Most Anticipated: The Great First-Half 2022 Book Preview

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In this, our first preview for Pandemic Year Three, we offer up nearly 200 books, with the hope that they can, in some small measure, act as a balm, an escape, a distraction, a source of pleasure, a reason for hope, a source of light in the darkness.

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January


The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan: Frida Liu doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices, and she can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her—except that one lapse in judgement lands her in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance. An arresting debut. (Marie)

The Stars Are Not Yet Bells by Hannah Lillith Assadi: Five Under 35 author Assadi’s first novel’s voice-driven narrative was classified “superstitious realism”—as in its telling was “slanted and opaque, scenes haunted and possibly dreamed”—by The Brooklyn Rail. Assadi’s second novel, The Stars Are Not Yet Bells, continues in a similar vein of enchanted and haunting narration, but in a different mode: Elle Rainer suffers from Alzheimer’s and she recounts through its haze tales of her life and love and losses on the island of Lyra, and the search for the source of its mysterious blue light. The end result is “a prophetic fever dream sprung from [Assadi’s] singular imagination,” according to Claire Vaye Watkins. (Anne)

Lost & Found by Kathryn Schultz: New Yorker writer and Pulitzer Prize-winner Schultz can write engagingly on everything from earthquakes to human error and now trains her lens squarely on herself, exploring how loss and joy can coexist if not coincide, examining a year where she lost her father and also fell in love. Marilynne Robinson says “Our lives do indeed deserve and reward the kind of honest, gentle, brilliant scrutiny Schulz brings to bear on her own life.” (Marie)

To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara: After her blockbuster A Little Life, Yanagihara’s third novel is a triptych of stories set in 1893, 1993, and 2093. In 1893 America, New York is part of the Free States, where people may live and love whomever they please (or so it seems). Then in 1993 Manhattan is besieged by the AIDS epidemic. And in 2093, the world is riven by plagues and totalitarian rule. Edmund White promisingly called it “as good as War and Peace.” (Marie)

Yonder by Jabari Asim: Somewhere in the antebellum South, a group of enslaved black people call themselves The Stolen. To their owners they are merely captives, property. Subject to the whims of tyrannical Cannonball Greene, they toil in his quarry by day, endure beatings at night, and suffer the heartache of having a loved one sold off without warning. The bonds that keep The Stolen together begin to fray when a mysterious minister fills their heads with the notion that freedom means the ability to choose things, large and small. Which leads to a freighted question: What would happen if an enslaved person risked everything for love? (Bill)

Free Love by Tessa Hadley: After hitting the bestseller lists with her previous novels Late in the Day and The Past, Tessa Hadley gives us the Fischer family living in leafy suburban tranquility in 1967. The social ferment of nearby London seems worlds away. But when the young son of an old friend of Roger Fischer’s visits one hot summer evening, his wife Priscilla is swept into an affair that upends the family’s conventional life and leads her on a startling quest for romantic love, sexual freedom and the truest version of her life. Hadley is, in the words of Hilary Mantel, “one of those writers a reader trusts.” (Bill)

I Came All This Way to Meet You by Jami Attenberg: After seven books of fiction, Attenberg, who EW calls a “master of modern fiction,” publishes a new memoir about finding a home in the emotional, artistic, and physical sense. Full of wit, charm, and sharp intellect, Attenberg doesn’t hold back as she takes the reader through the defining moments of her life, from growing up as the daughter of a traveling salesman in the Midwest, sleeping on couches, and self-funded book tours to living an independent life as an artist. Kristen Arnett says, “The book is an embrace. It is a love letter to work and to friendship.” (Claire)

All Day Is a Long Time by David Sanchez: Sanchez’s debut follows 14-year-old David as he comes of age on the Gulf Coast of Florida. When he runs away from home, David hits rock bottom over and over again through drug use, sexual trauma, and being stuck in the revolving door of jail-to-rehab, rehab-to-jail. Eventually, he finds a life raft in a community college literature class—and his life becomes imbued with much-needed hope. Justin Torres says, “This book has it all, not only does the harrowing story grip you from the start, but the voice is so insightful, so poetic, so absolutely alive to the world, that you won’t be able to put it down.” (Carolyn)

A Previous Life by Edmund White: White, now in his 80s and firmly ensconced as a major Man of Letters, traverses familiar terrain and new ground with his latest novel, A Previous Life. The central characters—the aristocratic Sicilian musician Ruggerio and his American wife Constance—agree to break their vow and write confessions about their previous lives. Ruggero reveals his many affairs with men and women—and, above all, his passionate love for the writer Edmund White. Given the autobiographical tilt of White’s earlier fiction (notably A Boy’s Own Story and The Beautiful Room Is Empty), the appearance of a character named Edmund White was probably inevitable. It’s definitely delightful. (Bill)

Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez: Puerto Rican siblings Olga, a hotshot wedding planner, and Pedro “Prieto” Acevedo, a popular congressman, navigate their place in their rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood in Gonzalez’s debut. Set in the months surrounding the devastation of Hurricane Maria, Olga’s and Prieto’s secrets, as well as their family’s secrets, begin to bubble to the surface—and they have no choice but to face them head on. Rumaan Alam writes: “It’s a book about a New York that isn’t always celebrated, the one that belongs to immigrant communities; about money, class, and political power; about one vividly-imagined family and the very idea of the American Dream.” (Carolyn)

Devil House by John Darnielle: In his newest novel, author and The Mountain Goats’ singer-songwriter Darnielle (Universal Harvester) dissects the mega-popular, oft exploitative true crime genre. Gage Chandler, a one-hit-wonder true crime writer, moves into the “Devil House” where a grisly murder took place during the 1980s Satanic Panic. As he falls deeper into his research, into the case, into the memories of his past, he begins to question his work—who it serves and who it hurts. Publishers Weekly’s starred review says, “it operates perfectly on many levels, resulting in a must-read for true crime addicts and experimental fiction fans alike.” (Carolyn)

Shit Cassandra Saw by Gwen Kirby: Whether they’re virgins, whores, witches, or warriors, the infamous and unknown women in Kirby’s experimental debut collection take the spotlight. “I want to be friends with all of the women in this collection who refuse to be anything other than exactly who they are,” Rachel Yoder writes. “A barnburner of a book that will set you ablaze with its clear-eyed brilliance.” (Carolyn)

Defenestrate by Renee Branum: The word itself—”defenestrate”—is sadly underused. If it recalls anything, then some history buffs might remember those unlucky emissaries at the “Defenestration of Prague” during the springtime of the Thirty Years War, but it’s a fantastic bit of language that we unfortunately rarely get to use (even while we hope that it doesn’t happen to us). Branum’s odd, lyrical, and gorgeous debut Defenestrate follows twins Marta and Nick as they trace the intricacies of a family curse wherein members of their clan are perennially fated to fall out of windows (a burden that began appropriately enough in Prague centuries ago). Evocative of Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists, Branum’s novel is a magical realist family fable, an allegory about the heaviness of history and the lightness of dropping, because “Something in our bodies wants to fall… we splinter that easily.” (Ed)

Perpetual West by Mesha Maren: While historically shifting, the border between the United States and Mexico has always been permeable, communities on both sides having more in common with one another than they might with cities thousands of miles away, despite what demagogues might otherwise claim. Critically lauded novelist Maren’s sophomore effort Perpetual West is a reminder that there has never been a wall, but that the border is a mirror, and that the U.S. and Mexico have always existed in interdependence. Chronicling the cross-border lives of Alex and Elana, ethnically Mexican though adopted by white Pentecostals and raised in Virginia, Perpetual West embodies the continual draw that that country has on the imagination, that complicated fantasy about how to “Start over fresh… south of the border!” (Ed)

Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson: The nameless narrator of Wilson’s sly third novel runs into an old college acquaintance at LAX who invites him into the airline’s private lounge while they wait for their delayed flight to Germany. What follows is a story within a story of how Jeff once rescued a man from drowning in the ocean…and then became fixated on him. Lauren Groff calls it an “agile novel of ideas with unexpectedly sharp teeth” and Andrew Sean Greer declared it “the best book I’ve read in ages.” I myself loved this riveting and smart novel. And: the perfect ending will make you gasp. (Edan)

The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang: Chang, the director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, follows up her slim and beautiful novel about poets, All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost, with a modern retelling of The Brothers Karamazov. The story concerns the family who owns Fine Chao, a Chinese restaurant in Haven, Wisc. When patriarch Leo Chao is found dead, the three adult sons come under suspicion. In its starred review, Publishers Weekly calls it “timely, trenchant, and thoroughly entertaining.” Jean Kwok says it’s “a gorgeous and gripping mystery.” (Edan)

Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi: The author of multiple YA novels and the adult novel Riot Baby again enters the world of adult fiction, and that world turns out to be a post-apocalyptic dystopia in which the planet is rapidly emptying out, and those with no choice but to stay behind can do no less than try and make a go of it. Macmillan calls Goliath “…a richly urgent mosaic about race, class, gentrification, and who is allowed to be the hero of any history.” (Il’ja)

The Hard Sell by Evan Hughes: Praised as “revelatory” and as “compelling as a true crime documentary,” Hughes’s second book, The Hard Sell, follows the trail of big pharma start-up Insys and its pedaling of a synthetic opioid in deceitful and fraudulent ways so as to maximize profit and patient use. Think Purdue, think Sackler-like profit and greed, think Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos level hubris. The Hard Sell grew out of Hughes’s 2018 story for The New York Times, “The Pain Hustlers” and has been called “a tour de force” by Patrick Radden Keefe, author of bestselling Sackler exposé The Empire of Pain. (Anne)

Present Tense Machine by Gunnhild Øyehaug, translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson: It’s the 1990s in Norway and a young mother misreads a word. Normally, nothing to worry about; just read it again. But in this, the latest novel from Øyehaug, who has made a mark with her “wily, mercurial prose” (Kirkus), there’s no second chance, and life goes on, though now with mother and daughter living in different dimensions. Separated for eternity but oblivious to the fact. Or not entirely oblivious—life in a parallel universe also comes stocked with lots of free-floating disquiet, unnamable regret, and a heightened sense of the weight of even a single word. (Il’ja)

Thank You Mister Nixon by Gish Jen: Another fantastic story collection from the renowned, award-winning author, Jen. Thank You, Mr. Nixon is an original, mind-blowing exploration of  U.S.-China relations/dynamics since China reopened its borders half a century ago. City girl Lulu Koo gets confused by the American obsession of walking “in the woods with mosquitoes”; Hong Kong parents make extreme efforts to reclaim their “number-one daughter” who now lives in New York; raised under the mantra “no politics, just make money,” Betty Koo grows up to reflect on her family culture. As always, Jen’s signature humor shines through these linked stories. The collection makes you laugh, gasp, wonder, and sometimes gives you pause. In those little moments when you pause to think, you are actually witnessing the astonishing transformations that have been reshaping the world and era we live in. (Jianan)

The Latinist by Mark Prins: The Latinist is a brilliant contemporary thriller about obsession, power, and control. Tess Templeton is a golden girl at Oxford University. Her mentor, professor Christopher Eccles, supports her whole-heartedly. However, just as Tess believes she will secure a promising position in the academic job market, she finds out Christopher has shattered her career picture. He is doing everything to keep her with him at Oxford. Tess struggles to find a way out of his control. Fortunately, she discovers an obscure ancient Latin poet that could potentially turn her into a rising star in academia. The Latinist reminds us of the Daphne and Apollo myth. The novel delves deep to question the blurring line between love and obsession, between a yearning for truth and a desire of power. (Jianan)

Biblioepsy by Gina Apostol: Who hasn’t used books as an escape? For Primi, who is living through the brutal Marcos regime in the Philippines, she is “a vagabond from history, a runaway from time” and sees her favorite authors and literature as a way through the revolution. Originally published in 1997, Apostol’s debut novel is finally available in the U.S. and a perfect read for these chaotic times. (Kate)

Fiona and Jane by Jean Chen Ho: Fiona Lin and Jane Shen have been best friends since second grade. As they grow into messy, restless adults, their connection is a constant reminder of their families’ complicated pasts and lingering insecurities. Their story—hilarious, poignant, and intense—offers a refreshing portrait of friendship in all its limitations and bounty. (Kate)

Manywhere by Morgan Thomas: A collection of short stories following queer and genderqueer characters in the South, spanning states and time. In a starred review, Kirkus praises these “Innovative stories that probe the ineluctable bond between storytelling and identity.” (Lydia)

Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka: Ansel Packer is a convicted serial killer soon to be executed. He’s just not quite ready to go; not until he gets some credit for his work. But the women whose lives he’s shattered—his mother, his wife, his sister-in-law, and the detective who stopped him—aren’t interested in celebrating him, not in life, not in death. Much more than a procedural thriller, HarperAcademic says, that Notes, examines “…our system of justice and our cultural obsession with crime stories, asking readers to consider the false promise of looking for meaning in the psyches of violent men.” (Il’ja)

Joan Is Okay by Weike Wang: Any book that features an introspective, solitary woman living along in a big city is automatically added to my TBR pile. Wang’s debut novel, Chemistry, was an instant favorite, and her follow-up promises an equally complex and intelligent protagonist. Joan is an ICU doctor who is asking all the big, unknowable questions in the wake of her father’s death, and when she’s met with relentless uncertainty, that’s when the adventure begins. (Kate)

The Boy We Made by Taylor Harris: In this memoir, Harris shares the experience of looking for a diagnosis for her toddler son when she knew something was wrong, and how that bewildering and confounding experience of navigating the healthcare system as a Black mother also ended up revealing life-saving information about her own health. Deesha Philyaw says of the book: “Taylor Harris has masterfully captured the wonder and weight of the endurance race that is motherhood. Mothering in the face of illness and uncertainty as a Black woman is downright Olympian. Harris’ beautiful, crisp prose drew me right into her family’s journey. Their story is heart-wrenching, hopeful, and truly unforgettable.” (Lydia)

How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu: Fans of Cloud Atlas and Station Eleven will love this spellbinding and profoundly prescient debut. It’s 2030 and a grieving archeologist arrives in the Arctic Circle to continue the work of his recently deceased daughter, where melting permafrost reveals the perfectly preserved remains of a girl who appears to have died of an ancient virus. Matt Bell calls this prescient debut “A book of incredible scope and ambition, a polyphonic elegy for the possible.” (Marie)

Velorio by Xavier Navarro Aquino: The novel follows the movements of an island utopian community in the aftermath of devastating Hurricane Maria. Justin Torres raved of the book “Velorio recognizes that neither utopia nor dystopia are finite states, that they exist alongside and even inside one another, like the hurricane and the eye, the empire and the island. Xavier Navarro Aquino takes us on a riveting, harrowing journey through the aftermath, where the natural violence of the storm is compounded by disaster capitalists; the dead haunt the living; impossible decisions are made and seemingly impossible futures are born.” (Lydia)

Strangers I Know by Claudia Durastanti, translated by Elizabeth Harris: In her first novel to appear in English, Durastanti composes a riveting portrait of a woman’s eccentric family and her binational upbringing in America and Italy. The book begins with the narrator presenting two different versions of how her parents, each of whom are deaf—“They spoke the same language composed of gasps and words pronounced too loudly”—met for the first time in Rome, both claiming that “they saved the other’s life.” The perceptive, witty narrator chronicles their intense, brief connection and her shambolic coming-of-age in a work that has been compared to Natalia Ginzburg’s. (Matt)

Wahala by Nikki May: A novel of three Anglo-Nigerian best friends whose dynamic is thrown off by the arrival of a glamorous, treacherous fourth. In a starred review, Library Journal wrote, “May seamlessly weaves love, betrayal, self-reflection, and Nigerian food, clothing, and customs into this fast-paced debut.” (Lydia)

The Hummingbird by Sandro Veronesi, translated by Elena Pala: In the second of his books to win the prestigious Strega Prize, the Italian novelist Sandro Veronesi tells the story of an ophthalmologist with a roving wife and a gambling problem, among other troubles that are clouding his vision. Publishers Weekly praised this “chaotic black comedy of blunders” for being “cleverly structured like a jigsaw puzzle,” and a rave in the Guardian proclaimed that “everything that makes the novel worthwhile and engaging is here: warmth, wit, intelligence, love, death, high seriousness, low comedy, philosophy, subtle personal relationships and the complex interior life of human beings.” (Matt)

Brown Girls by Daphne Palasi Andreades: A polyphonic novel celebrating the lives of young brown girls in Queens. Raven Leilani says of the book, “An acute study of those tender moments of becoming, this is an ode to girlhood, inheritance, and the good trouble the body yields.” (Lydia)

Seasonal Work by Laura Lippman: This collection of 11 stories from Lippman hardly needs any selling, but just for the heck of it: if you’re into tales of “deception, murder, dangerous games, and love gone wrong,” this is for you; and if you’re a Lippman devotee and/or Baltimore superfan (synonymous?), rest assured that ’does indeed make an appearance. (Nick M.)

Violeta by Isabel Allende, translated by Frances Riddle: The novel’s titular narrator begins with the story of her birth—a rather ominous entry into this world, replete with a storm, lost electricity, and the scourge of the Great Influenza pandemic. Illness, quarantining, fear, and resolve shape the family. Violeta’s expansive tale is told to her grandson Camilo, a Jesuit priest—an appropriate framing for a confession of generational and historical scope. (Nick R.)

High-Risk Homosexual by Edgar Gomez: A memoir of coming of age as a queer Latinx man, taking place in spaces disparate as a cockfighting ring in Nicaragua, a drag queen convention in Los Angeles, and a doctor’s office. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called the book “A brilliant and provocative interrogation of sex, gender, race, and love.” (Lydia)

Fuccboi by Sean Thor Conroe: This novel was the last editorial project of the late Giancarlo DiTrapano of Tyrant Books, and was then acquired by Little Brown (read a profile of Conroe here.) The book is an exploration of toxic masculinity that Sheila Heti (whose emails are reproduced in the novel without permission, although she later forgave!) says, “Got under my skin in the way the best writing can.” (Lydia)

No Light to Land On by Yara Zgheib: A novel about a young Syrian couple separated by the Muslim ban on the eve of their child’s birth, and the hellish limbo of bureaucratic cruelty. Hala Alyan says of the novel, ““A masterful story of tragedy and redemption, an entire history told through the prism of a single Syrian couple, beginning and ending with love.” (Lydia)

Call Me Cassandra by Marcial Gala: As a young boy in the Cuba of the tumultuous 1970s, Rauli feels misunderstood by his family and drawn to the myths of the Greeks, especially the Trojan war and the visions of Cassandra. Gala’s novel travels from Cuba to Troy to Angola, interweaving Rauli’s story with the story of Cuba. In a starred review, Kirkus calls it “A haunting meditation on identity and violence.” (Lydia)

South to America by Imani Perry: Brilliant scholar and writer Perry explores the southern U.S., complicating the narratives that persist about it today with real encounters of people and communities. Kiese Laymon says of the book, “South to America marks time like Beloved did. Similarly, we will talk not solely of books about the south, but books generally as before or after South to America. I have known and loved the South for four decades and Imani Perry has shown me that there is so much more in our region’s fleshy folds to know, explore and love. It is simply the most finely crafted and rigorously conceived book about our region, and nation, I have ever read.” (Read Perry’s 2021 Year in Reading here.) (Lydia)

Sticker by Henry Hoke: Part of the Bloomsbury Object Lessons series, Hoke’s “memoir in twenty stickers” weaves memories of different stickers with reflections on his hometown of Charlottesville, site of the infamous violent fascist march that held the attention of the world. Jocelyn Nicole Johnson called it “Funny, nostalgic, and weird in the best possible way.” (Lydia)

A Dream Life by Claire Messud: The great Messud returns with a novel set in Australia, wherein a family moves from New York of the 1970s to a giant mansion by the Sydney Harbor. In what must be one of the best blurbs of all time, the legend Helen Garner says of the novel, “A perfect frolic of a book, puffed on breezes of beauty and wit: it waltzes you through a little fear, a little darkness, and tips you out, refreshed and laughing, into the sun.” (Lydia)

February

Pure Colour by Sheila Heti: This is a touching, funny, and philosophical novel about a woman looking to find her place in the world. When Mira leaves home for school, she meets a charismatic woman named Annie, who, as the publisher describes, “opens Mira’s chest like a portal.” After Mira’s father dies, she enters the strange dimension of acute grief and finds a world of insight inside. As the publisher says, it’s a “contemporary bible, an atlas of feeling, and an absurdly funny guide to the great (and terrible) things about being alive.” (Claire)

Nobody’s Magic by Destiny O. Birdsong: The fiction debut from acclaimed poet Birdsong, Nobody’s Magic tells the story of three women from Shreveport who have albinism, and the way their lives intersect. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly calls the novel “a stunning achievement,” and Angela Flournoy describes the novel as “a world full of complex, memorable characters who feel real, with stories unlike any I’ve read before.” (Lydia)

In Sensorium: Notes for My People by Tanaïs: in this memoir, writer and perfumer Tanaïs—that’s right, perfumer not performer—reckons with their American Bangladeshi Muslim femme experiences, via stories of childhood, love, psychedelics, and fragrances. In addition to personal history, In Sensorium is “an interrogation of the ancient violence of caste, rape culture, patriarchy, war, and the inherited ancestral trauma of being from a lush land constantly denuded…because of colonization, capitalism, and climate change.” Body and scent as history, herstory, theirstory. (Sonya)

Very Cold People by Sarah Manguso: The eighth book by pithy stylist Manguso happens also to be her debut novel. She’s written across genres—from poetry collections to nonfiction works (OngoingnessThe Two Kinds of Decay), and her previous book, 300 Arguments, is an aphoristic autobiography. Her novel, Very Cold People, is an “empathic bildungsroman” about a young girl coming of age in an austere (and very cold) Massachusetts town. Lauren Groff says Very Cold People “knocked me to my knees” with a story that “is devastatingly familiar to those of us who know the loneliness of growing up in a place of extreme emotional restraint.” (Anne)

Recitatif by Toni Morrison: The literary giant Morrison’s first published story, and the only short story she ever wrote, is now republished for the first time since 1983 with an introduction by Zadie Smith, who writes, “When [Morrison] called Recitatif an ‘experiment’ she meant it. The subject of the experiment is the reader.” (Lydia)

Moon Witch, Spider King by Marlon James: The second installment of James’s Dark Star trilogy now arrives, continuing the grand saga of Black Leopard, Red Wolf, and has been greeted with great acclaim. In a starred review, Booklist writes, “If Black Leopard, Red Wolf is a penciled comic panel, Moon Witch, Spider King is the version rendered by James the inker: the geography, myth, magic, and people of this epic setting are revisited to add shading and detail in a recursive procedure that results in a vibrant tapestry begging for infinite return trips.” (Lydia)

Antiquities and Other Stories by Cynthia Ozick: The present edition centers on Ozick’s masterful novella—Antiquities—about the struggles of a former trustee of the long-defunct Temple School for Boys who’s trying to write his memoirs while fending off senescence. But the modern world just keeps butting in on memory. The volume includes four previously uncollected stories by the author: “The Coast of New Zealand,” “The Bloodline of the Alkanas,” “Sin,” and “A Hebrew Sibyl.” (Il’ja)

Chilean Poet by Alejandro Zambra, translated by Megan McDowell: In this story, Gonzalo, an obscure Chilean poet, isn’t much good at relationships, but just maybe his ex-stepson and budding poet Vincente will prove to be. The thing that has always made Zambra’s writing irresistible (to me, anyway) is his attention to the seemingly inconsequential matters that render our lives so flush with consequence. Chilean Poet will almost certainly amble along Zambra’s wonderfully original, laconic literary path. (Il’ja)

The Boy with a Bird in His Chest by Emme Lund: Lund’s debut novel is a magical realist queer allegory that follows a young boy who finds out as a teenager that a bird named Gail lives in his chest—a revelation that has his mother spiriting him away and sending him to live with a cousin with whom he navigates the shoals of growing up in a thorny world. Andrew Sean Greer called it “a modern coming of age full of love, desperation, heartache and magic. An honest celebration of life and everything we need right now in a book.” (Lydia)

