Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Cathy Park Hong, Rachel Vorona Cote, Malcolm Harris, Colum McCann, 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.
Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Minor Feelings: “In this blistering essay collection, poet Hong (Engine Empire) interrogates America’s racial categories to explore the ‘under-reported’ Asian-American experience. Hong, a child of Korean immigrants, was born in Los Angeles’s Koreatown, but moved from the neighborhood before the 1992 riots upended the area. Her topics include personal experiences, from learning English as a second language and obsessing over her scented Hello Kitty–branded erasers as a child, to mining the repertoire of Richard Pryor as a young woman entering the stand-up scene. She is both angry and wryly funny when examining her struggles with depression, hemifacial spasm disorder, and poetry peers who dismissed her first book as ‘hack identity politics.’ Assessing perceptions of Asian-Americans as ‘next in line to be white,’ as one man tells her, she observes that in fact they have the ‘highest income disparity out of any racial group’ in the country. Her confrontational prose maintains a poet’s lyricism in ‘The End of White Innocence,’ which recalls a childhood ‘spent looking into the menagerie of white children.’ Combining cultural criticism and personal exploration, Hong constructs a trenchant examination of race in America.”
Too Much by Rachel Vorona Cote
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Too Much: “Cote, a former PhD candidate in Victorian literature at the University of Maryland, traces the ‘unspoken rules’ that govern the expression of women’s emotional and physical desires to 19th-century medicine and culture in this vigorous, wide-ranging debut. Noting that ‘hysteria’ was a widespread medical diagnosis given to Victorian women exhibiting all kinds of ‘inappropriate’ behavior, from sighing and sudden laughter to self-mutilation, Cote analyzes how writers including Elizabeth Gaskell, Christina Rossetti, and the Brontë sisters ‘contemplate[d] the circumstances of women in an age when emotion was so viciously policed and pathologized.’ In chapters devoted to mental health, infidelity, body image, ageism, and sexual desire, Cote confesses to her own ‘alluvion of feeling’ and relates personal experiences, including a suicide attempt and the end of her first marriage, to characters and plots in Victorian literature and figures from modern popular culture, including Britney Spears, Lana Del Rey, and ‘Stifler’s Mom’ in the movie American Pie. She conclusively shows that women have been ’emotionally trussed for centuries,’ and empowers her readers to embrace their ‘too muchness’ as an ‘agent of emotional integrity.’ Though Cote’s blend of memoir, criticism, and history sometimes feels unfocused and idiosyncratic, her overarching arguments are apt. Readers whose tastes run from George Eliot to Lorde will embrace the book’s feminist message.”
Apartment by Teddy Wayne
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Apartment: “Wayne’s subtle, fascinating novel (after Loner) is set in the world of an MFA creative writing program at Columbia in 1996. The anxious, unnamed narrator didn’t make any friends at New York University as an undergraduate, and considers it equally unlikely that he will find any among the ambitious, self-assured students in his current classes. He’s delighted when charismatic Midwestern scholarship student Billy defends the first story the narrator presents against the attacks of the class, and invites Billy, who has been living in the basement of the bar where he works, to share the two-bedroom apartment the narrator’s great-aunt has been allowing him to live in rent-free. Billy offers to clean the apartment and cook dinners in exchange for the room. At first, the narrator revels in the arrangement, but the balance of power between the two shifts gradually but irrevocably over the months that follow. The narrator, inclined to ‘airbrush out unpalatable blemishes here and there’ in his past and his emotional life, notices and then immediately represses things like the way ‘the thin ribbed cotton of his white tank top hugged [Billy’s] body like a second skin.’ Wayne keeps his attention firmly on the small details that define the evolving relationship as Billy loses interest in the narrator. Wayne excels at creating a narrator both observant of his surroundings and deluded about his own feelings. Underneath the straightforward story, readers will find a careful meditation on class and power.”
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Splendid and the Vile: “Larson (Dead Wake) delivers a propulsive, character-driven account of Winston Churchill’s first year as British prime minister (May 1940–May 1941), when the German air force launched ‘a full-on assault against the city of London’ in preparation for an invasion that never came. Larson’s profile subjects include Churchill’s 17-year-old daughter, Mary; his private secretary, John ‘Jock’ Colville, who kept a meticulous (and likely illegal, due to the national security secrets it revealed) diary; Nazi leader Rudolf Hess; and, to a lesser extent, ordinary Britons. Juxtaposing monumental developments, such as the Dunkirk evacuation, with intimate scenes, Larson notes that on the night Churchill learned French leaders wanted to make peace with Hitler, he raised his dinner guests’ spirits by passing out cigars, reading aloud telegrams of support from other countries, and ‘chant[ing] the refrain from a popular song.’ Larson highlights little-known but intriguing figures, including chief science adviser Frederick Lindemann, who made a multifaceted but unsuccessful case for why tea shouldn’t be rationed, and documents the carnage caused by German bombs, including the deaths of 34 people at the Café de Paris shortly before Mary Churchill was set to arrive at the club. While the story of Churchill’s premiership and the Blitz have been told in greater historical depth, they’ve rarely been rendered so vividly. Readers will rejoice.”
Apeirogon by Colum McCann
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Apeirogon: “National Book Award–winner McCann (Let the Great World Spin) bases this masterful novel on the lives of two real men working together toward Middle Eastern peace. Rami Elhanan, 67 on the single day of 2016 on which the main narrative takes place, is a graphic designer and Israeli military veteran. In September 1997, his 13-year-old daughter, Smadar, was killed in a Jerusalem suicide bombing. His need for revenge fades when he joins the Parents’ Circle, whose members, of many nationalities and religions, have all lost a child in the Israel/Palestine conflict. Nineteen years younger than Elhanan, Palestinian Bassam Aramin is jailed in 1985, at 17, for resisting the Israeli occupiers in Hebron, where he’s raised. During his imprisonment, writings by Gandhi, among others, and friendship with one of the Israeli guards convince him of the power of nonviolence. Released after seven years, he helps found Combatants for Peace, which brings Palestinian and Israeli fighters—among them Elhanan’s son, who introduces the two men—together for dialogue. The fatal 2005 shooting of Bassam’s 10-year-old daughter, Abir, by an Israeli border guard doesn’t shake his belief that Israelis and Palestinians share ‘an equity of pain’; he and Elhanan begin meeting daily, using their daughters’ stories to become international advocates for peace. The book’s title is a reference to a polygon with a countable but infinite number of sides, and McCann evokes the experience of its protagonists and their region through 1,001 brief numbered segments that incorporate sequences in the men’s own voices and interconnect topics including bullet manufacturing, Jorge Luis Borges, and birds. Balancing its dazzling intellectual breadth with moments of searing intimacy, this is a transformative vision of a historic conflict and a triumph of the novelist’s art.”
Also on shelves: Shit Is Fucked Up and Bullshit by Malcolm Harris.
Bonus Links from Our Archive:– Only the Lonely: The Millions Interviews Teddy Wayne— A Year in Reading: Teddy Wayne— A Review of ‘The Devil in the White City’ by Erik Larsen— Guns and Testosterone Rule the World: An Interview with Colum McCann— The Real and the Imagined: On Colum McCann’s ‘TransAtlantic’— A Year in Reading: Colum McCann
Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Cathy Park Hong, Rachel Vorona Cote, Malcolm Harris, Colum McCann, and more—that are publishing this week.
Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Anna Burns, Aravind Adiga, Brandon Taylor, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, William T. Vollmann, 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 sign up to be a member today.
Little Constructions by Anna Burns
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Little Constructions: “Belfast native Burns’s raucous, exacting modernist crime novel (after the Booker Prize–winning Milkman) skewers men’s incomprehension of women. After a young woman named Jetty Doe confounds a gun shop owner in a town known as Tiptoe Floorboard by snatching a Kalashnikov rifle and throwing a pile of money at him in pursuit of a crime of passion, shop owner Tom Spaders, already traumatized from being stabbed by teenagers in a mugging the year before, copes with the shock by blubbering to a friend about the woman’s apparent ignorance over the type of gun she’d wanted. The story then zigs and zags through a wild chronicle of the Doe crime syndicate and its core members’ immediate family, whose similar-sounding names—Jotty, John, Johnjoe, Janet, Janine, etc.—belie their complex, distinct identities (on Julie Doe: ‘This fifteen-year-old was older than her mother’s thirtysomething friend’). Burns’s narrator is a garrulous raconteur who drops in damning characterizations of men (‘Why couldn’t she be quiet and just listen and remain quiet even after she’d listened?,’ one wonders about his wife) while unspooling the freewheeling account of the Doe family’s occult superstitions, their quirky sensitivity to noises, and the bloody brouhaha that follows the arrest of several gang members. While the narrator’s digressive woolgathering will test some readers’ patience, the acerbic gender commentary tightens the slack. Burns’s fans will find much to chew on.”
