Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of J.M. Coetzee, Ilana Masad, Mikel Jollett, and more—that are publishing this week.
Death of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Death of Jesus: “The thoughtful, clear-eyed final installment of Nobel laureate Coetzee’s Jesus trilogy picks up three years after The Schooldays of Jesus. David, now age 10, remains an enigmatic prodigy, skilled at soccer, dance, and arcane mathematics, and living under the watchful eye of his ruminative adopted father, Simon—who again narrates—and Ines, his protective adoptive mother. The family, living in a Spanish-speaking town called Estrella in an unnamed country, is disrupted when Dr. Julio Fabricante, the director of a local orphanage, challenges David and his friends to play soccer against the orphans’ team. Almost immediately, David is enchanted by the orphans, and runs away to live with them. After David comes down with a mysterious neurological disorder that makes him prone to sudden falls, he returns home to Simon and Ines. Simon notices changes in David; he is aloof with Simon and Ines and unsettled by questions about the afterlife. David has also attracted a band of followers who treat him with messianic devotion as he recites stories from Don Quixote. Like in previous volumes, Coetzee’s simple, clean prose is guided by philosophical questions, and Simon’s humanistic reflections provide a thrilling contrast to David’s bumpy journey of faith and acceptance of his mortality. This is an ambitious and satisfying conclusion.”
All My Mother’s Lovers by Ilana Masad
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about All My Mother’s Lovers: “A tragic accident leads to soul-searching in Masad’s smart, heartfelt debut. Maggie Krause is enjoying an intimate moment with her girlfriend when her younger brother, Ariel, calls to say that their mother, Iris, has died in a car accident. Scrambling to get home to her brother and her dad, Maggie reflects on her complicated relationship with her mother, who was never comfortable with Maggie’s sexuality. After Maggie flies home to California, she finds college-age Ariel struggling to deal with their father, Peter, who is almost catatonic with grief. Because no one else will do it, Maggie makes arrangements for Iris’s funeral and shivah. Then Maggie finds Iris’s will, and with it, a small stack of letters Iris wanted to be mailed in the event of her death. But Maggie doesn’t recognize any of the men the letters are addressed to—and is upset and insulted that her mom would have written letters to strange men but not to her children. Maggie decides to deliver the letters by hand, and as she meets the recipients, she learns that Iris’s life was nothing like what Maggie thought it was. This remarkable portrait of a daughter’s opaque relationship with her mother reflects the strangeness and beauty of coming to see one’s parent fully as a human being.”
Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Hollywood Park: “In this arresting debut memoir, Jollett, frontman of the indie band Airborne Toxic Event, writes of escaping a California cult named Synanon—where he lived in the 1970s until age five—with his mentally unstable mother and older brother. He recalls his impoverished, lonely youth; his family’s struggles with addiction; his challenging relationship with his parents; and the ways music and therapy saved him. Synanon started out as a commune and a drug and alcohol treatment facility (Jollett’s father was treated there for heroin addiction) but became a cult when the facility’s leader became more domineering and began forcing parents and their children to live in separate locations. While there, Jollett and his brother were left in the care of various cult members and rarely saw their parents. Jollett engagingly narrates his story, which includes living, after leaving Synanon, in Oregon with his mother, a needy narcissist who brainwashed him into believing that kids take care of their moms, not the other way around; loving his father while hoping to never be like him; and dealing with his addict brother. Jollett also talks about turning pain into music, getting help for abandonment issues, and finding love and starting a family. All this results in a shocking but contemplative memoir about the aftermath of an unhealthy upbringing.”
The First Actress by C.W. Gortner
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The First Actress: “Gortner (The Romanov Empress) captures the drama and pathos of legendary actor Sarah Bernhardt’s life in this enchanting work. The illegitimate child of a Jewish courtesan, Bernhardt is raised in Brittany until her wet nurse can no longer house her. In 1852, Sarah’s mother, Julie, sends her unloved, eight-year-old daughter to boarding school in Versailles. After Sarah’s theatrical gifts shine in a school play, one of her mother’s longtime patrons helps arrange acting training for her as well as a contract with the august Comédie-Française. The school’s rigid adherence to tradition clashes with Sarah’s questioning approach, and she leaves the Comédie in the first of many stormy changes from one theatrical company to the next. Becoming pregnant by Comte Émile de Kératry, an aristocratic paying lover, she decides to keep the baby—her only child, Maurice—despite the social taboo and the comte’s rejection. After Bernhardt does heroic work as a volunteer nurse and infirmary manager during the Franco-Prussian War, she becomes one of the most acclaimed actors of her age through a mix of talent, hard work, and savvy self-promotion. Skillful first-person narration evokes Bernhardt’s fierce energy and tempestuous liaisons, the vulnerability borne of her wounding childhood, and her struggles against misogyny and anti-Semitism. Gortner does justice to this trailblazing celebrity and her fascinating era.”
Red Dress in Black and White by Elliot Ackerman
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Red Dress in Black and White: “In Ackerman’s wry if convoluted latest (after Waiting for Eden), the story of an unhappy marriage is suffused with pointed commentary on Turkey in the months following the 2013 Gezi revolt. Catherine, an American, lives in Istanbul with her Turkish husband, Murat, a real estate developer, and their adopted seven-year-old son, William. Catherine and Murat each sacrificed early artistic ambition, she for the marriage and he for his career, and she finds comfort in an affair with Peter, a freewheeling American photojournalist on a Cultural Affairs grant for a loosely defined art project. After Catherine hatches a plan to flee to the United States with Peter and William, Murat intervenes with the help of an American diplomat. Much of the book’s action takes place on the day Catherine tries to leave in November 2013, interspersed with flashbacks to pivotal moments in the characters’ lives—Peter’s coverage of the protests to contest the development plan for Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park, Murat’s complicated dependence on Istanbul’s ‘reliably corrupt’ government for business, and the shocking disclosure of William’s birth mother’s identity—that add weight to the story of a marriage and a city embroiled in conflict. Still, the big reveal arrives too late and doesn’t quite offer enough payoff to justify such dense plotting. This falls short of Ackerman’s best work.”
Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of J.M. Coetzee, Ilana Masad, Mikel Jollett, and more—that are publishing this week.
Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Porochista Khakpour, Curtis Sittenfeld, Kate Zambreno, Stephanie Danler, and more—that are publishing this week.
Brown Album by Porochista Khakpour
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Brown Album: “In this wonderful essay collection, novelist Khakpour (The Last Illusion) passionately and wittily explores the writing life and the Iranian-American experience. Not surprisingly, political concerns abound; Khakpour recalls, early in the Trump presidency, hearing of deportations in her majority-Muslim apartment building and encountering rumors that naturalized citizens such as herself—her family left Iran soon after the revolution—would be targeted. She threads memoir throughout, touching on her family life and on her years as ‘he only Iranian not only in my grade but in the whole elementary school, middle school, and high school.’ In recounting the writing of her first novel, Sons and Other Flammable Objects, Khakpour offers a revealing set of reflections on the travails and joys of being a writer, as she finishes the manuscript and submits it to the publisher, hits assorted prepublication snags, and embarks on the reading and book festival circuit. She also shares the pitfalls of being known as an Iranian-American writer, or, due to her novel’s themes, a ‘9/11 author.’ Lovers of the essay and those interested in immigrant literature will be particularly delighted, but any reader can enjoy Khakpour’s passionate and enlightening work.”
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Rodham: “In this entertaining political fantasy, Sittenfeld (Eligible) imagines Hillary Clinton’s personal and professional life if she and Bill had gone their separate ways instead of marrying. The novel begins with an intimate perspective on historical events: At Wellesley’s 1969 graduation, Hillary feels the exhilaration of speaking her mind in public. Two years later, she meets Bill at Yale Law School. He is handsome, larger than life, proud of his Arkansas roots. She is ambitious, smart, hardworking, and opinionated. They fall in love and discuss marriage, but break up because of Bill’s philandering. Bill runs for president in 1992 but drops out of the race. Hillary, meanwhile, is a year into her first term as senator from Illinois. When she runs for president, in 2016, Bill is one of three primary challengers. Scenes with cameos from Donald Trump prove livelier than familiar elements like Hillary’s chocolate chip cookies, which she brings to a Yale potluck. Still, Sittenfeld movingly captures Hillary’s awareness of her transformation into a complicated public figure (‘The feeling was in the collapse, the simultaneity, of how I seemed to others and who I really was’) Readers won’t have to be feminists (though it would help) to relish Sittenfeld’s often funny, mostly sympathetic, and always sharp what-if.”
