Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Tove Ditlevsen, Louisa Lim, our own Ed Simon, and more—that are publishing this week.
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The Trouble with Happiness by Tove Ditlevsen (translated by Michael Favala Goldman)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Trouble with Happiness: “This quiet and devastating collection of vignettes from Ditlevsen (1917–1976) follows Goldman’s recent translation of the last entry in Ditlevsen’s memoir cycle The Copenhagen Trilogy. The stories mainly turn on domestic dramas, revealing all the simmering, explosive tensions found in marriage, family, and parenthood. In ‘The Little Shoes,’ a middle-aged mother is consumed by envy for her housekeeper’s youth. In ‘A Fine Business,’ a woman is pained with sympathy for a single mother who, desperate for cash, accepts a cruelly low offer on her house. Often, characters imbue mundane, household objects with intense psychological meaning, as in ‘The Umbrella,’ as a husband expresses his unreasonable contempt for his wife by breaking her umbrella. The stories are simple; the characters ordinary and immensely human. Their motivations are mysterious and subtle, and Ditlevsen is acutely sensitive to the way normal life can wear at their hearts. Readers will recognize the themes of anger, disappointment, and frustration that recur within the author’s universe. Alongside this discomfort, though, is the opportunity for deep transformation. Already renowned for her memoirs, Ditlevsen is now poised to win acclaim as a master of short fiction.”
Indelible City by Louisa Lim
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Indelible City: “Journalist Lim (The People’s Republic of Amnesia) mixes memoir and reportage in this riveting portrait of Hong Kong. Interweaving an up-close view of recent protests against Chinese rule with evocative details about Hong Kong’s colonial past, Lim contends that the 50-year term for ‘One Country, Two Systems’—the policy that was supposed to govern its 1997 transition from a British possession to a sovereign territory of China—has ended well ahead of schedule. She explains that Hong Kong officials were excluded in all but ‘an advisory capacity’ from negotiations between Britain and China setting the rules for the handover, and documents how the steady erosion of freedoms led to the ‘Umbrella Movement’ of 2014 (‘an explosion of discontent, desire, and, above all, hope’) and widespread anti-government protests in 2019. Lim also explores Hong Kong’s multifaceted identity through profiles of residents including Tsang Tsou-choi, the ‘King of Kowloon,’ a ‘toothless, often shirtless, disabled trash collector’ who in the 1950s began covering government property with ‘misshapen, childlike calligraphy’ claiming the British stole his family’s land: the entire Kowloon Peninsula. Conversations with protestors, many of whom were not yet born in 1997, convey their burning idealism as well as their growing sense of futility. The result is a vivid and vital contribution to postcolonial history.”
End of the World House by Adrienne Celt
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about End of the World House: “Celt (Invitation to a Bonfire) returns with a confounding fun house that plays with the nature of time and existence to diminishing returns. In a near future, a restless California cartoonist named Bertie travels to Paris with her best friend, Kate. Things turn dark when Kate accepts an offer from a man named Javier to take a private tour of the Louvre. The moment they set foot in the museum, Kate disappears, and Celt introduces Dylan, a past (or future?) boyfriend of Bertie’s. Nothing makes sense after that, and with Kate gone, Bertie and Dylan return home (or do they?). When Dylan reacts strangely to Bertie’s idea for a graphic novel, Bertie realizes something is very wrong. Dylan seems to know everything about her, but he’s keeping something big a secret. She takes another trip to Paris and begins to sketch out her novel (which turns out to be picture after picture of Kate), and returns to the Louvre to look for her friend and confront the upside-down world she’s discovered. Some readers may be initially hooked by the ambitious premise, but storytelling pyrotechnics aside, neither the narrative nor the characters are fully realized. It’s intriguing, but more so frustrating.”
Benefit by Siobhan Phillips
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Benefit: “In Phillips’s incisive if plodding debut, a stalled literature scholar pulls back the veil on university hierarchies and social privilege. Laura Graham, after a long history of rejection, is an adjunct professor with a CV that includes a Weatherfield fellowship at Oxford University. After she loses her job and watches a peer rise in the ranks, Laura second-guesses the value of life in academia. She reconnects with Heather, a friend from Weatherfield who encourages her to write a commemorative essay explaining the history of Ennis Weatherfield to be distributed to guests at a centennial gala. Laura accepts, and the job fuels her investigations of the Weatherfield foundation, which uncovers previously unknown histories of its founders, one of whom floundered at Oxford and paid others to do his work. Though there is too much backstory on Laura’s own life, with long chapters on her childhood and friendship with a colleague, Phillips succeeds at capturing the paranoia and peculiarities of academic politics, which tend to favor those already at an advantage. It’s a little bumpy, but devotees of the campus novel may want to take a look.”
The Lonely Stories edited by Natalie Eve Garrett
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Lonely Stories: “Solitude gets the spotlight in this illuminating anthology, brought together by writer Garrett (Eat Joy: Stories & Comfort Food from 31 Celebrated Writers). In ‘At the Horizon,’ Maggie Shipstead isolates herself in order to write a novel; while spending eight months alone on Nantucket, she wonders whether she is turning solitude into contentment or armor. In ‘Letting Go,’ Maya Shanbhag Lang recounts the loneliness she felt after taking in her mother, who was suffering from dementia, while Emily Raboteau writes in ‘Exodus, 2020’ of the ‘particular loneliness’ wrought by the pandemic in New York City, astutely pointing out that ‘there are many ways to be lonely. Even in a crowd.’ Megan Giddings describes in ‘Brief Important Moments Where I Was the Only Person on Earth’ instances of joy that can be found solo, like being the only person in a movie theater. In bringing together the wide range of perspectives, Garrett has made a subject often feared into something uplifting: ‘While loneliness can be devastating, I find it deeply moving that it can also function as a portal to beauty and discovery,’ she writes in the introduction. Fans of the personal essay will want to check this out.”