Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Russell Banks, Kevin Wilson, László Krasznahorkai, and more—that are publishing this week.
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The Magic Kingdom by Russell Banks
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Magic Kingdom: “Banks’s heartbreaking latest (after Foregone) delves into the history of a Shaker community in Florida through one man’s tragic story. In a metafictional frame, Banks describes finding in a public library a trove of reel-to-reel tapes, on which Harley Mann recounts his years as a teenager growing up in the remote New Bethany Shaker colony. What follows are Banks’s transcriptions of the recordings, which Harley made in 1971 when he was 81. After Harley’s father dies, Harley and his family move from their faltering utopian socialist community to New Bethany, and though he doesn’t immediately buy into the Shaker beliefs, he accepts the mentorship of John Bennett, the Shaker elder who sponsored them. However, when Harley develops an obsession with Sadie Pratt, whom he believes is playing him romantically against John, the stage is set for a devastating reckoning that undermines the colony’s survival. Looking back, Harley reflects bitterly on the acquisition of the community’s land by Walt Disney and the theme park’s discriminatory labor policies, which ran counter to the Shakers’ philosophy of inclusiveness. Though Harley’s tale is deeply personal, Banks artfully presents it on a larger scale, showing how it fits in a centuries-long pattern of settlers who came to Florida seeking a better life only to find, in Harley’s words, ‘It’s where you go when your prospects elsewhere have ended, and you’ve not yet settled into despair.’ Banks’s penetrating dissection of the American dream and its frequently unfulfilled promises is consistently profound. This is his best work in some time.”
Now Is Not The Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Now Is Not The Time to Panic: “Wilson (Nothing to See Here) spins a delightful story of two aspiring artists in small-town Tennessee. It’s 1996 when Frankie Bulger, an outcast who dreams of becoming a writer, meets Zeke, also 16, who is new to town. Together they make a poster with the cryptic line ‘The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with hunger for us.’ Thrilled at their creation, Frankie and Zeke make hundreds of copies of it on a photocopier stolen by Frankie’s triplet brothers, then post them around town. Copycats begin doing the same, and before long, local and national newspapers report on the panic caused by the posters, fashion brands reproduce the slogan on T-shirts, and tourists arrive in droves. Frankie and Zeke keep their involvement a secret until 22 years later, when a journalist finds out Frankie’s role. Confronted with the possibility of her secret coming out, Frankie goes on a quest to come clean with her family and reconnect with old friends. Wilson ably captures Frankie and her peers’ adolescent confusion and the creative power of like-minded teens, and his coming-of-age story is ripe with wisdom about what art means in the modern age. It adds up to a surprisingly touching time capsule of youth in the ’90s.”
We All Want Impossible Things by Catherine Newman
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about We All Want Impossible Things: “Newman’s moving adult debut (after the kids’ guide What Can I Say?) explores a lifelong friendship between two women, one of whom is dying. Set primarily in a hospice where Edi is dying of ovarian cancer, the story shifts between past and present to show the depth of Edi’s lifelong bond with Ash—the childhood missteps, the joys, the Bowie concerts, and their ‘absolute dependability’ for each other, as Ash puts it. When Edi receives her terminal prognosis, Ash becomes her primary bedside companion. But this isn’t just a harrowing depiction of the heartbreak and indignity of Edi’s decline, it’s also about Ash, who stumbles through her disintegrating marriage, contends with her daughter’s refusal to go to school, and takes a series of lovers. Ash also details the moments—at turns hilarious and sad—that make up her friendship, calling Edi’s memories a ‘back-up hard drive’ for her own. Here and throughout, Newman does a wonderful job channeling Ash’s sense of impending loss. Ash also keeps up a steady stream of wickedly wry observations, such as her description of a group of children who visit Edi’s bedside to play their recorders, ‘stand[ing] in a nervous semicircle, clutching their terrible instruments.’ Newman breathes ample life into this exquisite story of death and dying.”
