The Blizzard Party: A Novel

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Livings, Fine, Kushner, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Jack Livings, Julia Fine, Rachel Kushner, and more—that are publishing this week.

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The Blizzard Party by Jack Livings

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Blizzard Party: “Livings, PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize winner for the story collection The Dog, returns with a brilliant debut novel centering on a woman’s memories of a fatal blizzard that occurred in her childhood. Hazel Saltwater determines to rewrite the story of Albert Caldwell’s death after a party during the historic blizzard of 1978 in New York City when Hazel was six. (Her father, Erwin, has already published a blockbuster autobiographical novel about it called The Blizzard Party.) Hazel pieces together backstories of the pivotal players who attended the party, including the neurotic Erwin, transformed by guilt over a WWII experience; Caldwell, an astute lawyer plotting his suicide before succumbing to dementia; Turk Brunn, who runs an amusement park where visitors sign up to experience various forms of simulated abuse; and Turk’s father, Lazlo, a linguistic virtuoso whose research inadvertently made him psychotic. Livings’s genius resides in his ability to weave these disparate threads together through banal events (a Christmas tree jammed into an apartment’s garbage chute; the selling of a painting; a brawl in a diner), illuminating an intricate pattern that, for Hazel, predestines a dénouement that is startling to the reader. Livings calls to mind the work of Michael Chabon as he brings insight into the way events and circumstances shape his characters’ lives. This is one to savor.”

The Smash-Up by Ali Benjamin

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Smash-Up: “YA author Benjamin (The Thing About Jellyfish) revisits Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome in her adult debut, an ambitious if schematic novel of middle-aged liberal angst. Having cofounded a successful guerrilla marketing start-up, Bränd, Ethan Frome leaves New York City in the early 2000s for a quiet life in the Berkshires with his wife, Zo. In 2016, Donald Trump’s election marks a turning point: ‘It was good until it wasn’t. All of it: The town. His marriage. Their finances. The world.’ Ethan is a common, though well-drawn, fictional type: an ironic, middle-aged underachiever beset by temptation (here it’s the live-in babysitter), yet too decent, or timid, to force the moment to its crisis. Zo, meanwhile, is part of a feminist activist group called All Them Witches and an independent filmmaker who has grown increasingly distant and enraged. With Zo fuming over Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, Ethan becomes entangled, somewhat implausibly, in the #MeToo movement: his boorish Bränd cofounder asks him to help silence a Hollywood actress whose accusations could bring down the company. With satire and suspense, Benjamin handily encapsulates the incomprehension, sadness, and rage of the Trump era.”

The Slaughterman’s Daughter by Yaniv Iczkovits (translated by Orr Scharf)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Slaughterman’s Daughter: “In Israeli philosopher and novelist Iczkovits’s delightfully expansive tale (after Adam and Sophie), a Jewish woman goes to great lengths to help her older sister in 1894 Russia. Mende and her children have been abandoned by her husband, Zvi-Meir, in the town of Motal. Mende’s younger sister, Fanny, also a wife and mother, travels to Minsk, where Zvi-Meir has gone, to convince him to sign a writ of divorce so Mende can move on with her life. Fanny’s traveling companion is taciturn boatman Zizek Breshov. Their travels take a turn when a family of bandits tries to rob them. Fanny, trained in animal butchery by her slaughterman father, expertly wields the knife she keeps strapped to her leg, and they leave the family dead on the road. Investigating the murder, imperial secret police colonel Piotr Novak disguises himself as a Jew to find out more about his suspects, Fanny and Zizek. Iczkovits elevates this cat-and-mouse story into a sweeping narrative with trips down side roads that reveal the riveting backstories of major and minor characters. His observations about human nature, family dynamics, and the interplay between religion and politics come across as wise but never didactic. Ever entertaining, Iczkovits’s lively, transportive picaresque takes readers on a memorable ride.”

The Upstairs House by Julia Fine

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Upstairs House: “Fine (What Should Be Wild) examines a new mother’s unraveling in her eerie sophomore outing. Eight days after stalled English PhD candidate Megan Weiler gives birth to her first daughter, Clara, Megan discovers a turquoise door in the stairwell above their apartment. Behind it she finds a woman who, upon asked what she’s doing, says she’s ‘building a house for Michael.’ While researching for her dissertation on children’s literature amid her postpartum delirium, Megan realizes the woman resembles Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon, who died in 1952, and decides she must be Margaret’s ghost, and the house she is building is for her lover, poet Michael Strange (born Blanche Oelrichs). Interstitial chapters comprise chapters of Megan’s thesis, in which she casts Margaret and Michael’s lesbian relationship as a tempestuous, borderline-abusive affair beginning in the 1940s. As the ghosts of Margaret and Michael disturb Clara, Megan flees with Clara to a cabin in Wisconsin, but even there, she can’t shake the grip of the ghosts, and her world becomes more claustrophobic. Fine keeps the high concept under control as the book hurtles toward a disturbing conclusion. This white-knuckle depiction of the essential scariness of new motherhood will captivate readers.”

Also on shelves this week: Oh You Robot Saints! by Rebecca Morgan Frank and The Mayor of Leipzig by Rachel Kushner.

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