Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Mahmoud, Davidson, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Doma Mahmoud, Craig Davidson, 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.
Cairo Circles by Doma Mahmoud

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Cairo Circles: “Mahmoud’s uneven debut explores the discrepancies of class and wealth in modern Cairo and the Egyptian diaspora through multiple strands of plot that jump back and forth in time and merge only tangentially. In mid-2000s New York City, wealthy Sheero, an undergraduate at NYU, is gleefully breaking every Muslim law in the book, doing lines of cocaine daily and living with his girlfriend, Carmen, a non-Muslim. Then his cousin Amir sets off a suicide bombing in the city’s subway, killing several other people and leading the FBI to question Sheero. Mahmoud then shifts to Cairo several years earlier for a story involving Sheero’s friend Taymour, whose housemaid’s 11-year-old daughter, Zeina, vanishes, possibly kidnapped. As Zeina’s younger twin brothers, Omar and Mustafa, grow up, their lives diverge, with Omar becoming a drug dealer and later a chauffeur for Taymour, and nerdy, depressed Mustafa studying mechanical engineering. Mahmoud explores the complexities of life in contemporary Cairo through the aftermath of the 2011 revolution. Individually, his characters are well developed, and his grasp of recent history is firm and illuminating. But almost every dramatic situation fizzles out, as the action becomes decreasingly credible and the narrative connections increasingly strained. It’s an ambitious effort with many striking details of life, but it’s undermined by its convoluted structure.”

Cascade by Craig Davidson

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Cascade: “The six tales in Davidson’s wonderful and gritty collection return to the bucolic backdrop of Cataract City, a stand-in for Niagara Falls (and the title of Davidson’s earlier novel). Energized by a familial bond and propelled by tragedy, the opener, ‘The Ghost Lights,’ depicts the frenzied rush of a car crash’s survivors. That bloodline bond hinges and anchors other stories where family runs deep regardless of occupation or circumstance, as in ‘The Vanishing Twin,’ in which two teenage twin brothers trade stories of their ‘devilry’ from inside the walls of a juvenile correctional facility and realize just how different they are from each other. The struggles of a burned-out social worker in the emotionally resonant ‘Friday Night Goon Squad’ are palpable as she attempts to assuage her clients’ family issues while desperately trying to start a family of her own. A circus performer and a firefighter in ‘Medium Tough’ and ‘Firebug’ have their respective crosses to bear, and Davidson portrays each vividly. Throughout, the author displays deep empathy and conveys emotional resonance. The result is a blissful, wholly satisfying assemblage of cinematic stories, sure to please Davidson’s fans and attract newcomers.”

The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven by by Nathaniel Ian Miller

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven: “Miller’s captivating debut bears out its eponymous narrator’s observation that ‘a life is substantially more curious, and mundane, than the reports would have it.’ Sven Ormson, an indolent Swedish mill worker with a spotty employment history and a fascination with polar exploration, decides in 1916, at age 32, to take on a two-year contract mining coal on the island of Spitsbergen on the edge of the Arctic Sea. Before his contract is up he loses an eye during an avalanche, an event that convinces the already misanthropic Sven to shun further contact with fellow humans. So begins his apprenticeship as a trapper during the harsh winter months when all but three other hunters have left his portion of the island. Though Sven keeps to himself as much as possible, inevitable friendships and family ties eventually draw him into contact with others, even as his life remains relatively untouched by historical events unfolding just beyond his sphere for the next 30 years. Miller offers a marvelously detailed look at a way of life and a profession practiced in an extreme environment, and though purportedly based on a historical figure, the character’s colorfully rendered experiences are the stuff of powerful dramatic fiction. This has Miller off to a promising start.”

Also on shelves this week: Dreaming of You by Melissa Lozada-Oliva and On Girlhood, edited by Glory Edim.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Solnit, Strout, Gaitskill, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Rebecca Solnit, Elizabeth Strout, Mary Gaitskill, 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.
Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Orwell’s Roses: “Solnit carefully charts the life of George Orwell (1903–1950) by focusing on his love of roses and all things natural in this brilliant survey (after Recollections of My Nonexistence). Her study of the ‘sublimely gifted essayist’ and novelist is not a biography, she notes, rather ‘a series of forays from one starting point, that gesture whereby one writer planted several roses.’ After reading an essay in which Orwell expounds upon the power of trees, Solnit begins to see his writing differently, spotting more ‘enjoyment’ in his work. She follows Orwell’s ‘episodic’ life from his birth in northern India to coal mines in England, to Spain, and through his marriages, but begins with and returns often to his midlife in Wallington, England, where he rented a cottage in 1936 and planted his roses. She also traces her own interests that mirror his, such as climate, class, and politics—Orwell wrote ‘about toads and spring but also about principles and values and arguing with an orthodoxy.’ A disquisition on the suffragists’ song ‘Bread and Roses’ and a look at the rose trade in Bogotá happen along the way, but Solnit never loses sight of Orwell and his relationship to nature: ‘Outside my work the thing I care most about is gardening,’ he wrote. Fans of Marta MacDowell’s biographies of gardening writers will appreciate this lyrical exploration.”

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Oh William!: “Loneliness and betrayal, themes to which the Pulitzer Prize–winning Strout has returned throughout her career, are ever present in this illuminating character-driven saga, the third in her Amgash series, after Anything Is Possible. Narrated by Lucy Barton, now a successful writer, the story picks up after the death of Lucy’s second husband as she navigates her relationship with her unfaithful first husband, William, the father of her two grown daughters. Lucy and William are still close friends, and though William has also remarried, he still needs Lucy, and she him. When William discovers he has a half sister, he summons Lucy, rather than his current wife, to visit where she lives in Maine. Lucy’s quest—indeed Strout’s quest—is to understand people, even if she can’t stand them. ‘We are all mythologies, mysterious. We are all mysteries, is what I mean,’ she reflects. The strength of Lucy’s voice carries the reader, and Strout’s characters teem with angst and emotion, all of which Strout handles with a mastery of restraint and often in spare, true sentences. ‘But when I think Oh William! don’t I mean Oh Lucy! too? Don’t I mean Oh Everyone, Oh dear Everybody in this whole wide world, we do not know anybody, not even ourselves! Except a little tiny, tiny bit we do.’ It’s not for nothing that Strout has been compared to Hemingway. In some ways, she betters him.”

Monster in the Middle by Tiphanie Yanique

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Monster in the Middle: “Yanique (How to Escape from a Leper Colony) inventively juxtaposes the start of a new relationship with family histories in this sumptuous saga. Fly Lovett meets Stela Jones in early 2020 during the lockdown in New York City, while he’s enrolled in grad school for music theory and she’s doing teacher training for high school biology. Yanique builds up to their meeting by recounting their parents’ failed relationships, as well as their own. Fly’s father, Gary, a Black man who deploys an idiosyncratic range of religious practices to cope with his mental illness, holds a flame for a white girlfriend well into his marriage with Ellenora and past the birth of their son, Earl, in 1991. Earl, rechristened Fly by a scamming preacher, later has his heart broken in college by a woman who uses sex as a missionizing tool. Meanwhile, Stela’s mother, an orphan from Saint Thomas, Virgin Islands, raises Stela with her second husband. Stela breaks off an engagement to her first love, a South African–born white American, after a traumatic experience on her semester abroad in Ghana. Each arc reads as an evocative short story and an episode in the two protagonists’ complex set of unraveled connections. This introspective exploration of first and lasting loves will hit the spot with fans of character-driven family dramas.”

The Days of Afrekete by Asali Solomon

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Days of Afrekete: “In Rona Jaffe Award winner Solomon’s illuminating latest (after Disgruntled), two middle-aged women who were friends at Bryn Mawr reflect on sexuality, race, and selfhood. While Liselle Belmont prepares to host a dinner party for her husband, Winn, at their house in Philadelphia after his failed state legislative bid, she remembers her mother’s taunts about her upper echelon lifestyle, habitually delivered with an ‘acid whoop of laughter.’ On a whim, Liselle leaves a phone message with her old friend and lover Selena Octave. Solomon flashes back to the women’s years at Bryn Mawr, where they met in the school’s first Black literature course taught by a Black professor (and which was overcrowded by white students), and digs into the nuances of campus lesbianism and racial politics. Since then, Selena has been in and out of a psychiatric hospital for anxiety, and the two have fallen out of touch. Liselle reflects on her ‘ever twoness as the Black mistress of a tiny plantation,’ complete with a housemaid, and Solomon focuses on Selena’s sensitivity to racial trauma, such as her interest in writing about the MOVE bombing in West Philadelphia in 1985. When Selena finally receives Liselle’s message, and as Liselle frets about Winn’s legal troubles, the outcome is unexpected and powerful. Solomon brings wit and incisive commentary to this pristine take on two characters’ fascinating and painful lives.”

I Will Die in a Foreign Land by Kalani Pickhart

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about I Will Die in a Foreign Land: “In Pickhart’s ardent, sprawling debut, a set of memorable characters attempt to lay bare the truths of recent conflicts in the Ukraine. Among the thousands of demonstrators gathered in Kyiv in 2013 and 2014 to protest Russian interference, the reader meets four whose lives have been shattered by the consequences of their country’s tragic history, which until 1991 never once included independence. Katya has fled Boston and a failing marriage to treat Euromaidan protesters in a makeshift triage site at St. Michael’s Monastery. While tending to a mortally wounded old Soviet pianist named Aleksandr Ivanovich, she discovers cassette tapes the onetime KGB agent recorded, addressed to his long-lost daughter. Katya also treats Misha Tkachenko, a selfless and courageous engineer from a town near Chernobyl whose wife died of radiation sickness. Misha has returned to the violent streets day after day, looking out for his friend and sometime lover Slava, another protester, blue-haired and fiery. Together their stories, which the author weaves in and out of the novel nonchronologically, create a portrait of the complicated and calamitous region. As Katya and Misha grow closer, Slava meets a doomed journalist with whom she falls in love, and through revelations in Aleksandr’s tapes, the reader learns how indelibly connected each of these major characters—and very many minor ones—are. This bighearted novel generously portrays the unforgettable set of characters through their determination to face oppression. It’s a stunner.”

