Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Robinson, Machado, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Marilynne Robinson, Carmen Maria Machado, and more—that are publishing this week.

Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today.

Jack by Marilynne Robinson

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Jack: “Robinson’s stellar, revelatory fourth entry in her Gilead cycle (after Lila) focuses on Jack Boughton, the prodigal son of a Gilead, Iowa, minister, and the beginnings of his romance with Della Miles before his 1957 return to Gilead in Home. Jack, who disparagingly styles himself ‘the Prince of Darkness,’ finds his life spiraling out of control in St. Louis, where, after dodging the draft during WWII, he spends several years increasingly prone to bouts of heavy drinking, petty theft, and vagrancy. His tailspin is interrupted when he meets Della Miles, an English teacher from a prominent Black family in Memphis. Despite a disastrous first date, the details of which are hinted at in the beginning, and over the numerous objections of Della’s family and white strangers, Jack and Della fall in love, bound by a natural intimacy and mutual love of poetry. Robinson’s masterly prose and musings on faith are on display as usual, and the dialogue is keen and indelible. (‘Once in a lifetime, maybe, you look at a stranger and you see a soul, a glorious presence out of place in the world. And if you love God, every choice is made for you,’ Della tells Jack.) This is a beautiful, superbly crafted meditation on the redemption and transcendence that love affords.”

Bestiary by K-Ming Chang

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Bestiary: “In Chang’s vivid, fabulist debut, three generations of women contend with the mythology of their Taiwanese heritage. Chang opens in 1980, with Mother as a young girl searching for the gold her father brought from mainland China to Taiwan to Arkansas, then flashes forward to present-day California, where Mother raises Daughter on a steady stream of legends, such as that of Hu Gu Po, a tiger spirit who wants to be human but must consume the toes of children to keep her form. (Some of Mother’s toes are missing.) Daughter takes the story of Hu Gu Po as her own when she grows a tiger tail from a wound on her back, the result of a whipping Mother gave her and her brother for digging holes in their front yard. When Daughter befriends a classmate from China, the girls explore their desire for each other, as the holes in her front yard spit up letters that seem to be written by Daughter’s grandmother, leaving it up to Daughter to make sense of her lineage. The narrative arc meanders through the characters’ various relationships, but the prose is full of imagery. Chang’s wild story of a family’s tenuous grasp on belonging in the U.S. stands out with a deep commitment to exploring discomfort with the body and its transformations.”

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Midnight Library: Haig (How to Stop Time) draws on quantum wave theory in this charming if sometimes laborious account of the many possible lives of a depressed woman. Nora, in her mid-30s and living in the small English town of Bedford, suffers from ‘situational depression’—though, as she wryly observes, ‘It’s just that I keep on having new… situations.’ After she gets fired from her job and her cat dies, she attempts suicide, only to wake up in a book-lined liminal zone, where she is guided by a librarian: ‘Between life and death there is a library… Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived.’ There, Nora discovers what would have happened had she not abandoned her promising swimming career, called off her engagement, or left the rock band she started with her brother. Each time an alternate life disappoints or doesn’t feel quite right, Nora exits, reappearing in the library to continue browsing for the perfect story. While the formula grows repetitive, the set changes provide novelty, as Haig whisks Nora from Australian beaches to a South American rock concert tour to an Arctic encounter with a polar bear. Haig’s agreeable narrative voice and imagination will reward readers who take this book off the shelf.”

Whale Day by Billy Collins

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Whale Day: “The playful 13th collection from Collins (The Rain in Portugal) is packed with his signature quirky humor and small epiphanies grounded in the everyday. Between poems about the correct way to peel a banana and the imagined embarrassment of an English rose expiring ‘by degrees of corruption/ in plain sight of all the neighbors passing by’ are light meditations on mortality. For Collins, ‘death is the magnetic north of poetry,’ giving his work direction and substance while remaining infused with an inventive lightheartedness. In ‘My Funeral,’ he imagines the attendees of his funeral as animals gathering at the pub after the ceremony, and ‘it’s even okay/ that the bartender turns out to be a horse.’ Moments that are simultaneously ordinary and tender appear throughout the collection, as he confesses that he has already sailed ‘some time ago/ into the quiet cardigan harbor’ of his life. Fans of the former poet laureate of the U.S. will be delighted with this latest, but those new to Collins’s work may find the collection does not dig deeply enough into complex emotion or pain.”

The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado and Dani

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Low, Low Woods: “Machado (In the Dream House) makes her graphic novel debut with a gloriously unnerving tale of monsters, sinkholes, witches, and yearning teenage dreams. Shudder-to-Think is a town where men died ‘hacking up pieces of lung or crushed beneath ten tons of rock’ in the mines and women lost their memories, or just went missing, regularly. That’s what happened to El and Vee, two best friends who at some point in the 1990s wake up in a movie theater with no recollection of the film and decide to investigate the mystery behind that gap in time and the strange happenings around the community. As they dig deeper, they realize Shudder-to-Think’s cruelties and erasures—and the grotesque creatures in its woods—share a nefarious connection. As it happens, in this place where a fire has burned for years underground, humans can be the worst monsters. Within the horror plot lives a touching tale of friendship, choices, grief, and empowering rage, with a female-centered queer and diverse cast of characters. Machado also offers a rare look at magic as karma: ‘Magic is, among other things, a metaphor. It’s a kind of sacrifice. What I do to others I do to myself,’ intones one of the mystical, ageless forest dwellers. The eerie, sketchy art by Dani suits the mood: her brooding figures skirt the edge of disappearance. This will surely call out to fans of Machado’s searing prose, and it will also hit the spot for comics fans who like their horror heartfelt.”

Just Like You by Nick Hornby

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Just Like You: “Hornby (State of the Union) lives up to his reputation as bard of the everyday in this thoughtful romance that crosses lines of race, age, and class. Lucy, a white, not-quite-divorced schoolteacher, first notices Joseph, a part-time butcher, soccer coach, and aspiring DJ who is black and 20 years her junior, while listening to her friend flirt with him across the counter at the butcher shop. Lucy hires Joseph to babysit her two precocious boys, who adore him, and soon Lucy and Joseph’s relationship becomes romantic. Each takes a turn trying to end the affair (‘you and me are like something between brackets,’ she tells him), but their connection persists as Lucy juggles parenting and teaching and Joseph determines to expand his DJ career. Hornby is good company on the page and offers insights on his characters with aplomb, demonstrating an investment in each of their voices and an interest in the forces that draw people to one another. This is great fun.”

Bonus Links:
Up on the Roof: A Review of Nick Hornby’s ‘A Long Way Down’
Our World Is Straight-Up Surreal: The Millions Interviews Carmen Maria Machado
A Year in Reading: Carmen Maria Machado
On Carmen Maria Machado’s Body Horrors
Thinking Again: Marilynne Robinson’s ‘When I Was a Child I Read Books’
Marilynne Robinson’s Singular Vision

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Lalami, Petersen, Chiasson, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Laila Lalami, Anne Helen Petersen, Dan Chiasson, and more—that are publishing this week.
Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today.
Conditional Citizens by Laila Lalami
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Conditional Citizens: “In this eloquent and troubling account, novelist and National Book Award–finalist Lalami (The Other Americans) draws on her personal history as ‘an immigrant, a woman, an Arab, and a Muslim’ to argue that becoming a U.S. citizen does not necessarily mean becoming ‘an equal member of the American family.’ Recalling that the first time a U.S. customs agent examined her American passport, he wanted to know how many camels her husband had to trade in for her, Lalami critically assesses political rhetoric from 9/11 through President Trump’s border wall; skillfully unpacks charged words such as ‘allegiance’ and ‘assimilation’; reflects on Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh through the lens of her own experience calling out workplace sexual harassment; and examines the erasure of Muslims from American history. ‘Conditional citizenship,’ she writes, ‘is characterized by the burden of having to educate white Americans about all the ways in which one is different from them.’ Lalami offers essential insights into how racism and sexism function in American society, and makes a persuasive case for preserving the ‘gray zones’ between religious, ethnic, and national identities as a way to push back against tribalism and sectarianism. This profound inquiry into the American immigrant experience deserves to be widely read.”
Can’t Even by Anne Helen Petersen
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Can’t Even: “BuzzFeed writer Peterson (Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud) explores how low-paying jobs, overstimulation, and unattainable expectations have contributed to millennial malaise in this trenchant and well-researched account. Young people who once received participation trophies now seek ‘cool’ jobs, Petersen writes, only to fall into the ‘trap’ of long hours and inadequate pay. Though older generations mischaracterize America’s largest demographic group as lazy and selfish, millennials are actually working multiple jobs to pay bills in the modern gig economy as they watch the American dream slip away, Petersen contends. She weaves together personal reflections, profiles of other millennials, and a plethora of demographic information to addresses issues such as parenting, social media, college debt, and health care. Though she recommends finding ‘solace’ in hobbies and notes that one family reduced their stress by moving from the East Coast to Idaho, Petersen is more focused on bluntly describing her generation’s many obstacles than offering solutions to burnout. By turns exasperated, indignant, and empathetic, she supports her claims with strong evidence and calls on millennials to be a force for widespread social change. The result is
The Math Campers by Dan Chiasson
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Math Campers: “The meditative fifth collection from poet and critic Chiasson (Bicentennial) invites the reader to witness the poet’s processes of creation, retrieval, and revision as a writer and dreamer, father and son. Framed by ekphrastic poems that gloss murals by David Teng Olsen adorning the walls of the poet’s home, the book works by a loose Russian-doll principle: just as the murals reflect and refract details from the lives of the poet and his immediate family, so do these nested poems. As a teenager, the poet prays ‘that art/ would sometime send a ladder from the sky,’ and that he might ‘become the love child/ of Sylvia Plath, Ozzy, and Alex DeLarge.’ Years later, he finds himself ‘almost Ozzy, mansplaining/ to my eleven-year-old son the photo/ of a Louis Quatorze gilt dildo he found in our cloud.’ Intimations of social crisis and environmental disaster glow on the horizon, ‘Caskets line up for the slip-n-slide./ A collarbone surfboards down the alley./ Through the mudslide we humans wade,’ but the book centers on intimate dramas of adolescence, middle age, masculinity, and literary genealogy (poetic allusions from Milton and Eliot to Merrill and Bidart abound). These beautifully crafted poems are a memorable addition to Chiasson’s singular oeuvre.”
Also on shelves this week: Horsepower by Joy Priest.
Bonus Links: —American Inequality: On Laila Lalami’s ‘Conditional Citizens’A Year in Reading: Laila LalamiShip of Fools: On Laila Lalami’s ‘The Moor’s Account’Must-Read Poetry: September 2020

