River Under the Road: A Novel

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Spencer, Phillips, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of  Scott Spencer, Lucie Britsch, Ashleigh Bryant Phillips, and more—that are publishing this week.

An Ocean Without a Shore by Scott Spencer

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about An Ocean Without a Shore: “Spencer returns to the characters from River Under the Road in this unsatisfying sequel about unrequited love and betrayal. Kip Woods, a supporting character in River, provides a first-person confession as he awaits sentencing for a criminal conviction. His criminal actions, which are revealed at the end, are motivated by his long-secret love for the now broke but once famous screenwriter Thaddeus Kaufman. Whenever Thaddeus needs Kip to do something for him—buy his land to avoid foreclosure, care for his daughter Emma, or provide Thaddeus with insider stock tips—Kip is eager to help. Spencer makes Kip’s codependent devotion to Thaddeus as palpable as Kip’s struggles with his romantic feelings (‘If love is a sinking ship, you do want to go down with it’). The men’s bromantic chats are engaging highlights, especially when Thaddeus toys with Kip by suggesting they hike the Appalachain Trail together (‘Just to be two creatures in the great outdoors. I think that would be amazing’), and they show how Kip endures Thaddeus despite his increasingly odious behavior. While the narrative gets disjointed when Spencer shifts away from Kip, such as a depiction of Thaddeus in crisis when his father dies, the climax between the two friends is heartbreaking and explosive. Still, Spencer boxes Kip into a corner that feels disappointingly contrived.”

Sad Janet by Lucie Britsch

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Sad Janet: “In Britsch’s darkly comic debut, a deadpan, abrasive narrator muses on her depression. ‘There’s no word in the English language that properly describes this feeling I have, the one that makes other people uncomfortable,’ Janet thinks. After getting a degree in postmodern feminist science fiction, Janet takes a job at a dog shelter out in the woods with an equally depressed boss and a slightly sunnier co-worker. Everyone she knows, including her parents and boyfriend, is on one antidepressant or another, and they’re all attempting to get Janet, who clings to what she calls her ‘manageable melancholia,’ to do the same. What plot there is revolves around whether Janet will take a newly invented pill designed to increase one’s appreciation of Christmas—181 days away at the start of the novel, yet heavy on Janet’s mind—and if she does, if it will work. Meanwhile, she spends her time napping, drinking, and curling up on dog beds pretending to be a dog. Preternaturally self-aware, Janet has a gift for homing in on her own emotional state and everyone else’s, which Britsch renders in rueful, knowing prose that may land or miss, depending on if the reader can relate to pronouncements such as ‘the cool kids call it melancholia, because of that Lars von Trier movie.’ Still, Britsch’s monologue about the experience of unhappiness is undeniably infectious.”

Sleepovers by Ashleigh Bryant Phillips

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Sleepovers: “In Phillips’s blunt, life-affirming debut collection, characters in rural, hardscrabble North Carolina grapple for hope while being sustained by a soundtrack of Today’s Country Hits on FM radio and a diet of Duck Thru hot dogs. In ‘Shania,’ the unnamed seven-year-old protagonist is awed by her friend, named after the country music star, and the girls are united in their desire to become blood sisters. Their friendship is cut short after domestic violence erupts in Shania’s decrepit house. ‘The Locket’ is about the unlikely bond between Shirley, a 60-year-old pool custodian with a simple mind who often relfects on her painful childhood, and Krystal, a teenage babysitter with an impressive dive. Before meeting Krystal, Shirley’s sole companion is the spirit of her long-dead horse, Norma. After Krystal coaxes Shirley into lending her a prized locket, the consequences are devastating. The title story shifts between describing fourth-grade Nicki and her friends’ sleepovers and the tribulations of Nicki’s father. After he loses his leg in an accident, the community raises money for an artificial leg, but it doesn’t quite fit. Phillips demonstrates an impressive ease at depicting transition, trauma, and loss, brilliantly evoking a close-knit world held together by the strength of friendship. This collection stands out in the field of current Southern fiction.”