The Devil’s Treasure by Mary Gaitskill

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Devil’s Treasure: “Gaitskill’s curious new project (after the novella This Is Pleasure) looks back on four of her previous novels and a memoir, splices them with critical self-reflections, and threads the needle with a short work in progress. The slight frame story concerns a seven-year-old girl named Ginger who journeys to hell through a hole in her backyard. As she makes her way back home, she encounters nightmarish reflections, demonic strangers, and Satan himself. But the bulk of the book is excerpts from past books including Veronica (2005), about a budding fashion model, and The Mare (2015), concerning two girls who come of age in upstate New York, where one visits from Brooklyn over the years as part of the Fresh Air Fund, and ride horses together. Hence the reader has several versions of troubled suburban girlhood, haunted or abusive fathers, and barbed early friendships, bordered by long sections in which Gaitskill reflects on her use of the themes, recalls the conditions and intent behind the books’ composition, and responds to her critics. As an experiment, this doesn’t quite come together. At its best, it functions as a showcase for Gaitskill’s powerful back catalog, but more often the indulgent structure fails to hold and obscures her intent. While her insights will prove valuable to her most ardent fans, everyone else can take a pass.”

Wednesday New Release Day: Starring Ball, Orlean, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Bethany Ball, Susan Orlean, and more—that are publishing this week.
Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today.
The Pessimists by Bethany Ball

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Pessimists: “An expensive private school in an affluent Connecticut suburb becomes the focal point for three families in Ball’s appealing if predictable sophomore effort (after What to Do About the Solomons). City expats Gunter and Rachel meet fellow Petra School parents Tripp and Virginia at a New Year’s Eve party thrown at their house, where doomsday prepper Tripp stockpiles guns in the basement. Tripp’s best friend, Richard, is there with his wife, Margot, but he’s pursuing Virginia, a novelist with no shortage of fawning male fans who appreciate her looks as much as her work. There’s also a trickster principal named Agnes, a secret cancer, an accidental near-murder, and an extramarital affair almost happens, and while the threads occasionally captivate, no single plot line prevails, and the many asides fizzle out with almost no consequence. Unfortunately, the narrative’s emotional flatness (as well as that of the characters) makes this feel somewhat schematic, and the plot is too intricate for its own good. Despite some moments of charm, this feels like it’s missing a sense of purpose.”

When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky by Margaret Verble

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky: “In this richly imagined historical from Pulitzer finalist Verble (for Maud’s Line), a young Cherokee woman performs as a horse-diver at an amusement park in Nashville, Tenn. It’s 1926, and automobiles and movies are starting to make electric streetcars and live-entertainment venues obsolete, but Two Feathers’s novelty act is still a big draw at Glendale Park, built at the end of a trolley line. One day, as Two Feathers and her horse are performing, a giant sinkhole opens up and swallows them. Two’s beloved mare, Ocher, dies in the fall, and Two’s leg is broken. With her act no longer possible and her future uncertain, Two recuperates in her dormitory. Her friends rally to her side, notably Hank Crawford, the descendant of enslaved people and a plantation owner. But owning land and having light skin don’t guarantee protection from the deadly dangers of Jim Crow, and Verble shows how Crawford takes various matters into his own hands rather than go to the racist police. Visions of the departed haunt many of these characters, and the dead have an impact on the present. When a hippo dies and a beloved bear cub is found dead, Two discerns how and why they were killed, and, later, after a man is found scalped, prejudice leads some to suspect Two of the murder. Verble beautifully weaves period details with the cast’s histories, and enthralls with the supernatural elements, which are made as real for the reader as they are for the characters. This lands perfectly.”

MacArthur Park by Judith Freeman

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about MacArthur Park: “Freeman returns to characters from her first novel, The Chinchilla Farm (1991), for a story of two women whose lives range well beyond the origins of their small Utah town. In 1984, Verna Fields’s husband leaves her, prompting her to travel to Los Angeles and move in temporarily with her old friend Jolene Carver, now a renowned feminist performance artist who left their town and their faith after being disillusioned by her parents’ infidelity. Shortly after Verna’s arrival, Jolene divorces her husband, Vincent, and ends up in Europe, where her artistic reputation continues to blossom. Three years later, Verna marries Vincent, an eccentric, self-absorbed musician and composer who introduces her to the arts, and she eventually publishes a collection of short stories and a book about Raymond Chandler. After a 30-year absence, Jolene, diminished in health, reappears in L.A. and asks Verna to drive her to their hometown for one last visit. During their trip, jealousies, secrets and passions are revealed, underscoring their opposing views on life: Verna prefers a cocoon of complacency with married life, while Jolene feels the radical feminist views she adopted in the 1970s still apply. Despite some tedious pedantic dialogue, Freeman manages to convey the bonds and challenges of the women’s friendship. The author’s fans will appreciate this layered story.”

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Small Pleasures: “In Chambers’s affecting latest (after the YA mystery Burning Secrets), the year is 1957 and Jean Swinney is a single Englishwoman approaching 40 who cares for her demanding mother and lives for the small pleasures in life—like pottering in her vegetable patch or loosening her girdle at the end of the day. Jean works as features editor for the North Kent Echo. Her new assignment is to interview Gretchen Tilbury, who claims to have delivered a child through virgin birth. Wanting to keep an open mind, Jean meets with the no-nonsense Gretchen, who was confined to an all-female nursing home, St. Cecilia’s, with rheumatoid arthritis at the time of conception. Jean also meets Gretchen’s charming 10-year-old daughter, Margaret, and her dedicated husband, Howard. Jean arranges for Gretchen and Margaret to undergo medical tests at Charing Cross Hospital to prove if parthenogenesis actually took place. As the months pass, Jean becomes more and more enmeshed in the lives of the Tilbury family even as her friendship with Howard threatens to turn into something more. Chambers does an excellent job of recreating the austere texture of post-WWII England. In Jean, the author creates a character who strives admirably to escape her cloistered existence. Chambers plays fair with Gretchen’s mystery, tenderly illuminating the hidden yearnings of small lives.”

We Imagined It Was Rain by Andrew Siegrist

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about We Imagined It Was Rain: “In his debut collection of loosely connected stories set mostly in Tennessee, some of which draw on local folklore, Siegrist shows a remarkable ability to evoke the missing pieces in his characters’ lives. As the title suggests, water, in all its variations, is central to these tales of lost love, memory, and transformation. In the haunting ‘Heirloom,’ Cole, who has lost his son and moved to a cabin in the woods, meets Tia, a young woman who tells him about a coffin full of water buried in the hills. At the end of the story, she lures him into the dark forest where he can smell the ‘heavy scent of salt from a buried sea.’ Rae, a young woman in ‘Beneath Dark Water,’ lives in fear of her physically abusive boyfriend, Darcy, a heavy drinker. In ‘Shouting Down the Preacher,’ a man has lost his wife and his calling to infidelity, and blames himself when his former church floods. Even in the midst of the author’s piercing look into the human heart, however, there is humor, albeit dark. ‘Elephants’ and ‘How to Hang a Circus Elephant’ are connected stories about Mary, a rogue elephant who has to be shot, hanged, and buried. Her tusks, rumored to be visible aboveground, give the town an odd notoriety. With their universal themes, Siegrist’s folkloric stories have plenty of appeal.”

On Animals by Susan Orlean

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about On Animals: “New Yorker staff writer Orlean (The Library Book) delivers an entertaining and informative look at various animals in this clever collection of essays. According to Orlean, her ‘animalish’ personality has driven her to track down critters her whole life, as well as stories of humans as animalish as she. In ‘Lady and the Tigers,’ she profiles a tiger owner in Jackson, N.J., while ‘Little Wing’ sees her documenting a teenager’s relationship to her carrier pigeons in Boston. The essays are well researched and showcase a keen journalistic eye, as in ‘Lion Whisperer,’ which covers Kevin Richardson’s frolicsome relationship with lions, and ‘The Rabbit Outbreak,’ which details the spread of a disease in rabbits across the globe. Orlean’s prose dazzles when she uses human metaphors to describe the natural world, conjuring up hilariously vivid images: Biff, a show dog, has ‘the earnest and slightly careworn expression of a smalltown mayor’; Keiko the whale, who starred in Free Willy, is ‘a middle-aged piebald virgin living as good a life as captivity could offer’; and carrier pigeons are ‘muttering to themselves like old men in a bingo hall.’ While not all the essays land (some leave something to be desired in Orlean’s examination of the human-animal relationship), they’re nonetheless packed with spirit. Animal lovers will find much to savor.”