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Clarke, Akhtar, Nemerever, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Susannah Clarke, Ayad Akhtar, Micah Nemerever, and more—that are publishing this week.

Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today.

These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about These Violent Delights: “Nemerever’s dark, inspired debut depicts a Leopold and Loeb–like thrill killing committed by two gay Jewish college students in 1970s Pittsburgh. Sensitive Paul Fleischer, an artist, comes from a working-class family and is grieving his father’s recent suicide. He easily falls under the spell of Julian Fromme, a rich psychology student who exudes wit and energy. As the young men become lovers, Paul’s family worries about the amount of time he spends with Julian, and his mother pleads with him to hang out with girls, while Paul resigns himself to taking what he can get from the withholding Julian (‘If Julian were to love him, it would feel like something he deigned to do. It meant more to be needed’). Julian’s power over Paul becomes more intense after he uses Paul to break free of his own overbearing family. Soon the young men are imagining violent deaths (‘How about a Helter Skelter kind of thing, wouldn’t that be fun? We could paint gibberish in blood on the walls,’ Julian says), and they work their way up to kidnapping a stranger. The buildup digs into the why as much as the how, allowing Nemerever to chart an enthralling exploration of what drives these young men to violence. Fans of Patricia Highsmith will definitely want to take note of this promising writer.”

Bonus Link: Writers to Watch: Fall 2020

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Homeland Elegies: “Akhtar (American Dervish) reckons with the promises and deceptions of the American dream in this wrenching work of autofiction. The narrator, Ayad, was, like the author, born in Staten Island to Pakistani immigrant parents and raised in Wisconsin, and wrote a Pulitzer-winning play. In eight well-developed chapters structured as musical movements, starting with an overture and ending with a coda, Ayad traces his often complicated personal, philosophical, and political stance toward an America in which he sees himself as ‘other.’ In the process, Ayad responds to criticism of his past writings for rationalizing violence committed by Muslims; critiques capitalism while acknowledging how it benefits him; and confronts his own internalized conflation of race and sex. Most often, these issues are viewed through the lens of family, especially his parents. His mother is chronically homesick not only for her native Pakistan but also for her first love. By contrast, his father, a doctor slammed with a malpractice suit, finds his shortsighted optimism and eventual disillusionment with the American promise play out against the backdrop of the first two years of Trump’s presidency in a pair of stories—one broadly humorous, one heartbreaking—that open and close the book. Akhtar’s work is a provocative and urgent examination of the political and economic conditions that shape personal identity, especially for immigrants and communities of color. With an audacious channeling of Philip Roth’s warts-and-all approach to the story of an American writer and his family, this tragicomedy is a revelation.”

Bonus Link: Ayad Akhtar’s Flesh and Blood 

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth by Meryem Alaoui (translated by Emma Ramadan)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Straight from the Horse’s Mouth: “Moroccan writer Alaoui’s mesmerizing debut introduces the resourceful, foul-mouthed, and spirited Jmiaa Bent Larbi. In the mid 1990s, Jmiaa’s husband, Hamid, takes her to Casablanca to pimp her out to men to raise money for his many fruitless business schemes. Almost 15 years later, 34-year-old Jmiaa is still working as a prostitute to support herself, her seven-year-old daughter, Samia, and the parasitic Hamid, who has illegally migrated to Spain. After Jmiaa meets Chadlia, a Moroccan Dutch film director she nicknames “Horse Mouth” for his toothy grin, Jmiaa agrees to consult on a script Horse Mouth plans to shoot in Morocco. Many remarkable characters people the novel in addition to Jmiaa: Halima, a sullen, Quran-studying prostitute; Samira, a loyal friend and colleague of Jmiaa’s; Houcine, the intimidating pimp who keeps them all safe; Jmiaa’s mother, with whom Jmiaa leaves her daughter; and the clients who come and go. Jmiaa’s Casablanca is full of corrupt cops and exploitative men who take advantage of the prostitutes’ vulnerability, but it is also full of friendship, laughter, and triumph, as Jmiaa’s association with Horse Mouth leads her to dream of a new life as a film star. Alaoui’s shimmering prose is funny and original; one of Jmiaa’s neighbors looks like an ‘armoire’; a client has ‘the breath of a corpse’; and Jmiaa, noting Horse Mouth’s Arabic is unusually fluent for an immigrant, says, ‘Normally it’s like their tongue is in physical therapy: it needs crutches to get to the end of a phrase.’ Alaoui’s tale is one to savor for its language and its verve.”

Piranesi by Susannah Clarke

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Piranesi: “Clarke wraps a twisty mystery inside a metaphysical fantasy in her extraordinary new novel, her first since 2004’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. The story unfolds as journal entries written by the eponymous narrator, who, along with an enigmatic master known as the Other (and 13 skeletons whom Piranesi regards as persons) inhabits the House, a vast, labyrinthine structure of statue-adorned halls and vestibules. So immense is the House that its many parts support their own internal climates, all of which Piranesi vividly describes (‘I squeezed myself into the Woman’s Niche and waited until I heard the Tides roaring in the Lower Halls and felt the Walls vibrating with the force of what was about to happen’). Meanwhile, the Other is pursuing the ‘Great and Secret Knowledge’ of the ancients. After the Other worriedly asks Piranesi if he’s seen in the house a person they refer to as 16, Piranesi’s curiosity is piqued, and all the more so after the Other instructs him to hide. In their discussions about 16, it becomes increasingly clear the Other is gaslighting Piranesi about his memory, their relationship, and the reality they share. With great subtlety, Clarke gradually elaborates an explanatory backstory to her tale’s events and reveals sinister occult machinations that build to a crescendo of genuine horror. This superbly told tale is sure to be recognized as one of the year’s most inventive novels.”

Also on shelves this week: Glossary for the End of Days by Ian Stansel.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Nunez, Rankine, Bhatt, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Sigrid Nunez, Claudia Rankine, Jenny Bhatt, and more—that are publishing this week.

Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today.

What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about What Are You Going Through: “Nunez’s deceptively casual and ultimately fierce work (after the National Book Award-winning The Friend) ambles through a range of digressions toward a plot involving euthanasia. At the beginning, the unnamed narrator has traveled to visit her unnamed old friend in a hospital, where the friend is being treated for cancer. But before the narrator describes the visit, she details her experience at a depressing lecture by a pretentious journalist—who turns out to be her ex. This side trip involved an Airbnb, where ‘a cat had been promised,’ but after she checked out, having never seen the cat, she learned it had died. Eventually, she reaches the hospital, and the tension picks up. Her friend is planning to kill herself before she’s too debilitated, and two other friends have refused to help. Will the narrator? As the two women make and implement their plan, Nunez studies the intersection of friendship and morality. Much of the novel’s action is internal, as the attention of its judgmental, withholding narrator flicks from books to movies to sharp-edged thoughts about the people she encounters, offering plenty of surprises. Those willing to jump along with her should be tantalized by the provocative questions she raises.”

Bonus Link: A Year in Reading: Sigrid Nunez

Just Us: An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Just Us: “MacArthur Fellowship recipient Rankine (Citizen: An American Lyric) combines poetry, prose, and imagery in this unique and powerful meditation on the challenges of communicating across the racial divide in America. Drawing on her own experience as a Black woman married to a white man, Rankine highlights the necessity of having uncomfortable conversations in order to understand both the experiences of other people and one’s own needs and beliefs. In the essay ‘liminal spaces i,’ she recounts asking a white stranger about his understanding of white male privilege after he complained that his son couldn’t use ‘the diversity card’ to gain early admission to Yale, where Rankine teaches. In another essay, she contemplates asking her mixed-race daughter’s white teachers about their ‘unconscious inevitable racism and implicit bias’ at a parent-teacher conference. ‘José martí’ features Rankine grappling with the limits of her own knowledge as she talks with a new friend about anti-Latinx racism. The discussion hits several snags, yet Rankine persists: ‘I still have questions, and the way to get answers is to bear her corrections.’ Other pieces incorporate commentary from Rankine’s conversational partners and ‘fact checks’ of her own assertions. The result is an incisive, anguished, and very frank call for Americans of all races to cultivate their ’empathetic imagination’ in order to build a better future.”

