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.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Lacey, Johnson, Dickey, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Catherine Lacey, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Colin Dickey, and more—that are publishing this week.

Pew by Catherine Lacey

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Pew: “Lacey (Certain American States) sets an ambitious, powerful fable of identity and belief in the contemporary American South. An unnamed person with no sense of gender or race (‘Anything I remember being told about my body contradicts something else I’ve been told. I look at my skin and cannot say what shade it is’) is found sleeping in a church pew by Steven, Hilda, and their three boys. The family decide to house the mute stranger, whom they name Pew. The action, which takes place over one week, mostly consists of Pew’s interactions with the town’s residents, who offer one-sided monologues to Pew about their Christian beliefs and believe Pew is their ‘new jesus.’ Pew’s indeterminate features and the townspeople’s habit of projecting onto Pew lead them to see what they want to see, and here Lacey showcases a keen ear for the lilting, sometimes bombastic music of human speech that reveals more than her speakers intend. Pew, meanwhile, bonds with Nelson, a teenage refugee from a war-torn country whose intelligence his caretakers underestimate. Lacey’s incisive look at the townspeople’s narrow understanding draws a stark contrast with Pew’s mute wishes, imagining a life in which ‘our bodies wouldn’t determine our lives, or the lives of others.’ The action builds toward a mysterious Forgiveness Festival and a memorable climax with disturbing echoes of Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’ unveiled in a harrowing crescendo of call and response. Lacey’s talent shines in this masterful work, her best yet.”

Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Trouble the Saints: “This sumptuous fantasy from Johnson (Love is the Drug) splits focus between three uncannily gifted characters as they struggle against their fates and the pervasive racism of America on the cusp of WWII. Phyllis LeBlank is mixed-race but passes for white to mingle with New York City’s mobsters, using her supernatural knife throwing skills to kill people her boss assures her are worthy of death. But when Phyllis reunites with her ex-boyfriend, half-Indian police informant Dev Patil, she questions her line of work. Dev, who can foretell threats against anyone he touches, and Phyllis flee the mob to Dev’s childhood home upstate. There, the couple become enmeshed in the disagreement between a white family and an erratic young black man with powers of his own. As racial tensions explode into violence, Phyllis discovers she’s pregnant and Dev gets drafted into war. Phyllis’s best friend, clairvoyant Tamara, helps Phyllis through her difficult pregnancy with a fetus capable of sending visions of the future. But Tamara’s own visions lead her to a challenging choice. With a sweeping but overstuffed plot, dynamic characters, and style to spare, this alternate history demands the reader’s full attention. Fans of challenging, diverse fantasy will enjoy this literary firecracker.”

The Lives of Edie Pritchard by Larry Watson

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Lives of Edie Pritchard: “Set mostly in eastern Montana, Watson’s vibrant character study (after As Good as Gone) reads like a trio of scintillating novellas, each set 20 years apart. In the late 1960s, young bank teller Edie Linderman is married to Dean, a domineering sporting goods clerk. Their wobbly marriage is beset with maybes and ifs. Maybe she should have married Dean’s more ambitious twin brother, Roy, a flirtatious furniture salesman. If she hadn’t gone with Roy to buy a pick-up, maybe he wouldn’t have had the crippling accident, the murky circumstances of which ignited Dean’s jealousy, and maybe she wouldn’t have left town with a one-way bus ticket west and married smarmy insurance agent Gary Dunn, as she does in the second part of the novel, set in 1987. Edie and Dean have a daughter who, by 18, wearies of her dull life. Edie leaves Gary, hoping to develop a better relationship with her rebellious teenager. In 2007, now 64, Edie relies on her life experiences to rescue her self-absorbed adolescent granddaughter who becomes embroiled with yet another set of battling brothers. Like in the best works of Richard Ford and Elizabeth Strout, Watson shows off a keen eye for regional details, a pitch-perfect ear for dialogue, and an affinity for sharp characterization. This triptych is richly rewarding.”

Grove by Esther Kinsky (translated by Caroline Schmidt)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Grove: “German writer and translator Kinsky (River) offers an exquisite and elusive diaristic work comprised of entries analogous to a researcher’s field notes. Kinsky follows an unnamed narrator who has sought refuge in Northern Italy after the death of her husband, M. The narrator’s references to M. are scant, and come to her in flashes of grief-laden memory. She heals by grounding herself in the present, detailing her excursions through Italian villages. Her observations of the landscapes are vivid and historicized (after seeing a Mussolini poster in a shop, she is unnerved by distant blasts from a construction site, which no one but her and the birds seems to notice), but the narrator’s descriptions of people, in particular a portrait of the narrator’s late Italophile father, are the most moving. By revisiting memories of her father, a jovial and troubling figure, the narrator is able to prepare herself for the more difficult acceptance of M.’s death. To call this a plotless novel would be a misunderstanding: Kinsky is a photographer’s novelist; her prose unravels like a roll of film as visual meditation. The true beauty of this work emerges with patience and contemplation.”

Riding with the Ghost by Justin Taylor

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Riding with the Ghost: “A writer grapples with the legacy of his father’s depression and his own shadow self in this lucid memoir of connection, family, and loss. Taylor (The Gospel of Anarchy) kicks off with a riveting account of his father Larry’s attempted suicide in 2013 at a parking garage, which reverberates with pity, helplessness, and sarcasm (‘he was pretty sure [the parking garage roof] was tall enough to do the job’). From there, Taylor shifts to the story of his family in southern Florida, where his parents’ ‘working-class romance’ turned problematic as the intensely intelligent Larry’s career prospects narrowed due to his belligerence and a ‘massive, killing pride.’ Describing his own halting passage from being a squatter punk to an inconsistently employed but generally content writer, professor, and husband, Taylor finds more empathy for Larry’s depression as he sees its longer arc and parallels to his own life. Though the subject matter is weighty and knotty, Taylor’s approach is light; he has a knack for unobtrusive description (referring to staying at a chain hotel as being ‘like falling asleep inside a piece of clip art’) and sudden flashes of cutting insight (‘How do you save a drowning man who doesn’t want a life preserver?’). This is an astute and balanced memoir that finds grace in appreciating another’s pain.”