Also on shelves this week: The Nutmeg’s Curse by Amitav Ghosh.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Franzen, Toews, Watkins, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Jonathan Franzen, Miriam Toews, Claire Vaye Watkins, 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.
Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Crossroads: “Franzen (Purity) returns with a sweeping and masterly examination of the shifting culture of early 1970s America, the first in a trilogy. The action is centered on the small Illinois town of New Prospect, where the each of the Hildebrandts is experiencing a sea change. The father, Russ, is an associate minister at First Reformed Church and has developed an illicit attraction to a new parishioner, the widow Frances Cottrell, whose zest for life makes Russ feel a renewed sense of his ‘edge.’ Russ is also embroiled in a yearslong feud with Rick Ambrose, who runs the church’s youth organization, Crossroads. Clem, Russ’s oldest son, is at college and having a sexual awakening with his girlfriend, Sharon, who pleads with him not to drop out and lose his deferment (‘I’m going to do whatever they want me to do, which probably means Vietnam,’ he says, referencing his low lottery number). Becky, Clem’s younger sister, inherits a large sum of money from an aunt and isn’t sure if she should share it with her brothers, especially Perry, who is brilliant but cold and self-medicates with weed and ’ludes. All of the characters’ sections are convincingly rendered, and perhaps best of all are those narrated by Russ’s wife, Marion, who had a psychotic breakdown 30 years earlier that she is just starting to come to terms with. As complications stack up for the Hildebrandts, they each confront temptation and epiphany, failure and love. Throughout, Franzen exhibits his remarkable ability to build suspense through fraught interpersonal dynamics. It’s irresistible.”

Fight Night by Miriam Toews

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Fight Night: “Toews (Women Talking) continues her consideration of the theme of women’s self-determination in this indelible and darkly hilarious portrait of an unforgettable Toronto family. Framed as a long letter to eight-year-old Swiv’s absent father in her brisk, matter-of-fact voice, it also features letters to her mother and others. After being expelled from school for fighting, she grows closer to her larger-than-life grandmother, Elvira, who ‘has one foot in the grave’ and dives into homeschooling with gusto, convening so-called editorial meetings and devising assignments to write letters to one another. Meanwhile, Swiv’s mother, Mooshie, a pregnant actor, is prone to dramatic and sometimes violent mood swings, leading Swiv to fear Mooshie might succumb to the same mental illness that led to her aunt’s and grandfather’s suicides. The harder-edged Mooshie, who wants a ‘cold IPA and a holiday’ for her birthday, and the exuberant Elvira, are both brash and fearless, traits that alternately embarrass and inspire Swiv. Through these women’s letters and stories, readers glimpse histories of grief, loss, and abuse, making Grandma’s assertion that ‘joy… is resistance’ even more powerful. The moving conclusion, which has its roots in a plan for Swiv and Elvira to visit family members in California, shuns sentimentality and celebrates survival. Fierce and funny, this gives undeniable testimony to the life force of family. It’s a knockout.”

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Lincoln Highway: “Towles’s magnificent comic road novel (after A Gentleman in Moscow) follows the rowdy escapades of four boys in the 1950s and doubles as an old-fashioned narrative about farms, families, and accidental friendships. In June 1954, 18-year-old Emmett Watson returns to his childhood farm in Morgen, Neb., from a juvenile detention camp. Emmett has been released early from his sentencing for fighting because his father has died and his homestead has been foreclosed. His precocious eight-year-old brother, Billy, greets him, anxious to light out for San Francisco in hopes of finding their mother, who abandoned them. Plans immediately go awry when two escaped inmates from Emmett’s camp, Duchess and Woolly, appear in the Watsons’ barn. Woolly says his grandfather has stashed $150,000 in the family’s Adirondack Mountains cabin, which he offers to split evenly between the three older boys. But Duchess and Woolly take off with Emmett’s Studebaker, leaving the brothers in pursuit as boxcar boys. On the long and winding railway journey, the brothers encounter characters like the scabrous Pastor John and an endearing WWII vet named Ulysses, and Billy’s constant companion, a book titled Professor Abacus Abernathe’s Compendium of Heroes, Adventures, and Other Intrepid Travelers, provides parallel story lines of epic events and heroic adventures. Woolly has a mind for stories, too, comparing his monotonous time in detention to that of Edmond Dantès in The Count of Monte Cristo and hoping eventually to experience a ‘one-of-a-kind kind of day.’ Towles is a supreme storyteller, and this one-of-a-kind kind of novel isn’t to be missed.”

April in Spain by John Banville

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about April in Spain: “Banville’s slow-moving eighth crime thriller featuring Irish pathologist Quirke (after 2015’s Even the Dead) finds Quirke and his wife, Evelyn, vacationing in San Sebastián, Spain. When the couple forget to buy an oyster-opening tool, Quirke tries to use a nail scissors instead and accidentally wounds himself badly enough that Evelyn insists they go to a hospital. There, he’s initially examined by Angela Lawless, an Irish physician who looks familiar, but who never returns to the exam room, leaving another doctor to tend to the injury. Her appearance and her initials lead Quirke to suspect that she’s actually April Latimer, a woman believed to be dead. April’s brother, who was sexually involved with his sibling, had confessed to killing her before taking his own life. Quirke shares his suspicions with his daughter, Phoebe, who had been April’s friend, and Phoebe travels to Spain to see for herself. Meanwhile, a psychotic hit man emotionally attached to his gun lurks in the background. The melodramatic ending doesn’t compensate for a story line too slight for the book’s length. Banville has been much better.”

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about My Monticello: “Johnson wrestles with questions of racial identity, post-racial society, and the legacies of slavery in her masterly debut collection. The pitch-perfect opener, ‘Control Negro,’ follows Cornelius, a Black history professor whose peers mistake him for a janitor and whom white students mock with racist jokes, prompting him to plot with a married Black graduate student to have a son together and give him opportunities equal to those of ‘Average Caucasian Males.’ In the experiment, the ‘Control Negro’ doesn’t learn the identity of his father, and Cornelius observes from a distance, hopeful his son will turn out better. Other stories reckon with institutionalized racism in schools (‘Something Sweet on the Tongue’) and the collateral damage wrought by the trauma endured by immigrants prior to leaving their homelands (‘King of Xandria’). The superb title novella is set in the near future in Charlottesville, Va., where the Unite the Right rally has cast a long shadow and white supremacists pillage the downtown area. A collective of BIPOC residents decamp to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, seeking refuge. There’s Da’Naisha Hemings Love; her white boyfriend, Knox; and her other largely Black and brown neighbors. Love and her grandmother, MaViolet, descend from the Jefferson-Sally Hemings lineage, and thus occupy a unique position in the group. The author’s riveting storytelling and skill at rendering complex characters yield rich social commentary on Monticello and Jefferson’s complex ideologies of freedom, justice, and liberty. This incandescent work speaks not just to the moment, but to history.”

Reprieve by James Han Mattson

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Reprieve: “Mattson (The Lost Prayers of Ricky Graves) returns with the smart and harrowing story of a killing at a haunted house. In 1997, Victor Dunlap, a bank manager who used to teach English in Thailand, agrees to participate in a full-contact escape room–style challenge at Quigley House in Lincoln, Nebr. His four-person team includes his fiancée, Jane Roth, who is obsessed with Halloween but finds being handcuffed, shocked, and muzzled with electrical tape by the haunted house’s staff to be a bit too much; and Jaidee Charoensuk, a university student whom Victor had taught in Kanchanaburi, and who sought Victor out in the U.S. because he had a crush on him. The house supplies a fourth teammate, Bryan Douglas, a Black university student whose throat is slit in the house by Leonard Grandton in front of the others, who initially think it’s part of the act. Leonard had developed a friendship with the man who owns Quigley, before becoming needy and erratic. The tense, well-paced story—meted out in snippets of courtroom transcriptions during Leonard’s trial and chapters from various characters’ points of view, including Bryan’s cousin Kendra, who recently moved to Lincoln from Washington, D.C., and whose friend back east was concerned about her ‘managing all that white’—gradually reveals thematic connections as everyone grapples with understanding why Bryan was killed. It adds up to a canny use of horror as metaphor for themes of guilt, race, and sexuality.”

Search History by Eugene Lim

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Search History: “Montage is the message in the elliptical, swirly latest from Lim (Dear Cyborgs), who delivers a post-human manifesto on loss, identity, and the transfigurative potential of art. Billed as ‘a murder mystery, an outdated owner’s manual… a broken novel,’ this outing opens with a ‘dysthymic artificial intelligence scientist’ experimenting with machines capable of creating poetry and prose on behalf of a galactic corporation while a robot named César Aira discusses cyborg aesthetics with his own ex-wife. A no less outlandish plot soon bubbles up in New York City. Based on an overheard conversation, a grieving friend of the late Frank Exit—outré pianist, drug aficionado, virtual reality explorer—becomes convinced that Frank has been reincarnated as a robot dog named Izzy and teams up with an amnesiac clown-school graduate calling herself Donna Winters, who is herself convinced that the dog holds the key to being reunited with her deceased mother, to steal Izzy from the enigmatic Doctor Y before they can escape by rocket to the far side of the moon. Meanwhile, a group of old friends gather at the restaurant they’ve dubbed ‘Inauthentic Sushi’ to discuss dreams, ghosts, and the lives of Asian American entertainers. Also in the mix is an autobiographical interlude concerning Lim’s mother, and a poet and nurse named Muriel. The resulting novel is profound and casually bonkers, featuring a drift of photographs, screen grabs, and an eclectic lexicon of quotations from W.G. Sebald, David Byrne, and more that reveal the shuffled heritage of Lim’s distillation. This brilliant sui generis takes storytelling to new heights.”