Bonus Link: An Imagined Possibility: The Millions Interviews Claudia Rankine

Each of Us Killers by Jenny Bhatt

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Each of Us Killers: “The stories in Bhatt’s rich debut collection mine the complicated experiences of Indians and immigrants. As one character notes in ‘Journey to a Stepwell,’ destiny ‘is simply a dagger thrown at you, which you must catch either by the blade or the handle. If you can figure out which end is which.’ In ‘Return to India,’ Bhatt gives voice to a group of employees at a U.S. engineering firm who piece together the details of an Indian American coworker’s murder while revealing their history of microagressions and racial bias. ‘Life Spring’ explores a divorced baker’s life in Mumbai and the inspiration she takes from a one-night stand (‘I think, sometimes, of what happened that night with Charlie as a kind of oven spring for my life’). In ‘Neeru’s New World,’ a live-in maid in Ahmedabad is propositioned and blackmailed by another servant, causing her to feel trapped not only by the class divide but by her limited power as a woman. Bhatt is skilled at locating her characters’ suffering and desires, and her blunt prose captures their matter-of-fact worldviews. These stories are memorable on their own, and they add up to a powerful expression of the hunger for success on ones own terms.”

Bonus Link: But Let Us Cultivate Our Garden

Be Holding by Ross Gay

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Be Holding: “The brilliant fourth book from Gay, his first since winning the National Book Critics Circle Award with 2015’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, continues his now-signature inquiry into feeling. Shaped as a single poem in a long sentence of center-justified couplets, the drama of this unfolding sentence is impeccable, a suspension that mirrors its subject: basketball Hall-of-Famer Julius Erving’s midair ‘baseline scoop’ in the 1980 NBA finals. An invocation of a video of Erving opens the poem’s investigation into flight, falling, and Black genius: ‘[H]ave you ever decided anything/ in the air?’ Gay asks in an interjection. In the space of that air, he crafts a book of associative digression, exploring photography, his own upbringing, and the afterlife of slavery in the U.S. ‘[T]he cotton, the unshared crop,/ let’s hereon call it what it is,’ he writes, ‘loot, plain and simple,/ which, too,// my great grandfather’s body was,/ loot, and his life, loot.’ When, in interjections and asides to the reader, a period does appear, it is not as a halt or a command but a gesture of care: ‘But let’s breathe first./ We’re always holding our breath.// Let’s stop and breathe, you and me.’ This extraordinary book offers an unforgettable flight from the conventional boundaries of the sentence.”

Three Rings by Daniel Mendelsohn

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Three Rings: “Bringing together memoir, history, and literary analysis, critic Mendelsohn (An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic) delivers a fine study of digression, exile, and circularity. Mendelsohn approaches his themes primarily through the lens of Homer’s The Odyssey, in terms of its story line of a long-delayed arrival home, and of Homer’s narrative technique of ‘ring composition,’ in which flashbacks and digressions are layered ‘in the manner of Chinese boxes or Russian dolls.’ He explains how this technique led him to a breakthrough with his previous book, and illustrates the technique here with digressions into the lives and work of other authors. These include German scholar Erich Auerbach, who wrote his masterpiece of literary analysis, Mimesis, which includes a chapter on ring composition, while fleeing Nazism; and 17th-century author François Fénelon, whose Odyssey adaptation The Adventures of Telemachus won him fame but also, thanks to its veiled criticisms of King Louis XIV, the loss of his post as royal tutor at Versailles. Mendelsohn’s talent with descriptive detail brings his work alive, such as repeated descriptions of Auerbach, while exiled in Istanbul, gazing through a palace window over the turquoise Sea of Marmara. Mendelsohn never fails to entertain as he takes the reader across thousands of years’ worth of literature and lives.”

Bonus Link: The Story Is Never the Whole Story: The Millions Interviews Daniel Mendelsohn

Also on shelves this week: Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land by Toni Jensen, Arrow by Sumita Chakraborty, and Red Stilts by Ted Kooser.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Cline, Gyasi, Biss, Ferrante, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Emma Cline, Yaa Gyasi, Eula Biss, Elena Ferrante, and more—that are publishing this week.
Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today.
Daddy by Emma Cline
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Daddy: “Cline follows up her bestselling The Girls with a probing, low-key collection that speaks to the raw nerves of everyday people as they struggle against pressures both personal and perennial. Families torn apart by secrecy and regret feature in ‘What Can You Do with a General,’ in which a family’s Christmas Eve is darkened by the prospect of euthanizing their dog, and ‘Northeast Regional,’ where a father facing his missteps in life is summoned to the boarding school where his son was expelled after a violent incident. A woman caring for a child of celebrities becomes thrust into a scandal in ‘The Nanny,’ and retreats to a family friend’s house in the canyons north of Los Angeles. Two adolescent girls undertake a disastrous attempt to get the attention of a near-stranger in ‘Marion.’ Cline’s ability to peer into the darker corners of her characters’ lives and discern desolation is also on display in ‘A/S/L,’ which follows a young girl in and out of rehab, while a son living in his film producer father’s shadow debuts his terrible movie in ‘Son of Friedman.’ The subtlety of these 10 stories may surprise readers expecting the same luridness Cline brought to The Girls, but the payoffs are as gratifying as they are shattering.”
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Transcendent Kingdom: “Gyasi’s meticulous, psychologically complex second novel (after Homegoing) examines the consequences of a Ghanian family’s immigration to Huntsville, Ala. Gifty, the only member of the family born in the United States, is six years into a doctorate in neuroscience at Stanford, where she is attempting to see if she can alter the neural pathways leading to addiction and depression. Her project is motivated by the fate of her beloved older brother who died from a heroin overdose when she was in high school, and by the condition of her depressed mother, who is staying at Gifty’s apartment. Though she now determinedly puts her faith in science, Gifty still feels the pull of her evangelical upbringing, and she struggles to reconcile the two opposing belief systems while juggling her dissertation and care for her mother, plus a growing attraction to her awkward lab mate. The narrative moves smoothly between the present and Gifty’s childhood, with episodes such as a summer spent in Ghana with her aunt during a previous phase of her mother’s depression rising in the background while Gifty works her way up in her field. Gyasi’s constraint renders the emotional impact of the novel all the more powerful: her descriptions of the casual racism endured by the family, particularly at the hands of their nearly all-white church in Alabama, is more chilling for being so matter-of-fact. At once a vivid evocation of the immigrant experience and a sharp delineation of an individual’s inner struggle, the novel brilliantly succeeds on both counts.”


Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs, and Revolution in the Americas by Roberto Lovato
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Unforgetting: “Salvadoran-American journalist Lovato recounts in this anguished memoir his 2015 trip to El Salvador to investigate the country’s horrific gang wars. Along the way, he visits mass graves, and speaks with a gang chieftain enamored of the Hunger Games novels and a police official who hints at extrajudicial executions of gang suspects. In Lovato’s telling, the carnage is an American tragedy: El Salvador’s current gangs were founded in California by refugees from the country’s civil war in the 1980s, in which thousands of civilians were killed by the U.S.-backed military and right-wing death squads battling FMLN insurgents. It’s also a personal story as he revisits his work with the FMLN and a love affair with a traveling companion. He weaves in the troubled saga of his father, who as a boy in 1932 witnessed La Matanza, a massacre of thousands of Salvadoran peasants and Indigenous people by an earlier generation of death squads. Mixing fraught reminiscence with vivid reportage—his driver, a Salvadoran Army veteran, recalls a mission to recover the corpses of comrades: ‘When we started picking them up, we yanked the meat right off them, like when you have a fried fish and the skin and meat fall right off’—Lovato delivers an intimate, gripping portrait of El Salvador’s agony.”
Ruthie Fear by Maxim Loskutoff
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Ruthie Fear: “Loskutoff’s superb debut novel (after the collection Come West and See) sets a revisionist contemporary western in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana. Ruthie Fear is abandoned as a toddler by her mother and raised by her father, Rutherford, a man ‘angry at the rich, the government, and Ruthie’s departed mother in varying order and intensity.’ One night, on the outskirts of No-Medicine Canyon, six-year-old Ruthie and her dog, Moses, see a terrifying headless creature. She and her friend Pip then spend years searching for this ‘wrongness in the woods.’ As earthquakes, mudslides, and droughts make Ruthie feel ‘shadowed by violence,’ mill jobs dry up, and developments and mansions are constructed, creating brutal divides among the rich and poor, the whites and Salish natives, and the ‘arrogant’ scientists who work at a local lab and look down on the ‘uneducated rednecks’ who live in trailers and spend their money on machine guns. At 15, Ruthie, still obsessed with the headless creature, attends a protest at the lab, where she imagines evil, unnatural deeds taking place. Loskutoff captures the vast and lonely land along with its beauty with breathtaking descriptions of violence and empathy, and ends with a shocking and poignant surprise. With its humor and heart, Loskutoff’s harrowing tale offers a heroine to root for. This one hits hard.”
Having and Being Had by Eula Biss
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Having and Being Had: “Biss (On Immunity) delivers a stylish, meditative inquiry into the function and meaning of 21st-century capitalism, inspired by becoming a homeowner for the first time. In essay-length ruminations divided into four sections (‘Consumption,’ ‘Work,’ ‘Investment,’ and ‘Accounting’), Biss draws from incidents in her own life as an upper-middle-class Chicagoan and engages with works of literature, history, sociology, economics, and psychology. Disillusionment with items in a furniture store prompts a consideration of cultural critic Lewis Hyde and “the strange unspecific desire” of consumerism. Biss also reflects on her young son’s education in the difference between cost and value as he earns the money to purchase and trade Pokémon cards with his friends. She examines women’s labor through the works of Marxist social scientist Silvia Federici, novelist Virginia Woolf, and authors Joan Didion and Gertrude Stein, and analyzes popular culture, including the contract dispute behind Donna Summer’s song ‘She Works Hard for the Money’ and the anti-capitalist messages of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? Biss doesn’t shy away from acknowledging her own privilege, and laces her reflections with unexpected insights and a sharp yet ingratiating sense of humor, though she doesn’t push too hard for change, either in her own life or her readers’. Still, this eloquent, well-informed account recasts the everyday world in a sharp new light.”
Mill Town by Kerri Arsenault
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Mill Town: “In this powerful investigative memoir, book critic Arsenault examines her relationship with Mexico, Maine, her now-downtrodden hometown. In 2009, Arsenault returned there from Connecticut after her grandfather died; while in this town (pop. 2,600) that owes its existence to a nearby 118-year-old paper mill, she decided to resume research on the Arsenault family’s French-Canadian lineage. She quickly learns of the environmental havoc wrought by the mill, which earned Mexico the nickname of ‘Cancer Alley,’ and uncovers the many obituaries citing people who ‘died after a battle with cancer’ believed to be caused by ash emitted by the mill (dubbed ‘mill snow’) that also crept into her family’s home. From there, Arsenault embarks on a decade-long probe into the environmental abuses of a company that supported her family for three generations. ‘The legacies powerful men construct almost always emerge from the debris of other people’s lives,’ she writes, yet her inquiry only deepened her bond with Mexico (‘We can and probably should go back to confront what made us leave, what made us fall in and out of love with the places that create us, or to see what we left behind’). Arsenault paints a soul-crushing portrait of a place that’s suffered ‘the smell of death and suffering’ almost since its creation. This moving and insightful memoir reminds readers that returning home—’the heart of human identity’—is capable of causing great joy and profound disappointment.”
The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Lying Life of Adults: “A single comment can change a life, or for Giovanna, the adolescent only child of a middle-class Neapolitan couple in the early 1990s and narrator of Ferrante’s sumptuous latest (after The Story of the Lost Child), it can set it in motion. ‘She’s getting the face of Vittoria,’ Giovanna’s father, Andrea, says about her, referring to Giovanna’s estranged aunt Vittoria, whom Andrea disdains and calls ugly. The comment provokes Giovanna into seeking out Vittoria on the other side of Naples, where she finds a beautiful, fiery woman, consumed by bitterness over a lover’s death and resentful of Andrea’s arrogance at having climbed the social ladder. Andrea can’t save Giovanna from Vittoria’s influence, and their relationship will affect those closest to Giovanna as family secrets unravel and disrupt the harmony of her quiet life. Giovanna’s parents’ devastating marital collapse, meanwhile, causes her to be distracted at school and held back a year, and prompts Giovanna into a steely self-awareness as she has her first sexual experiences along a bumpy ride toward adulthood. Themes of class disparity and women’s coming-of-age are at play much as they were in Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, but the depictions of inequality serve primarily as a backdrop to Giovanna’s coming-of-age trials that buttress the gripping, plot-heavy tale. While this feels minor in comparison to Ferrante’s previous work, Giovanna is the kind of winning character readers wouldn’t mind seeing more of.”
Bonus Links from Our Archive:—Occupy Author Photo: On Elena Ferrante, Privacy, and Women WritersElena Ferrante Names the Devil and Slays the MinotaurOutside the Neighborhood: Reading Italy Through Elena FerranteLook at Your Game, Girl: On Emma Cline’s ‘The Girls’A Year in Reading: Roberto LovatoA Year in Reading: Eula BissAn Inoculation Against Mistrust: Eula Biss’s ‘On Immunity’

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Flynn, Johnson, Diamond, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Nick Flynn, Daisy Johnson, Jason Diamond, and more—that are publishing this week.
Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today.
This Is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire by Nick Flynn
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about This Is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire: “In this outstanding work, poet and playwright Flynn bookends his first memoir, 2004’s Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, with this unsparing look at his early childhood and his mother, who died by suicide when Flynn was 22 years old. He makes a series of visits to his hometown of Scituate, Mass., with his young daughter and describes his solitary childhood spent living with his mother in a small, ‘ugly’ house that she bought after she left Flynn’s father. When Flynn was seven years old, his mother set fire to the house, an event he is still trying to understand: ‘Maybe my mother set our house on fire not merely to collect the insurance money, but simply to see what it was that she was losing.’ His return trips are not only a chance to tell his daughter ‘where your father came from’ but also to deal with his own unhappiness that led him to cheat on his wife. He comes to a realization that ‘we are so lost inside ourselves sometimes that it is impossible to think of other people, even those we love.’ Readers will devour this powerful memoir of letting go.”
Sisters by Daisy Johnson
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Sisters: “Johnson (Everything Under) returns with a well-crafted, consistently surprising psychological thriller. September and July are teenage sisters, born 10 months apart. After an incident at their Oxford school, its dark details hinted at as the story unfolds, their mother, Sheela, whisks them away to the dilapidated house where September was born, on the desolate coast of the North York Moors, and holes up in her room, ill-advisedly leaving July at the mercy of her sister. September bullies, intimidates, and cruelly manipulates the passive, compliant July, daring her to perform increasingly dangerous acts in the form of games like ‘September Says.’ September taunts a man who comes to set up their internet, and when the girls get online, they seduce men on dating sites and pretend to have entrapped them as part of a police sting. Sheela, meanwhile, writes and illustrates children’s picture books, and her deep depression contributes to her neglectful parenting (‘I will always love you, she says. And if you need me you come get me. But I need some time,’ July narrates). The sisters share an eerie, symbiotic relationship; they seem at times to share a single consciousness, and even a single body. In achingly lyrical prose, Johnson employs alternating narratives, divulging and withholding information by turns, keeping the reader unsure of what to believe. When the revelations hit, they are intensely powerful. Readers of classic gothic fiction will find a contemporary master of the craft here.”
The Sprawl by Jason Diamond
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Sprawl: “In this insightful work of narrative nonfiction, journalist Diamond (Searching for John Hughes) draws from personal experience, history, and media to consider the significance of the suburbs in American culture. Revisiting the Chicago-area towns in which he grew up in the 1980s, Diamond finds signs of economic decline in the familiar big-box stores and movie theaters that are now shuttered. He considers suburban conformity through stories of new arrivals who received unfriendly receptions, and describes incidents in which violence upended the presumption of the suburbs as a safe haven, recounting a 1977 murder in Long Grove, Ill., where he once lived. Throughout, he engages with writers like John Cheever, who ‘shaped so many of our ideas of what the suburbs were like’ in the post-WWII era, and Shirley Jackson, who ‘explained the suburban condition better than nearly any other writer before or after,’ as well as suburban-set movies—he deems the villains of the Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street horror series as particularly suburban bogeymen. Though Diamond occasionally strays into repetition with his personal reflections—such as repeated observations that he now lives in New York City and views the suburbs as an outsider—his cultural criticism is consistently astute. This is a smart, enjoyable study that will be particularly appreciated by other suburban expats.”
An Inventory of Losses by Judith Schalansky (translated by Jackie Smith)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about An Inventory of Losses: “Schalansky’s inspired latest (after Atlas of Remote Islands) melds history, memoir, and fiction into something new and extraordinary: a museum of the extinct, the missing, and the forgotten. Chronicled in 12 short pieces, each based on a ‘lost’ object—among them an early-20th-century film, fragments of Sappho’s poetry, destroyed Italian villas, demolished East German government buildings—the narratives are distinct, memorable, and, at their best, spellbinding. Some are highly researched, meticulously reconstructing historical places such as the the Villa Sacchetti at Castelfusano in Rome and figures such as 18th-century British explorer James Cook, who, in search of a then-mythical southern continent, “had ploughed the southern seas in huge, sweeping zigzags and discovered nothing but mountains of ice.” Other tales take on the flavor of impressionistic, contemporary memoirs, rooted in the narrative of a Schalansky-like writer-researcher as she explores the topic at hand. Still others have the feel of speculative fiction, so detailed in their histories that they feel like memories. In one, wild animals are brought to fight one another before the massive audiences of Rome; another follows the moments, both dramatic and mundane, of a day in the life of an East German couple. With this collection of illuminating meditations on fact and fiction, Schalansky cements her reputation as a peerless chronicler of the fabulous, the faraway, and the forgotten.”