Clean Air by Sarah Blake: In a follow-up to her gorgeous, award-winning debut, Naamah, poet Blake explores the post-climate apocalypse where tree pollen poisoned the air and killed billions. Ten years later, the survivors (including Izabel, a restless mother, and her family) live in domes and have begun to build a new normal—until an unknown person begins slashing through the barrier and exposing people to the deadly air. Angie Kim writes, “Clean Air is an amazing blend of page-turning mystery, important commentary about environmental destruction, and poignant portraiture of maternal love.” (Carolyn)

Don’t Cry for Me by Daniel Black: A father writes letters to his son on his deathbed, making amends for years of silence and the rifts caused by his reaction to his son’s coming out. The letters share stories of his past and the past that came before them in rural Arkansas, back to the days of slavery and the fallout of the intervening years. Jesmyn Ward calls the novel “a perfect song.” (Lydia)

Be Here to Love Me at the End of the World by Sasha Fletcher: Fletcher’s debut is a surreal comedy about endless debt and the perversities of American life. Amelia Gray raves, “Fletcher’s full-throated talent shines in this tender, funny, time-jumping novel spanning faith, love, and the modern world. A bold and open-hearted work, like nothing else.” (Lydia)

How to Be a Revolutionary by CA Davids: A novel connecting China during the Great Leap Forward and the Tiananmen uprising with Apartheid-era South Africa through the story of a South African diplomat posted in China and her explorations of Langston Hughes’s travels in China with a Chinese friend who eventually disappears. Publishers Weekly calls it “exquisite and eye-opening.” (Lydia)

Vladimir by Julia May Jonas: Jonas’s unnamed narrator—a 50-something, tenured English professor at a small liberal arts school—finds herself at the center of a campus scandal: her husband is under investigation for having inappropriate relationships with his students. As she navigates the notoriety, she finds herself becoming deeply sexually obsessed with her new colleague, Vladimir, a young, married novelist. A book that explores power, gender, and desire, which Adrienne Brodeur calls “a whip smart and ferociously clever tale of swirling allegiances, literary rivalries, and romantic tripwires detonating hidden mines.” (Carolyn)

Scoundrel by Sarah Weinman: As the Crime columnist for The New York Times Book Review, author of The Real Lolita, and editor of Unspeakable Acts, Weinman is one of the best at getting beyond sensation to understand the intersection of crime and our larger culture. This book is her investigation into the wrongful exoneration of killer Edgar Smith and how his editor, the women who loved him, friends, and the courts were among those he manipulated into helping set him free—only for him to re-offend again. Booklist calls it, “a psychologically fascinating must-read.” (Claire)

Wildcat by Amelia Morris: Morris’s debut explores new motherhood and toxic female friendships set against the backdrop of contemporary Los Angeles. Our own Edan Lepucki said of the book, “Wildcat is that rare novel I’m always in the mood to read: at once laugh-at-loud funny and deeply serious, page-turning and smart. Amelia Morris tackles contemporary motherhood—with its social media-induced peer pressure, its confusing isolation, its complicated beauty—with the sharpest wit and a tenderness that takes my breath away. I loved this book. I want to press it into the hands of…everyone.” (Lydia)

The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb: Why are priceless string instruments so hard to keep track of? Yo-Yo Ma left his Stradivarius cello in a cab, and two other musicians have in recent decades forgotten their multi-million-dollar violins in a taxi and on a train. In Slocumb’s debut novel, a talented Black violinist from rural North Carolina faces this nightmarish scenario when his priceless Strad goes missing before a music competition. From this setup, Slocumb composes a mystery around the disappearance of the violin and the painful racial history of its provenance. An added bonus: the author has provided an accompanying playlist. (Matt)

Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh: The abortion debate gets personal in Haigh’s timely sixth novel. Claudia, a counselor at the Mercy Street clinic, smokes weed to cope with the stress of guiding young women through the choice of their lives while a rabidly pro-life activist shames women online for visiting the clinic and plots to travel from his remote cabin to “save” Claudia. “I’m just going to say it: Jennifer Haigh is the greatest novelist of our generation,” says Joanna Rakoff, author of My Salinger Year. “And Mercy Street is her best novel yet.” (Michael)

Cowboy Graves by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Natasha Wimmer: Three novellas—Cowboy Graves, French Comedy of Horrors, and Fatherland—from the Chilean master. The final tale focuses on a young writer of poetry—the genre that defined Bolaño’s vision. Bolaño once noted that Nicanor Parra claimed the best novels are written in meter, while Harold Bloom said the best contemporary poetry is written in prose; the novella form is the perfect synthesis of both modes. (Nick R.)

The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka: A “tour de force of economy, precision, and emotional power,” says Otsuka’s publisher about her new novel; and I utterly believe it. This is what Otsuka does—spare yet unforgettable novels that know exactly what they are about and how to convey their depth of meaning. Here she plumbs the inner lives of a group of recreational swimmers—their quotidian needs, and the fragility of their minds and bodies when these needs are disrupted. I am really looking forward to this one. (Sonya)

How to Be Normal by Phil Christman Though the Midwest is by far the largest geographical region of the United States, diverse in culture, history, and ideology, it’s still often slurred as “flyover country” and reduced to a set of often inaccurate red state stereotypes. Writer, professor, and theorist of the middle American sublime Christman complicated those tropes in his excellent set of essays Midwest Futures, which was both narratively and structurally innovative in how it moved beyond the tired tropes of a million New York Times think pieces. In his follow up How to Be Normal, Christman presents essays on a variety of topics ranging from race and masculinity to religion and pop culture, all written in the tone of a subversive self-help guide. Engaging a belles-lettristic negative capability, Christman takes on the big subjects while always remembering that the point of criticism is to more fully be a person, part of “our little attempts that we make at building a home in this world.” (Ed)

When I’m Gone, Look for Me in the East by Quan Barry: In the latest from the author of We Ride Upon Sticks, two identical twins—brothers who fell out years before after one rejected the monastic life they shared—set out across Mongolia to find a great lama reincarnate. The brother who remained a monk, Chulun, struggles to get along with his estranged twin, Mun, a task that only gets more difficult as the terrain pushes their differences to the breaking point. Throughout, Chulun wrestles with questions of faith and brotherhood, along with the futility in trying to hold on to one set of beliefs in a world that seems to change by the minute. (Thom)

Dead Collection by Isaac Fellman: An archival love story between a TV star’s widow and an archivist with a condition (vampirism) that keeps him hiding in the basement. Jordy Rosenberg called it “A moving and provocative novel, that caresses the decay nibbling at the hard edges of postmodern officescapes, exposing a sexy, neurotic, cinematic vampire love story bubbling up from the ruins.” (Lydia)

Don’t Say We Didn’t Warn You by Ariel Delgado Dixon: Two sisters in a desolate town in New York support each other when their parents disappear, spending stints in homes for troubled teens. Joy Williams calls the book “Eventful, complex, admirably structured, relentless, and spooky.” (Lydia)

The Maiden of All Our Desire by Peter Manseau: Curator of American Religious History at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and cofounder of the excellent religion website Killing the Buddha, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary, Manseau writes excellent books at an unnerving pace. Rag and Bone: A Journey Among the World’s Holy Dead saw Manseau traveling pilgrimage routes to investigate relics, The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost told a story at the intersection of technology and spiritualism, and Vows: The Story of a Priest, a Nun, and Their Son followed his own unusual autobiography. The Maiden of All Our Desires shows Manseau turning to fiction for the second time in his career, but his interest is still in the lived experience of faith. Evoking both Umberto Eco and Lauren Groff, The Maiden of All Our Desires unfolds in a single day at a convent during the 14th-century Black Death, in which issues of belief and heresy are engaged, and the individual must face the enormity of history. (Ed)

Loss of Memory Is Only Temporary by Johanna Kaplan: Kaplan was twice a finalist for the National Book Award, in 1976 and 1981, for O My America! and Other People’s Lives, and her short fiction is collected here for the first time, vibrant stories of post-war Jewish New York. Vogue says the collection “fizzes with the urbane energy of J.D. Salinger, Grace Paley, and Deborah Eisenberg—a restless delight.” (Lydia)


Cost of Living by Emily Maloney: An essay collection by an emergency room technician who came to the work after her teenage suicide attempt put her into the tortuous cycle of medical debt—a burden that might touch anyone who has the misfortune of needing medical care in our broken American system, where a broken leg can lead to financial ruin. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly raves, “Maloney artfully unpacks the fraught connection between money and health in her brilliant debut collection. Maloney is masterful at beginning in a place of skepticism and ending with empathy, all while weaving in her own fascinating story.” (Lydia)
New Animal by Ella Baxter: This strange, sexy, wonderful novel by Australian author Baxter follows a woman who works in her family’s mortuary and processes the grief of a loved one’s passing by an exploration of local kink clubs. Kirkus wrote in a bewildered but supportive review, “this unusual novel navigates the most treacherous of emotional territories—the fault lines between love and grief, sex and death—with a deliberate lack of grace and real charm.” (Lydia)

Away to Stay by Mary Kuryla: A novel of the Inland Empire following a working class immigrant family struggling to keep afloat and housed in an unforgiving economy. Lexi Freiman says of the novel, “Kuryla has an unflinching eye for the dark strangeness of domestic life and her ravishing prose only deepens the provocation. A powerful and stunningly original book.” (Lydia)

March

Digital Communion: Marshal McLuhan’s Spiritual Vision for a Virtual Age by Nick Ripatrazone. At The Millions we’re lucky to have Ripatrazone as a contributing editor, since he has consistently proven himself to be one of the most astute commenters on culture and religion writing today, at sites like Image, Rolling Stone, LitHub, and here. His latest book Digital Communion investigates the religious implications of the celebrated Canadian media theorist Marshal McLuhan, a figure who first explicated the philosophical implications of television. In Ripatrazone’s hands, the Jesuit educated McLuhan is restored to being “the greatest prophet of the digital age.” In our own era of communion administered through Zoom and mindfulness apps that incorporate Zen onto your smartphone, Ripatrazone makes a brilliant argument as to what McLuhan has to say about the benefits and perils of digital faith. (Ed)

Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo: From the author of We Need New Names, which The New York Times called “A deeply felt and fiercely written debut novel,” comes a novel charts the fall of Old Horse, the long-serving leader of an oppressive regime in a fictional country, but inspired by the coup in November 2017 of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. The novel centers on Destiny, who has returned from exile to witness the revolution, and a chorus of animal voices, who call out the absurdity of contemporary politics and, according to the publisher, help “us see our human world more clearly.” (Claire)

Eleutheria by Allegra Hyde: A naïve young woman with idealistic hopes of fighting climate change follows a charismatic leader to a remote island in the Bahamas. She joins a band of eco-warriors only to discover that things aren’t what she expected. This debut novel follows Hyde’s 2016 story collection, Of This New World, and wrestles with similar themes of utopia. (Hannah)

Drowning Practice by Mike Meginnis: In this pre-apocalyptic novel, every person on Earth has a dream that tells them the world will end in November. Lyd, a once-successful novelist who has become a deeply dysfunctional agoraphobe, is forced to leave her home for the first time in years in order to protect her teenage daughter, Mott, who is determined to write her own first book before the world ends. The pair embark on a road trip through a strange and menacing world, fleeing from their dangerous ex-husband/father, David, who believes that they should be forced to spend their last days in his home. Appleseed author Matt Bell called it “the best new novel I’ve read in ages.” (Adam P.)

Body Work by Melissa Febos: The memoirist and essayist has written an insightful and innovative craft book addressing the grueling work of intimate personal writing. Alexander Chee said of the book, “Melissa Febos has written one of the most liberating books on the subject of writing that I can think of.” (Lydia)

Run and Hide by Pankaj Mishra: Returning to fiction after a two-decade hiatus, Indian writer Mishra delivers a new novel that explores the high cost of unbridled ambition. At the center of Run and Hide is Arun, who gets a ticket out of his hometown when he’s accepted at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology. There he makes two friends who will cut any corner to succeed, and soon they’re living a Gatsbyesque life. Arun withdraws, but he is lured out of seclusion by a journalist who is writing an expose of his former friends’ chicanery—and will teach Arun that we can run from our origins, but there’s no place to hide. (Bill)

The Last Suspicious Holdout by Ladee Hubbard: Spanning 15 year—from 1992 to 2007—this collection from the author of The Rib King focuses on a single Black neighborhood in “a southern sliver of suburbia.” In “There He Go,” a young girl copes with her itinerant home life by telling herself stories about her absent grandfather. In “False Cognates,” a formerly incarcerated lawyer struggles to pay tuition at his troubled son’s elite private school. Throughout, characters from one story pop up in another, giving the collection a unified narrative weight. (Thom)

Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou: An Asian American PhD student desperate to claw her way out of academic hell? Sign me up, please! Even better, Alexander Chee calls this an “Asian American literary studies whodunnit.” Ingrid Yang finds herself in the midst of solving a mystery tied to a late canonical Chinese poet that leaves her questioning everything from her romantic life to her academic career. Oh, and her best friend is named Eunice Kim. For everyone with a Eunice Kim in their life, let’s kick off our inaugural book club with Disorientation. I’ll bring the soju. (Kate)

We Had to Remove This Post By Hanna Bervoets, translated by Emma Rault: Employed as content moderators at a social media company, Kayleigh and her colleagues watch and evaluate endless streams of the most horrifying and disturbing content the Internet has to offer. The unending violence and hate begins to take a toll and the team, and Kayleigh, fall apart. Ling Ma writes: “This novel gives us an acid glimpse into a new form of labor existing today, a job that extracts an immeasurable psychic toll. Fascinating and disturbing.”  (Carolyn)

Border Less by Namrata Poddar: Poddar’s debut, which was a finalist for the Louise Meriwether First Book Prize, is divided in two sections tracing the migratory journey of Dia Mittal, an airline call center agent in Mumbai who supports her family and who is looking for opportunity, leaving on a journey that brings her together with South Asians from across the spectrum of class and circumstance. A beautiful narrative approached with what Ananda Devi calls “heart-breaking delicacy and precision.” (Read Poddar’s 2021 Year in Reading here.) (Lydia)

A Ballad of Love and Glory by Reyna Grande: A love story of the Mexican-American War about the romance between a Mexican healer and an Irish American soldier who defects and joins the fight for Mexico’s freedom, forming an Irish battalion. Julia Alvarez writes of the novel, “Grande integrates a sweeping Tolstoyan vision and command of language with her very own Latin American popular traditions…This is indeed a grand and soulful novel by a storyteller who has hit her full stride.” (Lydia)

Ancestor Trouble by Maud Newton: Essayist and critic Newton’s first book length work is memoir, a fascinating combination of a journey to find out more about the flamboyant characters in her family going back generations, mixed seamlessly with “America’s Ancestry Craze,” her Harper’s article about the genealogy craze that has become a serious even all-consuming hobby for many Americans. An unflinching exploration into the history of a troubled family tree and the universal but also peculiarly American need to discover “roots.” (Marie)

Groundskeeping by Lee Cole. This debut coming-of-age novel is a love story set in Kentucky during the run-up to the 2016 election. It centers on Owen Callahan, an aspiring writer who moves back home to Kentucky to live with his Trump-supporting uncle and grandfather. He takes a job as a groundskeeper at a local college, in exchange for writing classes. There he meets Alma Hazdic, a writer in residence who hails from a Boston, and whose immigrant family is much more liberal than Owen’s. They are from different worlds, and as they begin to fall in love, Alma struggles to understand Owen’s complicated relationship with his conservative relatives and his home state. (Hannah)

Homesickness by Colin Barrett: The good folks at Grove Atlantic say that Homesickness contains “…eight character-driven stories.” Here’s what I say: Young Skins, Barrett’s first short story collection (2015), destroyed me. So good. I’m not paid to be objective, and it would be impossible anyway since Young Skins won ALL the awards, not just the Irish ones. With an ARC of Homesickness in hand, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’d read Barrett’s grocery lists should he choose to publish them. A major writer in the making. No less than Anne Enright calls his work “lyrical and tough and smart.” Anne Enright is correct. Expect stories of the down and out, the oddballs and misfits, the working class. Characters with flaws and nary a tidy, dignified outcome within sniffing distance. (Il’ja)

A House Between Earth and the Moon by Rebecca Scherm: A House Between Earth and the Moon is a page-turning exploration of a potential human future. As climate change makes our planet less and less habitable, scientist Alex accepts an offer from giant tech company Sensus to set his lab in outer space on Parallaxis. However, as soon as Alex and six other scientist arrive in the outer space, they become the hard laborers of Sensus. Yet, they persevere, hoping they will reunite with their families soon. On Earth, wildfires and storms are tormenting humanity. People struggle not only with the elements, but also with the surveillance of the Sensus phones. How can humanity find a way out of these apocalyptic events? Contemporary literature does not lack dark sci-fi to warn us of the possible futures that we are headed toward. But A House Between Earth and the Moon dedicates its most vivid imaginations to not only a scary future, but to human tenacity and the power of love. (Jianan)

A Novel Obsession by Caitlin Barasch: Naomi Ackerman wants to write a novel, but she’s having trouble coming up with a novel-worthy idea. She meets a man; she’ll write a novel about love! The man has an interesting ex-girlfriend; maybe Naomi should write about her instead. But first she’ll have to get to know her. Lies unfold; chaos ensues; the line between fact and fiction, real life and invented, blurs and then disappears. In a starred review, Kirkus calls Barasch’s “dread-laden psychological novel” of a debut “an incisive study of female friendship…smart, jarring, and funny.” (Kaulie)

Mecca by Susan Straight: Straight’s return to fiction in the time of Covid, Mecca follows her recent memoir and shares with it a fascination with California and the generations of dreamers and desperates who have made their home in the west. At the novel’s core is the Latinx community of Southern California—highway patrolmen, ICU nurses, animal control workers, gardeners; representatives from the web of people who sustain others’ golden dreams—and the interconnected lives of characters facing drought and fire as well as ICE and viruses. A novel of “fierce compassion” (PW) and “a hymn to all that have called the Golden State home” (Walter Mosley). (Kaulie)

The World Cannot Give by Tara Isabella Burton: The Secret History meets Fight Club, sort of, but younger, more feminine, more queer. In Burton’s second novel, sensitive Laura transfers to a Maine prep school, the alma mater of her favorite novelist, a Byronic figure who died tragically young. There, she finds her place in the cultish chapel choir, a group fervently devoted to the novelist and held in thrall by their charismatic leader, Virginia. Laura becomes infatuated with Virginia, but when charisma turns dangerous, she has to decide how deep her devotion goes. (Kaulie)

Páradais by Fernanda Melchor, translated by Sophie Hughes: In her second novel to reach the U.S., Melchor moves from Hurricane Season’s rain-soaked villages into an upscale apartment building called Páradais. There, two boys from different economic strata find common ground: drinking and scheming. Translator Hughes deftly rendered Melchor’s vivid, powerful prose in Hurricane Season, so buckle up for what’s next. (Nick M.)

How Strange a Season by Megan Mayhew Bergman: “I’m not a fan of the moral filter in fiction,” Bergman has said in an interview. “I don’t want to write about what we should think, feel, or do. I want to write about our ugly, exquisite humanity, our desperate inner selves navigating the world’s obstacles.” Bergman’s characters are unfailingly human—steeped in paradox and grace—and her new collection is pensive, playful, and ambitious. Stories like “The Heirloom” and “Peaches, 1979” alone are masterclasses in dynamic detail, in the lineage of Jayne Anne Phillips. Equally talented as a writer of nonfiction—about subjects ranging from the environment to music to family—Bergman is a sensitive, essential writer. (Nick R.)

Let Me Count the Ways by Tomás Q. Morín: A memoir from the skilled poet (most recently, the collection Machete) and translator of Pablo Neruda. Morín has described his memoir as an exploration of “what it was like for me to grow up in a rural town in South Texas surrounded by a culture of drugs and machismo,” the formative influence of the men in his family, and how he tried to cope with the struggles of his youth. “My parents taught me early that their love had its limits,” he writes early in the book. “I wish I could have mapped out their love. My counting is a way for me to return the things people have made to the blueprint stage.” (Nick R.)

Good Intentions by Kasim Ali: This debut novel from Londoner Ali, is the story of young man torn between family and love, culture and individuality. “Honest” is a word that comes up repeatedly in blurbs and reviews (emotionally, absorbingly, heartbreakingly). “Unafraid of the gray areas of race, faith, sexuality, and love,” writes novelist Lillian Li. (Sonya)

Booth by Karen Joy Fowler: In the seventh novel by the Man Booker finalist, the reader travels back to 1822, where the Booth family—progenitors of John Wilkes Booth—move to a farmhouse near Baltimore to live their lives in seclusion. Over the next 16 years, the family has 10 more children, and Junius Booth, the family’s unstable patriarch and a Shakespearean actor, trains his children for their own careers on the stage. But the background for this training is a country descending into civil war—and one of the Booth children starting down a path that ends with his name in infamy. (Thom)

Checkout 19 by Claire-Louise Bennett: Irish author Bennett’s second novel, a Bildungsroman in which a woman recounts the upbringing that led to her becoming a writer, takes us through the unnamed narrator’s childhood in a town west of London. As she grows up, she develops a unique attention to detail, not to mention a growing pile of books and manuscripts. As she navigates her own relationships and her own connection to literature, she forges the talent that leads to her eventual career. (Thom)

Homo Irrealis by Andre Aciman: In his new essay collection, the author of Call Me by Your Name expounds on topics that range from subway poetry in New York to the legacies of Sigmund Freud, W.G. Sebald, Marcel Proust, and more. Aciman focuses on the power of the imagination to shape our memories, using himself as an example—though he admits his readings of certain authors may be “erroneous,” they shaped him nonetheless, and so they retain a certain power. This contradiction (among other things) gives the book its narrative throughline. (Thom)

Red Paint by Sasha taqʷšəblu LaPointe: A memoir of a poet and artist from the Upper Skagit and Nooksack tribes who weaves her experience in the punk scene with her experience as a child moving around the Pacific Northwest, and the influence of her great-grandmother, a linguist who helped to preserve her indigenous language of Lushootseed. In a starred review, Kirkus calls the memoir “an engaging, poetic, educative examination of the search for home and personal and cultural identity.” (Lydia)

Vagabonds! by Eloghosa Osunde: A novel of the dispossessed of Lagos, Nigeria—poor, queer, sex workers, rogues, and how their lives intersect. Marlon James says of the novel, “You don’t read this novel. You swan dive into its sea of gods and monsters, lost girls, violent boys, and well-behaved people both righteous and wicked. And when you finally surface, that sound will be you, gasping in wonder.” (Lydia)

April

Memphis by Tara Stringfellow: This debut bildungsroman, a blend of fact and fiction, draws on three generations of the Stringfellow family’s involvement in the civil rights struggle. It opens in 1995 when 10-year-old Joan New, her mother, and sister seek refuge from her father’s violence at the ancestral home in Memphis. There Joan comes of age while painting portraits and learning family history and secrets—among them that her grandfather was lynched and her grandmother was a mistress of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Stringfellow, an attorney and poet, told Book Pipeline: “I hope girls growing up in the North Memphis projects will read it and say, ‘Wow, somebody wrote a story about me.’” (Bill)

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel: Another twisty, intellectually meaty novel of the uncanny and otherworldly from Mandel, longtime Millions staffer and bestselling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel. This one spans 500 years, from 1912 to 2401, and features a bestselling author visiting Earth from her moon-based colony on a book tour, where she must field a million and one questions about her novel about a “scientifically implausible flu,” while the news warns of a mysterious new virus. That Mandel herself found herself answering a million and one questions about her own pandemic novel during the present pandemic no doubt lends this plot element some verisimilitude. (Michael)

Binding the Ghost by Ed Simon: Simon’s essays are some of the true hidden gems in our contemporary literary world. After the deconstructionism and with the rise of cultural studies, literature is often used as a vehicle to form a political conversation. “Art for art’s sake” seems to be a tradition that we now consider not only outdated but also narrow-minded. Binding the Ghost helps restore our pure pleasures in reading literature as what literature actually is. Simon’s essays are never dogmatic. He guides us through a theological perspective and inspires us to meditate on the many significant, yet often neglected, literary evolvements: the development of the alphabet, the mystic power of punctuation, how the novel and Protestantism construct a relationship with people. Binding the Ghost sings a genuine, beautiful hymn to the magic and wonder of poetry and fiction. (Jianan)

The Age of Astonishment: John Morris in the Extraordinary Century―From the Civil War to the Cold War by Bill Morris: Our own Morris (Motor City Burning, American Berserk) is back with a work of nonfiction that mixes the personal with history and traces the life of his grandfather, John Morris, who was born into a slave-owning Virginia family during the Civil War and died at the peak of the Cold War. In a starred review, Kirkus, hailed the book—which covers everything from Reconstruction, women’s suffrage, and Prohibition to the horrors of Jim Crow, two World Wars, and the advent of nuclear weapons—as “An entertaining combination of domestic and world history,” adding “[Morris] does a superb job of recounting a life amid a series of significant decades. His imaginative ‘mongrel’ approach—a mix of…biography, history, reportage, memoir, autobiography, and, when the record runs thin, speculation that flirts with fiction—is successful. An entertaining combination of domestic and world history.” (Adam B.)