Drifts by Kate Zambreno
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Drifts: “Zambreno’s immersive, exciting experiment in autofiction (after Book of Mutter) features a writer setting out to write a book called Drifts. The narrator, beholden to a contract, describes herself ‘filled with an incandescence toward the possibility of a book.’ She meditates on the life of Rilke, reads Wittgenstein, and, in photo-studded accounts of walks around New York, patterns her work after those of Robert Walser and W.G. Sebald. But mostly, the narrator describes her time spent not writing: she cares for her dog, Genet; makes notes while on walks; emails her friends; and procrastinates by surfing the internet. Thus, Zambreno offers an enticing chronicle of how a book might actually be written—dramatizing how a writer’s work affects her life, and vice versa—filled with small moments of magic (‘Today, after writing about my lost raccoon cat, I spy her’). After the narrator discovers she is pregnant, she turns toward developing a portrait of a writer contending with her own body. Zambreno succeeds at capturing her narrator’s experience of time and the unavoidable transformations it brings. The result is a captivating deconstruction of the writer’s process that will reward readers in search for meaning.”
Stray by Stephanie Danler
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Stray: “Novelist Danler (Sweetbitter) returns to her hometown of Los Angeles and comes to a reckoning in this forceful, eviscerating memoir. Her three-part narrative—Mother, Father, Monster—creates a domino effect of abandonment and humiliation as those she loves topple her. ‘People often act against common sense when they’ve fallen in love with a fantasy,’ she writes, describing both the tumbledown Laurel Canyon cottage she rents with the advance on her first novel and her disillusionment with her parents and the married lover she calls the Monster. Danler, writing in precise, elegant prose, outlines her family’s disintegration: her father left his wife, Danler, and her sister as young girls; her mother worked and raised the children as she slid into alcoholism and began to physically abuse her daughters. Sent to live with her disinterested father in Colorado, Danler quickly realized ‘he couldn’t love anyone’ yet ‘was charmed by his cruelty.’ Self-destructive relationships followed, including the unavailable Monster, ‘a colonizer… who declares ownership without concrete investment in the country.’ As the publication date of her debut novel drew near, a friend’s comment—’You fought so hard for this life and now you won’t let yourself have it’—propelled her to sever connections with all three and instead establish ‘tiny building blocks of trust’ in loving, enduring relationships. The result is a penetrating and unforgettable tale of family dysfunction.”
Here We Are by Benjamin Taylor
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Here We Are: “Taylor (The Hue and Cry at Our House) begins his loving ‘partial portrait’ of his best friend and ‘chosen parent,’ author Philip Roth, in 2018, when the ailing literary lion, nearing death, comforts Taylor: ‘I have been to see the great enemy, and walked around him, and talked to him, and he is not to be feared. I promise.’ He meditates on Roth’s virtues and vulnerabilities: he had ‘insatiable emotional appetites… he seethed with loathing or desire,’ Taylor writes. He was passionate about his beloved hometown of Newark, N.J., which he ‘endlessly rediscovered through [his] alchemical imagination.’ One of Roth’s more curious vulnerabilities, Taylor notes, was that, though hailed as a great sexual libertine of 20th-century literature, Roth was plagued by fears of disapproval ‘as acutely as any itch in the loins.’ His irritants included bitterness about not winning a Nobel Prize, and disliking George Plimpton’s ‘supreme self-assurance.’ Taylor weaves many of the pair’s lighter moments throughout, including their ritual Sunday night Chinese dinners and their spirited movie nights (Taylor preferred Hollywood classics; Roth was a Kirosawa and Fellini fan). ‘I’m not who I’d have been without him,’ he concludes. This tender-hearted and eloquent paean to long-term friendships will hold special appeal among Roth fans.”
Also on shelves: Things You Would Know if You Grew Up Around Here by Nancy Wayson Dinan.
Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Richard Ford, Lydia Millet, Tracy O’Neill, and more—that are publishing this week.
Sorry for Your Trouble by Richard Ford
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Sorry for Your Trouble: “Pulitzer-winner Ford’s middling collection (after Let Me Be Frank with You) showcases men experiencing glimmers of epiphanies amid the process of mourning. In ‘The Run of Yourself,’ a lawyer from New Orleans lives a quiet existence in Maine after his wife’s untimely death, and a chance meeting in a bar with a younger woman leads to a platonic sleepover and an eye-opening morning walk on the beach. In ‘Second Language,’ Jonathan, a widower who made his millions in Texas oil, begins a new life in New York City with a shaky marriage. After his new wife’s mother dies, Jonathan comforts her while realizing they will never really understand each other. In the standout story, ‘Displaced,’ 16-year-old Henry reels from his father’s death and lives in a rooming house with his mother in Jackson, Miss. Henry befriends Niall, an Irish-American teenager; after they get drunk, Henry lets Niall kiss him, and though he’s open to being comforted, he’s unwilling to explore a sexual relationship. Ford’s unrelenting exploration of life’s bleakness and sadness makes these stories enervating, particularly compared to his previous work, though his clear, nuanced prose continues to impress. Ford is a supremely gifted writer, but he’s not at his best here.”
A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Children’s Bible: “Millet follows up Sweet Lamb of Heaven with a lean, ironic allegory of climate change and biblical comeuppance. A group of friends, successful ‘artsy and educated types,’ plan an ‘offensively long reunion’ at a summer house ‘built by robber barons in the 19th century,’ somewhere on the East Coast. They bring along their children, ranging in age from prepubescent to 17, who devise inventive ways to ignore them. With the young teenage narrator, Evie, Millet perfectly captures the blend of indifference and scorn with which the teenagers view their boozy parents, emblematic of humanity’s dithering in the face of environmental catastrophe: ‘They didn’t do well with long-term warnings. Even medium-term.’ After a massive storm interrupts the summer idyll and brings looting and riots to New York and Boston, the parents lose themselves to booze and cocaine and the children flee with a menagerie of rescued animals, seeking refuge at a farmhouse. This lurid section, in which they are besieged by armed raiders searching for food, is shaky, and allusions to biblical tales such as Noah’s Ark and the Ten Commandments feel facile, but the novel regains its footing once parents and children reunite, with the children calling the shots. Millet’s look at intergenerational strife falls short of her best work.”
Quotients by Tracy O’Neill
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Quotients: “O’Neill’s esoteric follow-up to The Hopeful centers on the deceit-filled relationship between Alexandra Chen, an American woman, and Jeremy Jordan, an Englishman, who meet and begin dating in London in May 2005. Alex works in international public relations (‘She had practiced how to sell a country on her selling their country’), while Jeremy, a hedge fund analyst, tries to keep his past as a British intelligence officer stationed in Belfast during the Troubles a secret from Alex. Alex has troubles of her own—her brother, Shel, ran away at 13, and she’s been looking for him ever since. After Alex accepts an advertising job in New York City that December, Jeremy follows her and they get married. O’Neill’s narrative is tinged with commentary on the rise of digital and social media, which drives a wedge between screen-obsessed Alex and analog Jeremy. Then, in 2008, a journalist friend of Alex’s does his own digging on Shel and raises alarms from Jeremy’s old intelligence contacts after the story unearths NSA secrets. As the details of the couple’s pasts come to light, their marriage is put in jeopardy. O’Neill’s oblique, sometimes opaque prose wears on the reader, though it also offers flashes of insight on the characters’ frequent incomprehension of one another. This would-be techno thriller takes on a bit too much.”
Book of the Little Axe by Lauren Francis-Sharma
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Book of the Little Axe: “Francis-Sharma (’Til the Well Runs Dry) delivers a satisfying and perceptive transnational family saga. In 1830 Montana, Victor Rose struggles to complete an Apsaalooke vision quest, while his best friend, Like-Wind, passes through their tribe’s initiation rite. Victor and his mother, Rosa Rendon, flee after Victor witnesses the drowning death of a young woman who’d spurned him for Like-Wind, to avoid potential suspicion. While traveling, Victor discovers the journal of Creadon Rampley, a hardworking young wanderer from the States seeking gold in Trinidad, in Rosa’s belongings. Here, the narrative flashes back to Rosa’s childhood in Trinidad as the daughter of a prosperous free black farmer and blacksmith. When the British seize control of the colony and attempt to edge out all non-European landowners, Rosa’s father takes desperate measures to keep the land, eventually settling on marrying Rosa’s sister Eve to Creadon. Back on the trail, Victor and Rosa run into trouble on their way to Kullyspell territory. Like-Wind, having reluctantly led two Frenchmen to Victor and Rosa, is killed by one of the Frenchmen during a fight with them as Victor defends Rosa from their sexual assault. Creadon’s writings and Rosa’s memories disclose a cascade of family secrets that explains how Rose and Creadon ended up in North America. In this masterly epic, the pleasure lies in piecing everything together.”
The Anthill by Julianne Pachico
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Anthill: “At the start of Pachico’s uneven sophomore effort (after The Lucky Ones), 28-year-old half-Colombian and half-British Maria ‘Lina’ Carolina returns to her birthplace of Medellín, Colombia, for the first time in 20 years. Anxious and aimless, she has left behind a foundering academic career in England to volunteer at The Anthill, a school founded by Mattías (‘Matty’), whom Lina’s mother had raised with Lina in Colombia. After a disarming initial reunion with Matty, who is scarred and embittered by his experiences in the city when it was more dangerous (‘You won’t be able to recognise who was once a guerilla or who was once a paramilitary,’ he tells her), Lina makes friends with the school’s other volunteers and grows close to the children. However, as Matty tells the other volunteers a different version of his childhood story from the one Lina remembers, Lina is disturbed by the children’s sightings of a strange, dirty boy who vanishes whenever Lina turns to look at him. While plot inconsistencies, underdeveloped characters, and awkward second-person narration lessen the narrative’s emotional impact, Pachico navigates issues of class, war, and violence with intelligence and grace. This lopsided tale falls somewhere between literary fiction and commercial mystery without quite finding its footing.”
