Straight from the Horse's Mouth: A Novel

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Clarke, Akhtar, Nemerever, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Susannah Clarke, Ayad Akhtar, Micah Nemerever, and more—that are publishing this week.

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These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about These Violent Delights: “Nemerever’s dark, inspired debut depicts a Leopold and Loeb–like thrill killing committed by two gay Jewish college students in 1970s Pittsburgh. Sensitive Paul Fleischer, an artist, comes from a working-class family and is grieving his father’s recent suicide. He easily falls under the spell of Julian Fromme, a rich psychology student who exudes wit and energy. As the young men become lovers, Paul’s family worries about the amount of time he spends with Julian, and his mother pleads with him to hang out with girls, while Paul resigns himself to taking what he can get from the withholding Julian (‘If Julian were to love him, it would feel like something he deigned to do. It meant more to be needed’). Julian’s power over Paul becomes more intense after he uses Paul to break free of his own overbearing family. Soon the young men are imagining violent deaths (‘How about a Helter Skelter kind of thing, wouldn’t that be fun? We could paint gibberish in blood on the walls,’ Julian says), and they work their way up to kidnapping a stranger. The buildup digs into the why as much as the how, allowing Nemerever to chart an enthralling exploration of what drives these young men to violence. Fans of Patricia Highsmith will definitely want to take note of this promising writer.”

Bonus Link: Writers to Watch: Fall 2020

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Homeland Elegies: “Akhtar (American Dervish) reckons with the promises and deceptions of the American dream in this wrenching work of autofiction. The narrator, Ayad, was, like the author, born in Staten Island to Pakistani immigrant parents and raised in Wisconsin, and wrote a Pulitzer-winning play. In eight well-developed chapters structured as musical movements, starting with an overture and ending with a coda, Ayad traces his often complicated personal, philosophical, and political stance toward an America in which he sees himself as ‘other.’ In the process, Ayad responds to criticism of his past writings for rationalizing violence committed by Muslims; critiques capitalism while acknowledging how it benefits him; and confronts his own internalized conflation of race and sex. Most often, these issues are viewed through the lens of family, especially his parents. His mother is chronically homesick not only for her native Pakistan but also for her first love. By contrast, his father, a doctor slammed with a malpractice suit, finds his shortsighted optimism and eventual disillusionment with the American promise play out against the backdrop of the first two years of Trump’s presidency in a pair of stories—one broadly humorous, one heartbreaking—that open and close the book. Akhtar’s work is a provocative and urgent examination of the political and economic conditions that shape personal identity, especially for immigrants and communities of color. With an audacious channeling of Philip Roth’s warts-and-all approach to the story of an American writer and his family, this tragicomedy is a revelation.”

Bonus Link: Ayad Akhtar’s Flesh and Blood 

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth by Meryem Alaoui (translated by Emma Ramadan)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Straight from the Horse’s Mouth: “Moroccan writer Alaoui’s mesmerizing debut introduces the resourceful, foul-mouthed, and spirited Jmiaa Bent Larbi. In the mid 1990s, Jmiaa’s husband, Hamid, takes her to Casablanca to pimp her out to men to raise money for his many fruitless business schemes. Almost 15 years later, 34-year-old Jmiaa is still working as a prostitute to support herself, her seven-year-old daughter, Samia, and the parasitic Hamid, who has illegally migrated to Spain. After Jmiaa meets Chadlia, a Moroccan Dutch film director she nicknames “Horse Mouth” for his toothy grin, Jmiaa agrees to consult on a script Horse Mouth plans to shoot in Morocco. Many remarkable characters people the novel in addition to Jmiaa: Halima, a sullen, Quran-studying prostitute; Samira, a loyal friend and colleague of Jmiaa’s; Houcine, the intimidating pimp who keeps them all safe; Jmiaa’s mother, with whom Jmiaa leaves her daughter; and the clients who come and go. Jmiaa’s Casablanca is full of corrupt cops and exploitative men who take advantage of the prostitutes’ vulnerability, but it is also full of friendship, laughter, and triumph, as Jmiaa’s association with Horse Mouth leads her to dream of a new life as a film star. Alaoui’s shimmering prose is funny and original; one of Jmiaa’s neighbors looks like an ‘armoire’; a client has ‘the breath of a corpse’; and Jmiaa, noting Horse Mouth’s Arabic is unusually fluent for an immigrant, says, ‘Normally it’s like their tongue is in physical therapy: it needs crutches to get to the end of a phrase.’ Alaoui’s tale is one to savor for its language and its verve.”

Piranesi by Susannah Clarke

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Piranesi: “Clarke wraps a twisty mystery inside a metaphysical fantasy in her extraordinary new novel, her first since 2004’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. The story unfolds as journal entries written by the eponymous narrator, who, along with an enigmatic master known as the Other (and 13 skeletons whom Piranesi regards as persons) inhabits the House, a vast, labyrinthine structure of statue-adorned halls and vestibules. So immense is the House that its many parts support their own internal climates, all of which Piranesi vividly describes (‘I squeezed myself into the Woman’s Niche and waited until I heard the Tides roaring in the Lower Halls and felt the Walls vibrating with the force of what was about to happen’). Meanwhile, the Other is pursuing the ‘Great and Secret Knowledge’ of the ancients. After the Other worriedly asks Piranesi if he’s seen in the house a person they refer to as 16, Piranesi’s curiosity is piqued, and all the more so after the Other instructs him to hide. In their discussions about 16, it becomes increasingly clear the Other is gaslighting Piranesi about his memory, their relationship, and the reality they share. With great subtlety, Clarke gradually elaborates an explanatory backstory to her tale’s events and reveals sinister occult machinations that build to a crescendo of genuine horror. This superbly told tale is sure to be recognized as one of the year’s most inventive novels.”

Also on shelves this week: Glossary for the End of Days by Ian Stansel.

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