The Unidentified by Colin Dickey

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Unidentified: “Dickey (Ghostland), a National University creative writing professor, leads readers on a fascinating expedition through fringe belief and theory. Conducting extensive research into cryptozoology, UFOlogy, and other pseudoscientific fields, he investigates myths throughout the U.S., from Northern California’s Mount Shasta, inside which the possibly extraterrestrial Lemurians are said to dwell, to the ‘southern New Jersey creature of note,’ the Jersey Devil, a fusion between Lenape myth and Puritan folklore reborn in the early 20th century as a ‘money-making hoax’ when a kangaroo was passed off to paying crowds as the captured Devil. Dickey posits various ideas about why unproven and outlandish stories exert such a hold on the imagination: conspiracy theories upset the divide between science and religion, while the concept of humanlike animals such as the Bigfoot ‘trouble[s] the line between human and nonhuman’ and ‘interrupts the categories we make to make sense of the world.’ With a wry tone and incisive analysis, Dickey explores how these stories have developed alongside the country through scientific innovations, evolving frontiers, changing ideas about race, and more. Readers will find this to be a thought-provoking and deliciously unsettling guide into the stranger corners of American culture.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Kwan, Center, Iglesias, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Kevin Kwan, Katherine Center, Legna Rodríguez Iglesias, and more—that are publishing this week.

Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Sex and Vanity: “Kwan follows up his Crazy Rich Asians trilogy with an intoxicating, breezy update of E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View. Lucie Tang Churchill, 19, a privileged ‘hapa’ (she is half Chinese, half WASP) attends her richer friend Isabel’s wedding in Capri. After Lucie meets Isabel’s cousin George Zao, a rich, handsome, Chinese-Australian surfer, she becomes a ‘bundle of conflicting emotions,’ repulsed by her attraction to the ‘brooding weirdo [who] took himself much too seriously.’ Still, they hook up, at risk of jeopardizing Lucie’s reputation as an eligible bride. Four years later, Lucie and George’s paths cross in New York, only now Lucie is engaged to Cecil Pike. However, Lucy can’t get George out of her mind, and she is flummoxed by his kindness. When Lucy, George, and Cecil attend a film screening featuring a sex scene that reminds her of what she did with George in Capri, Lucie doubles down on suppressing her true desires. Kwan exploits the Forster frame for clever references—including Merchant and Ivory—and provides amusing footnotes. Kwan also relishes describing lavish meals and haute couture clothing, as well as Isabel’s decadent wedding and Cecil’s imaginative, over-the-top proposal. There are moments both catty and witty, but this delectable comedy of manners—the literary equivalent of white truffle and caviar pizza—is still pizza.”

What You Wish For by Katherine Center

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about What You Wish For: “Center’s quirky story (after Things You Save in a Fire) follows offbeat librarian Samantha Casey, who’s found the tight-knit family she’s always longed for and a place to call home in a small Texas beach town. The Kempner School, where she works, is a bright, cheery place, and principal Max Kempner sparks joy at every turn—until his sudden death from a pulmonary embolism. When Sam hears the news about Max’s replacement, Duncan Carpenter, she remembers Duncan as a former fellow teacher, crush, and all-around ‘human mood-enhancer.’ Sam sings Duncan’s praises as an ideal replacement until Duncan swoops in and declares the school a security ‘nightmare’ that he is determined to make a model of safety and security through a series of extreme measures. Soon, Sam schemes with the school’s cofounder Babette, Max’s widow, to stage a ‘Joy-bomb’ intervention, forcing Duncan to eat a sundae each day and perform juggling in front of the students at lunchtime in exchange for the privilege of keeping his job, in hopes of unearthing the fun Duncan and saving the school. In the process, Sam’s old crush on Duncan reignites. The cast of eccentric supporting characters adds to a fast-paced tale steeped with whimsical, yet sometimes outlandish, plot points. This is one for the beach bag.”

Inheritors by Asako Serizawa

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Inheritors: “Serizawa follows a winding maze through a Japanese family’s history in her dynamic debut collection. A family tree beginning with Masayuki (born in 1868) and continuing through to Mai (born in 2013) creates the work’s backbone, as Serizawa constructs a nonlinear narrative filled with abrupt turns, accidental betrayals, and supposed curses and myths. The opening story, ‘Flight’ (covering 1911–1981), follows Masayuki’s daughter, Ayumi, as she loses some of her memories while others become more vivid. In the collection’s standout, ‘Train to Harbin,’ Ayumi’s doctor brother contemplates his youthful nationalism in the years just after WWII and his role in the wartime occupation of China. In ‘Luna,’ set in 1986, Ayumi’s Japanese-American grand-niece Luna learns her father, Masaaki, was adopted and is of Korean heritage (not Japanese, as he believed), leading her to recall her earliest memories of visiting Japan. In ‘Passing,’ set in 2010, Luna returns to Japan to collect Masaaki’s possessions and ruminates not on ‘where he belonged’ but ‘how he wanted to fit in.’ The final two stories, ‘The Garden’ and ‘Echolocation,’ jump into the future to investigate the fallacies of perception and what cyber warfare might look like after Mai’s brother, Erin, develops a global VR climate simulator for predicting disaster. By showing Japan as both colonizer and colonized, Serizawa delivers an elegant, stimulating web of stories.”