Bonus Links from Our Archive:
— Tossed on Life’s Tide: Richard Ford’s Let Me Be Frank with You
— Across the Border: Richard Ford’s Canada
— Recession Reading: Independence Day by Richard Ford
— The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford: A Review
— A Year in Reading 2014: Lydia Millet
— A Year in Reading 2012: Lydia Millet
— A Year in Reading 2007: Lydia Millet
Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Eimear McBride, Samanta Schweblin, Chris Beha, Emma Straub, and more—that are publishing this week.
Strange Hotel by Eimear McBride
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Strange Hotel: “McBride (A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing) delivers a globe-spanning travelogue set entirely in hotel rooms in this beguiling work. Lists of cities section off the narrative; in those flagged by an x, the protagonist, an unnamed itinerant woman, has experienced a tryst. Rather than chronologically plot these encounters, McBride presents them as a runaway train of the woman’s solipsistic thought as to their significance, leaving her at odds to draw conclusions. After rebuffing one man’s advances, she returns to her room and falls asleep watching loud TV porn. Sex with one man pushes her into suicidal contemplation; sex with another cheers her enough to consider joining him for breakfast the following morning (she doesn’t). In the final scene, McBride switches from third- to first-person narration, at which point the narrator reflects on how her past choices have ‘absented’ her from herself. The linguistic prowess found in McBride’s other books remains present, with the bravado slightly dialed down for emotional effect. McBride’s nebulous formalist structure could be described as a long prose poem masquerading as a novel. As a narrative, though, it is a half-formed thing.”
Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Little Eyes: “Schweblin (Fever Dream) unfurls an eerie, uncanny story of Furby-like robots that roll around and make animal sounds, connecting people throughout the world in unsettling ways. The dolls, called kentuki, are equipped with cameras and separate controllers, and their ownership is split between ‘keepers’ and ‘dwellers.’ The keeper purchases a doll, while the dweller buys its controller and watches through the kentuki’s camera via the internet. Schweblin catapults through a dizzying array of vignettes. Marvin, a boy in Antigua, secretly buys a kentuki ‘dweller’ controller using his mother’s savings. In South Bend, Ind., Robin and two of her friends conduct cam shows with their kentuki before the dweller begins spelling out increasingly alarming and sexual demands on the girls’ Ouija board. Emilia, a lonely woman in Lima, quickly takes on the dweller role with Eva, a woman in Germany, who buys dog toys and other pet distractions for Emilia to play with via the kentuki. Daring, bold, and devious, the idea fascinates despite the underdeveloped narrative, and the disparate vignettes fail to build toward a satisfying conclusion. Schweblin’s take on the erosion of privacy and new forms of digital connection yields an ingenious concept, but the sum is less than its parts.”
The Narcissism of Small Differences by Michael Zadoorian
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Narcissism of Small Differences: “Zadoorian (The Leisure Seeker) serves up a wry, unflinching tale of an underachieving couple in midlife crisis mode as the recession grips the industrial Midwest. Joe and Ana live in Ferndale, Mich., a mile outside Detroit, where they’ve been shacked up (but not married) for 15 years. Joe’s a freelance journalist just getting by, while Ana, once an aspiring documentary filmmaker, works in advertising and has become the breadwinner. Despite their cramped living quarters, they live in separate spheres. While Ana befriends and fantasizes over a coworker, Joe stays out late drinking and, while home, develops a heavy porn habit. After Ana catches Joe at the screen, she expresses doubts about their relationship and ongoing living situation. Things don’t get any easier at work. Ana questions how far she’s willing to stray from her progressive values to serve a Christian client, and Joe is reduced to a ‘telemarketing Willie Loman,’ selling ads for a newspaper. Zadoorian’s comedy of contemporary manners resonates by virtue of its introspective characters and depictions of the small moments in life that, taken together, have great significance. Piquantly titled chapters (‘Out Come the Freaks’) provide additional comic snap. Zadoorian’s subtle, timely story hits the mark.”
The Book of V. by Anna Solomon
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Book of V: “Solomon (Leaving Lucy Pear) models this clever, heartfelt triptych on The Hours, weaving a retelling of the biblical story of Esther with the linked stories of a senator’s wife and a Brooklyn mom. In the ancient Persian town of Susa, new king Ahasuerus banishes his wife, Vashti, after she refuses to strip for Ahasuerus’s friends. At a house party in 1970s Washington, D.C., Vee Kent’s husband, Sen. Alexander Kent, makes the same lewd request Ahasuerus made to Vashti. Vee refuses, and is sent packing by Alexander’s chief of staff. Vee takes refuge with her best friend, Rosemary, who’s converting to Judaism in solidarity with her husband. In 2016 Brooklyn, Lily is getting her kids ready for Purim when she learns that her mother, Ruth, has been diagnosed with cancer. Later, Lily connects with one of Ruth’s old friends, who shares surprising details about her mother’s identity and past experience. Solomon connects these stories in a way that’s fresh and tantalizing, with fascinating intergenerational discussions about desire, duty, family, and feminism, as well as a surprising, completely believable twist. This frank, revisionist romp through a Bible tale is a winner.”
Shiner by Amy Jo Burns
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Shiner: “In Burns’s layered, evocative debut novel (after the memoir Cinderland), trauma and hope pass from mother to daughter in a West Virginia family. Wren Bird is the 15-year-old daughter of a one-eyed snake-handling preacher, Briar Bird, and his wife, Ruby Day. Superstitious, charismatic, and devoted to a wife who openly despises him, Briar forces his family to live isolated in the mountains, resulting in few chances for Ruby and Wren to interact with the people of Trap, the nearest town. Their only regular visitor is Ruby’s childhood best friend, Ivy, whose deep connection with Ruby led her to settle with her family nearby. ‘It started with a burn,’ begins the novel—Ivy visits Ruby and Wren one fateful day, and her dress and hair catch on fire. Briar heals her, with nary a scar, but when she starts calling Briar ‘White Eye,’ Ruby and Wren question what happened to Ivy. As Wren contends with the ramifications of her father’s ‘miracle,’ she also begins to uncover the history behind his faith. Though the recursive structure stutters toward big reveals, making it difficult for readers to fully connect with any of the characters, Burns beautifully renders the isolated Appalachian landscape and the urgent desperation of her characters. Burns’s stunning prose is reason enough to keep an eye out for this promising writer’s next effort.”
Index of Self-Destructive Acts by Chris Beha
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Index of Self-Destructive Acts: “In this gripping family saga, Beha (The Whole Five Feet) sets a cast of New Yorkers on a path to ruin during the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Sam Waxworth is a data journalist who has become famous for the program he designed that accurately predicted much of the 2008 election results, including Obama’s meteoric rise to the presidency. As a result, he is offered a plum job at Interviewer magazine in New York and leaves his wife in Wisconsin, where she is finishing her last year of special education study. After his first articles for the publication go viral, he’s assigned to write a profile of Frank Doyle, a disgraced, left-wing–turned–right-wing political opinion writer. As Sam conducts his reporting, he becomes enmeshed with the Doyle family. Kit, Frank’s wife, is reeling from the collapse of her private investment bank. Eddie, their son and an Army veteran, suffers from PTSD after having served in Iraq. And Sam starts up a romantic relationship with 23-year-old Margo, Eddie’s sister and an aspiring academic, just as his wife decides to pay Sam a visit from Wisconsin. Filled with stunning acts of hubris and betrayal, Beha’s deliciously downbeat novel picks apart the zeitgeist, revealing a culture of schemers and charlatans. This cutting send-up of New York progressive elitism should do much to expand Beha’s audience.”
All Adults Here by Emma Straub
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about All Adults Here: “In Straub’s witty, topical fourth novel (after Modern Lovers), members of a Hudson Valley family come to terms with adolescence, aging, sexuality, and gender. After 68-year-old widow Astrid Strick witnesses an acquaintance get struck and killed by a bus in the center of Clapham, N.Y., she feels compelled to come clean with her children about her new relationship with Birdie, the local hairdresser, before it’s too late (‘there were always more school buses,’ she reasons). Astrid’s kids have their own issues to contend with. Thirty-seven-year-old Porter, pregnant via a ‘stud farm’ (aka a sperm bank), is having an affair with her old high school boyfriend, while Elliott, the oldest, is preoccupied with a hush-hush business proposal. Nicky, the youngest, and his wife have shipped their only child, 13-year-old Cecilia, up to live with Astrid after a messy incident at her Brooklyn school involving online pedophilia. Despite Cecilia’s fear of not fitting in, she finds friendship with a boy who longs to be recognized as a girl but isn’t ready to come out as trans. As per usual, Straub’s writing is heartfelt and earnest, without tipping over the edge. There are a lot of issues at play here (abortion, bullying, IVF, gender identity, sexual predators) that Straub easily juggles, and her strong and flawed characters carry the day. This affecting family saga packs plenty of punch.”