Flight by Lynn Steger Strong
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Flight: “Three siblings gather with their spouses and children for a fraught Christmas in Strong’s delicate latest (after Want). Martin, the eldest, is a disgraced college professor married to ruthless lawyer Tess. Henry is an artist married to artist turned social worker Alice. Kate, the youngest, is a stay-at-home mom married to the useless Josh, who has recently come to the end of a once considerable inheritance. Everyone gathers at Henry and Alice’s house in upstate New York; it’s their first Christmas together since their mother, Helen, died eight months earlier. Tensions rise: Kate wants to live in Helen’s house in Florida until her kids are off to college, but she needs her brothers to agree. Henry and Alice can’t have kids; the other two families are knee-deep in child-rearing, and, meanwhile, Alice is inappropriately attached to a child named Maddie, one of her clients. A disappearance midway through amplifies the plot, but the theme of grief takes center stage, as Helen’s memory permeates the gathering. Strong is adept as characterizing this loss in all its manifestations, and in rendering the challenges inherent in three families trying to celebrate together; upon arrival, Tess ‘wishes this visit were over.’ Of course, the drama and fully formed characters make readers feel otherwise. Once again, Strong demonstrates her talents for perception and nuance.”
Participation by Anna Moschovakis
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Participation: “Novelist, poet, and translator Moschovakis (Eleanor, or, The Rejection of the Progress of Love) delivers a brilliant and prescient story of an intellectual woman’s engagement with two book clubs amid climate catastrophe and political strife. As E, founder of the now-defunct group Anti-Love, theorizes about her own desires, she experiences dueling erotic impulses toward S, whose full name and gender are unknown to E, and who belongs to another group, Love, which has transitioned from IRL to virtual meetings; and a man she nicknames ‘the capitalist,’ whom she knows through one of her jobs. The two clubs’ binary names highlight E’s ambivalence about love and partnerships; she reflects on the Love group’s choice of a text about Aristophanes’s view that each person spends their life searching for their other half. Meanwhile, news alerts of marching white supremacists and extreme weather events flash on E’s computer screen, which she describes as a ‘stack of small explosions, almost registering, then, compulsively, swiped away.’ Often, E breaks the fourth wall, anticipating and toying with the reader’s expectations (‘I love it when you try to guess. Sometimes it’s exactly what I need’). Throughout, Moschovakis brings her fierce intelligence to bear in the structurally surprising and impeccably executed narrative. This is formal innovation at its finest.”
The Age of Goodbyes by Li Zi Shu (translated by YZ Chin)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Age of Goodbyes: “Li makes a beguiling metafictional English-language debut with a kaleidoscope of stories about and perspectives on Malaysian life over the past 50 years. The novel begins on page 513, a reference to post-election celebrations on May 13, 1969, that led to a wave of political and racial violence. In the aftermath, 20-something movie theater employee Du Li An marries mafioso Steely Bo, becomes a stepmother to his children, and opens a popular coffee shop. However, Du Li An is revealed to be a character in a novel titled The Age of Goodbyes by Shaozi, the pen name of a writer also named Du Li An. This novel is being read in the present day by an unnamed teenager who lives in a cheap hotel with his uncle and mourns his mother’s recent death, and whom Li addresses in second-person narration. This ‘you’ also reads evaluations of Shaozi’s work by a critic called ‘The Fourth Person,’ published in the 2000s. As Li zigs back and forth between the multiple Du Li Ans, the ‘you’ character, and The Fourth Person, a semblance of truth becomes increasingly elusive, making for a frustrating though provocative endeavor. It’s a singular outing, though also a forbiddingly esoteric one.”
A Mountain to the North, a Lake to the South, Paths to the West, a River to the East by László Krasznahorkai (translated by Ottilie Mulzet)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Mountain to the North, a Lake to the South, Paths to the West, a River to the East: “The hermetic latest from Krasznahorkai (Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming) finds the author in a meditative mode. From a vantage point undefined in time or space, the grandson of the legendary Prince Genji arrives at an ancient monastery in Kyoto and sets about exploring its grounds. The reader is made privy to its walls and relics, the artifacts of the buddhas and bodhisattvas tended by its monks, every brick in its antique craftsmanship enumerated in Krasznahorkai’s breathless prose. Silk scrolls, tomes compiled by venerated scholars, and a treatise called The Infinite Mistake by Sir Wilford Stanley Gilmore (one of the author’s recurring characters) are all of equal interest to Prince Genji’s grandson as he makes his way toward the center of the temple, until his history, and that of countless dynasties that have come before, blur together. The narrative is entirely bereft of action, with Krasznahorkai dwelling for its duration on the secrets of the monastery, which, though captivating, add up more to exercise than story. Still, it’s a virtuosic performance by a master.”