The All-Night Sun by Diane Zinna

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The All-Night Sun: “Zinna’s intimate debut dazzles with original language, emotional sentience, and Swedish folklore as it plumbs the depths of grief, loss, and friendship. Lauren Cress, a 28-year-old woman teaching English comp at a small college outside of Washington, D.C., takes a leap out of her lonely, sedentary routine by agreeing to travel with Siri, an 18-year-old art student, to her home in Sweden. Until now, her life has been comprised of walking her dog, Annie; studying Latin to pass her insomniac nights; occasional one-night stands; and devoting much of her time to obsessively commenting on her students’ essays. These habits were formed as coping mechanisms after her parents died in a car crash 10 years earlier. Siri also lost her parents, and the women are intensely bonded by grief. Tension ensues after Lauren meets Siri’s older artist brother, Magnus, whom she was primed to dislike before the trip but can’t stop thinking about. This leads to a rift in Lauren and Siri’s friendship and a heartbreaking climax during the Midsommar celebration. The descriptions of the never-ending sunlight are inventive and luminous (‘when I think of our talks there, they can sometimes feel like sun in my eyes’). Zinna reaches an inspired emotional depth that, as the title signifies, never stops blazing.”

Age of Consent by Amanda Brainerd

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Age of Consent: “Brainerd’s bracing debut focuses on a group of teens at a Connecticut boarding school and an ill-spent summer in New York City. In 1983, classmates Eve Straus and Justine Rubin struggle with difficult parents, teenage crushes, and predatory older men. Eve comes from a wealthy Park Avenue home, while Justine is from New Haven, where her parents are struggling middle-class theater owners, too preoccupied with their own lives to guide her away from trouble. Justine is already growing rapidly into adulthood, while Eve is intent on losing her virginity. Eve’s English instructor trades grades for sex with her; Justine already lost her virginity at 14 to a family friend. While the goings-on at Griswold Academy are engaging, and a musical interlude at a David Bowie concert is well written, Brainerd’s tale really takes off in the second half, when the two young women navigate a gritty summer in New York City, where Eve works at a SoHo art gallery and Justine moves in with Eve’s childhood friend. Eve and Justine eventually drift apart, each envying the other’s life. On the surface, Brainerd’s tale is a nostalgic trip into the early 1980s, including an inspired evocation of the Downtown art scene, but her teenage characters make the greatest impact. The takes on parental neglect and the ways young women are taught to see sex as transactional make this more than a throwback.”

My Favorite Girlfriend Was a French Bulldog by Legna Rodríguez Iglesias

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about My Favorite Girlfriend Was a French Bulldog: “This profound and delightful novel-in-stories by Cuban poet Iglesias, her English-language debut, is a breathtaking exploration of identity, country, art, and family. Iglesias’s narrator slips with ease into a different voice in each chapter, though they all retain facets of her consciousness. In ‘Politics,’ the narrator explores her relationship with Cuba through the reminiscences of her dead grandfather. ‘Monster’ is written in a heightened bureaucratic voice, a formal choice that makes concrete the narrator’s stress as she navigates the emigration process. The chapters that follow reveal different aspects of the narrator’s identity—an erudite queer woman; a U.S. émigré; a poet with a deep knowledge of literary and musical history, and an all-consuming affection for her darling French bulldog. While the narrator worries about ‘being no one’ or ‘accepting, that you are no one here and now,’ Iglesias’s voice is too sure, too fresh, and too in command of form to be overlooked. Iglesias’s distinctive style carries her narrator on an unforgettable journey of self-discovery through language.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Nugent, Tenorio, Martin, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Benjamin Nugent, Lysley Tenorio, Andrew Martin, and more—that are publishing this week.

Fraternity by Benjamin Nugent

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Fraternity: “Terry Southern Prize–winner Nugent digs into Greek life at an unnamed western Massachusetts university in this winning collection (after Good Kids). In ‘God,’ Delta Zeta Chi members admiringly nickname a classmate God after she writes a poem calling out Delta president Newton as an ‘early detonator’ in bed. ‘The Treasurer’ stars incoming Delta treasurer Pete, whose dedication to the brotherhood impairs his reasoning after he’s sexually assaulted during a leadership test, while in ‘Ollie the Owl,’ Nugent conceives a comical alternate reality where the fraternity’s wooden owl mascot comes to life and attacks students. ‘Safe Spaces,’ the lone tale featuring a female protagonist, ponders the aimless nature of a broken heart, as dropout Claire, high on cocaine, seeks refuge at Delta house after being rebuffed by a former lover. While Nugent shows consistent talent for capturing the voices and shallow ambition of college students, he stumbles when he leaves the campus—the collection’s weakest story, ‘Fan Fiction,’ dawdles as Newton, the Delta president from ‘God,’ moves to Los Angeles and dates a famous director. Despite this aberration, the rest of the collection pulses with energy, and Nugent commendably weaves humor and drama to shine an unflinching light on the young adults convening behind fraternity walls. One can almost smell the stale beer on the page.”

Scorpionfish by Natalie Bakopoulos

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Scorpionfish: “In Bakopoulos’s ruminative follow-up to The Green Shore, 30-something Mira returns from the U.S. to Greece after her parents’ deaths to clean out the apartment she grew up in. The city she encounters is not the one of her childhood. Athens is plagued by strikes, drugs, the government debt crisis, and the junta, and refugees hoping for a better future have migrated to the city, ‘the safest dangerous place in the world.’ Like the city itself, Mira’s sense of self is in flux as she lingers in her parents’ apartment. Enter the Captain. Mira’s new neighbor is an older man recently separated from his wife and children who prefers the ‘placeless universality of the sea’ to land. Both spend the summer figuring out who they are in the wake of huge life changes as they explore the city with old friends: Fady and Dimitra, who have taken in a refugee; Aris, Mira’s ex-boyfriend, a rising politician and father-to-be; and Nefeli, an older artist Mira’s known since childhood, who understands, better than anyone, how the past, present, and future selves coexist. While Bakopoulos’s emphasis on themes of identity is at times heavy-handed, she skillfully captures the characters’ sense of feeling stuck between stations. This riff on the adage that you can never go home poses essential questions on what it means to belong.”

