reveals some self-reflection by discussing the ‘rape-y’ elements of his work with ‘editor bae’ (‘the whole point is to look at those impulses, to understand where they come from, that we all have em, so that they don’t manifest in real life’), which adds a bit of depth. Some will find Conroe’s prose fresh, others annoying, but he’s landed on an undeniably rich mix of ingredients for autofiction.”

South to America by Imani Perry

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about South to America: “Perry (Looking for Lorraine), a professor of African American studies at Princeton, interweaves personal and regional history in this impressionistic study of the American South. Adding depth and nuance to standard portrayals of ‘lost cause’ narratives of white supremacy, Perry highlights moments of ‘resistance to the [South’s] slave-based society.’ During a visit to Harper’s Ferry, W.Va., she notes that the state, which seceded from Virginia in 1861 to remain with the Union, is ‘foundationally anti-slavery,’ and cites examples of how Appalachia has nurtured Black educational excellence, including the interracial Highlander Folk School. Elsewhere, Perry delves into North Carolina’s history of racial trauma, including the 1898 white supremacist uprising in Wilmington and the 2006 Duke University lacrosse case, and, in an enlightening discussion with art collector Walter Evans, considers Low Country architecture, the Muhammad Ali–Joe Frazier rivalry, and the effects of desegregation on Black cultural networks. Perry’s meditations range far and wide, alluding to literary theorists, basketball stars, Supreme Court rulings, and her own ancestors with equal familiarity and insight, though the breadth often comes at the expense of depth, particularly when she is relating historical events, such as abolitionist John Brown’s 1859 raid on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry. Still, this is a rich and imaginative tour of a crucial piece of America.”

Violeta by Isabel Allende, translated by Frances Riddle

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Violeta: “Chilean writer Allende (A Long Petal of the Sea) chronicles the lives of an upper-class South American family across various historical events of the 20th century. Violeta del Valle, 100, recounts the story of her life to her grandson, Camilo, beginning with her birth during the Spanish Flu pandemic. The del Valles—patriarch Arsenio and his invalid wife, five sons, and the youngest, daughter Violeta—survive by quarantining in their mansion in the capital city of their unnamed country, but the Great Depression soon shatters the family’s economic stability. Nine-year-old Violeta finds her father’s body with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and they move to a farm. In whirlwind fashion, Allende conveys Violeta’s life: her lackluster first marriage, an adventure-filled affair with British RAF pilot Julian Bravo, Bravo’s underhanded dealings flying CIA operatives to South America, and the tragic story of her drug-addled daughter who dies while giving birth to Camilo. Allende frames Violeta’s life story with two global pandemics, and while Violeta’s reflections on Covid-19 feel a little forced, Allende seamlessly ties the rise and fall of Cold War–era military dictatorships throughout Latin America to Violeta’s autobiography. It’s a mixed bag, but Allende succeeds once again at making the historical feel personal.”

The Hummingbird by Sandro Veronesi, translated by Elena Pala

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Hummingbird: “A 40-year-old ophthalmologist becomes enmeshed in a morass of family troubles and careless decisions in Veronesi’s Strega Prize–winning latest (after Quiet Chaos). In Rome at the brink of the new millennium, Marco Carrera, known by his childhood nickname ‘the hummingbird’ for his diminutive stature, is having an affair while his wife does the same. His parents were glaringly mismatched, and his siblings, one of whom died many years earlier, are depicted through the nonlinear narrative as depressed, suicidal, or just plain estranged. Rather than marrying Luisa, Marco’s longtime love, he had opted for Marina, a flight attendant he first sees on a TV news program, during which she describes how she’d narrowly avoided a shift on an ill-fated flight. They have a daughter, but Marco endures years of disappointments and Marina’s adulterous betrayals. Meanwhile, he’s secretly struck up a correspondence with Luisa. A chaotic black comedy of blunders ensues as the narrative volleys back and forth between Carrera’s youth and the present through dashes of poetry, emails, postcards, and dialogue, while running commentary from an omnipresent third-person chimes in with penetrating insight (on relationships: ‘It should be common knowledge—and yet it isn’t—that the course of every new relationship is set from the start, once and for all, every time’). Cleverly structured like a jigsaw puzzle, the story’s disparate pieces are overlaid and slowly developed, such as the details of Marco’s sister’s death. A senseless tragedy, splashes of levity, and unexpected poignancy bring this to a moving conclusion. Veronesi’s dark modern chronicle shimmers with intelligence and flashes of pathos.”

