Ten Genre-Bending Story Collections

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I remember my local library as a sea of books—borderless, a drowning by story that I entered into every Saturday and emerged afterwards from its delicious depths having been visited equally by mermaids, heroes, childhoods, and histories. That books were separated into categories and genres was not something that occurred to me until I was older, and my writerly consciousness rejects the idea even now. The stories in The Rock Eaters are populated by angels perched on rooftops, alien arrivals, and Latin American superheroes storming the U.S. border, as well as tennis-playing girls and frenemies. For all their genre-bending, they’re all, at their core, about loving across boundaries and the walls we erect inside ourselves. I never think about genre distinctions. An image comes to me and then I write towards a character whose heart will break because of that image. Sometimes it’s a magical being, sometimes it’s a suburban Florida girl, but all of them are powered by the same desperate desire to connect.
My favorite short story collections are as multi-genred and vast as the library of my youth. They’re wild rides through time and space. They’re about love and heartbreak, and they celebrate and mourn the monstrous inside humanity and the human inside the monstrous, our hunger to love and be loved. They contain magic and histories and, sometimes, aliens.
1. What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Tales of mathematicians who can fly, dystopic worlds, and babies who come alive from mundane objects like mud and hair sit well alongside relationships between girls in Nigeria and the immigrant experience. This collection crosses continents with its depth of feeling. Each story draws you into an emotional battle between people.

2. Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
This collection starts off with a heavy-hitting political story: a racially motivated murder in the name of “self-defense,” and a young Black man considering how to respond. The events ring all too true. There are also George Saunders-esque tales, such as the title story, in which a zombie-like shopping disease afflicts much of the population, literally embodying capitalism’s bottomless voracity. This one stuns you with its conceits, and also hits hard politically.
3. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

These stories range from surreal retellings of NCIS episodes to post-apocalyptic worlds after a virus wipes almost everyone out to fairytale-inspired horrors. Many of them are about relationships, and throughout all of their wonder and horror, the stories glimmer with true heart, people trying desperately to love and hold onto their dreams.

4. Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap

These tales mix science fiction, fantasy, horror, and Filipino folk tales. Monsters approach women, girls, and couples, offering them deals they can’t resist. But the tenderness in these stories overcome monstrosity, and in Yap’s hands even creatures from our nightmares search for love and compassion.

5. At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson

These stories including future-seeing queens, mysterious plagues of bees, bridges suspended over a toxic mist that hides monsters, and folktales come to life, with images so glowing, prose so precise, you’ll be utterly enthralled. Johnson packs so much into these stories—entire kingdoms, futures, continents, great loves—that you’ll find your brain reeling for days afterwards.

6. A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel

A Civil War ghost, a geriatric mecha-suit wearer, people who grow additional arms when they experience love—these stories take our everyday lives and imbue them with weirdness and a glimmering humor. “Tributaries,” with its final moment of tenderness between a teacher and the principal’s wife, utterly broke my heart.

7. Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

Russell’s second story collection is my favorite of her three. Her stories include people who turn into silkworm creatures, dead presidents reincarnated as horses, and vampires contemplating a long relationship. They resist genre distinction, and offer a wide range of emotions. Earnest fantasies sit equally well alongside stories that lean more into horror (“Proving Up”) and those where the surreality bewilders the main characters (“The Barn at the End of Our Term”).

8. Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

Link is a master at building incredible worlds in tiny spaces. From superhero conventions to uncanny spaceships to a house ruled in miniature by fairy-like people to a world influenced by Egyptian Pharaohs, where rich teens get their own burial pyramids, but also have to pay attention to appearances, social media, and body doubles, these are worlds as contemporary as they are magical. Link deftly weaves horror with deep human yearning while delivering satisfying plot twists.

9. Windeye by Brian Evenson

Evenson is a true master of literary horror, stories where humans and uncertainty are the true monsters, which leave you with the feeling that your whole life might not be real. Featuring houses with mysterious additional windows, an afterlife of walking through mist interminably, and boys who take over other boys’ lives, these stories feel like the kind you would tell over a sputtering campfire, the forest creaking at your back.

10. Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone by Sequoia Nagamatsu

Inspired pop culture, science fiction, and Japanese folktales, these stories bring Godzilla, ghosts, shapeshifters, and demons to life in a wild and vivid collection—as heartfelt as it is haunting—that makes the present look like a dreamlike fantasy.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

The Millions Top Ten: May 2021

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We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for May.

This Month
Last Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain
5 months

2.
4.

Klara and the Sun
3 months

3.
3.

Fake Accounts
4 months

4.
5.

The Copenhagen Trilogy
3 months

5.
6.

No One Is Talking About This
4 months

6.
8.

Detransition, Baby

5 months

7.
10.

Outlawed
2 months

8.


Subdivision
1 month

9.


Women and Other Monsters
1 month

10.


Craft in the Real World
1 month

Three titles from last month’s “near misses” crack this month’s Top Ten: Subdivision by J. Robert Lennon, Women and Other Monsters by Jess Zimmerman, and Craft in the Real World by Matthew Salesses. The novel, essays, and book on craft occupy the eighth, ninth, and 10th positions, respectively. Although each one was deftly highlighted in our Great First-Half 2021 Book Preview last January—(Stay tuned for the Second-Half Preview soon!)—Salesses’s “stunning conflagration” is the only one so far to have been properly reviewed on our site.

“I wish I had it with me for the past twenty plus years of navigating writing workshops, both as student and teacher,” wrote Neelanjana Banerjee. “It is a blueprint for a way forward to build better writing programs, and thus a new kind of writer and teacher who can imagine beyond a structure that often hurt them and left them in need of repair.”

The newcomers’ spaces were opened by the ascension of Susie Yang’s White Ivy, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and Pete Beatty’s Cuyahoga to our site’s Hall of Fame. On some shelves, freeing up 1,344 pages and replacing them with 736 pages might look strange, but here on our cyberspace shelf we think it looks swell indeed.

Meanwhile, enough of you talked about Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This that it moved from ninth position to fifth in the span of three months. Where will it go next? You’ll have to check back in July to find out.

This month’s near misses included: The Committed, Vernon Subutex, Selected Stories, 1968-1994, A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself and Life Among the Terranauts. See Also: Last month’s list.

June Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

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We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!
Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.
Filthy Animals by Brandon Taylor: In this series of linked stories, young creative people in the Midwest navigate loneliness, intimacy, and violence. In many ways, the book is a continuation of Taylor’s highly acclaimed debut novel, Real Life, which follows Wallace, a Black queer biochemistry PhD student in the Midwest, as he explores failure, grief, and confusing straight men. In other ways, it is a departure — and offers a glimpse into Taylor’s true literary love, the short story form. (Jacqueline)

The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris: Twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella is the only Black woman at her publishing company until another Black woman is hired and quickly becomes a favorite in the office–just as Nella starts receiving threatening notes at work. Attica Locke raves, “Zakiya Dalila Harris has pulled back the curtain on the publishing industry, but in doing so, she has also perfectly captured a social dynamic that exists in job cultures as varied as tech, finance, academia, or hell, even retail and fast food. Oh, beware of the “OBGs”—Other Black Girls—y’all. As we should all be aware of the psychic cost to Black women of making ourselves palatable to institutions that use our cultural cache for their own ends while disregarding any part of our hearts and minds that they either can’t or won’t understand.” (Lydia)
Bewilderness by Karen Tucker: The stress of Covid-19 has, according to the CDC, escalated opioid usage, and synthetic opioids like fentanyl continue to drive OD fatalities, which are 10% higher than 12 months ago. In her debut novel, Bewilderness, Karen Tucker puts a human face on this ongoing public health catastrophe, as she tells the story of Irene and Luce, pill-addicts and best friends. More than merely evoking the desperation of opioid abuse, Bewilderness provides a funny and touching story of female friendship—as Rufi Thorpe says, “Karen Tucker has the chaotic truth-telling energy of a sage and a lack of sentimentality that would give Hunter S. Thompson stomach cramps. This is the novel the opiate epidemic needs.” (Adam Price)

Walking on Cowrie Shells by Nana Nkweti: In her genre-bending debut story collection, the Cameroonian-American writer and Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate Nana Nkweti mixes realism with clever inversions of numerous genres, including horror, mystery, myth, young adult, and science fiction. You’ll meet linguistic anthropologists, comic book enthusiasts, a PR pro trying to spin a zombie outbreak in West Africa, a graphic novelist, a pregnant pastor’s wife, a mermaid. This dazzler of a debut shines a spotlight on lives that bridge the divide between the cultures of Cameroon and America. Nkweti has said she hopes her stories entertain readers while also offering them a counterpoint to prevalent “heart of darkness” writing that too often depicts a singular African experience. (Bill)
Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen: For the title alone, I’m in, no matter who wrote it. But then it’s also Rivka Galchen? Trying her hand at historical fiction? I’m hitting preorder. Based in 1618 Germany at the start of the 30 Years War it tells the story of Katherina Kepler, an illiterate woman known for her herbal remedies. When a neighbor accuses Katherina of poisoning her, Katherina’s brilliant son, an Imperial Mathematician, must defend her. Galchen, known for her fiction and journalism, drew on real historical documents to write her tale of a family threatened by superstitious fears. (Hannah)
Double Blind by Edward St. Aubyn: A little knowledge, they say, can be a dangerous thing. But is there such a thing as too much knowledge? Of the world we live in? Of the people we live with? In St. Aubyn’s seventh novel the sacred and the profane, the rough and the refined are set against each other as the passionate and the rational play out in the lives of three close friends. No one comes out unscathed, or unenlightened. (Il’ja)

All the Water I’ve Seen Is Running by Elias Rodriques: Life is change, and nowhere is that more potently illustrated than in a life confronted by its past. When Daniel Henriquez travels from New York to his old stomping grounds in the American South for the funeral of a girl he once loved, he is confronted by the tension, the true challenge, of owning our identities and owning up to them with those who know us well. On friendship, love, and the rough bite of life on the margins. (Il’ja)

The Great Mistake by Jonathan Lee: The publisher has laid some tripwires in describing this latest novel from the author of High Dive: “New York…turn of the twentieth century…fortune…murder.” A private man deeply invested in the public welfare of one of the world’s great cities has his privacy shredded even as his life is ended, in a novel Katy Simpson Smith compares to Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams and John Williams’ Stoner. (Il’ja)

Ghost Forest by Pik-Shuen Fung: Following the death of her father, a young woman is haunted by the unspoken history of her family and looks to put a voice to it. A daunting task “if your family doesn’t talk about feelings.” A valuable addition to the growing canon of work providing fresh views on the North American immigrant experience. (Il’ja)

Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford: In this memoir, writer, podcaster, and educator Ashley Ford tells the story of her upbringing. Amid struggles with poverty, rape, and her father’s incarceration, Ford describes the process through which she ultimately came to better understand herself, her surroundings, and her family. Glennon Doyle writes, “The gravity and urgency of Somebody’s Daughter anchored me to my chair and slowed my heartbeat—like no book has since Toni Morrison‘s The Bluest Eye.” (Jacqueline)
Revival Season by Monica West: A spectacular coming-of-age novel. Miriam’s father, one of the most famous preachers in the South, uses his healing powers to cure people of their diseases. But one summer, the fifteen-year-old Miriam starts to doubt her father’s powers and her faith after witnessing an incident. In the following year and through her painful exploration, Miriam has to confront and resolve the tension between feminism and faith. Revival Season is not only an inner journey of the becoming of a young lady in the South, but also a precise geological picture of the Bible Belt and how faith shapes the community and the family. (Jianan Qian)
How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith: The power of an itinerant narrator—Smith journeys to Monticello, Angola Prison, Blandford Cemetery, and downtown Manhattan—is that it reveals slavery’s expansive, geographical legacy. Smith tells his stories with the soul of a poet and the heart of an educator. Smith’s ambitious book is fueled by a humble sense of duty: he sought the wisdom of those who tell of slavery’s legacy “outside traditional classrooms and beyond the pages of textbooks”; public historians who “have dedicated their lives to sharing this history with others.” Smith channels the spirit of Toni Morrison here; the writer as one to pass on the word so that it is never forgotten. (Nick R.)
Last Comes the Raven by Italo Calvino (translated by Ann Goldstein): Calvino’s early stories shine here, as with the titular tale, originally published in The Paris Review in 1954: “The stream was a net of limpid, delicate ripples, with the water running through the mesh. From time to time, like a fluttering of silver wings, the dorsum of a trout flashed on the surface, the fish at once plunging zigzag down into the water.” Readers of Calvino know his mercurial ability to move from mimesis to mystery, his syntax full of glorious surprises. (Nick R.)
Mona at Sea by Elizabeth Gonzalez James: I’m a sucker for both “late-blooming” life stories and plucky protagonists. Elizabeth Gonzalez James’s official bio tells us that she “was a waitress, a pollster, an Avon lady, and an opera singer” before sitting down to write, and her jacket copy describes the Millennial protagonist of her debut novel as “the sort who says exactly the right thing at absolutely the wrong moments, seeing the world through a cynic’s eyes.” Also she’s been both a Pushcart and Glimmer Train story nominee, which to my mind is still mad cred. I’m sold. (Sonya)

Animal by Lisa Taddeo: Following her bestselling Three Women, Lisa Taddeo has written a story of female rage, a novel that illustrates one woman’s evolution from prey to predator. When Joan, the protagonist, sees a man commit violence in front of her, she flees her New York City home, searching for the only person who can help her understand her past. As she unravels the traumatic events of her childhood that shaped her adult life, she starts developing the power to exact revenge. (Thom)

With Teeth by Kristen Arnett: In the follow-up to her best-selling debut, Mostly Dead Things, Arnett explores a queer family that is struggling to hold itself together. Sammie Lucas spends her days feeling resentful and removed from her wife Monika, and worrying over her son Samson. As Samson grows and becomes increasingly hostile, all their lives begin to implode. “With Teeth is a wonderfully sticky novel about motherhood, partnership, sex, and love,” writes Emma Straud. “Kristen Arnett lets her characters have the run of the place, and it’s delicious fun to watch them do, say, and think things they’ll regret.” (Carolyn)

