Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Miranda Popkey, Robert Hass, Kiley Reid, Chuck Palahniuk, and more—that are publishing this week.
Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Topics of Conversation: “The women in Popkey’s astute debut bristle with wanting. Readers meet the unnamed narrator in Italy, ‘twenty-one and daffy with sensation,’ where she is working as a nanny for a well-off friend’s younger brothers while her friend leaves her behind in favor of Greek tourists she’s met on the beach. In her third week, she has a late-night conversation with her friend’s mother, Artemisia, an Argentinean psychoanalyst, about their paralleled romantic histories with much older men, both their former professors. These conversations about power, responsibility, and desire, often as they manifest in relationships with men, provide the backbone for the subsequent sections of the novel, which follow the narrator through breakups with friends, with lovers, and motherhood. As the years progress, the narrator’s hyperawareness and cheeky playfulness when it comes to her narrative as something she owns, grows as well. At a new moms meetup in Fresno 14 years after that night in Italy, the narrator asks the rest of the moms to share ‘how we got here.’ The story she herself shares is an echo of the one she told Artemisia, but better, the details burnished and editorialized. Popkey’s prose is overly controlled, but this is nonetheless a searing and cleverly constructed novel and a fine indication of what’s to come from this promising author.”
Summer Snow by Robert Hass
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Summer Snow: “In this ruminative, endlessly clever book, Pulitzer Prize–winner Hass (The Apple Trees at Olema) turns his eye toward nature, love, and even drone strikes, as, when chronicling a visit to a Las Vegas Air Force base for a protest, he juxtaposes the specter of commerce at a nearby casino with headlines detailing drone-related deaths in the Middle East. Though death may be the prevailing theme, these poems are far from dirges, as images of his Northern California environs shimmer with life: ‘you can almost hear the earth sigh/ As it sucks up the rain.’ Hass experiments with form, vacillating between long and short lines, stanzas and long unbroken blocks of verse. His language is lofty but accessible, as in ‘The Archaeology of Plenty,’ a loose, associative riff about finding meaning in a callous and capricious world, in which the poet argues for poetry as a cure for existential dread: ‘reach into your heavy waking,/ The metaphysical nausea that being in your life,/ With its bearing and its strife, its stiffs,/ Its stuff, seems to have produced in you,/ Reduced you to, and make something with a pleasing,/ Or teasing, ring to it.’ Hass is a rarity, a poet’s poet and a reader’s poet who, with this newest endeavor, bestows a precious gift to his audience.”
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Such a Fun Age: “In her debut, Reid crafts a nuanced portrait of a young black woman struggling to define herself apart from the white people in her life who are all too ready to speak and act on her behalf. Emira Tucker knows that the one thing she’s unequivocally good at is taking care of children, specifically the two young daughters, Briar and Catherine, of her part-time employer, Alix Chamberlain. However, about to turn 26 and lose her parents’ health insurance, and while watching her friends snatch up serious boyfriends and enviable promotions, Temple grad Emira starts to feel ashamed about ‘still’ babysitting. This humiliation is stoked after she’s harassed by security personnel at an upscale Philadelphia grocery store where she’d taken three-year-old Briar. Emira later develops a romantic relationship with Kelley, the young white man who captured cellphone video of the altercation, only to discover that Kelley and Alix have a shared and uncomfortable past, one that traps Emira in the middle despite assertions that everyone has her best interests at heart. Reid excels at depicting subtle variations and manifestations of self-doubt, and astutely illustrates how, when coupled with unrecognized white privilege, this emotional and professional insecurity can result in unintended—as well as willfully unseen—consequences. This is an impressive, memorable first outing.”
Qualityland by Marc-Uwe Kling (translated by Jamie Searle Romanelli)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Qualityland: “The latest from Kling (The Kangaroo Chronicles), already in production at HBO, is a hilarious romp through an absurd hypercapitalist dystopia. After the third ‘crisis of the century’ in a decade, a country is renamed QualityLand. There, each person is named after their parents’ professions, has a social media feed specially created by a corporation, and is assigned a level from 1 to 100, which dictates what partner someone can match with, what job someone can have, and so on. Peter Jobless is a low-level metal recycling scrapper who, one day, receives a delivery from TheShop that he didn’t order—not unusual in itself, as TheShop anticipates all desires (its motto is ‘We know what you want’)—but more importantly, that he doesn’t want. Aided by the defective robots living under his shop that he saved from the scrapper, Peter embarks on a journey to return his unwanted delivery. Peter’s quest unfolds against the backdrop of a presidential election, where voters can choose between a maximally intelligent, socialist-minded robot programmed for objectivity, and a celebrity right-wing chef, prone to contradicting himself in the same sentence. No need to guess who’s leading the polls. Sharp and biting, the most implausible aspect of Kling’s novel is the relative note of optimism that ends it. This is spot-on satire.”
Consider This by Chuck Palahniuk
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Consider This: “Palahniuk (Adjustment Day) delivers a fine book on writing, full of advice and anecdotes garnered from his career as a novelist, that will help both those aspiring to write bestsellers and those hoping to write from the heart. His practical tips range from the importance of surprising one’s readers to the need to torment one’s characters. He concludes the book’s nuts-and-bolts component with a troubleshooting chart (he asks those whose beginnings don’t hook readers, ‘Do you begin with a thesis sentence that summarizes, or do you begin by raising a compelling question or possibility?’). Palahniuk also writes about his own life, in recurrent ‘Postcards from the Tour’ sections on the joys and trials of being a famous author (the latter including an incident when a book-signing attendee, angered that Palahniuk refused to sign a Don DeLillo novel, attacked him with a tube full of mice). The book finally rises to a moving emotional crescendo, in a final chapter that shares moments of serendipity from Palahniuk’s time on the road. Reminiscent of Stephen King’s On Writing in never failing to entertain while imparting wisdom, this is an indispensable resource for writers.”
