This Brilliant Darkness: A Book of Strangers

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Offill, Stuart, Sharlet, Sparks, Lavery, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Jenny Offill, Douglas Stuart, Jeff Sharlet, Amber Sparks, Daniel M. Lavery, and more—that are publishing this week.

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Weather by Jenny Offill

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Weather: “A librarian becomes increasingly obsessed with doomsday preparations in Offill’s excellently sardonic third novel (following Dept. of Speculation). Lizzie, a university librarian working in Brooklyn, already feels overwhelmed with guiding her son, Eli, through New York City’s crowded elementary school system without the extra strain of dealing with her addict brother’s constant crises. Mostly happily married to a computer game designer, Lizzie introduces anxiety into her marriage when she takes a second job answering emails for a former mentor who is now the host of a popular podcast about futurism. Fielding questions from both apocalypse truthers and preppers for the coming climate-induced ‘scarcity,’ Lizzie becomes convinced that doomsday is approaching. Her scattered, frenzied voice is studded with arresting flourishes, as when she describes releasing a fly: ‘Quiet in the cup. Hard to believe that isn’t joy, the way it flies away when I fling it out the window.’ Set against the backdrop of Lizzie’s trips to meditation classes, debates with a taxi driver, the 2016 presidential election, and constant attempts to avoid a haughty parent at Eli’s school, Lizzie’s apocalyptic worries are bittersweet, but also always wry and wise. Offill offers an acerbic observer with a wide-ranging mind in this marvelous novel.”

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Shuggie Bain: “Stuart’s harrowing debut follows a family ravaged by addiction in Glasgow during the Thatcher era. Agnes Bain yearns to move Shug, her taxi-driving, ‘selfish animal’ of a second husband, and three children out of the tiny apartment they share with her parents in Glasgow in 1981. Shug secures them a council flat, but when they arrive he leaves them in a flurry of violence, blaming Agnes’s drinking. While Agnes’s daughter, Catherine, escapes the misery of Agnes’s alcoholism and the family’s extreme poverty by finding a husband, and her older son, Leek, retreats into making art, Hugh (nicknamed ‘Shuggie’ after his absent father) assumes responsibility for Agnes’s safety and happiness. As the years pass, Shuggie suffers cruelty over his effeminate personality and endures sexual violence. He eventually accepts that he’s gay; meanwhile, Agnes finds some hope by entering A.A., landing a job, and dating another taxi driver named Eugene, but she later backslides. As Shuggie and his mother attempt to improve their lives, they are bound not just by one another but also to the U.K.’s dire economic conditions. While the languid pace could have benefited from condensing, there are flashes of deep feeling that cut through the darkness. This bleak if overlong book will resonate with readers.”

This Brilliant Darkness by Jeff Sharlet

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about This Brilliant Darkness: “Lives lived in shadows and corners are lit up in these offbeat photo-journalistic essays. Journalist and Dartmouth writing professor Sharlet (The Family) roams several continents, snapping smartphone photos he posts on Instagram and talking to people: night-shift workers at a Dunkin Donuts in Vermont; a far-right gun fanatic in Schenectady, N.Y.; a Ugandan clergyman who’s terrified of a witch’s curse; brother-sister street-junkies in Dublin, Ireland. Most of the pieces are short, evanescent essays, but Sharlet includes longer pieces, including a profile of a homeless African immigrant on L.A.’s Skid Row who was shot to death, unarmed, by police, and a sketch of a mentally fragile New England woman struggling to control her life, her only friend a potted plant named Bandit. Sharlet’s haunting photos accompany clipped, pointilist, but expressive prose that evokes character and tragedy: a New Hampshire arsonist ‘told the police (there were things he wanted them to know) that he used the flag to burn the church, that he tried to burn the children, that he did what he did—and, if they let him go, would do more—because he was angry with God.’ The result is a triumph of visual and written storytelling, both evocative and moving.”

And I Do Not Forgive You by Amber Sparks

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about And I Do Not Forgive You: “Sparks (The Unfinished World) impresses with her exceptional collection of wry, feminist stories. ‘A Place for Hiding Precious Things’ is an incendiary retelling of the fairy tale ‘Donkeyskin’ that features a young princess’s escape into contemporary Manhattan from her father’s incestuous desires. A high school girl with a pitch-perfect teen voice lives with her dysfunctional family in a trailer park in ‘Everyone’s a Winner in Meadow Park’ and is bored with the ‘weird pioneer girl’ that haunts her until the ghost proves herself useful with homework and warding off sexual advances. Climate change and societal collapse set the stage for a woman’s ex-husband’s transformation into a religious despot who builds a giant tower in ‘We Destroy the Moon.’ Some stories smuggle incredible emotional impact into surprisingly few pages, including the haunting, unexplained severing of a friendship in ‘Mildly Unhappy with Moments of Joy’ and a queen who attempts to outrace a rapidly approaching future through a strange form of time-travel in ‘Is the Future a Nice Place for Girls.’ The time management–obsessed father in ‘The Eyes of Saint Lucy’ foists his mistress’s baby on his wife and daughter, leading to a chilling, macabre twist. Sparks’s sardonic wit never distracts from her polished dismantling of everyday and extraordinary abuses. Readers will love this remarkable, deliciously caustic collection.”

Untamed Shore by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Untamed Shore: “Fantasy author Moreno-Garcia (Gods of Jade and Shadow) ventures into thriller territory with mixed success in this noir set in 1979 Baja California. Life for 18-year-old Viridiana in the ‘nothing at all’ town of Desengaño has been full of dull, senseless duty that she yearns to escape. When wealthy American Ambrose Allerton—an older man who’s renting a house with his trophy wife, Daisy, and her handsome brother, Gregory—offers Viridiana a summer job to be his secretary, she gladly accepts. But her good fortune doesn’t last. After a drunken Ambrose takes a fatal fall down some stairs, suspicion falls on Daisy and Gregory. After agreeing to lie on their behalf, Viridiana becomes a suspect in Ambrose’s murder. Fueled by her thirst for exotic adventure, she begins a highly charged affair with Gregory, but sordid reality soon catches up with her. Moreno-Garcia’s unsparing delineation of a ferocious land compensates in part for Viridiana’s somewhat unconvincing dreams of Hollywood romance. Fans of the author’s fantasy novels may want to take a pass.”

Something That May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel M. Lavery

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Something That May Shock and Discredit You: “Slate advice columnist Lavery (Texts from Jane Eyre) brings the full force of his wit and literary depth to this genre-bending essay collection. Describing it as ‘memoir-adjacent,’ Lavery intersperses searingly honest passages about his journey as a transgender man with laugh-out-loud funny literary pastiche. In ‘Lord Byron Has a Birthday and Takes His Leave,’ the poet histrionically threatens to die gloriously in Greece to avoid reaching the mortifying age of 40. Sir Gawain tries to escape the sexual hijinks cooked up by Lady Bertilak and the Green Knight in ‘Sir Gawain Just Wants to Leave Castle Make-Out.’ Amid the literary fun, Lavery reflects upon gender identity. Finding the national conversation about transgender people too child-centric—he only realized he was one at age 30—Lavery instead returned to the scriptures of his youth to find himself in ‘stories of transformation… already familiar’ to him. In the most moving chapter, he drops the artifice of humor and lays bare his anguish at severing his relationship with his mother as her daughter, with the two finding solace in the story of Jacob and Esau—two brothers who make peace but not before Jacob changes his name, and thus identity, to Israel. Lavery provides an often hilarious, sometimes discomfiting, but invariably honest account of one man’s becoming.”

Also on shelves this week: The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams.

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