Also on shelves: Officer Clemmons by François S. Clemmons.
Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Rufi Thorpe, Amity Gaige, Sarah Sligar, Ishmael Beah, Julio Cortázar, and more—that are publishing this week.
The Knockout Queen by Rufi Thorpe
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Knockout Queen: “Thorpe’s fierce third novel (after Dear Fang, with Love) observes the development of and challenges to an intense friendship between two outcasts at a Southern California high school in the early 2010s. Michael, gay and closeted, has lived in a shabby house with his aunt and cousin since he was 11, when his mother was sent to prison for nonfatally stabbing his father. In the mansion next door lives Bunny Lambert, an immature volleyball star who desperately wants a boyfriend and, at 6‘3“ at the end of her junior year, fears she is a ‘complete monster.’ While Bunny copes with an alcoholic father and bullying by her classmates, Michael hooks up with guys he meets online. Neighbors and classmates since middle school, Bunny and Michael don’t meet until 10th grade, and their friendship develops as Bunny explores her ‘girliness’ around Michael, while he can ‘practice being gay.’ When students start gossiping about Michael, Bunny pummels one of the girls hard enough to cause a critical injury. While the novel’s plot is thin and rests perhaps too heavily on the dire consequences of this moment of violence, the two central characters are deeply realized and complex. The result cannily dissects the power and limits of adolescent friendship.”
Sea Wife by Amity Gaige
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Sea Wife: “A marriage implodes and a husband dies due to the strain of a year sailing around the Caribbean, in Gaige’s splendid, wrenching novel (after Schroder). Michael Partlow, an unfulfilled businessman lured by visions of heroic self-sufficiency and idealized memories of his late father, proposes that he and his wife, Juliet—a stalled-out poetry PhD candidate and stay-at home mother—buy a boat, leave Connecticut, and spend a year sailing with their two young children. Despite Juliet’s misgivings and worries, she agrees and the family enters a new wandering lifestyle with moments of joy amid frightening storms, privations, and mounting financial costs. Eventually, the cramped life onboard drives Juliet and Michael into arguments fueled by Juliet’s depression and Michael’s support of President Trump, and Michael ends up dead from dengue fever. Five months after the end of the voyage, Juliet is mired in a deep depression and gains insight into her marriage by reading Michael’s journal, and the story takes a frantic turn when police arrive with questions about a missing person Michael owed money to. Gaige balances the piecemeal explanations of Michael’s involvement with a profound depiction of the weight of depression and the pains of a complicated relationship. Every element of this impressive novel clicks into a dazzling, heartbreaking whole.”
Our Riches by Kaouther Adimi
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Our Riches: “Adimi’s illuminating English-language debut unearths a legendary Algerian lending library and bookstore in parallel narratives. In 1935, French-Algerian Edmond Charlot slowly builds a small publishing empire, releasing books by Albert Camus and other luminaries and opening the Les Vraies Richesses bookshop in Algiers. In 2017, 20-year-old French university student Ryad lands the job of clearing out the shuttered bookshop to make room for a new beignet spot, fulfilling a requirement for his engineering degree. As Ryad interacts with Abdallah, an elderly former bookseller from the shop’s early days, he learns the history of the building he’s been tasked with gutting. These chapters alternate with Charlot’s diary entries, accounting for the bookstore’s 26-year rise and fall, detailing paper shortages during WWII, company turmoil, and Charlot’s sense of being an outsider in the publishing world. Meanwhile, Ryad befriends a young woman named Sarah, and from her and Abdallah learns how important the bookstore’s legacy is to the city and becomes inspired to embrace Charlot’s motto for the shop: ‘The young, by the young, for the young.’ Adimi’s confident prose displays Ryad and Charlot’s emotional depth while nimbly shuttling the reader through nearly a century of history. This is a moving tribute to the enduring power of literature.”
Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Swimming in the Dark: “Jedrowski’s dazzling debut charts an evocative sexual awakening and coming of age amid political unease in early 1980s Poland. At a summer work camp in 1980, 22-year-old Ludwik Głowacki meets the broad-shouldered Janusz, with whom he discusses the repression and loneliness of gay men in their society. In second-person narration addressed to his new friend and lover, Ludwik reflects on furtive childhood desires (‘Years of yearning compressed like a muscle, pulsating mercilessly’) and describes their secret savoring of a banned James Baldwin book. Despite their ease of connection, Ludwik and Janusz are on opposite sides of a political divide: Janusz is happy to work within the system and gets a government job deciding which books should be published, which Ludwik—who has to carefully craft a literary doctoral thesis that won’t go against the party line—sees as censorship. Additionally, Janusz’s sexual relationship with a wealthy young woman named Hania, which he carries on in hopes of benefiting from her father’s political connections, creates conflict between the two men. Readers will relish the indelible prose, which approaches the mastery of Alan Hollinghurst. Jedrowski’s portrayal of Poland’s tumultuous political transformation over several decades makes this a provocative, eye-opening exploration of the costs of defying as well as complying with social and political conventions.”
Take Me Apart by Sara Sligar
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Take Me Apart: “Sligar’s perceptive debut follows two women who appear collected on the surface but silently endure struggles. After 30-year-old Kate Aitken loses her copyediting job at a New York newspaper amid a disbelieved sexual harassment complaint against her superior, she moves to Northern California to take on a temporary archivist position, where she’s tasked with organizing the personal papers of photographer Miranda Brand, whose death two decades earlier was ruled a suicide. Supervised by Miranda’s adult son, Theo, Kate spends hours sifting through letters, receipts, and prints, and begins to suspect Miranda was murdered. As she builds her case, sneaking around to interview locals who knew the artist, Kate develops feelings for Theo and his two young children, and begins to shut out anything not involving the Brands. Alternating between chapters focusing on Kate and epistolary documents by the tormented Miranda, Sligar reveals Miranda’s unraveling throughout her brilliant career as she labors with parenthood and life with a manipulative husband. Though the novel falters somewhat in its home stretch, Sligar shows off a keen ear for dialogue, and Kate and Miranda hold interest. With a cool style and fast pace, Sligar achieves a propulsive exploration of these ambitious women’s inner turbulence in response to an abusive man in each of their lives.”
Little Family by Ishmael Beah
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Little Family: “The allure of wealth tests a makeshift family in this vibrant outing from Beah (A Long Way Gone). Eighteen-year-old Khoudiemata acts as a motherly figure for a group of five young people living on the margins of the city of Foloiya in an unnamed African country that will remind readers of Sierra Leone. They spend their days roving through town and stealing essentials to survive. Twenty-year-old Elimane, a member of the family, connects with a rich man they call William Handkerchief, who enlists the ‘little family’ in shady dealings in exchange for payments of hundreds of dollars. Khoudiemata uses her share to hide the reality of her current situation and befriend a group of young wealthy elites in Foloiya, including Frederick Cardew-Boston, scion of a powerfully connected family. Khoudiemata agrees to a weekend away with Frederick and his friends, but Elimane’s concern about her involvement with Frederick leads to devastating consequences. Beah informs his characters’ blend of street savvy and naïveté with bursts of details about the experiences that shaped them in a bustling and crooked society. Fans of African postcolonial fiction are in for a treat.”
All Fires the Fire by Julio Cortázar
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about All Fires the Fire: “In this playful and scintillating set of fabulist tales by Argentine master Cortázar (1914–1984), characters are shuffled through shifting realities. In ‘The Southern Thruway,’ a makeshift community forms among drivers on a highway as a traffic jam outside Paris keeps them stuck on the road for weeks. The characters form relationships and assume leadership positions, but everyone loses track of each other as soon as the traffic begins to move. In ‘The Other Heaven,’ the narrator moves seamlessly between time periods, leaving his humdrum life in 1940s Argentina to roam the Paris arcades of the 19th century, enjoying ‘grog at the café on the Rue des Jeûneurs,’ ‘the theaters on the boulevard,’ and the company of Josiane, a prostitute living in a ‘dime-novel garret.’ The collection’s standout title story juxtaposes a Roman gladiatorial contest with a failing relationship in mid-century France, suggesting echoes and connections between apparently disparate lives. Cortázar’s predilection for patterns is voiced by the narrator of ‘Meeting,’ who compares a Cuban revolutionary comrade to Mozart, both men seeking ‘an order’ that will lead to ‘a victory that might be like the restoration of a melody.’ Cortázar fans will devour these affecting stories.”
Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Madeleine L’Engle, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Sue Monk Kidd, Sebastian Barry, Sopan Deb, and more—that are publishing this week.