I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness by Claire Vaye Watkins

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness: “In this vivid if overstuffed outing from Watkins (Gold Fame Citrus), a writer named Claire Vaye Watkins returns to her hometown of Reno for a reading. The trip is meant as a brief respite for Claire from her husband and daughter, but it becomes a monthslong stay as she grapples with memories of those who are gone. Her late father, Paul, a member of the Manson Family, was described by her mother, the late Martha, as the cult’s ‘number one procurer of young girls.’ Martha, meanwhile, died when Claire was in her 20s, either by an accidental opiate overdose or by suicide. She also remembers an ex-boyfriend who died in a car crash. And as Watkins catalogs her ‘maternal ambivalence’ and ‘wifely rage,’ she breaks the rules of her open marriage by falling in love with an extramarital partner. While Claire’s memories provide the narrative thrust, nearly a third is spent on her family’s history, including letters from Martha to her cousin from 1968 through the ’70s (‘I think I’m mentally ill. Love is a fucking hassle’), and the material doesn’t quite illuminate Claire’s story or develop the plot. What makes this work is Claire’s raw sense of pain on the page, and the evenhanded honesty with which Watkins portrays her actions. Thought Watkins overreaches, her talent is abundant.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Knausgaard, Doerr, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Karl Ove Knausgaard, Anthony Doerr, and more—that are publishing this week.
Want to learn more about upcoming titles? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then become a member today.
The Morning Star by Karl Ove Knausgaard (translated by Martin Aitken)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Morning Star: “Knausgaard’s first traditional novel since the 2008 translation of A Time for Everything offers a dark and enthralling story of the appearance of a new star. The action, which verges on horror, teems with brutalized people and animals behaving unpredictably. Arne, a teacher with a drinking problem whose bipolar wife, Tova, often disappears on long walks, observes a horde of crabs crossing the road toward the glare of the star. He and eight other narrators alternately react to the astrological event—and yet the turbulence of their home lives overrides their capacity to grasp its shocking effects. Among the players are Kathrine, a Church of Norway priest who is struggling with her marriage; Solveig, a nurse who recognizes a patient from when she was young; Jonnstein, a caustic reporter who gets a tip on a serial killer after committing adultery; and Egil, who is connected to many of the threads, and whose interpolated essay provides a dose of philosophy and one of the strongest narrative beats. Knausgaard wheels wildly and successfully through various forms. His focus on the beauty and terror of the mundane will resonate with fans of My Struggle as they traverse this marvelous, hectic terrain. For the author, it’s a marvelous new leap.”

Chronicles from the Happiest People on Earth by Wole Soyinka

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Chronicles from the Happiest People on Earth: “Nobel Prize winner Soyinka’s first novel in almost 50 years (after the essay collection Beyond Aesthetics) delivers a sharp-edged satire of his native Nigeria. The tone is set early, as an omniscient narrator caustically refers to the country as the home of ‘the Happiest People in the World,’ a status bolstered by a Nigerian governor’s creation of ‘a Ministry of Happiness,’ to be led by the governor’s spouse. Soyinka presents a dizzying array of characters and plotlines to bolster the notion that his country’s ‘success’ is a facade built on corruption and lies. This is perhaps best illustrated by the story line involving Dr. Kighare Menka, a surgeon particularly adept at treating the victims of terror attacks. Menka’s approached by representatives of Primary Resources Management, dedicated to combating waste by maximizing ‘human resources.’ Menka learns that behind the slogans is a business plan to obtain body parts for an affluent clientele, and that he’s viewed as a steady source for the limbs and organs the venture needs. Soyinka injects suspense as well with a whodunit plot. Those with a solid grounding in current Nigerian politics are most likely to pick up on allusions to events and personalities that will elude the lay reader. Still, the imaginatively satirical treatment of serious issues makes this engaging on multiple levels.”

A Calling for Charlie Barnes by Joshua Ferris

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about A Calling for Charlie Barnes: “NBA and Booker finalist Ferris (To Rise Again at a Decent Hour) returns with a compassionate metafictional portrait of a flawed father and his crumbling notion of the America dream. Jake Barnes, the sincere but unreliable narrator, sets out to recount the life of his dad, Charlie Barnes, aka ‘Steady Boy,’ a corporate gadfly and small business schemer who never made it through college. After multiple marriages, a few kids, and countless failed ideas for making it big—clowns and weedkiller, flying toupees—Steady Boy is working from his basement when he’s diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Jake takes it upon himself to gather his older brother Jerry and his resentful half sister Marcy, both of whom believe Steady Boy is a fraud. Ferris makes the quotidian sing, such as Jake’s description of a ‘thundering, brain-clearing sneeze’ while Steady Boy retrieves the morning paper from the curb. Ferris also flirts with a cheesy happy ending, until it becomes likely that this, too, is a fraud, prompting readers to wonder if Ferris is toying with them via Jake, who channels his namesake from The Sun Also Rises, he of the Lost Generation who no longer believes in anything. Despite the heavy subject matter, the story is often quite funny, and the themes at its core are those that will forever preoccupy humankind: purpose and death, but, mostly, love. Of Ferris’s work, this is the big kahuna.”

Things Are Against Us by Lucy Ellmann

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Things Are Against Us: “In this offbeat essay collection, novelist Ellmann (Ducks, Newburyport) addresses complex systemic ills alongside petty grievances in an acerbic and hilarious litany of complaints. The title essay features a tirade against ‘things’ that are constantly being lost or broken or otherwise creating a nuisance, and is punctuated with the personified hijinks of various objects: ‘Rugs grab you and knock you over whenever they can. Needles prick you. They sit in the sewing box waiting patiently to prick you some day.’ Several essays contend with sexism, including ‘Three Strikes,’ which calls for women to institute a sex and work strike until the demand of ‘female supremacy’ is met (Ellmann draws from historical examples to prove its efficacy along the way). Elsewhere, Ellmann rails against air travel, bras, and electricity. Readers of Ducks, Newburyport will be familiar with her expansive writing style, which here manifests as a plethora of footnotes, some of which point to sources for further reading or illustrate the author’s points, while others are tangents on ancillary topics (such as the ‘spiraling vaginas’ of fruit flies) and can occasionally be disorienting. Nevertheless, fans of feminist satire will delight in these rants and ruminations.”

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Cloud Cuckoo Land: “Pulitzer winner Doerr (All the Light We Cannot See) returns with a deeply affecting epic of a long-lost book from ancient Greece. In the mid-22nd century, Konstance, 14, copies an English translation of Cloud Cuckoo Land by Antonius Diogenes with her food printer’s Nourish powder while aboard the Argos, an ark-like spaceship destined for a habitable planet. She found the book in the Argos’s library, and was already familiar with Diogenes’s story of a shepherd named Aethon and his search for a book that told of all the world’s unknown lands, because her father told it to her while they tended the Argos’s farm. Her father’s connection to the Diogenes book is gradually revealed, but first Doerr takes the reader farther back in time. In chapters set in and around Constantinople leading up to the 1453 siege, two 13-year-old children, Anna and Omeir, converge while fleeing the city, and Omeir helps Anna protect a codex of Cloud Cuckoo Land she discovered in a monastery. Then, in 2020 Lakeport, Idaho, translator Zeno Ninis collaborates with a group of young children on a stage production of Cloud Cuckoo Land at the library, where a teenage ecoterrorist has planted a bomb meant to target the neighboring real estate office. Doerr seamlessly shuffles each of these narratives in vignettes that keep the action in full flow and the reader turning the pages. The descriptions of Constantinople, Idaho, and the Argos are each distinct and fully realized, and the protagonists of each are united by a determination to survive and a hunger for stories, which in Doerr’s universe provide the greatest nourishment. This is a marvel.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Powers, Alameddine, Ozeki, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Richard Powers, Rabih Alameddine, Ruth Ozeki, 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.
Bewilderment by Richard Powers

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Bewilderment: “Pulitzer winner Powers (The Overstory) offers up a marvelous story of experimental neurotherapy and speculations about alien life. Astrophysicist Theo Byrne simulates worlds outside Earth’s solar system as part of lobbying efforts for a new spaceborne telescope. As a single parent in Madison, Wis., his work takes a back seat—his wife, Aly, mother of their nine-year-old, Robin, died two years earlier. Theo shares his fictional descriptions of life on exoplanets with Robin in the form of bedtime stories, and they bond over a Trumpian administration’s hostility to scientific research. Theo allows Robin to protest neglect of endangered species at the state capitol, despite Robin’s volatile behavior. He’s been diagnosed with Asperger’s, OCD, and ADHD, and Theo refuses to give him psychoactive medication (‘Life is something we need to stop correcting,’ goes Theo’s new ‘crackpot theory’). More cutting-edge is the neurofeedback program run by an old friend of Aly’s, who trains Robin to model his emotions from a record saved of Aly’s brain activity. It works, for a while—the tragic, bittersweet plot has some parallels to Flowers for Algernon. The planetary descriptions grow a bit repetitive and don’t gain narrative traction, but in the end, Powers transforms the wrenching story into something sublime. Though it’s not his masterpiece, it shows the work of a master.”

The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Wrong End of the Telescope: “A Lebanese doctor travels to the island of Lesbos to help refugees and confront her past in the profound and wonderful latest from Alameddine (The Angel of History), a meditation on loss, resilience, and love. Born in Beirut but long settled in the U.S., Mina Simpson is trans and estranged from every member of her family except her older brother Mazen, who flies to the island to assist her. Soon, their paths cross that of a blocked Lebanese writer. The chapters alternate between Mina’s account of her time on Lesbos, where she treats a Syrian woman named Sumaiya who is dying from liver cancer and pleads with Mina not to tell her family, and second-person narration directed at the writer, who encouraged Mina to write about the refugees because he didn’t feel up to the task (‘You weren’t able to find the right words even after numerous sessions on your psychiatrist’s couch,’ Mina narrates). Confronted by the pain so many refugees describe, Mina recalls the lost world of her own childhood and bonds with Sumaiya over their shared desire to protect their families from the truth. As Mina and her writer-interlocutor are each consumed by the effort to communicate the horror of the refugee experience, Alameddine crafts a wise, deeply moving story that can still locate humor in the pit of hell (Mina, agreeing to let the writer tell her story, jokes, “Whatever you do … don’t fucking call it A Lebanese Lesbian in Lesbos”). This is a triumph.