Amnesty by Aravind Adiga
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Amnesty: “Adiga (The White Tiger) briskly captures an undocumented immigrant’s moral dilemma over whether to help the police solve a murder or remain under the radar in this engrossing tale. After leaving Sri Lanka to attend college in Sydney, Dhananjaya ‘Danny’ Rajaratnam quits school, loses his student visa, and fails to gain refugee status, but he stays in Australia out of fear for his safety back home, where he was misidentified as a Tamil terrorist. He sleeps in a grocery storeroom and earns cash cleaning homes and doing odd jobs. For four years he escapes notice by authorities; even his leftist Vietnamese girlfriend, Sonja, doesn’t know he’s in the country illegally. After one of his clients—Indian-born Radha Thomas—is murdered, Danny deduces that her murderer is her lover, a violent man nicknamed the Doctor. Danny knows Radha and the Doctor frequented the creek where Radha’s body was discovered, and that the Doctor owned a jacket resembling the one wrapped around the body. Adiga recounts Danny’s thoughts, memories, doubts, and hesitation as well as his aborted phone calls with police and ominous contacts with the Doctor, all within a single day. With nuance and vivid faced by a range of Asian Australians while highlighting the dangers faced by the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Adiga’s enthralling depiction of one immigrant’s tough situation humanizes a complex and controversial global dilemma.”
Real Life by Brandon Taylor
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Real Life: “Taylor’s intense, introspective debut tackles the complicated desires of a painfully introverted gay black graduate student over the course of a tumultuous weekend. Wallace, a biochemistry student from Alabama at an unnamed contemporary Midwestern university, discovers his experiment involving breeding nematodes ruined by contaminating mold. Though distraught and facing tedious work, he reluctantly meets up with friends from his program to celebrate the last weekend of summer. He discloses to them the recent death of his estranged father, who did not protect him from sexual abuse by a family friend as a child. Wallace is perpetually ill at ease with his white friends and labmates, especially surly Miller, who unexpectedly admits a sexual interest in Wallace. Over the following two days, Wallace and Miller awkwardly begin a secret, volatile sexual relationship with troubling violence between them at its margins. As Wallace begins to doubt his future as an academic and continues to have fraught social interactions, he reveals more about his heartbreaking past to Miller, building toward an unsettling, unresolved conclusion between the two men. Wallace’s inconsistent emotional states when he’s in Miller’s company can be jarring; the novel is at its best and most powerful when Wallace is alone and readers witness his interior solitude in the face of the racism and loneliness he endures. Taylor’s perceptive, challenging exploration of the many kinds of emotional costs will resonate with readers looking for complex characters and rich prose.”
Living Weapon by Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Living Weapon: “In his dazzling third collection, Phillips (Heaven) explores social ills while celebrating poetry’s ability to provide solace and sense during times of upheaval. Two prose poems anchor the book: the first, the standout of the collection, is ‘1776,’ in which Phillips imagines himself as a winged angel standing atop the Freedom Tower in New York City, observing the city below: ‘Lit streets run from it, electric arteries and veins. Manhattan’s never seemed so empty, so narrow, a pupil of a cat’s eye.’ Phillips imbues the book with the divisiveness and violence of the present moment: ‘We are all in prison./ This is the brutal lesson of the slouching century,// Swilled like a sour stone/ Through the vein of the beast.’ In ‘Mortality Ode,’ he narrates a scene in which several police officers enter a cellphone store and browse casually. Nothing dramatic occurs, but the simple presence of the officers conveys a tension born from the speaker’s subtle understanding that the police are a threat to his safety. In ‘Thoughts and Prayers,’ Phillips addresses the subject of gun violence directly, declaring that the refusal to take action to stop the epidemic is the real evil: ‘the end of endings; the death/ Of change.’ Phillips’s latest is lyrical, imaginative, and steeped in a keen understanding of current events.”
Home Making by Lee Matalone
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Home Making: “Rumpus columnist Matalone’s heady, lyrical debut overlays an adopted woman’s journey into motherhood with her daughter’s story of making a home for herself as an adult. Born in Tokyo to a Japanese mother and French father, Cybil is adopted by an American couple in Arizona in the 1950s and eventually has a daughter, Chloe, who, in the present, struggles to make a home out of a sprawling house she buys in Virginia while estranged from her husband, Pat, contrasting their old house with Le Corbusier’s aphorism, ‘A house is a machine for living in’ (‘machines break, become defunct’). In spare chapters, Mantalone moves back and forth in time to trace the shapes of Cybil’s and Chloe’s identities through their relationships to domestic spaces. As Chloe wanders from dining room to kitchen to closet in her new house, she ruminates on the varied meanings of home, reflecting on her childhood and contemplating a future with her best friend, Beau, a gay man who glibly encourages her, ‘As the great sculpture of pirouetting steel, Richard Serra, said, space is material.’ In measured prose, Matalone draws out connections between past and present to illuminate the mother and daughter’s shared sense of ambiguity toward motherhood. Matalone’s cool reflections on art and architecture will appeal to fans of Chris Kraus.”
The Lucky Star by William T. Vollmann
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Lucky Star: “Vollmann’s sprawling and provocatively playful novel revisits the sordid setting of his early collection The Rainbow Stories, where sexual desire shapes characters’ self-expression and pursuit of love, power, and human connection. A circle of friends is bonded by their relationship to a character named Neva, often referred to as ‘the lesbian.’ They meet at a San Francisco spot called the Y Bar in 2015, where they find support in their collective company and become a de facto family. Among them are the matriarch, a bartender named Francine; Shantelle, a transgender prostitute; the largely unnoticed hard-drinking barfly Richard, who provides florid narration; and the starry-eyed Frank, who has renamed himself after his icon, Judy Garland. Vollmann elaborately researched the tumultuous life of the real Garland, lending passion and credence to Richard’s extensive knowledge of the late singer. As Neva evolves from an innocent to an icon on par with Marlene Dietrich, at least in the eyes of the Y Bar circle, she guides and mentors their sexual self-discovery, helping define their boundaries and gain confidence. The Y Bar crowd’s otherwise static plotlines are tightened by the interweaving of their common experiences. Vollmann’s challenging novel is full of memorable moments.”
Also on shelves: Where You’re All Going by Joan Frank.
Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Jenny Offill, Douglas Stuart, Jeff Sharlet, Amber Sparks, Daniel M. Lavery, and more—that are publishing this week.
Weather by Jenny Offill
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Weather: “A librarian becomes increasingly obsessed with doomsday preparations in Offill’s excellently sardonic third novel (following Dept. of Speculation). Lizzie, a university librarian working in Brooklyn, already feels overwhelmed with guiding her son, Eli, through New York City’s crowded elementary school system without the extra strain of dealing with her addict brother’s constant crises. Mostly happily married to a computer game designer, Lizzie introduces anxiety into her marriage when she takes a second job answering emails for a former mentor who is now the host of a popular podcast about futurism. Fielding questions from both apocalypse truthers and preppers for the coming climate-induced ‘scarcity,’ Lizzie becomes convinced that doomsday is approaching. Her scattered, frenzied voice is studded with arresting flourishes, as when she describes releasing a fly: ‘Quiet in the cup. Hard to believe that isn’t joy, the way it flies away when I fling it out the window.’ Set against the backdrop of Lizzie’s trips to meditation classes, debates with a taxi driver, the 2016 presidential election, and constant attempts to avoid a haughty parent at Eli’s school, Lizzie’s apocalyptic worries are bittersweet, but also always wry and wise. Offill offers an acerbic observer with a wide-ranging mind in this marvelous novel.”