The Son of Good Fortune by Lysley Tenorio

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Son of Good Fortune: “Tenorio’s mordant and moving debut novel (after the collection Monstress) follows the travails of an undocumented Filipino immigrant mother and son. Nineteen-year-old Excel reluctantly makes the long trek back to the apartment where he grew up in Colma, Calif., from Hello City, a relaxed town of hippies and techies near the Mexican border, where he’d moved nine months earlier with his girlfriend, Sab. Excel has a debt in Hello City—$10,000, to be exact—and his only option is to ask for his old job at The Pie Who Loved Me, a restaurant where ‘pizza goes to die.’ His mother, Maxina, a former action star, lives with Joker, Maxina’s childhood martial arts instructor and a grandfather figure to Excel. These days, Maxina makes a living scamming American men seeking obedient Filipina wives online. Excel and Maxina have had a turbulent relationship since Excel’s 10th birthday, when Maxina told him they were tago ng tago (hiding and hiding)—but with such a large debt to pay back, the pizza earnings aren’t enough, and Excel turns to Maxina for help. Written with great empathy and sly humor, Tenorio’s tale of Excel and Maxima’s gradual reconciliation takes a searing look at the ways they’ve taken care of and failed each other. This is a wonderful achievement.”

Alice Knott by Blake Butler

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Alice Knott: “Butler (300,000,000) unwinds a vertiginous, deeply interior tale of art vandalism and a woman’s derangement. When a video showing the destruction of a Willem de Kooning painting goes viral, copycat crimes erupt across the world. The de Kooning, among other destroyed works, turns out to have been stolen from Alice Knott, an aging heiress isolated in her family home for decades. Traumatized by her childhood, Alice suffers from extreme dissociation and is bewildered by herself and her mother, father, stepfather, and twin (or ‘untwin’) brother. Her confusion extends even to the nature of her house, which shape-shifts in her mind (‘there always seemed to be new rooms, and different dimensions to the past ones’). As Alice becomes a suspect in the crimes, Alice Novak, a conceptual artist Butler confusingly describes as Alice Knott’s doppelgänger, dies, apparently during a performance. Meanwhile, acts of art-terror proliferate along with a pandemic of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease; natural disasters; and a contagious delirium that infects even the U.S. president. Butler’s penchant for ambiguities flowers in Alice’s convoluted ruminations, which predominate in this challenging novel. Unfortunately, the labyrinthine language will leave readers trapped alongside Alice in her harrowing hall-of-mirrors self, unmoored to any grounding context, and Butler’s attempt to portray mental illness is overwrought and tedious. The conceit and experimentation are fascinating and admirable, but miss their mark.”

Want by Lynn Steger Strong

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Want: “Strong’s impressive follow-up to Hold Still explores the energy it takes for women to sustain themselves in a world that leaves them feeling ‘less than, knocked down, not quite in control.’ Now living in New York City, Elizabeth and her unnamed husband are ‘eighties babies, born of plenty, cloistered by whiteness… brought up to think that if we checked off certain boxes we’d be fine.’ Elizabeth has a PhD, but tenure-track professorship remains out of reach, and her husband, the first in his family to attend college, once worked for Lehman Brothers and now struggles to get a carpentry business off the ground. Due to their unstable employment and scant insurance coverage for her C-section and root canals, they are deep in debt (‘my body almost single-handedly bankrupted us’). As the couple advance through the bankruptcy process, buoyed by their love for their young children and at times each other, Elizabeth becomes caught up in repeating an old pattern with her friend, Sasha, who is anxious about her pregnancy after a previous miscarriage. Strong unpacks the fraught history of Elizabeth and Sasha’s friendship dating back to their teenage years, delivering great insight on how the exhausted women have found themselves wanting—male attention, babies, choices, recognition, respect—as they compromise their dreams in order to survive. This is well worth a look.”

After the Body by Cleopatra Mathis

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about After the Body: “Over the last four decades, Mathis (Book of Dog) has quietly crafted lyrically precise, often harrowing poems in which the poet’s ‘throat is a long avenue of ice,/ cutting the familiar good words/ at their source.’ This generous volume draws from the poet’s recorded gifts and losses: poems of early and late motherhood, a child’s mental illness and institutionalization, human and nonhuman deaths within and beyond the poet’s purview. As the poet studies ‘the art of now and wait, to love/ what’s not a part of me,’ the swamps and bayous of her childhood home morph into the woods and coastlines of New England: ‘Some pinion/ connects who we are with whatever pulls us/ to walk into the evening’s wetland grasses/ in an air made of sounds we listen for/ …the grace of seeing that will save us.’ To these earlier works are added two dozen new poems of extraordinary acuity, many of them attempts to describe the wracking pain as the poet struggles with crippling illness. Rereading the poet’s past work through her present reveals hidden continuities. In these knowing poems, readers may recognize their own humanity, as well as the sometimes-impossible conditions of living.”

Cool for America by Andrew Martin

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Cool for America: “Martin (Early Work) captures young adults’ aimless searches for stability in this bleak, revealing collection. In ‘The Changed Party,’ during a rained-out vacation on the Jersey shore, Lisa and Gary, freshly reunited following a separation, discover their eight-year-old daughter Amanda’s compulsive habit of picking through the garbage and are troubled by a friend’s drinking. In the title story, an unnamed assistant professor spending the summer in Missoula, Mont., wrestles with a powerful attraction to his friend’s wife, who helps him recuperate from a broken leg. In ‘The Boy Vet,’ a baby-faced veterinarian pressures a softhearted literature PhD dropout to pay for emergency surgery on a stray dog. The protagonist of ‘Bad Feelings’ distracts himself from his mom’s surgery by going to ‘the third sequel to a blockbuster adaptation of a young adult book series’ despite having not seen the others, and loses his keys in the empty theater. Moments of cynical humor pop up amid drug use, tumultuous relationships, or other self-defeating outlets for the characters’ creative and personal frustrations. Though the people begin to blend together, each story has at least one or two standout, bleakly funny lines. Martin’s sardonic tales are decent, if not breathtaking.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Stein, Sullivan, Baker, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of  Leigh Stein, J. Courtney Sullivan, Calvin Baker, and more—that are publishing this week.

