Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Louise Erdrich, John Edgar Wideman, and more—that are publishing this week.
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The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Sentence: “Pulitzer winner Erdrich (The Night Watchman) returns with a scintillating story about a motley group of Native American booksellers haunted by the spirit of a customer. In 2019 Minneapolis, Tookie, a formerly incarcerated woman, is visited at a bookstore by the ghost of Flora, a white woman with a problematic past. Despite being a dedicated ally of myriad Native causes, Flora fabricated a family lineage linking her to various Indigenous groups including Dakota and Ojibwe. Many of the story’s characters reckon with both personal and ancestral hauntings: Tookie with a childhood of neglect and her time in prison for unknowingly trafficking drugs; her husband, Pollux, a former tribal police officer, confronts his past experiences of using force after the murder of George Floyd; and Asema, a college student of Ojibwe and Sisseton Dakota descent, pieces together an ominous historical manuscript depicting the abduction of a 19th-century Ojibwe-Cree woman, which Flora’s daughter brought to the store. As the Covid-19 pandemic takes hold and the store pivots to mail orders, several of the characters join the protests against police brutality. More than a gripping ghost story, this offers profound insights into the effects of the global pandemic and the collateral damage of systemic racism. It adds up to one of Erdrich’s most sprawling and illuminating works to date.”
The Perishing by Natashia Deón
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Perishing: “Deón follows the critically acclaimed Grace with a provocative if unruly adventure through time featuring an immortal Black woman struggling to discover her destiny. Lou wakes up naked in an alley in 1930s Los Angeles as a teenager, with no memory of her past. Taken in by a foster family, she completes her education and becomes a journalist for the Los Angeles Times, where her beat consists of reporting on the deaths of ‘colored people—all shades of brown: Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Indian, Native American, and, depending on our country’s mood, Irish Catholic.’ Among those she interviews is a petty criminal who lives in an iron lung and a firefighter whom she has no memory of having met, but whose face she has drawn again and again for years. Interwoven are flashes of other lives, among them a murderess a century in the future, and the light-skinned lover of a Chinese doctor in 1871. These others are cognizant of their connection to Lou, but she knows nothing of them, and Deón burns a lot of pages with commentary on the various historical periods before elucidating Lou’s purpose. Lou does not discover who she really is, however, until the final pages, so though Deón can turn phrases in new and powerful ways, the story fails to find a satisfying ending. Deón is a very gifted writer, but this won’t go down as her best work.”
Admit This to No One by Leslie Pietrzyk
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Admit This to No One: “Pietrzyk dissects the messy interpersonal power dynamics of Washington, D.C., in this sharp debut collection of linked stories. In the opener, ‘Til Death Do Us Part,’ an unnamed Speaker of the House, whose sex scandals adjusted his status from ‘not-president’ to ‘never-president,’ is stabbed while meeting his 15-year-old daughter for dinner at the Kennedy Center. His 40-year-old daughter, Lexie, who initially assumes the assailant was one of the Speaker’s exes, hears the news in ‘Stay There,’ and abruptly departs her own art opening to visit him at the hospital. The Speaker’s exceptionally competent, longtime senior staffer, Mary-Grace, stars in ‘I Believe in Mary Worth,’ where she butts heads with an eager young female new hire, and the title story, which flashes back to the Speaker’s doomed presidential run in 1992. Some stories move beyond the Speaker’s family, including ‘People Love a View,’ where a couple on a first date witness an increasingly tense traffic stop, and ‘This Isn’t Who We Are,’ in which a white, middle-class ‘Northern Virginia’ woman, in a series of sentences starting with the word ‘pretend’ (‘Pretend that your desire to compliment her hair isn’t about you;), wrestles with her implicit racism and classism. Throughout, Pietrzyk writes with insight and wit, and makes even tertiary characters feel fully developed. This ambitious work is pulled off with verve.”
The Dawn of Everything by David Wengrow and David Graeber
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Dawn of Everything: “he transition from hunter-gatherer life to agriculture, urbanism, and civilization saw a blossoming of egalitarian politics and social order, according to this sweeping manifesto. Surveying 26,000-year-old European graves, Stone Age Turkish towns, the musings of 17th-century Iroquois philosophers, and more, archaeologist Wengrow (What Makes Civilization?) and anthropologist Graeber (Debt), who died last year, critique conventional theories of historical development. Far from simplistic savages living in a state of ‘childlike innocence,’ they argue, hunter-gatherers could be sophisticated thinkers with diverse economies and sizable towns; moreover, agriculture and urbanism did not necessarily birth private property, class hierarchies, and authoritarian government, they contend, since many early farming societies and cities were egalitarian and democratic. Vast in scope and dazzling in erudite detail, the book seethes with intriguing ideas; unfortunately, though, the authors’ habitual overgeneralizations—’one cannot even say that medieval [European] thinkers rejected the notion of social equality: the idea that it might exist seems never to have occurred to them’—undermine confidence in their method of grand speculation from tenuous evidence. (For example, they see ‘evidence for the world’s first documented social revolution’ in the damaged condition of elite habitations in the 4,000-year-old ruins of the Chinese city of Taosi.) Readers will find this stimulating and provocative, but not entirely convincing.”
O Beautiful by Jung Yun
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about O Beautiful: “In Yun’s revelatory sophomore outing (after Shelter), a former model turned freelance journalist’s big magazine assignment sends her back to her hometown in North Dakota. Elinor Hanson grew up near the Bakken Formation with her Air Force father, who is white, and her Korean mother, and the assignment, which she took over from a former professor, Richard, involves reporting on the oil boom in nearby Avery, N.Dak. On the flight from New York City, Elinor faces sexual harassment and discrimination for being Asian, experiences that recur throughout the novel. As Elinor interviews men who came from all over the country in pursuit of the economic opportunities provided by the oil industry, she learns that some of her former grad-school colleagues are preparing to sue Richard for sexual harassment. Elinor also begins asking around town about a woman who disappeared two years earlier, but her editor, who is romantically involved with Richard, admonishes her not to write a ‘dead-girl story.’ By the end of Yun’s tightly plotted narrative, Elinor has figured out the angle of her story in a way that ties together the drama around Richard and the problems in her hometown. Yun successfully takes on a host of hot button subjects, drilling through them with her protagonist’s laser-eyed focus.”
Look for Me and I’ll Be Gone by John Edgar Wideman
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Look for Me and I’ll Be Gone: “Two-time PEN/Faulkner winner Wideman’s bold latest (after You Made Me Love You) resonates with themes of racial identity, incarceration, poverty, and history. The stage is set with a quick one-two: the brief stream-of-consciousness opening story, ‘Art of Story,’ and ‘Last Day,’ in which the narrator ponders visiting his brother in prison, where his Blackness is felt in ‘hard, rigid, premeditated’ overtones. A boy’s sadness is palpable in the gorgeous ‘Separation’ as he stands by his beloved grandfather’s coffin while the narrator recounts the family’s heritage as a tender requiem. A letter written to R&B legend Freddie Jackson forms the soul of the epistolary ‘Arizona’ as the narrator travels to prison with his son and his lawyers so his son can continue serving a life sentence for murder. A brother anxiously awaits a reunion, 44 years in the making, with his formerly incarcerated brother in ‘Penn Station.’ Other gems feature Wideman’s piercing observations; in ‘BTM,’ the narrator recounts seeing the three letters painted on the side of a building in New York City, then transformed to ‘BLM,’ and reflects on the ‘hopelessness of railing against race.’ Wideman’s memorable collection reinforces his reputation as a witty and provocative social observer and raconteur who challenges stereotypes and creatively reaffirms the realities of Black American life.”