Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Elaine Hsieh Chou, Sara Lippmann, María Gainza, and more—that are publishing this week.
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Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Disorientation: “Chou debuts with a zany if uneven romp through American academia and cultural assimilation. PhD student Ingrid Yang is desperate to write a dissertation that will impress her committee and earn her a postdoc fellowship that will put off her student loan payments. Her subject, the late canonical Chinese American poet Xiao-Wen Chou, once taught at her school, the mid-range Barnes University in Massachusetts, and Chou’s legacy is a crucial source of Barnes’s prestige. As Ingrid doggedly investigates a mysterious note found in Chou’s archives, she wrestles with estrangement from her ancestral Chinese culture, anxiety over the male gaze—she wonders if her white fiancé merely has a fetish for Asian women—and frets about her own attraction to white men. There’s also her friend Eunice Kim, a hyper-gorgeous Korean girl; Eunice’s younger brother, Alex, Eunice’s tough yet insecure male counterpart; and Michael Bartholomew, the orientalizing professor in Barnes’s primarily white East Asian Studies department. Sometimes the portraits feel a bit too cartoonish—there is a moment, for instance, when Eunice is described as ‘impeccable, ready to guest star in a music video’—but overall Chou effectively skewers a world that takes itself all too seriously, particularly after Ingrid makes an explosive discovery about Chou that could compromise Barnes. This will charm a wide set of readers, not just those pursuing PhDs.”
Jerks by Sara Lippmann
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Jerks: “Lippmann’s tantalizing collection (after Doll Palace) offers a set of character studies fraught with longing. The bittersweet ‘Wolf or Deer’ depicts young girls at summer camp playing Would You Rather. A question offering the choice of cannibalism or starvation earns the reply, ‘I’d totally eat you,’ leading to explicit sexual questions and expressions of desire. ‘Har-Tru’ depicts a group of moms watching their kids fumble through tennis lessons while gossiping about a reality-television series, polyamory, and their own fantasies. In ‘Charity Case,’ a woman pines for her music teacher, a former soap opera star who barely notices her. ‘There’s a Joke Here Somewhere and It’s on Me’ utilizes flash fiction to encapsulate the confusing rush of adolescence. In the title story, a married couple runs a side hustle making beef jerky to stave off, among other things, their depression and midlife crises. Just as it goes for many characters here, the unexpected outcome leaves them with bitter resignation. Lippmann packs a great deal into a single turn of phrase, balancing vulnerability and humor with luminescent prose. The compression and bursts of poignancy will remind readers of Kathy Fish and Amy Hempel.”
Hammer by Joe Mungo Reed
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Hammer: “Following We Begin Our Ascent, a story of a Tour de France rider, Reed casts his appraising eye on the equally cutthroat worlds of modern art and Russian politics in this well-observed if uneven outing. It opens with a bang, as Martin, an auction house employee, watches Russian oligarch Oleg Gorelov win a Basquiat painting after driving the bidding up to nearly $9 million. Oleg’s wife, Marina, an old college friend of Martin’s, secures Martin an invitation to the Russian’s art bunker, which houses a lost painting by the Ukrainian avant-garde painter Kazimir Malevich, who ran afoul of the Stalin regime. Martin, who would like nothing more than to secure a sale of Oleg’s art collection for his auction house, is an unassuming, almost purposely bland ‘puppy’ figure who wins Oleg’s trust even as he begins an affair with Marina. Oleg, meanwhile, considers selling his art to fund a quixotic campaign to unseat Vladimir Putin. The plot simmers too long, muting the impact of the characters’ betrayals and machinations, but Reed is consistently excellent in his takes on art, money, and the ruthlessness of the auction house business: ‘We’re like vampires. We’re well-dressed. We’re polite. But in the end, we’ll need to feed,’ says Martin’s boss. In the end this cool, restrained work doesn’t quite reach the heat of the art market it depicts.”
You Sound Like a White Girl by Julissa Arce
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about You Sound Like a White Girl: “In this persuasive polemic, journalist Arce (Someone Like Me) draws on her experiences as an undocumented Mexican immigrant to encourage Latinx people to ‘dismantl[e] the lie of assimilation to reclaim the most essential and beautiful parts of ourselves, our history, and our culture.’ Noting that she used ‘fake papers’ to obtain a job at Goldman Sachs and became a citizen 20 years after she first arrived in the U.S., Arce contends that ‘assimilating to ‘American’ culture really mean[s] imitating white America,’ and that ‘even after I learned English, became a citizen, got my coins, I still wasn’t welcomed.’ She cites many historical examples of discrimination against Mexican Americans, including the segregation of Latinx students in public schools, the banning of bilingual education programs, and the denial of birth certificates to the children of undocumented parents. Arce also contends that the blame for the decline in blue-collar jobs in America lies not with undocumented workers but with ‘corporate greed,’ and details the lack of Latinx representation in U.S. politics and popular culture. She urges Latinx people to promote their own culture, history, and identities as fully American, and to support other communities of color in the fight for equality. This impassioned call for change rings true.”
Portrait of an Unknown Lady by María Gainza (translated by Thomas Bunstead)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Portrait of an Unknown Lady: “Gainza (Optic Nerve) returns with a ruminative account of the pursuit of a master forger who has gone off the grid in a dreamy Buenos Aires. The unnamed narrator, a young woman, works for art authenticator Enriqueta Macedo, who for decades has been fraudulently authenticating paintings forged by a woman named Renée, who specialized in passing off works of Mariette Lydis, one of the country’s greatest portraitists (‘They resemble women about to turn into animals, or animals not since long made human,’ the narrator says of Lydis’s subjects). Gainza paints an impressionistic group portrait of artist, authenticator, and forger: Lydis’s flight from Nazi-occupied Vienna to Argentina, recounted through an auction catalog (‘Painting is worth more if there’s a story behind it’); Enriqueta’s initiation as a young woman into a group called the Melancholical Forgers, Inc.; and Renée’s reign during the ‘golden age of art forgery.’ The narrator, who after Enriqueta’s death becomes an art critic, is intrigued by Renée as a biographical subject, and embarks on a quest to track down the long-since-disappeared counterfeiter. Digressions, aphorisms, and dead ends pile up along the way in a hypnotic search defined by ‘Sehnsucht… the German term denoting a melancholic desire for some intangible thing.’ The characters’ incertitude and the narrative’s lack of resolution only intensify the mysterious communion Gainza evokes between like-minded souls. This captivating work is one to savor.”