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Shuggie Bain: “Stuart’s harrowing debut follows a family ravaged by addiction in Glasgow during the Thatcher era. Agnes Bain yearns to move Shug, her taxi-driving, ‘selfish animal’ of a second husband, and three children out of the tiny apartment they share with her parents in Glasgow in 1981. Shug secures them a council flat, but when they arrive he leaves them in a flurry of violence, blaming Agnes’s drinking. While Agnes’s daughter, Catherine, escapes the misery of Agnes’s alcoholism and the family’s extreme poverty by finding a husband, and her older son, Leek, retreats into making art, Hugh (nicknamed ‘Shuggie’ after his absent father) assumes responsibility for Agnes’s safety and happiness. As the years pass, Shuggie suffers cruelty over his effeminate personality and endures sexual violence. He eventually accepts that he’s gay; meanwhile, Agnes finds some hope by entering A.A., landing a job, and dating another taxi driver named Eugene, but she later backslides. As Shuggie and his mother attempt to improve their lives, they are bound not just by one another but also to the U.K.’s dire economic conditions. While the languid pace could have benefited from condensing, there are flashes of deep feeling that cut through the darkness. This bleak if overlong book will resonate with readers.”
This Brilliant Darkness by Jeff Sharlet
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about This Brilliant Darkness: “Lives lived in shadows and corners are lit up in these offbeat photo-journalistic essays. Journalist and Dartmouth writing professor Sharlet (The Family) roams several continents, snapping smartphone photos he posts on Instagram and talking to people: night-shift workers at a Dunkin Donuts in Vermont; a far-right gun fanatic in Schenectady, N.Y.; a Ugandan clergyman who’s terrified of a witch’s curse; brother-sister street-junkies in Dublin, Ireland. Most of the pieces are short, evanescent essays, but Sharlet includes longer pieces, including a profile of a homeless African immigrant on L.A.’s Skid Row who was shot to death, unarmed, by police, and a sketch of a mentally fragile New England woman struggling to control her life, her only friend a potted plant named Bandit. Sharlet’s haunting photos accompany clipped, pointilist, but expressive prose that evokes character and tragedy: a New Hampshire arsonist ‘told the police (there were things he wanted them to know) that he used the flag to burn the church, that he tried to burn the children, that he did what he did—and, if they let him go, would do more—because he was angry with God.’ The result is a triumph of visual and written storytelling, both evocative and moving.”
And I Do Not Forgive You by Amber Sparks
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about And I Do Not Forgive You: “Sparks (The Unfinished World) impresses with her exceptional collection of wry, feminist stories. ‘A Place for Hiding Precious Things’ is an incendiary retelling of the fairy tale ‘Donkeyskin’ that features a young princess’s escape into contemporary Manhattan from her father’s incestuous desires. A high school girl with a pitch-perfect teen voice lives with her dysfunctional family in a trailer park in ‘Everyone’s a Winner in Meadow Park’ and is bored with the ‘weird pioneer girl’ that haunts her until the ghost proves herself useful with homework and warding off sexual advances. Climate change and societal collapse set the stage for a woman’s ex-husband’s transformation into a religious despot who builds a giant tower in ‘We Destroy the Moon.’ Some stories smuggle incredible emotional impact into surprisingly few pages, including the haunting, unexplained severing of a friendship in ‘Mildly Unhappy with Moments of Joy’ and a queen who attempts to outrace a rapidly approaching future through a strange form of time-travel in ‘Is the Future a Nice Place for Girls.’ The time management–obsessed father in ‘The Eyes of Saint Lucy’ foists his mistress’s baby on his wife and daughter, leading to a chilling, macabre twist. Sparks’s sardonic wit never distracts from her polished dismantling of everyday and extraordinary abuses. Readers will love this remarkable, deliciously caustic collection.”
Untamed Shore by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Untamed Shore: “Fantasy author Moreno-Garcia (Gods of Jade and Shadow) ventures into thriller territory with mixed success in this noir set in 1979 Baja California. Life for 18-year-old Viridiana in the ‘nothing at all’ town of Desengaño has been full of dull, senseless duty that she yearns to escape. When wealthy American Ambrose Allerton—an older man who’s renting a house with his trophy wife, Daisy, and her handsome brother, Gregory—offers Viridiana a summer job to be his secretary, she gladly accepts. But her good fortune doesn’t last. After a drunken Ambrose takes a fatal fall down some stairs, suspicion falls on Daisy and Gregory. After agreeing to lie on their behalf, Viridiana becomes a suspect in Ambrose’s murder. Fueled by her thirst for exotic adventure, she begins a highly charged affair with Gregory, but sordid reality soon catches up with her. Moreno-Garcia’s unsparing delineation of a ferocious land compensates in part for Viridiana’s somewhat unconvincing dreams of Hollywood romance. Fans of the author’s fantasy novels may want to take a pass.”
Something That May Shock and Discredit You by Daniel M. Lavery
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Something That May Shock and Discredit You: “Slate advice columnist Lavery (Texts from Jane Eyre) brings the full force of his wit and literary depth to this genre-bending essay collection. Describing it as ‘memoir-adjacent,’ Lavery intersperses searingly honest passages about his journey as a transgender man with laugh-out-loud funny literary pastiche. In ‘Lord Byron Has a Birthday and Takes His Leave,’ the poet histrionically threatens to die gloriously in Greece to avoid reaching the mortifying age of 40. Sir Gawain tries to escape the sexual hijinks cooked up by Lady Bertilak and the Green Knight in ‘Sir Gawain Just Wants to Leave Castle Make-Out.’ Amid the literary fun, Lavery reflects upon gender identity. Finding the national conversation about transgender people too child-centric—he only realized he was one at age 30—Lavery instead returned to the scriptures of his youth to find himself in ‘stories of transformation… already familiar’ to him. In the most moving chapter, he drops the artifice of humor and lays bare his anguish at severing his relationship with his mother as her daughter, with the two finding solace in the story of Jacob and Esau—two brothers who make peace but not before Jacob changes his name, and thus identity, to Israel. Lavery provides an often hilarious, sometimes discomfiting, but invariably honest account of one man’s becoming.”
Also on shelves this week: The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams.
Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Gish Jen, Lidia Yuknavitch, Poupeh Missaghi, Emily Nemens, and more—that are publishing this week.
The Resisters by Gish Jen
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Resisters: ” A prodigious young athlete fights the oppression and poverty of her social class in this shrewd and provocative near-future novel from Jen (World and Town). In AutoAmerica, the Netted rule over an underclass called the Surplus, who receive Basic Income but aren’t allowed to work and are denied basic human rights. Seventeen-year-old Gwen, a member of the Surplus and a star player in the Underground Baseball League, is tired of her oppressive life and wants to rise to the Netted class. She gets her chance when the Netted recruit her to help beat ChinRussia. Gwen faces a crisis of conscience as she looks back on those she would leave behind, including her friend Ondi, once banished for a month for sharing forbidden content on the internet, and her father, Grant (also the narrator), who intersperses anecdotes of brutal punishments faced by fellow members of their rank throughout. By placing the narration in Grant’s measured, ironic voice, Jen shows how the Netted accomplished their subtle, Huxleyian takeover through bigotry and technology. While some of Jen’s fans might miss the overt humor of her previous work, her intelligence and control shine through in a chilling portrait of the casual acceptance of totalitarianism.”
Verge by Lidia Yuknavitch
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Verge: “In this brilliant collection, Yuknavitch (The Book of Joan) chronicles people outside society’s margins. In ‘Cusp,’ a teenager in rural Texas comes of age while acting as a drug mule at a prison. ‘The Organ Runner’ follows a young girl as she works to ferry kidneys for illegal backroom transplants, while ‘Second Language’ deals with sex trafficking in Portland, Ore. In ‘A Woman Refusing,’ a frustrated ex-husband refuses to aid his former spouse, who stands nude atop a high-rise, threatening to jump. The incest-tinged ‘Second Coming’ describes an at-home artificial insemination involving a sexually naive woman and her married sister. In ‘Mechanics,’ a woman flirts with a potential new lover while working under the hood of her car. The stories are consistently incisive, with sharp sentences and a barreling pace. The subject matter is pretty dark stuff, but Yuknavitch does offer an occasional ray of hope or rallying cry of resilience for her characters trapped by addiction, forced sex work, or bad marriages. This riveting collection invites readers to see women whose points of view are typically ignored.”
trans(re)lating house 1 by Poupeh Missaghi
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about trans(re)lating house 1: “Missaghi’s lyrical, meditative debut merges fiction, poetry, and critical study to explore Iran’s history and volatile present. An unnamed woman catalogues the statues of figures from the Persian Constitutional Revolution that are steadily disappearing from Tehran, reflecting on what their absence says about the enduring value of sacrifice for the greater good. After encountering a mysterious woman who slips her a note reading ‘Keep looking for the bodies,’ the protagonist begins writing annotations of the protesters who died in the aftermath of the 2009 election. As her archive grows, the narrator’s project hinges on two questions: ‘How does death define the experience of life?’ and ‘How to translate loss into language?’ Between entries, readers glimpse the public lives of women in teahouses, art galleries, and city buses, and enter into a rich dream world that ‘gains materiality’ through the protagonist’s methodical documentation. Missaghi mines a range of literary sources, quoting from Claire Lispector and Sigmund Freud, and notes formal inspiration from Roberto Bolaño’s harrowing description of missing and murdered women in 2666, though the result is less a novel than a bravura exhibition of writing as performance art. This will appeal to fans of mixed-genre experiments, such as works by Lyn Hejinian and Anne Carson.”