Song for Almeyda & Song for Anninho by Gayl Jones: The new flow of published work from the brilliant and elusive Jones continues with this extension of the universe of Palmares, a love story for two of its characters entirely in epic verse. (Lydia)

Forbidden City by Vanessa Hua: Hua follows up her extraordinary novel A River of Stars and the collection Deceit and Other Possibilities with a novel that illuminates a figure from history—Mei, Mao Zedong’s protege and lover, a teenager who came from her village to be a dance partner for party elites. Hua deftly explores a tumultuous period in what Maxine Hong Kingston calls “an intriguing and suspenseful story.” (Lydia)

Easy Beauty by Chloé Cooper Jones: Jones—tennis reporter, Pulitzer Prize finalist (for her profile of Ramsey Orta, who filmed the police killing of Eric Garner), philosophy professor, fiction writer, too—is indisputably of exquisite mind. In her first book, Easy Beauty, she investigates and interrogates the Western ideals of beauty philosophically and experientially, as a woman living assessed, judged, and often othered for her own disabled body. Cooper Jones’s examination is performed with “the rigor and precision of Joan Didion and Maggie Nelson,” according to playwright Sarah Ruhl. The resulting book is “utterly remarkable,” according to The Millions’ own Lydia Kiesling. (Anne K. Yoder)

The Memory Librarian by Janelle Monáe: Singer-songwriter, actress, fashion icon, producer Monáe has written a book, y’all. Building on the Afrofuturistic mythos of her third album Dirty Computer—a totalitarian, mind-controlling world where queerness, race, gender plurality, and love are all subjugated—Monáe has collaborated with a team of creatives on this collection of stories that “fully explore what it’s like to live in such a totalitarian existence…and what it takes to get out of it.” If anyone can speculate engagingly on such liberation, it seems to me Monáe can. (Sonya)

The Candy House by Jennifer Egan: Described as a sibling novel to her Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit From the Goon Squad, The Candy House begins with tech entrepreneur Bix Bouton and his venture called Own Your Unconscious, wherein people can download and view their own memories, and share and exchange the memories of others. The rest of the novel explores the consequences of such a phenomenon, and as with Goon Squad, it spans decades and narrative styles, from the omniscient to the epistolary, to a chapter told in tweets. Technology, intimacy, privacy—these are subjects Egan has tackled before, and with such brilliance and formal daring. I cannot wait! (Edan)

Constructing a Nervous System by Margo Jefferson: The fantastic critic and memoirist follows up Negroland with another work of memoir that uses a physiology as its architecture: the human nervous system. Vivian Gornick called it “one of the most imaginative—and therefore moving—memoirs I have ever read.” (Lydia)

Sleepwalk by Dan Chaon: Chaon’s eighth book and fourth novel tells the story of Will Bear—a man who, at 50, has been living off the grid for nearly half his life. He’s never paid taxes, never held a full-time job, and never been in a monogamous relationship. What he has done is carry out “errands” for his employer, a powerful organization whose exact nature Will remains hazy about. One day, Will gets a call from a stranger on one of his burner phones, a woman in her 20s who claims to be his long-lost daughter. She needs his help, she says. One problem? The people she needs help dealing with might work with Will’s employer. (Thom)

Shelter by Lawrence Jackson: A memoir of homecoming, by a Black son of Baltimore who returned to the city to teach at Johns Hopkins, buying a house for his sons in a covenanted, predominantly white neighborhood and reflecting on the paradoxes of the city. The memoir weaves his own story of making a home for his family with a history of the city. Edward P. Jones raves: “There are an endless number of wonderful things to say about Lawrence Jackson’s Shelter―from luminous to breathtaking to just being outright admirable.” (Lydia)

The Unwritten Book by Samantha Hunt: Hunt publishes her first book of nonfiction, a work of memoir and literary inquiry that begins when Hunt finds her late father’s unfinished manuscript. Maggie Nelson said of the book, “I can’t remember the last time I read something so heavy with grief and darkness that made me feel so accompanied in the human condition, so inspired to return to my life with more curiosity, love, and wonder.” (Lydia)

Four Treasures of the Sky by Jenny Tinghui Zhang: A novel set against the background of the American West during the era of the Chinese Exclusion Act, following a young woman from calligraphy school to a San Francisco brothel to the mountains of Idaho. Ann Patchett called Four Treasures of the Sky “an engulfing, bighearted, and heartbreaking novel.” (Lydia)

Search by Michelle Huneven: Huneven’s fifth novel is based in southern California and revolves around a Unitarian Universalist Church and its search for a new minister. Food writer and memoirist Dana Potowski agrees to join the committee, thinking it will be fodder for a new book. The committee’s choices bring her lots of colorful material but when it comes time to make the decision, Dana finds herself more invested than she realized, and fights for her choice. (Hannah)

The Trouble with Happiness by Tove Ditlevsen, translated by Michael Favala Goldman: It’s no secret we’re often woefully late to read and celebrate foreign authors here in the States—case in point is the 50 year lag in the (re)translation of celebrated Danish poet and author Ditlevsen’s devastating memoirs, The Copenhagen Trilogy. This “brilliant” and “stunning” accomplishment is one of the most oft-cited books on this year’s “best of” lists despite Ditlevsen having died nearly half a century ago. The one upside for us English language readers is the remaining trove of her work that awaits us. Next up is Ditelevsen’s story collection, The Trouble with Happiness, never before translated to English. It features precisely observed stories from the 1950s and ‘60s, quiet and understated tales of characters yearning and struggling to escape the roles assigned to them while not knowing quite what they’re looking for. (Anne)

Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li: Think Indiana Jones but with generations of filial piety and Chinese history behind him. In Li’s debut novel, questions of art and the diaspora are explored as a group of Chinese-American students ransack museums of priceless Chinese art and return it to their homeland. Part thriller, part crime fiction, and part intriguing examination of identity, Portrait Of a Thief is the heist novel art history majors have been waiting for. (Kate Gavino)

Happy for You by Claire Stanford: Stanford’s debut novel follows Evelyn Kominsky Kumamoto, a young woman at a personal and professional crossroads, as she leaves academia for a research job in Silicon Valley. Tasked with developing an app that helps people quantify their happiness, a struggling Evelyn must find a way back to her own joy. “Happy for You is the optimal novel for the strange times we find ourselves in,” writes Rachel Khong. “This is a book for anyone who’s ever looked around at this brave new world—and wondered about your own place in it.” (Carolyn).

Probably Ruby by Lisa Bird-Wilson: Probably Ruby is about a Métis woman in her 30s, whose life is spinning out of control. In interwoven narratives, the novel brings together Ruby’s story, from being given up for adoption and raised by white parents to how she finds meaning in kindship and her roots. Imbolo Mbue calls the novel “a celebration of our universal desire to love and be loved.” (Claire)

Young Mungo by Douglas Stewart: The follow-up novel to the Booker prize-wining Shuggie Bain, exploring masculinity, love, queerness, and growing up in Glasgow. In a starred review, Kirkus writes, “You wouldn’t think you’d be eager to return to these harsh, impoverished environs, but again this author creates characters so vivid, dilemmas so heart-rending, and dialogue so brilliant that the whole thing sucks you in like a vacuum cleaner.” (Lydia)

A Tiny Upward Shove by Melissa Chadburn: The L.A. writing community has been anticipating this debut novel from one of our most passionate and engaged members since we learned of its sale. Inspired by Chadburn’s Filipina heritage and her own time in the foster care system, A Tiny Upward Shove begins with a young woman’s death and her transformation into an aswang, or Filipino shapeshifter, able to venture into the minds and experiences of those she has known—including her own killer. Hector Tobar writes: “Melissa Chadburn is a fiercely original, brave writer. She writes with the voice of the survivor she is, finding the lyrical and the deeply human in seemingly dark and impenetrable landscapes.” (Edan)

Heartbroke by Chelsea Bieker: Bieker follows her beloved first novel, Godshot, with this collection of stories about desperate people in Central Valley, California: a woman who steals a baby from a homeless shelter, a mother and son selling dreamcatchers along the highway, teenagers taking too many risks online. Stephanie Danler writes that this book is “astonishing…absolutely devastating” and Lauren Groff calls Bieker “an absolute crackling talent.” (Edan)

Woman, Eating by Claire Kohda My interest in this debut novel was first piqued when I read about it in Ruth Ozeki’s Year in Reading for The Millions. I love the title. And a mixed-race vampire, you say? Lydia is a young woman in a London sublet, rooming with artists, away from her vampire mother for the first time. She can only consume blood—and, yet, she doesn’t want to. She wants to be an artist. Kohda, is a British book critic and violinist, and of her debut book, Ozeki writes, “The spell this novel casts is so complete I feel utterly, and happily, bitten.” (Edan)

End of the World House by Adrienne Celt: In Celt’s exhilarating, inventive third novel—the follow-up to Invitation to a Bonfire–Bertie and Kate are long-time friends who take a trip to Paris before Kate moves from Silicon Valley to LA. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if the world weren’t, essentially, ending in a slow-motion apocalyptic buffet that includes terrorist attacks, pandemics, and freak weather brought on by climate change. When Bertie and Kate get a chance to tour the Louvre on a day it’s closed, they find themselves in a time loop and must figure out how to rediscover one another, and get to the bottom of their tension, codependence, and resentment. This book about love, friendship, and the cruel nature of time is catnip for fans of Groundhog Day and Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind. Rufi Thorpe writes: “Reading Adrienne Celt is like being granted access to a secret kingdom, another layer of reality you didn’t know existed.” I agree. (Edan)

Nobody Gets Out Alive by Leigh Newman: Alaskan Newman follows up her memoir Still Points North with a collection of short stories that show her home state from all angles, from its sprawling suburbs to wilder regions haunted by the frontier past. Newman debut collection includes prize-winning stories “Howl Palace” and title story, “Nobody Gets Out Alive,” which centers on a bride who returns to her hometown of Anchorage only to blow up her own wedding reception. (Hannah)

Post-traumatic by Chantal Johnson: A lawyer at a New York psychiatric hospital deals with her own trauma at home, self-medicating and unraveling as the high-wire act of professionalism and personal trauma becomes untenable. Myriam Gurba raves, “Chantal V. Johnson has blessed us with a cool, stylish, and violently funny novel about survival. It made me smile, laugh, cringe, shiver, and think. Like life, Post-traumatic is richly triggering and highly recommended.” (Lydia)

The Red Zone by Chloe Caldwell: In her new memoir, essayist Caldwell explores her struggles with PMDD, a severe form of PMS that drastically affects her mood and mental well-being. Caldwell describes her attempts to treat her condition, and how it affected her relationships and sense of self. I’m here for any memoir that talks honestly about women’s health issues, but the truth is I’d read whatever Caldwell writes. (Hannah)

The Odyssey by Lara Williams: An employee on a cruise ship is selected by her captain for a bizarre mentorship program, and her adherence to it breaks up her life. Mateo Askaripour says of the book, “I have never read anything like this, which is a testament to Lara Williams’s craft, as well as her fearlessness in diving into the more absurd, cringeworthy, and downright uncomfortable aspects of life.” (Lydia)

Rouge Street by Shuang Xuetao, translated by Jeremy Tiang: Shenyang, a major city in Northeast China, was once a thriving industrial hub under Mao Zedong. But as China transforms into a market economy, the once glorious city finds itself burdened with various social ills: poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, alcoholism. Born in Shengyang, Shuang Xuetao presents a vivid picture that captures the various voices of Shengyang’s natives. Undefeated by life, Shuang’s characters fight a giant fish to survive beneath a frozen lake, consider burning a sorghum field for revenge, and imagine leaving their tough neighborhoods in a flying machine. Shuang’s stories are fundamentally about hope, aspiration, and resilience. (Jianan Qian)

Activities of Daily Living by Lisa Hsiao Chen: The debut novel from poet and Rona Jaffe Award winner Chen, Activities of Daily Living follows Alice, a Taiwanese immigrant in New York, as she struggles to work on a “project” about the renowned and elusive performance artist Tehching Hsieh when she’s not working a mindless day job. The deeper she gets into her project, the more of her own life slips in. Highly recommend for: fans of Chen’s poetry; fans of Olivia Laing and/or Ben Lerner; anyone who’s ever found themselves consumed by art; anyone who’s fighting the very nature of time (and, really, who isn’t?). (Kaulie)

An Unlasting Home by Mai Al-Nakib: It’s 2013, and though Sara, a professor of philosophy, returned to Kuwait 11 years ago, her feelings about her country remain… complicated, and only more so after a class on Nietzsche leads to an accusation of blasphemy and the threat of execution. In the 1920s, her grandmothers, still only girls, are beginning to make the choices that will shape their lives; a generation later, Sara’s mother is planning a political life while her ayah leaves her own children to mother Sara. An Unlasting Home, the debut novel from the author of The Hidden Light of Objects, follows the lives of five women and, through them, of Kuwait itself through a long century of change. (Kaulie)

At the Edge of the Woods by Masatsugu Ono, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter: From one of Japan’s most celebrated writers and translators—Ono’s won the Mishima Prize and the Akutagawa Prize, the country’s highest literary honor, among others—At the Edge of the Woods is an eerie allegory of climate apocalypse and unnatural nature. A family moves to, well, the edge of a wood, which turns out to be full of dark laughter, figures that appear and disappear, sounds of violence and gnashing teeth. Bryan Washington calls it “beautiful and seductive,” writing “Ono illustrates modern life’s horrors alongside the wonder of the unknown” and “balances wonder and disquiet with incomparable grace and precision.” (Kaulie)

Out There by Kate Folk: The debut collection from Folk, Out There is, as Chang-Rae Lee puts it, “wondrously perverse, often creepy and hilarious, and always sneakily heartbreaking.” The title story, first published in The New Yorker, sees a San Francisco woman seek love through a dating app despite the threat posed by stunning artificial men designed by foreign hackers. Other stories dig even deeper into the eerie and weird—a void slowly swallows the world; patients battle a bone-melting disease and a dangerous hospital-ward love triangle—but most uncanny of all is Folk’s own voice, imaginative, sharp, and unsettling, human and alien together. (Kaulie)

People from Bloomington by Budi Darma, translated by Tiffany Tsao: First published in Indonesia 40 years ago, this story collection from celebrated author Darma gets a second life—and an English translation—as a Penguin Classic. Across seven stories set in the gridded streets and rented rooms of Bloomington, Ind., Darma’s characters navigate their morbidly funny lives in this meditation on alienation, failed connection, and the universal strangeness of the human mind. (Kaulie)

Ruin by Cara Hoffman: A collection of anarchistic stories from a founding editor of the Anarchist Review of Books and celebrated author of So Much Pretty, Be Safe I Love You and Running. American society is falling apart; Ruin is a look at what it may look like to survive the collapse, if survival was as surreal and funny as it was brutal. A little girl disguises herself as an old man, a dog begins to speak, separated lovers communicate across the penal colony via technical drawings. The New York Times Book Review has said Hoffman “writes with a restraint that makes poetry of pain,” and in Ruin both the pain and poetry are present in force. (Kaulie)

True Biz by Sara Novic: Set in a boarding school for deaf students, Novic’s novel follow teens and adults navigating the personal and the political in a novel that Alexandra Kleeman calls “Rollicking, immersive, and boldly, exquisitely felt…delves into the deepest questions about community, communication, and collective action, inviting the reader into a world of language made new.” (Lydia)

Violets by Kyung-Sook Shin, translated by Anton Hur: This novel takes us to 1970s rural South Korea, where a young girl named San who is ostracized from her community meets a girl called Namae. Following a moment of physical intimacy, Namae violently rejects San, setting her on a troubling path. This novel is one of Shin’s first, written while she was in her 20s. The author of the worldwide sensation Please Look After Mom, Shin is one of the most widely read authors in Korea and the first South Korean and first woman to win the Man Asian Literary Prize. (Marie)

I Was the President’s Mistress! by Miguel Syjuco: A rollicking polyphonic novel from the winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize for Illustrado. A satire of political scandal, social upheaval, and absurdity, of which Salman Rushdie says, “This brilliant black comedy is a wild, and wildly unpredictable, ride through the dark side of the Philippines. Miguel Syjuco is his country’s most original and unflinching literary voice.” (Lydia)

Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett: Ghostly narrators, omniscient after death; a drop-out medical student returned home to take care of her dying father; her brother, fresh out of rehab; her oldest friend, a missing addict the local police refuse to search for. Also, hallucinated animals. The second novel from the author of Rabbit Cake, Unlikely Animals is, as our own Lydia Kiesling writes, “a warm, joyful, generous novel about families and human frailty—an homage to the dead and a celebration of the living, one that embraces the complexity and fullness of both.” (Kaulie)

The Return of Faraz Ali by Aamina Ahmad: In a literary noir set in Lahore, a chief of police moves through the red light district, caught up in a conspiracy to cover up the murder of a young woman and revisiting his own memories of being abducted as a child from the same neighborhood. Anthony Marra calls the novel “mesmerizing. That a novel so epic in scope can remain so intimate at heart is nothing short of astonishing.” (Lydia)

Some of My Best Friends by Tajja Isen: Catapult editor-in-chief and voice actor Isen publishes a collection of essays on how issues of race and identity surface in both the cartoon and the literary arenas, and how efforts at change have faltered. (Lydia)

All the Secrets of the World by Steve Almond: The debut novel from the prolific story writer and co-host of the Dear Sugars podcast is also one of the first titles from Zando Projects, a new independent publisher founded by Molly Stern. The novel tells the story of two teenage girls on the trail of a mystery, a “mashup of Jane Eyre and The Wire.” Hector Tobar says of the book, “Almond, a master of the short form, has now set himself loose on a vast canvas, giving us a rollicking, wide-ranging, unpredictable novel. This book is sharp, fast-moving, juicy…a wild ride and a great deal of fun.” (Lydia)

May

The Evening Hero by Marie Myung-Ok Lee: In the Millions’ own Lee’s long-awaited new novel, a Korean immigrant pursuing the American Dream must confront the secrets of the past or risk watching the world he’s worked so hard to build come crumbling down. Dr. Yungman Kwak has worked as an obstetrician for 50 years, treating the women and babies of the small rural Minnesota town he chose to call home. But a letter arrives, and Yungman faces a choice—he must choose to hide his secret from his family and friends or confess and potentially lose all he’s built. The Evening Hero is a moving and darkly comic novel about a man looking back at his life and asking big questions about what is lost and what is gained when immigrants leave home for new shores. (Adam P.)

Either/Or by Elif Batuman: This novel is a continuation of the story of Selin, Batuman’s protagonist from The Idiot, which was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in the UK. It’s 1996 and Selin, the one in her family who got to go to Harvard, is now in her sophomore year. Guided by her literature syllabus and more worldly peers, she tries to figure out how to live a worthwhile life. (Claire)

Essential Labor by Angeles Garbes: Garbes wrote a modern classic of pregnancy with Like a Mother, and she follows that with another major contribution to the nonfiction of caregiving and childrearing, with a challenge to reshape the way we think about caregiving and family life in a book that seamlessly weaves together memoir and cultural analysis. This is an incredibly resonant book in pandemic year three, a book I wish we’d had long ago, and a book I’ll never forget. (Lydia)

The Immortal King Rao by Vauhini Vara: A sweeping, biting, elegant book for our time that follows the imprisoned daughter of a tech mogul who began life as a Dalit worker on an Indian coconut plantation before launching an invention that would reorganize the world and profoundly upend his place in it. A novel that explores tech, race, class, politics, and power, from a journalist who was previously the Wall Street Journal’s first Facebook beat reporter, The Immortal King Rao is also one of the only American novels by a Dalit author. R.O. Kwon calls it “Utterly, thrillingly brilliant. From the first unforgettable page to the last, The Immortal King Rao is a form-inventing, genre-exploding triumph.” (Lydia)

Trust by Hernan Diaz: The Pulitzer Prize finalist follows up his brilliant western In the Distance with Trust, a story of the Wall Street tycoons of the Gilded Age with a reality-bending literary mystery at its heart, in keeping with the postmodern historical beauties of In the Distance. Of the novel, Rachel Kushner said, “Its plotlines are as etched and surreal as Art Deco geometry, while inside that architecture are people who feel appallingly real. This novel is very classical and very original: Balzac would be proud, but so would Borges.” (Lydia)

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub: What would you do if you could travel back to 1996? Personally, I would go to the book launch of The Secret History and ask Donna Tartt for style advice. But Alice Stern, heroine of Emma Straub’s fifth novel, has a much better mission: make the most of her time with her eccentric novelist father, Leonard. If you think you know the rules of time travel, think again and pick up this thoughtful, insightful exploration of the complicated connections between parents and children. (Kate)

Valleyesque by Fernando Flores: The followup to Flores’s acclaimed Tears of the Truffle Pig, this collection of stories from the U.S.-Mexico border gathers up tales as disparate as a muralist taken on a journey by a Zapata tee-shirt, or a young Lee Harvey Oswald. Matt Bell calls Flores “one of the rare truly singular fiction writers of our time, and his stories are endlessly innovative, surprising, and fun.” (Lydia)

Circa by Devi S. Laskar: The second novel from poet, photographer and author Laskar, Circa follows Heera and her friend Marco as they try to navigate their changed lives and find a way back to each other after their youthful rebellion leads to a sudden and devastating loss. Heera also must balance the expectations of her Bengali-American family with her own desire for freedom and the life in New York she imagined she’d lead before the night everything went wrong. As lyrical and rebellious as Heera herself, Circa comes highly recommended for fans of Claire Messud’s Burning Girl. (Kaulie)

Acts of Service by Lillian Fishman: When young, queer Brooklynite Eve posts nude photos of herself one night, she sets off a series of events leading her to Olivia and Nathan—and soon the three begin an affair that’s equal parts thrilling and distressing. Raven Leilani writes: “Acts of Service doesn’t kiss you first; it gets right to it—depicting the liquid frequencies of need and power with a thoughtful, savage eye.” (Carolyn)

Little Rabbit by Alyssa Songsiridej: A chance meeting at an artists’ residency leads a young, queer artist headlong into a sexual affair with an older, established choreographer. This sensual and gripping coming-of-age explores desire, art, obsession, and selfhood. Ling Ma calls the debut “a darkly sensuous tale of awakening that will quietly engulf you in flames.” (Carolyn)

Son of Elsewhere: A Memoir in Pieces by Elamin Abdelmahmoud: Abdelmahmoud is a culture writer for BuzzFeed and host of the CBC’s podcast Pop Chat. This collection weaves together a story of his life, from arriving in Canada at age 12 from Sudan and his teenage years in a homogenous city to learning to become, “every liberal white dad’s favorite person in the room.” The essays reflect on how experiences and environment shape our identity, covering everything from The O.C., to wrestling, and the long shadow of colonialism. As the publisher says, it’s a book, “with the perfect balance of relatable humor and intellectual ferocity.” (Claire)

Companion Piece by Ali Smith: The title says it all: Smith’s latest novel is a companion piece to her beloved seasonal quartet. As with the previous titles in the collection, it is a time-sensitive work that attempts to capture the way we live now. (Hannah)

The Year of the Horses by Courtney Maum: The author of Costalegre and I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You returns with a touching and insightful memoir of depression and healing. Maum has a privileged past, a mortgage, a husband, a healthy child, and a published novel—she feels no right to her depression, but that does not make it go away. When other treatments fail, she returns to her childhood passion of horseback riding. Maum alternates timelines and braids historical portraits of women and horses into her own story in The Year of the Horses, an inspiring paean to the power of animals that Lisa Taddeo calls “A memoir of power and beauty and pain that moves across the world like the beautiful horses that carry it.” (Adam P.)

