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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Keefe, Beagin, Welsh, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Patrick Radden Keefe, Jen Beagin, Irvine Welsh and more—that are publishing this week.

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Vacuum in the Dark by Jen Beagin

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Vacuum in the Dark: “Beagin’s sharp and superb novel finds Mona, from previous novel Pretend I’m Dead, now 26, living in Taos, N.Mex., having followed the dying wishes of her ex-boyfriend, a man she met at a needle exchange and called Mr. Disgusting. Mona cleans houses for a living, shares a ranch house with an older married couple she calls Yoko and Yoko, and claims Fresh Air’s Terry Gross as an imaginary friend-slash-therapist. Prone to falling in love with her clients’ furniture and taking advantage of their absences to create a series of photographic portraits in their homes, Mona often breaches the professional distance between her and her clients. There’s the beautiful and blind therapist Rose, who has given Mona leave to conduct an affair with her husband, whom Mona has nicknamed Dark, and there’s Hungarian artists Lena and Paul, who ask Mona to model for them. Deadpan and savage, Mona has a dark and complicated history she is not afraid to weaponize. When Mona’s mother asks Mona to return to the apartment where she grew up in L.A., Mona must come to terms both with her difficult past and where she can go from here. Beagin pulls no punches—this novel is viciously smart and morbidly funny.”

Dead Men’s Trousers by Irvine Welsh

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Dead Men’s Trousers: “More than 25 years after they first appeared in Trainspotting, all four of Welsh’s hard-living Scottish friends reunite in Edinburgh, roped into an appropriately bizarre and macabre organ harvesting caper. Told from the perspectives of the four protagonists, the novel rolls slowly in the first half, updating their individual biographies separately—readers new to Welsh’s world need not be apprehensive—and setting up the brisker, and inevitably bollixed, execution of the theft plot. Two of these former reprobate mates have successfully escaped their pasts. Renton travels the globe as a music manager. Begbie, who runs into Renton on a plane in the opening chapter, is a successful artist living in California. Spud, whose narrative is most steeped in a slangy Scottish dialect, still lives on the edge and instigates the kidney-napping caper. Sick Boy, like Spud, is still in Edinburgh, and crashing with his sister, Carlotta, who screamingly blames him for the degeneration of her son, Ross, and husband, Euan, apparently on a debauched trip to Thailand. When the four finally get together, much comic mileage is wrung in rehashing old grievances. Not surprisingly, the crime unfolds like a Keystone Kops version of Ocean’s 11, but with an irrevocable final result. Welsh’s entire oeuvre crackles with idiomatic energy and brio, and this rollicking novel is no different.”

That Time I Loved You by Carrianne Leung

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about That Time I Loved You: “Leung (The Wondrous Woo) presents 10 sweet, sad, sympathetic stories set in Scarborough, Ontario, for a group portrait of immigrants, misfits, adults, adolescents, and teenagers, all of whom discover suburban comfort does not ensure happiness. The first story, ‘Grass,’ takes place in 1979, as 11-year-olds June and Josie ponder two suicides: Mr. Finley, the local softball coach, and Mrs. Da Silva, a housewife with an abusive husband. The girls cannot ask their parents for explanations, because death is one of many subjects parents prefer not to discuss with children. ‘Flowers’ shows Mrs. Da Silva’s last day, as she listens to flowers taunt her in her native Portuguese. In ‘Treasure,’ a woman named Marilyn who is admired by her neighbors turns out to be a thief. In ‘Sweets,’ June’s buddy Naveen gets beaten up when he wears his sister’s heart-shaped sunglasses to school. In ‘Things,’ comic book enthusiast Darren confronts a racist schoolteacher. ‘Wheels,’ ‘Kiss,’ and the title story explore June and Josie’s changing perspectives upon their first experiences of womanhood. Linked by recurring characters such as Darren’s Jamaican mother and June’s grandmother from Hong Kong, together the stories track June’s deepening understanding of the place she calls home. Crystalline prose, sharp storytelling, and pitch-perfect narration enhance Leung’s accessible and affecting depiction of how cruelty undermines and kindness fortifies people’s sense of community.”