The Taste of Sugar by Marisel Vera

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Taste of Sugar: “Vera (If I Bring You Roses) follows the shifting fortunes of a Puerto Rican family after U.S. occupation in this intense, emotional saga. In 1889, 17-year-old Valentina Sanchez, head full of fantasies of Paris trips and grand romance, marries handsome coffee farmer Vicente Vega despite her family’s objections. She returns with him to his unwelcoming family in Utuado, where the vagaries of the coffee harvest delay their move from the isolated mountains. After three years, they move into a crudely built home, where happy times are overshadowed by the accidental death of their young daughter. When Vicente loses his farm in 1900 due to economic hardships following American occupation, the family leaves for Hawaii to work on sugar plantations. A series of tragedies and indignities ensues—the couple’s son drowns at sea on the way to the islands, and they’re greeted in Hawaii by squalid living conditions—before Vera ends the book on a slightly hopeful, if unresolved note, as the family bonds with other Puerto Rican families in Hawaii. Vera pieces together the epic tale with acute moments of crushing pain and disillusion overcome by the strong characters’ implacable resilience. The novel’s deeply felt mixture of the characters’ sorrow and joy offers a vibrant glimpse of the history of Puerto Ricans in Hawaii.”

Vera Kelly Is Not a Mystery by Rosalie Knecht

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Vera Kelly Is Not a Mystery: “Knecht’s excellent sequel to Who Is Vera Kelly? picks up with ex-CIA agent Vera in 1967 New York City, as she tries to solve a mystery in an era when only men are expected to do the job. Vera’s poetry professor girlfriend, Jane, announces she’s had enough of not feeling wanted, and leaves. Then Vera loses her editing job at a TV station after her boss finds out she’d been dating a woman. She decides to fall back on her old skills and becomes a private detective. When the Ibarra family asks Vera to find their nephew’s child, Félix, who was sent to New York from the Dominican Republic amid political unrest, Vera takes on the case. Meanwhile, Vera balances the emotional consequences of her breakup with a new love interest: the bartender at her favorite, oft-raided, bar. When Vera realizes the Ibarras aren’t who they say they are, her mission becomes a different one: find Félix and his real parents, reunite them, and throw the fake Ibarras off the scent. This leads her to the Dominican Republic, where the police mistake her for a spy. Knecht brilliantly captures Vera’s emotions, and shines with keen observations of the varied settings. This winning literary page-turner gives a strong sense of a smart, queer, and complex person navigating an unfriendly world.”

Animal Spirit by Francesca Marciano

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Animal Spirit: “Marciano’s sharp-eyed and effortlessly graceful collection (after Rules of the Wild), set largely in the author’s native Italy, explores the ways people’s animalistic instincts drive relationships. In ‘Terrible Things Could Happen to Us,’ wealthy family man Sandro falls in love with his yoga teacher, and Marciano’s lack of sentimentality keeps things taut until a devastating denouement, which leaves Sandro speechless, ‘like an actor who has forgotten his lines.’ In ‘The Girl,’ a middle-aged Hungarian tries to convince a young Italian woman to join the circus and help in his snake-charming act. The title story follows two couples sharing an island vacation house as their varying degrees of uncertainty about their futures coalesce around a midnight encounter with a sheep—or is it a poodle?—that may or may not need to be rescued. In ‘There Might Be Blood,’ Diana decamps to Rome to write her long-deferred novel. Rather than writing, she obsesses over seagulls, which plague the city and prevent her from enjoying her terrace near Piazza Navona. Diana decides to enlist Ivo, a falconer, whose birds, Queen and Darko, can hunt the gulls. In this story, and throughout the collection, Marciano skillfully uses her characters’ relationships with animals as metaphors to explore their humanity. Polished and compulsively readable, this is a real treat.”

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