Count Luna by Alexander Lernet-Holenia (translated by Jane B. Greene)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Count Luna: “Austrian writer Lernet-Holenia (Mona Lisa, 1897–1976) addresses guilt over WWII in this masterly novel, originally published in 1955. Nearly a decade after the war, Alexander Jessiersky, the head of an Austrian transport business, travels to Rome, enters the catacomb beneath a church, and disappears. Lernet-Holenia then rewinds to the beginning of Jessiersky’s fateful journey. WWII has erupted, and his company’s board of directors encourages anti-Nazi Jessiersky to purchase a parcel of railroad-adjacent property from the reluctant Count Luna, an aristocratic heir. Jessiersky refuses, and the board, determined to satisfy wartime demand, has Luna shipped to a concentration camp for alleged anti-Germanness. Jessiersky sends care packages to Luna, and by war’s end, Luna is assumed dead. Years later, Jessiersky’s children claim to have seen Luna alive, and after one falls mysteriously ill, Jessiersky convinces himself Luna has survived the war and is out for revenge. While waiting for Luna to resurface, he retreats into his library to read about Luna’s family. A series of strange happenings, such as the sound of footsteps in the attic, stoke Jessiersky’s paranoia, and he goes on a disastrously quixotic offensive before going into hiding. Lernet-Holenia’s dark humor propels the narrative, and Jessiersky’s obsession is expertly handled, leading to a wholly unexpected conclusion. Driven by intense psychological descriptions, this tale of inaction against injustice has aged quite well.”
Also on shelves this week: Summer by Ali Smith.
Bonus Links:—I Didn’t Have a Plan: The Millions Interviews Nick FlynnThe Space Between Silence & Enough: Featured Poetry by Nick FlynnA Year in Reading: Nick FlynnThe Dark Side of Daisy JohnsonRethinking Suburbia: The Millions Interviews Jason DiamondA Year in Reading: Jason DiamondRites of Spring: Does the Latest in Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet Satisfy?Things Fall Apart: On Ali Smith’s ‘Autumn’ and ‘Winter’Wordsmith: The Beguiling Gifts of Ali Smith

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Strauss, Gross, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Darin Strauss, Jessica Gross, Madeleine Ryan, and more—that are publishing this week.

Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today.

The Queen of Tuesday by Darin Strauss

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Queen of Tuesday: “Strauss’s ambitious metafictional latest (after the NBCC Award-winning memoir Half a Life) blends autobiography and family history in an investigation of celebrity, memory, and the legacy of ambition. The queen of the title is Lucille Ball, who, in 1949, is a shrewd businesswoman whose funny faces subvert her beauty and add to her character, and whose domestic life is simulated in I Love Lucy, but the book’s beating heart is Isidore Strauss, a Jewish builder, and, as the reader will eventually realize, the author’s grandfather. Isidore meets Ball at a Coney Island event hosted by Fred Trump, and Strauss uses this detail to spin a story of a secret affair that explains why Isidore’s marriage falls apart. The book is so clearly a labor of love that would be almost churlish to point out how labored it can feel, as when the narrator muses for two pages about Desi Arnaz’s use and abuse of power, or when Isidore wallows in guilt for just one kiss. Strauss is at his best when harnessing Lucy’s vital comedic and sexual force, but it’s not sustained across the entire narrative. Still, the questions of how family legends both obscure and reveal the truth will keep readers turning the pages.”

Hysteria by Jessica Gross

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Hysteria: “A young woman’s downward spiral into alcohol and sex leads to a personal breakthrough in Gross’s intoxicating debut. After the unnamed protagonist hooks up with one of her psychiatrist parents’ colleagues, Dr. Langham, during a weekly dinner party, then with Sam, her roommate’s brother, during a chance encounter, she decides that the new bartender at a local dive, Pilz Bar, is Sigmund Freud reincarnated. Meanwhile, Sam appears at a friend’s house party, having developed feelings for her (‘I actually like you’), much to her frustration. Her complex feelings about older men coalesce when she returns to Pilz Bar to confront the man she calls ‘Freud,’ and an odd, imagined client-therapist relationship begins. Gross’s aptitude for shocking yet highly sensory prose propels the reader along the protagonist’s bender, all the way to rock bottom. The narrator’s perfectly rendered inner monologue, replete with her nuanced urges and obsessions, will make readers wonder if they’re getting to know her better than she knows herself, and Gross succeeds in capturing the complexities of sex addiction. It is every bit a page-turner as it is a descent into sexual madness.”

Middle Distance by Stanley Plumly

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Middle Distance: “Plumly (Orphan Hours), in his posthumous 12th collection, studies his own mortality ‘like a man in love with something,’ as he writes in ‘With Weather.’ In clear-eyed and powerful page-long lyric poems filled with questions and wonder, he takes readers from his Ohio childhood to Europe and into the natural world. Plumly’s life crossed with several other poets mentioned and conjured here, among them Galway Kinnell, Gerald Stern, and Wallace Stevens. Nature and memory are beautifully captured throughout, as in ‘Germans,’ a memoir piece about 11 WWII prisoners-of-war who helped out with his family’s lumber business in Virginia. ‘It takes time,’ he notes, ‘by hand, to humble a tree.’ In ‘White Rhino,’ the poem that opens the collection, he wonders, ‘How long a life is too long.’ In that poem’s final lines, he describes the rhino’s ‘great heart lifted down,/ the tonnage of my heart almost more than I can carry.’ That line echoes through the deeply felt poems and prose pieces of this meditative collection.”

Unwitting Street by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (translated by Joanne Turnbull)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Unwitting Street: “This collection by Polish-Russian-Soviet writer Krzhizhanovsky (1887–1950, The Return of Munchausen) mixes playful and morose tones in stories of the kooky and the condemned. At his most frolicsome, Krzhizhanovsky endows all things with consciousness, from a pair of pants in the amusing ‘Comrade Punt’ to books and letters in ‘Paper Loses Patience,’ in which all the world’s paper goes on strike, demanding that only the truth be printed. But many of these stories are darker, obliquely or directly addressing the changes wrought by the Russian Revolution, including the fates of people considered ‘superfluous’ under the new regime. The newly retired bank cashier in the bittersweet ‘The Window’ turns his apartment window into a replica of his old station at the bank, but the drunk, solitary letter writer in ‘Unwitting Street’ is more fatalistic: “logic demands that I be got rid of.” Even at his gloomiest, Krzhizhanovsky is clever and satirical in his descriptions, writing that ‘the standard of living has gone up to such an extent, it’s almost at our throats.’ Indeed, Krzhizhanovsky is at his best when finding levity in grave revelations; compared to his lively past work in translation, this shows a more somber side. The writer posthumously enjoys quite a few recent converts, and some will appreciate this darker turn.”

A Room Called Earth by Madeleine Ryan

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Room Called Earth: “Australian writer Ryan’s evocative debut features an autistic narrator negotiating her social obligations on Christmas Eve in Melbourne. As the unnamed, self-possessed woman, who finds ‘connection with my own species has been difficult,’ prepares to attend a party, her mind takes her through a series of digressions. Should she put chopsticks in her hair, or paint the chopsticks to match her outfit, or leave them in the drawer to serve their purpose as utensils? She considers the identities of the partygoers, whom she envisions as ‘Futuristic Shadow Beasts Without Faces,’ observes the foliage, and plays with her cat. Among people, she struggles to bridge the gulf between the hive of her mind and polite conversation, which she finds suffocating, whether dealing with a clingy ex-boyfriend or weathering the labels and words that she refuses to define her (‘Sometimes… I fear that change is impossible, and that persecution is inevitable for us all’). Eventually, she leaves with a man and contends with the languages of love and sex in an extended scene that begins awkwardly but turns into romance. While the dialogue is often long-winded, the interior monologues are vibrant and revealing. Ryan succeeds in capturing neurodiversity on the page.”

Also on shelves this week: Ache by Eliza Henry Jones.

Bonus Links:
Robert Birnbaum and Darin Strauss
Storytelling Is a Deadly Business: Krzhizhanovsky’s ‘The Letter Killers Club’
Dear Sugar: On Tiny Beautiful Things

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Gabbert, Manne, Marshall, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Elisa Gabbert, Kate Manne, Nate Marshall, and more—that are publishing this week.

The Unreality of Memory by Elisa Gabbert

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Unreality of Memory: “In this deeply contemplative but accessible essay collection, poet Gabbert (The Word Pretty) considers how accurately people perceive themselves and the world around them. She begins, in ‘Magnificent Desolation,’ by considering the spectacle of catastrophe, using the uneasy fascination people have with events such as 9/11 and the sinking of the Titanic to suggest that ‘horror and awe are not incompatible; they are intertwined.’ In ‘Vanity Project,’ Gabbert reflects on how people perceive their mirror images: are such images ‘real,’ or are they ‘mirror delusions’ in which one only sees what one expects to see? In her most involved and layered essay, ‘Witches and Whiplash,’ she delves deep into the history of psychogenic (mentally originating) and psychosomatic (both body and mind) disorders. In a fitting epilogue, Gabbert discusses French philosopher Henri Bergson, who ‘believed that memory and perception were the same’ and famously debated Einstein on the nature of time, leading Gabbert to wonder whether lived experience is distorted not by unreliable memory but by an unreliable perception of the present. Whatever the chosen topic, Gabbert’s essays manage to be by turns poetic, philosophical, and exhaustively researched. This is a superb collection.”

