Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Richard Powers, Rabih Alameddine, Ruth Ozeki, and more—that are publishing this week.
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Bewilderment by Richard Powers
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Bewilderment: “Pulitzer winner Powers (The Overstory) offers up a marvelous story of experimental neurotherapy and speculations about alien life. Astrophysicist Theo Byrne simulates worlds outside Earth’s solar system as part of lobbying efforts for a new spaceborne telescope. As a single parent in Madison, Wis., his work takes a back seat—his wife, Aly, mother of their nine-year-old, Robin, died two years earlier. Theo shares his fictional descriptions of life on exoplanets with Robin in the form of bedtime stories, and they bond over a Trumpian administration’s hostility to scientific research. Theo allows Robin to protest neglect of endangered species at the state capitol, despite Robin’s volatile behavior. He’s been diagnosed with Asperger’s, OCD, and ADHD, and Theo refuses to give him psychoactive medication (‘Life is something we need to stop correcting,’ goes Theo’s new ‘crackpot theory’). More cutting-edge is the neurofeedback program run by an old friend of Aly’s, who trains Robin to model his emotions from a record saved of Aly’s brain activity. It works, for a while—the tragic, bittersweet plot has some parallels to Flowers for Algernon. The planetary descriptions grow a bit repetitive and don’t gain narrative traction, but in the end, Powers transforms the wrenching story into something sublime. Though it’s not his masterpiece, it shows the work of a master.”
The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Wrong End of the Telescope: “A Lebanese doctor travels to the island of Lesbos to help refugees and confront her past in the profound and wonderful latest from Alameddine (The Angel of History), a meditation on loss, resilience, and love. Born in Beirut but long settled in the U.S., Mina Simpson is trans and estranged from every member of her family except her older brother Mazen, who flies to the island to assist her. Soon, their paths cross that of a blocked Lebanese writer. The chapters alternate between Mina’s account of her time on Lesbos, where she treats a Syrian woman named Sumaiya who is dying from liver cancer and pleads with Mina not to tell her family, and second-person narration directed at the writer, who encouraged Mina to write about the refugees because he didn’t feel up to the task (‘You weren’t able to find the right words even after numerous sessions on your psychiatrist’s couch,’ Mina narrates). Confronted by the pain so many refugees describe, Mina recalls the lost world of her own childhood and bonds with Sumaiya over their shared desire to protect their families from the truth. As Mina and her writer-interlocutor are each consumed by the effort to communicate the horror of the refugee experience, Alameddine crafts a wise, deeply moving story that can still locate humor in the pit of hell (Mina, agreeing to let the writer tell her story, jokes, “Whatever you do … don’t fucking call it A Lebanese Lesbian in Lesbos”). This is a triumph.
When Ghosts Come Home by Wiley Cash
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about When Ghosts Come Home: “The trouble for Sheriff Winston Barnes, the upstanding hero of this leisurely whodunit set in 1984 from bestseller Cash (A Land More Kind than Home), begins when he drives late one night to the tiny Oak Island, N.C., airport, where an airplane has crash landed. On the runway near the plane, which is empty, lies the body of Rodney Bellamy, who’s been shot to death. Rodney went to school with Winston’s estranged daughter, Colleen, and was the son of one of the county’s leading civil rights advocates. An FBI investigation into the mysterious plane, which may have been carrying cocaine, threatens Winston’s image as a capable cop—and his chances in a tough re-election against rich boy Bradley Frye. Racial tensions escalate as Frye’s crew of thugs threaten Rodney’s widow and her 14-year-old brother. Meanwhile, Colleen is in town from Texas to figure out her law career and marriage after the death of her baby. A surfeit of background exposition and multiple tangential story lines slow the momentum of the murder plot. This rich character-driven tale works best as a social portrait of a community and an era.”
The Body Scout by Lincoln Michel
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Body Scout: “Michel’s brisk, entertaining debut weaves familiar cyberpunk tropes through a gritty, near-future world of corporate greed and pro baseball. As young boys growing up in the bleak underground warrens of a New York City partly submerged due to climate change, Kobo and his best friend, JJ Zunz, dreamed of playing ball in the big leagues. Kobo washed out of the now-defunct Cyber League and became a talent scout for the pros, though the sport is now controlled by Big Pharma, whose cutting-edge drug blends fuel the top players. Zunz, on the other hand, had the skills and luck to become a star hitter for the Monsanto Mets—until he drops dead on the field during a playoff game. Was it poison or a careless overdose? Kobo’s determined to find the truth, and his investigation plunges him deep into a web of corporate politics, intrigue, and cutthroat shenanigans. The plot moves fast and features well-wrought if expected worldbuilding details, including floating billboards, advanced drug and gene therapies, cybernetic rebuilds, obnoxious and über-wealthy CEOs, and ecological collapse. Readers won’t need to be baseball fans to enjoy this gripping ride.”
Lean Fall Stand by Jon McGregor
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Lean Fall Stand: “McGregor’s stunning latest (after Reservoir 13) explores the aftermath of a traumatic accident. Robert Wright has spent a good deal of his professional life as a technician at Station K in Antarctica with a team of geographic researchers. During a storm, Robert is separated from his crew and suffers a near-fatal injury. McGregor beautifully captures Robert’s ensuing struggle for survival through passages of fragmented stream of consciousness. After Robert’s wife, Anna, is informed he had a stroke, she flies to meet him in Chile, where he has been hospitalized. But the Robert she encounters is a very different man from the one she last saw: among other injuries, his stroke has severely affected the language center of his brain. As the survival story becomes one of recuperation, Anna, an academic who studies the effects of global warming, must care for her disabled spouse, and McGregor portrays the tribulations of speech therapy with as much drama and depth as the depictions of men fighting for their lives on an Antarctic ice floe. Readers will be drawn into Robert and Anna’s heartbreaking struggle, all rendered in McGregor’s crystalline language. This gorgeous work leaves an indelible mark.”
The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Book of Form and Emptiness: “Zen Buddhist priest Ozeki’s illuminating postmodern latest (after the meditation memoir The Face: A Time Code) explores themes of mourning, madness, and the powers of the imagination. Benny Oh, a 13-year-old boy, begins hearing voices after his jazz musician father dies in a tragicomic accident involving a truck full of chickens. The voices launch Benny on a quest of self-discovery at the library, where he meets a slovenly poet-philosopher called ‘the Bottleman’ and his stunning, anarchic protégé, ‘the Aleph,’ a young woman obsessed with Borges and the Situationists. The duo cause Benny’s life to become more chaotic and yet more thrilling as they encourage him to embrace his inner madness. Meanwhile, Benny’s mother, Annabelle, whose job for a media-monitoring agency requires her to clip and catalogue print newspaper and magazine articles, and who now works from home, starts hoarding, and the house’s clutter becomes increasingly overwhelming. Sometimes this reads like a simple coming-of-age tale, but Ozeki playfully and successfully breaks the fourth wall—Benny, embarrassed by a passage about him being bullied, says to ‘the Book,’ ‘Can we just skip this, please?’—and she cultivates a striking blend of young adult fiction tropes with complex references to Walter Benjamin, Zen Buddhism, and Marxist philosophy. This is the rare work that will entertain teenagers, literary fiction readers, and academics alike.”