The Moment of Tenderness by Madeleine L’Engle
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Moment of Tenderness: “While L’Engle (1918–2007) is best known for her 1963 Newbery Award winner A Wrinkle in Time, her work stretched across genres, as seen with this illuminating collection of mostly previously unpublished material. Organized chronologically by her granddaughter and literary executor Charlotte Jones Voiklis, the book traces L’Engle’s progression as a writer of short stories for adults. Beginning with autobiographical works, some of them college assignments featuring young female narrators struggling with murky emotions, the collection moves toward more plotted narratives, closing with several ambitious tales that occasionally lead into supernatural or speculative territory, such as ‘The Fact of the Matter,’ ‘Poor Little Saturday,’ and ‘A Sign for a Sparrow,’ about a cryptologist in the 22nd century, which is rooted in the intersection of science and religion that distinguished much of L’Engle’s work. Unswerving throughout is L’Engle’s mastery of mood-setting language and her depiction of the complexity of human relationships. Voiklis’s illuminating introduction places many of the stories in the context of L’Engle’s life and points out those that were reworked and integrated into her later novels. The book will obviously attract L’Engle aficionados, but the thoughtful selection and organization recommends the volume to anyone curious about a writer’s evolution.”
How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about How to Pronounce Knife: “Poet Thammavongsa (Cluster) makes her fiction debut with this sharp and elegant collection that focuses on the hopes, desires, and struggles of Lao immigrants and refugees in an unnamed English-speaking city. In one of the best stories, ‘Slingshot,’ a 70-year-old woman experiences a sexual reawakening with her 32-year-old neighbor, Richard: ‘It was the start of summer and I wanted something to happen to me.’ In ‘Randy Travis,’ a seven-year-old daughter is made to write hundreds of letters to country singer Randy Travis after her mother—who can’t write in English—becomes obsessed with him, and watches her father wear cowboy boots and flannel in an attempt to draw his wife’s attention. In ‘Mani Pedi,’ a former boxer begins working at his sister’s nail salon (‘It amazed him to see clients transformed. It was like what happened in the ring, but in reverse.’) and pines after a wealthy white client. In ‘A Far Distant Thing,’ two 12-year-old girls have a short but meaningful friendship before they lose touch and their lives take different paths. Thammavongsa’s brief stories pack a punch, punctuated by direct prose that’s full of acute observations: in the final story, about a mother and her 14-year-old daughter picking worms at a hog farm, those laboring in the field ‘looked like some rich woman had lost a diamond ring and everyone had been ordered to find it.’ This is a potent collection.”
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Book of Longings: “The latest from Kidd (The Secret Life of Bees) proposes an audacious premise: Jesus of Nazareth was married, and his wife was a writer. In a richly imagined first-person narrative, Ana, the only daughter of Herod’s chief scribe, Matthias, tells of her origins as a writer and her life with Jesus. As a child in Sepphoris, Ana recounts, Matthias allowed her to pursue scholarly interests, and she was drawn toward documenting the stories of Biblical matriarchs (‘Listening to the rabbis, one would’ve thought the only figures worth mentioning… were [men]. When I was finally able to read the Scriptures for myself, I discovered (behold!) there were women’). Once Ana turns 15, however, she is forced to hide away her parchments and scrolls and, despite her protests, her parents arrange for her betrothal to the much older Nathaniel ben Hananiah. Overcome with despair while meeting Nathaniel for the first time in a marketplace, she grows faint and falls. A young bearded man helps her up, causing her to feel an ‘odd smelting’ in her thighs.
After Nathaniel suddenly dies from an illness, Ana meets Jesus, the man from the marketplace, and the two bond over their status as outcasts—Ana as a ‘widow’ and Jesus as a child of dubious parentage. In a particularly tender section filled with domestic details of their early marriage, Kidd imagines the young couple’s mutually supportive partnership even as Jesus’s call to ministry grows stronger.
Kidd deemphasizes the New Testament’s telling of Jesus’s miraculous deeds and divinity, instead positioning his early faithfulness and ministry—not to mention events that will ultimately take his life—as essentially political in nature. Jesus’s grassroots gospel of radical acceptance and love is contrasted with the violent revolution espoused by Ana’s adopted brother, Judas, with the two resistance movements presented as competing alternatives to the repressive Roman power over Israel. Historic and biblical details are balanced by lively dialogue and debates between characters about matters of faith and action.
Ana’s ambition and strong sense of justice make her a sympathetic character for modern readers, even if her rebellion against her parents may seem somewhat anachronistic for a woman of her time. Throughout the joys of her marriage and the trials of this long separation and its aftermath, Ana returns repeatedly to the hopeful words of her aunt and mentor, Yaltha: ‘Return to your longing. It will teach you everything.’ In an afterword, Kidd offers insights into her research and makes the argument that Jesus’s marriage—despite later church assumptions and teachings—was not only possible but likely.
In addition to providing a woman-centered version of New Testament events, Kidd’s novel is also a vibrant portrait of a woman striving to preserve and celebrate women’s stories—her own and countless others.”
A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Thousand Moons: “Barry’s mournful sequel to Days Without End focuses on Winona Cole as she navigates the dangers of Reconstruction-era Tennessee and carries the memory of her dead Lakota family. Surrounded by ex-rebels too disgruntled by the Union victory and abolition to “breathe the air of peace,” Winona has a hard time telling criminals from law enforcement in formerly-Confederate West Tennessee, as rebels regain the right to vote and black men freed from slavery find their newfound rights attacked. After Winona and former slave Tennyson Bouguereau are inexplicably beaten, she thinks back on her warrior mother and wonders what bravery and justice mean to an impoverished, Native woman that the local whites see as ‘closer to a wolf than a woman.’ As Winona rides out with the Freedmen militia to avenge the attacks, she narrowly cheats death, leading her to a spiritual experience that connects her with ancestors. In Winona, who sees both the beauty and the piercing loss of her world, Barry has created a vivid if didactic heroine (‘Whitemen in the main just see slaves and Indians. They don’t see the single souls’). This earnest tale will stay with readers.”
Deluge by Leila Chatti
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Deluge: “Chatti turns fear and shame into empowerment in her unflinching debut as she relays her tumultuous journey as a young Tunisian American battling an illness that resulted in continuous uterine bleeding. Chatti explores the cognitive dissonance of maintaining faith despite inherent religious misogyny. These poems are confessional, proverbial, and fatalistic, yet still maintain humility and agency over her story and pain. An example of her stylistic finesse and metaphorical mastery can be seen in her poem ‘Tumor,’ in which she laments her illness by wrapping her words into a spiral ‘nimbus,’ the text waning as it curls to the centerfold: ‘it requires… to speak on its behalf, to determine its name… it resembles too, I think, a fruit if fruit were buried, a chthonic pomegranate, a Pompeian fig cocooned, or else the dark concentrate of the moon, one of its seas, or the orphan planet of the dead, motherless stone, God of No and Never.’ Chatti translates a gritty, traumatizing experience into a hypnotic, transcendental topography of the human spirit.”
Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of our own Mark O’Connell, Emily Gould, Mark Doty, Joanna Hershon, Paulette Jiles, and more—that are publishing this week.
Notes from an Apocalypse by Mark O’Connell
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Notes from an Apocalypse: “The end of the world portends right-wing vigilantism and left-wing nihilism, according to this bleakly comic tour of doomsday ideologies. Consumed by fears of climate change and beset by self-criticism—’my [ecological] footprint is as broad and deep and indelible as my guilt’—journalist O’Connell (To Be a Machine) surveys several strands of apocalyptic foreboding. He treats the reactionary, survivalist varieties—including American doomsday preppers stockpiling food and ammo in anticipation of urban rioters, a real-estate developer peddling bunkers on a former South Dakota military base, and Mars-colonization enthusiasts who fondly invoke white settlers’ colonization of the U.S.—as pathological expressions of social paranoia, toxic patriarchy, and outright ‘fascism,’ and makes clear that his sympathies lie more with progressive doomsayers. On a camping trip with deep ecology pessimists who refute the ‘myth’ that humans are ‘fundamentally distinct’ from nature and welcome the climate change–induced collapse of civilization, O’Connell communes with grass and sky and finds talk of human extinction ‘strangely cheerful.’ Readers who agree that the U.S. is ‘a rapidly metastasizing tumor of inequality, hyper-militarism, racism, surveillance, and… terminal-stage capitalism’ will be equally terrified and bemused by O’Connell’s musings, while those who are less credulous about narratives of ecological apocalypse will find much to dispute. The result is a wryly humorous if somewhat overwrought rumination that’s more a symptom than a diagnosis of Western civilization’s apocalyptic discontents.”