Last Call on Decatur Street by Iris Martin Cohen

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Last Call on Decatur Street: “Cohen’s thoughtful and vivid second novel (after The Little Clan) follows burlesque dancer Rosemary Grossman as she navigates friendship and loss on Twelfth Night in 2004 New Orleans. It’s been a year since Rosemary, now in her mid-20s, has seen her lifelong best friend, Gaby, after they fought about Rosemary’s job as a dancer at the Sugarlick. As children, the pair bonded while being ostracized in grade school: Rosemary for being poor, and Gaby for being black. Now, when Rosemary’s beloved dog, Ida, dies, she feels utterly alone. After her shift at the club, Rosemary wanders through the French Quarter, trying to track down a sometime lover. She befriends an affable street punk who’s questioning his sexuality and dealing with his own friend drama. Along the way, Cohen pens an eloquent love letter to New Orleans and captures her protagonist with succinct descriptions: ‘By the time I turned twenty, I was as old as I’ll ever be,’ Rosemary thinks, recounting how her problem with alcohol contributed to her losing a college scholarship, and realizing how her relative privilege contributed to her rift with Gaby. Cohen also aces the difficult feat of crafting a credible narrator who has blind spots. The lush language, fully realized characters, and tight storytelling make this a winner.”

The New Wilderness by Diane Cook

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The New Wilderness: “In this wry, speculative debut novel (after the collection Man v. Nature), Cook envisions a crowded and polluted near future in which only one natural area remains, the Wilderness State. Twenty people volunteer for a government experiment in how humans fare in the wilderness—it’s been so long since anyone tried that no one remembers. Among the volunteers are Glen, ‘an important person’ at a university; his wife, Bea; and Bea’s daughter, Agnes, and they, along with the others, collectively called ‘The Community,’ learn to eke out a precarious existence hunting with bows and arrows, tanning animal hides, and negotiating dangerous terrain. As the years pass unmarked other than with Bea noticing a fourth annual appearance of violet blossoms, the volunteers gradually abandon their commitments to the study, though they remain expected to obey rules enforced by Rangers—never stay in one place longer than seven days, never leave a trace—as members die off. More waitlisted refugees, called Newcomers, arrive from the city, and Bea perseveres, driven by hope for Agnes’s future. Cook powerfully describes the Community members’ transformation from city folk to primal beings, as they become fierce, cunning, and relentless in their struggle for survival and freedom, such as when Bea faces off with a mother coyote. Cook’s unsettling, darkly humorous tale explores maternal love and man’s disdain for nature with impressive results.”

Via Negativa by Daniel Hornsby

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Via Negativa: “A former Catholic priest grapples with his unorthodox clerical career in Hornsby’s affecting debut. Father Dan, ousted from his rectory in Indiana for clashing with its conservative leaders, takes his ‘mobile monk’s cell’ of a car on the road, packing plenty of Prince CDs and sporting a new beard that is ‘halfway between a Francis and a Peter.’ Denver is the destination, home of his old friend Paul, who became a Unitarian minister after marrying a man. Along the way, Dan rescues a coyote after witnessing it being hit by a minivan and, at a bar in Kansas, is asked by the bar’s owner to take a pistol off her hands. Dan accepts, and gets the idea to use it on James Bruno, a retired pedophile priest. As he makes stops at kitschy tourist destinations and dithers over releasing the coyote he’s named Bede, Dan reflects on how he chafed at pastoral duties, believing he would have ‘done much better in some remote monastery on a chalky Italian cliff… or some other century.’ As he drives, he reveals a heartbreaking secret that propels the looming confrontation with Bruno, farther down the road in Montana. Dan’s regrets and doubts about his impact as a priest come through amid acerbic humor, and the kinetic prose keeps the melancholic, slow burn kindled throughout. Hornsby has got the goods, and his stirring tale of self-reflection, revenge, and theological insight isn’t one to miss.”

Little Scratch by Rebecca Watson

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Little Scratch: “Watson experiments with line breaks, repetition, and columns to express the unnamed narrator’s frenetic consciousness over a single day in this inventive, immersive debut. The narrator wakes with memories of an uncomfortable sexual encounter, after dreaming about it from an out-of-body perspective. Meanwhile, she registers a persistent itch that causes her to scratch herself raw (‘blood under my nails from fucking scratching in my sleep’). As the novel progresses through the narrator’s routine and commute to her unsatisfying job at a London news agency (‘got to do this thing again, the waking up thing, the day thing, the work thing’), she struggles to resist scratching her arms and legs. Competing thoughts often run parallel in two columns, with intensity indicated in all caps and dialogue in italics. Watson’s clever convention and set pieces are not simply flourishes but integral to the plot and themes. There’s much relatable humor in the heroine’s everyday snafus, such as her struggle for coherence while speaking with a male colleague, and a tedious task with a glue stick, the low point of her workday. The tone shifts as the narrator begins to consider that she was raped, and the last third of the novel becomes genuinely harrowing and unsettling. Watson’s haunting, virtuosic performance is well worth a look.”

Finna by Nate Marshall

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Finna: “‘[M]y hope is like my language is like my people: it’s Black,’ writes Marshall (Wild Hundreds) in his rich and reflective second collection. In four sprawling, intertwining sections, Marshall explores masculinity, the effects of community and familial relationships, and the role of Black language in imagining a livable future. ‘you better imagine/ like your life depends/ because it does,’ he writes. In the first of these sections, Marshall stages a drama between his own understanding against that of a white supremacist living in Colorado (also named Nate Marshall) who serves as a foil that appears periodically as the poet reflects on his own changing life. Marshall is a wizard of the anecdote, finding resonance without over-explaining. ‘[A] poem for Justin’ emerges out of a nephew’s wish for such a poem; ‘conceal’ takes seriously the competing impulses of a grandmother’s contradictory life; and in ‘scruples,’ Marshall writes, ‘i spill finna from my mouth/ like 2 cheeks full of pop,’ a warning of ‘all the hesitation I shook loose.’ This is a memorable, thought-provoking, and impactful collection.”

Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women by Kate Manne

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Entitled: “Cornell University philosopher Manne (Down Girl) delivers a hard-hitting and outrage-inspiring interrogation of the links between male entitlement, both individual and systemic, and misogyny. Addressing entitled male sexual behavior, Manne scrutinizes ‘himpathy,’ ‘herasure,’ and victim blaming in the public response to sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh and Stanford University student Brock Turner, and analyzes issues of consent and ‘social programming’ in the viral New Yorker short story “Cat Person” and a woman’s account of her distressing sexual encounter with comedian Aziz Ansari. Manne also documents discrepancies in the medical care received by men and women, and claims that the assumption of the male body as a default leads health-care professionals to doubt women’s accounts of their own pain. In the political realm, Manne cites studies showing that women seeking power must be ‘exceptionally communal’ to a degree not required of their male peers to explain the rise and fall of Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign. Manne concludes with an avowal that girls and women are justifiably entitled to be valued, cared for, and believed, and gives readers a powerful framework for understanding and confronting challenges in their own lives. This incisive feminist treatise is a must-read.”

Also on shelves this week: Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women by Lyz Lenz.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Wilkerson, Emezi, Simon, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Isabel Wilkerson, Akwaeke Emezi, our own Ed Simon, and more—that are publishing this week.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Caste: “In this powerful and extraordinarily timely social history, Pulitzer winner Wilkerson (The Warmth of Other Suns) investigates the origins, evolution, and inner workings of America’s ‘shape-shifting, unspoken’ caste system. Tracking the inception of the country’s race-based ‘ranking of human value’ to the arrival of the first slave ship in 1619, Wilkerson draws on the works of anthropologists, geneticists, and social economists to uncover the arbitrariness of racial divisions, and finds startling parallels to the caste systems of India and Nazi Germany. The Nazis, Wilkerson notes, studied America’s restrictive immigration and anti-miscegenation laws to develop their own racial purity edicts, and were impressed by the ‘American custom of lynching’ and ‘knack for maintaining an air of robust innocence in the wake of mass death.’ While India abolished formal laws that defined its caste systems in the 1940s, and America passed civil rights measures in the ’60s, their respective hierarchies live on, Wilkerson writes, in ‘hearts and habits, institutions and infrastructures.’ Wilkerson cites studies showing that black Americans have the highest rates of stress-induced chronic diseases of all ethnic groups in the U.S., and that a third of African Americans hold antiblack biases against themselves. Incisive autobiographical anecdotes and captivating portraits of black pioneers including baseball pitcher Satchel Paige and husband-and-wife anthropologists Allison and Elizabeth Davis reveal the steep price U.S. society pays for limiting the potential of black Americans. This enthralling exposé deserves a wide and impassioned readership.”

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Death of Vivek Oji: “Emezi returns to adult fiction (after YA novel Pet) with a brisk tale that whirs around the mysterious death of a young Nigerian man, Vivek Oji. As a child in the 1990s, Vivek secretly identifies as a girl, the psychological strain of which causes Vivek to slip into blackouts. Only his close male cousin, Osita, recognizes the seriousness of these fugue states. (Vivek’s parents dismiss them as ‘quiet spells.’) As a teenager, Vivek grows his hair long in defiance of gender expectations, and Emezi affectingly explores the harm of threats to Vivek’s gender expression from other boys and men, who sling insults and glass bottles at him on the street. As Vivek finds solace in his female friends and Osita, he discovers he is not the only one with secrets. After his death, the heartbreaking details of which are gradually revealed, the other characters learn more about his secret life . While Emezi leans on clichés (‘hit me in the chest like a lorry’) and two-dimensional supporting characters, they offer sharp observations about the cost of transphobia and homophobia, and about the limits of honesty in their characters’ lives. Despite a few bumps, this is a worthy effort.”

