Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Sam Lipsyte, Niviaq Korneliussen, Kristen Roupenian, Tessa Hadley, and more—that are publishing this week.
Hark by Sam Lipsyte
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Hark: “Lipsyte (The Fun Parts) pillories the mindfulness movement in this acerbic and surprisingly moving novel of a hesitant guru and his self-involved inner circle. Failed comic Hark Morner writes a book and launches an unexpected craze for “mental archery,” a practice combining disconnected ramblings of invented history, opaque aphorisms, and yogalike poses. Among his devoted inner circle are Kate, an aimless and wealthy 20-something who finances the movement; Teal, a convicted embezzler and unlicensed marriage therapist; and Fraz, a middle-aged man disappointed by his career stagnation and tense marriage. Hark rejects their schemes to monetize his teachings and offers only oblique answers to questions, saying that the only point is to focus. Facing pressures from tech magnate Dieter Delgado, who wants to co-opt mental archery, Hark retreats to the Upstate New York home of true believer Meg. When Fraz accidentally injures his young daughter, he pleads for Hark to call for a worldwide focus to help her survive a coma, leading to a wild conclusion an unexpected denouement. This is a searing exploration of desperate hopes, and Lipsyte’s potent blend of spot-on satire, menacing bit players, and deadpan humor will delight readers.”
Bonus: And check out Gerald Howard’s recent essay for The Millions about Lipsyte.
Late in the Day by Tessa Hadley
Here’s what PW had to say about Late in the Day: “Hadley’s perceptive, finely wrought novel (after Bad Dreams) traces the impact of the death of one man on three others. When affable art gallery owner Zachary dies suddenly in his 50s, he leaves behind not only his flamboyant and determinedly helpless widow, Lydia, but also the couple closest to them, Alex and Christine. Alex, an acerbic failed poet turned primary school teacher, and Christine, an artist who frequently exhibits her work in Zach’s gallery, have a long, complicated relationship with Zach and Lydia. Christine and Lydia, friends since childhood, met the two slightly older men when the young women were just out of college. Lydia set her sights on the melancholy Alex, who barely noticed her. Instead, he settled into a relationship with the at first reluctant Christine after her brief fling with Zach, who was actually infatuated with Lydia. Over the years, the two couples settled into the passive happiness of married life, but Zach’s death forces Lydia, Alex, and Christine to finally confront the feelings Alex and Lydia have for each other. As the two move forward together, and Christine, to her own surprise, discovers that she relishes time alone, Alex and Christine’s daughter Grace decides to make a death mask of her father, and moves in with Alex and Christine’s daughter Isobel. Hadley is a writer of the first order, and this novel gives her the opportunity to explore, with profound incisiveness and depth, the inevitable changes inherent to long-lasting marriages.”
Bonus: Take a look back at our interview with Hadley from 2015.
To Keep the Sun Alive by Rabeah Ghaffari
Here’s what PW had to say about To Keep the Sun Alive: “A family whose members hold varying loyalties shapes Ghaffari’s evocative debut set during the Iranian Revolution. Akbar, a retired judge, and his wife, Bibi, invite their extended family for leisurely lunches at their orchard in Naishapur. Akbar’s brother Habib is a mullah who’s fond of his own voice and increasingly passionate about the need for religious cleansing. His widower nephew, Shazdehpoor, bristles at Iran’s provincialism and yearns for the charms of Europe. His two sons reject their father’s intent fastidiousness: Jamsheed through opium addiction and Madjid through his heady love affair with Nasreen. As tensions rise, the family focuses more on quotidian challenges: Bibi’s friendship with an elderly midwife, the buried disappointments of marriage, servant Mirza’s propensity for forbidden alcohol, and Bibi’s adopted son Jafar’s extreme fondness for the chickens they raise. When the revolution finally arrives, shocking, sudden violence sweeps up the family with tragic results. Ghaffari delves into her characters with sensitivity for their positions and differences. Readers will savor the emotional depth of one family’s experience of the terrifying effects of religious fundamentalism and political instability. ”
The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay
Here’s what PW had to say about The Far Field: “Vijay’s remarkable debut novel is an engrossing narrative of individual angst played out against political turmoil in India’s Jammu and Kashmir state in the late 2000s. Unmoored by her mother’s death, 24-year-old Shalini apathetically floats from job to job while receiving financial support from her affluent father. In an effort to find closure, Shalini leaves her native Bangalore to search for Bashir Ahmed, her mother’s only friend, who she hasn’t seen in years. Upon arriving in tumultuous Jammu, Shalini is taken in by a Muslim family in Kishtwar and struggles to understand the fractured nature of her surroundings: the role of the omnipresent Indian Army, the disappearances of local Muslims, and the frequent violence against and perpetrated by both Muslims and Hindus. Her search eventually leads to a Himalayan village, whose generous inhabitants temporarily give her a sense of purpose amidst staggering natural beauty. However, Shalini’s ignorance and inability to be honest with herself and others results in dangerous consequences for everyone she comes in contact with. Interspersed with flashbacks of Shalini’s relationships with her dazzling yet mentally ill mother, the mysterious but kind Bashir Ahmed, and her withdrawn father, Shalini’s misguided attempts at love, fulfillment, and friendship are poignant. Vijay’s stunning debut novel expertly intertwines the personal and political to pick apart the history of Jammu and Kashmir.”