We Do What We Do in the Dark by Michelle Hart: In the midst of grieving her mother, college freshman Mallory strikes up an all-consuming affair with an older, married, and enigmatic woman. Unsure of who she is and what she wants, Mallory must come to terms with how the relationship upended her life and who she wants to become in the aftermath. About Hart’s debut novel, Meg Wolitzer says: “Michelle Hart’s first novel is a haunting study of solitude and connection, moving and memorable.” (Carolyn)

Boys Come First by Aaron Foley: Only a year away from its 10th anniversary, Cleveland-based independent publisher Belt has compelled writing mavens in New York to finally pay attention to the rich literary culture of the industrial Midwest. Long focusing on new nonfiction, reprintings of classic rust belt titles and their celebrated city anthologies, Belt’s first novel is Foley’s Boys Come First, an account of three Black gay friends in Detroit that upends popular expectations about race, class, gender, sexuality, and masculinity. Foley’s novel evokes Brian Broome in its hilarious and very millennial perspective on what it means to be a 30-something as the first quarter of this century comes to a close, a love letter to gay Michigan, which receives less attention than New York, San Francisco, or Atlanta. But as Foley writes in his Detroit Neighborhood Guidebook, it’s still a “city that works hard, gets tired, gets defeated, and picks itself up every day and keeps going.” (Ed)

The Shore by Katie Runde: Life in a vacation town isn’t all sunshine and sea breezes; when the last tourists leave and the weather turns sour, locals and longtimers are forced to reckon with their families, choices, and secrets. In Runde’s debut novel, The Shore, a mother and her two daughters, year-round residents of idyllic Seaside, face enormous tragedy and change. Rather than fall to pieces, they react in erratic ways—one daughter pretends to be a middle-aged mother on an Internet forum, for example—but they never really lose each other. Our own Lydia Kiesling calls The Shore “a delicious page turner” and “a deft, deep meditation on illness, grief, and loss…a lovely, expansive look at the hard work of caregiving, saying goodbye, and keeping on.” (Kaulie)

Rainbow Rainbow by Lydia Conklin: Stegner Fellow Conklin publishes her debut collection of short stories, each following queer, trans, and gender non-conforming characters as they navigate life and look for connection. Lorrie Moore said of the book, “Lydia Conklin writes with humor and tenderness about the way we love now. Rainbow Rainbow is an impressive and beautiful collection.” (Lydia)

We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies by Tsering Yangzom Lama: A debut following a family over 50 years of exile and migration, from Tibet to Canada. Maaza Mengiste says of the book, “We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies showcases a writer of rare talent and uncompromising vision. In these pages that speak of exile and loss, of longing and sorrow, Tsering Lama also manages to remind us–with startling beauty and compassion – how much can still survive. This novel is a testament to a people’s resolve to love, no matter what. A triumph.” (Lydia)

Linea Nigra: An Essay on Pregnancy and Earthquakes by Jazmina Barrera, translated by Christina MacSweeney: Part notebook, part audiovisual anthology, Barrera’s hybrid essay Linea Nigra is not your typical book on motherhood. Instead it’s a collection that serves as representation—a comprehensive “compilation of images, citations, and references from women who have conceived of pregnancy, birth, and lactation through art and literature.” (Nick M.)

Chorus by Rebecca Kauffman: Seven siblings remember two pivotal events in their collective life, all their own way: the death of their mother and one sibling’s teen pregnancy. The novel explores the fallout from these events in what Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, calls “a superbly executed saga.” (Lydia)

Neruda on the Park by Cleyvis Natera: A novel following a Dominican family in New York City as they face family drama, gentrification, and family secrets. Naima Coster calls the novel “The rare book that manages to be chilling, fun, and profound all at once.” (Lydia)

The Red Arrow by William Brewer: A debt-saddled writer down on his luck ghostwrites a doctor’s memoir until the doctor disappears, leaving him in limbo and sending him toward an experimental psychedelic treatment. Charles Yu writes, “The Red Arrow is bold and thrilling—a work of unbridled imagination. Unlike anything I’ve read in a long time.” (Lydia)

A Down Home Meal for These Difficult Times by Meron Hadero: Winner of the 2021 AKO Caine Prize for African Writing and the Restless Books Prize, Hadero’s collection of short stories traces borders and migrations. In the citation, the Restless Books Prize judges write, “With enormous power and wonderful subtlety, Meron Hadero grants us access to the inner worlds of people at moments when everything is at risk.” (Lydia)

Mirror Made of Rain by Naheed Phiroze Patel: When Noomi breaks out of her privileged circle of partying to forge her own path as a journalist in Mumbai, she falls in love with a man and then finds the marriage plot leads her to the same self-destructive impulses and familial patterns she fought to avoid. Brandon Taylor says of the novel, “Everything feels so lush and gorgeous as the story at the heart of the novel emerges and eventually coheres to devastating effect.” (Lydia)

Be Brief and Tell Them Everything by Brad Listi: Creating art is hard in a vacuum, but it’s never created in a vacuum. Artists have lives, writers have families, and each of us is simply trying our best. In this dark, touching, and often funny work of autofiction, Listi examines the grandeur and minutiae of work, parenting, and let’s face it, simply existing. (Nick M.)

June

Nighcrawling by Leila Mottley: The debut novel by the 2018 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate follows a young woman trying to support herself, her brother, and an abandoned neighbor child in gentrifying Oakland, turning to nightcrawling prostitution as a job until she becomes a key witness in a police scandal. Ayana Mathis says of the novel, “Leila Mottley’s commanding debut, inspired by the life events of one woman’s struggle for body and soul against crushing exploitation, is fierce and devastating, rendered with electrifying urgency by this colossal young talent.” (Lydia)

Greenland by David Santos Donaldson: A feverish novel within a novel taking the outer frame of a writer on a three-week deadline to write an entire book from the perspective of Mohammed el Adl, E.M. Forster’s Egyptian lover who once spent six months in a jail cell, an intense and frenetic process that eventually has him merging his own memories with those of his subject, blending past and present. (Lydia)

Blithedale Canyon by Michael Bourne: The Millions’ own Michael Bourne publishes his debut novel, Blithedale Canyon, following the down-and-out Trent Wolfer who comes out of rehab and lands in his hometown near the San Francisco Bay, running into a beautiful woman he knew long ago, now a single mother of two. The novel chronicles the pull of home and the way a place changes over time, and it paints a portrait of a man trying very hard to get something right. Teddy Wayne says the novel “is an ode to the pleasures and pains of the return to the familiar, to the gravitational pulls of addiction, old friends, and Springsteen on a car stereo, but mostly of home. Blithedale Canyon is a tenderly nostalgic and page-turning portrait of a man who can’t control his worst impulses, written by an author in full command of his own tools.” (Lydia)

The Invisible Things by Mat Johnson: While orbiting Europa, a moon of Jupiter, the crew of The Delaney discovers a domed city on the surface that upon closer inspection turns out to be “a funhouse mirror of the United States” (Penguin Random House). And the inhabitants are all alien abductees. And they’re holding elections. And their politics are polarized, their environment is scaring them, and there’s an emerging NIMBY movement. Maybe, the delocalized locals conclude, it’s time to move. Sounds like another trippy ride through the mechanics of survival from this modern master of allegory. (Il’ja)

Lapvona by Ottessa Moshfegh: Since her debut in 2015 with the disquieting but darkly funny novel Eileen, Moshfegh has proven herself to be one of the most immaculate crafters of disturbed, unreliable first-person narrators. From the nameless performance artist in My Year of Rest and Relaxation who drugs herself into a coma to the disturbed widow investigating a murder that may or may not have happened in Death in Her Hands, Moshfegh’s voice is part Dostoevsky, part Poe, and entirely her own, as filtered through a jaundiced millennial sensibility. If anybody would be apt to get into the weird head space of our current moment it’s Moshfegh, who in her new novel, Lapvona, written during Covid lockdown, ironically imagines a medieval setting of depraved feudal lords and witchy, cunning women. Fantasy might seem more the realm of a Robert Jordan than Moshfegh (the title of the book is the imagined kingdom where the narrative is set), but as the author told Vox, “In a time where there has been so much trauma and loss…Humanity finds purpose where it can. It’s like flowers growing out of the cracks in the sidewalk.” (Ed)

Avalon by Nell Zink: One of our most original novelists returns with an updated Cinderella story. Bran’s Southern California upbringing is anything but traditional. After her mother joins a Buddhist colony, Bran is raised on Bourdon Farms—a plant nursery that doubles as a cover for a biker gang. She spends her days tending plants, slogging through high school, and imagining what life could be if she were born to a different family. And then she meets Peter—a charming, troubled college student from the East Coast—who launches his teaching career by initiating her into the world of art. The two begin a seemingly doomed long-distance relationship, and Bran searches for meaning in her own surroundings—she knows how to survive, now she must learn how to live. (Adam P.)

Learning to Talk by Hilary Mantel: For those whose only familiarity with two time Booker Prize winning author Mantel is her crystalline trilogy of historical fiction based on the life of Henry VIII’s counselor Thomas Cromwell—Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies, and The Mirror & the Light—the rerelease of her 2003 collection of short stories Learning to Talk might come as a surprise. Learning to Talk features no palace intrigue, no Renaissance poets, or Reformation disputes, but it’s, if anything, more representative of Mantel’s oeuvre. These interconnected short stories take place in a nameless, northern English hamlet that’s “scoured by bitter winds and rough gossip tongues.” Mantel eyes provincial culture and dashed dreams, the hardship of work and the inscrutability of families. If the Cromwell trilogy shares anything with these stories, it’s a sense of what it means to come from nowhere and wish you were from anywhere else. (Ed)

Raising Raffi by Keith Gessen: As a mother of three kids, I’ve read Gessen’s essays about parenting his son Raffi with interest, in part because Raffi sounds a lot like my oldest son: at once brilliant and completely maddening. In an essay for The New York Times Magazine, Gessen writes about how Raffi doesn’t like sports, and for N+1 (the magazine he co-founded), he writes about choosing a school for Raffi. I was pleased to learn Gessen has penned an entire book about life as a father, charting the first five years with his son. As a novelist, translator, and journalist, Gessen is sure to be thoughtful about an experience that so many have delighted in and grappled with. (Edan)

The Twilight World by Werner Herzog, translated by Michael Hofmann: For those who thought Werner Herzog made movies, that’s likely still true. But now Herzog, 79, is sending out his first novel. Penguin Random House says it “tells the incredible story of Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese soldier who defended a small island in the Philippines for twenty-nine years after the end of World War II.” I don’t know what you could possibly expect me to add to that. (Il’ja)

The Angel of Rome by Jess Walter: We all live like celebrities now: we polish up our social media profiles, edit our identities, and keep in the closet the aspects of ourselves that we don’t want to show others. However, we seem to find it ever more difficult to understand who we are and where we belong. The Angel of Rome is a stunning story collection in which all the characters try to reconcile with those contemporary paradoxes. An adolescent girl scrambles to live up to the image of her glamorous, absent mother. An elderly couple has to cope with a fiction writer who fabricates tales out of their lives. A movie star in recovery has a one-night stand with the world’s most scathing critic. Walter’s signature witty humor lights up those darkest sides of humanity. These stories are funny, provocative, inspirational. After reading the collection, your understanding of the perhaps overused phrase “reinventing oneself” may never be the same. (Jianan)

X by Davey Davis: Davis follows up their fantastic debut, The Earthquake Room, with a novel about politics, sex, identify, and power that follows Lee, a sadist whose brief encounter with the dominating X leads to a race against the clock to keep X from being swept up in a government removal program for “undesirables.” Torrey Peters raved: “Davis is an astounding writer, seemingly unconstrained by taboos and waist deep down in the maw of life, examining what the rest of us shy away from—never more than here in X, the rare book that can thrill and entertain, while simultaneously causing you to question everything about how you’re living.” (Lydia)

Mother Ocean Father Nation by Nishant Batsha: Batsha’s debut novel explores the fallout of the colonial system that brought workers from India to the Pacific, and the fractures that occurred during the subsequent era of independence and change, following a young woman from her island home to the San Francisco Bay. Amitav Ghosh called it “A moving saga about the experience of Indian migrants in the South Pacific.” (Lydia)

Hurricane Girl by Marcy Dermansky: In the author’s fifth novel, a modern day masterpiece of swimming pools, trademark turkey sandwiches, climate change, Ashley Judd, and an ill-advised romance, an unhinged narrator contemplates her future after losing her home to a hurricane. (Marie)

More Than You’ll Ever Know by Katie Gutierrez: Gutierrez’s debut is a stylish literary thriller about a true-crime aficionado wrapped up in a case where a woman married two men, and one husband murdered the other. Julia Fine says of the novel, “As addictive as a real-life whodunnit, with thoughtful attention to the ethical implications of the true crime genre, More Than You’ll Ever Know explores how we entangle ourselves one choice at a time, and what it costs to unravel the damage.” (Lydia)

Nuclear Family by Joseph Han: Set in the days leading up to the 2018 false missile launch alarm, Han’s novel follows a Korean family in Hawaii, franchising their lunch restaurant and watching with alarm as their son is caught trying to sneak across the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Bryan Washington says of the novel: “Joseph Han’s novel is heartfelt and propulsive, immersing readers in a narrative whose questions of family, borders, queerness, and forgiveness constantly surprises and astounds.” (Lydia)

Thrust by Lidia Yuknavitch: The author of such dystopian fiction as The Book of Joan, The Small Backs of Children, and the memoir The Chronology of Water, Yuknavitch has an unmatched gift for capturing stories of people on the margins—vulnerable humans leading lives of challenge and transcendence. In this novel, she offers the story of Laisvė, a motherless girl from the late 21st century who is learning her power as a carrier, a person who can harness the power of meaningful objects to carry her through time. (Marie)

The Kingdom of Sand by Andrew Holleran: The first novel in 13 years from the author of Dancer from the Dance, which was published in 1978 and called in Harper’s “An astonishingly beautiful book. The best gay novel written by anyone of our generation.” The new novel follows a man as he watches the decline of a friend, reflecting on all the other loved ones he has lost in the years before. (Lydia)

Cult Classic by Sloane Crosley: On a quiet night out with friends, Lola, a soon-to-be-married New Yorker, ducks out for cigarettes and runs into an old boyfriend. And then another. And … another. What at first seems like mere coincidence turns into something far stranger as Lola must contend not only with the viability of her current relationship but the fact that her former boss, a magazine editor-turned-guru, might have an unhealthy investment in the outcome. “Cult Classic is a romantic comedy set in a new age mind control cult on the Lower East Side,” Crosley told Entertainment Weekly. “My hope is that what sets it apart from every other romantic comedy set in a new age mind control cult on the Lower East Side is that it’s also a mystery.” (Michael)

Didn’t Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta by James Hannaham: The latest from the PEN/Faulkner winner (for the novel Delicious Foods) introduces us to Carlotta Mercedes, a trans woman who wins parole after more than 20 years in prison. Since Carlotta transitioned during her sentence, her family and friends have never known her as a trans woman, and she struggles to reconnect with her son and the rest of her family. All the while, she’s forced to comply with onerous parole restrictions, which make it nearly impossible for her to stay out of jail. (Thom)

Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine: A multigenerational western saga about a “wildly entertaining and complex family,” Fajardo-Anstine’s debut novel has been described as a “cinematic, epic story” written in “lyrical, unpretentious prose.” Set in 1930s Denver, the novel is centered around Luz Lopez, who becomes the seer and keeper of her Latinx and Indigenous family stories. (Sonya)

Dele Weds Destiny by Tomi Obaro: Obaro’s debut follows three friends at university in Nigeria who reunite decades later in Lagos, and find out where life has taken them and what it still has in store. Rumaan Alam said of the novel: “This enchanting debut is an affectionate portrait of a three women at middle age, cannily exploring the ways the self is forged in youth. With an admirably light touch, Tomi Obaro documents how class, race, faith, and power define the lives of women in Nigeria and America, past and present.” (Lydia)

The Seaplane on Final Approach by Rebecca Rukeyser: A woman in pursuit of sex and adventure goes to work in a tourist lodge on a remote Alaskan island. What could go wrong?! Carmen Maria Machado said of the book: “I didn’t realize how much I needed this lusty, funny, heartbreaking book until I devoured it in a single sitting. The Seaplane on Final Approach is a novel set at the edge of the world, about people who belong everywhere and nowhere and the vast, unknowable wilderness of desire. A sharp, flawless debut.” (Lydia)

The Midcoast by Adam White: Ed Thatch, a Maine man from a lobstering family, strikes it big, and his old high school acquaintance Adam is curious about his immense success when he attends a party at his mansion. Like any guest worth his salt, Adam snoops around the house and comes up with quite the catch: a file with disturbing images of a burned body. Channeling Balzac (“Behind every great fortune is an equally great crime”), White, a high school teacher and lacrosse coach, dredges up the long-submerged origins of the Thatch money in this dark social portrait of a small Maine town. (Matt)

Tracy Flick Can’t Win by Tom Perrotta: Yes, that Tracy Flick. The protagonist of Perrotta’s beloved 1998 novel Election, the one Reese Witherspoon played in the movie. She’s back, now a single mom working as an assistant principal at a high school in the New Jersey suburbs. Deep in the mid-career blues, she learns that her school’s principal is planning to retire, give Tracy a shot at the top spot. But this is Tracy Flick, so nothing is ever easy. (Michael)

A Trail of Crab Tracks by Patrice Nganang, translated by Amy B. Reid: In the third installment of Patrice Nganang’s historical fiction trilogy, a father “chronicles the fight for Cameroonian independence through the story of a father’s love for his family and his land,” and in the process reveals to his son “the long-silenced secrets of his former life.” (Nick M.)

Brown Neon by Raquel Gutierrez: Ranging from memoir to criticism to travelogue, the essays in Gutierrez’s collection serve as “meditation[s] on southwestern terrains, intergenerational queer dynamics, and surveilled Brown artists that crosses physical and conceptual borders.” By exploring the places where stories are set, Gutierrez reveals more about who’s in them. (Nick M.)

Counterfeit by Kirstin Chen: Chen follows up Bury What We Cannot Take with a novel that takes on fashion, crime, and friendship through the story of two women who create a global empire out of a counterfeit handbag scheme. As someone who has sported a fake bag or two in her time, I cannot wait for this novel that sparked a television bidding war and which Claire Messud called “Sly and thoroughly compelling.” (Lydia)

Ghost Lover by Lisa Taddeo: The first short story collection by the celebrated author of Three Women features nine arresting stories about love, desire, and the modern attention economy, among other things. In the titular story, a mysterious group of cool, beautiful girls manage a dating service called Ghost Lover, which comes up with pre-written texts for people to send to their love interests. In another, three women at a ritzy Los Angeles fundraiser compete to win the attention of a feted guest of honor. As is the case with Taddeo’s most famous work, readers can expect a nuanced portrayal of desire. (Thom)

Nevada by Imogen Binnie: Binnie’s 2013 debut, a queer and trans literary classic, gets a deluxe reissue from MCD this year. The novel—a finalist for the 2013 Lambda Literary Award for Trans Fiction—tells the story of Maria, who’s trying to uphold her punk values while living as a young trans person with no money. When her girlfriend breaks up with her, Maria steals her car and drives west, eventually meeting a new friend named James, who reminds her of her younger self. As Maria assigns herself the tentative position of trans role model, she has to grapple with her place in the world—and what she wants. (Thom)

December 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.
 
I’m Not Hungry but I Could Eat by Christopher Gonzalez: As the title implies, all the protagonists in this story collection struggle with midnight cravings to some extent. A college graduate attends the bachelor party of a high school crush and has the confusing desire rekindled; a cat-sitter accidentally troubles his friend with the excessive grease of French fries and his undue longing for connection. Though those crucial, intimate moments of self-discovery, the physical sense of hunger gains a metaphorical weight as the constant human yearning for where we can call a home. (Jianan)
Tell Me How to Be by Neel Patel: Patel follows up his collection If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi with a novel of mother-son and other forms of love and rediscovery set against the backdrop of ’90s R&B. Akash leaves Los Angeles for Illinois, where his widowed mother, Renu, is selling the family home. As they pack up, both confront the errors and regrets of the past. Susie Yang says of the novel ,“Once in a while there comes a book that reminds us of why we read: to feel, to question, to grow…The emotional truth of this indelibly portrayed family and their messy lives will leave you weeping and shattered.” (Lydia)
The Women I Love by Francesco Pacifico (translated by Elizabeth Harris): Pacifico composed a series of idiosyncratic lockdown dispatches from Rome for n+1 in which he mused on his father’s hip replacement and wrote a tongue-in-cheek breakup letter to his writing career. Not so fast, as he has an exuberant new work out in English. Pacifico’s previous novel to be translated, Class, was a bright-young-things tale about Italian ex-pats in New York City. His latest, The Women I Love, is set in Italy and features a middle-aged writer anatomizing the women—lovers, colleagues, relatives—who enrich and complicate his life. (Matt)
You Never Get It Back by Cara Blue Adams: Winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award Series’ John Simmons Short Fiction Prize, Adams’ linked collection captures the life of Kate—a young New England woman navigating her twenties and thirties—with humor, tenderness, and poise. Brandon Taylor, judge of the John Simmons Short Fiction Prize, says: “These stories crackle with restless vitality as women come up against the constraints of their circumstances and what it means to be in the world. Cara Blue Adams has written a modern classic of a collection, as effortless in its idiom as it is fearless in its consideration of contemporary life.” (Carolyn)
Bright Burning Things by Lisa Harding: Irish writer Harding’s U.S. debut follows Sonya, a former stage performer, as she comes to terms with her failed career, raises her son as a single mother, and falls deeper into her crippling alcoholism. When she must decide between her son and the bottle, Sonya attempts to become sober and come to terms with the traumas that led her there in the first place. Publishers Weekly’s starred review called the “blistering” novel a “unflinching portrait of a troubled, tender soul takes readers to the depths of the human heart.” (Carolyn)
Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim: In 1917 Korea, a young girl named Jade is sold to a courtesan school and trained as a servant. After fleeing to Seoul, she meets JungHo, an orphan, and forms a deep lifelong friendship with him. In the decades that follow, Jade becomes a famous performer who falls in (and out of) love with all the wrong men, and JungHo becomes emeshed in Korea’s revolutionary fight for independence. About Kim’s debut novel, Catherine Chung says: “Rapturous, ravishing, and gorgeously rendered, Beasts of a Little Land is a portal to a whole world teeming with life, so full of wonders I wanted it never to end.” (Carolyn)
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan:  Award-winning Irish writer Keegan’s newest (and already bestselling) novel takes place in the weeks before Christmas 1985. When coal and timber merchant Bill Furlong makes a strange discovery while delivering to a local convent, he must reconcile what he’s seen with his past and present, as well as his small Irish town’s future. “This is the story of what happened in Ireland, told with sympathy and emotional accuracy,” writes Colm Tóibín. “From winter skies to the tiniest tick of speech to the baking of a Christmas cake, Claire Keegan makes her moments real—and then she makes them matter.” (Carolyn)
Creative Types by Tom Bissell: In his newest, seven-story collection, Bissell explores the lives of people in the midst of personal and professional crisis. In one story, a married couple hires an escort and receives something unexpected; in another story, a Bush adminstration lawyer—who championed and defended torture during the Iraq War—gets exactly what he deserves. Other stories involve satrize magazine profiles, skewer the entertainment industry, and honeymoons gone wrong. David Means says: “The stories in Creative Types are witty, sharp, and fun as hell to read but also highly serious, fearlessly exposing the foibles of creative people as they try to build lives that feed the muse—or sell themselves out.” (Carolyn)
It’s Getting Dark by Peter Stamm (translated by Michael Hofmann): A model becomes totally obsessed and consumed with a sculpture of herself. A man makes a plan to rob a bank. A man at a remote artists’ residency remembers a brief affair he had thirty years earlier. In his newest collection, Stamm sketches out painfully realistic stories that slowly but surely reveal their strange, uneasy underbellies. Caitlin Horrocks writes: “Peter Stamm doesn’t so much yank the rug out from under the reader as ease it slowly, mesmerizingly away, until we stagger and realize that the world has shifted beneath us. These tales are eerie, menacing delights.” (Carolyn)
Sea State by Tabitha Lasley: After finally leaving her terrible relationship, ex-journalist Lasley quits her job in London, travels to Aberdeen, Scotland, and spends six weeks interviewing 103 offshore oil riggers. Entrenched in a rough, hypermasculine, and isolating corner of the world, Lasley begins an affair with Caden, a married rig worker. About the debut memoir, Jon McGregor says: “These are powerful and moving stories of working lives in a dangerous and all-male environment, made all the more powerful by the way Lasley refuses to absent herself from the telling. ” (Carolyn)
Mothers, Fathers, and Others by Siri Hustvedt: Weaving memoir, psychoanalysis, philosophy, and literature, scholar and writer Hudstvedt’s essays explore gender, family, motherhood, memory, misogyny, and the power of art. Featuring both previously published and new work, Hustvedt’s essay collection has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly (“those less familiar will delight in discovering her witty, lavish style”) and Kirkus (“brilliant and utterly transfixing”). (Carolyn)