Everywhere You Don’t Belong by Gabriel Bump
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Everywhere You Don’t Belong: “Bump’s astute and touching debut follows young Claude McKay Love, a black child learning to navigate contemporary Chicago’s South Side after his parents’ acrimonious split. Raised by his strong-willed, foul-mouthed Grandma and her best friend, a gay man named Paul, the duo are honest with Claude about his absent parents and needing to make his own way in life. As a teenager, Claude is advised by his grandma to stay far away from the Redbelters, a gang, telling him the members will never get further than the corner they’re standing on. As the Redbelters gain notoriety, Grandma attempts to organize their neighbors to stand up to them, but to no avail: the neighborhood erupts in a standoff between gangs and police, forever transformed by shootings, destruction, and terror. Along with Grandma and Paul, Claude and his close friend Janice try to rebuild their lives after the violence without falling victim to despair. Hoping to leave his broken hometown behind, Claude heads to Missouri for college, where he discovers there’s no way to outrun the past. Bump balances his heavy subject matter with a healthy dose of humor, but the highlight is Claude, a complex, fully developed protagonist who anchors everything. Readers will be moved in following his path to young adulthood.”
The Cactus League by Emily Nemens
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Cactus League: “In Nemens’s insightful debut, it’s 2011 and players of the L.A. Lions professional baseball team are reporting for spring training at their new facility, Salt River Fields, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Under a hot Southwestern sun, a sportswriter waits to interview the team’s golden boy, left fielder Jason Goodyear, whose handsome façade belies some unsavory secrets. Readers see Jason glancingly from eight different points of view: a put-upon batting coach whose mantra is ‘what would Joe DiMaggio do?’; a baseball groupie who sets her sights on him; a sports agent forced to cover up his client’s misdeeds to protect a Nike contract; the team owner with his own façade to maintain; a pitcher desperately trying to hide a painful elbow injury; the organist at the field where the Lions play; the seven-year-old son of a drug-addicted single mother who runs one of the concessions at the field; and Jason’s ex-wife, who finds herself reduced in the pecking order with the other players’ wives. Largely plotless, the book is a vivid collection of stories, as each character is brought to life in convincing detail, though the sportswriter’s interstitial musings can be intrusive. Still, this debut entertainingly illuminates people and problems usually overlooked in the sports pages.”
The Lost Book of Adana Moreau by Michael Zapata
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Lost Book of Adana Moreau: “In Zapata’s stirring debut, a man’s efforts to fulfill his grandfather’s last wishes leads him into the horror of post-Katrina New Orleans. On the eve of the Great Depression, Dominican expat novelist Adana Moreau finishes then destroys the sequel to her masterwork, Lost City. After her death, Adana’s 10 year-old, mixed-race son, Maxwell, is alone and adrift in New Orleans. A generation later in Chicago, Saul Drower discovers an unpublished manuscript in a box that his late grandfather requested be sent to now-renowned physicist Maxwell Moreau. Saul’s efforts to locate the elusive academic lead him to New Orleans just as Hurricane Katrina makes landfall. Joined by his childhood friend, Saul dives deep into the flooded city. Zapata expertly jumps between the story of Maxwell ’s youth and Saul’s attempt to return his manuscript. Histories collide as Saul navigates the storm-battered city in search of Maxwell and the prophetic words of Adana become realized. Zapata expertly blends the drama of the lost manuscript with the on-the-ground chaos and tumult caused by the storm. Digging into themes of regeneration and rejuvenation, Zapata’s marriage of speculative and realist styles makes for a harrowing, immersive tale that will appeal to fans of Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones.”
Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Paul Yoon, Nicole Flattery, Carole Saavedra, Charles Yu, and more—that are publishing this week.
Run Me to Earth by Paul Yoon
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Run Me to Earth: “Yoon (The Mountain) asks whether anyone can truly survive the ruins of war in this sparely written gem. In 1969, inhabitants of war-ravaged Laos struggle with political conflicts and a landscape in which civilians regularly cope with the ugly consequences of accidentally setting off unexploded ordnance. Three homeless teenagers—Alisak and brother and sister Prany and Noi, all friends since childhood—are recruited to work for a makeshift hospital set up in an abandoned mansion. The three navigate dangerous terrain on motorbikes to deliver supplies, and bond with Vang, the French doctor in charge. When the day comes to evacuate, the four are separated. Yoon masterfully weaves their divergent story lines, unveiling the different trajectories of their lives. While Alisak manages a bicycle and moped shop in the Spanish countryside, Vang and Prany are imprisoned and tortured for seven years and later plot revenge on their tormentors. Yoon’s eloquent, sensitive character study of Alisak, who deeply misses his friends well into his 60s, illustrates how the horrors of the past can linger, no matter how far one travels from the source. This is a finely wrought tale about courage and endurance.”
Show Them a Good Time by Nicole Flattery
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Show Them a Good Time: “Disenchanted characters maneuver through difficult settings in Flattery’s surreal and offbeat debut collection. Though diverse in content, the stories come together through their dystopian elements and comparably cynical protagonists. In ‘Sweet Talk,’ a young teen falls for her father’s employee against the backdrop of a series of mysterious disappearances of multiple women in her hometown. In ‘Track,’ the girlfriend of a has-been comedian withstands neglect and abuse from him while secretly contributing to his downfall through an internet forum. The title story tells of a former adult film actress who confronts workplace politics at her new job as a gas station attendant. A woman navigates dating during the apocalypse and finds it to be equally as disappointing in ‘Not the End Yet.’ In ‘Abortion, a Love Story,’ two college misfits unite to produce a stage play that questions the expectations forced upon them as adults. A seamless blend of reality and the surreal, Flattery’s stories defy genre in an affecting yet unobtrusive manner. Readers should expect to be equal parts intrigued and unsettled.”
Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Children of the Land: “Poet Castillo (Cenzontle) opens this impressionistic memoir of growing up as an undocumented immigrant with a gripping flashback to when Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided the then-teen’s family home in Marysville, Calif. ‘We never opened our door or windows again,’ he writes, even though it was Castillo’s father, long-since deported, the agents sought. Moving forward to 2014, a provision of the ‘Dreamers’ program allowed the 25-year-old Castillo and his wife, Rubi, to return to Tepechitlán, Mexico, for a bittersweet visit with his father, who was still hoping to return to the U.S. During the roller-coaster ride of the next two years, Castillo received his American visa, but his father failed to return north (‘We were still trying to cross, still moving in maddening helplessness, a revolving door without an exit’), and his mother moved back to Tepechitlán to be with her husband. Throughout, Castillo examines other borders and boundaries in his life, including being bisexual and bilingual. Additionally, he writes of the difficulties reconciling his professional achievements as a creative writing teacher with his family’s struggles (‘That was my new job, to read and write… and I didn’t think I deserved that kind of comfort’). Castillo writes with disturbing candor, depicting the all-too-common plight of undocumented immigrants to the U.S.”
Blue Flowers by Carola Saavedra (translated by Daniel Hahn)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Blue Flowers: “Saavedra’s captivating novel tells the stories of Marcos, a recently divorced man settling into a new apartment, and A., a mysterious woman recollecting a failed affair. Their narratives cross paths when Marcos receives a letter written by A. that is meant for his apartment’s previous tenant, who was also A.’s former lover. For nine straight days, additional envelopes from A. appear in Marcos’s mailbox, and each letter digs deeper into A.’s troubled romance. Marcos, himself feeling distant from his ex-wife, his young daughter, his work, and his social circle, reads each letter with a growing fascination. After considering hunting for A.’s intended recipient, he instead frequents shops mentioned by A., and as his obsession with her blooms, he shuts out all responsibilities and takes to searching for the anonymous writer. In chapters alternating between letters and Marcos’s reactions, Saavedra steadily unveils the darkness permeating the lives of her protagonists, and in doing so creates a literary psychological thriller that questions what is real and what is imagined. This tale of desire and yearning is impossible to put down.”
Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Isabel Allende, Danez Smith, Emma Copley Eisenberg, Jeanine Cummins, Kyle Chayka, and more—that are publishing this week.
A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Long Petal of the Sea: “Spanning from 1938 to 1994, this majestic novel from Allende (In the Midst of Winter) focuses on Victor Dalmau, a 23-year-old medical student fighting in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side when the novel opens. After Nationalist forces prevail, Victor and thousands of other Republican sympathizers flee Spain to avoid brutal reprisals. In France, he searches the packed refugee camps for Roser Bruguera, who is pregnant with his brother Guillem’s child. Once he finds Roser, he breaks the news that Guillem has died in battle and that he has won a place on the Winnipeg, a ship that the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda has organized to transport Spanish refugees from Europe, where WWII is breaking out, to safety in Chile. Allowed to bring only family with him, Victor persuades Roser to marry him in name only. Though Victor has a brief, secret affair with well-off Ofelia del Solar, he begins to fall in love with Roser; they raise Roser’s son, Marcel, together and build stable lives, he as a cardiologist and she as a widely respected musician. But when the Pinochet dictatorship unseats Chile’s Marxist president in 1973, they find themselves once more endangered by their political views. Allende’s assured prose vividly evokes her fictional characters, historical figures like Neruda, and decades of complex international history; her imagery makes the suffering of war and displacement palpable yet also does justice to human strength, hope and rebirth. Seamlessly juxtaposing exile with homecoming, otherness with belonging, and tyranny with freedom, the novel feels both timeless and perfectly timed for today.”
Homie by Danez Smith
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Homie: “Smith (Don’t Call Us Dead) presents an electrifying, unabashedly queer ode to friendship and community in their exuberant and mournful second collection. Smith alternates colloquial and lofty language, often within the same poem, and eschews most punctuation and grammatical strictures. In ‘ode to gold teeth,’ the poet writes of their grandfather, ‘gold gate of grandpa’s holler/ midas touch his blue hum/ honeymetal perfuming prayers,’ later referring to him as the ‘OG of the gin sermon & front-porch pulpit.’ These poems are a celebration of black culture and experience, and a condemnation of white supremacy and its effect; in ‘dogs!,’ Smith excoriates racist dehumanization: ‘i too been called boy & expected/ to come, heel.’ In ‘sometimes i wish i felt the side effects,’ Smith explores conflicting feelings related to an HIV diagnosis—simultaneous devastation and relief (‘it felt like i got it out the way, to finally know it’), acceptance, and shame (‘i braved the stupidest ocean. a man. i waded in his stupid waters’). The collection’s final poem, ‘acknowledgments,’ is a beautiful love poem to a best friend, one that is as heartfelt as it is quotable: ‘if luck calls your name, we split the pot/ & if you wither, surely i rot.’ Smith is a visionary polyglot with a fearless voice.”
The Third Rainbow Girl by Emma Copley Eisenberg
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Third Rainbow Girl: “In June 1980, 26-year-old Vicki Durian and 19-year-old Nancy Santomero were hitchhiking through rural West Virginia, heading to a festival called the Rainbow Gathering. They never made it. The story of their shooting murders, and the hunt for the killer, consumed the citizens of Pocahontas County for decades, as journalist Eisenberg reveals in this gripping account, her first book. She spent five years researching the crime and blends the case facts with a memoir of her time living in the area, playing bluegrass and drinking bourbon with men who were connected to the Rainbow Gathering. Part self-discovery and part crime and courtroom drama, the narrative follows two possible theories. Jacob Beard, a local farmer, was arrested 13 years after Durian and Santomero’s deaths and was convicted of their murders, though witness statements were shaky and there was no physical evidence. But as Eisenberg notes, white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin, a convicted serial killer, made a jailhouse confession before Beard’s 1993 trial that he killed the young women, but the prosecutors dismissed it. The author herself thinks it was bogus. Not until 2000 did Beard get a second trial, at which he was acquitted, yet the community may never know the truth. This is essential reading for true crime fans.”
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about American Dirt: “With this devastating yet hopeful work, Cummins (The Crooked Branch) breathes life into the statistics of the thousands fleeing their homelands and seeking to cross the southern border of the United States. By mere chance, Lydia Quixano Pérez and her eight-year-old son, Luca, survive the massacre of the rest of her family at her niece’s quinceañera by sicarios of the Los Jardineros cartel in Acapulco. Compounding the horror of the violence and loss is the fact that the cartel’s leader is a man that Lydia unwittingly befriended in her bookstore. Lydia and Luca flee north to the only refuge that she can imagine: her uncle’s family in Denver. North of Mexico City, all other sources of transportation become impossible, so mother and son must risk traveling atop La Bestia, the freight trains that are the only way to reach the border without being seen. They befriend two beautiful sisters—Soledad, 15, who is ‘a living miracle of splendor,’ and Rebeca, 14—who have fled life-threatening circumstances in Honduras. As the quartet travel, they face terror on a constant basis, with danger possible from any encounter, but also compassion and occasionally even wonder. This extraordinary novel about unbreakable determination will move the reader to the core.”
Heart of Junk by Luke Geddes
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Heart of Junk: “Geddes’s rambunctious, oddly touching debut homes in on the denizens of a massive Kansas antique mall. The small-scale purveyors of what the less sensitive would call junk are pinning their hopes on the arrival of the production crew for the TV show Pickin’ Fortunes. Unfortunately, the hosts of the show are leery to come to a town where a little girl, beauty pageant star Lindy Bobo, has disappeared, possibly kidnapped. So mall owner Keith, on the brink of bankruptcy, enlists the rest of the troupe to find her, unaware that one of his sellers knows more than he’s saying about Lindy’s whereabouts. Geddes assembles an irresistible cast of self-deluded characters. This includes uptight Margaret, a stickler for the rules and desperate to repress her attraction to a fellow seller; hapless Ronald, too friendly for his own good; high-strung Delores, ‘dizzied by all the voices’ of the Barbies who keep her company; and Seymour, a big-city vinyl album aficionado hauled to the sticks by his partner Lee. Geddes walks an edgy tightrope with some of the material, particularly the Lindy story, but his antic comic touch saves the novel from sinking into darkness, and he offers even his most misguided characters the opportunity to bumble towards redemption. This one’s a quirky treat for fans of flyover state humor.”
The Majesties by Tiffany Tsao
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Majesties: “Tsao (The Oddfits) cannily pulls back the gilded surface from a wealthy Indonesian family, revealing a rotten core. The novel opens in the aftermath of an extravagant birthday party for the Sulinado family patriarch, during which a young woman, Estella, has poisoned her entire extended family. The only survivor, Estella’s sister Gwendolyn, narrates the events leading up to the mass murder from her hospital bed, where she lies in a comatose state. These include the disastrous devolution of Estella’s brief marriage, as well as the sisters’ recent attempts to reconnect in the U.S. with a fun-loving aunt whom they had believed, until recently, to be dead. The sisters share a close bond, though each successive revelation about how their morally corrupt family intervened in these personal affairs drives a wedge further between them. The plot takes a while to hit its stride, but once it does, the narrative unfolds in a manner that’s both suspenseful and creepily claustrophobic. The novel also prompts readers to consider the cultural relativism of stereotypes, contrasting outsider perceptions of those with Chinese heritage in both Indonesia and the U.S. Tsao depicts a family whose fabulous wealth and privilege not only blind them to the needs of others but also engender cruelty and self-destruction. This is a bold and dramatic portrayal of characters on the cusp of an impossible choice between complicit self-preservation and total annihilation.”
Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Anna Wiener, Garth Greenwell, Meng Jin, Zora Neale Hurston, and more—that are publishing this week.
Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Uncanny Valley: “Technology journalist Wiener looks at Silicon Valley life in this insider-y debut memoir that sharply critiques start-up culture and the tech industry. In 2013, Wiener left an assistant job at a New York literary agency to work for an e-book start-up run by young men who were uninterested in reading books. That job led to a move to San Francisco, where she worked in customer support at a data analytics start-up, then at a start-up that focused on software development. Wiener humorously describes the employee perks at the office (‘a miniature theme park’ with a wraparound bar, a roof deck, a speakeasy), though she decided to primarily work from home ‘in sagging leggings.’ Wiener writes of how she struggled to be taken seriously in a male-dominated industry that lacked diversity; attended lavish work events—at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Lake Tahoe—while San Francisco’s homeless population increased; communicated with coworkers using just emoji; and watched 20-somethings get rich overnight. She eventually became disillusioned with her job (‘I was burning out and failing up’) and left in 2018 to pursue writing, but not before buying up her vested stock options. Wiener is an entertaining writer, and those interested in a behind-the-scenes look at life in Silicon Valley will want to take a look.”
Cleanness by Garth Greenwell
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Cleanness: “A young American teacher’s reckonings with intimacy and alienation compose the through line of Greenwell’s elegant and melancholy volume (after What Belongs to You). Nine stories track the unnamed narrator, who teaches literature in Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia. Documenting the narrator’s relationship with R., a Portuguese university student, and its dissolution, the stories are touchstones in his emotional development, from an attempt to shepherd a student through the crisis of first love in ‘Mentor,’ to an encounter with homophobia in the midst of an outpouring of national solidarity in ‘Decent People.’ As the teacher’s hopes of a life with R. fade, he returns to sex with men he meets online, which proves both dangerous, as in the chilling ‘Gospodar,’ and revelatory, as in his encounter with the self-abnegation of the young man he calls Svetcheto, ‘Little Saint.’ Unresolved regarding his own character, ‘how little sense of myself I have, how there was no end to what I could want or to the punishment I would seek,’ the narrator struggles to guide the young people he teaches, conscious of the chasm of experience and expectation between them. Greenwell writes about sex as a mercurial series of emotional states and is lyrical and precise in his descriptions of desires and motivations he suggests are not subject to control or understanding. This is a piercingly observant and meticulously reflective narrative.”
Little Gods by Meng Jin
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Little Gods: “Jin’s stunning debut follows 17-year-old Liya on her journey to China with the ashes of her recently deceased mother, a mysterious and mercurial woman whom Liya both loved and resented. Su Lan, her mother, was a former physicist from China who died in America, where she had lived and worked for nearly two decades. Intertwined with Liya’s grief-stricken quest is the voice of Zhu Wen, Su Lan’s former neighbor in Shanghai, whose memory of Su Lan as a beautiful, charismatic, and fiercely brilliant physics student in a happy marriage to a handsome doctor does not square with the woman Liya knows. The third narrative strand belongs to Yongzong, Su Lan’s husband and Liya’s father, who has long lost touch with Su Lan and has never known Liya. Liya arrives in China with only her mother’s last known address, in Shanghai, where Su Lan had once lived with Yongzong. On first meeting Zhu Wen there, Liya realizes just how little she knew about her mother. Liya then visits the small mountain village where her mother was raised, and goes to Beijing, where she finds out what happened during the night of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, when she was born and Su Lan began to transform from a promising young student to a living ghost. Artfully composed and emotionally searing, Jin’s debut about lost girls, bottomless ambition, and the myriad ways family members can hurt and betray one another is gripping from beginning to end. This is a beautiful, intensely moving debut.”
We Wish You Luck by Caroline Zancan
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about We Wish You Luck: “Zancan’s inventive, addictive second novel (after Local Girls) follows the bonds, ambitions, and betrayals within a group of aspiring writers at a low-residency MFA program. The book is narrated as a collective ‘we’ by the students at competitive Fielding College, but the story focuses on three particular students: Leslie, a spitfire who wants to write erotica and make money; Hannah, who attracts Leslie’s attention after she submits in workshop a short story about a young woman who has lost her mother; and Jimmy, a talented poet whose mysterious background is a source of gossip in the program. Also at Fielding is their teacher, Simone, a new faculty member and former model with a bestselling debut novel under her belt. Zancan spends much of the first act wittily conveying the unique textures of a writing program, and convincingly shows the closeness that develops between Leslie, Hannah, and Jimmy. But when Jimmy experiences a devastating critique of his poems in a workshop led by Simone, the dark turns of the story are set into motion. Zancan excels at portraying the claustrophobia and competitiveness that can arise when someone is near others who share the same goals. This ambitious novel about love and revenge reads like a thriller, while asking probing questions about what it means to make art and how artists influence each other, for better or worse.”
Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick by Zora Neale Hurston
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: “This arresting collection from Hurston (Barracoon) includes eight previously unpublished works, mostly set in or featuring characters from her hometown of Eatonville, Fla. Many of the stories draw on folklore and mythology to dramatize conflicts around gender, class, and migration. In ‘John Redding Goes to Sea,’ a young boy named John dreams of leaving his small Florida town and continues to dream of leaving after he’s grown up. Delayed at first by his mother, who neither understands nor approves of her son’s wanderlust, and then his wife, John finally gets an opportunity, undaunted by a portentous, impending storm. In ‘Magnolia Flower,’ a young couple’s stealing of time together away from the woman’s overbearing, abusive father is framed as a bedtime story shared by an anthropomorphic river to a splashing brook after it disrupts the river’s slumber (‘ ‘Oh, well,’ the river muttered, ‘I am wide awake now, and I suppose brooks must be humored’’). Hurston ingeniously uses the cadence of her characters’ speech to denote regionalism and class—there’s a marked difference between how her Eatonville characters speak and how her Harlem characters speak. Arranged chronologically, the collection offers an illuminating and delightful study of a canonical writer finding her rhythm.”
Also on shelves this week: Track Changes by Sayed Kashua.
Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Miranda Popkey, Robert Hass, Kiley Reid, Chuck Palahniuk, and more—that are publishing this week.
Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Topics of Conversation: “The women in Popkey’s astute debut bristle with wanting. Readers meet the unnamed narrator in Italy, ‘twenty-one and daffy with sensation,’ where she is working as a nanny for a well-off friend’s younger brothers while her friend leaves her behind in favor of Greek tourists she’s met on the beach. In her third week, she has a late-night conversation with her friend’s mother, Artemisia, an Argentinean psychoanalyst, about their paralleled romantic histories with much older men, both their former professors. These conversations about power, responsibility, and desire, often as they manifest in relationships with men, provide the backbone for the subsequent sections of the novel, which follow the narrator through breakups with friends, with lovers, and motherhood. As the years progress, the narrator’s hyperawareness and cheeky playfulness when it comes to her narrative as something she owns, grows as well. At a new moms meetup in Fresno 14 years after that night in Italy, the narrator asks the rest of the moms to share ‘how we got here.’ The story she herself shares is an echo of the one she told Artemisia, but better, the details burnished and editorialized. Popkey’s prose is overly controlled, but this is nonetheless a searing and cleverly constructed novel and a fine indication of what’s to come from this promising author.”
Summer Snow by Robert Hass
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Summer Snow: “In this ruminative, endlessly clever book, Pulitzer Prize–winner Hass (The Apple Trees at Olema) turns his eye toward nature, love, and even drone strikes, as, when chronicling a visit to a Las Vegas Air Force base for a protest, he juxtaposes the specter of commerce at a nearby casino with headlines detailing drone-related deaths in the Middle East. Though death may be the prevailing theme, these poems are far from dirges, as images of his Northern California environs shimmer with life: ‘you can almost hear the earth sigh/ As it sucks up the rain.’ Hass experiments with form, vacillating between long and short lines, stanzas and long unbroken blocks of verse. His language is lofty but accessible, as in ‘The Archaeology of Plenty,’ a loose, associative riff about finding meaning in a callous and capricious world, in which the poet argues for poetry as a cure for existential dread: ‘reach into your heavy waking,/ The metaphysical nausea that being in your life,/ With its bearing and its strife, its stiffs,/ Its stuff, seems to have produced in you,/ Reduced you to, and make something with a pleasing,/ Or teasing, ring to it.’ Hass is a rarity, a poet’s poet and a reader’s poet who, with this newest endeavor, bestows a precious gift to his audience.”