Mothers by Chris Power
Here’s what PW had to say about Mothers: “Full of travelers and troubled relationships, Power’s debut contains enough greatness to recover from sometimes repetitious narratives. ‘Mother 1: Summer 1976,’ the sparkling first story, concerns a 10-year-old Swedish girl, Eva, as she navigates her feelings toward Nisse, a neighbor boy, after she accuses him of defacing their apartment complex. Eva appears in two more stories. In ‘Mother 2: Innsbruck,’ she is a young adult, traveling Europe and contemplating suicide, while in ‘Mother 3: Eva,’ she is married with a daughter yet impaired by depression and wanderlust. ‘Mother 2: Innsbruck’ suffers from a sameness that weakens the collection, as a series of tales revolve around characters hiking rural landscapes. Of these, ‘The Crossing,’ with its newly minted couple testing their relationship on a multiday walk, works best. Other highlights include ‘Johnny Kingdom,’ which follows a Rodney Dangerfield–esque tribute comic on his farewell performances in Florida, and ‘Above the Wedding,’ about an affair between a man and his friend’s future husband. There’s plenty to admire in Power’s writing, and the author mines his characters for unexpected traits and decisions, making for an auspicious debut.”
Bonus: Check out Power’s YIR post from 2018.
You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian
Here’s what PW had to say about You Know You Want This: “Roupenian’s solid debut is highlighted by moments of startling insight into the hidden—and often uncomfortable—truths underneath modern relationships. ‘Cat Person,’ which caused a sensation when it was first published in The New Yorker in 2017, is an unrelentingly, almost painfully, honest and perfectly rendered dramatization of the millennial heterosexual relationship and all its attendant anxieties and violences. The other stories, about sex, power, and personhood, range from the highly conceptual—in ‘Scarred,’ a woman magically summons what she thinks is her heart’s desire, before she realizes the sacrifices one must make to truly attain it—to the aggressively realistic—in one of the best stories, ‘The Good Guy,’ readers are immersed into the train wreck thought process of Ted, who is certifiably and pathologically not like other guys, except, of course, that he is actually like so many guys. Another strong entry is ‘Death Wish,’ in which a divorced man living in a motel meets a girl on Tinder; when she shows up at his motel room, she has an unusual and upsetting sexual request for him. Though some stories don’t land and rely too much on explication, there are some stellar moments of pithy clarity: In ‘Scarred,’ upon summoning a way to cheat desire, the protagonist muses, ‘I had everything that could be wanted. I invented new needs just to satisfy.’ This is a promising debut.”
Last Night in Nuuk by Niviaq Korneliussen
Here’s what PW had to say about Last Night in Nuuk: “Korneliussen’s captivating debut centers around five young people over the course of a party and its aftermath in Nuuk, Greenland, as they come to terms, in various ways, with their identities. Told in bouncy, colloquial prose (‘My hair is still partying,’ a woman thinks to herself as she looks in the mirror after a night of heavy drinking), the novel honestly explores sexuality and gender identity, and the ways in which they can cause distance and connection with others. Ivik can’t figure out why she panics whenever her girlfriend touches her, while Inuk is unable to cope with his anger at his native country, from which he fled—though he’s actually mad at Arnaq for revealing his scandalous secret. After breaking up with her boyfriend, Fia finds herself drawn to Ivik’s girlfriend, Sara,who herself struggles to remain hopeful when ‘life is shit.’ The deeper issues beneath these stories bring about revelations both touching and heartbreaking. What’s so unexpected and lovely is the narrative’s irrepressible optimism and earnestness. Translated seamlessly into idiomatic English, Korneliussen’s wonderful novel introduces readers to a notable new voice in world literature.”