When Ghosts Come Home by Wiley Cash

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about When Ghosts Come Home: “The trouble for Sheriff Winston Barnes, the upstanding hero of this leisurely whodunit set in 1984 from bestseller Cash (A Land More Kind than Home), begins when he drives late one night to the tiny Oak Island, N.C., airport, where an airplane has crash landed. On the runway near the plane, which is empty, lies the body of Rodney Bellamy, who’s been shot to death. Rodney went to school with Winston’s estranged daughter, Colleen, and was the son of one of the county’s leading civil rights advocates. An FBI investigation into the mysterious plane, which may have been carrying cocaine, threatens Winston’s image as a capable cop—and his chances in a tough re-election against rich boy Bradley Frye. Racial tensions escalate as Frye’s crew of thugs threaten Rodney’s widow and her 14-year-old brother. Meanwhile, Colleen is in town from Texas to figure out her law career and marriage after the death of her baby. A surfeit of background exposition and multiple tangential story lines slow the momentum of the murder plot. This rich character-driven tale works best as a social portrait of a community and an era.”

The Body Scout by Lincoln Michel

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Body Scout: “Michel’s brisk, entertaining debut weaves familiar cyberpunk tropes through a gritty, near-future world of corporate greed and pro baseball. As young boys growing up in the bleak underground warrens of a New York City partly submerged due to climate change, Kobo and his best friend, JJ Zunz, dreamed of playing ball in the big leagues. Kobo washed out of the now-defunct Cyber League and became a talent scout for the pros, though the sport is now controlled by Big Pharma, whose cutting-edge drug blends fuel the top players. Zunz, on the other hand, had the skills and luck to become a star hitter for the Monsanto Mets—until he drops dead on the field during a playoff game. Was it poison or a careless overdose? Kobo’s determined to find the truth, and his investigation plunges him deep into a web of corporate politics, intrigue, and cutthroat shenanigans. The plot moves fast and features well-wrought if expected worldbuilding details, including floating billboards, advanced drug and gene therapies, cybernetic rebuilds, obnoxious and über-wealthy CEOs, and ecological collapse. Readers won’t need to be baseball fans to enjoy this gripping ride.”

Lean Fall Stand by Jon McGregor

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Lean Fall Stand: “McGregor’s stunning latest (after Reservoir 13) explores the aftermath of a traumatic accident. Robert Wright has spent a good deal of his professional life as a technician at Station K in Antarctica with a team of geographic researchers. During a storm, Robert is separated from his crew and suffers a near-fatal injury. McGregor beautifully captures Robert’s ensuing struggle for survival through passages of fragmented stream of consciousness. After Robert’s wife, Anna, is informed he had a stroke, she flies to meet him in Chile, where he has been hospitalized. But the Robert she encounters is a very different man from the one she last saw: among other injuries, his stroke has severely affected the language center of his brain. As the survival story becomes one of recuperation, Anna, an academic who studies the effects of global warming, must care for her disabled spouse, and McGregor portrays the tribulations of speech therapy with as much drama and depth as the depictions of men fighting for their lives on an Antarctic ice floe. Readers will be drawn into Robert and Anna’s heartbreaking struggle, all rendered in McGregor’s crystalline language. This gorgeous work leaves an indelible mark.”

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Book of Form and Emptiness: “Zen Buddhist priest Ozeki’s illuminating postmodern latest (after the meditation memoir The Face: A Time Code) explores themes of mourning, madness, and the powers of the imagination. Benny Oh, a 13-year-old boy, begins hearing voices after his jazz musician father dies in a tragicomic accident involving a truck full of chickens. The voices launch Benny on a quest of self-discovery at the library, where he meets a slovenly poet-philosopher called ‘the Bottleman’ and his stunning, anarchic protégé, ‘the Aleph,’ a young woman obsessed with Borges and the Situationists. The duo cause Benny’s life to become more chaotic and yet more thrilling as they encourage him to embrace his inner madness. Meanwhile, Benny’s mother, Annabelle, whose job for a media-monitoring agency requires her to clip and catalogue print newspaper and magazine articles, and who now works from home, starts hoarding, and the house’s clutter becomes increasingly overwhelming. Sometimes this reads like a simple coming-of-age tale, but Ozeki playfully and successfully breaks the fourth wall—Benny, embarrassed by a passage about him being bullied, says to ‘the Book,’ ‘Can we just skip this, please?’—and she cultivates a striking blend of young adult fiction tropes with complex references to Walter Benjamin, Zen Buddhism, and Marxist philosophy. This is the rare work that will entertain teenagers, literary fiction readers, and academics alike.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Whitehead, Jones, Williams, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Colson Whitehead, Gayl Jones, Joy Williams, 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.
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Harlem Shuffle: “Two-time Pulitzer winner Whitehead (The Nickel Boys) returns with a sizzling heist novel set in civil rights–era Harlem. It’s 1959 and Ray Carney has built an ‘unlikely kingdom’ selling used furniture. A husband, a father, and the son of a man who once worked as muscle for a local crime boss, Carney is ‘only slightly bent when it [comes] to being crooked.’ But when his cousin Freddie—whose stolen goods Carney occasionally fences through his furniture store—decides to rob the historic Hotel Theresa, a lethal cast of underworld figures enter Carney’s life, among them the mobster Chink Montague, ‘known for his facility with a straight razor’; WWII veteran Pepper; and the murderous, purple-suited Miami Joe, Whitehead’s answer to No Country for Old Men’s Anton Chigurh. These and other characters force Carney to decide just how bent he wants to be. It’s a superlative story, but the most impressive achievement is Whitehead’s loving depiction of a Harlem 60 years gone—’that rustling, keening thing of people and concrete’—which lands as detailed and vivid as Joyce’s Dublin. Don’t be surprised if this one wins Whitehead another major award.”

Palmares by Gayl Jones

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Palmares: “Jones (Mosquito) reemerges after a 21-year hiatus with an epic and inventive saga that weaves together magic, mythology, and Portuguese colonial history. Eight-year-old Almeyda is enslaved on a 17th-century Brazilian plantation when her enslaver welcomes a man who seeks the blood of a Black virgin for a cure. While an herbal drink from her mother serves as protection, the price for it comes heavy as the mother is sold and separated from her. Later, as a young woman, Almeyda is rescued and taken to Palmares, a hidden settlement for freedom seekers. There, she is chosen by settlement member Anninho and the two are married. Soon after, Palmares is razed by Portuguese soldiers and its leader, King Zumbi, is killed. While in the soldiers’ custody, Almeyda wakes to find her husband gone. Determined to reunite with him, Almeyda escapes again to journey through Brazil. She hears of a New Palmares and that Zumbi’s spirit may still be alive, perhaps transformed into a bird, and apprentices with a medicine woman who knows Anninho and gives her a lead on his whereabouts. The magical elements are difficult to get an initial purchase on, as they aren’t given much explanation, but Jones brings her established incisiveness and linguistic flair to the horrifyingly accurate portrayal of racial struggle. All in all, it’s a triumphant return.”

The Spectacular by Zoe Whittall

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Spectacular: “Whittall (The Best Kind of People) delivers a clear-eyed portrait of maternal ambivalence in her impressive latest. Missy Wood, 21, is on a mission to have her tubes tied. She’s about to go on tour with her band, the Swearwolves, and doesn’t want to worry about getting pregnant. Though two doctors say she’ll regret the move and refuse to do it, her bandmate Billy had no trouble getting a vasectomy. (‘I told him I was the lead singer in a band. He got it immediately. Isn’t that sexist?’) While Missy is held up in Vancouver by U.S. customs agents for carrying cocaine, she reads a magazine story about an ashram sex scandal that mentions her mother, who left Missy when she was 13 and whom Missy hasn’t been able to locate. Whittall switches points of view between mother and daughter as their paths gradually converge, and adds an extensive and extraneous section from the point of view of Missy’s paternal grandmother, Ruth, on Ruth’s earlier life in Turkey. Whittall is excellent at writing the small, intimate details and sharp dialogue, as well as the mostly propulsive plot, while making no bones about opinions on gender inequities. Whittall is a great storyteller, and her latest does not disappoint.”

The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Wrong End of the Telescope: “A Lebanese doctor travels to the island of Lesbos to help refugees and confront her past in the profound and wonderful latest from Alameddine (The Angel of History), a meditation on loss, resilience, and love. Born in Beirut but long settled in the U.S., Mina Simpson is trans and estranged from every member of her family except her older brother Mazen, who flies to the island to assist her. Soon, their paths cross that of a blocked Lebanese writer. The chapters alternate between Mina’s account of her time on Lesbos, where she treats a Syrian woman named Sumaiya who is dying from liver cancer and pleads with Mina not to tell her family, and second-person narration directed at the writer, who encouraged Mina to write about the refugees because he didn’t feel up to the task (‘You weren’t able to find the right words even after numerous sessions on your psychiatrist’s couch,’ Mina narrates). Confronted by the pain so many refugees describe, Mina recalls the lost world of her own childhood and bonds with Sumaiya over their shared desire to protect their families from the truth. As Mina and her writer-interlocutor are each consumed by the effort to communicate the horror of the refugee experience, Alameddine crafts a wise, deeply moving story that can still locate humor in the pit of hell (Mina, agreeing to let the writer tell her story, jokes, ‘Whatever you do … don’t fucking call it A Lebanese Lesbian in Lesbos’). This is a triumph.”