November 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.
November
The Sentence by Louise Erdrich:Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Erdrich’s new book follows Tookie, a formerly incarcerated Ojibwe woman who takes a job in a Minneapolis bookstore after serving an absurdly long sentence. When one of the bookstore’s best customers dies, her ghost returns to the store to haunt Tookie. The ghost’s appearance leads Tookie and a fellow bookseller to a shocking personal discovery of historical consequence. Taking place over the course of a year, from All Soul’s Day 2019 to All Soul’s Day 2020, Erdrich confronts a year of pandemic and protest. (Hannah)
Look for Me and I’ll be Gone by John Edgar Wideman: For more than half a century, two-time PEN Award-winning novelist and short story author Wideman has very much been a writer’s writer. His magisterial The Homewood Trilogy made the Black neighborhood of his Pittsburgh youth as mythic as William Faulkner‘s Yoknapatawpha County, and if there were any literary justice in the United States, Wideman would be as widely known as the Nobel laureate. Arguably the last of the great modernist writers, Wideman combines stream of consciousness and the American vernacular in a style that recalls Joyce and Baldwin, and is yet entirely his own. His sixth collection of short stories, Look for Me and I’ll be Gone, gathering previously published material from The New Yorker, among other literary journals and magazines, returns to Wideman’s familiar themes of race and identity, punishment and injustice, Pittsburgh and Blackness. As Wideman said in an interview from Callaloo in 1989, “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” (Ed)
The Art of Revision: The Last Word by Peter Ho Davies: Davies, author of The Fortunes and A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself, has joined an illustrious line of writers, from Charles Baxter to Edwidge Danticat, in penning an “art of” book, my favorite craft books series, published by Graywolf Press. Davies sheds light on an often invisible part of writing—rewriting—by showing drafts of his own work as well as early drafts of Carmen Maria Machado and Flannery O’Connor, among others. He also uses the topic of revision to consider how it is not only the work that changes, but the writer, too. (Edan)
The Perishing by Natashia Deón: Critically acclaimed writer Deón returns with The Perishing, a speculative and historical novel recommended for readers who love Octavia Butler and N. K. Jemisin. Deón’s second novel focuses on Lou, who finds herself in Los Angeles in the 1930s without any recollection of how she arrived, becomes the first Black journalist at The Los Angeles Times, and experiences flashbacks of various time periods. As Lou starts to believe she’s immortal and that she has arrived with an important and specific purpose, threats to her safety arise. Publishers Weekly and Library Journal have highlighted The Perishing as a fall must-read. (Zoë)
Win Me Something by Kyle Lucia Wu: As a biracial Chinese-American woman, Willa Chen has drifted through high school and college, struggling to come to some kind of peace with herself. But when she begins working as a nanny for the Adriens, a wealthy white New York City family, she is confronted with all of the things she never had. After moving in with the Adriens, Willa must come to terms with her complicated childhood and finally begin to define her adult life. As Crystal Hana Kim, author of If You Leave Me says: “Win Me Something is an observant, contemplative story about the complex reality of growing up with a mixed identity in two starkly different mixed families. Kyle Lucia Wu deftly weaves back and forth between Willa’s teenaged years and her adult life to explore loneliness, uncertainty, and a singular, persistent question―where do I truly belong?” (Adam Price)
White on White by Ayşegül Savaş: “Beauty avoids our grasp because it’s made of the same, ephemeral texture as imagination,” the Paris-based Turkish writer Savaş writes in her essay, “On Invisible Beauty,” published in our very own pages. Beauty and art are subjects Savaş returns to in her second novel, White on White. When, by virtue of proximity, a student of Gothic nudes becomes a companion and repository of stories told by her artist landlord, she becomes a student not only of art but of life. Lauren Groff compares White on White’s elegance to “an opaque sheet of ice that belies the swift and turbulent waters beneath. (Anne K. Yoder)
New York, My Village by Uwem Akpan: In Akpan’s debut novel (following Say You’re One of Them, his bestselling, critically-acclaimed collection), Nigerian editor Ekong Udousoro, who is working on a collection about the Biafran War, relocates to New York City after receiving a publishing fellowship—only to discover the dark side of an industry that smiles in his face while disparaging his home, race, and culture. Elif Batuman writes: “Unforgettable characters, deeply realistic and ‘relatable’ interpersonal conflicts, a contagious love of life, fresh insights into the crazy-making properties of racist ideology: New York, My Village has it all.” (Carolyn)
The Four Humors by Mina Seçkin: As someone whose vade mecum is Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, I’m especially excited for Seçkin’s debut novel, in which a young woman analyzes her illness according to the four humors theory. (My problem: excess of phlegm.) Taking place over a summer in Istanbul, where the woman has travelled to care for her ailing grandmother, the novel balances the protagonist’s humor-gazing with stories of her family’s and Turkey’s history. The premise faintly echoes two other recent medico-literary works of quackery and experimental treatment: Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk. (Matt)
Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women who Revolutionized Food in America by Mayukh Sen: Nowadays many people write or produce videos about food and culture, but Mayukh Sen is arguably the first one who makes you feel the American kitchen sizzling with wonder. Taste Makers carefully selects seven extraordinarily courageous, brilliant, and loving immigrant women who dedicate their lives to what Americans take for granted in their diet today. James Beard Award-winning writer Sen’s impeccable research accurately restores the lives of these women; his lively prose style matches the vivacity of his heroines. More importantly, he both entertains and challenges our previous mental association of women and food. After reading this group biography, perhaps what we see on our mundane plate is no longer the same as before. (Jianan)
Noor by Nnedi Okorafor: Widely known—and loved, and awarded—for her genre-bending, Africanfuturist novels and stories (see: Who Fears Death, Lagoon), Okorafor is back with a vivid and unpredictable rush of a new novel. Anwuli Okwudili—or AO, for Artificial Organism—is a woman who relies on her many body augmentations to live. But when someone gets hurt, she’s forced to go on the run, heading into and across the deserts of Northern Nigeria with a Fulani herdsman, DNA, alongside her and the world watching the “saga of the wicked woman and the mad man” unfold in real time. (Kaulie)
These Precious Days by Ann Patchett: A new collection of personal essays from the beloved Patchett, including a meditation on a surprising and beautiful bond formed with Tom Hanks’s assistant, a woman named Sooki, which is basically indescribable outside of the essay that describes it, but which you can read here at Harper’s. (Lydia)
Blue-Skinned Gods by SJ Sindu: Roxane Gay writes that Blue-Skinned Gods, the second novel from Sindu, is “consummate storytelling,” “heart breaking and exhilarating”; others have called it stunning, profound, a marvel. In Tamil Nadu, India, a young boy named Kalki is born with impossibly blue skin. He is believed to be—and is worshipped as—Vishnu reincarnated, but he begins to have his doubts. As his relationships with his community and family begin to crumble, Kalki lands in New York City, seeking refuge in the city’s underground rock scene as he works to discover exactly who—and what—he is. (Kaulie)
God of Mercy by Okezie Nwọka: A debut novel set in an Igbo village where the forces of colonialism have not found root now finds itself at odds with its neighboring colonized villages, with dire consequences for its heroine Iljeoma, a girl who can fly. Maisy Card calls the novel “a profound exploration of religion, faith, and compassion from a gifted storyteller. Okezie Nwọka creates a richly imagined postcolonial landscape that is at once otherworldly, tragically human, and completely unforgettable.” (Lydia)
Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King: King follows five critically acclaimed novels, most recently Euphoria and Writers and Lovers, with her first collection of short stories. Ann Patchett raved that the new offering “moved me, inspired me, thrilled me. It filled up ever chamber of my heart. I loved this book.” (Lydia)
Pity the Beast by Robin McLean: Following her debut collection Reptile House, this novel of the western U.S. jumps back and forth in time from prehistory to far in the future, focusing its eye on the time in between, during which a woman named Ginny has just cheated on her husband. A new feminist western about which J.M. Coetzee raved, “Not since Faulkner have I read American prose so bristling with life and particularity.” (Lydia)
Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart: In what may be the season’s first explicitly Covid-19 novel, funny-sad author Shteyngart chronicles eight friends, including a Russian-born novelist and his wife, their child obsessed with K-pop, a Korean American app developer, and various other artistes isolated upstate in March of 2020 for a Boccaccian idyll in which they are safe from a deadly virus but not from themselves, their hungers, and their pasts. Looking forward to the hyper-observant author’s take in what Salman Rushdie pegs it as “A powerful fable of our broken time.” (Marie)
The Dawn of Everything by David Wengrow and David Graeber: Late anthropology professor Graeber and professor of comparative archaeology Wengrow explore (and refutes) the traditional narratives (and myths) about early civilization. The book questions the notion that societies have undergone a linear evolution from primitive to developed—and how this new historical vantage point sheds light on the true origins of farming, property, and democracy. Noam Chomsky calls the book “a fascinating inquiry, which leads us to rethink the nature of human capacities, as well as the proudest moments of our own history, and our interactions with and indebtedness to the cultures and forgotten intellectuals of indigenous societies.” (Carolyn)
New Year by Juli Zeh: In Zeh’s newest novel, a man’s solitary bike ride on New Year’s Day turns into a terrifyingly, life-altering journey into his childhood psyche. As he climbs the paths steep hills, his repressed and traumatic memories threaten to swallow him (and his family) whole. In their starred review, Publishers Weekly calls the novel a  “wrenching psychological portrait” that “asks how a person can come to terms with a painful past that has been intentionally misremembered for the purpose of sustaining one’s mental health.” (Carolyn)
Eternal Night at the Nature Museum by Tyler Barton: Whether it’s a group of residents escaping their assisted living facility, a delusional one-man neighborhood watch looking for criminals, or a museum worker who’s unsure if he’s fit for duty, Barton’s debut collection carefuly carves out moments in the lives of an eclectic cast of characters. Kevin Wilston writes: ““Eternal Night at the Nature Museum is a dizzying, brilliant collection, carried by Tyler Barton’s hypnotic ability to pull narratives into the strangest places, grounded by his genuine love and empathy for his characters, no matter how broken they might seem.” (Carolyn)
Tacky by Rax King: Jersey Shore. Guy Fieri. Cheesecake Factory. In her debut collection, James Beard Award-nominated writer King explores the intersection of her life, pop culture, and all things lowbrow in fourteen hilarious and heartfelt essays. “A monument to uplifting the parts of popular culture that might otherwise be shrugged off and/or dismissed by those who don’t have the imagination to celebrate what they might consider mundane,” says Hanif Abdurraqib. “This book made me feel more at home with my obsessions, both small and large.” (Carolyn)
O Beautiful by Jung Yun: In a follow-up to her critically acclaimed debut, Shelter, Yun’s newest novel centers around Elinor, a 40-year-old ex-model, returns to her North Dakotan hometown to write a magazine feature about the Bakken oil boom. As she navigates harrassment, feelings like an outsider, and memories of her estranged parents, Elinor finds herself digging deep into a story that hits even closer to home than she ever imagined. About the novel, Rumaan Alam says:  “With a shrewd eye and sharp sense of humor, Yun finds in the familiar tale of one woman’s return to her small town roots a story as big as the nation itself.” (Carolyn)
Admit This to No One by Leslie Pietrzyk: In her newest collection of linked stories, Pietrzyk explores the personal and political in Washington, D.C. The stories, which are all centered around an unnamed Speaker of the House—whose extra-martial affairs torpeoded his career and marriages—and his daughters, ripple out from an incident that puts the Speaker and his 15-year-old daughter in grave danger. Kirkus’ starred review says it’s “an exciting collection bristling with intelligence, political awareness, and psychological complexity.” (Carolyn)
Aftermath by Preti Taneja: Award-winning writer and activist Taneja explores trauma, violence, and personal and collective grief in her experimental book-length essay. After his release from prison after an eight-year sentence, Taneja’s former creative writing student kills two people during a celebration for an offender rehabilitation program. As she tries to make sense of of the tragedy and its aftermath, she looks toward the past in an attempt to reclaim the future. A starred review from Publishers Weekly calls the book “stunning,” “poetic, urgent, and self-reflective.” (Carolyn)
Chouette by Claire Oshetsky: Tiny, an accomplished cellist, knows in a deep, primal way that her pregnancy is not normal; the child she is carrying is not a baby but an “owl-baby”—though no one, including her husband, believes her. When Chouette is born with broken wings, Tiny’s sole focus becomes protecting her sometimes violent daughter from her husband—who is obsessed with fixing his daughter—and the world, which will no doubt try to change her. About the debut, Rachel Yoder writes, “Part love letter, part lament, Chouette astonishes as each perfected sentence burrows deep into the maternal shadows of love, possession, selfhood, and sanity.” (Carolyn)
People from my Neighborhood by Hiromi Kawakami (translated by Ted Goossen): Kawakami, author of the acclaimed novel Strange Weather in Tokyo, returns with a collection of of 36 interlinking fabulist stories set in a small Japanese town. Kirkus’ starred review says the novel is “an engaging and winsome book that charms without diminishing the precise unease created by Kawakami’s spare prose.” (Carolyn)

October 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.

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen: Whether he’s insulting Oprah or posing self-importantly as “The Great American Novelist” on the cover of Time, Franzen has a singular talent for arousing public contempt. But the fact is he writes good books. Here, he returns to his literary roots in the story of a troubled family, the Hildebrandts, fractured by the cultural upheaval of the early 1970s. The novel is the first in a planned trilogy, with the Middlemarchian title “A Key to All Mythologies,” that will span three generations of the Hildebrandt clan. (Michael)
My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson: In her debut collection, Johnson explores a world (and country) ever on the brink and the people who choose to survive no matter the cost. In the titular novella, set in the near future, a Black descendant of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings is driven from her home by violent white supremacists. In another story, a single mother attempts to buy a home before the apocalypse happens. About the incandescent collection, Colson Whitehead writes: ““A badass debut by any measure—nimble, knowing, and electrifying.” (Carolyn)
I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness by Claire Vaye Watkins: Vaye Watkins, author of Gold Fame Citrus, and the beloved story collection Battleborn, now brings us her second novel, which, clearly, has the most badass title of all time. In it, a writer suffering from postpartum depression leaves her husband and baby to do a speaking engagement in Reno, only to end up deep in the Mojave Desert where she grew up. Jenny Offill writes, “There’s some kind of genius sorcery in this novel. It’s startlingly original, hilarious and harrowing by turns, finally transcendent.” A piece by Vaye Watkins, with the same memorable title, is available to read on Granta. (Edan)
Reprieve by James Han Mattson: Four contestants competing for a cash prize enter the final cell of Quigley House, a full-contact haunted escape room—but only three exit. Mattson’s second novel follows the survivors as they come to terms with how they are partially responsible for the tragedy. Rumaan Alam says, “But the brilliance of James Han Mattson’s novel is in deploying the haunted house as a metaphor for our nation, where the true scare is a cultural reckoning with whiteness itself.” (Carolyn)
Trust by Domenico Starnone (translated by Jhumpa Lahiri): Lovers Pietro and Teresa are trying to save their doomed relationship when they decide to do something impulsive: share the most shameful secret of their lives. When they break up, their lives diverge temporarily—until Teresa begins to reappear at the most inopportune times. Acclaimed Italian novelist and National Book Award finalist Starnone’s newest novel explores vulnerability, relationships, and the gulf between our public and private selves. (Carolyn)
Fight Nightby Miriam Toews: The award-winning author of Women Talking and All My Puny Sorrows is back with a novel as moving as it is full of humor. Swiv is a nine-year-old who lives in Toronto with her pregnant mother and lively grandmother. When Swiv is expelled from school, Grandma takes on the role of teacher. Swiv, in turn, assigns Grandma the job of writing her unborn brother, Gord. “You’re a small thing,” Grandma writes, “and you must learn to fight.” As Susan Cole, in Now Magazine, says, “Few authors mix humor and deep emotion with Toews’s skill.” (Claire)
The Pessimists by Bethany Ball: From Richard Ford to Edward Albee, Rick Moody to John Cheever, the American suburbs have always had a dark core underneath the façade of Levittown homes and perfectly manicured front lawns. Ball gives her own spin on the tribulations of suburban ennui in her aptly named new novel The Pessimists. Ball’s second novel is no mid-century rehash, however, because The Pessimists is very much a suburban gothic for our current American dystopia. The denizens of Connecticut’s Gold Coast include Virginia and Trip, the perfect couple, who secretly hoard a cache of basement weapons to survive the apocalypse, as well as the more conventionally despairing Richard and Margot whose trials only include infidelity and mental health crises. Both twistedly dark and wickedly funny, The Pessimists updates our narratives of suburban anguish for an age of American decline. (Ed)
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles: It’s June 1954, and 18-year-old Emmett Watson has just finished serving 15 months at the juvenile work farm for involuntary manslaughter. But when he returns home to Nebraska expecting to pick up his kid brother Billy and leave for California to start a new life, he gets a surprise. Two buddies from the work farm are waiting to take him the other way—to New York City, where beguiling characters and adventures await. Told from multiple points of view, the novel is reason to rejoice for Towles’s millions of fans, who made his first two novels, Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow, runaway international bestsellers. (Bill)
Pandemonium: A Visual History of Demonology by Ed Simon: Are you endlessly mixing up Asmodeus and Azazel? The Millions’ own Simon can help: he’s mapped out Satan’s family tree. When it comes to Western art and culture, the Devil certainly has been in the details for about five millennia now, and one could argue that his forte—conflict—is at the heart of any story worth reading. So, brush up your demonology with this singular, illustrated treatment that “celebrates the art of hell like never before.” (Il’ja)
Dreaming of You by Melissa Lozada-Oliva: This is a novel in verse, fitting for an acclaimed poet who has published three books of poetry. Dreaming of You follows a young Latinx poet who brings the pop star Selena back to life and embarks upon her own journey of hell, including a dead celebrity prom, in an exploration of celebrity, obsession, and identity. Terrance Hayes says of the book: “Melissa Lozada-Oliva’s kinetic, pop-operatic Dreaming of You is like some terrific amalgam of fan fiction and fantasy nonfiction; a Selena monograph made of memoir, myth and magic. Her partly satirical, partly ecstatic linguistics constitute a whole other sort of literary hybrid.” (Lydia)
The Days of Afrekete by Asali Solomon: In this new novel from the author of Get Down and Disgruntled, two women who knew each other in college before embarking on very different paths come together in mid-life in a tender, comic, searching novel inspired by Mrs. Dallowayand Sula. Danielle Evans says of the novel, “Asali Solomon illuminates what it means to grow away from what felt like the truest version of yourself, what the way back might look like, what Black women in particular are asked to give up, and what it might mean to refuse. Solomon is a treasure: wise, hilarious, and full of poignant insight.” (Lydia)
Search History by Eugene Lim: The author of the critically acclaimed 2017 novel Dear Cyborgs and The Strangers returns with a kaleidoscopic novel of art, grief, artificial intelligence, identity, and a man who is reincarnated as a dog. John Keene raves, “Lim has found a way to capture both the pointed specificity of the internet and its Borgesian infiniteness, in order to tell a picaresque tale about race and American culture, artificial intelligence, artmaking, storytelling, and so much more.” (Lydia)
Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit: Just when you think are you sick of hearing about George Orwell, Solnit, the author of more than 20 books, reveals a surprising side. Orwell was a passionate gardener, and especially enjoyed flowers. “If war has an opposite, gardens might sometimes be it,” the author writes, using this fresh insight to illuminate an absorbing mediation on Orwell’s work as a writer and antifascist. (Marie)
April in Spain by John Banville: The Booker Prize winner’s latest novel is a mystery set on the coast of the Basque Country in Spain. In San Sebastian, native Dubliner Quirke is struggling to relax and enjoy his time in the countryside, despite the pleasant locale and the amiable company of his wife. Then, one night, he spots a stranger in a bar who looks like April Latimer, the woman his brother murdered years before. He makes a call home to Ireland and summons Det. St. John Strafford, who flies down to Spain at the same time as a hit man, whose ultimate target may just be Quirke himself. (Thom)
On Girlhood, edited by Glory Edim: The inaugural book from Edim’s Well-Read Black Girl Library Series features 15 short stories from Black writers. The anthology—which is divided into the four themes of Innocence, Belonging, Love, and Self-Discovery—features short fiction from writers such as Jamaica Kincaid, Toni Morrison, Edwidge Danticat, and Rita Dove. Kirkus’ starred review calls it “a profound, prismatic collection” that “presents an expansive, decades-spanning view of Black girlhood.” (Carolyn)
The Nutmeg’s Curse by Amitav Ghosh: In the successor to his acclaimed book, The Great Derangement, Ghosh explores the origins of the current climate crisis—which he argues is rooted in the centuries-old colonialism and capitalism of Western civilization— through the history of nutmeg. Sunil Amrith writes: “The Nutmeg’s Curse brings to life alternative visions of human flourishing in consonance with the rest of nature—and reminds us how great are the vested interested that obstruct them.” (Carolyn)
On Animals by Susan Orlean: In her newest book, New Yorker staff writer and bestselling author Orlean has gathered essays all about animals and animal-human relationships. Whether writing about Biff, the champion boxer dog; Kevin Richardson, the lion whisperer; animal actors in Hollywood; or Keiko, the captive whale who forgot how to be free, Orlean manages to write with empathy, delight, and unending curioisty. Kirkus’ starred review says the book is “another winner featuring the author’s trademark blend of meticulous research and scintillating writing.” (Carolyn)
Cairo Circles by Doma Mahmoud: While living away from his conservative Egyptian family, Sheero, a wealthy undergraduate at NYU, is revealing in his freedom when a visit from the FBI—with news that his estranged cousin has perpetrated a terrible attack—upends his carefree life. Shifting back and forth in time, and spanning over several decades, Mahmoud’s debut novel follows a group of young Egyptians and Egyptian Americans as they struggle against familial, cultural, and class expectations. Raven Leilani says, “Cairo Circles is a deft meditation on how family and class can brighten and distort life’s trajectory and force us to grapple with how closely origin and desire are intertwined.” (Carolyn)

Cascade by Craig Davidson: A mother and son struggle to survive a car crash. A pro basketball player’s decision to punch a fan changes his life forever. Twins in a juvenile detention center discover the ugly truth about each other. In his six-story collection, Scotiabank Giller Prize nominee Davidson (Cataract City) returns to “Cataract City,” his fictionalized version of Niagara Falls, to explore unsettling familial relationships. Publishers Weekly’s starred review calls the collection “a blissful, wholly satisfying assemblage of cinematic stories, sure to please Davidson’s fans and attract newcomers.” (Carolyn)