The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
Here’s what PW had to say about The Dreamers: “Walker’s richly imaginative and quietly devastating second novel (after The Age of Miracles) begins in a college dorm in an isolated town in the hills of Southern California, where a freshman thinks she is coming down with the flu. In fact, she has a mysterious disease that causes its victims to fall into a deep, dream-laden sleep from which they cannot be woken, and which sometimes leads to death. The disease spreads slowly at first, then more rapidly, and soon the whole town is under a quarantine. The perspective moves smoothly in and out of the minds of several of the college students and town residents, drawing back to look at the entire situation from a detached but compassionate point of view and then plunging back into the minds of those attempting to deal with the escalating problems. Among the characters are Mei, a lonely college freshman; 12-year-old Sara, who copes with an unhinged survivalist father; Sara’s neighbors, a faculty couple with a newborn baby; and aging biology professor Nathaniel. As the majority of the people of the town fall victim to the disease, neuropsychiatrist Catherine Cohen, separated from her family by the quarantine, tries desperately to find its cause, until arson at a library that’s being used as a makeshift hospital has unintended results on the state of some of the dreamers. The relatively large number of central characters makes it likely that some will succumb to the disease, upping the suspense of the story. Walker jolts the narrative with surprising twists, ensuring it keeps its energy until the end. This is a skillful, complex, and thoroughly satisfying novel about a community in peril.”
Unquiet by Linn Ullmann
Here’s what PW had to say about Unquiet: “Ullmann’s spellbinding novel (after The Cold Song) is a fragmentary portrait of a place and time, and a testament to the legacies of those she mourns. Blending memoir and literary fiction, this book presents revelatory, frank depictions of the author’s relationship to her father, legendary filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, and of his relationship to the author’s mother, Liv Ullmann, an actress and filmmaker often considered to be his greatest inspiration. Based originally on a brief series of taped conversations between Ullmann and her father just before his death, Ullmann confronts the nature of growing old while subtly studying her own childhood and middle age through the lens of her father’s decline. She reminisces on her often idyllic and tumultuous youth, studying stacks of love letters between her parents, and considering the situations that must have brought the life of her family to where it is. Some of Ullmann’s best passages are about her charming, confounding mother: ‘Mamma’s rules for good parenting: 1. Children must drink milk. 2. Children must live near trees.’ Echoing Duras’s The Lover in its blurring of the real and the imagined as well as in its obsessive attention to detail, this is a striking book about the enduring love between parents and children, and the fierce attachments that bind them even after death.”
Talk to Me by John Kenney
Here’s what PW had to say about Talk to Me: “Kenney’s bittersweet, darkly funny latest (after Truth in Advertising) is equal parts family drama and commentary on communication and news consumption in the age of instant gratification. Fifty-nine-year-old New York anchorman Ted Grayson has been the beloved—and ruggedly handsome—face of the national evening news for 20 years. But a vicious epithet (which he immediately regrets) hurled at a young female hairstylist on a particularly bad day (and caught on video) proves to be his undoing. Additionally, Claire, his wife of 30 years, has fallen in love with someone else, and his daughter, Franny, won’t speak to him. When the video leaks, the retribution is swift and brutal: he’s skewered by the press, hounded by protesters, and eventually fired. When Franny, who writes for a sensationalist online rag and is thoroughly unsatisfied with her own life, asks him to do an interview, he accepts, but it has unintended consequences that force Franny to examine her own life and her fractured relationship with her father. Kenney is supremely gifted at creating flawed, vivid characters and capturing the wonder, ennui, and heartbreak of marriage and parenthood, and the seemingly small moments that make life precious. The conclusion, while satisfying, offers no easy solutions, but it does offer a healthy dose of hope. This is a fun, winning novel. ”
Elsey Come Home by Susan Conley
Here’s what PW had to say about Elsey Come Home: “Probing questions about how to balance motherhood, a career, marriage, and a drinking problem resonate throughout Conley’s excellent novel narrated by an American painter looking back on her past few years in China, which were mostly spent teetering on the verge of a breakdown. When Elsey’s Dutch husband, Lukas, suggests she attend a weeklong spiritual retreat, Elsey begrudgingly capitulates to save their crumbling marriage. But the experience isn’t as woo-woo as she expects. Instead, while learning to weather the dreaded ‘Talking Circle’ and enduring the day of silence, she alternates between closing herself off from her emotions and ruminating on her demons, including the death of her younger sister when they were children, and her inability to ‘understand how to be obsessed with [her] children and obsessed with [her] painting at the same time.’ Elsey also befriends Mei, an esteemed painter married to another esteemed painter, whose frankness about feeling trapped in a restrictive country and marriage gives Elsey perspective. Though Elsey continues to falter and obsess over past decisions after returning home, her growing ability to tackle previously insurmountable challenges (her daughter’s appendicitis, a visit to her childhood home, AA meetings, a return to painting) proves she is slowly learning how to ‘be a different kind of mother. A different kind of wife.’ Conley (Paris Was the Place) hits the mark on a story line that feels both high-stakes and fine-tuned. But it’s the raw desperation of Elsey’s inner dialogue that elevates the novel, making for an honest and astute depiction of the human psyche.”