Here are five notable books of poetry publishing this month.
Your New Feeling Is the Artifact of a Bygone Era by Chad Bennett
“Isn’t every poem / for someone? Why not you?” Bennett’s songs of longing are clever and carefully rendered—smooth control over lines being only one defining element of this welcome debut collection. Poems switch between first and second person narrator, so that the audience feels like pursuer and pursued, a poetic inversion that is captured through syntax as well: “O light, music, poetry, plague: in a time to come who will remember us?” “Silver Springs,” a periodic poem about Fleetwood Mac and all other things fleeting, centers the collection (when you get to part #23, the page that simply reads “Do you know who you are?,” the question hits). In “Little Spell Against Future Woe,” Bennett again captures those punchy moments that we can’t quite let loose, although they are gone: “No you never recognized, in odd bodies, one who saw you, creature of a moment, unwinding the unmade bed to what pressed along your neck in the back of the cab to the red of your face at the edge of some ruinous night.”
Little Envelope of Earth Conditions by Cori A. Winrock
Outer space and forest space: There’s a wonderfully varied yet unified bookending to Winrock’s new collection. “In a copse the deer’s body is glass / -felled, is still-beating / cross sections, is abrupt- / bladed. The deer’s body is my body.” Winrock’s narrators seek synthesis with the natural world, a way to understand mysteries and ghosts and visions. Later in that same poem, “Law of Diminishing Returns,” the narrator recalls “two white deer” seen “in the army depot in upstate, / against an apocalyptic sunset: splitting / a landscape into two perfect halves // of light and no light—they were real.” That feeling ascends to the dark heavens, where Winrock writes of spacesuits, distance, and drifting: “I veil my face to keep from beginning // To pre-breathe, to forgo the endless necessity // For nitrogen—our lady of gravity.” And between these planes, there are wonderful poems like “Aubade for Future Resurrection,” with lines that levitate: “The forest refuses to laurel / its leaves around our chalk outlines. And I’m not drunk // enough to admit this must feel like when God stops / talking to even the most devoured in faith.”
Homie by Danez Smith
“o California,” Smith begins one poem, “don’t you know the sun is only a god / if you learn to starve for her?” The narrator stands at the ocean “dressed in down, praying for snow” because “too much light makes me nervous // at least in this land where the trees always bear green.” The narrator asks: “have you ever stood on a frozen lake, California? / the sun above you, the snow & stalled sea—a field of mirror // all demanding to be the sun.” Among Smith’s many poetic talents is the ability to thread elegy with ebullience—the sweet (maybe even bittersweet) spot between nostalgia and resignation. Maybe that’s why many of these poems route themselves through friendships lost, strained, pulsing, worthy of rediscovering? Smith’s lines will hypnotize you, but also wake you, as in “ode to gold teeth”: “forgive me, forgive me, citizens // of my papa’s dead mouth / i stole you from behind his cold / flap at the funeral, i knew you were / not teeth, but seeds.” As in: “i’m waiting for a few folks // i love dearly to die so i can be myself. / please don’t make me say who.” As in: “i did not come to preach of peace / for that’s not the hunted’s duty.” An excellent collection.
Summer Snow by Robert Hass
From Field Guide, his first collection, to this present volume, Hass has always been concerned with the “language and imagery of place”–and his stated affinity for Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder shines through in his own poetry about nature. The finest poems in this new book, his first in nearly a decade, carry these natural themes–and do so with not a small amount of self-awareness (from “Stanzas for a Sierra Morning”: “You couldn’t have bought the sky’s blue. / Not in the silk markets of Samarkand. Not / In any market between Xi’an and Venice. // Which doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. / Isn’t that, after all, what a stanza is for”). In “Cymbeline,” Hass offers his ars poetica on this point: “Everything we do is explaining the sunrise. / Dying explains it. Making love explains it.” It’s the type of an admission we see in later Yeats: the acknowledgment of form and function, that poetry can be both art and real. Hass is able to craft both with ease and skill, as in poems like “Dream in the Summer of My Seventy-Third Year,” a graceful consideration of death. In the narrator’s poem, he is “behind a funeral cortege on a mountain road / And decide to pass it.” Unable to, he becomes part of “the caravan / Of mourners.” Snow falls quickly, heavily, and then stops. The poem’s final lines offer a perfect pause: “nothing in particular happens / After a snowfall, except for the intense stillness / In the pine forest the road is winding through.”
Three Poems by Hannah Sullivan
Longer poems seem the perfect form for Sullivan, whose methodical and melancholy lines tell wayward stories. In “You, Very Young in New York,” the first poem, second person creates a pointed intimacy. In this city, “nothing seems to happen. You stand around // On the same street corners, smoking, thin-elbowed, / Looking down avenues in a lime-green dress / With one arm raised, waiting to get older.” Nothing seems to help. In a later section of the poem, the character spends another day inside in a “beige Lego-maze of offices,” steeped in tedium: “You have created a spreadsheet with thirteen tabs, / The manager is giving you hell, ordering sushi, cancelling cabs.” As the narrator says later in the poem, “The thing about being very young, as you are, is the permeability / Of one person to another.” Sullivan rewards the reader for following the profluence of her verse, and the end to the first poem is an elegy for unanswered love, coupled with the generous gift of surprise. Each of these three long pieces feels and flows differently, united by Sullivan’s talent for wit, as well as for the texture of observation: “And the day comes when it is time to visit the living, / When the garden was long with gooseberries / And lightning cracked the teacup of the sky.”