God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney: In journalist McKinney’s debut novel, sisters Abigail and Caroline uncover a lifechanging secret about their father—the head pastor at the local evangelical megachurch. When their world splits open, the sisters flee to the ranch handed down to them by their grandmother, where they will have to take stock of who or what mattters—and who or what is worth saving. With praise from Rumaan Alam, Lynn Steger Strong, Esmé Weijun Wang, R.O. Kwon, among others, this coming-of-age debut about sisterhood, faith, community, and Evangelical Christianity is sure to delight. (Carolyn)

To Write as If Already Dead by Kate Zambreno: In her formally ambitious and genre blurring new book, Guggenheim Fellow Zambreno writes about trying (and failing) to write a critical study of Hervé Guibert’s To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life—as well as ruminating on themes like friendship, morality, literature, time, and memory. Moyra Davey says, “This book is a tour de force. I was completely awestruck by the way Zambreno enacts the concept of the title, and by the way she writes the body, hers and Guibert’s. It is a moving performative act, a document of our time from the trenches, and a brilliant critical study.” (Carolyn)

Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin: Set in 1976 New York, Pru Steiner arrives in the city and falls headlong into a marriage with Spence Robin, her Shakespeare professor. When Spence is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimers, Pru must grapple with the grief, loneliness, and pain of caretaking. Amidst the heartache, two unlikely men enter her life—one brings the potential of romance; the other is Spence’s estranged son from his first marriage—and provide a bit of hope. Sigrid Nunuz writes, “[Morningside Heights’] greatest achievement is to make us feel that we are in the presence of real people, living out their joys and sorrows and making their way in the real world.” (Carolyn)

The Portrait of a Mirror by A. Natasha Joukovsky: In her funny, sharp debut, Joukovsky reimagines the muth of Narcissus in the form of two beautiful, wealthy, and well-intentioned (but selfish) couples: one in New York, one in Philadelphia. When their paths cross and their lives becomes increasingly emeshed, they fall prey to each other and their own outsized desires. Emily Temple raves, “The Portrait of a Mirror is an absolute delight: an intellectually dazzling, deliciously wicked novel about love, art, illusion, and modernity—not to mention a pitch-perfect satire of New York’s beautiful people. (Carolyn)

The Confession of Copeland Cane by Keenan Norris: Set in the near future in East Oakland, California, eighteen-year-old Copeland Cane is a normal Black teenager living in an dystopian police state where brutality is televised and a deadly pandemic is raging. When he attends a protest that turns violent, Copeland becomes a fugitive of the state. Nayomi Munaweera writes: “This book is praise song, love letter, and requiem for Black and Brown bodies caught up in California’s post-pandemic, private-police ruled near future. A powerfully voiced, page-turning novel and required reading for anyone attempting to understand the struggle for racial justice.” (Carolyn)

What Makes You Think You’re Awake? by Maegan Poland: Whether its a honeymoon trip that takes a turn for the worst or a woman who must choose how she uses her time-freezing backyard shed, Poland’s short story collection explores the human condition in all its messy glory. Winner of the 2020 Bakwin Award, judge Carmen Maria Machado calls the short stories “a wonderful debut; a collection of frank, funny, and heartbreaking stories that delve into the mire of human loneliness.” (Carolyn)

Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi: In their epistolary memoir, Emezi—the award-winning, genre-shifting author of Freshwater, Pet, and The Death of Vivek Oji—explores their life, creativity, gender, relationships, and sense of self. “A remarkable memoir by a writer who doesn’t shy away from sharing their ambitions or their vulnerabilities,” says Booklist. (Carolyn)

Ten Essential Noir Novels

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I was in my early 20s and living in Reno when I went to the library and saw it on the new release shelf: Wild at Heart by Barry Gifford. It was the cover that made me pick it up and check it out. I read it that night and said to myself, “Goddamn, I want to write like that.” It was six months later that I went to a bookstore and saw a life-sized, black-and-white cardboard cutout of a crazed convict pointing a gun. On his chest were pockets containing novels with the same sort of black-and-white cover photos. The publisher was Black Lizard and the novels had names like A Swell Looking BabeThe GriftersNightfallThe Burnt Orange Heresy, The Hot SpotA Hell of a Woman. I’d never seen books like those before. They were short, under 200 pages, and dangerous looking. I’d just been paid and I had money so I bought four of them without knowing anything about noir or who the authors were.
I went home that night and read A Hell of a Woman, and the way I looked at novels forever changed after that. Those Black Lizard books were about psychologically damaged people trying to navigate a cruel, cutthroat world that didn’t want them in the first place. And they were written by what seemed to me psychologically damaged writers. It felt like I’d found a home. The novels were lean and tight and dark and desperate. Little did I know that Barry Gifford started Black Lizard. He was the person who helped bring Charles Willeford, David Goodis, and Jim Thompson back into print. Later, he helped me find the crazed convict cutout with the novels in his chest. How lucky is that? Here’s a list of some of my favorite noir novels:

1. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? by Horace McCoy

This Depression-era novel takes place during a dance marathon. A couple meet and the woman, Gloria, whispers into her dance partner’s ear that she’s suicidal. She has no family, she can’t find a job, and she wants to kill herself but doesn’t have the guts. The novel is steeped in the desperation of the Depression but also in the desperation of the contestants. Because everyone there wants to be famous. The novel is set in Hollywood and fame and stardom is everything, being discovered is everything. But underneath it all everyone knows there’s no real chance of discovery.

2. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

One of my favorite titles of all time. Another Depression-era novel that is at once sadomasochistic, racist, violent, and romantic. Frank, arguably a sociopath, is a drifter and he stumbles into a roadside diner to find the owners, Cora and her Greek husband Nick, are in need of help running the gas station. Cora and Frank begin an affair and it goes nuts after that. For those who like audiobooks, check out Stanley Tucci’s reading. It’s genius.

3. Savage Night by Jim Thompson

There was a time I had every Jim Thompson novel displayed in a shrine. But I loved Thompson so much I had to try and get my friends to read him and began giving them away. Jesus, what a mistake that was—they were hard to find. Never give your prized books to anyone. I picked this one because it’s mad. A vertically challenged hit man who wears elevator shoes is sent to a town to kill a person. He gets a room at boarding house and begins an affair with a woman who has a leg that ends at the knee with an infant-sized foot attached. Oh, and the hit man begins shrinking. Jim Thompson is pure mania. Just writing about him makes me laugh and feel sick at the same time.

4. Pick-Up by Charles Willeford

This one stopped me in my tracks. An alcoholic short order cook and an alcoholic, suicidal woman fall in love. He was once a painter who realized he was never going to be a great artist and gave up painting for drinking. When we meet him he’s spent years on the slide. The woman, who’s nearly at the bottom, inspires him to try again to be great. He gets his painting chops back only to realize he’s not great and never will be. Their lives tumble into a free fall after that. Pick-Up also has one of the most striking endings of any noir novel I’ve read.