Strangers I Know by Claudia Durastanti, translated by Elizabeth Harris

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Strangers I Know: “Durastanti’s insightful and complex English-language debt examines a family’s lifelong communication issues as its unnamed protagonist, an author and translator and 30-something daughter of two deaf Italian parents, explores the mysteries and myths of her life story. Her parents disagree on how they met, and divorce when the narrator is a young girl, causing her to split her childhood between Brooklyn, with her mother, and southern Italy, with her father. They don’t teach her sign language, which makes communicating with them confusing or impossible, and her parents are often unstable (‘It’s easier to say my parents are deaf, more complicated to say they’re mentally ill’). As a teen wandering down St. Marks Place, she discovers punk, prompting her to discard her ‘conformist magazines’ and fall in love with the city’s smell of ‘candy and garbage.’ In college, she aches for guidance but struggles with intimacy, convinced that ‘estrangement’ and poor communication are normal in a relationship, while real love is a myth. The narrator also addresses her feelings on being an outsider as an immigrant, and not knowing which social class she fits into in the U.S. While some of the narrative can feel jumbled, Durastanti offers profound insights and can capture moments of beauty. This makes for an enjoyable and distinctive bildungsroman.”

Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Notes on an Execution: “This masterly thriller from Kukafka (Girl in Snow) opens on death row in a Texas prison, where Ansel Packer is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in 12 hours. However, Packer, who’s killed multiple women across the country, including in Texas and New York, isn’t worried. That surprising attitude is accounted for by the early revelation that he befriended one of the prison guards and is plotting a last-minute escape. Flashbacks, starting with Packer’s birth to a 17-year-old mother in 1973, trace his path from childhood to what seem to be his final hours. He grew up with an abusive father and began killing and mutilating animals when he was three. Those sections alternate with passages from the points of view of his mother, who was also abused, and of a New York State police investigator devoted to getting justice for Packer’s victims. Kukafka skillfully uses the second-person present tense to heighten the drama, and toward the end she makes devastatingly clear the toll taken by Packer’s killings. Megan Abbott fans will be pleased.”

A Previous Life by Edmund White

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Previous Life: “White (A Saint from Texas) offers an erotically charged and ingenious metafictional story of a married couple. In 2050, 70-something Sicilian musician Ruggero Castelnuovo agrees, with his 30-year-old American wife, Constance, to break the silence about their pasts. Three decades earlier, Ruggero had an affair with Edmund White, who was in his 80s at the time. Ruggero and Constance read their memoirs aloud in alternate passages, and each welcomes their newfound revelations. Ruggero fears that despite his international reputation in the music world he’ll only be remembered as ‘the man who ruined Edmund White’s life’ (what he means by that will come out later). Constance tells of a gay suitemate at Princeton, two failed marriages to older men (robbed by her first husband; humiliated by her second). As their confessions unroll, they reckon with the shadow of age and redefine their relationship, culminating in life-changing decisions. Through it all, the author hands his characters indelible lines to express their self-knowledge, which often yield insights on gender fluidity and sexuality (‘it was the part you played that determined your identity, not the gender of your partner,’ Ruggero tells Constance, explaining an episode of role play). It adds up to a dizzyingly enticing and kaleidoscopic take on the spectrum of sexual experiences.”

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