Big Bang by David Bowman
Here’s what PW had to say about Big Bang: “‘Where were you when you first heard President Kennedy had been shot?’ asks Bowman (1957–2012) in the opening of his big, bold, and brilliant posthumous novel, and for the next 600 pages, he investigates what occurred in the years leading up to that monumental event in American history. Through the lives of such iconic figures as Norman Mailer, Elvis, William de Kooning, Marilyn Monroe, Dr. Spock, Ngô Dihn Diem, Aristotle Onassis, the Kennedys themselves, and dozens of others, Bowman conjures an enormous narrative out of the troubled years from 1950 to 1963. Bowman takes the reader to Nevada, where Arthur Miller and Saul Bellow become short-term neighbors while waiting to obtain quickie divorces; to Seattle, where Jimi Hendrix and Bruce Lee have a strange encounter; to Mexico City, where William S. Burroughs shoots his wife in the head during a William Tell stunt gone horribly wrong; to Robert McNamara’s home, where he and some Washington, D.C., friends have a book club; to Vietnam, where a fake coup quickly becomes a real one; and, of course, to Dallas on the day the President was gunned down. Bowman (Let the Dog Drive) relates all of these remarkable tales with a straight-faced, just-the-facts approach, stripping these giants of the 20th century of their mythic status and rendering them as mere humans—caught, like everyone, in the crossfire of unrelenting history. Bowman’s self-described ‘nonfiction novel’ is a stunning and singular achievement.”
The Accidental Further Adventures of the Hundred-Year-Old Man by Jonas Jonasson:
Here’s what PW had to say about The Accidental Further Adventures of the Hundred-Year-Old Man: “Jonasson continues the globetrotting adventures of centenarian Allan Karlsson and his sidekick, petty thief Julius Jonasson, in this uproarious sequel to The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. Lounging in Indonesia with the briefcase full of cash they procured in the previous book, Allan and Julius have it made. They sip drinks on the beach, take visits from Harry Belafonte, and play around with smartphones while lazing in the sun. Allan finds himself becoming more interested in world politics as he reads the news, and when the money finally runs out, he concocts another outlandish plan: to travel around the world in a hot air balloon. When the balloon crashes and the pair are rescued by a North Korean ship, their travels take them from North Korea, to America, Sweden, and eventually Tanzania as Allan and Julius try unload a suitcase filled with enriched uranium they find onboard the ship. But, as they meet world leaders—including Kim Jong-un, Angela Merkel, and Donald Trump—they discover their options are quite limited. Jonasson’s clever prose, madcap delights, and satirical political commentary will please fans of the original novel and newcomers alike.”
Still in Love by Michael Downing:
Here’s what PW had to say about Still in Love: “Downing’s witty follow-up to Perfect Agreement satisfyingly transports readers to college as teacher Mark Sternum begins winter term at Hellman College in New England. Mark’s highly acclaimed creative writing class is filled with 12 students, yet hopefuls line the classroom to listen to the writer’s workshop. Mark jointly teaches with the Professor, a distant man whom the students fear as much as they feel at ease with Sternum. This term is challenging for Mark as he tries to fill the void left by Paul, his partner of 30 years who is currently overseas, by staying at Paul’s condo more than in his own house. The students, meanwhile, dissect each other’s work and try to sort out their lives. Mark takes an interest in Anton, a student whom he learns is battling cancer. In addition to focusing on his own writing, Mark stresses over an important departmental report, and even though he’s tenured, he likes to please and allows union meetings to be held in his office. In depicting Mark’s ordinary semester, Downing poignantly illustrates the dynamics of the college classroom as well as its potential for lasting lessons, making for a resonant campus novel.”