5. Shoot the Piano Player by David Goodis

When I first read Goodis, he was just too much for me. In nearly every novel there’s a man who once, in a different life, was good, decent, rich, or famous. But the world took his life away and the man is left with nothing. He turns to booze and prostitutes or near prostitutes and he wallows in the darkness while at the same time hoping somehow to escape it. The crazy thing is when I read him again in my 30s and 40s, I discovered his desperation and nihilism brought me great comfort. Jesus, that says a lot about me. Shoot the Piano Player is one of my favorites and also a great movie.

6. No Bed of Her Own by Val Lewton

Lewton became famous as a horror movie studio head and script writer. But before that he wrote this single novel. Rose Mahoney stands up for herself at her typing job and is fired. But it’s the Depression and she can’t get another job. She tries everything she can think of but there are no jobs. Soon she is thrust into a world of darkness where desperation and hopelessness are the norm. She is forced to do whatever she has to do to get by. They say Lewton wrote the book in a couple weeks. Man oh man. This is an overlooked classic that really struck a nerve with me. A month doesn’t go by where I don’t think, at least for a moment, about Rose. It’s hard to find in the U.S. so look online in the U.K. for paperback copies.

7. Thieves Like Us by Edward Anderson

This is one I just stumbled upon. The great novelist George Pelecanos mentioned Edward Anderson and whenever he mentions a book I check it out. It’s the most crime-oriented title on this list. Three bank robbers escape prison only to drift back into the life. While hiding out, the youngest robber, Bowie, falls in love with Keechie, who helps her father run a gas station/repair shop. The two go on the run in a romantic yet doomed journey that leads to nothing and nowhere.

8. Wild at Heart by Barry Gifford

These last three are modern takes. I don’t want you to think I only like novels from the ’30s and ’50s. But this one is dedicated to Charles Willeford and in a lot of ways lives in that Black Lizard world. When Sailor gets out of prison, he is picked up by his girlfriend, Lula, and they go on the run. They are star-crossed lovers who never waiver, who always stick together. Lula’s mom, Marietta Pace Fortune, hires Johnnie Farragut to track them down and bring them back. It’s a classic. And it’s just the beginning. Gifford wrote about Sailor and Lula for their entire lives.

9. Die a Little by Megan Abbott

I can’t say enough great things about Megan Abbott. She has this ability to make you feel safe and protected while the world falls apart around you. Lora is close to her brother Bill, who works for the district attorney’s office. Bill falls in love and marries Alice, but Alice has a complicated past: drugs, prostitution, etc. Bill doesn’t know this but Lora suspects something is off and starts to investigate Alice. It turns out that Lora isn’t as clean as she seems and she slides into the darkness she’s trying to save her brother from. Abbott is a genius at pulling the floor out while you’re walking—you barely notice that you’re suddenly falling.

10. Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell

There’s such a desperate feel to Winter’s Bone. A community ravaged, yet employed by and surviving from the sale and manufacture of methamphetamine. Ree, a high school kid, is suddenly the head of her household. Her mother is mentally ill, her siblings are too young to help, and her father, a good meth cook, has suddenly gone missing. If she can’t find him, she’ll lose their house. The thing about Woodrell is he’s a genius with language. He plays with words and it’s breathtaking.

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

Ten Essential Books Inspired by Greek Mythology

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The rich and thrilling world of Greek mythology captivates so many of us as children. It’s a colorful tapestry of heroic feats, capricious gods, and terrifying monsters that dazzles our youthful imagination and transports us to an age of adventure. When we look at them afresh across the centuries, exploring new interpretations and shining a light on some of the overlooked and secondary characters—especially the women—we only find these ancient stories more rewarding and endlessly fascinating.
I think a great appeal of Greek myth is the shared humanity at its core. It features the fantastical, the bizarre, and the downright impossible, but the characters are human and recognizable. They’re flawed, they can fall prey to the pitfalls of greed and arrogance, they suffer loss and heartbreak, they take delight in a sunrise or a warm, scented bath, they argue, and they love. I think this is why there is so much enthusiasm for mythological retellings: they let us escape to another world, but they ask questions that still matter to us today. Here are 10 of my favorite books about Greek mythology that breathe new life into old legends.

1. Great Goddesses: Life Lessons from Myths and Monsters by Nikita Gill

A beautiful collection of poetry and prose that takes the reader on a tour from primordial Chaos (“as she laughs, the cosmos ripples / And whole galaxies fall apart”) through the deities and mortals of classical mythology, reimagining their stories and their viewpoints to startling, moving, and powerful effect. This book is transporting, vivid, and full of fierce female power.

2. Greek Mythology: The Gods, Goddesses, and Heroes Handbook by Liv Albert and illustrated by Sara Richard

A must-have guide to who’s who in Greek myth, told in Albert’s direct and witty style, this book is a comprehensive guide to all the major characters you need to know about. It’s clear and concise and it doesn’t pull any punches. Albert is honest about just what these so-called heroes and gods really got up to! The stunning illustrations are exquisite and breathtaking, making this book a beautiful piece of art as well as an excellent source of knowledge and entertainment.

3. The Odyssey translated by Emily Wilson

Wilson’s translation is pitch perfect. Homer’s epic poem, composed nearly 3,000 years ago to be performed as entertainment at banquets and celebrations, relates the trials of Odysseus on his 10-year journey home after fighting in the Trojan War. This translation is a rhythmical, musical work with a steady pace that makes it sing for the modern reader. The language is accessible, the story fluent and captivating, and the details of the ancient world so colorfully rendered that we can feel ourselves there on the creaking deck of Odysseus’s ship, longing to see the smoke spiraling from the home fires of Ithaca.

4. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

A truly chilling modern classic, The Secret History brings the savagery of ancient Dionysian rites into a New England college in which a group of Classics scholars become increasingly obsessed with the mysteries of the long-lost cult. It leads them further and further into transgression, the claustrophobic atmosphere of the novel closing in around the reader as they tangle with forces they cannot hope to tame or control, with devastating consequences.

5. The Red Word by Sarah Henstra

Another modern spin on Greek mythology set on a college campus, this story is told from the viewpoint of a female student, who sees that the darkest elements of ancient misogyny are alive and kicking today. It interlinks modern rape culture with the mythological world in which “brotherly bonds depend on our debasement,” whether that’s the Trojan War or a college fraternity. A dark but beautifully told and complex story that resonates through the ages.

6. Circe by Madeline Miller

The life of an ancient, immortal witch born to the cruel sun god Helios and best known for her dalliance with Odysseus is told in this spellbinding, glorious novel. From the obsidian halls of her childhood home to her exile on a deserted island, taking in the golden palace of Knossos and the dim depths of the ocean home of the powerful monster whose help she must enlist, Circe’s world lives and breathes in lush, lyrical prose. This is a completely fresh portrait of a maligned and misunderstood woman and a book whose pages you will return to over and over again.

7. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

The Iliad retold through the eyes of women, this novel has a vast ensemble of narrators. Creusa, the wife left behind by Aeneas, awakens to the sack of Troy—her city on fire, her husband and son gone, her world reduced to ashes. While the men are slaughtered, the women are lined up on the beach to be chosen by the conquering Greek warriors. At home in Mycenae, Clytemnestra plots an unforgettable homecoming for Agamemnon. The goddesses that preside over the devastation have their say, too. There is humor alongside the tragedy and brutality in this brilliant retelling.

8. Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson

This collection of short stories is set against an apocalyptic background in which two women share tales in a ruined city. The stories take place in the modern world, with the eerie touch of ancient myth creating a strange and surreal atmosphere. Marianne, in a moment’s distraction while driving, hears the thundering of Hades’s chariot galloping beside her in a reimagining of Persephone’s abduction; a young boy out of place in his life visits an aquarium and discovers his connection to the Greek god of the sea; a nanny with the fierce spirit of the hunter-goddess Artemis takes her young charge on adventures. It’s a beguiling glimpse at a world still infused with myth and magic always present just below the surface.

9. The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

This sharp and thought-provoking take on The Odyssey gives voice to Odysseus’s famously patient wife, Penelope. Her narrative is framed by the songs and protestations of the Chorus, 12 slave girls murdered by Telemachus as punishment for sleeping with the suitors who have besieged his home in his father’s absence. Their interjections are poignant and painful, interweaving with Penelope’s wry and honest version of events and placing the patriarchal and misogynistic treatment of the women in the epic front and center.

10. The Iliad by Gillian Cross and illustrated by Neil Packer

One of the joys of Greek mythology for me is sharing the stories with my children. Gillian Cross’s retelling of The Iliad is a great introduction for younger readers keen to discover the legendary adventures. The story is exciting and dynamic and it’s beautifully illustrated in a style that echoes Greek vase paintings but is rendered in vivid color, full of energy and emotion. It’s sure to spark the imagination of the young Greek myth enthusiast in your life!

Image Credit: Wikipedia

The Millions Top Ten: April 2021

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We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for April.

This Month
Last Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain
4 months

2.
2.

White Ivy
6 months

3.
3.

Fake Accounts
3 months

4.
4.

Klara and the Sun
2 months

5.
5.

The Copenhagen Trilogy
4 months

6.
9.

No One Is Talking About This

3 months

7.
8.

Dune: Book 1
6 months

8.
6.

Detransition, Baby
4 months

9.


Cuyahoga
6 months

10.


Outlawed
1 month

Inertia is the pejorative name for consistency, if you ask me. There’s value in dependability. You lean back into your haunches until your muscles go limp, and briefly you float on trust alone until a chair stops your fall. You depend on that chair. You knew it would be there because that’s where it’s always been.

Our list this month is consistent. Its top five are unchanged. Last month’s list was consistent. Its top three were unchanged. My monthly dispatches about the Millions Top Ten are… well, you get the idea.

Remember, predictability is relative. This time last year, few would have predicted we’d be where we are today: fully immunized against the plague, and ready to greet normality. Big picture, 2020 was unpredictable like that. But zoom in and take each month’s inventory, and the days look alike. Maybe they blur. Maybe 2020 felt like one, unending day; one, unending routine. Small picture, 2020 felt predictable.

Which is to say that when you check in next month, when three of the books on this month’s list graduate to our site’s Hall of Fame, and when we welcome (at least!) three new titles in their places, you’ll recall that in fact there’s only one constant, and it’s change.

This month’s near misses included: Women and Other Monsters: Building a New Mythology, Subdivision, The Committed, Selected Stories, 1968-1994, and Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping. See Also: Last month’s list.

Must-Read Poetry: May 2021

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Here are four notable books of poetry publishing this month.

Even Shorn by Isabel Duarte-Gray 

An impressive debut that reverberates with its anchoring sense of place. The “night river is a woman washing / clean the moon / upon forgiving rocks,” Duarte-Gray writes in “Cutter Quilt,” and later wonders: “are these nails my person are they / dead apart of me the callus where / I grip my drawknife.” Western Kentucky pulses in this book, sustained by a folk sense that plays with horror and myth. Deft with the open space of the page and unafraid for lines to linger in those wide fields, Duarte-Gray creates a stunning sense of discomfort. In “Drunkard’s Path,” “My old mother kneaded bread / newborn gathered at the breast / full as circle skirt / her blue-eyed cotton lap” until a man comes home drunk, swinging, “his fists falling like / a basset skull caught the back hoof / of a unbroke horse.” These poems exist like hushed stories passed like terrible gifts across generations—the recognition that perhaps we will remain scarred: “Took me time to learn you can’t heal in body.”

The Renunciations by Donika Kelly 

With an expansive voice that is always tethered to the craft of material of stanzas and lines, Kelly creates a powerful second book. Kelly lines feel sustained by a collective voice—a perspective sometimes grammatically present within the lines, other times occupying something like a heartbeat in the charged material. “We come from abundance,” she begins one poem, “each season / bowed with rain.” She writes: “I watch the shoulder burn, / drive through the smoke that blots the mountains, / and holds the old yolk of sun.” The narrators of these poems are dizzy from pain, and seek to affirm: “Tonight, my love, we are free / of men, of gods, and I am a river // against you, drawn to current and eddy, / ready to make, to be unmade.” In addition to the rupture of childhood, Kelly also reveals the pain of separation—the longing that brings broken hearts temporarily together, and yet ultimately, “the gesture weak, / the occasion quite late.” Kelly’s past and present intermingle: “Fathers are for children,” she ends one poem, “and I was never a child, / only a smaller image of myself.” Absent of belief, her narrators ask incomplete questions and wander in mystery, and yet the wandering itself is affirmation enough: “I’ve always had: a dull knife, / a child afraid of the night and herself, // the woman you left. Still, there’s only doing / and done, the same sun, and who can remember home?”

Flares by Christopher Merrill

While reflecting on his time in Slovenia, Merrill said he found a world where “poets and writers, filmmakers and artists” played a distinct role “in fomenting, prophesying, or attempting to stave off the crisis, and then in bearing witness to what they saw. This was deeply interesting to me as a poet coming from a country in which the arts have a rather marginal place. It was disorienting to be in a place where artists took center stage.” Merrill’s life as a writer has been focused on imagining a world where the storyteller’s vision matters, and that vision sustains Flares, a book that also demonstrates the narrative merit of the prose poem tradition. The vignettes arise from an itinerant eye. In “Fall and Recovery,” a safety inspector describes the concept of “crazing”: the manner of a “rack widening in the window of the plane,” the “mesh of lines spreading from the bullet-sized hole in the plastic through which shine glaciers melting in the sea below.” In the fable “Without,” a goat climbs to the top branch of an acacia tree, blares parables, and then “drifted off to sleep, unafraid of what the waxing moon might bring.” In one of the final poems, Merrill wonders: “What became of the vase of lilacs propped on the windowsill of the house tugged by a truck from one end of the street to the other?” A touching, diverse collection.