Kaya Days by Carl de Souza (translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Kaya Days: “De Souza’s electric English-language debut recounts Mauritius’s 1999 Kaya riots over two days as seen through the eyes of a young girl. Teenager Santee leaves her village to pick up her younger brother Ramesh in the large town of Rose-Hill, not knowing that the singer Kaya has been jailed and found dead in his cell, or that the discovery has sparked riots in town. A case of mistaken identity leads to the owner of a gambling den trying to rape her. She gets away and into the first cab that stops. Halfway through the night, after the driver ditches Santee, she meets Ronaldo moments before a group of young men flip the cab and light it on fire. Santee’s perspective is delivered in a dreamlike rush as she allows chance encounters to pull her along. In the streets, gardens, and gorges of the burning city, Santee continues her search for Ramesh. Encountering Chinese, Creole, Hindu, and Muslim Mauritians, her circuitous trek opens up the otherwise anonymous nature of the mob to find personal stories and uncover human community. De Souza’s unpredictable, propulsive tale is a rip-roaring trip teeming with beauty, anger, possibility, and helplessness.”

Inter State by José Vadi

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Inter State: “Part love letter, part indictment, this moving debut essay collection from Vadi captures the changing landscape of California. A native Californian, aging skateboarder, and poet, Vadi laments in deeply felt prose California’s transformation. ‘Standing in the Shadows of Brands’ covers the rise in homelessness in the Bay Area as the tech economy reshaped the city’s culture and skyline, while ’14th and Jackson’ describes the diminishing of a ‘decade’s worth of artistic potential’ in Oakland as the city has gentrified. The title essay bears witness to the quickly vanishing landmarks of the California to which his grandparents came as migrants from Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl—and sees Vadi heading toward ‘the only local landmark I know, a skate park.’ Things often come back to skateboarding—’but then I remember those visceral, intrinsic moments when the earth beneath our skateboards shook, and we asked one another with our eyes, Did you feel it?’—and many of his references will land best for readers familiar with San Francisco and Los Angeles. But even those who have never stepped foot in California will recognize Vadi’s anguish and frustration in watching the place change. The provocative observations will please essay fans.”

Margaret and the Mystery of the Missing Body by Megan Milks

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Margaret and the Mystery of the Missing Body: “Milks’s engaging debut novel (after the collection Kill Marguerite) blends the tropes of classic girl fiction like Nancy Drew with a 16-year-old sleuth’s tumultuous exploration of her queer identity. Margaret Worms, president of the Girls Can Solve Anything club, now spends her days alone, operating as the club’s sole remaining member in an attempt to forget her now-fractured friendships and developing anorexia. But when her disorder leads to repeated fainting spells and visits to her doctor, Margaret is shipped off to the Briarwood Residential Treatment Center, where she encounters the magnetic and rebellious Carrie, a roommate and romantic interest; kindhearted doctors; and even a suffragist ghost—all of whom prompt Margaret’s reckoning with her own body, gender identity, and desires. Weaving together flashbacks, pop culture references (GCSA originated as the Shady Bluff Baby-Sitters Club), and accounts of old GCSA cases, Milks’s dynamic, fast-paced novel beams with wonderful insight, even as its various timelines and registers do not always meld into a consonant whole. The book’s exploration of eating disorders, mental illnesses, and healing is superbly nuanced, as Milks carefully dives into the clinic’s various characters’ histories. Throughout, this is emotionally complex and illuminating.”

Assembly by Natasha Brown

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Assembly: “Brown’s provocative and lyrical debut follows a young Black British woman’s navigation of the racism and sexism at her investment banking job while she contends with a breast cancer diagnosis. Brown opens with three third-person vignettes describing an unnamed woman’s sexual harassment from a man she works with, who calls her hair ‘wild’ and her skin ‘exotic,’ then shifts to a first-person account from an unnamed woman, possibly the same one, of why she chose to work for banks. ‘I understood what they were. Ruthless, efficient money-machines with a byproduct of social mobility.’ Her ‘Lean In feminist’ work friend thinks the narrator’s white boyfriend will propose during an upcoming visit to his parents’ estate, but the narrator can tell her would-be mother-in-law hopes it’s a passing fling. Before the trip, she gets the results of a biopsy and tells her boyfriend there’s nothing to worry about. She also reflects ominously on the doctor’s admonishment on her resistance to getting surgery (‘that’s suicide’), and on the notion that a successful Black person can ever ‘transcend’ race. References to bell hooks’s writing on decolonization and Claudia Rankine’s concept of ‘historical selves’ bolster her fierce insights. This is a stunning achievement of compressed narrative and fearless articulation.”

Harrow by Joy Williams

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Harrow: “Pulitzer finalist Williams (The Quick and the Dead) returns with a dystopian saga of environmental cataclysm that is by turns triumphant, damning, and beguiling. Sometime in the near future, Khristen is sent to a boarding school in the desert of the American West by her mother, a woman haunted by the fact that she believes Khristen briefly died as an infant and came back to life. After the school is shut down, Khristen sets off across a decimated landscape only to end up lodging at a remote hotel inhabited by elderly ecoterrorists, visionaries, and would-be assassins, led by their host, Lola. Among these residents, Khristen also meets a strange 10-year-old named Jeffrey, and together they face the environmental ruination and human depravity that mark the new world these characters all inhabit, while still remembering ‘the old dear stories of possibility’ and noting how ‘no one wanted them anymore, but nothing had replaced them.’ Rollicking with language that is at once biblical and casual, this builds like a sermon to a fever pitch. Williams’s well-known themes of social decline and children in danger are polished to a gorgeous luster in this prescient page-turner. The result serves as both an indictment of current culture and a blazing escape from it.”

Also on shelves this week: Other Girls to Burn by Caroline Crew.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Rooney, Tóibín, Groff, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Sally Rooney, Colm Tóibín, Lauren Groff, 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.
Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Beautiful World, Where Are You: “Rooney (Normal People) continues her exploration of class, sex, and mental health with a cool, captivating story about a successful Irish writer, her friend, and their lovers. Alice Kelleher, 29, has suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of her work’s popularity. After moving from Dublin to a small seaside town, she meets Felix, a local with a similar background—they both grew up working-class, and both have absent fathers—who works in a shipping warehouse. She invites him to accompany her to Rome, where he falls in love with her but resents what he takes to be her superior attitude. Meanwhile, in Dublin, Alice’s university friend Eileen Lydon works a low-paying literary job and explores her attraction to a childhood friend who seems to return her feelings but continues seeing other women. Alice and Eileen update each other in long emails, which Rooney cleverly exploits for essayistic musings about culture, climate change, and political upheaval. Rooney establishes a distance from her characters’ inner lives, creating a sense of privacy even as she describes Alice and Eileen’s most intimate moments. It’s a bold change to her style, and it makes the illuminations all the more powerful when they pop. As always, Rooney challenges and inspires.”

The Magician by Colm Tóibín

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Magician: “The Booker-shortlisted Tóibín (House of Names) unfurls an expansive fictional biography of Thomas Mann, a Nobel laureate who was devoted to family, obsessed with physical beauty, and driven by desire. Tóibín draws on excerpts from Mann’s diary entries, exposing unrequited loves and erotic encounters with male classmates and boarders as a young man in Lübeck, Germany, around the turn of the 20th century. The Mann who emerges in these pages is a man led by dangerous impulses and constantly pursued by the ‘lure of death and the seductive charm of timeless beauty’ who creates a thinly veiled depiction of a merchant family from Lübeck in Buddenbrooks, records his hypersexual attraction to a young Polish boy in Death in Venice, and draws from his visits to his ailing tubercular wife at a sanatorium for The Magic Mountain. An academic sojourn in Princeton and worldwide lecture tours lead a U.S. State Department official to tell him, ‘after Einstein, you are the most important German alive.’ But a series of traumatic events including several suicides (siblings and two of his six children) compound the effects of the wars and his struggles with his sexuality, and he goes into exile in the Pacific Palisades. The glory of music dominates much of the novel—the strains of Wagner’s Lohengrin; the ‘collision between bombast and subtlety’ of Mahler’s Eighth Symphony; and the glow said to have radiated from Bach when his music was performed, which Mann aspires to replicate in prose. This vibrates with the strength of Mann’s visions and the sublimity of Tóibín’s mellifluous prose. Tóibín has surpassed himself.”

Matrix by Lauren Groff

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Matrix: “Groff (Florida) fashions a boldly original narrative based on the life and legend of 12th-century poet Marie de France. After Marie is banished to a poverty-stricken British abbey by Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine at age 17 in 1158, she transforms from a reluctant prioress into an avid abbess. With the rhythm of days and nights regulated by the canonical hours from Lauds to Prime, from Compline to bed, Marie reshapes the claustrophobic community into a ‘self-sufficient… island of women,’ where ‘a woman’s power exists only as far as she is allowed.’ To that end, she confesses a series of 19 beatific visions that guide her in designing an impenetrable underground labyrinth as a secret passageway to the convent, building separate abbess quarters, establishing a scriptorium, and constructing a woman-made lake and dam to insure a constant water supply. Groff fills the novel with friendships among the nuns, inspirational apparitions, and writings empowered by divine inspiration. Transcendent prose and vividly described settings bring to life historic events, from the Crusades to the papal interdict of 1208. Groff has outdone herself with an accomplishment as radiant as Marie’s visions.”