Luster by Raven Leilani

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Luster: “Leilani debuts with a moving examination of a young black woman’s economic desperation and her relationship to violence. Edie is a 20-something low-level employee at a New York city publishing house. She paints on the side, but not often or well enough to comfortably call herself an artist, and she’s infatuated with Eric Walker, a married white man twice her age she met online, with whom she explores his thirst for aggressive domination (‘I think I’d like to hit you,’ he says; she lets him) and is caught breaking the rules of Eric’s open marriage (no going to his house). After Edie loses her job, Eric’s wife, Rebecca, invites her to stay with them in New Jersey. The arrangement functions partly to vex Eric and partly to support Akila, the Walkers’ adopted black daughter. An inevitable betrayal cracks the household’s veneer of civility, and suddenly Edie must make new arrangements. She does so in earnest, but not before a horrific scene in which Edie and Akila are victims of police brutality. Edie’s ability to navigate the complicated relationships with the Walkers exhibits Leilani’s mastery of nuance, and the narration is perceptive, funny, and emotionally charged. Edie’s frank, self-possessed voice will keep a firm grip on readers all the way to the bitter end.”

To the Lake: A Balkan Journey of War and Peace by Kapka Kassabova

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about To the Lake: “Bulgarian-born poet Kassabova (Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe), who now lives in Scotland, explores the religious, political, and ethnic tangles of the Balkans in this potent and meditative travelogue steeped in family history. Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa, nestled in the mountains between western Macedonia and eastern Albania, provide Kassabova’s entry point into the region as she searches for her maternal grandmother’s roots: ‘What I had come to seek was as simple as it was elusive—continuity of being through continuity of place.’ During a tour of Lake Ohrid’s eastern shore, Kassabova sketches Macedonia’s history, vividly describes its natural beauty, and recounts the life of her great-grandfather, Kosta, who rowed across the lake in 1929 to escape political persecution in Bulgaria. Exploring Lake Prespa, Kassabova delves into Albania’s long history of repression and violence, including the ruthless rule of communist dictator Enver Hoxha. Despite the grim history of regional strife, Kassabova’s faith in the power of forgiveness leads her to draw hopeful conclusions about the past and the future of the Balkans. This heartfelt exploration of the intersections between geography, history, and identity mesmerizes.”

What Happens at Night by Peter Cameron

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about What Happens at Night: “In this dreamlike, resonant fable, Cameron (Coral Glynn) depicts a pair of lost souls who travel to the edge of the world. Two unnamed New Yorkers in a frosty marriage disembark from a train in Borgarfjaroasysla, a fictional, far-northern European city, and check into the elegant Grand Imperial Hotel. The childless couple has come to the wintry land to adopt a baby boy from an orphanage, and they’re baffled, frustrated, and occasionally comforted by the city’s inhabitants as they endure delays with the adoption. There’s a mannered quality to the pervasive strangeness (a receptionist maintains an ‘impassive, unseeing attitude’; long dark days end before they begin), and the occasionally solemn dialogue doesn’t help (‘I know what I’ve become. How I am. What I am’), but generally Cameron doles out the right amount of eeriness and eccentricity. Livia Pinheiro-Rima, a bighearted lounge singer and pathological liar who looks after the adrift couple, is particularly memorable. Less convincing is the portrait of a local healer, Brother Emmanuel, whose mystic aura inspires the wife with hopes of recovery from her cancer. A torpor hangs over the events and protagonists, who respond passively to the bizarre world around them. While the idiosyncratic setting can sometimes serve as a foil for the couple, their response makes Cameron’s admirable tale emotionally affecting.”

The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-Eun (translated by Lizzie Buehler)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Disaster Tourist: “South Korean author Yun’s spare but provocative novel (after the collection Table for One) offers perceptive satire laced with disconcerting imagery. In her mid-30s, Yona Ko has devoted the last decade of her life to her employer, Jungle, which offers package tours to areas of the world ravaged by disasters, from hurricanes to nuclear meltdowns. After being sexually assaulted by her boss and assigned to a new role, Yona suspects she’s being pushed out of the company. On the verge of quitting, she’s given a new opportunity: evaluate the disaster ecosystem on a Vietnamese island (a sinkhole, a volcano) and determine whether the destination should be kept in Jungle’s portfolio. Upon arriving, Yona soon realizes that the island’s power brokers are aware that their tourist income is imperiled, and she is appalled when an investor tells her of a plan to engineer a sinkhole during a village festival that would kill at least 100 people, after which they would use international aid for urban redevelopment. In Yona’s increasingly bizarre encounters, she learns just how severe the local environmental degradation is and the frightening extent of corporate greed. Yun cleverly combines absurdity with legitimate horror and mounting dread. With its arresting, nightmarish island scenario, this work speaks volumes about the human cost of tourism in developing countries.”

Love After Love by Ingrid Persaud

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Love After Love: “Persaud’s auspicious debut traces the gut-wrenching lives of a makeshift Trinidadian family over the past two decades. After Betty Ramdin’s abusive, alcoholic husband, Sunil, dies, Betty invites a reserved math teacher, Mr. Chetan, to rent a room in her house. Chetan, who knows Betty as an administrator at his school, accepts the offer and forms a bond with Betty’s five-year-old son, Solo. The three quickly form a de facto family, and Chetan shines in the kitchen (‘She hand nowhere near sweet like mine,’ he says). Cracks emerge later, as Betty’s attempt to initiate sex with Chetan falters when he reveals he is gay, and Solo, now a teenager, overhears Betty confess to Chetan that she caused Sunil’s death by pushing him down a set of stairs. After Solo graduates high school, he illegally immigrates to New York City and cuts off all contact with his mother. Though Solo’s uncle helps him find work, he isolates himself socially and descends into self-harm. Meanwhile, Chetan, who came of age when sodomy was illegal in Trinidad, navigates clandestine relationships with a controlling police officer and an old flame, now married. After Solo hears tragic news from Trinidad, he returns for a bittersweet reunion. In chapters alternately narrated by Solo, Betty, and Chetan in vibrant Trinidadian dialect, Persaud expertly maps the trio’s emotional development and builds a complicated yet seamless plot full of indelible insights and poignant moments. This affecting family saga shines brightly.”

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Migrations: “Young adult novelist McConaghy (the Chronicles of Kaya series) makes her adult debut with the clunky chronicle of Franny Stone, a troubled woman who follows a flock of endangered Arctic terns on what is believed to be their final migration home. Franny’s mother, who vanished when Franny was seven, warned her that women in their family are unable to resist the urge to wander. While working at a university in Galway, she meets ornithologist Niall Lynch, who immediately declares they’ll spend their lives together, and they implausibly marry. Unfortunately, Franny’s overwhelming desire to travel, her sorrow over their stillborn daughter, and a sleepwalking episode in which she chokes Niall drive a wedge in their marriage. Niall had always longed to track the terns, and Franny does so by convincing a fishing boat captain that she can help him find fish in exchange for transportation. Despite the ragtag crew’s initial distrust of Franny, she becomes part of the team. McConaghy divulges more about Franny’s dark past as she writes Niall letters and reflects on their relationship, as well as the true nature of her quest. While McConaghy’s plot is engaging, her writing can be a heavy-handed distraction (‘out flies my soul, sucked through my pores’). Lovers of ornithology and intense drama will find what they need in this uneven tale.”

In the Valley by Ron Rash

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about In the Valley: “The 10 stories in Rash’s revelatory collection (after The Risen) range from contemporary slices of life to period character studies, and from quiet closet dramas to miniature epics. The title story, a pendant to his 2008 novel, Serena, flirts with the mythological in its extraordinary depiction of Serena Pemberton, the steel-willed owner of a Depression-era logging camp, who rules over her employees and the forests that they’re felling like a raging Fury. Standouts among the book’s contemporary entries include ‘L’homme Blessé,’ in which a grieving widower finds consolation in prehistoric art reproduced by a traumatized WWII veteran on the walls of his room; ‘Ransom,’ about the peculiar bond a kidnap victim develops with her abductor; and ‘Sad Man in the Sky,’ whose main character, a newly released con, engineers an audacious airborne stunt to deliver presents to children that a restraining order prevents him from visiting. In simple but eloquent prose, Rash describes the vulnerabilities, fears, and desires of his characters and shows how often they unite persons from vastly different walks of life and social strata. The skillful craftsmanship of these tales and their subtle but powerful climaxes make for profoundly moving reading.”

Talking Animals by Joni Murphy

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Talking Animals: “In this bighearted if flawed eco-fiction satire, pun-loving alpaca Alfonzo Velloso Faca takes on corruption and climate change. The novel’s sweeping opening describes an alternate-reality New York City populated by a menagerie of talking animals, a hierarchical city arranged by ‘unwritten laws of class, order, family, genus, and species.’ Alfonzo, the son of immigrant Bolivian camelids, toils in the city’s Department of Records. He is also nearing completion of a dissertation in mammalian studies ‘that would tease out the myth of empire from the unwashed raw wool of reality.’ Rot is all around him, from the city’s venal equine mayor (the scion of an elite family), to the polluted, rising oceans and the troubling demonization of sea creatures (‘They hate our legs and our free society,’ claims a porcine city hall official). Alfonzo’s best friend, a llama named Mitchell, introduces him to the nonviolent Sea Equality Revolutionary Front (SERF) and embroils him in an effort to expose the mayor’s graft and bring down his antisea administration. The intrigue takes its time heating up and never fully comes to a boil, and speechifying abounds in the dialogue. Murphy has great fun animalizing the streets of N.Y.C. and writes beautiful paeans to the sea, but the gags, heady sociological riffs, and lyricism can’t quite sustain the novel.”