Perfect Tunes by Emily Gould
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Perfect Tunes: “Gould’s sharply observant novel (after Friendship) follows an aspiring singer-songwriter on the fringes of New York City’s rock music scene. In the early 2000s, 22-year-old Laura moves from Columbus, Ohio, into her high school friend Callie’s East Village apartment, too late to catch the neighborhood’s ‘mythic version of itself that existed in her mind.’ While working as a greeter at a slick lounge, she dreams of a music career and begins dating and doing drugs with Dylan, singer and guitarist for an up-and-coming band. After Dylan dies in a drug-related accidental drowning, Callie and Laura are invited to replace Dylan in the band, but Laura, pregnant with Dylan’s child, opts not to. Callie joins, and later, single mom Laura moves to Brooklyn, teaches music classes, and settles down with a divorced father. By 2016, Laura’s baby has grown into a rebellious teenager and Laura continues to waver between making ends meet and pursuing her dream. While Gould falters when depicting emotional connections, she offers vivid glimpses of N.Y.C.’s recent past and impresses with striking language: a hangover makes Laura’s head ‘feel like a black banana,’ and her baby is a ‘bomb’ that requires ‘steady-handed defusing.’ Gould’s portrait of a would-be artist as a young woman offers fresh, poignant insights into the challenges faced by the city’s transplanted dreamers.”
St. Ivo by Joanna Hershon
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about St. Ivo: “Hershon’s somber, murky fifth novel (after The Dual Inheritance) gradually reveals the unhappy secrets between floundering filmmaker Sarah and her adult daughter, Leda. Sarah, who hasn’t made a film for years, has recently, and uncertainly, reunited with her husband, Matthew, after a two-year separation. The novel follows the couple over the course of a weekend spent in upstate New York with their friends and fellow artists Kiki and Arman, who have just had a baby. Hershon slowly drags in clues to the source of Sarah’s suffering, and the circumstances surrounding her and Matthew’s estrangement from Leda, which Sarah tries to work through in a screenplay despite Matthew’s objections. Heading into the weekend, Sarah behaves in increasingly risky ways and gives her name and phone number to a ‘grandfatherly’ Czech man she meets on the subway. Upstate, she tempts danger in a swimsuit-clad encounter with Kiki and Arman’s gruff neighbor in the woods, stimulated by the sense that the man could overpower her after he touches the fringe of her suit. While Leda’s story of heroin addiction and betrayal is rather predictable, Sarah’s opaque emotional backdrop receives welcome bursts of illumination with brief, dialogue-driven cinematic scenes. Hershon explores with moving simplicity the complexities friendships and a marriage that has frayed but not yet died.”
Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Simon the Fiddler: “Jiles’s gritty and richly atmospheric seventh novel returns to the post–Civil War Texas she explored in News of the World. In the last year of the war, 23-year-old Simon Boudlin, an orphan musician from Kentucky who has avoided a stint in the Confederate Army, is rounded up by a couple of conscription men. After the war concludes, his body and fiddle still relatively intact, Simon and some friends are commissioned to play for a formal dinner for Confederate and Union officers at Fort Brown, Tex. There he is dazzled by Doris Dillon, the Irish governess for Colonel Webb of the Union Army, and determines that he will somehow buy some land and make her his bride. Simon and Doris trade letters over the next couple of years as he and his friends become ‘creatures of gaslight and shadows,’ traveling around coastal Texas for stray saloon gigs, and Doris works off her indentured servitude for the Webbs in San Antonio and fends off unwelcome advances from the colonel. When Simon finally makes his way to Doris, trouble ensues. Jiles immerses the reader in the sensory details of the era, with special emphasis on the demands and rewards of a ragtag Texas fiddle band. Jiles’s limber tale satisfies with welcome splashes of comedy and romance.”
What You Become in Flight by Ellen O’Connell Whittet
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about What You Become in Flight: “In this somber debut memoir, former ballet dancer Whittet reflects on her days as a young ballerina in California, the spinal injury that snuffed out her career prospects at 19, and her new life as a writer. Ballet had consumed Whittet from childhood: ‘As soon as I was walking I was dancing,’ she writes. The book’s first half details her rigorous classical dance training; the pain she routinely battled from sprains and tears; the psychological toll of being in the spotlight (she contended with anorexia); and the trauma that came after her dance partner dropped her during a rehearsal, an accident that resulted in a fractured spine. The book’s second half—about the author trying to find a new calling after injury and rehab—is less gripping. Whittet discusses going to graduate school for writing, seeing a therapist to help her get over a fear of snakes, and falling in love with her husband. Those looking for a memoir about ballet may feel short changed, as much of this book is not about dancing but rejecting the role of a ‘quiet, acquiescent ballerina’ who claims a ‘new voice’ as a writer. While Whittet’s memoir doesn’t fully satisfy, it certainly entices.”
Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Julia Alvarez, C Pam Zhang, Kathryn Scanlan, our own Edan Lepucki, and more—that are publishing this week.
Afterlife by Julia Alvarez
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Afterlife: “Alvarez’s poignant return to adult fiction (after the young adult Tia Lola series) raises powerful questions about the care people owe themselves and others. Antonia Vega is reeling from the sudden death of her husband, Sam, who suffered an aneurysm on the day they’d planned to celebrate her retirement. As an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, Antonia is determined to embrace American values of self-preservation and independence, and she keeps a running dialogue in her head with Sam about the U.S. and D.R.’s conflicting values (‘We live in America, she reminds the disapproving Sam in her head, where you put your oxygen mask on first’). This outlook is challenged after she finds an undocumented and pregnant teenage girl from Mexico hiding in her garage, and when Antonia’s charismatic but unstable older sister Izzy disappears. As Antonia weighs the needs of others and her own, memories of Sam’s magnanimity and generosity of spirit guide her, along with sentiments from authors such as Tolstoy (‘What is the right thing to do?’) and Rilke (‘You must change your life’). Alvarez blends light humor with deep empathy toward her characters, offering a convincing portrait of an older woman’s self discovery. This will satisfy her fans and earn new ones.”
How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about How Much of These Hills Is Gold: “Zhang’s extraordinary debut, a beautifully rendered family saga, centers on a pair of siblings, Lucy, 12, and Sam, 11, who are left orphaned in the wake of the American gold rush. When their father—a former prospector and coal miner whom they call Ba—dies after a short, hard life of toil and drink, Lucy and Sam want to bury him properly, according to Chinese burial traditions. This means two silver dollars to cover his eyes, but it’s two silver dollars the two don’t have. Clever Lucy attempts to appeal to the townspeople’s sympathy, but it’s hotheaded Sam, armed with their father’s pistol, who understands that it takes force to make things happen. With their father’s decomposing body, the pistol, and a stolen horse, Lucy and Sam disappear into the hills. As they search for a burial site and look forward to a future for themselves, Lucy and Sam reckon with how gold, ambition, and desire shaped the lives of both their Ba and their beautiful, beloved, and long-departed Ma, whose womanhood never dampened her hunger and ambition, and how that greed has been passed down to them. Gorgeously written and fearlessly imagined, Zhang’s awe-inspiring novel introduces two indelible characters whose odyssey is as good as the gold they seek.”
Starling Days by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Starling Days: “Buchanan (Harmless Like You) traces the strain of depression on a marriage in this bleak and eloquent novel. Six months after 32-year-old classicist Mina Umeda marries her boyfriend of 10 years, she walks pensively across the George Washington Bridge amid a depressive episode. Confronted by the police, she’s unable to convince them she was just clearing her head. Oscar, her Japanese-British husband, picks her up and suggests they go to London to distract her from her depression. There, she ruminates on an unfinished project about Greco-Roman myths titled The Women Who Survived. When Mina’s decision to go off her antidepressants and birth control exacerbates her illness, Oscar grows casually cruel in his frustration (‘Nobody gets the life they thought they would’). He returns to New York City while Mina embarks on an affair with Phoebe, the sister of Oscar’s best friend. After Mina’s frantic fixation on Phoebe begins to push her away, Oscar returns to London and the married couple struggles forward. Buchanan sharply observes the confusing sensations of depression (‘Sometimes I want to die and sometimes I want to buy a box of tomatoes and stand by the fridge eating them out of a paper carton’). Readers willing to brave the darkness will find a worthy, nuanced portrait of a woman’s struggle for self-determination amid mental illness.”
The Dominant Animal by Kathryn Scanlan
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Dominant Animal: “As with Aug 9—Fog, her adaptation of a real woman’s diary, Scanlan craftily makes the stuff of everyday life seem strange and rare in this collection. There are 40 very short stories, often only long enough to lay out a situation before it’s sneakily turned on its head. In ‘Florida Is for Lovers,’ a daughter goes through the objects left behind by her recently deceased parents, who were indifferent to her when living. A couple’s stay in a foreign city is interrupted by their digestive troubles in ‘Please.’ ‘Colonial Revival’ tracks a man’s expanding fortunes after he comes home from a war before, over time, the fortunes shrink back, the dwindling crystallized in a final image of a pile of unwanted furniture. ‘Master Framer’ follows a man who lies about his abilities for his advantage. Scanlan has a knack for subtly bending the ordinary into the uncanny, as when a narrator witnessing two boys chase each other around their yard with scissors wonders if it’s a dream, or letting the gently irregular seep into the everyday, as when a woman creeps into her basement with a knife to eat some of ‘a large, costly wedge of aged cheese’ while her ravenous partner is distracted upstairs. Reading Scanlan is akin to looking at two ‘spot the difference’ images, but not knowing what, exactly, is off. This is a delightful, mischievous, and mysterious collection that’s perfect for fans of Lydia Davis and Mary Ruefle.”