Self Care by Leigh Stein

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Self Care: “In this sharp satire, Stein (The Fallback Plan) revels in wellness culture gone toxic. Devin Avery and Maren Gelb are cofounders of Richual, a Goop-like lifestyle company seeking to ‘catalyze women to be global changemakers through the simple act of self-care.’ (That the company doesn’t have a maternity leave policy is a particularly juicy irony.) Richual uses sponsored content, paid influencers, confessional blog postings, and merchandise like ‘Believe Victims’ beach towels to attract and monetize its user base. Devin, rich and devoted to a strenuous dietary and beauty regimen, is the face of the company, while Maren, who got her start working for a nonprofit feminist organization and has a mountain of student loan debt, ensures Richual runs ‘like a well-moisturized machine.’ That machine hits a rough patch after a woman publishes an essay about the problematic sexual predilections of Evan, a former Bachelorette contestant and prominent male investor in Richual, threatening the company’s feminist bona fides and driving a wedge between its cofounders. The plot flies by, but the real appeal lies in Stein’s merciless skewering of startup culture, bloviating entrepreneurs, fatuous trends, and woker-than-thou internet denizens, a vanity fair of 20-somethings who are at once conspicuously privileged yet vulnerable, earnest yet hypocritical, navel-gazing yet engaged, independent-minded yet tribal. Stein’s sharp writing separates her from the pack in this exquisite, Machiavellian morality tale about the ethics of looking out for oneself.”

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Mexican Gothic: “Moreno-Garcia’s energetic romp through the gothic genre (after Gods of Jade and Shadow) is delightfully bonkers. In the 1950s, Noemí, a flirtatious socialite and college student, travels from Mexico City to rescue her cousin Catalina from the nightmarish High Place, a remote Mexican mountain villa. Catalina has recently married the chilly, imperiously seductive Virgil Doyle, heir to a now defunct British silver mining operation. Beset by mysterious fevers, Catalina has written to her uncle, Noemí’s father, telling him, ‘This house is sick with rot, stinks of decay, brims with every single evil and cruel sentiment.’ Noemí clashes with Virgil’s father, Howard—who subscribes to theories of eugenics—along with a set of oddly robotic British servants. Beset by horrifying dreams and visions, and unsettled by a peculiar fungus that grows everywhere, Noemí soon fears for her own life as well as Catalina’s. In a novel that owes a considerable debt to the nightmarish horror and ornate language of H.P. Lovecraft, the situations in which Noemí attempts to prevail get wilder and stranger with every chapter, as High Place starts exhibiting a mind of its own, and Noemi learns that Howard is far older than he appears to be. Readers who find the usual country house mystery too tame and languid won’t have that problem here.”

Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Friends and Strangers: “Sullivan’s intimate, incisive latest (after Saints for all Occasions) explores the evolving friendship between a new mother and her babysitter. After journalist Elisabeth Ronson moves with her husband, Andrew, and infant son, Gil, from Brooklyn to Upstate New York, Elisabeth struggles with the demands of motherhood and faces loneliness and disconnection. Then she hires Sam O’Connell, an art student at the nearby women’s college, to babysit. Elisabeth likes the upbeat Sam, though she has misgivings about Sam’s 30-something boyfriend, Clive, who proves to be untrustworthy,. Elisabeth and Sam correspond over Christmas break while Sam visits Clive in London and Elisabeth spends the holiday entertaining her parents and in-laws at home. Elisabeth and Sam argue about Clive, and Elisabeth’s father-in-law, George, provides another source of tension: Elisabeth finds his leftist rants tiresome, while Sam, via email, takes encouragement from George to campaign for improved working conditions on her campus, and struggles to understand if Elisabeth sees her as a friend or employee. Observations on domestic and social interactions add weight to Sullivan’s inquiry into Elisabeth and Sam’s interior lives, showing where the cracks seep into their friendship. Readers will be captivated by Sullivan’s authentic portrait of modern motherhood.”

A More Perfect Reunion by Calvin Baker

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A More Perfect Reunion: “In this rich, meditative account, novelist Baker (Grace) identifies the current ‘backlash of white bigotry’ following the election of the first African-American president as a moment of national reckoning akin to the Continental Congress, the Civil War, and the civil rights movement. In the process of examining why and how those earlier opportunities to ‘escape from the original sin and eternal problem of race’ by fully integrating blacks and other minority groups into American society fell short, Baker offers a wide-ranging and erudite analysis of U.S. history, politics, and culture—from the arrival of the first slave ship at Port Comfort, Va., in 1619 to discriminatory policies built into FDR’s New Deal and an interracial adoption story line on the TV show This Is Us. He critiques identity politics (‘my grievance versus your grievance’) on both the right and the left, and accuses liberals of preserving racist power structures by reaching compromises with white supremacists in order to advance piecemeal progressive reforms. Though Baker doesn’t make the mechanisms for ‘extend[ing] the full social contract’ to African-Americans clear, he paints an incisive picture of the gaps—in wages, education, life expectancy, and criminal justice—that he says need to be closed in order for the promise of democracy to be fulfilled. This powerful call to action resonates.”

Also on shelves: Destination Wedding by Diksha Basu.

Bonus Links from Our Archive:
Loving That Wild Thing: Leigh Stein’s ‘Land of Enchantment’
Arrested Development: Leigh Stein’s ‘The Fallback Plan’

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Doyle, Burton, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Roddy Doyle, Susan Burton, and more—that are publishing this week.