How to Wrestle a Girl by Venita Blackburn

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about How to Wrestle a Girl: “Blackburn (Black Jesus and Other Superheroes) presents a variety of Black and queer voices in this provocative collection. In ‘Bear Bear Harvest TM,’ a girl’s family members have their excess body fat siphoned and sold for food processing. In ‘Biology Class,’ a girl’s classmates bully a teacher into a breakdown. The second half of the collection follows an unnamed Black queer teen through a series of linked stories as she struggles to endure after her father’s death and her mother’s neglect. In ‘Fat,’ she reacts to a white male physician’s assistant telling her she’s fat. In ‘Dick Pic’ and ‘Black Communion,’ she ponders her mother’s relationship with a pastor who sends pictures of his penis to her sister, and in ‘Halloween,’ she and her friend Esperanza intervene after witnessing a car suspiciously follow a little girl. ‘Ground Fighting,’ one of the strongest and longest stories on offer, finds the narrator coming out to a friend. Blackburn relies a bit too much on clever forms, such as crossword puzzles and lists, which tend to feel like exercises, but many entries present well-wrought narratives of young women coming to terms with their bodies and sexuality. It’s a mixed bag, but Blackburn clearly has plenty of talent.”

On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint by Maggie Nelson

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about On Freedom: “Critic Nelson (The Argonauts) traces the limits of liberty and the call to care in this expansive and sharp-eyed study. Exploring ‘structural questions’ about freedom, Nelson exposes instances where conventional uses of the term—for instance, the ‘intensely American’ idea ‘that liberty leads to well-being’—clash with the contradictions of human nature. Skillfully reading the works of such critics as Eve Sedgewick and Hannah Arendt, Nelson outlines the complexities at the heart of her subject: the paradox of sexual freedom, for example, means ‘many of our most basic and hard-earned sexual freedoms… are legally dependent on principles of individual liberty.’ On climate change, she probes the costs of personal liberty when humans are changing the planet in ‘genocidal, geocidal’ ways. Patient and ‘devoted to radical compassion,’ Nelson turns each thought until it is finely honed and avoids binaries and bromides. While the literary theorizing is rich, this account soars in its ability to find nuance in considering questions of enormous importance: ‘We tend to grow tired of our stories over time; we tend to learn from them what they have to teach, then bore of their singular lens.’ Once again, Nelson proves herself a masterful thinker and an unparalleled prose stylist.”

Hao by Ye Chun

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Hao: “Chun’s tender and skillful debut collection explores the power and shortcomings of language for a series of Chinese women in the U.S. and China over the past three centuries. In the gripping opener, ‘Stars,’ Luyao is doing graduate studies in the U.S. when she suffers a stroke and loses the ability to speak. Her speech therapist gives her exercises in English, which reminds her of when she learned the language as a child in China, though she craves the ability to speak Chinese again. In the title story, set during the Cultural Revolution, Qingxin plays a ‘word game’ with her four-year-old daughter, Ming, tracing Chinese words on Ming’s back for her to guess their meaning. ‘Milk’ depicts a young man selling roses in an unnamed Chinese city while posting commentary on his blog about anachronisms on the streets of his purported ‘world class metropolis.’ ‘Gold Mountain’ features an abstract but vivid portrait of 1877 anti-Chinese riots in San Francisco, as a woman takes shelter above a store and tries to decipher overheard English speech. While some stories feel like exercises, serving mainly to provide connective tissue for the overarching theme, Chun consistently reveals via bold and spare prose how characters grasp onto language as a means of belonging. Not every entry is a winner, but the best of the bunch show a great deal of promise.”

The Archer by Shruti Swamy

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Archer: “Swamy’s affecting debut novel (after A House is a Body) follows a woman’s interest in dance and self-determination after growing up in poverty in 1960s Northern India. At seven, Vidya encounters a class of girls learning kathak, a form of Indian classical dance. By the time she’s in her teens, Vidya has become a dedicated kathak pupil, devoted to the ‘wild, nearly unbearable pleasure’ of dance. In college, she studies engineering while continuing to work every day with a new dance teacher from Bombay. Always set slightly apart from her peers by her poverty and intensity, Vidya is surprised by the depth of her connection to another student, the solitary and brilliant Radha. Swamy writes with keen perception of Vidya’s anger and unyielding will to dance, despite her predicament (she never forgets that she is ‘dark, overeducated, unpedigreed’). Later in the book, after Vidya’s brief romance with Radha, she marries a man from a very different socioeconomic class, a decision that further illustrates how the odds are stacked against her as a young woman attempting to live on her own terms. Swamy confidently evokes the time and place with spare, precise prose. This writer continues to demonstrate an impressive command of her craft.”

Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Beautiful Country: “In this extraordinary debut, civil rights lawyer Wang recounts her years growing up as an undocumented immigrant living in ‘the furtive shadows’ of America. During China’s Cultural Revolution, her uncle was thrown in prison for criticizing Mao Zedong, leaving his parents and younger brother, Wang’s father, to pay for his ‘treasonous’ ways in the form of public beatings and humiliation. This fueled her father’s desire to find a better life in America, the ‘Beautiful Country.’ In China, Wang’s parents were professors, but upon arriving in New York City in 1994, their credentials were meaningless. ‘Pushing past hunger pains,’ they took menial jobs to support Wang, who worked alongside her mother in a sweatshop before starting school at age seven. During her five years in the States—’shrouded in darkness while wrestling with hope and dignity’—Wang managed to become a star student. With immense skill, she parses how her family’s illegal status blighted nearly every aspect of their life, from pushing her parents’ marriage to the brink to compromising their health. While Wang’s story of pursuing the American dream is undoubtedly timeless, it’s her family’s triumph in the face of ‘xenophobia and intolerance’ that makes it feel especially relevant today. Consider this remarkable memoir a new classic.”

The Breaks by Julietta Singh

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Breaks: “In a kind of spiritual successor to the genre-defying No Archive Will Restore You, Singh, an associate professor of English and gender studies, reveals the most intimate details of her life and politics. Using the form of a letter to her daughter, Singh offers ‘alternative histories… of those who have faced annihilation and lived toward survival’ in the face of Western capitalism’s ‘wholesale destruction of the earth,’ and criticizes the ‘dominant narratives’ that have shaped mainstream culture—such as Disney’s painting of Indigenous peoples as ‘savage’ and the white man as ‘fundamentally good’ in the movie Pocahontas. To go ‘against the grain’ of these racist depictions, Singh recalls her youth fighting discriminatory aggression as a mixed ‘Brown’ child in the ‘purportedly multicultural Canada of the 1980s,’ her lifelong endurance of bodily and medical trauma, and the home she’s created with her partner—as ‘queer collaborators’ who play ‘with what constitutes family.’ Singh has a tendency to wax academic, but that doesn’t detract from the beauty of her insights as she exquisitely links theory and poetics to her own fears, insecurities, and certainty that one day her child will need to break away from her. This is a stunning work.”

The Water Statues by Fleur Jaeggy (translated by Gini Alhadeff)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Water Statues: “In this strange and shimmering nonlinear text from Swiss writer Jaeggy (I Am the Brother of XX), the lonely children of the wealthy and their eccentric employees negotiate the boundary between companionship and solitude. In Amsterdam, Beeklam grows up with only his father, Reginald, after the death of his mother, Thelma. Reginald never remarries and lives in seclusion with his servant, Lampe, a man curiously similar to him: ‘the two men had hardly met but were in perfect agreement, two finicky little plants,’ Jaeggy observes. As an adult, Beeklam stocks the basement of his house with statues and spends more and more time with them, ‘losing control of the hours and of life.’ Beeklam, too, has only one companion: his servant, Victor. After Reginald, at 70, suddenly leaves his house and abandons Lampe, Lampe goes to work for Kaspar, another widower who was a friend of Thelma’s. Through this new connection to Kaspar and a child who lives with him and may be Kaspar’s daughter, Beeklam and Victor’s small universe grows a little larger. In short, enjoyably expressionistic sections, Jaeggy sketches the emotional lives of people marooned but not content to remain entirely alone. What emerges is a fascinating and memorable portrait of a milieu obsessed with the passing of time.”

Martita, I Remember You by Sandra Cisneros (translated by Liliana Valenzuela)

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Martita, I Remember You: “In this bilingual edition (written originally in English and translated into Spanish by Liliana Valenzuela) of Cisneros’s exquisite story (after Puro Amor), a woman relives her time in Paris two decades earlier via a cache of discovered letters. At 20, Corina aspires to become a writer and escape her poor Mexican Chicago family, prompting her to travel to Paris. She meets Marta, from Chile, and Paola, from Italy, and mingles with artists, dancers, and performers. She stretches her money to stay longer, realizing, ‘I can’t go home yet. Because home is bus stops and drugstore windows, elastic bandages and hairpins, plastic ballpoints, felt bunion pads, tweezers, rat poison, cold sore ointment, mothballs, drain cleaners, deodorant.’ Back in Chicago, she holds onto a photo of herself with Marta and Paola, but swiftly loses touch with them. Decades later, she discovers a letter from Marta sent shortly after she’d left, suggesting they meet in Spain, ‘in case you’re still traveling.’ Corina speaks to Marta in her thoughts and gives the rundown of her life: divorced, remarried, two daughters. Cisneros’s language and rhythm of her prose reverberate with Corina’s longing for her youth and unfulfilled promise. The author’s fans will treasure this.”

