Where We Come From: A novel

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Chapman, Miller, Cásares, Auster, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Ryan Chapman, Mary Miller, Oscar Cásares, Paul Auster, and more—that are publishing this week.

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Riots I Have Known by Ryan Chapman

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Riots I Have Known: “While fellow inmates at the Westbrook prison in upstate New York are rioting, an erudite unnamed Sri Lankan intellectual attempts to put into words his philosophy, personal history, and, eventually, the events that led up to the riot in Chapman’s funny and excellent debut. The narrator has barricaded himself in the Media Center, trying to finish what could be the final issue of his in-house magazine, The Holding Pen. The narrative gets its most solid comic charge from the ironic disparity between the rough circumstances of prison life and the incongruous need of humans to intellectualize. The narrator reports that just before another inmate was stabbed in the yard, ‘he said: ‘Time makes fools of us all.’’ Later he recounts the tale of inept would-be suicide Fritz, who can’t ‘master the hangman’s noose, he kept falling to his cell floor in a blooper of self-abnegation.’ While the narrator documents his uneasy adjustment to prison life and his complex relationship with a pen pal, he is most concerned with his legacy within the niche world of ‘post-penal literary magazines.’ He confesses early on: ‘I am the architect of the Caligulan melee enveloping Westbrook’s galleries and flats.’ The explanation for this claim is offered in spoonfuls; it’s mostly a MacGuffin for protracted yarn spinning and Chapman’s dazzling virtuosity. Supremely mischievous and sublimely written, this is a stellar work.”

Biloxi by Mary Miller

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Biloxi: “When 63-year-old retiree Louis McDonald Jr., the narrator of this excellent novel from Miller (Always Happy Hour), spots a ‘Free Dogs’ advertisement when out driving one day, he stops and adopts Layla, a black and white pup with a gagging complex. The duo pokes around coastal Mississippi while Louis also deals with visits from Frank, his ex-wife’s brother, who’s concerned about Louis’s loneliness; calls with his semi-estranged daughter, Maxine; and his own attempts to settle the estate of his recently deceased father. A witty, insightful exploration of masculinity and self-worth, the story lets its protagonist roam with Layla and discover a new lease on life before introducing Layla’s original owner, Sasha, the wife of the man who gave her away without permission. When Sasha sees that Layla, known to her as Katy, did not run away, as her husband claimed, the much younger woman leaves him and shacks up with Louis, who is initially happy for the company, but who soon grows weary of her as their situation comes to a head. In Louis, Miller captures the insecurities of an imperfect man beyond his prime as he tries to find his purpose in the world, and the result is a charming and terrific novel.”

The Organs of Sense by Adam Ehrlich Sachs

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Organs of Sense: “In his sublime first novel (following the story collection Inherited Disorders), which recalls the nested monologues of Thomas Bernhard and the cerebral farces of Donald Antrim, Sachs demonstrates the difficulty of getting inside other people’s heads (literally and figuratively) and out of one’s own. In 1666, a young Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz—the philosopher who invented calculus—treks to the Bohemian mountains to ‘rigorously but surreptitiously assess’ the sanity of an eyeless, unnamed astronomer who is predicting an impending eclipse. Should the blind recluse’s prediction come to pass, Leibniz reasons, it would leave ‘the laws of optics in a shambles… and the human eye in a state of disgrace.’ In the hours leading up to the expected eclipse, the astronomer, whose father was Emperor Maximilian’s Imperial Sculptor (and the fabricator of an ingenious mechanical head), tells Leibniz his story. As a young man still in possession of his sight, he became Emperor Rudolf’s Imperial Astronomer in Prague, commissioning ever longer telescopes, an ‘astral tube’ whose exorbitant cost ‘seemed to spell the end of the Holy Roman Empire.’ The astronomer also recounts his entanglements with the Hapsburgs, ‘a dead and damned family,’ all of whom were mad or feigning madness. These transfixing, mordantly funny encounters with violent sons and hypochondriacal daughters stage the same dramas of revelation and concealment, reason and lunacy, doubt and faith, and influence and skepticism playing out between the astronomer and Leibniz. How it all comes together gives the book the feel of an intellectual thriller. Sachs’s talent is on full display in this brilliant work of visionary absurdism.”