Love by Roddy Doyle

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Love: “This witty, satisfying novel about male friendship, aging, and guilt from Doyle (A Star Called Henry) dramatizes language’s inadequacies when it comes to affairs of the heart. ‘The words are letting me down,’ says Dubliner Joe to Davy, his old friend visiting from England, while telling him that he has left his wife for another woman, Jessica, whom they both briefly adored as young men. Over pints at several pubs, the two 50-something Irishmen get back into their old rhythms and revive, or occasionally reinvent, the past. Joe grasps for the right metaphors or analogies with which to explain his life-altering decision to Davy as much as to himself, ‘testing the words’ for how they sound. Davy, burdened by his own sense of guilt with regard to his rapidly declining father, is at times intrigued, bored, contemptuous, resentful, provoking, or supportive of his friend as Joe circles around his infidelity with an almost Jamesian vagueness. Some readers may chafe at Doyle’s leisurely unfolding of the plot, though the two men are nothing if not good company. By closing time, Doyle has focused the novel’s rambling energy into an elegiac and sobering climax. This one is a winner.”

Empty by Susan Burton

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Empty: “This American Life producer Burton debuts with an unfiltered discussion of how binge eating and anorexia plagued her throughout her adolescence and into her 20s and turned her into a ‘desperate wreck.’ Around the time she entered puberty, Burton began worrying about getting fat; she started controlling her portions and took ‘perverse pleasure in [her] smallness.’ Burton ably recreates her anxiety-filled youth, when she struggled with her parents’ divorce, her mother’s alcoholism, and with eating disorders. She offers raw descriptions of binging late at night in her kitchen as a teen, eating ice cream, muffins, and power bars to fill a void (‘This was tearing things, a frenzy’), then, later in life, starving herself to the point that she developed osteoporosis, all in an effort to feel ‘light’ and ’empty.’ Burton traces her issues with food back to her grandmother, who obsessed about weight, but offers no easy answers about what ultimately drove her own behavior. Physically healthy now, she writes that she remains ‘inflexible, paranoid, and self-loathing about food,’ and is still on the road to recovery, aided by therapy, writing, and family support. Burton convincingly conveys the desperation and darkness of eating disorders.”

Barcelona Days by Daniel Riley

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Barcelona Days: “A volcano grounds a pair of 29-year-old New Yorkers at the end of their 2017 Barcelona vacation in Riley’s emotionally grinding latest (after Fly Me). Whitney, a rising television producer, suggests that she and her fiancé, Will, each sow their wild oats over the two months she’ll spend working in L.A., before their planned trip to Barcelona. They agree to three sexual encounters with strangers, and in Barcelona, they disclose the details of their hookups in light-hearted banter. The next morning, an ash cloud from Iceland indefinitely postpones their return flight, and the fallout of their experiment begins to strain the relationship. At a party, they bump into Jack Pickle, the star of their alma mater’s basketball team, and Jenna Leonard, a quirky college student from Southern California. Then Will and Jenna attend a concert together, ramping up Whitney’s jealousy as she goes back to Jack’s apartment. The next morning, both accuse the other of cheating, and their argument upends the already fractured relationship. While Riley’s cool, sensuous prose evokes the ‘promise of being trapped in the city forever,’ pages of acrimony between Will and Whitney and a lurid backstory involving Jenna throttle the tale’s momentum. There are better stories of love on the rocks.”

Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Tokyo Ueno Station: “In Yu’s coolly meditative, subtly spectral tale (after Gold Rush), Kazu, a former denizen of a Tokyo tent city, looks mournfully on the past. Kazu lingers around Ueno Park in present-day Tokyo, where he once spent several years camping among the homeless, and spends the days people-watching and reminiscing. He recalls his birth in 1933 in rural Soma; remembers how he sought work for long stretches away from his family, including a grueling stint doing construction work in preparation for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics; and replays his response to the death of his only son at 21, in 1981 (‘My shock, my grief, my anger were all so great that crying felt inadequate’), which led him to drift away and spend more time alone in Tokyo. After two decades pass, he winds up living in the park. The banal conversations he overhears in the present from middle-class park visitors clash with the bleak recollections of his perpetual misfortune, along with the fraught history of the park as a mass grave and site of rebellion, details that emerge in Kazu’s remembered conversations with a fellow homeless man. The novel’s melding of memory and observation builds toward Kazu’s temporary eviction from the park in 2006. Yu’s spare, empathetic prose beautifully expresses Kazu’s perspective on the passage of time; he feels a ‘constant absence from the present, an anger toward the future.’ This slim but sprawling tale finds a deeply sympathetic hero in a man who feels displaced and longs for connection after it’s too late.”

Also on shelves this week: Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Spencer, Phillips, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of  Scott Spencer, Lucie Britsch, Ashleigh Bryant Phillips, and more—that are publishing this week.

An Ocean Without a Shore by Scott Spencer

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about An Ocean Without a Shore: “Spencer returns to the characters from River Under the Road in this unsatisfying sequel about unrequited love and betrayal. Kip Woods, a supporting character in River, provides a first-person confession as he awaits sentencing for a criminal conviction. His criminal actions, which are revealed at the end, are motivated by his long-secret love for the now broke but once famous screenwriter Thaddeus Kaufman. Whenever Thaddeus needs Kip to do something for him—buy his land to avoid foreclosure, care for his daughter Emma, or provide Thaddeus with insider stock tips—Kip is eager to help. Spencer makes Kip’s codependent devotion to Thaddeus as palpable as Kip’s struggles with his romantic feelings (‘If love is a sinking ship, you do want to go down with it’). The men’s bromantic chats are engaging highlights, especially when Thaddeus toys with Kip by suggesting they hike the Appalachain Trail together (‘Just to be two creatures in the great outdoors. I think that would be amazing’), and they show how Kip endures Thaddeus despite his increasingly odious behavior. While the narrative gets disjointed when Spencer shifts away from Kip, such as a depiction of Thaddeus in crisis when his father dies, the climax between the two friends is heartbreaking and explosive. Still, Spencer boxes Kip into a corner that feels disappointingly contrived.”

