Take This Man: A Novel

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Lee, Tsumura, McCadden, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Andrea Lee, Kikuko Tsumura, Alice Zeniter, and more—that are publishing this week.
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Red Island House by Andrea Lee

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Red Island House: “Lee’s seductive novel (her first in 15 years, after Lost Hearts in Italy) chronicles the life of Shay Gilliam, a Black American woman married to an Italian man. Her husband, Senna, builds the couple a vacation property and pension in northwestern Madagascar. It takes a while for Shay to adjust during visits from Italy, where Shay teaches literature, but she befriends head housekeeper Bertine, whom Shay enlists to help her get rid of loud, racist Kristos, the house manager. As the decades pass, the couple raises children and continues to visit. Meanwhile, various episodes in Madagascar occupy Shay, including a feud between a volatile bar owner and an ostentatious business rival who appears to be ‘living out some Happy Valley colonial fantasy.’ (One of the two ends up dead.) Shay also has an unsettling encounter while searching for a ‘sacred tree,’ and develops a ‘strange intimacy’ with the skipper of the couple’s decrepit catamaran. These experiences lead Shay to confront ideas about race, class, and colonialism. If the plotting is episodic, the writing is vivid: ‘the first caress of tropical air’ is ‘like an infant’s hand on the face,’ and Shay’s fond reflections on Bertine are especially moving. Things ebb and flow, but the overall impact is quietly powerful.”
There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura (translated by Polly Barton)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job: “Tsumura’s sharp English-language debut follows a woman’s search for fulfillment in an all-consuming late-capitalist Japan. The unnamed narrator suffers career burnout at 36 and abandons her job (she’s coy until the end about the details). When her unemployment insurance runs out, she reenters the workforce, seeking a position ‘that was practically without substance, a job that sat on the borderline between being a job and not.’ What follows is a series of increasingly strange and occasionally surreal temporary gigs. In one, she monitors hours of video footage from surveillance cameras placed in an author’s house and begins to find her preferences and identity merging with his; in another, she writes copy for voice advertisements on buses, but the businesses she’s writing for mysteriously appear and disappear. Though she attempts to maintain emotional distance from her work, the narrator is drawn into a consuming series of workplace situations; while working on a maintenance crew for a national park, she encounters a man living in the woods who succumbed to a similar burnout. Tsumura’s rendering of a millennial besieged by anxious overthinking and coping through deadpan humor and sarcasm rings true. As the monotonous and fantastic collide, Tsumura shows that meaning and real intrigue can be found in the unlikeliest of places.”
Raft of Stars by Andrew J. Graff
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Raft of Stars: “Though set in 1994, the wilderness odyssey that shapes Graff’s rewarding coming-of-age debut has a timeless, archetypal resonance. After the death of Fischer ‘Fish’ Branson’s father, Fish spends summers with his grandfather Teddy in tiny Claypot, Wis. His best friend there is Dale ‘Bread’ Breadwin, whose dad, Jack, is an abusive drunk. After Fish impulsively shoots Jack in an attempt to end Bread’s suffering, the two 10-year-olds mistakenly assume he is dead. They pilfer supplies, leave a note for Teddy, and hide in the dense woods that border the town while they improvise a raft to flee Claypot by river. Teddy and the town sheriff, Cal, a burned-out former cop from Texas, look for them on horseback, while Fish’s fiercely spiritual mom mounts a search by canoe with a young woman who works at a gas station and shares with Cal an unspoken attraction. By the time these six converge at a perilous waterfall, each has come to know more about themselves and each other. Though the resolution yields few surprises, Graff depicts the harsh Northwoods setting and his misfit characters’ inner lives with equal skill. The dynamic quest narrative offers plenty of rich moments.”
My Friend Natalia by Laura Lindstedt (translated by David Hackston)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about My Friend Natalia: “Lindstedt makes her English-language debut with an uneven transgressive novel chronicling the relationship between an unnamed psychologist—whose gender Lindstedt leaves unspecified—and their patient. The psychologist narrates the story as a dishy, somewhat unhinged case study, beginning with graphic designer Natalia coming to them for help with obsessive sexual thoughts. After the first session, the psychologist realizes Natalia, who makes erudite, provocative digressions on cultural references, is perfect for the psychologist to practice the method they defended for their PhD, designed to let patients ‘bounce and rebound’ through free association. Divided into weekly appointments, the chapters chronicle an intensifying mental and sexual power struggle between psychologist and patient, such as Natalia’s determination to keep time in the sessions with an alarm clock, and to bare her sexual prowess by sharing her sex tapes. Throughout the novel, Natalia riffs on Sartre, Beauvoir, and others, baiting the psychologist with sexually charged critiques of patriarchal philosophy (‘Sartre wrote: The female organ is like all other holes, a plea for existence’). Though often humorous, some of the arch prose falls flat (‘The distance between her mouth and eyes was greater than scientifically proven patterns of beauty would allow’). Still, fans of subversive stories of psychoanalysis may want to take a look.”
The Art of Losing by Alice Zeniter (translated by Frank Wynne)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Art of Losing: “In Zeniter’s ruminative latest (after Take This Man), a French Algerian woman unearths her shrouded family history and reckons with the question of what constitutes a homeland. Ali, a veteran of the WWII French auxiliary, has built a sizable olive oil business in Algeria, but flees for France with his family after Algeria wins its independence. Ali’s eldest son, Hamid, assimilates into French culture and distances himself from his family, while Naima, Hamid’s art historian daughter, who endures bigotry after the Charlie Hebdo massacre and other acts of terrorism, delves headlong into research on Algeria in preparation for an art exhibit by expatriate Algerian artist Lalla Fatma N’Soumer. During their interviews, she struggles to grasp the stories Lalla tells her about Algeria while piecing together an understanding of her own identity, given that Hamid had refused to take her to Algeria as a child. A trip to a museum in Tizi Ouzi provides cover for a search for information about Ali, but on the way she worries how she’ll be treated as a descendent of French allies. Zeniter skillfully demonstrates the impact of colonialism on family, country, and the historical archive. With nuance and grace, this meditative novel adds to the understanding of a complex, uncomfortable era of French history.”
Also on shelves this week: Peach State by Adrienne Su and American Wake by Kerrin McCadden.

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