We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about We Must Be Brave: “British author and translator Liardet’s moving American debut, set in WWII England, follows a childless woman discovering joy after she begins caring for a young girl. Ellen Parr is married to Selwyn, owner of the local mill in the village of Upton, near Southampton. In 1940, while helping evacuees of a nearby bombing who have arrived at Upton by bus, Ellen meets Pamela Pickering, a young child left alone on the bus. Ellen treats Pamela as the daughter she never had (Selwyn is impotent) for the next few years, until Pamela is eight and a relative of Pamela’s finds her and takes her to live with family members. Though distraught by Pamela’s departure, Ellen survives the devastation around her with the love and support of Selwyn, her childhood friend Lucy Horne, and other villagers who have been a constant presence in Ellen’s life. Over 30 years later, Ellen befriends Penny Lacey, a lonely young boarding school student in Upton. Ellen glimpses similarities between Pamela and Penny, and they form a life-changing friendship. Readers will be captivated by Ellen’s story, which is bolstered by a swift plot and characters who realistically and memorably grow.”

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Say Nothing: “New Yorker staff writer Keefe (Snakehead) incorporates a real-life whodunit into a moving, accessible account of the violence that has afflicted Northern Ireland. The mystery concerns Jean McConville, a widowed mother of 10, who was snatched from her Belfast home by an IRA gang in 1972. While Keefe touches on historical antecedents, his real starting point is the 1960s, when advocates of a unified Ireland attempted to emulate the nonviolent methods of the American civil rights movement. The path from peaceful protests to terrorist bombings is framed by the story of Dolours Price, who became involved as a teenager and went on to become a central figure in the IRA. While formal charges were never brought against republican leader Gerry Adams in McConville’s murder, Keefe makes a persuasive case that McConville was killed at his order for being an informer to the British—and the author’s dogged detective work enables him to plausibly name those who literally pulled the trigger. Tinged with immense sadness, this work never loses sight of the humanity of even those who committed horrible acts in support of what they believed in.”

Mother Country by Irina Reyn

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Mother Country: “In Reyn’s excellent exploration of the immigrant experience, a Ukrainian transplant to the United States grapples with the convoluted legacy of her home country. Once head bookkeeper at an important gas pipe factory in east Ukraine, Nadia Andreevna now nannies for a family in Brooklyn, navigating an unfamiliar land of artisanal mayonnaise and American parenting. Nadia had fled the politically destabilized country in 2008, aiming to send for her daughter, Larissa—detained due to a bureaucratic loophole—immediately. But six years have passed, and she spends her days writing pleading letters to senators and obsessively tracking news reports that document mounting violence in her home region. As Nadia resorts to increasingly extreme measures to reunite with her daughter—including scouting American suitors for Larissa at nightclubs—the narrative periodically flips back to Nadia’s raw, affecting life as a single mother in Ukraine, fighting to carve out an existence for herself and her daughter amid a rapidly changing country. When Larissa’s immigration suddenly looms closer, Nadia must reckon with how her memories of Larissa—whom she has not seen for seven years—abut against reality, and learn to forge her way in a culture that poses frequent affronts to her identity. In beautiful and emotionally perceptive prose, Reyn (The Imperial Wife) probes the intimate ways cultures clash within individuals, forcing them to knit together disparate truths to make sense of the world, and provides a tender depiction of how mother-daughter bonds morph over time and space.”

Birthday by César Aira

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Birthday: “In this profound memoir, Aira (The Linden Tree) turns 50 and sees this benchmark as an opportunity to make changes in his life. A casual conversation with his wife leads him to a darker contemplation of youth wasted, a diminishment of artistic authority in his work, and his potentially bleak future. By exploring these fears in a series of loosely organized reflections and anecdotes, Aira comes to terms with his standing as an artist, his achievements, and his future. Immersed in his identity as a writer, he admits to a fetishistic attachment to stationery and pens, and to his struggles with life outside writing. In his early 40s, he began a grand project, a conscious departure from his ‘little novels,’ which he sees as marginal. He calls it the Encyclopedia, envisioning it as a comprehensive book of knowledge. But at 50, all he has is a collection of sketches and plans, with not a single page of manuscript, and it’s unlikely that this ambitious project will be finished. There are thoughtful anecdotes about Ludwig Wittgenstein, a waitress (and budding writer) whom he meets in a café, and Evariste Galois, a brilliant young mathematician killed in a duel in 1832. The reader gradually realizes Aira’s seemingly feigned self-deprecation is actually clear-eyed honesty, and the ostensible simplicity of the volume carries powerful and incisive ideas about life and aging.”