Collected Poems by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin

Ní Chuilleanáin has joked that she has never really suffered from writer’s block, but added “I think that my complete works in poetry would add up to something about an inch thick.” I can verify the literal truth of this observation through the book on my desk, but there’s a wealth of comedy, tragedy, and wisdom in her statement. We might write for all of our lives, and yet what we leave behind might only be measured in inches. Humbling, certainly, but perhaps also freeing. Her Collected Poems is a worthy testament to a notable life in poetry, beginning with the 1972 collection Acts and Monuments, and reaching to recent works. From that first book, “Family” glows: “Water has no memory / And you drown it in like a kind of absence.” That paradox permeates these collected works. She writes “Our history is a mountain of salt / a leaking strain under the evening cliff / it will be gone in time / grass will grow there— // not in our time.” A book to spend hours, days, years within.

The 10 Creepiest Gothic Novels

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I reckon there are three elements a novel must get right, in order to qualify as a truly creepy gothic tale. Firstly, the characters, although flawed and troubled (and they’ll definitely be troubled, somewhere along the line) must compel the reader’s interest. Secondly, the landscapes—from foggy Victorian streets, to abandoned country houses, to whistling arctic wastelands—should be both vivid and disquieting. Lastly, the story must be imbued with a sense of mystery, whether that involves a twist and turn on every other page, or a gradual build-up of secrecy and dread.
As long as these demands are fulfilled, the gothic genre is a generous one, allowing for endless depth and variety of writing. Even the type of fear a gothic novel conjures up may differ vastly from book to book—from creepy all the way down to serious, disturbing, and thought-provoking.
The 10 books in this list fulfill all my criteria, in spades. They come with intriguing characters, atmospheric settings, twisty plots, and a cast-iron guarantee to send shivers down your spine.

1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

We’ve come to know Frankenstein’s monster as the tall green guy with the greasy hair and the bolt through his neck, but this 20th-century, comic-horror version does no justice to the serious intent of Shelley’s original tale. One dreary, November night, scientist Victor Frankenstein succeeds in animating the creature he has so painstakingly constructed from dead body parts, but no sooner has he achieved his ambition than “the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.” Following its creator’s cruel rejection, horror is piled upon horror, as the unloved “monster” wreaks its revenge upon humankind. Frankenstein is a genuinely disturbing book that raises big questions about creativity, responsibility, and the dangers of knowledge.

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre is celebrated on many grounds: its insightful portrayal of childhood, its passionate proto-feminism, the heart-stopping romance of its central love story, to name but a few. I love it for all these reasons, but I also love it because it is Properly Creepy. I still get goosebumps when I imagine Jane waking at night to the sound of malevolent laughter outside her bedroom door. As with any self-respecting horror story, the reality of Jane’s situation is murky: is Thornfield Hall haunted by a ghost, or a would-be murderer, or is the mystery a trick of Jane’s mind, a symptom of her own dark desires? The scene that stays with me most vividly takes place shortly before Jane’s wedding, when she wakes at night to find an unknown woman standing in front of the mirror, wearing her bridal veil… It’s a gothic masterclass.

3. Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola

Gothic tales don’t come much darker than Thérèse Raquin, in which Thérèse and her lover, Laurent, are devoured by remorse after drowning her husband, Camille. The novel is suffused with a fetid, cloying atmosphere: I picture the scar on Laurent’s neck where his struggling victim bit him; the bloated body in the morgue; the poky haberdasher’s shop where Thérèse ekes out an existence alongside her bereaved mother-in-law, Madame Raquin. Following her son’s death, Madame Raquin suffers a stroke, which effectively buries her alive inside her own body. She learns that Camille’s drowning was no accident when the murderers discuss their crime in her earshot, but the stroke has left her powerless to express anguish, or to communicate her knowledge to a third party. In one especially horrific scene she tries to spell out the truth to friends via tiny, effortful movements of her finger, but in their eagerness to understand they misinterpret: they think she’s saying, “Thérèse and Laurent look after me very well,” and are duly touched.

4. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Fear of the unknown is at the heart of all gothic novels, and the new Mrs. de Winter is as ignorant as can be—about the world in general and about her own world in particular. From the moment she swaps the straightforward unpleasantness of Mrs. Van Hopper’s company for the much more elaborate darkness of marriage with Maxim, she is oppressed by questions. Who exactly is her husband? Who was Rebecca? Why does she feel so resented and overshadowed in her new role as mistress of Manderley? I can’t think of a creepier fictional character in all of literature than Manderley’s housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, a “tall and gaunt” woman with a “dead skull’s face,” who haunts the house like a living ghost, eaten up by bitterness and mysterious obsession.

5. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Gothic novels rely on a sense of place; the characters and their story are only as compelling as their setting. When I think of The Woman in Black I immediately picture its landscape: a dark, lonely house standing on a foggy stretch of English coast, surrounded by dangerous marshes, and cut off from the mainland at high tide. In Susan Hill’s novel, the landscape is not a passive backdrop but an active player in the drama, every bit as cruel and unsettling as the ghost herself. When the shifting sands and tides swallow up a pony and trap, drowning Jennet Humfrye’s child, the first link is forged in what is to become a long chain of horrors.

6. Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved is the most profoundly frightening novel on my list. When it comes to ghost stories, there is often a fine line between chilling and absurd—one too many bumps in the night risk raising more laughs than hairs on the back of the neck—but there is nothing absurd about the haunting in this book. In the wake of the Civil War, former slave Sethe settles with her family in Cincinnati. When slave-catchers threaten to return the family to the Kentucky plantation they’ve only just escaped, Sethe drags her small children outside to the woodshed and tries to kill them. Anything–even violent death–is preferable to slavery. Sethe only succeeds in murdering her two-year old daughter, and it is the ghost of this child—the Beloved of the title—that haunts the family home. In a wider sense, the specter is the trauma of slavery, and the upending of norms which that wholesale crime entailed. The book is so frightening because, as well as being a story about particular characters, it is a story about everyone: the violence we are capable of perpetrating, the violence we’ve suffered, and the ways in which this does—and must—haunt us all.

7. The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox

The Meaning of Night may be a 600-page doorstopper of a novel, but its gothic twists and turns led me on with such skill that I began to dread reaching the end. (Lucky for me that Michael Cox wrote an equally enthralling sequel called The Glass of Time.) The Meaning of Night begins on a foggy October evening with our narrator, Edward Glyver, picking an innocent man from the crowd, tracking him through the seamy backstreets of Victorian London, and stabbing him to death. The action is horrific, yet the storyteller’s voice is sympathetic—so what does it mean? Why did he do it? I can’t think of anything creepier, or more irresistible, than a distinctly unreliable narrator holding out his hand to the reader and saying, “Come with me, and I’ll tell you everything…”

8. Dark Matter by Michelle Paver

All the traditional components of a ghost story are present and correct in this gothic chiller, but they’ve been given a sharp twist—the creaky haunted house becomes a scientific research station on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, and the requisite atmosphere of gloom and desolation is provided by the inescapable arctic winter. Place and story are woven together with such skill that terror of the ghost and terror of the landscape merge seamlessly. The apparition that haunts the novel’s main character, Jack, is an integral part of the loneliness he is forced to endure when his research colleagues abandon him, one by one. As the days on Svalbard get shorter and shorter, and the long winter night begins to close in, I’m not sure whether I, as a reader, feel claustrophobic for supernatural or non-supernatural reasons—or, indeed, whether that distinction makes any sense. Is it rational or irrational to fear darkness, cold, and solitude?

9. Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller

The haunted house trope seems inexhaustible: novelists are drawn back to it, time and again, and the best of them will always find a fresh approach. Fuller’s third novel unfolds at Lyntons, a dilapidated stately home in England, over an obscenely hot summer in 1969. The middle-aged narrator—awkward, lonely Frances Jellico—has been employed to stay at Lyntons in order to catalogue the gardens for its absent American owner. She is joined there by Peter and Cara, a charming and self-possessed young couple to whom she finds herself increasingly, and uncomfortably, attracted. As in all the best ghost stories, the supernatural elements are ambivalent–as much a projection of Frances’s disturbed mental state as of the house itself.

10. The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell

I read this novel over the Christmas holidays, and I remember looking up at the end of chapter one to relish the perfection of the moment: a gale blowing outside, a fire burning in the grate, and a deliciously scary mystery in my hands. Sometimes, paradoxically, a gothic chiller can be frightening and reassuring at the same time–perhaps it has something to do with striking that perfect balance between physical comfort and mental unease–and this was one of those books for me. O’Donnell’s writing style is wholly original, but there are flavors of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins in there, as befits the novel’s Victorian setting. The richness, narrative drive, and gothic atmosphere reminded me, in particular, of Great Expectations and The Woman in White. The opening chapter—in which doomed seamstress Esther Tull takes her final walk up to the attic of her employer’s London house, a bloody message stitched into her skin—will stay with me forever.

Image Credit: Pixabay

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

May Preview: The Millions Most Anticipated (This Month)

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We wouldn’t dream of abandoning our vast semi–annual Most Anticipated Book Previews, but we thought a monthly reminder would be helpful (and give us a chance to note titles we missed the first time around). Here’s what we’re looking out for this month. Let us know what you’re looking forward to in the comments!
Want to know about the books you might have missed? Then go read our most recent book preview. Want to help The Millions keep churning out great books coverage? Then sign up to be a member today.

Good Company by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney: At the outset of this marvelous novel, Flora Mancini finds her husband’s wedding ring—the one he told her he lost over a decade ago—and the discovery leads her to re-examine everything she thought she knew about their life together. I read Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s follow-up to her bestselling debut The Nest in two breathless days, eager to find out what would happen next in this elegantly depicted story about marriage, friendship, loyalty, and the intersections of art and commerce, love and secrets. When I was finished, I was plunged into the kind of sweet melancholy that only the end of a good book brings. (Edan)
Wild Belief: Poets and Prophets in the Wilderness by Nick Ripatrazone: This is the second book by my fellow contributing editor Ripatrazone, whose first book, Longing for An Absent God, investigated Catholicism in American fiction and its influence on storytelling. Wild Belief continues Nick’s scholarship on spirituality—this time, considering how the spiritual tradition sees nature as a site for renewal and wonder. He synthesizes the work of philosophers, poets, and even saints, to understand why we are drawn to nature even as we fear it, and how it enriches our lives. (Edan)
Second Place by Rachel Cusk: Now that her Outline trilogy is complete, we get to see where Cusk, winner of the Whitbread Award and one of Granta’s 2003 Best of Young British Novelists, travels next. When a woman invites a famous artist to visit the remote coastal region where she lives, she hopes that his gaze will penetrate the mysteries of the landscape and of her life. The publisher describes it as a novel that examines, “the possibility that art can both save and destroy us.” (Claire)
 
The Atmospherians by Alex McElroy: Pundits always feel the need to draw upon past masters like Franz Kafka or George Orwell to explain our dystopian present, but in the future it may very well be Alex McElroy and their debut novel The Atmospherians which best elucidates our panopticon-surveyed, late capitalist hellscape epoch. In the novel, doxxed influencer Sasha Marcus must reconstitute her brand after her woman’s wellness venture was destroyed by men’s rights activists, and so she founds a rehabilitation institute to cure men of their toxic masculinity. A trenchant picture of our world right now, The Atmospherians is equal parts perceptive and prescient. (Ed S.)
In the Event of Contact by Ethel Rohan: Social distancing marked the lonely horror that was this year; paradoxically a demonstration of how affection and empathy for our fellow humans required us to retreat into ourselves, connection now defined by the absence of contact. Ethel Rohan’s book of short stories examines something similar in his evocation of what lack of connection can do to us. With a diversity of characters ranging from a childless immigrant daughter justifying her decision to her parents, a grumpy crossing guard honoring the time he got hit by a truck, a demented priest looking for redemption, and a plucky teen detective, In the Event of Contact is a loving homage to humanity in all of its complexity.(Ed S.)
Vernon Subutex 3 by Virginie Despentes: It’s hard to know why the Vernon Subutex trilogy, an unlikely cocktail of Wolfish satire, Houellebecqesque pessimism, and Ferrantean range and rage, hasn’t kicked up more of a fuss here in the U.S. (though maybe I just answered my own question). Still, it’s easy to see why Nell Zink’s a fan. This third installment concludes the adventures of our titular hero, a peripatetic and intermittently visionary ex-record store owner cut loose on the streets of Paris. (Garth)
The Rock Eaters by Brenda Peynado: A debut short story collection with elements of the fantastic, surreal, and speculative—flying children, strange creatures on the roof—that the publisher compares to work from Carmen Maria Machado, Kelly Link, and Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. (Lydia)
 
Cheat Day by Liv Stratman: In Stratman’s funny and sharp debut, college sweethearts Kit and David are still together—but their relationship is falling apart. As the couple embarks on an intense fad diet together, Kit finds herself beginning an affair with someone she met at work. As Kit gives into her carnal desire, she begins to diet more severely. Jami Attenberg writes, “Sexy, witty and down-to-earth, Cheat Day tackles the truths about our modern occupations with wellness, relationships and what it means to be happy.” (Carolyn)
Phase Six by Jim Shepard: This uncomfortably timely novel imagines our next pandemic, unleashed by thawing permafrost. Set in Greenland, it follows 11-year-old Aleq, who unwittingly brings back a virus from an open mining site and survives a devastating outbreak. CDC epidemiologists are then dispatched to study the virus and prevent a global pandemic. They take Aleq into their care, and the novel follows multiple points of view as the catastrophe unfolds. (Hannah)
 