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Such a Fun Age: “In her debut, Reid crafts a nuanced portrait of a young black woman struggling to define herself apart from the white people in her life who are all too ready to speak and act on her behalf. Emira Tucker knows that the one thing she’s unequivocally good at is taking care of children, specifically the two young daughters, Briar and Catherine, of her part-time employer, Alix Chamberlain. However, about to turn 26 and lose her parents’ health insurance, and while watching her friends snatch up serious boyfriends and enviable promotions, Temple grad Emira starts to feel ashamed about ‘still’ babysitting. This humiliation is stoked after she’s harassed by security personnel at an upscale Philadelphia grocery store where she’d taken three-year-old Briar. Emira later develops a romantic relationship with Kelley, the young white man who captured cellphone video of the altercation, only to discover that Kelley and Alix have a shared and uncomfortable past, one that traps Emira in the middle despite assertions that everyone has her best interests at heart. Reid excels at depicting subtle variations and manifestations of self-doubt, and astutely illustrates how, when coupled with unrecognized white privilege, this emotional and professional insecurity can result in unintended—as well as willfully unseen—consequences. This is an impressive, memorable first outing.”
Qualityland by Marc-Uwe Kling (translated by Jamie Searle Romanelli)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Qualityland: “The latest from Kling (The Kangaroo Chronicles), already in production at HBO, is a hilarious romp through an absurd hypercapitalist dystopia. After the third ‘crisis of the century’ in a decade, a country is renamed QualityLand. There, each person is named after their parents’ professions, has a social media feed specially created by a corporation, and is assigned a level from 1 to 100, which dictates what partner someone can match with, what job someone can have, and so on. Peter Jobless is a low-level metal recycling scrapper who, one day, receives a delivery from TheShop that he didn’t order—not unusual in itself, as TheShop anticipates all desires (its motto is ‘We know what you want’)—but more importantly, that he doesn’t want. Aided by the defective robots living under his shop that he saved from the scrapper, Peter embarks on a journey to return his unwanted delivery. Peter’s quest unfolds against the backdrop of a presidential election, where voters can choose between a maximally intelligent, socialist-minded robot programmed for objectivity, and a celebrity right-wing chef, prone to contradicting himself in the same sentence. No need to guess who’s leading the polls. Sharp and biting, the most implausible aspect of Kling’s novel is the relative note of optimism that ends it. This is spot-on satire.”
Consider This by Chuck Palahniuk
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Consider This: “Palahniuk (Adjustment Day) delivers a fine book on writing, full of advice and anecdotes garnered from his career as a novelist, that will help both those aspiring to write bestsellers and those hoping to write from the heart. His practical tips range from the importance of surprising one’s readers to the need to torment one’s characters. He concludes the book’s nuts-and-bolts component with a troubleshooting chart (he asks those whose beginnings don’t hook readers, ‘Do you begin with a thesis sentence that summarizes, or do you begin by raising a compelling question or possibility?’). Palahniuk also writes about his own life, in recurrent ‘Postcards from the Tour’ sections on the joys and trials of being a famous author (the latter including an incident when a book-signing attendee, angered that Palahniuk refused to sign a Don DeLillo novel, attacked him with a tube full of mice). The book finally rises to a moving emotional crescendo, in a final chapter that shares moments of serendipity from Palahniuk’s time on the road. Reminiscent of Stephen King’s On Writing in never failing to entertain while imparting wisdom, this is an indispensable resource for writers.”
Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Jeffrey Colvin, Cameron Awkward-Rich, Saskia Sarginson, Iona Grey, and more—that are publishing this week.
Africaville by Jeffrey Colvin
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Africaville: “Inspired by Africville, a neighborhood in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Colvin’s intriguing and memorable debut shines a light on a little-known black experience: the freed slaves from the Caribbean and U.S. who established a community in Canada in the 1800s. This family saga extends from 1918 to 1992 and focuses on descendants of the Sebolt and Platt families, who are joined when Omar Platt has an affair with Kath Ella Sebolt in 1936 right before his accidental death. She gives birth to a son and leaves Halifax for Montreal to further her education, meeting her future husband there, a white man who adopts baby Omar, renaming him Etienne. Etienne moves to Alabama in the 1960s, passes for white, marries a white woman, and ignores the black side of his family to such an extent that his own son, Warner, doesn’t find out about his black heritage until after his father’s death. Colvin expertly weaves in the subject of owning one’s heritage as Warner comes to terms with his Canadian past and the tragedies that dogged the Sebolts and Platts. The book covers much territory—the black experience in a small enclave in Canada and Etienne’s and Warner’s grappling with their racial identity—and sometimes these varying plots feel like they belong in two different books, making for a novel that feels diffuse. Nevertheless, this is a penetrating, fresh look at the indomitable spirit of black pioneers and their descendants.”
Dispatch by Cameron Awkward-Rich
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Dispatch: “Cave Canem–fellow and Lambda Literary Award–finalist Awkward-Rich (Sympathetic Little Monster) holds self (‘the pith of me,’) assuredly at the surface of his powerful second collection. Imagination emerges as a strategy for black trans survival: ‘if I have to I’ll shape a window/ to the universe adjacent calm/ my blackened heart.’ Weighed down by the ‘brutal choreography’ of violence against black, queer, and trans bodies, the poet reestablishes buoyancy through will and formidable artistry: ‘now I have a choice/ repair a world or build/ a new one inside my body.’ In a linked series of poems that share the title ‘[Black Feeling],’ the poet wakes ‘alone in the manic dark/ head in [his] hands ringing// &ringing, faithful/ goddamned blood alarm’ or rides, anonymous, on a bus through the city, ‘circling like animals, like prey.’ ‘Either way,’ a refrain reminds, ‘there you are in the room with your body.’ In countless rooms, poetry plays out the ‘perfect skein/ of my living, brazen/ misplaced song’: ‘I think gunflower & here’s a field. Here’s a room/ where every bullet planted blooms,’ and ‘here’s a room/ where everything you’ve lost is washed ashore.’ In these poems of bracing clarity, national violence is unflinchingly and meaningfully confronted.”
Gatekeeper by Patrick Johnson
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Gatekeeper: “In this impressive and formally versatile debut, Johnson places the lyric in dialogue with a host of nonpoetic forms, among them diagrams, numbered lists, and maps. ‘It’s different in the lab; dissection is bloodless,’ he warns early in the collection. Johnson frames beauty and transcendence as a source of authority equal to the language of formal scientific inquiry. ‘Speak from a place of reversibilities,’ he advises, as though describing the poems’ own provocative movements between types of discourse. Johnson’s strength lies in his ability to reflect on his own unexpected juxtapositions and wild associative leaps: ‘The dream has not only shown me history in reverse but somehow changed it,’ he writes. Johnson calls attention to his own agency in inhabiting language, ‘In this moment I realize I have a level of control,’ framing his practice as a poetics of intervention. The work is filled with self-aware poems like this one, which reflect on their own philosophical underpinnings, and Johnson’s formal experimentation compliments the poems, involving and implicating the reader in their critique of linguistic hierarchies. ‘The individual becomes invisible,’ he observes, positioning the reader as collaborator and coconspirator in this thought-provoking collection.”
The Wonderful by Saskia Sarginson
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Wonderful: “Sarginson (The Other Me) crafts an unusual, bittersweet coming-of-age novel that’s also a fascinating mystery steeped in Cold War history. Ruby thought she had left her lonely, emotionally desolate childhood in Norfolk, England, behind when she married Todd, a dashing American fighter pilot. In 1957, however, Todd receives a new posting at a U.S. airbase in England, close to where Ruby grew up, and they move there with their 12-year-old twins, Hedy and Christopher. Hedy is tomboyish and brave, often sticking up for her fragile, dreamy brother, who avoids his painful scoliosis (and equally painful back brace) by escaping into an imaginary science fiction universe. Life on the base is lonely and claustrophobic—as Christopher claims to hear screams and see mysterious lights, and as Todd’s behavior grows increasingly erratic, the family arrives at a breaking point that leaves Hedy on her own, contending with profound losses. Over the following 20 years, Hedy gradually grasps—and then confronts—the lies and misperceptions that, she comes to realize, characterized her childhood. Sarginson effectively interrogates the power of storytelling to engender catharsis and healing but also to deceive others and destroy relationships. Portions of the early sections are presented from Ruby’s and Christopher’s points of view, but as the narrative develops, it becomes Hedy’s story of reclaiming the truth and redefining the past. Set against a historical backdrop that will surprise many readers, Sarginson’s novel movingly captures the private and at times painful evolution of a resilient and inventive protagonist.”
