The History of Living Forever: A Novel

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Center for Fiction Names 2019 First Novel Prize Longlist

The Center for Fiction announced its 2019 First Novel Prize Longlist yesterday. The award is given to the “best debut novel published between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 of the award year,” and the prize-winning author receives $10,000.

Here is the 2019 longlist (featuring many titles from our 2019 Book Preview) with bonus links when applicable:

The Affairs of the Falcóns by Melissa Rivero (Featured in our April Preview)

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson (Read Wilkinson’s 2018 Year in Reading)

Bangkok Wakes to Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad (Read Sudbanthad’s 2018 Year in Reading)

The Bobcat by Katherine Forbes Riley

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall 

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips 

The Falconer by Dana Czapnik 

Fall Back Down When I Die by Joe Wilkins 

The Farm by Joanne Ramos 

Goodnight Stranger by Miciah Bay Gault 

The History of Living Forever by Jake Wolff 

In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow (Featured in our June Preview)

The Gone Dead by Chanelle Benz 

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo


 

The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell (Read our interview with Serpell)

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (Featured in two Year in Reading posts)

Oval by Elvia Wilk (Featured in our June Preview)

The Paper Wasp by Lauren Acampora 

A Particular Kind of Black Man by Tope Folarin 

A Prayer for Travelers by Ruchika Tomar 

A People’s History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramanian 

Riots I Have Known by Ryan Chapman (Read an excerpt here)

Tears of the Trufflepig by Fernando A. Flores 

Tinfoil Butterfly by Rachel Eve Moulton 

The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin (Featured in Julia Phillips’ list of eight books set in the middle of nowhere)

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates 

We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin 

The 2019 shortlist will be announced in September, and the winner will be announced at The Center for Fiction’s annual Benefit and Awards Dinner in December.

Tuesday New Release Day: Hemon, Bob-Waksberg, Martins, Awad, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Aleksandar Hemon, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Geovani Martins, Mona Awad, and more—that are publishing this week.

Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.

Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory by Raphael Bob-Waksberg

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory: “Bob-Waksberg, creator of the subversive cartoon series BoJack Horseman, hones his wonderfully absurd and unexpectedly moving style in this selection of stories about love. ‘A Most Blessed and Auspicious Occasion’ pokes fun at the arbitrary absurdity of wedding traditions and expectations by introducing a world in which engagement rings are replaced by expensive ‘promise eggs’ and goats are routinely sacrificed at ceremonies. During a family vacation in ‘These Are Facts,’ a girl bonds with her bratty older half-brother, who uses sarcasm to hide the bitterness he still feels toward their father. Sometimes the author’s premises go on a beat too long, as in ‘Missed Connection—m4w,’ in which two mutually attracted subway riders stay on a train for years but never get up the nerve to talk to each other, or ‘Rufus,’ told from the viewpoint of a small dog and peppered with cutesy nomenclature. But mostly Bob-Waksberg successfully tempers the ridiculous with a sharp tug at the heartstrings. ‘Rules for Taboo,’ in which avoiding certain words during a board game triggers a string of pleasant and unpleasant truths, is a prime example of this skill, and a highlight of the collection. These stories are at times poignant and triumphantly silly, but always manage to ring true.”

The Sun on My Head by Geovani Martins (translated by Julia Sanches)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Sun on My Head: “Young men contend with the violence and corruption of Rio de Janerio in this tantalizing debut from Brazilian Martins. The characters in these stories represent a full spectrum of favela life, from the aspiring graffiti artist, Fernando, who longs to give his son a better childhood than his father offered him (‘The Tag’) to the drug pusher forced to dispose of the body of a customer he kills in a fit of pique (‘The Crossing’). In ‘Spiral,’ a student who commutes to a tony neighborhood becomes obsessed with its residents, ‘who inhabited a world unknown to me’; he stalks one for months before he sees in his subject’s ‘eyes the horror of realization.’ Martins’s characters and the situations they navigate grab the reader’s attention, but he often shies away from offering a resolution. ‘TGIF’ defies this tendency, accompanying its protagonist on a harrowing subway ride to score drugs in a distant favela and ending in a confrontation with a crooked cop. In Martins’s Rio, every interaction is a negotiation, and everyone is ‘in the same boat: hard up, dopeless, wanting to chill beachside.’ This is a promising work from an intriguing new voice.”