The Swank Hotel by Lucy Corin: In the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, Em is working her mindless marketing job while she awaits to hear from Ad, her perpetually-missing sister. The novel oscillates between multiple points of view including Em; her manager, Frank; Frank’s decades-long lover, Jack; Em’s parents; and Tasio, who works for Em’s family and loves Ad. About Corin’s newest, Karen Russell says, “Here is a writer light years ahead of her time returning to explore the recent past of our ongoing American crises.” (Carolyn)
Greedy by Jen Winston: In what Publishers Weekly calls a “sparkling” and “wholly original” debut collection, Winston explores bisexuality, gender, and sex with humor, generosity, and earnestness.Winston’s essays explores her confusing and uncertain queer coming-of-age; the harmfulness of biphobia and bi stereotypes (and how to overcome them); the idea of being “queer enough;” and why being “too much” is the least you can do for yourself. (Carolyn)
The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven by by Nathaniel Ian Miller: Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, Miller’s novel follows 32-year-old Sven Ormson, who flees to a remote fjord with his dog after surviving a near fatal avalanche. After burrowing deep into his isolation and loneliness for decades, Sven’s life is forever altered by an unexpected visitor. Adam Johnson says the novel “illuminates the very nature of human yearning and perseverance,” and that Miller “ascends to the firmament of today’s most exciting young novelists.”(Carolyn)
I Will Die in a Foreign Land by Kalani Pickhart: In Pickhart’s debut, which is set during the the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution, four people lives overlap, intersect, and irrevocably change in the face of personal, political, and historical turmoil. The ambitious novel has garnered rave starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly (“ardent,” “sprawling,” “bighearted,” “It’s a stunner”) and Kirkus (“Innovative, emotionally resonant, and deeply affecting”). (Carolyn)
What Storm, What Thunder by Myriam J. A. Chancy: In her newest novel, Chancy (The Loneliness of Angels) follows an interconnected group of survivors—including musicians, architects, drug traffickers, lovers, and merchants—as they struggle to live, love, and hope in the aftermath of Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake. A rave starred review from Publishers Weekly says the novel “multilayered,” “dazzling,” and “lyrical” novel is “not to be missed.” (Carolyn)
We Imagined It Was Rain by Andrew Siegrist: Set primarily in Tennessee, the stories in Siegrist’s debut story collection explores mundane and life-altering moments with beauty, tenderness, and reverence. About the 2020 C. Michael Curtis Short Story Book Prize winner, Z.Z. Packer writes: ““Reading We Imagined It Was Rain is like entering a dream journal—every sense is heightened and stretched, every memory expanded and reassembled in the hopes of deciphering the past or surviving the present….A keen eye for the truths of the human condition—as well as a mastery of tone, detail, and imagery—make this writer one to watch.” (Carolyn)

The Devil’s Treasure by Mary Gaitskill: In her latest book, Gaitskill’s critiques and reflects on her life’s work. Presenting a bricolage of fiction, memoir, criticism, and visual art, she puts her past and current work in chorus with each other, including  her memoir, previous novels (including Veronica and The Mare), a novel in progress, and Gaitskill’s commentary and artwork. (Carolyn)

September 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.
Palmares by Gayl Jones: A signal event in publishing, this is the first of five of Jones’s new novels to be published after 20 years without a new book from the brilliant author of Corregidora, among other novels. (Read more about Jones’s career in this piece by Calvin Baker.) Palmares is a sprawling story set in 17th-century Brazil, and follows an enslaved woman named Almeyda who escapes to a fugitive slave settlement and embarks on a journey to find her lost husband. Imani Perri says that Jones’s work “represents a watershed in American literature. From a literary standpoint, her form is impeccable; from a historical standpoint, she stands at the very cutting edge of understanding the modern world, and as a Black woman writer, her truth-telling, filled with beauty, tragedy, humor, and incisiveness, is unmatched. Jones is a writer’s writer, and her influence is found everywhere.” (Lydia)
Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead: Anyone who’s read the author’s The Colossus of New York knows no one writes more expansively and lovingly about New York City than Whitehead. Reminiscent of the work of Chester Himes, Harlem Shuffle starts with a heist and plays out in a beautifully recreated New York City of the early 1960s. A family saga, a genre-bending a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to New York, particularly Harlem. (Marie)
On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint by Maggie Nelson: Nelson returns to her signature blend of theory, scholarship, criticism, and personal revelation with a meditation on the thorny word “freedom,” and what it means in the world we live in today. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly writes, “Once again, Nelson proves herself a masterful thinker and an unparalleled prose stylist.” (Lydia)

The Spectacular by Zoe Whittall: Whittall’s third novel, The Best Kind of People, was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. She’s also a screenwriter with credits like The Baroness Von Sketch Show and Schitt’s Creek. This novel tells the story of a 22-year-old woman named Missy who is in a famous band; her mother, Carola, who is recovering from a sex scandal at a yoga center; and grandmother Ruth, who is 83 when Missy winds up crashing at her house. The three stories weave around questions about motherhood: what if you regretted it? Kristen Arnett says, “Whittall addresses motherhood and autonomy in ways I’ve never seen done before.” (Claire)

Bewilderment by Richard Powers: Powers follows The Overstory with a family story, which is also an earth story, about an astrobiologist struggling to raise his angry nine-year-old in the wake of his mother’s death, including using an experimental treatment that involves using the recorded patterns of her brain. In a starred review, Kirkus calls the novel a “taut ecological parable…A touching novel that offers a vital message with uncommon sympathy and intelligence.” (Lydia)
Matrix by Lauren Groff: Groff’s highly anticipated first new novel since Fates and Furies tackles the desire, creativity, and vision of women following “Marie of France” (based on based on 12th-century poet Marie de France) in an arc that covers actual historic event from the Crusades to the papal interdict of 1208. (Marie)

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki: The marvelous Ozeki—novelist, filmmaker, and Buddhist priest—publishes her first novel since A Tale for the Time Being. The new book is the story of Benny Oh, who hears voices—the voices of things that surround him, voices that become more and more insistent as his life becomes more and more chaotic. With her characteristic charm, empathy, and perspicacity, Ozeki writes Benny’s story of learning to hear, and manage, the voices, and hear himself along the way. David Mitchell says “This compassionate novel of life, love and loss glows in the dark. Its strange, beautiful pages turn themselves. If you’ve lost your way with fiction over the last year or two, let The Book of Form and Emptiness light your way home.” (Lydia)

The Archer by Shruti Swamy: Following her collection of short stories, A House Is a Body, which Kiese Laymon called “one of the greatest short story collections of the 2020s,” Swamy returns with a novel set in the Bombay of the 1960s and 1970s, following a young woman named Vidya as she pursues the art form of Kathak, an exacting dance, and confronts the dilemmas that pit art against the demands of wifehood in her time and place. C Pam Zhang called the novel “lush and sensual, tasted and felt, with striking images that play out like film behind the eyes. Swamy evokes an India that resists flat stereotype and teems with exuberance, beauty, and life. The Archer is timeless yet utterly modern as it asks what it means for a woman to make a life of art.” (Lydia)
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr: In 2014, Doerr’s breakout World War II novel All the Light We Cannot See managed to package abstruse physics and a sympathetic young Nazi into a thinking person’s literary thriller that dominated the bestseller lists for months. Seven years later, Doerr is back with another history-driven tale of a long-lost Greek manuscript, which turns up in the library of a spaceship seeking a habitable planet in the 22nd century. Other chapters take place during the 1453 siege of Constantinople and in present-day Idaho. “This is a marvel,” says an early review in Publishers Weekly. (Michael)
How to Wrestle a Girl by Venita Blackburn: The second collection by the author of Black Jesus and Other Superheroes is a series of fiercely observant stories, many of which follow a teenage girl in the aftermath of her father’s death. Set in Southern California, these stories follow her as she grapples with her emerging queer identity, along with the challenges of her life at school and her kinetic and complicated family. In other stories, we see a class of teenagers torment their teacher to the point of mental collapse, as well as another story in which a different group of teens devise a scheme to sell their excess fat and skin. (Thom)

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney: The most widely read, discussed, and argued-about literary novelist of the last five years, Sally Rooney, returns in September with Beautiful World, Where Are You. The contours will sound familiar to anyone versed in Rooneyana: a quartet of friends—Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon—travel, have sex, worry about having sex, worry about themselves and their friendships and aging into adulthood in a very uncertain world. But while Rooney’s plot contrivances may occasionally, at least in summary, seem pat and prefab, her keen and tersely delivered observations about the follies of youth, sex, and friendships never are. (Adam Price)
Chronicles from the Happiest People on Earth by Wole Soyinka: The first new novel in 50 years from the Nobel laureate in literature. Chronicles, the third novel from Soyinka, best known for his award-winning plays and poetry (and life of essential political activism), is part whodunit, part social indictment, and as powerful as anything that came before. A Nigerian doctor realizes someone is selling body parts from his hospital for use in ritualistic practices, and with the help of an old friend, he begins to search for the thief—but neither realizes how far the search will take them. Toni Morrison once praised Soyinka, saying “You don’t see things the same when you encounter a voice like that,” and here that voice still has all of its power, wit, beauty, and purpose. (Kaulie)
Harrow by Joy Williams: This novel, Williams’s first in two decades, follows the unlikely (and aged) rebels who sabotage corporations for their complicity in environmental destruction. Who better than Williams to capture pure-hearted but absurd efforts to retrieve paradise lost? (Nick M.)

Misfits by Michaela Coel: I May Destroy You was some of the most powerful television I have seen in recent years, an incredible exploration of trauma, violence, work, friendship, social media, and art (complete with a storyline about writers’ block). Subtitled A Personal Manifesto, Misfits is a book from Coel, who is both the brilliant mind behind the show and its star, built off the MacTaggart Lecture she delivered at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. Coel weaves stories of her own life with a call to honesty and action for everyone who has struggled to fit in. (Lydia)

Martita, I Remember You by Sandra Cisneros (translated by Liliana Valenzuela): The legendary Cisneros returns with a novel published as a dual English-Spanish edition, a story of a woman who leaves her Mexican American family in Chicago and spends wild young days in Paris, forming a friendship with two other women that resurfaces years later with the chance discovery of an old letter. (Lydia)

The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine: National Book Award finalist Alameddine’s sixth novel tells the story of Mina Simpson, a Lebanese doctor and trans woman who travels to the Greek island of Lesbos to provide aid at an infamous refugee camp. For decades, Mina has avoided traveling so close to her homeland, but she decided to visit the camp to accomplish something meaningful. But when she meets Sumaiya, a Syrian woman with terminal liver cancer, and tries to chart a course of treatment with the limited resources on the island, she’s forced to reckon with the scale of the migrants’ suffering, along with as her own limitations. (Thom)
A Calling for Charlie Barnes by Joshua Ferris: Acclaimed novelist and short story writer Ferris returns in 2021 with A Calling for Charlie Barnes. Charlie Barnes, a multiply divorced romantic and schemer whose hopes for delivery are dashed by the financial crisis and a medical disaster, gets one more chance for redemption in the form of his storytelling son. Ferris is one of the master chroniclers of our declining American empire and spirit—his special gift is delivering the bad news with both laughs and an enormous amount of empathy that, at his best, recalls the work of Emerson and Thoreau. In the words of Dana Spiotta, “Joshua Ferris is one of our best writers, and A Calling for Charlie Barnes is wonderful: fast and deep, urgent and brilliant. Ingeniously written, it had me up reading late into the night. A hilarious, intimate, and scathing takedown of so many American vanities.” (Adam Price)
The Water Statues by Fleur Jaeggy (translated by Gini Alhadeff): Even when considered alongside Jaeggy’s other singular and slim novels, The Water Statues is a peculiar book. Within, Jaeggy tells the story of family and isolation, and the inheritance of loneliness and emotional poverty that accompanies wealth (in line with Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, though that’s where comparisons end). This “strange and shimmering nonlinear text” is voluptuous yet melancholic and austere. Which seems in line with Jaeggy’s profession that, “One should be in one’s own void. Void is silence. Solitude. An absence of relationships…The void is a plant that must continually be watered.” (Anne)

The Magician by Colm Tóibín: Scribner describes Tóibín’s most recent project as “a stunning marriage of research and imagination” in this, his exploration of the life and art of Thomas Mann. Tóibín’s refined gift is about as perfect a match as could be imagined for the construction of a nuanced portrait of a complicated man and artist living in a complex period of modern history. (Il’ja)

Heart Radical by Anne Liu Kellor: Kellor’s memoir describes her travels through China as a young multiracial woman, relaying her years living in China, falling in love, speaking her mother tongue, working, traveling, and searching for what called her to a place that is both familiar and not. Cheryl Strayed said of the memoir, “I loved this book. It’s vulnerable, searching, insightful, riveting and beautifully written.” (Lydia)

Hao by Ye Chun: A collection of stories that take place in China and America within the Chinese Diaspora, spanning time and place and focusing on the lives and struggles of women as they wrestle with everything that attends migration, motherhood, and personhood. Lynn Steger Strong says of the collection, “Each of these stories is an individual world brought to life fully by the particularity of its language, by Ye’s extraordinarily far-reaching and deeply felt imagination, combined with her consistently stunning acuity and control.” (Lydia)

Kaya Days by Carl de Souza (translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman): Named for the days of protest and mourning that followed the death of Mauritian musician Joseph Réginald Topize, or Kaya, at the hands of police, the debut novel by de Souza follows a woman through Mauritius as she searches for her missing brother, delineating the many intersecting worlds of the island nation at a revolutionary moment. J.M.G. Le Clézio calls the novel “a searing, urgent, far-seeing dispatch that imprints the reality of Mauritius, at odds with its picture-postcard views, on the global consciousness. Carl de Souza is a formidable voice in Mauritian literature; his account is an indictment and a plea for understanding among its communities.” (Lydia)
The Morning Store by Karl Ove Knausgaard (translated by Martin Aitken): The mega-popular Norwegian author’s latest novel centers on a cast of characters who witness a bizarre astronomical phenomenon. On a normal night in August, a group of tangentially related people in the Norwegian resort town of Sørlandet watch as a massive star suddenly appears in the night sky. No one—including the astronomers—knows just what the star is or why it appeared. The days wear on, unusual and baffling things begin to occur, and the characters grapple with these events and their impact on their lives. (Thom)
Inter State by José Vadi: As award-winning writer Vadi examines California with anger and love in his first essay collection, he centers the ever-changing Golden State and includes wildfires, dive bars, the tech industry, farmwork, decay, and wealth. Nina Renata Aron describes Vadi as an “ethnographer-on-a-skateboard” and Publishers Weekly describes the book as “part love letter, part indictment.” Vadi’s writing style has received much advanced praise: Kirkus says that “at a line level, the book is outstanding, filled with long, breathless sentences, innovative syntax,” and Melissa Valentine recommends that “with smart prose and daring form, these are perfect essays for our complicated times.” (Zoë)

Margaret and the Mystery of the Missing Body by Megan Milks: Margaret, the once head dectective of the Girls Can Solve Anything club, is at a major crossroads in her life: her friends have abandoned her; she’s developed an all-consuming eating disorder; and she would rather solve cases than grow up. When she enters inpatient treatment for her anorexia, Margaret dusts off her dectective skills to solve mysteries—including, and especially, how to live and grow and become the person you’re meant to be. About Milks’ genre-bending debut novel, Torrey Peters writes: “What if all those nineties book series about girlhood had been truly honest about the process of growing up? You’d get this wonderful book: a comforting facade that opens into an entrancing and wildly innovative gut-renovation of the genre, with an interior that lays bare the hidden workings of life I wish I’d known on my own first run through adolescence. Brilliant.” (Carolyn)

The Body Scout by Lincoln Michel: Set in a distant (and increasingly possible) future devastated by climate change and endless pandemics, Kobo—a body-hacker who works as a baseball scout for Big Phrama-owne baseball teams—is struggling. When his brother is murdered on the baseball field, Kobo dives into a dangerous and corrupt underworld to hunt down the killer. “This novel is delightful in its brio and sharp as a tack in its inventiveness—and yet its greatest, most poignant gift is in asking: What does it mean to inhabit a body? A superb read,” says Esmé Weijun Wang. (Carolyn).

Letters to Amelia by Lindsay Zier-Vogel: Zier-Vogel’s debut novel follows 30-year-old Grace Porter, who is grieving the sudden end of her longterm relationship, as she discovers the love letters between Amelia Earhart and her lover, Gene Vidal. After Grace discovers she’s pregnant, she begins writing her own letters to Amelia—and searching for answers as to what happened to the infamous pilot. Jon McGregor calls Letters to Amelia “a wonderful novel about flight and passion, about love-letters and reaching out; a novel about how we never know quite what’s coming next, but still keep launching ourselves into the blue tomorrow.” (Carolyn)

Assembly by Natasha Brown: Assembly’s young, successful, Black protagonist is wondering how she can take control of her life while navigating a toxic career, contemplating her relationship with her wealthy white boyfriend, and worrying over potential life-or-death decision. Brown’s debut novel is a slim but affecting portrayal of the race, class, and sexual politics in contemporary Britain. Booker winner Bernardine Evaristo says: “Natasha Brown’s exquisite prose, daring structure and understated elegance are utterly captivating. She is a stunning new writer.” (Carolyn)

Other Girls to Burn by Caroline Crew: Winner of the Sue William Silverman Prize in Creative Nonfiction, Crew’s essay collection blends cultural criticism and personal essay to  explore the relationship between women and violence. Alexander Chee, who selected the collection for the prize, says: “The world turns in Crew’s vision, essay by essay, renewed or revealed in ways only she can provide, and all of it brought to us in a voice I’d follow into any topic—propulsive, lyrical, able to turn on a dime, as the expression goes. . . . An unforgettable debut. ” (Carolyn)

Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang: In her debut, coming-of-age memoir, Wang writes about moving to and living in New York City as an undocumented immigrant—as her family seeks out the ever-present and alluring American Dream. “Beautiful Country is the real deal,” writes Gish Jen. “Heartrending, unvarnished, and powerfully courageous, this account of growing up undocumented in America will never leave you.” (Carolyn)

The Breaks by Julietta Singh: In her newest work of nonfiction, Singh (No Archive Will Restore You) writes a gorgeous and poetic letter to her six-year-old daughter about everything from late-stage capitalism and climate change to queer families and parenting “at the end of the world.” Publishers Weekly’s starred review calls the slim books “a stunning work.” (Carolyn)