A Year in Reading: Donald Quist

I started 2018 homeless. I don’t want that to sound more dramatic than it is. I had shelter—cycling between futons, backseats, guest beds, and floors—thanks to the kindness of friends and family. I also had work, eking by without health insurance as a college adjunct, getting paid $1,800 per course for the entire semester. Things are better now. I’m ending the year with my own space, less scarcity, and more books read. Over the last 12 months, I struggled to parse my obligations to writing when it so often felt ill-suited to help myself or anyone else. In the times when I’m stunned by financial challenges or tragedies both foreign and domestic, there is a moment of doubt; a fear that, at this point in my life, at this moment in our collective history, participating in literary discourse is pointless, even irresponsible.

I wrestle with the practicality of addressing disparities with stories. In 2018, I had reason to ask, What does art, what does writing, do? And what does one owe their craft? And how might pursuing a life of art fulfill, or complicate, what one owes others?

These questions led me through some of my favorite books this year. Accepting that art does not exist outside of context, independent of rhetorical situations, the narratives that affected me the most this year are the ones I could most easily tie to the framework of my own experience. The 12 books below helped me read myself in the midst of confusion. These texts provided answers to some of my doubt; they helped me. I selected quotes emblematic of each narrative and its role in my life this year. When I collected these passages together, I noticed a unifying theme joining them in conversation with one another. I hope to contribute to that conversation. In writing, I hope my voice carries to someone who might need it.

1.
We Are Proud to Present A Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, from the German Sudwestafrika, between the Years 1884 – 1915 by Jackie Sibblies Drury (Bloomsbury)

“…And tell us your version / of everything when it isn’t even about you.”

(Scene: “Process”)

2.
The Secret Life of a Black Aspie: A Memoir by Anand Prahlad (University of Alaska Press)

“People don’t know it, but they are forests and cities of sounds. Of colors and scents. And each forest and each city has its own patterns. […] These patterns are my time, like your time is clocks, hours, and minutes. Seconds and years, and decades and months. My time is the pattern the patterns make.”

3.
Pacha by Nick Hilbourn (Kattywompus Press)

“Like most people,

I’ve fallen down before a mirror

to worship the absence of things, to pray

to the images in my mind. Meaning, being the fragile compass,

I imagine lives somewhere else, in a well that seduces

with the promise of a rope and provides just enough water to survive.”

(from “The Holy Maggots”)

4.
Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls (New Directions)

“And a world is not art.”

 

5.
Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures by Yvan Alagbe (New York Review Comics)

“At the moment I am a shadow. I come in the name of pain, to sharpen my song, the tongue that bleeds.”

6.
Humanity by Ai Weiwei, edited by Larry Warsh (Princeton University Press)

“The West does not want to accept its responsibility. There are going to be millions of Africans fleeing war. The population is growing, it’s going to double, there will be more famine, more wars, and more refugees. This is not just about Syria. Are Western leaders hoping that the problem will just resolve itself?”

7.
The Linden Tree by Cesar Aira, translated by Chris Andrews (New Directions)

“…turn back to the past. Not as nostalgia or history, but in a constructive, optimistic, spirit.”

 

8.
Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed (Scribner)

“It occurred to me that I was borrowing from these systems: Religion, Philosophy, Music, Science, and Painting, and building 1 of my own composed of their elements. […] I had patched something together out of my procedure and the way I taught myself became my style, my art, my process.”

9.
American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes (Penguin)

“I lock your persona in a dream-inducing sleeper hold

While your better selves watch from the bleachers.”

10.
Spit Temple: The Selected Performances of Cecilia Vicuña, edited and translated by Rosa Alcala (Ugly Duckling Press)

“One day I suggested to my desk mate that we change the world. ‘How?’ he asked. By talking, I told him. ‘But how can a conversation change the world?’” (from “The Conversationalists”)

11.
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell (Riverhead)

“It’s just, I’m stuck. I can see the story perfectly, but sometimes it’s hard to move forward.”

 

12.
Candide, or Optimism by Voltaire, translated by Theo Cuffe (Penguin)

“‘All this is indispensable’ […] While he was reasoning thus, the sky darkened, the winds blew from the four corners of the earth, and their ship was assailed by the most terrible storm…”

More from A Year in Reading 2018

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Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

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