Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Elif Batuman, our own Marie Myung-Ok Lee, Dan Chaon, and more—that are publishing this week.
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Either/Or by Elif Batuman
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Either/Or: “In this effervescent sequel to The Idiot, Batuman continues charting the sentimental education of Selin, a student of Russian literature at Harvard. As Selin begins her sophomore year in 1996, she’s still nursing an unrequited crush on Ivan, a Hungarian graduate student. Meanwhile, her friends Svetlana and Riley begin dating boys on campus, causing Selin to lament their perceived loss of independence (after Svetlana hooks up with the guy she’ll end up with, Selin predicts, ‘She would never again be what she had been, not in my life, and not in her own’). Observant, defiant, and newly on antidepressants, Selin approaches the mystery of human relations with a beginner’s naivete and sharp intelligence. At parties, in dorm rooms, and through reading French, Russian, and German literature and philosophy, she reflects on the tragic asymmetry of connections between men and women, and wonders how, exactly, ‘a person could live an aesthetic life.’ Meanwhile, she recounts her frustrations with Proust and reverence for Fiona Apple and Lauryn Hill, and embarks on a messy series of email threads with Ivan and his ex-girlfriend. Batuman’s light touch and humor are brought to bear on serious questions, enabling the novel to move quickly between set pieces like an S&M-themed student party, poignant recollections of Selin’s parents’ divorce, and a harrowing travelogue as Selin begins a summer job in Turkey. As accomplished as The Idiot was, this improves upon it, and Batuman’s already sharp chops as a novelist come across as even more refined in these pages. Readers will be enraptured.”
Avalon by Nell Zink
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Avalon: “Zink (Doxology) delves into class, art, and American culture in a characteristically witty bildungsroman. The narrator, Brandy, is raised on a topiary nursery in semirural California, where she provides unpaid labor from a young age in exchange for necessities; her late mother’s partner, Doug, also works there. Life improves when Brandy befriends Jay, an upper-class kid in love with flamenco, who enrolls at UCLA and crushes on classmate Peter, an East Coast intellectual-in-waiting. When Brandy meets Peter while visiting Jay, the two almost immediately fall in love, and the rest of the novel sets Brandy’s rough-cut brilliance in tension with Peter’s academic ambitions. She spends less time working for Doug and more time with Jay, sleeping on his floor and helping with film projects. Meanwhile, Peter gets engaged to a well-off woman who promises to make life ‘uncomplicated.’ The characters let forth some hilariously caustic barbs against the film program’s bland progressive politics, such as when Peter encourages Brandy and Jay to upend a ‘social change’ assignment: ‘You want to find out how you can tweak speculative utopias to make them palatable to your social-justice-warrior film school, and I think with libertarianism you’re on the right track.’ Even more impactful than the intellectual ballistics is the tortured romance story. The style is all Zink’s own, and she’s as brilliant as ever here.”
The Evening Hero by Marie Myung-Ok Lee
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Evening Hero: “Lee (Somebody’s Daughter) returns with an ambitious story charting the travails of an elderly immigrant doctor in Minnesota after the hospital he works at closes down. Thirsty for a new purpose to life, Yungman Kwak takes a job with his son’s employer, SANUS, a healthcare company with several retail outlets in the Mall of America. Yungman isn’t much of a match for SANUS’s startup jargon (‘medical professionals are divided into service providers—the DRones—and the MDieties,’ his son, Einstein, explains about their boss’s philosophy, which also involves classifying Einstein as a ‘Doctorpreneur’). Eventually, Yungman enlists in Doctors Without Borders, an endeavor that brings him back to what is now North Korea, where he was born in 1940. Peppered throughout are stories from Yungman’s early life there: his experiences of poverty, war, striving for education, and courtship of his wife, who was raised in an elite circle within his village. Sometimes the prose is a bit awkward (a pie has a ‘seductively glistening surface’), and the minutia of Yungman’s work routines can drag a bit, but Lee offers touching details of Yungman’s nostalgia for the Korea of his youth, where ‘small dandelions… carpeted the grass like stars.’ It’s a little bumpy, but fans of immigrant stories will appreciate Lee’s labor of love.”