Where We Come From by Oscar Cásares

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Where We Come From: “The author of the collection Brownsville returns to that Texas border town for this thoughtful and quietly suspenseful novel. Retired single schoolteacher Nina lives with and cares for her crabby, bedbound mother. She is looking forward to spending a few summer weeks with her 12-year-old godson, Orly, whose advertising executive father, Nina’s nephew, lives in Houston, and whose mother recently died of an aneurysm. Meanwhile, a few months before Orly’s visit, Nina has gotten in over her head by providing secret housing for undocumented immigrants in the rental house behind her mother’s. When Orly arrives, one boy, 12-year-old Daniel, is hiding there. Despite Nina’s efforts, Orly discovers Daniel’s existence, and the two form a tentative bond, in the process putting Nina’s extended family in danger. While keeping the focus on family dynamics and the characters’ internal struggles, Cásares frequently, and often heartbreakingly, sets this domestic story in a wider context by stepping back to investigate the stories of people with whom the main characters interact only tangentially (a waiter who provides room service for Orly’s father in San Francisco; the gardener who cleans the gutters at Orly’s house in Houston). With understated grace and without sermonizing, Cásares brilliantly depicts the psychological complexity of living halfway in one place and halfway in another.”

The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Confessions of Frannie Langton: “Collins’s debut is a powerful portrayal of the horrors of slavery and the injustices of British society’s treatment of former slaves in the early 1800s. Frannie Langton lives as John Langton’s slave in Jamaica from 1812 until 1825. When the harvest burns, ownership of the land reverts to Langton’s wife and her brother, and Langton returns to London with Frannie. Once in London, he gives Frannie as a servant to fellow scientist George Benham and his wife, Meg, a woman intrigued by Frannie and the breadth of her education. Benham asks Frannie to spy on Meg, whom he thinks might do something to embarrass him socially; meanwhile, Frannie and Meg become lovers. But when Benham and Meg are murdered, Frannie is arrested. She claims no memory of the crime, and a good defense seems unlikely both because of her race and her spotty memory. Frannie’s dislike of Benham, her jealousy of his relationship with Meg, and memory gaps caused by Frannie’s use of laudanum add to the reader’s uncertainty of her involvement. This is both a highly suspenseful murder mystery and a vivid historical novel, but best of all is the depiction of Frannie, a complex and unforgettable protagonist. This is a great book sure to find a wide—and deserved—audience.”

Talking to Strangers by Paul Auster

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Talking to Strangers: “Man Booker Prize finalist Auster (4 3 2 1) gathers 44 pieces of nonfiction and essays in this wide-ranging and probing collection. His insightful literary criticism, written in the 1970s and ’80s for Commentary and the New York Review of Books, among others, discusses Kafka’s letters, the short-lived Dada movement, and the influence of French poets on their British and American counterparts. More recent works include a tribute to Auster’s long-lived manual typewriter and an account of an evening at Shea Stadium watching Mets pitcher Terry Leach shut out the Giants. The collection’s highlights include reflections on artists both classic and contemporary, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose notebooks reveal the humorous side of ‘a notoriously melancholy man,’ and Jim Jarmusch, whose films are characterized by “loopy asides, unpredictable digressions and an intense focus on what is happening at each particular moment.’ The book also includes newly published work, notably a lively 1982 lecture on ‘the luckless, misunderstood Edgar Allan Poe,’ who was greatly admired—and rescued from obscurity—by French poets Baudelaire and Mallarmé. This vibrant collection fully displays Auster’s wit and humanity and offers a fascinating glimpse into the mind of a celebrated author.”

Little Glass Planet by Dobby Gibson

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Little Glass Planet: “In his fourth book, Gibson (It Becomes You) offers an ode to poetry and the respite it provides from a restless, cacophonous world. A gentle protest of the politics that scorn love and empathy, this book invites the reader to log off from the ceaseless relay of information in order to reconnect with the natural world, as well as simple, beautiful objects, such as an antique Korean fishing bobber. Gibson is charmingly funny, as when he presents a mock etymological elegy for the actor Abe Vigoda: ‘That name, like something resurrected/ from a dictionary. Abe: another word/ for honesty. And vigoda, meaning:/ a sacred temple for vampires.’ The poem ‘Roll Call’ considers activities that ‘the gods’ may be engaging in at any given time, including ‘updating their secret map of lost mittens’ and ‘chasing one another at the god park.’ The book contains many pithy observations (‘it’s impossible to get/ the same haircut twice’) which occasionally seem cute or unnecessary. However, it contains many more remarkable, arresting images: ‘a lemon tree dressed in December ice like a girl in her grandmother’s jewelry.’ The poem that opens the book’s third section, ‘Inside the Compulsion to Wonder Lies the Will to Survive,’ effectively epitomizes the poet’s worldview. Gibson offers the reader a quiet space to reflect on the metaphysical and to find peace in a time of chaos.”

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