Obit by Victoria Chang
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Obit: “The exceptional fifth book from Chang (Barbie Chang) does not open with death, at least not in the way its title might suggest. It opens instead with a father’s stroke and the assertion that grief ‘is really about future absence.’ The collection explores the newspaper obituary through prose blocks whose language moves between shuddering realism and more lyrical elaborations. One poem recalls: ‘After my father’s stroke, my mother no longer spoke in full sentences… Maybe this is what happens when language fails, a last breath inward but no breath outward. A state of holding one’s breath forever but not dying.’ The sparser tankas about children and the future offer some of the book’s most exquisite and painful moments: ‘My children, children,/ today my hands are dreaming/ as they touch your hair./ Your hair turns into winter./ When I die, your hair will snow.’ Chang’s poems expand and contract to create surprising geometries of language, vividly capturing the grief they explore.”
Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Callan Wink, Kawai Strong Washburn, Alexandra Chang, Fernanda Melchior, César Aira, and more—that are publishing this week.
August by Callan Wink
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about August: “Wink’s accomplished debut novel (after the collection Dog Run Moon) explores the nuances of present-day agricultural life. August grows up on the family dairy farm in Michigan with his divorced parents, shuttling between the ‘old house’ where his mother, Bonnie, lives, and the ‘new house’ built by his father, Dar, with Bonnie’s inheritance. After Dar shacks up with a woman just out of high school, Bonnie moves with August to Bozeman, Mont., where August attends high school and has his heart broken after sleeping with an older woman. He spends summers working for his father in Michigan, and after graduating, August defers college (‘something people do to put off actually doing something’) for a position on a Montana cattle ranch. Wink takes an assured, meandering approach to narrating August’s life, as August creeps toward adulthood through a series of minor adventures, such as mending fences, drinking at the local watering hole, and learning how to dance. Wink brilliantly captures the stultifying effects of small-town life and the tension between free-spirited August and those stuck in the Montana ‘suckhole,’ concluding with a stunning, indelible image from August’s rearview mirror. Like a current Jim Harrison, Wink makes irresistible drama out of an individual’s search for identity in landscapes that are by turns romantic and limiting.”
Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Sharks in the Time of Saviors: “Washburn’s standout debut provides a vivid portrait of Hawaiian identity, mythology, and diaspora. This family chronicle opens in 1995 Honok’a as the seven-year-old Nainoa Flores falls from a ship, only to be rescued and returned to his parents by sharks. This seminal event in the lives of the Filipino-Hawaiian Flores family marks Nainoa for life as the “miracle boy,” even as his parents struggle to turn a profit on their sugarcane plantation. As things become more desperate, Nainoa and his violent older brother, Dean, and adventuresome younger sister, Kaui, leave the island to seek their fortunes on the mainland. Dean embarks on a promising career as a basketball player in Spokane only to wind up in trouble with the law, while Kaui discovers her sexuality in San Diego, and Nainoa becomes an EMT in Portland, Ore. Poised halfway between their cultural upbringing and hopes for the future, the family is riven by a horrific tragedy that will test them to the breaking point. Though perhaps overlong, Washburn’s debut is a unique and spirited depiction of the 50th state and its children.”
Days of Distraction by Alexandra Chang
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Days of Distraction: “Chang’s incisive debut follows a 25-year-old Chinese-American woman as she balances an interracial relationship, her career as a technology reporter, and a drive toward self-discovery. After narrator Jing Jing’s white boyfriend, J, announces his plans to move across the country for graduate school, she follows him from San Francisco to Ithaca, N.Y. On the cross-country road trip with J, she discovers a heightened sense of her racial identity; while visiting high school friend Becca in Portland, Ore., Jing Jing quickly acknowledges her relative privilege as an East Asian compared to darker people of color after Becca, who is white, insists that ‘Asians have it really bad—the worst.’ Similar interactions in Ithaca make her feel out of place compared to her life in California, prompting her to remember and reexamine her close childhood friendship with white girls in the Milk Club (‘the name did not have overtly racial origins, but practical ones, since each girl got a carton of milk at lunch’) and consider how her ability to fit in among white people can erase her sense of self. As scattershot freelance assignments dry up, she occupies herself with research into discrimination of Chinese women throughout U.S. history, seeking a sense of purpose while J keeps a busy schedule. As J becomes condescending toward her efforts to improve their apartment, Jing Jing begins to feel estranged from him. When her father makes an uncharacteristic call from China and reveals that he’s been drinking heavily, she decides to visit, relieved to have a reason to leave Ithaca. Chang’s humorous, timely observations on race, technology, and relationships lend immediacy to the narrator’s chronicle of self-awareness. This introduces a formidably talented writer.”
Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Hex: “A young academic develops an unhealthy fixation on her adviser in this arresting novel of obsession from Dinerstein Knight (The Sunlit Night). Nell Barber is expelled from her PhD program in botany at Columbia University, along with the rest of her lab members, after their colleague Rachel Simons dies from exposure to poisonous plants. Nell breaks up with her medievalist boyfriend Tom, gets a job at a bar, and concentrates on completing Rachel’s dangerous work in her apartment to capture the attention of former adviser Joan Kallas, with whom she is obsessed. While Joan tries to steer Nell away from the dangerous project, Joan starts up an affair with Tom, and Nell’s best friend, the gorgeous, high-achieving Mishti, sleeps with Joan’s husband. The narrative takes the form of entries in what is supposed to be Nell’s scientific notebook (which are addressed to Joan), in which Nell discusses the main players’ love affairs and tries to reach conclusions about her would-be mentor. After the details of the affairs emerge at a small holiday party at Joan’s home, Nell loses her chance at an invitation to join Joan’s new research project. Nell’s intensity and the hypnotic, second-person prose convincingly render the protagonist’s bewitched, self-destructive state. Readers who liked I Love Dick and want something more lurid will appreciate this.”
Threshold by Rob Doyle
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Threshold: “Doyle (This Is the Ritual) follows in this poignant tale an itinerant narrator as he searches for personal enlightenment. The narrator, 30-something Rob, recounts his adventures through a series of letters to an unknown recipient, composed mainly of ruminations on spirituality and the nature of truth alongside reminiscences of stories about his adventures across the globe. Among these are his expedition foraging for psychedelic mushrooms in Ireland, his visit to the graves of famous writers in Paris, his time at Buddhist meditation retreats in Southeast Asia, and his druggy clubbing lifestyle while living in Berlin. Throughout, he carries on lively, often humorous discussions with himself about identity that hover on the edge of chaotic existential crisis: ‘I swam in the sea and had the ecstatic drunken insight that everything is transient, everything is eternal, both statements are true.’ Doyle’s musings are always intriguing and often enlightening, offering a glimpse of the anxious yet pleasing rationale of a mind struggling to live in a rational world. Fans of Will Self will enjoy this.”
Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchior, translated by Sophie Hughes
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Hurricane Season: “Melchor’s English-language debut is a furious vortex of voices that swirl around a murder in a provincial Mexican town. The story opens with a group of boys discovering the body of the Witch in a canal. The Witch is a local legend: she provides the women of the town with cures and spells, while for the men she hosts wild, orgiastic parties at her house. Each chapter is a single, cascading paragraph and follows a different townsperson. First is Yesenia, a young woman who despises her addict cousin, Luismi, and one day sees him carrying the Witch from her home with another boy, Brando. Next is Munra, Luismi’s stepfather, who was also present at the Witch’s house; then Norma, a girl who flees her abusive stepfather and ends up briefly settling with Luismi; and lastly Brando, who finally reveals the details of the Witch’s death. The murder mystery (complete with a mythical locked room in the Witch’s house) is simply a springboard for Melchor to burrow into her characters’ heads: their resentments, secrets, and hidden and not-so-hidden desires. Forceful, frenzied, violent, and uncompromising, Melchor’s depiction of a town ogling its own destruction is a powder keg that ignites on the first page and sustains its intense, explosive heat until its final sentence.”
Artforum by César Aira, translated by Katherine Silver
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Artforum: “Aira’s clever, whimsical collection of autofiction (after The Musical Brain) draws on the author’s obsessive 30-year-long pursuit of collecting the international art magazine Artforum. Initially able to obtain issues in Argentina only by chance, Aira comes to believe the glossy objects are enchanted by ‘divine automatism’ after one volume shape-shifts into a form resembling a soccer ball, having absorbed the rain from an open window and keeping his other magazines dry, ‘like a magical and heroic solider.’ After exhausting a search for new issues in local bookstores, he orders a subscription, only to face an interminable wait for new issues. As they trickle in from the U.S., he begins counting down the days to each issue’s expected arrival date. He travels to a used bookstore in Buenos Aires to buy a stack of back issues that belonged to a dead gallery owner, and as his patience grows thin, he decides to make his own version of the magazine. As Aira illuminates the dead ends in his drive to collect the magazine, he offers rich insight into the appreciation of art and the desire to possess. This entertaining jaunt through the writer’s creative development satisfies with brevity and grace.”
Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of N.K. Jemisin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Megan Giddings, Marina Kemp, our own Emily St. John Mandel, and more—that are publishing this week.
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The City We Became: “The staggering contemporary fantasy that launches three-time Hugo Award-winner Jemisin’s new trilogy (following the Broken Earth series) leads readers into the beating heart of New York City for a stunning tale of a world out of balance. After hundreds of years of gestation, New York City is awakening to sentience, but ‘postpartum complications’ threaten to destroy it. An alien, amorphous force, personified by the Woman in White, launches an attack on New York. Five people—one for each of the city’s five boroughs—are called to become avatars dedicated to protecting the city. If they can combine their powers, they’ll be able to awaken the avatar of the city as a whole and defeat the Woman in White, but first they’ll have to find each other. While the Woman in White works to undermine them, the five avatars, whose personalities delightfully mirror the character of their respective boroughs (the Bronx is ‘creative with an attitude,’ Manhattan is ‘smart, charming, well-dressed, and cold enough to strangle you in an alley if we still had alleys’), learn the extent of their new powers. Jemisin’s earthy, vibrant New York is mirrored in her dynamic, multicultural cast. Blending the concept of the multiverse with New York City arcana, this novel works as both a wry adventure and an incisive look at a changing city. Readers will be thrilled.”
Had I Known by Barbara Ehrenreich
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Had I Known: “Activist and journalist Ehrenreich (Natural Causes) addresses numerous hot-button issues in this argumentative and passionate collection. She challenges the status quo throughout, while also including a healthy dose of self-questioning. The 40 selections—assembled into six categories (Haves and Have-Nots; Health; Men; Women; God, Science, and Joy; and Bourgeois Blunders) and published between 1984 and 2018—address race, class, and gender with admirable breadth. Writing on sexual harassment in 2017, Ehrenreich reminds the reader of how little focus has been accorded to abuses committed against working-class women. An essay from over a decade ago on immigration is notably topical, as is one written soon after the 2008 financial crash on the ‘criminalization of being poor.’ She is wittily satirical at times, as when skewering adherents to ‘the cult of conspicuous busyness,’ who feel ’embarrassed to be caught doing only one thing at a time,’ and bitterly Swiftian at others, proposing a combination of ‘welfare and flogging’ as an acceptably punitive compromise for opponents of government aid to the poor. Her most acerbic passages will be off-putting to some, but most will find this a gripping look at why ‘dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots.'”
Lakewood by Megan Giddings
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Lakewood: “In Giddings’s chilling debut, Lena Johnson takes a leave from college after her grandmother dies and must find a way to financially support herself and her mother, who suffers from a mysterious but debilitating illness. Serendipitously, she receives an invitation to apply to the Lakewood Project, a series of research studies about memory. If chosen, Lena will receive a hefty paycheck and, crucially, insurance that would cover all of her mother’s health-care costs. After an invasive screening process that includes uncomfortable questions about race and being injected with strange substances, Lena is invited to participate. This involves moving to Lakewood, a nearby town in Michigan, and leading a double life. After signing an NDA, she’s instructed to tell her family and friends, through monitored communication, that she works for a shipping company. In reality, she and the other participants—all of them black, Indian, or Latin—must undergo grueling evaluations and take part in experiments (such as eye drops that change eye color, and being put on a diet of cream pellets only) that can have fatal consequences, all under the watch of ‘observers,’ all of whom are white. Though the book’s second half doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the first, Giddings is a writer with a vivid imagination and a fresh eye for horror, both of the body and of society. This eerie debut provides a deep character study spiked with a dose of horror.”
Marguerite by Marina Kemp
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Marguerite: “In Kemp’s stellar debut, a young nurse gets caught up in romance, jealousy, and gossip on a farm in the South of France. Having trained to become a nurse in order to help treat her sister’s meningitis, Marguerite Demers takes a job caring for the prideful, cruel Jérôme Lanvier at his dilapidated Saint-Sulpice farmhouse. There, she befriends Suki, an Iranian who wears a hijab, causing the townspeople to call her a ‘witch doctor.’ Both women provoke jealousy in Brigitte, who, along with her husband, Henri, works for Jérôme. Suki has long been picked on by gossipy and insecure Brigitte, who slanders her perceived rivals with abandon. Meanwhile, Henri, a handsome, sensitive farmer, is having an affair with Edgar, a writer, and is resigned to stay at the farm with Brigitte, where he tries to find contentment working in the dirt, enjoying ‘the day’s long accumulation of filth.’ As Henri stands up for Marguerite, the pair’s connection heightens. Eventually rumors, combined with Suki, Brigitte, and Edgar’s jealousy, threaten Marguerite and Henri. Precise, distinctive prose (train doors close ‘with a hiss like a punctured tyre’) and well-drawn characters make this satisfying tale all the more memorable. Expect Kemp to make a big splash.”
Marrow and Bone by Walter Kempowski
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Marrow and Bone: “Kempowski (All For Nothing) offers an astute and ever-surprising comedy of the cultural divide between East and West in 1988. At 43, war orphan Jonathan Fabrizius halfheartedly pursues a life of the mind in Hamburg, where he works as a sometime journalist. After Frau Winkelvoss, a representative of the Santubara car manufacturer, offers Jonathan an opportunity to document a trip across Poland for an upcoming rally, Jonathan readily accepts out of interest in his birthplace in former East Prussia. Jonathan takes ironic pride in a painful past (“As far as suffering was concerned, this guaranteed him an unparalleled advantage over his friends”) and adopts a wry attitude toward the way he’ll be perceived as a German abroad (‘When you’d started a world war, murdered Jews and taken people’s bicycles away (in Holland) the cards were stacked against you’). On the road in Poland with Winkelvoss and a famous race car driver at the wheel of the flashy V8, Jonathan plays the part of arrogant Western intellectual as their adventure turns picaresque, complete with a car jacking. As Jonathan tunes in to the wreckage of war, Kempowski’s unsparing, dagger-sharp prose leads Jonathan to face the loss of his parents and homeland. This hilarious, deeply affecting exploration of postwar dichotomies successfully channels the satire of Confederacy of Dunces and the somber reflectiveness of Austerlitz.”
We Inherit What the Fires Left by William Evans
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about We Inherit What the Fires Left: “Evans (Still Can’t Do My Daughter’s Hair) poignantly addresses in this vulnerable collection his experience raising his daughter in the suburbs while reckoning with the memory of his own father and childhood. In three titled sections—’Grass Growing Wild Beneath Us,’ ‘Trespass,’ and ‘Aging Out of Someone Else’s Dream’—Evans recounts the mundane moments of pride and learning that come with fatherhood, as well as the larger systemic threats and legacies of violence that underlie his experience as a black American. In ‘Waves,’ his daughter asks a question about the ocean, which brings to mind the slaves forced to cross the Atlantic. The poem closes with acknowledging another threat: ‘On the ride home, after I have/ quieted the bark, an officer/ pulls us to the side of the road/ and asks me whose car I am driving/ my family home in.’ In ‘Pledge to Raising a Black Girl,’ he asks, ‘How do you know what you have a taste for// if you’ve been told never to show your teeth?… The elders want us to raise// girls with a song in their heart, but we only respect/ the classics if they respected us, which is why// if you ask me how I’m doing, I say still breathing.’ These poems offer sensitive portraits of race and fatherhood and richly explore the past while providing hope for the future.”
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Glass Hotel: “Mandel’s wonderful novel (after Station Eleven) follows a brother and sister as they navigate heartache, loneliness, wealth, corruption, drugs, ghosts, and guilt. Settings include British Columbia’s coastal wilderness, New York City’s fashionable neighborhoods and corporate headquarters, a container ship in international waters, and a South Carolina prison. In 1994, 18-year-old drug-using dropout Paul Smith visits his 13-year-old half-sister, Vincent, in Vancouver. Vincent has just lost her mother and acquired her first video camera. Five years later, in the wilderness north of Vancouver, Vincent tends bar at a luxury hotel where Paul works as the night houseman. Paul leaves after writing on a window in acid marker a message even he doesn’t understand. Vincent relocates to the East Coast and what Mandel calls the kingdom of money to play trophy wife for investor Jonathan Alkaitis. When Jonathan’s Ponzi scheme collapses, he goes to prison, where his victims’ ghosts visit him. Finished with Jonathan and the affluent lifestyle and ignored by her best friend, Vincent takes a job as assistant cook on a container ship. Paul, meanwhile, has set Vincent’s old videos to music. The videos have helped Paul, despite a lifelong drug problem, tap into his creative gifts. Using flashbacks, flash-forwards, alternating points-of-view, and alternate realities, Mandel shows the siblings moving in and out of each other’s lives, different worlds, and versions of themselves, sometimes closer, sometimes further apart, like a double helix, never quite linking. This ingenious, enthralling novel probes the tenuous yet unbreakable bonds between people and the lasting effects of momentary carelessness.”