You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty by Akwaeke Emezi
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty: “Bestseller Emezi (Freshwater) unpacks the ever-present weight of grief in this deeply emotional love story. It’s been five years since artist Feyi Adekola lost the love of her life, Jonah, in a car crash that still haunts her dreams. Now the 29-year-old hopes to create a new life in New York City, refocusing on her art and living comfortably with her best friend, Joy. A flirtatious-turned-sexual encounter with a stranger even convinces her to reconsider the possibility of companionship. Enter perfect gentleman Nasir Blake, who’s attentive, supportive of Feyi’s art, and understanding of her reluctance to get serious. When Nasir offers Feyi the opportunity to show her work at a gallery with a famous curator while on a luxury vacation with his family, her life finally starts to feel like her own again. But after Feyi meets Nasir’s famous chef father, Alim, she’s smitten with him, and no matter how inappropriate the infatuation may be, she can’t get him out of her mind. Emezi does a great job capturing the unavoidable mess as the complicated characters collide. Though the middle gets a bit winded and repetitive, there are some powerful revelations about loss and love along the way. This is sure to tug at readers’ heartstrings.”
We Had to Remove This Post by Hanna Bervoets
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about We Had to Remove This Post: “Bervoet’s fleeting yet magnetic English-language debut offers a glimpse into the world of social media content moderators. Kayleigh, in need of cash to pay off credit card debt, takes a job at Hexa, a subcontractor for an unnamed video platform. Along with a ragtag team, she spends her days watching disturbing videos and flagging those that break the platform’s guidelines. While adjusting to the job, she meets Sigrid, a fellow moderator, and the pair start dating, but as weeks pass, exposure to thousands of horrifying videos—among them graphically described clips of self-harm, animal abuse, and praise of the Holocaust—takes its toll, pushing some moderators to their mental edges and inspiring others to subscribe to ‘flat Earther’ conspiracy theories. After Kayleigh quits, a lawyer hounds her to join a lawsuit against the platform along with other former employees, and Bervoets frames the story like a mystery, slowly revealing the fractured relationships and circumstances that drove Kayleigh away from her job. Whether carefully dissecting ever-evolving corporate rules or chronicling a night at the bar with her workmates (‘we pour our leftovers into each other’s half-empty glasses’), Kayleigh is an engaging narrator. The story is brief, but it packs a wallop.”
Sleepwalk by Dan Chaon
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Sleepwalk: “In Chaon’s thrilling and funny latest (after Ill Will), Will Bear is a man of many names, many burner phones, and a 60-pound pit bull named Flip, a former fighting dog. In an America of the not-so-distant future, Will treats the traumas of his past with a daily microdose of LSD. He needs it: a 50-year-old ‘traveling agent on retainer’ who works for a shadowy organization called Value Standard Enterprises, Will finds people. Sometimes, he’s required to deliver them to their creditors. Other times, he kills them. Due to a worsening climate, the world through which Will travels has begun to resemble hell, a fact which doesn’t concern him too much given his childhood was its own private inferno. But when a woman named Cammie starts calling Will’s burners to tell him he might be her biological father, Will is shaken. He wonders if the woman might be an ‘Actress? CIA or Corporate Intelligence?’ His boss, Tim Ribbons, wants him to believe she’s an artificial intelligence. The moving (and often hilarious) quest to find out who Cammie is and what she means to Will gives this a big beating heart, as does Flip, whose own post-traumatic stress is aggravated by thunder, fireworks, and tequila. As ever, Chaon expertly fuses the dystopian nightmares of technology and crime with fascinating characters who cross a hellscape to find each other. This is his best one yet.”