Also on shelves this week: Heart Radical by Anne Liu Kellor, Letters to Amelia by Lindsay Zier-Vogel and Misfits by Michaela Coel.

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Hamya, Wolitzer, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Jo Hamya, Hilma Wolitzer, 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.
Three Rooms by Jo Hamya

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Three Rooms: “Hamya’s cerebral debut explores a young British woman’s identity formation while her country is besieged by inequality, disconnection, and political instability. In the fall of 2018, the unnamed narrator, a millennial woman of color, has just moved into student accommodations at Oxford for a temporary research assistant position. Trying to find her footing, she spends most of her time online, contemplating how others manage their online personae, such as a student named Ghislane, whose father recorded a hit ‘faux-folk’ song of the same name in the 1990s (‘Ghislane was not as famous as her father,’ the narrator notes, perusing her Instagram profile, ‘but there were the beginnings of some distinction there’). Later, the narrator moves to London and scrapes by while working yet another temporary job at a society magazine with a pitiful salary. As Brexit divides the nation, she reflects on the changing cultural climate and the purposelessness of her toils: ‘When did it become ridiculous to think that a stable economy and a fair housing market were reasonable expectations?’ In precise prose, Hamya captures the disillusionment and despair plaguing her protagonist. This perceptive debut will delight fans of Rachel Cusk.”

Several People Are Typing by Calvin Kasulke

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Several People Are Typing: “Kasulke’s ambitious if underwhelming debut, a fantastical workplace comedy, unfolds via Slack messages sent by employees of a New York City PR firm. Gerald works from home, trapped indefinitely ‘within the confines of [Slack].’ Other colleagues also find opportunities to ‘wfh,’ citing a blizzard, or kids, but one of them, Tripp, continues going into the office, where he meets Beverly, a new team member, and the two begin a secret romance. Kasulke does a good job pulling together the signifiers of office culture—the team trade pet pics and carry on inside jokes with an emoji named ‘dusty stick’—and they work on a campaign for a dog food company that’s in crisis mode over its product allegedly containing poison. But none of these or the other internal mini dramas—such as the incessant ‘howling’ Lydia hears or Gerald’s unease-turned-existential crisis—are particularly engaging or inspiring, and things take a series of odd turns after the Slackbot AI takes over Gerald’s body with his mind still stuck in the digital realm. However clever the setup is, the satire lacks bite and feels not unlike listening to a friend complain about their job. For a book about Slack, it’s largely that.”

Moon and the Mars by Kia Corthron

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Moon and the Mars: “Playwright and novelist Corthron (The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter) combines a propulsive coming-of-age story with a fascinating history of the years before and after the Civil War. Beginning in 1857, biracial seven-year-old narrator Theo Brigid Brook observes the social upheaval and racial injustice leading to the conflict. She lives in Manhattan’s infamous Five Points neighborhood with her Grammy Brook and Grammy Cahill, who are discriminated against for being Irish and Black, respectively. Other residents of the Brook household include a barber who boards with them and a woman who escaped from slavery in South Carolina. Theo is acutely attuned to such events as the Metropolitan Police riots, and her intense relationship with the rough-and-tumble Irish lad Ciaran seems fated from an early age. While Theo is bookish and entrenched in family and community, Ciaran eschews education and takes a series of manual labor jobs. Corthron smoothly weaves in historical developments as divisions flare in the Five Points, such as the implications of the Dred Scott case, something Grammy Brook sums up concisely: ‘Whenever the rich make a crisis, you know what gonna fall to the poor is catastrophe.’ Corthron’s ambition pays off with dividends.”

Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket by Hilma Wolitzer

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket: “In this sage collection of stories, many of which were published in the 1960s and ’70s, Wolitzer (An Available Man) considers love, marriage, and motherhood. The title story is narrated by a woman who regrets her inability to help when she sees a woman with two children having a nervous breakdown in a supermarket. In ‘Mrs. X,’ a housewife receives a note signed from an ‘anonymous friend’ hinting that her husband is having an affair and grows angry at the friend for interfering in their lives. In ‘Overtime,’ a husband and wife allow the former’s needy ex to move in with them temporarily—with unsurprisingly uproarious results. In the affecting ‘Mother,’ a woman who has just given birth worries that something is wrong with her premature baby and leaves the maternity ward to search the hospital for her. Several of the stories revolve around a New York couple, Paulette and Howard; in a contemporary story, the couple must cope with the coronavirus pandemic: ‘We were going to have a Zoom meeting, whatever that was,’ Paulette narrates about a March 2020 book club meeting, her memories undercut with a wistfulness over the devastation that would come in the months to follow. Throughout, Wolitzer captures the feel of each moment with characters who charm with their honesty. The result is a set of engaging time capsules.”

Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Levy, Jeffers, Barker, and More

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Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Deborah Levy, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, Pat Barker, 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.
Real Estate by Deborah Levy

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Real Estate: “Levy (The Cost of Living) brings her trilogy of autobiographies home in this incandescent meditation on writing, womanhood, and the places that nurture both. From her shabby flat in North London, she imagines a dream property: ‘a grand old house with the pomegranate tree in the garden,’ and returns to this refrain throughout her delightful memoir-in-vignettes. Levy is 59 and single, and, with her youngest daughter off to university, takes a fellowship in Paris and contemplates the nature of middle-aged female freedom that includes, for her, a deep longing for an expansive kind of rootedness. ‘Domestic space,’ she observes, ‘if it is not an affliction bestowed on us by patriarchy, can be a powerful space. To make it work for women and children is the challenge.’ She accumulates treasures for the ‘unreal estate’ of her dreams, contemplates a friend’s extramarital affair, rents a crumbling old home in Greece, and encounters sexist male writers. Despite what physically occurs, this is a cerebral affair—Levy’s mind is both troubled and titillated by the slipperiness of time and place—and her wry wit and descriptive powers are more pleasurable than any plot. Eloquent and unapologetically frank, Levy’s astute narrative is a place worth lingering in.”

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois: “Poet Jeffers (The Age of Phyllis) debuts with a staggering and ambitious saga exploring African American history. Ailey Pearl Garfield, the youngest daughter of Geoff Garfield, a light-skinned Washington, D.C., physician, and Belle Driskell Garfield, a Southern school teacher, reckons with ancestral trauma while growing up in the 1980s and ’90s. Throughout, historical sketches (or ‘songs’) link Ailey to her ancestors: Creeks, enslaved Africans, and early Scot slave owners. Ailey follows in the footsteps of her parents, attending the southern HBCU where they met and married as undergraduates before moving north to the ‘City,’ where Geoff attended medical school at Mecca University (a thinly veiled Howard). W.E.B. Du Bois’s theories emerge in epigraphs throughout and are sagaciously reflected in the plot, as the accounts of Ailey’s college life correspond to the ‘talented tenth.’ Later, tragedy unfolds as Lydia, Ailey’s oldest sister who is haunted by childhood sexual abuse, succumbs to crack addiction. The multigenerational story bursts open when Ailey unearths some unknown family history during her graduate studies, as well as secrets of the Black female founder of her family’s alma mater. Themes of family, class, higher education, feminism, and colorism yield many rich layers. Readers will be floored.”

Something Wonderful by Jo Lloyd

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Something Wonderful: “Each story in Lloyd’s crisp and layered debut collection is like a picture postcard from the Welsh countryside, belied by family secrets, dashed hopes, and the long shadows of history. In ‘My Bonny,’ a widow raises her son after her husband is killed at sea, beginning a family saga that stretches into an ominous future in just a few short pages. The unseen upper-class visitors to a close-knit community leave a mark on its citizens in ‘The Invisible,’ and in ‘Butterflies of the Balkans,’ set in the run-up to WWI, two young women pursue a passion for lepidopterology. Other stories feature hopeful young people falling in and out of love as they make their first forays into adulthood, as in ‘Ade/Cindy/Kurt/Me’ and ‘Your Magic Summer’; the latter follows the friendship of two girls as they become women, marry, and find their rapport threatened by the changes in their lives. Perhaps the best entry is the gothic ‘The Earth, Thy Great Exchequer, Ready Lies,’ wherein the imperious and self-made lord of a humble township ventures into the lowlands, only to meet a mysterious fate. Throughout, the author shows a knack for stretching each germ of a story into a miniature epic. Lloyd’s singular talent is on full display.”

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Women of Troy: “In Barker’s masterly continuation of her fiercely feminist take on Homer’s Iliad (after The Silence of the Girls), the Greeks drag their wooden horse into Troy and achieve victory after a 10-year siege, but a freak storm prevents their ships from returning home. As time drags on, Briseis, the heroine of the previous installment, struggles to survive as an enemy noncombatant prisoner in the siege camp. A former queen of a Trojan ally, she was kidnapped by Achilles as his prize of honor and turned into his sex slave. But now Achilles is dead and Briseis is pregnant. Handed down to Lord Alcimus as his wife, she spends her days, as soldiers play football with a human head, commiserating with the other Trojan women—Hecuba, Cassandra, Andromache and, of course, Helen, the cause of the war. Briseis shares narrative duties with Pyrrhus, the bloodthirsty son of Achilles, and Calchas, a canny priest of Troy. In a novel filled with names from legend, Briseis stands tall as a heroine: brave, smart and loyal. The author makes strategic use of anachronistic language (‘living in the real world,’ ‘keep a low profile’) to illuminate characters living at the dawn of myth. Barker’s latest is a wonder.”