Secrets of Happiness by Joan Silber: Silber’s ninth work of fiction is the story of a young New York lawyer who discovers that his father has a secret family in Queens: a Thai wife and two young children. Ethan’s mother leaves the country in the wake of the revelation, while Ethan becomes involved in a love triangle of his own. This complex, intergenerational novel spans three continents as it reveals the connection between the two families, no longer secret to each other. (Hannah)
Swimming Back to Trout River by Linda Rui Feng: A young girl in China hears from her long-emigrated parents that they will collect her soon and bring her to America. While she fights to stay in the place she knows, her parents are working through their own crises as they navigate the past and the future. Of the novel Garth Greenwell raves, “Everything in this gorgeously orchestrated novel surprises, everything outraces expectation. Swimming Back to Trout River is one of the most beautiful debuts I have read in years.” (Lydia)
The Parted Earth by Anjali Enjeti: In August 1947, as talk of Partition swirls on the streets of New Delhi, 16-year-old Deepa trades messages encoded in intricate origami with her boyfriend Amir. Seventy years later, in Atlanta, Georgia, Deepa’s granddaughter, reeling from marital troubles and the recent loss of a pregnancy, begins to search for her estranged grandmother and in the process piece together the history of her family shattered by the violent separation of India and Pakistan. Vanessa Hua, author of A River of Stars, calls The Parted Earth, the second of two books by Enjeti out this spring, “a devastating portrayal of Partition and the trauma it wreaked in the generations that followed.” (Michael)
The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan: Everything is vanishing, or so it appears to Anna, the protagonist in Flanagan’s new novel that is “one part elegy, one part dream, one part hope.” Hailed as the Booker Prize winner’s greatest novel yet, the new work tackles climate change, family ties, and resilience in the Anthropocene. (Nick M.)

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead: Spanning from 1920s Montana to wartime London to present day Los Angeles, Shipstead’s historical novel follows Marian Graves, an infamous 20th century aviator, and Hadley Baxter, the Hollywood starlet cast in Marian’s biopic a century later. Weaving through time and space, the novel explores fate, love, and fulfillment. Receiving starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, the latter calls the novel a “breathtaking epic” and a “stunning feat.” (Carolyn)
Heaven by Mieko Kawakami (translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd): The newest novel from Breast and Eggs is told from the perspective of a 14-year-old boy who is mercilessly bullied for his lazy eye. With grace and clarity, Kawakami explores destructive nature of adolescent violence, and the power of empathetic friendships. About the novel, Naoise Dolan writes: “Heaven is told with astonishing frankness and economy. It will cut through all your defences down to every layer of fear, isolation, hope and need you’ve ever felt.” (Carolyn)
Negative Space by Lilly Dancyger: Selected as a winner of the 2019 SFWP Literary Awards, Dancyger’s illustrated and reported memoir manages to be so many wonderful and heartbreaking things at once. With empathy and gorgeous prose, Dancyger excavates, explores, and attempts to understands her father—a brilliant artist and addict—as he was: flawed, complicated, and so very, very loved. T Kira Madden, author of Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, calls the debut “candid, thrilling, wickedly smart” and “one of the greatest memoirs of this, or any, time.” (Carolyn)
Tastes Like War by Grace M. Cho: In her newest book, Cho—an author, sociologist, and Korean immigrant—blends food memoir; sociological explorations of her mother’s South Korean upbringing; and her complicated relationship with her mother, who had schizophrenia. Allie Rowbottom says that Cho’s “raw, reaching, and propulsive” memoir “creates and explores an epic conversation about heritage and history, intergenerational trauma and the connective potential of food to explore a mother’s fractured past.” (Carolyn)
Nervous System by Lina Meruane (translated by Megan McDowell): In her newest novel, award-winning Chilean author Meruane follows Ella, an astrophysicist, as she struggles to write her dissertation and care for her partner, El, who is recovering from a near-fatal work accident. As the stress and secrets begin to consume her, Ella invokes the spirit of her late mother and asks her to inflict her with an illness. Sarah Moss says, “Nervous System is fast, uncompromising, and shimmering with intelligence.”(Carolyn)
Spirits of the Ordinary by Kathleen Alcalá: Originally published in 1997, Alcalá’s award-winning debut novel is being reissued with a new forward by Rigoberto González. Set in 1870s Mexico, Spirits of the Ordinary explores the complexities of survival, faith, and culture. In its original review, Publishers Weekly’s starred review said: “Alcala’s seductive writing mixes fatalism and hope, logic and fantasy, to create moral, emotional and political complexities.” (Carolyn)

Let the Record Show by Sarah Schulman: Author, activist, and AIDS historian Schulman has written the ultimate account of the triumphs, tragedies, and political activism of the New York City AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) chapter. “Sarah Schulman has written more than an authoritative history of ACT UP NY here—it is a masterpiece of historical research and intellectual analysis that creates many windows into both a vanished world and the one that emerged from it, the one we live in now,” says Alexander Chee. “Any reader will be changed, I think, by the stories here–radicalized and renewed, which to me is something better than just hope.” (Carolyn)

The Millions Top Ten: March 2021

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We spend plenty of time here on The Millions telling all of you what we’ve been reading, but we are also quite interested in hearing about what you’ve been reading. By looking at our Amazon stats, we can see what books Millions readers have been buying, and we decided it would be fun to use those stats to find out what books have been most popular with our readers in recent months. Below you’ll find our Millions Top Ten list for March.

This Month
Last Month

Title
On List

1.
1.

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain
3 months

2.
2.

White Ivy
5 months

3.
3.

Fake Accounts
2 months

4.


Klara and the Sun
1 month

5.
8.

The Copenhagen Trilogy
3 months

6.
6.

Detransition, Baby

3 months

7.
4.

The Silence
6 months

8.
5.

Dune: Book 1
5 months

9.
9.

No One Is Talking About This
2 months

10.
7.

What Are You Going Through
6 months

Let’s get right to it: basically nothing changed this month. Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun jumped into the space that Pete Beatty’s Cuyahoga left open. Two books reversed positions: Tove Ditlevsen’s The Copenhagen Trilogy swapped eighth position for fifth, which had previously been held by Frank Herbert’s Dune.

Otherwise? Less movement than the Ever Given.

That’s OK, though. Especially in a year when few of us have moved much more than that. This might be the inhalation before the stretch, the huff before the sprint. If the Top Ten is the country at large, then the pairs of five- and six-month books on it—books poised to hit our Hall of Fame soon, opening spots as they do—are dormant cicadas, ready to transform the late spring and summer into something wholly different from what we have now. That’s soon.

Or perhaps a comparison more apt would be this: if the March Top Ten is all of us, huddled and yearning to breathe (mask) free, then ramping up vaccination rates are going to free things up sooner than later, and movement will only follow.

Respite is coming. Will reading? See you next month to check in.

This month’s near misses included: Women and Other Monsters: Building a New Mythology, Outlawed, Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping, and A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself. See Also: Last month’s list.

Bonus Links:
A Year in Reading: Sigrid Nunez
Bird Brain: Lauren Oyler, Patricia Lockwood, and the Literature of Twitter
The Novel Still Exists: The Millions Interviews Don DeLillo
A Year in Reading: Lauren Oyler
George Saunders and the Question of Greatness
Kazuo Ishiguro and the Inescapable Perils of the Internet
Panel Mania: ‘Dune: The Graphic Novel’