Writers to Watch: Fall 2021

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Explorations of class, race, and sexuality play out in many of this fall’s notable fiction debuts, including a novel about a young Black woman working in financial services, a South Korean gay romance, and more.
Nawaaz Ahmed: Supersized and Fully Formed
In 1994, Nawaaz Ahmed left India for a graduate program in computer science at Cornell. “I don’t think in India you go around saying, ‘I want to be a writer,’” he says from his home in Brooklyn. Like his debut, Radiant Fugitives (Counterpoint, Aug.), which Publishers Weekly called “dazzling” in a starred review, the path to writing a novel was long and windy, and informed by his political consciousness as a gay Muslim immigrant.
Ahmed took a job in the Bay Area with Inktomi in 2000, touted at the time as the next Microsoft, he says. Two years later its stock plummeted from a peak of $241 to a quarter a share, and the company was sold to Yahoo. By 2007 he’d become involved with book clubs and writing groups mainly comprising other South Asians and went part-time at Yahoo to focus on his writing. In 2009 he left for the University of Michigan, expecting to finish a book by the time his MFA scholarship support ran out. “But it took 10 years,” he adds, laughing.
The first drafts of Radiant Fugitives, about an Indian woman condemned by her father for being queer, were shorter and more focused on a family drama. But as Ahmed became galvanized by the uncertainty around the marriage equality fight during the early Obama years and the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment, after having already taken part in actions with Asian LGBTQ groups in the Bay Area, those issues began entering the book.
He says it was both exciting and scary to write explicitly about homosexuality, because of the small number of gay Muslim writers who were published. “But I was like, how can you not? I have to take part in the struggle for visibility,” he adds.
The draft Ahmed worked on with agent Anjali Singh sprawled to 800 pages, almost twice the length it’d ultimately publish as. Dan Smetanka at Counterpoint read all of it. “It’s that moment when the lightning comes down and your hair is on fire and all of those terrible metaphors that editors use,” he says. “It was such an ambitious draft, supersized and fully formed.”
Xavier Navarro Aquino: A Wicked Dew
Four days after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, Xavier Navarro Aquino returned there from Lincoln, Nebr., where he was completing a PhD in English, to help his family. His mother lives in Vega Baja, where he was raised, and much of his family lives in various parts of the island’s northern coast.
“It wasn’t easy for me to process and want to write about it,” Aquino says from his home in Lincoln, where he is preparing to move to South Bend, Ind., to teach at Notre Dame. But from that experience came the idea for a story of a girl named Camila who finds her sister encased in a mudslide. It became the germ for Velorio (HarperVia, Jan. 2022), a polyphonic novel of Maria’s aftermath.
“I used the framework of Lord of the Flies to imagine a society after the natural disaster because it wasn’t far from reality,” Aquino says. “I saw how the rules and laws had degraded, and how degradation mixed with fears of abandonment, which had exacerbated a very fragile electric grid, economic system, and diaspora.”
By then, Aquino already had an agent, Jin Auh, whom he’d met at the Sewanee Writers Conference. During a residency at MacDowell in 2019, he wrote a full draft of Velorio in a fever pitch. “I was very surprised with how it just fell into my imagination and the words would just flow, but it was a strange time,” he says. “I think I felt a little crazy, and told I friend I felt like I was hearing voices.”
When Aquino met with Tara Parsons, editor and associate publisher at HarperVia, he was excited to hear that she understood what he was doing with the multitude of voices, and that she didn’t want him to change it—something Jin had warned him might happen with other editors. One of the most important voices was that of the complex character Urayoán, whom Aquino hesitatingly calls an “antagonist,” because Urayoán speaks to the effects of U.S. colonization, sometimes in ways that are not immediately coherent. “I was sort of trying to draw from Derek Walcott’s commentary on Caliban,” Aquino says. “In The Tempest, Caliban carries the most beautiful language but is often overlooked.”
Natasha Brown: Everybody Hurts
I think STEM careers are really good options for a lot of people,” says Natasha Brown, a writer from London who studied math at Cambridge and spent a decade working in financial services. “They can really be good opportunities to buy yourself some time to produce creative work.”
In 2019, after writing on the side and taking workshops, Brown received support from the London Writers Award and finished her first novel, Assembly (Little, Brown, Sept.), which PW’s starred review called “a stunning achievement of compressed narrative and fearless articulation.”
Assembly follows a young Black woman working at an investment bank, whose visit to her white fiancé’s family estate is dampened by her recent breast cancer diagnosis, and whose career success is met with blatant racism and sexism from bitter associates at her workplace. Clocking in at 112 pages with a small trim size, and punctuated by fragments of prose and verse along with references to theories from bell hooks and Claudia Rankine, it’s not a conventional novel, but it tells an age-old story.
“It’s like a ‘to be or not to be’ story, but about race,” says Jean Garnett, an editor at Little, Brown, who acquired the book during Frankfurt last year. “You have a character who’s thinking, is this worth enduring? Except Natasha’s character is way less whiny and indulgent than Hamlet.”
It’s a story that’s more commonly told in white literary fiction. “The stories I’ve really enjoyed have been about middle-class lack of satisfaction,” Brown says. “But for people of color, for Black women specifically, if we do get a story about someone being successful, it’s always a story of being grateful. It’s kind of limiting and a little bit dehumanizing to not recognize that everybody feels dissatisfied with their lives sometimes.”
Reading Rankine’s Citizen and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely helped show Brown new possibilities for writing about Black experiences, she says, and Lydia Davis’s and Maggie Nelson’s work opened up a sense of playfulness in mixing genres and weaving tangential threads.
As a result, Assembly sometimes has the feeling of an essay. “The narrator looks out at the reader to say, ‘I see you,’” Garnett says. “I’m not encased in a fictional universe, I’m here in the same world and we’re having a conversation about that world.”
Ash Davidson: Paradise Lost
Ash Davidson was too young to remember her early few years in Klamath, Calif., but her parents’ stories formed a powerful mythology of a seaside idyll destroyed by logging. “My parents were very clear that this was the most beautiful place they’d ever lived,” she says. But the herbicides used by loggers poisoned their drinking water, prompting the family to develop a habit of never drinking from a tap, no matter where they are.
Davidson’s novel, Damnation Spring (Scribner, Aug.), is set in a place similar to Klamath in the 1970s, where a logger buys a grove of redwoods to invest in his family’s future. It explores the tension between a working-class community’s economic livelihood, the health risks posed by logging, and the environmentalists who spotlight its devastation. PW called it a “heart-wrenching modern American tragedy.”
To write the book, Davidson took a trip back to Klamath for research, hoping to talk to people who were affected by the pollution. “I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, and couldn’t get people to speak with me,” she says. Then, with her mother, she went to a community dinner. “We walked in and you could just hear the heads turn.”
After a woman recognized her mother, she introduced Davidson to a former logger. “He told me he’d actually been sprayed while he was working, and shared how it affected his eyes, his breathing, and his skin,” she says. “That was the moment that I realized: this person’s family was drinking the water.”
At that point, Davidson says, she was able to approach the characters with empathy.
The book took a decade to write, and her agent, Chris Parris-Lamb, helped her across the finish line. They’d met when Davidson was working on short stories at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and he suggested she write a novel. “I sent him an email five years later saying, ‘Hi, I don’t know if you remember me, but you were right, and here’s this novel, would you look at it?’ ” she recalls.
He did, and when Parris-Lamb sent it to Kathy Belden, executive editor at Scribner, it didn’t take long for her to respond. “I like fiction that does societal work being done in service of the story,” Belden says. “It feels like an old-fashioned big American novel.”
Jo Hamya: Do They Owe Us a Living?
When did it become ridiculous to think that a stable economy and a fair housing market were reasonable expectations?” asks the unnamed narrator of Jo Hamya’s Three Rooms (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Aug.). It’s a spiky riff on Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, dialing into the dwindling prospects for university graduates in the U.K. and the conservative politics behind Brexit.
After taking an MA at Oxford, Hamya faced her share of precarity while working an unstable magazine job, which she ended up quitting because it didn’t line up with her long-range goal to be a university lecturer. “My protagonist is the sort of person I would hate to end up becoming,” Hamya says. “She’s very indecisive and ineffectual, and confined by circumstance.”
The book developed after the Brexit referendum as Hamya and her friends began to feel that they would never be able to buy their own homes. Hamya is half Polish and grew up watching her parents achieve progressively better lives. “They had kind of gotten the better deal out of Blairism and social mobility,” she says, “and I had maybe slightly naive expectations of how life should turn out.”
Hamya finished the book in March 2020, a week or two before England went into lockdown. “I’d sent it to a handful of agents who hadn’t responded, and so I’d sort of given up,” she says. But a few friends asked to read the manuscript, one of whom worked at Penguin, and though the friend said she wouldn’t be able to do anything, the book got passed around. Two weeks later Hamya received a call from Ana Fletcher, senior editor at Jonathan Cape.
“Sort of halfway through the conversation I began to clock that she was interested in acquiring it,” Hamya says. Fletcher helped her connect with agent Harriet Moore to negotiate the deal, and by August, the North American rights were sold to HMH at auction.
Hamya says she wasn’t sure how the book would be received in the U.S., given its focus on British politics, and was heartened to receive an enthusiastic letter from a bookseller in Alabama. “Maybe it’s because there was this overlap of news feeds in 2016 and 2020, where we had Boris Johnson and you guys had Trump,” she notes. “Both sides of the Atlantic were melting.”
Tracey Lange: Breaking the Bonds
In the opening scene of Tracey Lange’s We Are the Brennans (Celadon, Aug.), a young woman named Sunday Brennan drives into a Los Angeles freeway divider while drunk, prompting her bar-owner brother to bring her back home to New York City. With the crash, Sunday has reached the end of the line in an attempt to start a new life away from her Irish Catholic family.
“I come from a big Irish Catholic crew,” says Lange, who now lives in Oregon and was raised in an Upper West Side apartment building where her father worked as the super. “My dad was one of 15 kids from Ireland, and I just loved being around that kind of clan feeling. There’s so much fodder to dig into.”
The story isn’t autobiographical, but Lange, like Sunday, also headed west once she came of age, settling first in Arizona, where, with her husband, she built and ran a business providing behavioral health services for 15 years. “The focus was so much about the family, and what makes a family work and not work,” she says.
Several years ago, Lange was able to focus solely on her writing, and completed the manuscript while enrolled in an online novel writing program at Stanford. “The program came at a great time because I trying to wrap my mind around the novel’s multiple point of view,” she says. In doing so, she was able to get underneath the surface of the guarded members of the Brennan clan.
Describing her own extended family, Lange says, “There’s a great closeness, but there’s also a lot of hiding flaws and a lot of shame, whether it’s mental illness issues, drug use, financial worries, or divorce. I felt very connected to Sunday, growing up in a family where there’s a bit of keeping things on the down low.”
Lange met agent Stephanie Cabot at a writers’ conference in Kauai, Hawaii. Cabot was impressed by her pitch and her professionalism, and saw how the book fit in her wheelhouse. “I’m always drawn to this idea that history is always with us,” Cabot says. “I think she pulled it off really well. There’s a lot of heart and emotion and compassion.”
Claire Luchette: Out of the Habit
In summer 2016, Claire Luchette was in graduate school at the University of Oregon, broke and eating expired yogurt while working on short stories. She remembered something her nun macroeconomics teacher would always say at her Jesuit high school back in Chicago: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” The line inspired her to write the story “New Bees,” which was published in Ploughshares and became her meal ticket for a series of writing residencies.
The story also became her way into the novel Agatha of Little Neon (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Aug.), which PW called “a lovely story of… cross-cultural exchange.” It takes place in a halfway house in Rhode Island, where a group of nuns explore their sense of agency as well as their sexuality.
“I was wondering how nuns could live with the fact that in the eyes of the church they’re second-class citizens,” Luchette says. At the time, Donald Trump was on the rise and she was thinking a lot about power and inequality. “It stoked a lot of rage.”
She also developed the theme of conviction. “What if you revisited this thing you always assumed was true about yourself?” she asks. “That’s something the church doesn’t really make possible. At the time, I was starting to ask questions about my own sexuality, and it seemed natural for the characters.”
In 2018 Luchette finished what she calls “a crappy first draft” and sent it to agents. One of them was Julie Barer, whom she cold queried despite having a friend already represented by Barer. “I was insistent on doing it myself and not have anyone, you know, introduce me and make it easier,” she says.
Barer encouraged Luchette to coax out the themes of identity in the story, which Luchette thinks was the right move. “I never wanted this to be a coming-out story,” she says, “but I did want it to ask some of the same questions, and she made that seem possible.”
As early readers start to weigh in, Luchette finds the responses really moving, but she also continues to feel anxious. “I’m still not sure how to manage the fact that people will find in it what they will,” she says. “It’s a really specific kind of vulnerability to share the last five years of one’s life with complete strangers.”
Wanda M. Morris: A New Kind of Legal Thriller
After I started this book 13 years ago, I put it down,” says Wanda M. Morris, speaking of All Her Little Secrets (Morrow, Nov.). “I convinced myself nobody was going to want to read a story about a 40-ish Black woman who has to bring down a group of awful people.”
Morris continued her career as a corporate lawyer in Atlanta, where she has lived and worked for the past two decades, and where the book is set. It follows a woman named Ellice Littlejohn who has a corporate counsel job and discovers her boss’s dead body, with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Ellice and her boss had been having an affair, and he’d asked her to meet him that morning. As the plot unfolds, readers will be reminded of John Grisham’s The Firm for the way Ellice uncovers criminal activity at the company and confronts an ethical dilemma.
After a health scare several years ago, Morris realized it was time to finish the project. “I thought, I’m in this high-pressure job and I have a family and I’m trying to do all these things and be all these things to everyone else,” she recalls. “And what am I doing for me?”
Morris’s longtime interest in writing was partly what made her want to become a lawyer. She reads widely, from biographies to poetry to literary fiction, but she’s mainly drawn to mysteries. “I like that whole figuring out the puzzle,” she says. But she hungered for stories that featured smart Black female protagonists.
“I like the idea of, you know, a Black woman chasing down bad guys in dark office towers,” Morris says. “But I just didn’t see a lot of books like that on the shelf. I think Toni Morrison probably launched a lot of careers when she said, ‘If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.’ And so I did.”
Sang Young Park: A Cosmopolitan Romance
Alexander Chee turned more than a few heads this past winter when he interviewed Korean writer Sang Young Park and announced on Twitter that Park’s Love in the Big City (Grove, Nov.; trans. from the Korean by Anton Hur) was “the first gay novel published in South Korea,” where it appeared in 2019. Previously, Hur has heralded the work of Park’s queer South Korean predecessors.
“There are things that would be very relatable for American millennial readers, like an experience someone could be having in Brooklyn,” says Peter Blackstock, editor at Grove. “And then there’s the dimension of mandatory military service.”
Early on, the narrator recounts how he has a female friend send him love letters while in boot camp, so his fellow trainees won’t think he’s gay. Later, back in Seoul, he has a string of sexual encounters until he finds love.
For Park, Seoul loomed in his early years as a promise of liberation. “I was raised in Daegu,” he says via his translator, Hur, “which is notorious for being conservative. Throughout my teenage years all I could dream of was escaping.” After leaving to study at Sungkyunkwan University, he found in Seoul “a good place for anyone in the minority to meet others anonymously and stay hidden in the crowds.”
As a writer, Park was inspired by Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, as well as by French writers such as Annie Ernaux and Margeurite Duras, and he also drew on Korean and American pop culture. His story “Searching for Paris Hilton” won him a debut writer prize. “Maybe Paris Hilton herself was a deeply inspirational figure to me,” he jokes.
He hopes American readers will dive into the Korean references in his work. “I mention a lot of K-pop acts that are not BTS and Blackpink, who are already super famous in America, so I hope readers check them out,” Park says.
Blackstock notes that Grove editorial assistant Yvonne Cha, who read the whole book in Korean, was instrumental to the acquisition, and says they hope to reach an audience of Korean American readers. “It was really cool to have her make the case,” he adds.
Javier Serena: Books Nobody Wants to Read
What if a blockbuster author of the Spanish-speaking world, whose stature reached mythic proportions just before he died, had toiled for years in obscurity because his early work wasn’t all that great? Spanish writer Javier Serena explores this question in Last Words on Earth (Open Letter, Sept.; trans. from the Spanish by Katie Whittemore), about a Roberto Bolaño-esque writer named Ricardo Funes.
Asked about how the book was received in Spain, where it was first published in 2017, Serena, who aspired to become a writer as Bolaño’s work began to make a splash in the late 1990s, says via Whittemore, “Bolaño is still a delicate topic among the Spanish literary elite. He’s still treated with kid gloves by the people who were close to him. It’s not a topic that people just jump into.”
At least not in Madrid, where Serena lives and works for Latin American cultural exchange program, or Barcelona, near where Bolaño lived when he was in Spain. But Chad Post, publisher and editor at Open Letter, was more than happy to take it on. “It’s an incredibly moving book,” says Post. “I think it really hits home with people who work in creative fields where you don’t know where your success and value is going to come from and at what point in time.”
Post received a sample from Whittemore before the 2019 AWP conference in Portland, Ore., and then at the conference, Whittemore told him about Serena’s other book, Atila, about the writer Aliocha Coll, and a third forthcoming in Spanish. “So we started conceiving of this as a three-book project that groups together novels about the writing life and an unwavering commitment to your art and how that plays out for people,” Post says.
Serena wants to make clear that his character Funes is not Bolaño, but says he was inspired by the gulf between Bolaño’s day-to-day life and the image he’d cultivated. “We like to think of him as this sort of like punk hippie writer on the margins, but for a while, he was just like, dithering around this town and trying to write books that nobody wanted to read.”

This piece was produced in partnership with Publishers Weekly.

August 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.
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers: In her ambitious fiction debut, the 2020 National Book Award-nominated poet meditates on African-American history from the colonial slave trade to our current, turbulent age. Ailey Pearl Garfield, the protagonist of the novel, grows up navigating W.E.B. Du Bois’s “Double Consciousness” in everyday life in the deep South. Her mother’s side of family was taken to the U.S. as enslaved people. The female members of her family, in particular, went through many shocking experiences. Coming of age, Ailey learns to fully embrace her heritage by exploring and understanding the traumatic memories of her family. (Jianan)
Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Moreno-Garcia follows up her bestselling Mexican Gothic with a noirish thriller set amid the political upheaval in 1970s Mexico City. A mousy secretary named Maite is envious of the racy life of her neighbor Leonora, a beautiful art student who goes missing. Determined to solve the mystery, Maite is soon joined in her quest by a hired thug named Elvis, who is also on Leonara’s trail. Linked by their shared love for old movies, comics and rock ’n’ roll, the unlikely duo is sucked into a world of students, radicals, Russian spies, hit men, and government agents who will kill to protect Leonora’s dark secrets. (Bill) 

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker: Booker Prize-winning Barker got her start writing about the English working-class women she grew up with. Eventually she branched out and wrote The Silence of the Girls, a retelling of The Iliad from the eyes of an enslaved girl. She has followed that with The Women of Troy, in which the conquered titular women, led by Briseis, plot their revenge against their Greek captors, whose triumphal trip home with their spoils is delayed by uncooperative winds. Once again, Barker uses blunt prose to tell human stories that strip the romance from one of literature’s enduring epics. (Bill)

Edge Case by YZ Chin: In a follow-up to her award-winning story collection, Though I Get Home, Chin’s debut novel follows Edwina, a Malaysian immigrant living in New York City, after she is abandoned by her husband. As she searches for him, Edwina thinks back on their relationship—and navigates her feelings of isolation, uncertainty, and (perhaps misplaced) loyalty. About the book, Chia-Chia Lin writes: “A quirky story of loss and limbo, Edge Case immerses us in the worries, hopes, and absurdities of life on a work visa in America.” (Carolyn)
The President and the Frog by Carolina De Robertis: Inspired by the life of Uruguay’s former president José Mujica, De Robertis’ latest novel follows the 82-year-old protagonist (the “Poorest President in the World”) as he’s interviewed by a journalist. Switching between the present and memories of the past, the president—a former guerrilla, revolutionary, and political prisoner—remembers the most monumental moments of his life. About this survival story, Madeline Miller writes: “Playful and profound, unearthly yet deeply rooted, this sublime and gripping novel is above all about hope: that within the world’s messy pain there is still room for transformation and healing.” (Carolyn)
Savage Tongues by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi: Written with the intensity of early Duras and Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment, Savage Tongues, Van der Vliet Oloomi’s third novel, is “relentless in the best way.” Iranian-American Arezu returns to her father’s Spanish pied-a-terre that she has just inherited, conjuring the memory of an intense and catastrophic affair she had 20 years previous. With the help of a dear friend, Arezu excavates and puts words to her past trauma in this novel about love, friendship, identity, and displacement. As Garth Greenwell attests, Savage Tongues “lives at the border of memory and dream, restlessly seeking a logic that can transform cruelty into love.” (Anne)

Real Estate by Deborah Levy: Real Estate, the third and final book of Deborah Levy’s ‘living autobiography,” takes on the idea of home and houses in many iterations: the haunted, the literary, and what homespace means to a woman writer. Levy considers much about unreal estate too, as the narrator collects her fantasy dream homes. “Domestic space,” Levy observes, “if it is not an affliction bestowed on us by patriarchy, can be a powerful space.” And in essence, puts forth what has always been at the heart of this project, “to embody and make present a female mind.” (Anne)

Something New Under the Sun by Alexandra Kleeman. Following You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine and a story collection, Intimations, Kleeman returns to the novel form with East Coaster Patrick coming to Hollywood to oversee the film adaptation of one of his books. He ends up, with the help of a former child star, on a mission to find out the secrets of WAT-R, a synthetic water in this satirical and imaginative novel about climate change, consumerism, fake news, informational overload, and a Hamlet problem. (Marie)
Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So. This is the debut collection of Cambodian American So, who tragically died suddenly in 2020 (his Year in Reading was published posthumously at The Millions). The collection slipstreams between humor and pathos—as suggested in the title “Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts,” a story that appeared in The New Yorker—as the characters carry the residue of the Khmer Rouge genocide through immigration, race, sexuality, friendship, and family. “Like beams of wry, affectionate light, falling from different directions on a complicated, struggling, beloved American community,” says George Saunders. (Marie)
All’s Well by Mona Awad: “Dear Readers: This is one wild book!,” said Margaret Atwood on Twitter, “No holds barred.” It’s the story of Miranda Fitch, who had an accident that ended her acting career and left her with chronic back pain. She’s on the verge of losing her teaching job at a college, and facing a mutinous cast, when three strange benefactors show up. They know about her past and make alluring promises for the future—what could go wrong? If you had the pleasure of reading Awad’s acclaimed novel Bunny, you know the answer is everything and the result will be, as Heather O’Neill says, “equal parts brilliant and hilarious.” (Claire)

The Turnout by Megan Abbott: “Ballet flows through their veins,” says the description of this book, and Abbott’s many fans will know how unnerving these five words will turn out to be. This is the 10th novel from the bestselling author who looks at femininity and power like no one else. It’s about a ballet studio run by two sisters with long necks, taut buns, and pink tights. When a suspicious accident happens just before the annual performance of The Nutcracker, an interloper arrives and threatens to upset everything. (Claire)
Agatha of Little Neon by Claire Luchette: The eponymous Agatha of Luchette’s debut novel has been a nun for nine years when her parish closes and she and her three sisters must move to a former mill town to take over a halfway house. In Woonsocket, Agatha becomes a teacher at an all-girls’ school and must face the world without her fellow nuns and the comfort of their closed world. Cristina Henríquez says the book is “blazingly original, wry, and perfectly attuned to the oddness—and the profundity—of life” and Karen Thompson Walker highlights Luchette’s “sneaky deadpan wit.” (Edan)
Radiant Fugitives by Nawaaz Ahmed: Ahmed’s debut novel, about three generations of women from a Muslim Indian family, is told from the point of view of heroine Seema’s baby—at the moment of its birth. Publishers Weekly, in its starred review, calls it “dazzling, heartrending,” and Peter Ho Davies named it “a rare marvel, an intimate epic of faith and family, love and politics, knit together by a magical omniscience of profound compassion.” If that’s not enough for you, rumor has it that the ending is brilliant, and reframes the entire book. (Edan)

The Shimmering State by Meredith Westgate: There’s a new drug on the streets of LA: Mem, in the form of shimmering pills, contains happy memories selected to treat Alzheimer’s patients. It’s also a hit on the black market and among the elite, offering users short glimpses of someone else’s life. Though Lucien and Sophie came to the drug in different ways, it leads them both to a rehab facility run by Mem’s producers—though they’re sure they’ve run into each other before. Our own Lydia Kiesling calls The Shimmering State “hypnotic,” “a shimmering, dreamlike experience of multiple lives that collide and repel,” and, ultimately, a “beautifully dystopian shot at redemption.” (Kaulie)

Three Rooms by Jo Hamya: Virginia Woolf said we women writers need rooms of our own; Hamya’s unnamed narrator can only manage a succession of domestic way-places, a small collection of rented rooms and childhood bedrooms. It’s 2018 and the mood in Britain is dark, smothered by both increasingly obvious inequality and instability and the realization that nobody knows what to do about it. Meanwhile, the narrator of Three Rooms shuffles from research job to temp gig, spending a lot of time online and searching for her place in the world, wondering when it all became so hard. If this sounds dark, it may be, but there’s no denying it strikes a chord, amplified by the beautifully spare prose—think Rachel Cusk, fresh from grad school. (Kaulie)

Against White Feminism by Rafia Zakaria: Journalist Zakaria has written a rebuttal to the feminism promulgated by white upper-middle-class women, including the “aid-industrial complex,” in a book that focuses on women of color and rejects “white feminism’s global, long-standing affinity with colonial, patriarchal, and white supremacist ideals.” (Lydia)

Names for Light by Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint: Winner of the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize, Myint’s lyrical memoir shifts from her family’s roots and her birth in Myanmar to her childhood in Bangkok and San Jose, moving through her own life and the lives of her family members, narrating events in both the near and distant past. In a starred review, Kirkus calls the book “An imaginative and compelling memoir about what we inherit and what we pass on.” (Lydia)

The Luminous Novel by Mario Levrero (translated by Annie McDermott): This is the latest posthumously translated novel from the Uruguayan Levrero, whose Montevideo apartment was, to quote his translator McDermott, “the centre of a small universe…his legendary literary workshops, which followed an ‘unmethodical method’ designed to put people in touch with their imagination, produced hundreds of students who consider themselves his disciples.” Here, a novelist receives a generous grant that produces an insuperable writer’s block. As with Empty Words, in which the protagonist attempts “graphological self-therapy” (handwriting exercises) to better himself, this is a digressive, Sternean tale in which interruption becomes a kind of illumination. (Matt)

Blind Man’s Bluff by James Tate Hill: In his debut memoir, Hill details how he hid his blindness from the world for nearly 15 years. After he was diagnosed with Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy at 16, he discovered how to pass as sighted in ingenious, robust, and dangerous ways—until his life began to crumble under the weight of his denial. Rebecca Makkai writes, “Told with humor and grace, Blind Man’s Bluff is a story of reinventions—ones both enormous and minute, ones both forced and earned. It’s also an education, and an illumination.” (Carolyn)

Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy: In a follow-up to her national bestselling novel, Migrations, McConaghy writes about twins Inti and Aggie Flynn, who are both dealing and healing from trauma. Biologist Inti and her colleagues are attempting to rewild the remote Scottish Highlands and things seem to be going well—until a man is found dead and Inti makes a life-altering decision. Booklist’s starred review calls the novel “a powerful meditation on humanity, nature and the often frightening animalistic impulses lurking within us all.” (Carolyn)

Ramadan Ramsey by Louis Edwards: Guggenheim Fellow and Whiting Award winner Edwards returns with his newest novel follows two families across decades and continents. Set in 1999 New Orleans, Alicia Ramsey, a young Black woman, and Mustafa Totah, a Syrian immigrant, meet and fall in love before Mustafa returns to Syriah not knowing Alicia is pregnant with his son, Ramadan. Years later, 12-year-old Ramadan sets off to find his father—a journey that leads him through a hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, Istanbul, and Alleppo. Alice Randall writes: “An immediate global classic, Ramadan Ramsey joins the ranks of Sula, Oliver Twist, and Moll Flanders, as a tale named for a character that invites readers into a world both hyper-local and universal.” (Carolyn)

The Perfume Thief by Timothy Schaffert: Schaffert’s (The Swan Gondola) newest novel is full of decadence, intrigue, and danger. Clementine, a 72-year-old queer ex-pat and former con artist, is living in Pariss when she’s  roped into her final—and perhaps most dangerous—job: to steal the recipe book of a missing Parisian perfumer before it falls into the hands of the Nazis forever. About the novel, our own Emily St. John Mandel writes: “This is historical fiction at its finest, vivid and beautifully rendered.” (Carolyn)

 When the Reckoning Comes by LaTanya McQueen: When Mira left her small, segregated hometown, she also left behind her white best friend Celine, the haunted Woodsman plantation, and Jesse, the boy she quietly loved. When she returns to attend Celine’s wedding on Woodsman plantation, which is now a vacation resort, Mira realizes no renovation could bury the property’s racist history nor the ghosts seeking revenge on their tormentors’ descendants. “This is a novel, like Octavia Butler’s Kindred, that reminds its readers that as long as people don’t acknowledge how much of the past still shapes the present, it will bring its whips, its hatchets, and fists to make us learn,” says Megan Giddings. (Carolyn)

The Human Zoo by Sabina Murray: In her newest novel PEN Faulkner winner Murray writes about Christina “Ting” Klein, a Filipino-American journalist, who has left New York to escape her impending divorce and traveled to Manila to begin book research. With Procopio “Copo” Gumboc’s authoratarian regime casting a long shadow, Ting slips seamlessly back into upper class Manila life—until a tragedy threatens to completely upend her life. Maaza Mengiste writes, “This novel pulses with that most difficult of urgent truths: running away only leads us back to ourselves but that might be exactly what saves us in the end.” (Carolyn)

Something Wonderful by Jo Lloyd: A man seeks out his father who abandoned him at a festival. Two women hunt butterflies in the runup to World War I. A rural Welsh community catch flashes of their ultra-wealthy, but invisible, neighbors. In award-winning Lloyd’s debut collection, people are looking for ways to better themselves, their lives, and the world around them. The story collection has garnered praise from Hilary Mantel (calling Llyod “a major talent”) and Karen Russell (“Her sentences could rouse the dead (and do, in this excellent book)”). (Carolyn)

Gordo by Jaime Cortez: Visual artist and graphic novelist Cortez sets his debut collection in a migrant workers camp in rual California in the 1970s. Some, but not all of the, stories focus on the title character Gordo, the young (and likely queer) son of documented migrant farm workers, as he comes of age. Kirkus’ starred review says the stories “serve as unvarnished, even fond, testaments to a tough, queer life.” (Carolyn)

Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2021 Book Preview

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We’ve just an entered an amazing six-month stretch for book-lovers. The second of half of 2021 brings the first novel from the legendary Gayl Jones in more than 20 years, and the first novel from Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka in nearly 50. How often do we get new work from Louise Erdrich, Colson Whitehead, Richard Powers, Ruth Ozeki, Jonathan Franzen, Margaret Verble, Percival Everett, Joy Williams, Sandra Cisneros, John Edgar Wideman, A.S. Byatt, Rabih Alameddine, Donald Antrim, and Maggie Nelson—all in one six-month period? Never! It doesn’t happen! We’ve got hotly anticipated books from Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, Sally Rooney, Venita Blackburn, Omar El Akkad, Tiphanie Yanique, and Claire Vaye Watkins. We’ve got novels and memoirs and stories. There are just so many exciting books headed our way.