Sad Janet by Lucie Britsch

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Sad Janet: “In Britsch’s darkly comic debut, a deadpan, abrasive narrator muses on her depression. ‘There’s no word in the English language that properly describes this feeling I have, the one that makes other people uncomfortable,’ Janet thinks. After getting a degree in postmodern feminist science fiction, Janet takes a job at a dog shelter out in the woods with an equally depressed boss and a slightly sunnier co-worker. Everyone she knows, including her parents and boyfriend, is on one antidepressant or another, and they’re all attempting to get Janet, who clings to what she calls her ‘manageable melancholia,’ to do the same. What plot there is revolves around whether Janet will take a newly invented pill designed to increase one’s appreciation of Christmas—181 days away at the start of the novel, yet heavy on Janet’s mind—and if she does, if it will work. Meanwhile, she spends her time napping, drinking, and curling up on dog beds pretending to be a dog. Preternaturally self-aware, Janet has a gift for homing in on her own emotional state and everyone else’s, which Britsch renders in rueful, knowing prose that may land or miss, depending on if the reader can relate to pronouncements such as ‘the cool kids call it melancholia, because of that Lars von Trier movie.’ Still, Britsch’s monologue about the experience of unhappiness is undeniably infectious.”

Sleepovers by Ashleigh Bryant Phillips

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Sleepovers: “In Phillips’s blunt, life-affirming debut collection, characters in rural, hardscrabble North Carolina grapple for hope while being sustained by a soundtrack of Today’s Country Hits on FM radio and a diet of Duck Thru hot dogs. In ‘Shania,’ the unnamed seven-year-old protagonist is awed by her friend, named after the country music star, and the girls are united in their desire to become blood sisters. Their friendship is cut short after domestic violence erupts in Shania’s decrepit house. ‘The Locket’ is about the unlikely bond between Shirley, a 60-year-old pool custodian with a simple mind who often relfects on her painful childhood, and Krystal, a teenage babysitter with an impressive dive. Before meeting Krystal, Shirley’s sole companion is the spirit of her long-dead horse, Norma. After Krystal coaxes Shirley into lending her a prized locket, the consequences are devastating. The title story shifts between describing fourth-grade Nicki and her friends’ sleepovers and the tribulations of Nicki’s father. After he loses his leg in an accident, the community raises money for an artificial leg, but it doesn’t quite fit. Phillips demonstrates an impressive ease at depicting transition, trauma, and loss, brilliantly evoking a close-knit world held together by the strength of friendship. This collection stands out in the field of current Southern fiction.”

The Taste of Sugar by Marisel Vera

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Taste of Sugar: “Vera (If I Bring You Roses) follows the shifting fortunes of a Puerto Rican family after U.S. occupation in this intense, emotional saga. In 1889, 17-year-old Valentina Sanchez, head full of fantasies of Paris trips and grand romance, marries handsome coffee farmer Vicente Vega despite her family’s objections. She returns with him to his unwelcoming family in Utuado, where the vagaries of the coffee harvest delay their move from the isolated mountains. After three years, they move into a crudely built home, where happy times are overshadowed by the accidental death of their young daughter. When Vicente loses his farm in 1900 due to economic hardships following American occupation, the family leaves for Hawaii to work on sugar plantations. A series of tragedies and indignities ensues—the couple’s son drowns at sea on the way to the islands, and they’re greeted in Hawaii by squalid living conditions—before Vera ends the book on a slightly hopeful, if unresolved note, as the family bonds with other Puerto Rican families in Hawaii. Vera pieces together the epic tale with acute moments of crushing pain and disillusion overcome by the strong characters’ implacable resilience. The novel’s deeply felt mixture of the characters’ sorrow and joy offers a vibrant glimpse of the history of Puerto Ricans in Hawaii.”

Vera Kelly Is Not a Mystery by Rosalie Knecht

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Vera Kelly Is Not a Mystery: “Knecht’s excellent sequel to Who Is Vera Kelly? picks up with ex-CIA agent Vera in 1967 New York City, as she tries to solve a mystery in an era when only men are expected to do the job. Vera’s poetry professor girlfriend, Jane, announces she’s had enough of not feeling wanted, and leaves. Then Vera loses her editing job at a TV station after her boss finds out she’d been dating a woman. She decides to fall back on her old skills and becomes a private detective. When the Ibarra family asks Vera to find their nephew’s child, Félix, who was sent to New York from the Dominican Republic amid political unrest, Vera takes on the case. Meanwhile, Vera balances the emotional consequences of her breakup with a new love interest: the bartender at her favorite, oft-raided, bar. When Vera realizes the Ibarras aren’t who they say they are, her mission becomes a different one: find Félix and his real parents, reunite them, and throw the fake Ibarras off the scent. This leads her to the Dominican Republic, where the police mistake her for a spy. Knecht brilliantly captures Vera’s emotions, and shines with keen observations of the varied settings. This winning literary page-turner gives a strong sense of a smart, queer, and complex person navigating an unfriendly world.”

Animal Spirit by Francesca Marciano

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Animal Spirit: “Marciano’s sharp-eyed and effortlessly graceful collection (after Rules of the Wild), set largely in the author’s native Italy, explores the ways people’s animalistic instincts drive relationships. In ‘Terrible Things Could Happen to Us,’ wealthy family man Sandro falls in love with his yoga teacher, and Marciano’s lack of sentimentality keeps things taut until a devastating denouement, which leaves Sandro speechless, ‘like an actor who has forgotten his lines.’ In ‘The Girl,’ a middle-aged Hungarian tries to convince a young Italian woman to join the circus and help in his snake-charming act. The title story follows two couples sharing an island vacation house as their varying degrees of uncertainty about their futures coalesce around a midnight encounter with a sheep—or is it a poodle?—that may or may not need to be rescued. In ‘There Might Be Blood,’ Diana decamps to Rome to write her long-deferred novel. Rather than writing, she obsesses over seagulls, which plague the city and prevent her from enjoying her terrace near Piazza Navona. Diana decides to enlist Ivo, a falconer, whose birds, Queen and Darko, can hunt the gulls. In this story, and throughout the collection, Marciano skillfully uses her characters’ relationships with animals as metaphors to explore their humanity. Polished and compulsively readable, this is a real treat.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Lansky, Oates, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Sam Lansky, Joyce Carol Oates, and more—that are publishing this week.