The History of Living Forever by Jake Wolff

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The History of Living Forever: “The search for an eternal life potion weaves through raw emotion, scientific curiosity, and heartbreak in Wolff’s intoxicating debut. On the first day of his senior year of high school in Maine in 2010, 16-year-old Conrad learns his chemistry teacher and secret lover Sammy Tampari has died in an apparent suicide. Conrad comes home from school dazed, only to find a package from Sammy that contains journals and a key to storage unit. He discovers that Sammy has long been testing an immortality elixir on himself. Conrad enlists best friend RJ to duplicate the substance in hopes of healing his father’s fatal liver disease and RJ’s sister’s muscular dystrophy. Conrad reads, in Sammy’s journals, about Sammy’s depressed childhood and globetrotting search for ingredients first with his overly forgiving girlfriend Catherine and then with boyfriend Sadiq. Wolff blends the journal entries and other flashbacks with ease, incorporating vignettes of historical figures who were drawn to the search for eternal life, as well as the future, and of Conrad’s 40th birthday and his husband’s brain cancer diagnosis. The epic sweep and sly humor in the midst of enormous anguish will remind readers of Michael Chabon’s work as they relish this heady exploration of grief, alchemy, and love.”

My Parents: An Introduction/This Does Not Belong to You by Aleksandar Hemon

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about My Parents: An Introduction/This Does Not Belong to You: “MacArthur fellow Hemon (The Lazarus Project) recounts his Bosnian family’s journey from hopeful progress to exile in this richly reflective two-volume memoir. My Parents follows his father and mother as they rose from impoverished rural backgrounds to enjoy the communist ‘Yugoslav Dream’—good jobs, a nice apartment in Sarajevo and a vacation house—until the 1992 Bosnian war forced them to flee to Canada and start over in their 50s. Hemon sets the tender and often funny story of his quirky parents against the vivid background of their nurturing (though dour and sexist) peasant culture, woven from epic war stories, food rituals, and folk songs. This Does Not Belong to You is an impressionistic, darker-edged sheaf of Hemon’s boyhood memories (after his grandfather’s death, ‘he was no longer there at all; just, where he used to be, a void’), more about writerly individualism than tribal solidarity. A lonely boy given to writing poetry on toilet paper and compulsively hunting flies (they ‘rubbed their little legs gleefully while I strived to catch them with a quick forehand’), Hemon weathered bullies and mooned over unattainable girls. Sometimes lively and sensual, sometimes bleakly ruminative, Hemon’s recollections unite his dazzling prose style with a captivating personal narrative.”

Song for the Unraveling of the World by Brian Evenson

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Song for the Unraveling of the World: “In the title tale of this collection, the main character identifies the mood of disorienting uncertainty that pervades all 22 unsettling stories when he ponders a world ‘that was always threatening to come unraveled around him.’ In ‘Line of Sight,’ one of three stories that juxtapose movie make-believe to everyday life, an actor on set is startled to glimpse something peering out at him through ‘a seam where reality had been imperfectly fused.’ The viewpoint characters of ‘The Glistening World’ and ‘Wanderlust’ are disturbed by their paranoid perception that they are being followed by persons with inscrutable motives. ‘Sisters’ is a ghoulish lark about a strange family whose exploration of ordinary Halloween traditions reveals their own Addams Family–like proclivities. Most of these stories are carefully calibrated exercises in ambiguity in which Evenson (Windeye) leaves it unclear how much of the off-kilterness exists outside of the deep-seated pathologies that motivate his characters. His work will hold great appeal for fans of subtly unnerving dark fantasy.”