The Cupped Field by Deirdre O’Connor
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Cupped Field: “Readers will need to quiet themselves as they lean into the hushed subtlety of O’Connor’s formally precise second collection (after Before the Blue Hour). The book reflects a sensibility of belatedness: ‘What is the word for not having been/ in the room, for missing the turn?’ Elsewhere, a car-struck doe lies dying, “awash… in glass and fur,” while the poem resolves with Dickinson-ian imagery: ‘the ocean// closing over, its great rolling horses/ corralled, a finger of sun/ holding the horizon down.’ In such moments, the poet calls into question the very conditions that make possible the tranquility from which emotion is recollected: ‘this now,/ no, this now,/ which, when I write it down,/ becomes this snow,// this snow, a way of covering things,/ the ethical problem,/ privilege of saying, I am here,/ in this calm place,// while elsewhere girls are being stacked/ in trucks.’ And yet, the contours of such privilege remain merely suggested, however apologetic (‘as if my special/ self-knowledge should translate into something’). Readers will find a poet who masterfully serves the elegiac mode she favors: ‘the mystery within trumping/ the mystery without.'”
The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Glittering Hour: “A nine-year-old child pieces together clues to her mother’s wild past in this slow-building but dramatic historical tale of love lost and familial secrets uncovered from Grey (Letters to the Lost). In 1936 England, Alice Carew is sent to live with austere grandparents after her parents leave for Burma. Her only entertainment is her correspondence with her mother, Selina, who sends her clues to a treasure hunt that gradually reveals the story of Selina’s life before Alice was born. In 1925, Selina Lennox was one of the ‘Bright Young People’ whose outrageous behavior often featured in gossip columns. Though Selina’s parents urged her to settle down with staid former soldier Rupert Carew, bohemian artist Lawrence Weston captured her heart. Told in a series of extended flashbacks, their romance is vividly drawn and heart-wrenching. Together, Alice and the reader come to understand that Alice’s origins are not what they seem—but that’s not the only secret the family is keeping. The novel’s final twist is a devastating blow that more than makes up for some plodding plotting during the buildup. This sweeping history is sure to be a tearjerker.”
Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Jeff VanderMeer, Annette Hess, Perumal Murugan, Olaf Olafsson, and more—that are publishing this week.
Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Dead Astronauts: “VanderMeer returns to the hallucinatory world of Borne, where an all-powerful company has ravaged a metropolis known only as the City, in this lackluster novel. Into this unpredictable landscape come three astronauts, Chen, Moss, and Grayson, determined to explore their otherworldly environment, which is watched over by a mysterious blue fox that seems capable of transcending time and space. After the first few chapters, fragmentary subplots bubble up: there is Charlie X, a rogue astronaut from the expedition fighting to hold on to his memories amid a creeping amnesia; a massive sea monster awaits its death; a mysterious journal containing knowledge of demons that foretells the coming of the monster Behemoth is passed between survivors; a total darkness called Nocturnalia threatens to engulf the dead city; and a shapeshifter confronts a cosmic duck over ownership of the journal. If this sounds overstuffed, it’s because it is. It’s certainly among VanderMeer’s most experimental work, but the novel never coalesces; the characters and concepts are too loosely sketched and the prose is both grandiose and oddly humorless, punctuated by lines such as ‘A fox is a question that must be answered’ and ‘The duck represented a paradox.’ This diffuse novel reads like unused notes from Borne and feels incomplete.”
The Story of a Goat by Perumal Murugan
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Story of a Goat: “This superbly fabulist tale from Murugan (One Part Woman) dives into the inner life and turmoil of a Asuras, a fictional farming village in rural India, through a small but determined goat and her unlikely caretakers. A large, mysticlike man gifts a rare black goat to an old farmer one day on his way home from the field. When the old farmer brings the malnourished goat home to his wife, she quickly gets to work caring for the goat, whom she names Poonachi. It’s not an easy start for Poonachi, who must deal with the abuses of the village children, refuses to suckle, and is attacked by a tiger. But in the hands of the old woman, Poonachi eventually thrives alongside their older goats and becomes her inseparable companion. As Poonachi grows older, she learns that life is filled with struggle and suffering, but also that it holds moments of beauty and love. Anthropomorphic Poonachi lets readers into many of her thoughts and experiences, including a vibrant view of life under a government regime that banned black goats (which supposedly can’t be seen in the dark) and oversaw long periods of famine and food rationing. Murugan explores the lively inner life of an observant goat in this imaginative exploration of rural life under the caste system.”
The German House by Annette Hess (translated by Elisabeth Lauffer)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The German House: “Hess’s strong debut follows Eva Bruhns, who works as an interpreter at the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials in 1963 Germany, in which German defendants have been charged with crimes they perpetrated at Auschwitz during WWII. Eva becomes emotionally invested as she interprets the testimonies of Polish witnesses from Polish to German, but she doesn’t understand why her parents, Edith and Ludwig, owners of the German House restaurant, don’t seem to care about the trial. As Eva continues her work and makes a trip to Auschwitz along with other members of the trial team, she uncovers secrets her parents have hidden from her about her father’s work during the war. The period detail is impressive, but the highlight is Eva, a complex and thoughtful woman who finds herself in the midst of a significant moment in history. This novel will appeal to both WWII fiction fans and those seeking historical novels anchored by a strong, memorable heroine.”
The Sacrament by Olaf Olafsson
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Sacrament: “Olafsson (One Station Away) offers a mesmerizing and powerful look at abuse in the Catholic Church through the eyes of an elderly French nun called upon to revisit a two-decades-old case from 1987 in Iceland. Back then, Sister Johanna Marie, brought in to investigate because she had learned the language from her Icelandic college roommate, discovered that priests engaged in abhorrent behavior with impunity. Now, in 2009, she would rather tend her convent’s rose garden, but when a Cardinal calls upon her to obtain new evidence from a witness who will speak only to her, she agrees to help. The circumstances of the original case are vividly recalled: during an investigation of a priest accused of abusive behavior, the priest fell to his death from a bell tower. Johanna is concerned now about what this witness remembers and what he will reveal. Besides the investigation particulars, the reader discovers why Johanna became a nun and why she had to mask her feelings for her college roommate—a hidden love that impacted the rest of her life. The author shines a light on the enigmatic workings of the Catholic Church and, in an astounding dénouement, delves into the balance between justice and vengeance, and the power of conviction, absolution, and redemption. This is an incisive novel.”
This Is Happiness by Niall Williams
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about This Is Happiness: “In glorious and lyrical prose, Williams (History of the Rain) spins the tale of one 1958 season in the village of Faha, County Kerry, where young ‘Noe’ Crowe, only 17 and already departed from the seminary, has washed up with his grandparents. The story opens on the Wednesday of Holy Week with the cessation of an almost constant rain, relieving the villagers of their life ‘under a fall of watery pitchforks.’ To add to this wonder, the electricity is finally coming to Faha and with it a lodger at Ganga and Doady Crowe’s house. Christy McMahon is a man of broad experience who seems ‘as if it was he who told the world the joke of himself’ and a perfect companion to Noe. During that late spring and early summer, Noe assists Christy in signing up the locals for electric service, and they spend their evenings on a quest for music at countryside pubs. Most important for Christy is his attempt to gain forgiveness from Annie Mooney, now Annie Gaffney, widow of the village chemist, a woman that Christy left at the altar decades before. Meanwhile, love springs on Noe unawares as he comes under the thrall, in succession, of each of the lovely Troy sisters, daughters of Faha’s doctor, whose attention Noe needs after an accident. Noe’s reminiscences of that period are full of beauty and hard-won wisdom. This novel is a delight.”
I Offer My Heart as a Target by Johanny Vázquez Paz (translated by Lawrence Schimel)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about I Offer My Heart as a Target: “In the introduction to this piercing and timely exploration of gender, violence, and social justice, novelist, poet, and critic Rigoberto González writes: ‘The survivor speaks her truth, or rather, writes her way to truth as an avenue of expression.’ As the book unfolds, readers witness the role of language in creating truth from a variety of aesthetic vantages, ranging from the philosophical to the image-driven: ‘To smoke in another language causes a cancer that spreads; first the lips, then the tongue,’ Paz explains in ‘Diaspora of Words.’ Throughout, she calls attention to language as a reason for those in power to exclude, and effectively disenfranchise, those individuals beneath them. Yet language also appears as a source of understanding, connection, and community: ‘We went to live to indulge the enemy/ to resist nights of storms and orphanhood to hear the silence of the lips/ sealed by the ignorance of the language.’ To understand others, individuals must first learn how they organize, structure, and understand the world around them through language, Paz suggests. ‘Against all prognoses,/ we survive,’ she proclaims in this moving book that, with Schimel’s skillful translation, highlights resilience in the face of oppression.”