Broken People by Sam Lansky

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Broken People: “Lansky follows his addiction memoir The Gilded Razor with a riveting novel about an L.A. writer named Sam who recently published a memoir about his drug and alcohol addiction. Sam, 28, and a friend plan to visit a shaman in Portland, Ore., on the strength of a testimonial that the shaman ‘fixes everything wrong with you in three days.’ With humor, verve, and cut-to-the-bone revelations, Lansky takes readers on an enthralling adventure as Sam reckons with his anxiety and discomfort with his body. Over three days in Portland, thanks to the shaman’s perspicacious insight, drumbeating, chanting, and careful administration of ayahuasca, Sam enters a mode of deep self-reflection. Lansky’s mesmerizing descriptions are unflinchingly raw as Sam examines his life choices, his self-obsession, and his mistreatment of men in his life, particularly Charles, his first real love. Lansky also offers a canny snapshot of modern gay life, with the specter of HIV hovering over intimate relationships. While Sam’s whining about his body occasionally grates, the author keeps the reader on his side with an endless supply of wit. Lansky’s tale of self-acceptance offers surprising depth.”

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Pizza Girl: “In Frazier’s playful and unflinching debut, a pregnant 18-year-old pizza delivery driver dreams of a new life. The unnamed narrator, overwhelmed by anxiety about her pregnancy and her family, wants out of the house she grew up in, where she lives with her mother and her boyfriend, Billy, in suburban L.A. Enter Jenny Hauser, a 39-year-old stay-at-home mother who orders a large with pepperoni and pickles for her fussy son. From the moment Jenny opens her door, the narrator nurses a dream of escaping with her (‘I wanted to take her hand and invite her to come with me whenever I ran away’). The narrator comes to befriend Jenny and learns she is unhappy in her marriage; thinking of how her dead father abused her mother, she assumes Jenny is abused as well. At home, the narrator turns cold toward Billy and her mother, and embraces her isolation the way her deceased abusive father once did, by turning to alcohol. Her frequent intoxication colors her view of her relationship with Jenny, whom she manages to kiss once and makes a valiant but dangerous and unnecessary effort to rescue. Frazier’s characters are raw and her dialogue startlingly observant (‘The environment can suck a dick—I’m driving my F-150 to work again,’ one regular tells her). This infectious evocation of a young woman’s slackerdom will appeal to fans of Halle Butler and Ottessa Moshfegh, and will make it difficult not to root for the troubled and spirited pizza girl.”

Outside the Lines by Ameera Patel

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Outside the Lines: “Set in contemporary Johannesburg, South Africa, playwright and actor Patel’s exceptional debut is told by five narrators of different races and religions, whose paths cross in unexpected ways. Cathleen Joseph, the sly, drug-addled teenage daughter of a once well-to-do family, enters the terrifying world of addiction; meanwhile, her ineffectual father, Frank, sinks deeper into depression. Flora, the Josephs’ maid, is attracted to handsome, silent housepainter Runyararo, and begins to reexamine the part she has played in the lives of her employers. Runyararo, who recently arrived from Zimbabwe and whose goal is to send money back home to his family, is on the lowest societal rung and an easy target for exploitation. Farhana, who’s the girlfriend of Flora’s son, Zee, and has ‘dimples deep enough to hide secrets,’ must find a way to reconcile her Muslim beliefs with a future made uncertain by her being pregnant with Zee’s child. One lie alters the lives of all of them, leading to a brutal, impulsive act of rage. Patel displays an exceptional ability to plumb the depths of her characters, each of whose points of view throws light on the realities of the other narrators. Rays of hope and gentle overtures to love lift this vibrant novel.”

Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. by Joyce Carol Oates

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars.: “Oates’s quintessential examination of grief (after Pursuit) draws on the closing lines of Walt Whitman’s ‘A Clear Midnight,’ which reverberate and reappear throughout this weighty chronicle of a family’s reckoning with the death of a father and husband. John Earle ‘Whitey’ McClaren, the 67-year-old ‘lynchpin’ of a Hudson, N.Y., family, and longtime mayor of a nearby town, is tased, beaten, and suffers a stroke after he intervenes during an incident of police brutality against Azim Murthy, a stranger to Whitey whom he registers as a ‘dark-skinned young man.’ Oates’s dispassionate description of the scene peels back the layers of fear and assumption that led the police to treat Azim and Whitey so brutally, retelling the events from Azim’s point of view. After Whitey dies, Jessalyn, his 61-year old widow, and their five squabbling children struggle to pick up the pieces. While Jessalyn casts about in semi-coherence—’stumbling through the illogic of a primitive philosopher just discovering quasi-paradoxes of being, existence, nothingness and the (limited) capacity of language to express these’—her children fear she is approaching a nervous breakdown. More concerning to them is the presence of Hugo Martinez, a mustachioed 59-year-old poet and their mother’s new suitor, who recites the Whitman poem during an awkward Thanksgiving dinner, and whom they fear will jeopardize their inheritance even as his presence has a life-affirming affect on their mother. With precise, authoritative prose that reads like an inquest written by a poet (‘death makes of all that is familiar, unfamiliar’), Oates keep the reader engaged throughout the sprawling narrative. This is a significant and admirable entry in the Oates canon.”

Also on shelves: The Clearing by Allison Adair.