Writing to Persuade by Trish Hall

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Writing to Persuade: “Hall (A Little Work) delivers an instructional guide to writing the sort of persuasively argued think pieces she oversaw during her four years as editor of the New York Times Op-Ed page. Writing broadly rather than in bullet points, and illustrating her observations with examples of submissions she handled during her tenure, she addresses the many aspects of writing that distinguish an exercise in expository writing and make it attract attention, such as drawing on a deeply personal experience to crystallize a generally relevant concern (she cites Angelina Jolie’s column on her double mastectomy to raise breast cancer awareness) and playing on feelings to connect emotionally with one’s audience. Some of her insights will seem obvious, if useful: don’t make readers defensive by arguing, enliven a theme with storytelling, and prune one’s prose of clichés and jargon, to name a few. Others are profound in their clarity: speaking about the different moral values to which people cling, she writes, ‘You can’t expect someone to change their basic values, so you have to make your argument in a way that fits with their values.’ This book offers sound, well-reasoned advice that will benefit any writer.”

Bunny by Mona Awad

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Bunny: “Awad’s outstanding novel follows the highly addictive, darkly comedic tale of sardonic Samantha Mackey, a fiction MFA student at a top-tier New England school. There, four of her fellow writers are a ghoulish clique of women who cryptically refer to each other as ‘Bunny.’ To outsiders, the Bunnies come across as insipid with their colorful, patterned dresses and perfect hair. Samantha feels more grounded after her first year and after meeting Ava, who becomes her only friend, over the summer break. Samantha dreads the Bunnies’ return upon learning the four of them are the only other participants in her writing workshop; once in class, they dismiss her work while praising their own. The trajectory of Samantha’s life alters after she receives an unexpected invitation from the Bunnies to join them. Samantha’s desire for acceptance leads her down a dangerous path into the Bunnies’ rabbit hole, which begins with them drinking weird concoctions and reading erotic poetry together in sessions they call the ‘Smut Salon.’ Soon, though, Samantha begins to believe in the Bunnies’ views, becomes unreliable as a narrator, and willingly participates in their increasingly twisted games. Awad (13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl) will have readers racing to find out how it all ends—and they won’t be disappointed once the story reaches its wild finale. This is an enchanting and stunningly bizarre novel.”

Also on shelves: Mamaskatch by Darrel J. McLeod.

June Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around).  Here’s what we’re looking out for this month—for more June titles, check out our First-Half Preview. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!
Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.
 
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong: Poet Ocean Vuong, winner of the 2017 T.S. Eliot Prize for his collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds, returns with his highly anticipated debut novel. When Little Dog writes a letter to his illiterate mother, he reveals the family’s past as well as parts of his life he had hidden from his mother. With his tender, graceful style, Vuong’s family portrait explores race, class, trauma, and survival. (Carolyn)
In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow: Winslow’s debut novel takes place in a small town in North Carolina from the 1940s to the 1980s. Through the story of Azalea “Knot” Centre, a fiercely independent woman, and Otis Lee, a helpful neighbor and longtime fixer, the narrative explores community and love with compassion and a singular voice. Rebecca Makkai describes Winslow’s voice as “one that’s not only pitch-perfect but also arresting and important and new.” (Zoë)
Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett: In her Twitter bio, Arnett, known for her award-winning fiction and essays, describes herself thusly: “writer, librarian, lesbian willie nelson. 7-eleven scholar ™.” I assume you are already sold, but just in case: This debut novel starts when Jessa walks into the family taxidermy shop to find her father dead. Though grieving, she steps up to manage the business while her family unravels around her. Besides dead things, Jami Attenberg points out this novel includes all the best things, “messed-up families, scandalous love affairs, art, life, death and the great state of Florida.” (Claire)
The Travelers by Regina Porter: A debut novel-in-stories with a large cast of characters from two American families, one white, one black, flung across the world—in America, France, Vietnam, and Germany—from points in time ranging from 1950 to the early 2000s. Garth Greenwell calls this “an innovative and deeply moving debut.” (Lydia)
Oval by Elvia Wilk: In Elvia Wilk’s debut novel, weird things have been happening in Berlin: strange weather, artists hired as corporate consultants. Young couple Anja and Louis move into an “eco-friendly” community on an artificial mountain, The Berg, where they live rent-free in exchange for their silence on the house’s structural problems. When Louis invents a pill called Oval that has the power to temporarily rewire a user’s brain to become more generous, Anja is horrified—but Louis thinks it could solve Berlin’s income disparity. Described as speculative fiction, but also sort of just what life is like now, Oval depicts life in the Anthropocene, but a little worse. For fans of Gary Shteyngart and Nell Zink. (Jacqueline)
The Sun on My Head by Geovani Martins (translated by Julia Sanches): A literary sensation in Brazil, Martins’ debut short story collection finally comes to the United States. Steeped in violence, poverty, and drugs, the stories reveal the complexities and inner lives of those growing up in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Publishers Weekly called the collection “tantalizing” and “a promising work from an intriguing new voice.” (Carolyn)
The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung: Chung, who received an Honorable Mention for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction for her novel Forgotten Country, returns with her second novel. Katherine, an aging mathematician, recounts her life: her journey of becoming a scholar in the mid-20th century; her intellectual discoveries and failures; her romantic pursuits; her womanhood; and her parentage. Starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly call the novel “powerful and virtuosically researched” and “impressive, poignant,” respectively. (Carolyn)


Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner: New York Times Magazine staff writer Brodesser-Akner’s debut novel follows Toby Fleishman, a middle-aged hepatologist, whose recent separation from his career-driven wife, Rachel, resulted in her dropping their kids off with Toby and disappears. Publishers Weekly called the debut “sharp and tender-hearted,” and a “sardonically cheerful novel that readers will adore.”(Carolyn) 
The History of Living Forever by Jake Wolff: Sixteen-year-old Conrad returns to school to discover Sammy, his chemistry teacher and secret lover, is dead—and he’s left Conrad journals full of research and the recipe for the so-called Elixir of Life. Full of grief, Conrad sets out to solve the scientific puzzle to save the people he loves. Publishers Weekly says, “the search for an eternal life potion weaves through raw emotion, scientific curiosity, and heartbreak in Wolff’s intoxicating debut.” (Carolyn)
Dual Citizens by Alix Ohlin: A coming-of-age story about half-sisters—Lark and Robin—who forge an unbreakable bond. From childhood to adulthood, the novel follows the sisters as they deal with personal failings, a falling out and, ultimately, coming back together. Kirkus called Ohlin’s latest a “lovely, deeply moving work.” (Carolyn)
My Parents: An Introduction/This Does Not Belong to You by Aleksandar Hemon: MacArthur and Guggenheim recipient Hemon returns with a two-volume memoir set back-to-back. My Parents tells the story of his Ukrainian father and Bosnian mother as they flee their home in war-torn Yugoslavia for Canada. This Does Not Belong to You is a collection of memories, observations, and fragments from childhood. A dual meditation on memory, literature, and family. (Carolyn)
Travelers by Helon Habila: The unnamed Nigerian narrator of Habila’s newest novel is living in Berlin with his American life when he meets a group of African immigrants and refugees who change his worldview forever. Publishers Weekly writes that the “plight of contemporary African refugees is the dramatic core of this moving tale.” (Carolyn)
Mamaskatch by Darrel J. McLeod:  Told in fragmented vignettes, McLeod’s coming-of-age memoir explores his Cree family’s history; his relationship with his mother; abuse; sexual identity; and personal and generational trauma. About the memoir, Terese Marie Mailhot says, “the hard and brilliant life breathing on the pages brought me to tears, to joy, and to grace.” (Carolyn)
Flash Count Diary Life by Darcey Steinke: The personal meets the political meets the biological in Steinke’s genre-bending book about menopause. Jenny Offill calls the book “part memoir, part manifesto, part natural history, this book is a profound white-knuckle ride through unnamed territories.” (Carolyn)

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