Imperfect Women by Araminta Hall

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Imperfect Women: “This heart-wrenching psychological thriller from British author Hall (Our Kind of Cruelty) charts the fraught lives of three best friends from university. Nancy Hennessy has stayed ostensibly close to Eleanor Meakins and Mary Smithson in the nearly three decades since they were at Oxford together. When Nancy is murdered after meeting with her secret lover, Eleanor’s affair with Nancy’s husband becomes so engrossing and guilt-wracked that it keeps Eleanor from helping Mary with her husband’s illness. Three successive narratives center on the interior life of each woman: Eleanor immediately after the murder, Nancy in the time leading up to her death, and Mary further along in the murder’s aftermath. Hall shows each woman being emotionally drawn to doing something she knows is awful, revolting against feeling trapped, and feeling separated from her support system by guilt, evoking both empathy and outrage in the reader. The suspense alone is crafted skillfully enough to hold interest, but the dark portrait of the stifling nature of contemporary womanhood makes this story really stick.”

Also on shelves: Every Bone a Prayer by Ashley Blooms, If I Had Two Wings by Randall Kenan and Printed in Utopia by our own Ed Simon.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Li, Bender, Smith, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Yiyun Li, Aimee Bender, Zadie Smith, and more—that are publishing this week.

Must I Go by Yiyun Li

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Must I Go: “Li (Where Reasons End) writes with relentless seriousness about a woman taking stock of her past while living in a nursing home. Lilia Liska, 81, works on annotating the collected letters of Roland Bouley, a Canadian writer, and writing a personal history for her favorite granddaughter, Katherine, while most people around her have ‘droopy lids and fogged-up eyes.’ Despite Lilia’s five children and three marriages, Lilia is a solitary soul, harsh and short with family and strangers. Li presents Lilia’s notes on Bouley—whom Lilia had a brief affair with as a girl that resulted in the birth of Katherine’s mother, Lucy—and Lilia’s writings to Katherine as windows into her interior, and the meandering story is laden with tortuous doses of Lilia’s self-reflection and too-clever bon mots. Lucy’s suicide and the toll it takes on Lilia’s first marriage and Bouley’s lifelong romance with the enigmatic poet Sidelle Ogden provide the story’s emotional anchors, but more often than not, with Lilia and Bouley’s stories confined to remembrances of the past, the love, longing, and loss that they recount fails to materialize for the reader. Li adeptly captures the dreamlike, bittersweet qualities of memory, but misses the color and substance that makes that remembrance worthwhile.”

Unspeakable Acts edited by Sarah Weinman

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Unspeakable Acts: “Weinman (The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World) provides a worthy successor to the Best American Crime Reporting annual series in this thoughtful and wide-ranging true crime anthology, which includes 13 previously published essays. The recent shift in reporting such stories from the victim’s perspective is exemplified in the deeply sad retelling of the 1966 University of Texas mass shooting, Pamela Colloff’s ‘The Reckoning: The Story of Claire Wilson.’ Wilson was seriously injured by the sniper who carried out a shooting spree from the UT Tower, killing Wilson’s boyfriend and the baby she was carrying at the time. Sarah Marshall’s disturbing ‘The End of Evil’ details her struggle to decide whether serial killer Ted Bundy should be thought of as belonging ‘to a separate species from the rest of us.’ And in an era when true crime podcasts and TV shows continue to proliferate, Alice Bolin’s ‘The Ethical Dilemma of Highbrow True Crime’ details the problems of such popular fare, which often contains unverified and potentially libelous speculations. The superior quality of these essays begs for future volumes.”

The Butterfly Lampshade by Aimee Bender

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Butterfly Lampshade: “In Bender’s astounding meditation on time, space, mental illness, and family—her first novel in a decade (after The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake)—a 28-year-old woman works to solidify her memories from childhood. Francie is eight years old when her mother has a psychotic break and smashes her own hand with a hammer in an attempt to destroy the ‘illness that could still swerve and jag inside her.’ Francie’s aunt and uncle arrange for Francie to stay with them, and as she lays in bed at her babysitter’s house anticipating her trip, she admires a lampshade covered in butterfly prints, only to discover, upon waking, a dead butterfly floating in the glass of water beside her. Desperate to hold onto the butterfly, and to hide it from the babysitter, she swallows it. Now, 20 years later, with the help of younger cousin, Vicky, who she grew up with and is like a sister, Francie builds a ‘memory tent,’ and imagines the ‘tiny triangular empty moneyless canvas silent casino’ will restore the slippery memories of her childhood. Bender grounds the tale with observations on the ephemeral nature of moments in time (‘when it seems like words won’t bruise the moment’), as Francie harnesses a childlike perspective to explore the trauma of her mother’s breakdown. Rich in language and the magic of human consciousness, Bender’s masterpiece is one to savor.”

The Island Child by Molly Aitken

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Island Child: “Aitken brings myth and folklore to bear in her haunting debut, a chronicle of troubled mothers and daughters set in the late 20th century. Like generations of women before her on the fictional Irish island of Inis, Oona is reared for domesticity and motherhood. As a teenager, she envies her brothers’ freedoms and is fascinated by Aislinn, a free-spirited young widow who dares to suggest women can control their own reproductive futures. Oona dreams of escape, and eventually seizes her opportunity. Years later, when her own young adult daughter disappears, Oona returns to the bleak and treeless island of her youth, where she must contend with secrets that still lie buried. Though set in the recent past in parallel chronologies, Aitken’s tale feels outside of time. The primitive nature of life on Inis reinforces the mood, as does the inclusion of folk- and fairy tale–vignettes set between chapters. Bearing overtones of Greek mythology and Celtic folklore, Oona’s story also addresses very real concerns: sexual violence, abortion, postpartum depression, and the legacy of familial trauma. Similarly, Aitken’s prose is by turns placidly lyrical, humorous, and sharply pointed, honed by women’s anger over countless generations. Bold and perceptive, Aitken’s self-assured storytelling and understanding of classic themes stand out in contemporary Irish fiction.”

Florida Man by Tom Cooper

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Florida Man: “Beach bums, wack jobs, and refugees populate Cooper’s Technicolor vision of 1980s Florida in this darkly entertaining tale (after The Marauders) set on fictional Emerald Island on the Gulf Coast. Reed Crowe has a secret, but no idea how dangerous it will prove. Two decades earlier, at 17, Reed and his soon-to-be wife, Heidi, witnessed a plane crash and found a shipment of marijuana in the burning wreckage. ‘This is going to change our life,’ Reed says. Now, proprietor of a cheesy tourist attraction called the Florida Man Mystery House and owner of the seedy Emerald Island Inn (acquired thanks to his sudden windfall from the drugs), Reed is middle-aged, often stoned or drunk, and melancholy. Reed and Heidi’s marriage has unraveled, partly because of the murky circumstances around their daughter’s death, and partly because he wanted to stay put, while she insisted on leaving for New York City to advance her art career. Wayne Wade, Crowe’s degenerate, drug-peddling childhood friend and ‘de facto factotum,’ works at the motel, but not much, and runs his mouth at local watering hole the Rum Jungle, where Henry Yahchilane, a Seminole Vietnam vet, overhears something from Wayne about a human skull sighting on a Florida Man swamp tour. After a series of violent, misunderstood encounters, Crowe and Yahchilane team up against crack-addicted Cuban refugee and assassin Hector ‘Catface’ Morales, who seeks revenge on Crowe for stealing his drugs years earlier. As Crowe manages to avoid death by snake, sinkhole, stabbing, explosion, Jet Ski, and heartbreak, he begins to know himself better, along with those around him. Throughout, Cooper’s macabre and brutal universe crackles with energy and wit, and will hold readers’ attention until the very end. Cooper’s riotous, riveting tale rivals the best of Don Winslow.”

Intimations by Zadie Smith

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Intimations: “In this incisive and insightful collection, Smith (Grand Union) ruminates on the pandemic, racial injustice, and the writer’s role in a time of social upheaval. The collection begins with ‘Peonies,’ in which a memory of admiring flowers in a community garden sparks reflections on the female body. In ‘The American Experience,’ Smith blasts Donald Trump’s pandemic response and considers how the crisis has undermined ideas of American exceptionalism. ‘Something to Do,’ the most substantial piece, reflects on doing creative work during quarantine and how her own life of ‘executing self-conceived schedules: teaching day, reading day, writing day, repeat’ was upended by having family at home. In ‘Screengrabs,’ she briefly profiles familiar faces around her neighborhood, including a man Smith fans will recognize from a story in her Grand Union collection and a woman who is the ‘ideal city dweller’ and cultivates ‘community without overly sentimentalizing the concept.’ In a postscript to this essay, Smith skillfully demonstrates how the pandemic and police brutality constitute two sides of the same coin for Black Americans. Smith is at her perceptive and precise best in this slim but thematically weighty volume of personal and civil reckoning.”