We miss books every single time we do this, and as usual, we will continue with our monthly previews, beginning in August. Let us know in the comments what you’re looking out for, and look forward to 2022, when more delights awake, on the page, if nowhere else.

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July

What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad: In his acclaimed bestselling debut, American War, El Akkad demonstrated his ability to capture complex political events and place them on a personal scale. With his new novel, What Strange Paradise, he has done it again, this time asking questions about the global refugee crisis. It opens with the sinking of a dilapidated ship and bodies washing up on the shores of a small island. A nine-year-old Syrian boy, Amir, survives the wreck and is rescued by a teenage girl. The novel tells the story of their bond. As the publisher says, it’s “beautifully written, unrelentingly dramatic, and profoundly moving.” (Claire)

Night Bitch by Rachel Yoder: The startling cover of this debut first caught my attention, then the premise itself: a stay-at-home mother has reason to believe that she’s turning into a dog. When her husband dismisses her worries, she turns to a book of magic and then a multi-level marketing scheme. Started during Jami Attenberg’s #1000WordsofSummer challenge, it’s been optioned for a film that will star Amy Adams and which Yoder herself will adapt. One way or the other, you’re going to be talking about this book. (Hannah)

Wayward by Dana Spiotta: The author of Eat the Document and Stone Arabia now graces us with a deep-dive into women: Mothers as daughters, their daughters, their daughter’s grandmothers as mothers. Taylor Antrim called it both “affecting” and “Gloriously cool.” (Marie Myung-Ok Lee) 

Razorblade Tears by S.A. Crosby: Crosby’s arrival last year with his pedal-to-the-metal rural noir debut Blacktop Wasteland was a sorely needed bright spot in an otherwise miserable pandemic year. In his sophomore novel, Ike Randolph, a Black ex-con, learns that his son has been murdered along with his white husband Derek, and joins forces with Derek’s father, another former criminal with ties to the underworld, to find the killers. (Michael)

Appleseed by Matt Bell: In the past, two brothers planted apple seeds. In the near future, climate change and capitalism destroy orchards and much else. Still farther out, ice blankets us all. In Bell’s 600-page mythic thriller, readers move forward through each era. In the real world, we hope to slow the pace. (Nick M.)

Intimacies by Katie Kitamura: The author of the haunting novel A Separation, returns with a novel of a woman who goes to work as an interpreter at the International Court in the Hague, a place where her work and life and those of her friends and acquaintances intersect in explosive ways. Dana Spiotta calls Intimacies “a haunting, precise, and morally astute novel that reads like a psychological thriller…Katie Kitamura is a wonder.” (Lydia)

Seek You: A Journey through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke: The graphic novel is the ideal format for a book on loneliness. Sometimes only a sole image can conjure the feeling of longing and vulnerability, and other times, you need both words and images to visualize sublime vulnerability. Radtke seamlessly guides readers through the history of loneliness, with striking drawings and thoughtful reflections on the lengths humans have gone to combat or avoid their lone selves. Never has a study on loneliness made me feel less alone. (Kate)

The Startup Wife by Tahmima Anam: He was a boy, she was a girl; she’s a brilliant coder and he gets the credit. In Anam’s newest novel, Asha Ray is a generational coding talent who runs into—and quickly marries—her high school crush. Together they enter the rabid startup world with an idea: what if tech rituals replaced religion? But startup bro-culture doesn’t leave much room for Asha, and if tech innovators get to be gods, where does that leave everyone else? Anam’s own startup experiences underpin the book’s sharp and knowing satire, but at its core The Startup Wife is about much more than skewering our modern silicon messiahs. (Kaulie)

Ghost Forest by Pik-Shuen Fung: In this touching and delicate debut, Fung approaches the big political event—the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997—at an intimate and personal level. Before the Handover, the family of the protagonist immigrate to Vancouver like many other Hong Kongers back then. However, her father immigrates only nominally. In real life, he remains in Hong Kong to make money. The novel starts with his unexpected death that leaves the young protagonist with many unresolved questions. This is a fascinating epic of a Chinese-Canadian family, heartbreaking, daring, and relieving. (Jianan Qian) 

The Second Season by Emily Adrian: Four years ago, in an essay published right here at The Millions, I asked why there hasn’t been a Great American Basketball Novel yet. Well, there is now: The Second Season, by Adrian. And no less an expert than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar agrees, calling it “A riveting, insightful, and touching story.” The Second Season tells the story of basketball announcer Ruth Devon—loosely based on Doris Burke, as most NBA fans will recognize—as she attempts to become the first female NBA announcer on national television, while, like so many women, juggling the competing demands of maternal and professional identities. Adrian writes with a knowledge and passion for the game, but fandom is not a prerequisite for falling in love with this brilliant, warm, and funny book. (Adam Price)

The Beginners by Anne Serre (translated by Mark Hutchinson): French author Serre has stated that the writer’s only responsibility is to seduce: “You have to build a trap, a wonderful trap, that the reader is only too happy to fall into.” It’s a seduction she’s performed in the tight, fabulist tales of her two previous books translated into English—The Fool and The Governesses. And now, in her third, The Beginners, she tells a tale of a literal seduction, where Anna, an art critic, who 20 years into a stable romantic partnership experiences a coup de foudre that she must give herself over to. (Anne)

A Shock by Keith Ridgway: It’s been almost a decade since Irish writer Ridgway produced his cult crime novel Hawthorn & Child. He has finally given his fans A Shock, a string of loosely linked stories set in neighboring London houses occupied by druggy characters who appear, disappear, then reappear. They shout at rats. They hide inside walls and in attics. They realize that the sound of a washing machine actually improves a Charles Mingus recording. Here’s how Ridgway writes: “His skin was a leathery peel. A wet dry thing. He had been scraped and reapplied to himself and now he was dying in the street like an ant on a fire.” Hell, yes. (Bill)

We Want What We Want by Alix Ohlin: Heidi Julavits, author of The Folded Clock, puts it well when she says Ohlin’s work is, “spoken of in the same reverent breath as Lorrie Moore and Joy Williams.” This is a new collection from the award-winning author of Dual Citizens. The stories are about people who test boundaries, like Vanessa, who comes home from a year away volunteering to find a childhood friend in her father’s bed, or Amanda, who drives upstate to rescue a cousin from a cult only to find an alluring situation. Each story is, “diamond-sharp,” says the publisher, “sparkling with pain, humor, and beauty.” (Claire)

China Room by Sunjeev Sahota: Sahota was one of the Granta Best Young British Novelists of the Decade in 2013 and his The Year of the Runaways was shortlisted for the Man Booker and the Dylan Thomas Prize. His new novel, partially inspired by his family’s history, jumps between 1929 and 1999 but begins with a new bride, Mehar, in Punjab in 1929, as she tries to learn about her husband and becomes wrapped up in secrets that will reverberate through the decades. Kamila Shamsie calls the novel “A gorgeous, gripping read.” (Lydia)

Virtue by Hermione Hoby: Hoby’s new novel, after Neon in Daylight, follows a young man named Luca as he goes to New York for an internship at a magazine and is pulled both into the dreamy summer orbit of a wealthy white couple, and into a conversation about race, injustice, and privilege that has profoundly different consequences for Luca than it does for his fellow intern, a Black woman named Zara. Jia Tolentino says of Hoby, “with bewitching precision, she captures the ominous beauty and soft underbelly of our protest summers. The result is both a sumptuous portrait of all-consuming attraction and a compassionate indictment of shallow social conscience. I loved this novel, and sank deep into its radiance and rot.” (Lydia)

Fierce Little Thing by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore: In her latest novel, bestselling author Beverly-Whittemore has written a Secret History-esque tale of suspense about a group of childhood friends and the secret that haunts their adulthood. The book’s got all the ingredients for the perfect summer read: short breathless chapters; a sinister cult in the wilds of Maine; and beautiful, sharp prose. In its starred review, Kirkus calls it: “A compelling study of power, sociopathy, and the possibilities of survival.” (Edan)

Give My Love to the Savages by Chris Stuck: A debut collection of short stories linked by the experience of Black men from different walks of life, in places across the United States, as they find themselves on the receiving end of a racist slur.  Victor LaValle says of the collection “You’re going to laugh, you’re going to gasp, you’re going to wonder if you’re allowed to enjoy this book and then you’re going to be laughing all over again. This is Black satire with bite, like Zora Neale Hurston used to do, with a smile and a sharp elbow. A touch of Paul Beatty, a dose of Dolemite, and a serving of Dorothy Parker, too. Give My Love to the Savage sannounces Chris Stuck as a fearless talent, a debut that’ll make your sides and your heart hurt.” (Lydia)

Embassy Wife by Katie Crouch: This novel portrays and skewers the modern ex-pat life in this tableau of Fulbrighters and Diplomats—not all of them are what they claim to be—in Namibia. Natalie Baszile says of the novel, “Keenly observed and expertly crafted, Katie Crouch’s Embassy Wife is a wickedly irresistible novel.” (Lydia)

A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam: Arudpragasam’s second novel, after the critically acclaimed The Story of a Brief Marriage, follows a man named Krishan as he travels from Colombo to the northern part of Sri Lanka when he learns of the sudden death of his grandmother’s caretaker. The journey becomes, among other things, a meditation on the 30-year civil war. The Financial Times raved, “It can take just two novels to establish a writer as one of the most individual minds of their generation. With his new novel, a revelatory exploration of the aftermath of war, Arudpragasam cements his reputation. It calls to mind the work of W.G. Sebald. . . . [An] extraordinary and often illuminating novel.” (Lydia)

A Touch of Jen by Beth Morgan: A work of satirical, psychedelic horror that follows two service workers obsessed with an influencer type as they travel to the Hamptons and insinuate themselves into her world with unexpected results.  Kristen Arnett raved “Morgan has created a fabulous monster here, legitimately Frankensteined herself a wicked, unflinching, dynamite novel out of razor-sharp dialogue, toxic social media culture, and the nonsense notion that the self is just another brand to be endlessly plumbed for content. Wildly hilarious and absolutely terrifying, A Touch of Jen is truly a touch of genius. I loved every minute of it.” (Lydia)

August

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers: In her ambitious fiction debut, the 2020 National Book Award-nominated poet meditates on African-American history from the colonial slave trade to our current, turbulent age. Ailey Pearl Garfield, the protagonist of the novel, grows up navigating W.E.B. Du Bois’s “Double Consciousness” in everyday life in the deep South. Her mother’s side of family was taken to the U.S. as enslaved people. The female members of her family, in particular, went through many shocking experiences. Coming of age, Ailey learns to fully embrace her heritage by exploring and understanding the traumatic memories of her family. (Jianan)

Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Moreno-Garcia follows up her bestselling Mexican Gothic with a noirish thriller set amid the political upheaval in 1970s Mexico City. A mousy secretary named Maite is envious of the racy life of her neighbor Leonora, a beautiful art student who goes missing. Determined to solve the mystery, Maite is soon joined in her quest by a hired thug named Elvis, who is also on Leonara’s trail. Linked by their shared love for old movies, comics and rock ’n’ roll, the unlikely duo is sucked into a world of students, radicals, Russian spies, hit men, and government agents who will kill to protect Leonora’s dark secrets. (Bill) 

The Women of Troy by Pat Barker: Booker Prize-winning Barker got her start writing about the English working-class women she grew up with. Eventually she branched out and wrote The Silence of the Girls, a retelling of The Iliad from the eyes of an enslaved girl. She has followed that with The Women of Troy, in which the conquered titular women, led by Briseis, plot their revenge against their Greek captors, whose triumphal trip home with their spoils is delayed by uncooperative winds. Once again, Barker uses blunt prose to tell human stories that strip the romance from one of literature’s enduring epics. (Bill)

Edge Case by YZ Chin: In a follow-up to her award-winning story collection, Though I Get Home, Chin’s debut novel follows Edwina, a Malaysian immigrant living in New York City, after she is abandoned by her husband. As she searches for him, Edwina thinks back on their relationship—and navigates her feelings of isolation, uncertainty, and (perhaps misplaced) loyalty. About the book, Chia-Chia Lin writes: “A quirky story of loss and limbo, Edge Case immerses us in the worries, hopes, and absurdities of life on a work visa in America.” (Carolyn)

The President and the Frog by Carolina De Robertis: Inspired by the life of Uruguay’s former president José Mujica, De Robertis’ latest novel follows the 82-year-old protagonist (the “Poorest President in the World”) as he’s interviewed by a journalist. Switching between the present and memories of the past, the president—a former guerrilla, revolutionary, and political prisoner—remembers the most monumental moments of his life. About this survival story, Madeline Miller writes: “Playful and profound, unearthly yet deeply rooted, this sublime and gripping novel is above all about hope: that within the world’s messy pain there is still room for transformation and healing.” (Carolyn)

Savage Tongues by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi: Written with the intensity of early Duras and Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment, Savage Tongues, Van der Vliet Oloomi’s third novel, is “relentless in the best way.” Iranian-American Arezu returns to her father’s Spanish pied-a-terre that she has just inherited, conjuring the memory of an intense and catastrophic affair she had 20 years previous. With the help of a dear friend, Arezu excavates and puts words to her past trauma in this novel about love, friendship, identity, and displacement. As Garth Greenwell attests, Savage Tongues “lives at the border of memory and dream, restlessly seeking a logic that can transform cruelty into love.” (Anne)

Real Estate by Deborah Levy: Real Estate, the third and final book of Deborah Levy’s ‘living autobiography,” takes on the idea of home and houses in many iterations: the haunted, the literary, and what homespace means to a woman writer. Levy considers much about unreal estate too, as the narrator collects her fantasy dream homes. “Domestic space,” Levy observes, “if it is not an affliction bestowed on us by patriarchy, can be a powerful space.” And in essence, puts forth what has always been at the heart of this project, “to embody and make present a female mind.” (Anne)

Something New Under the Sun by Alexandra Kleeman. Following You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine and a story collection, Intimations, Kleeman returns to the novel form with East Coaster Patrick coming to Hollywood to oversee the film adaptation of one of his books. He ends up, with the help of a former child star, on a mission to find out the secrets of WAT-R, a synthetic water in this satirical and imaginative novel about climate change, consumerism, fake news, informational overload, and a Hamlet problem. (Marie)

Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So. This is the debut collection of Cambodian American So, who tragically died suddenly in 2020 (his Year in Reading was published posthumously at The Millions). The collection slipstreams between humor and pathos—as suggested in the title “Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts,” a story that appeared in The New Yorker—as the characters carry the residue of the Khmer Rouge genocide through immigration, race, sexuality, friendship, and family. “Like beams of wry, affectionate light, falling from different directions on a complicated, struggling, beloved American community,” says George Saunders. (Marie)

Paris Is a Party, Paris Is a Ghost by David Hoon Kim: Henrik Blatand is alienated from his identity as a Japanese man, as he is the adoptive son of Danish parents. After his girlfriend, Fumiko, dies by suicide, this darkly comic novel follows Henrik following Fumiko’s body to its dissection by a medical student. Publishers Weekly called this debut “splendid.” (Marie)

The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You by Maurice Carlos Ruffin: Ruffin’s first novel, We Cast a Shadow, was a powerful dystopian satire that featured a Black lawyer’s obsessional quest to obtain a “demelanization” procedure for his biracial son. In an interview, Ruffin described how his legal training (he worked in corporate law and then for the Social Security Administration), afforded him a unique view of society, an “X-ray that allows us to see behind walls, the studs and pillars that make up the structure of a house.” Here, Ruffin turns his penetrating gaze on his hometown, the Big Easy, in a collection Publishers Weekly calls “a rich tour of hardscrabble New Orleans.” (Matt)

All’s Well by Mona Awad: “Dear Readers: This is one wild book!,” said Margaret Atwood on Twitter, “No holds barred.” It’s the story of Miranda Fitch, who had an accident that ended her acting career and left her with chronic back pain. She’s on the verge of losing her teaching job at a college, and facing a mutinous cast, when three strange benefactors show up. They know about her past and make alluring promises for the future—what could go wrong? If you had the pleasure of reading Awad’s acclaimed novel Bunny, you know the answer is everything and the result will be, as Heather O’Neill says, “equal parts brilliant and hilarious.” (Claire)

Several People are Typing by Calvin Kasulke: Rife with office humor, Internet speak, and sharp criticisms of capitalism, Kasulke’s extremely online debut novel is composed entirely of Slack messages. Employed by a New York-based PR firm, mid-level employee Gerald works from home—as his consciousness trolls the company’s Slack channels. As work emergencies emerge and romances blossom, Gerald begins to question his work-life situation and attempts to find his body. Kasulke’s satirical novel has garnered praise from the likes of Carmen Maria Machado (“an absurd, hilarious romp”); Hilary Leichter (“a Greek chorus of modern strife”); and Daniel Lavery (“a winsome, light-footed book with deceptive staying power”). (Carolyn)

The Turnout by Megan Abbott: “Ballet flows through their veins,” says the description of this book, and Abbott’s many fans will know how unnerving these five words will turn out to be. This is the 10th novel from the bestselling author who looks at femininity and power like no one else. It’s about a ballet studio run by two sisters with long necks, taut buns, and pink tights. When a suspicious accident happens just before the annual performance of The Nutcracker, an interloper arrives and threatens to upset everything. (Claire)

Skinship by Yoon Choi: A constellation of Korean American families populates this debut collection, praised by Chang-rae Lee as “immediately dazzling and impressive, and yet the closer and deeper you look, the more you appreciate the sheer countless brilliance.” Roxane Gay says, “These stories of Korean American families are delicately plotted, subtle and immensely pleasurable to read.” (Marie)

In the Country of Others by Leïla Slimani: Slimani is both a novelist and a diplomat in the government of Emanuel Macron, and those seemingly divergent vocations have more in common than might be first assumed. Both require a genius for empathy, an ability to translate experiences, and and understanding of what’s important to leave in and what’s crucial to leave out. Her latest book In the Country of Others, first in a planned trilogy, recounts the lives of French Mathilde, married to a Moroccan solider stationed in France during the Second World War. Having returned to his home country, Mathilde negotiates the difficulty of literally being “in the country of others” at a moment of post-colonial awakening in North Africa. Asking what it means to exist between cultures, and how we negotiate the ever-shifting complexities of privilege and identity, the book acknowledges that such questions are as far from abstract as imaginable, and as intimate as the marriage bed, for “How can you be two things at once? Are you obliged to choose one side over the other?” (Ed)

American Estrangement by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh: Essayist, playwright, and short story writer Sayrafiezadeh won accolades for his visceral memoir When Skateboards Will Be Free, about his experience growing up in Pittsburgh the son of an Iranian father and a Jewish mother who were committed members of the Socialist Workers Party. The consummate outsider, Sayrafiezadeh examines our nation’s sins with a particularly clear eye, and his latest collection of short stories, American Estrangement, is no exception. Gathering stories from The New Yorker and The Paris Review, Sayrafiezadeh provides a portrait of a country racked by unemployment, drug addiction, and a sense of despair, earning him comparisons to George Saunders and Denis Johnson. In an interview with The New Yorker, Sayrafiezadeh explained that “One of the questions I wanted to pose…was how can we ‘know’ ourselves if we’re not equipped with the necessary vocabulary?” American Estrangement supplies some of that vocabulary. (Ed)

Agatha of Little Neon by Claire Luchette: The eponymous Agatha of Luchette’s debut novel has been a nun for nine years when her parish closes and she and her three sisters must move to a former mill town to take over a halfway house. In Woonsocket, Agatha becomes a teacher at an all-girls’ school and must face the world without her fellow nuns and the comfort of their closed world. Cristina Henríquez says the book is “blazingly original, wry, and perfectly attuned to the oddness—and the profundity—of life” and Karen Thompson Walker highlights Luchette’s “sneaky deadpan wit.” (Edan)

Radiant Fugitives by Nawaaz Ahmed: Ahmed’s debut novel, about three generations of women from a Muslim Indian family, is told from the point of view of heroine Seema’s baby—at the moment of its birth. Publishers Weekly, in its starred review, calls it “dazzling, heartrending,” and Peter Ho Davies named it “a rare marvel, an intimate epic of faith and family, love and politics, knit together by a magical omniscience of profound compassion.” If that’s not enough for you, rumor has it that the ending is brilliant, and reframes the entire book. (Edan)

Image Control by Patrick Nathan: Novelist Nathan (Some Hell) makes his nonfiction debut with this investigation of how fascism spreads through images, in particular the rapid-fire memes and photographs that come to us via social media, fragmenting our attention and numbing our response. With its mix of personal anecdote and political critique, the book has been compared in early reviews to Susan Sontag’s nonfiction, but to me it sounds like a cousin to George Trow’s prescient Within the Context of No Context, about the alienating effects of television and mass media. (Hannah)

The Shimmering State by Meredith Westgate: There’s a new drug on the streets of LA: Mem, in the form of shimmering pills, contains happy memories selected to treat Alzheimer’s patients. It’s also a hit on the black market and among the elite, offering users short glimpses of someone else’s life. Though Lucien and Sophie came to the drug in different ways, it leads them both to a rehab facility run by Mem’s producers—though they’re sure they’ve run into each other before. Our own Lydia Kiesling calls The Shimmering State “hypnotic,” “a shimmering, dreamlike experience of multiple lives that collide and repel,” and, ultimately, a “beautifully dystopian shot at redemption.” (Kaulie)

Silent Winds, Dry Seas by Vinod Busjeet: Mauritius-born Busjeet spent 29 years working in economic development, finance, and diplomacy before publishing his debut novel, Silent Winds, Dry Seas, which, coincidentally, traces the spilling, connected stories of a family as told by Vishnu Bhushan following his return to the island after decades away. A coming-of-age story, a time-spanning narrative web, a compelling introduction to Mauritius and the breakthrough novel of a confident and original writer, Silent Winds “dazzles” (Publishers Weekly) as it surveys the emotional depths just off the Mauritian shore. (Kaulie)

Three Rooms by Jo Hamya: Virginia Woolf said we women writers need rooms of our own; Hamya’s unnamed narrator can only manage a succession of domestic way-places, a small collection of rented rooms and childhood bedrooms. It’s 2018 and the mood in Britain is dark, smothered by both increasingly obvious inequality and instability and the realization that nobody knows what to do about it. Meanwhile, the narrator of Three Rooms shuffles from research job to temp gig, spending a lot of time online and searching for her place in the world, wondering when it all became so hard. If this sounds dark, it may be, but there’s no denying it strikes a chord, amplified by the beautifully spare prose—think Rachel Cusk, fresh from grad school. (Kaulie)

Against White Feminism by Rafia Zakaria: Journalist Zakaria has written a rebuttal to the feminism promulgated by white upper-middle-class women, including the “aid-industrial complex,” in a book that focuses on women of color and rejects “white feminism’s global, long-standing affinity with colonial, patriarchal, and white supremacist ideals.” (Lydia)

Names for Light by Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint: Winner of the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize, Myint’s lyrical memoir shifts from her family’s roots and her birth in Myanmar to her childhood in Bangkok and San Jose, moving through her own life and the lives of her family members, narrating events in both the near and distant past. In a starred review, Kirkus calls the book “An imaginative and compelling memoir about what we inherit and what we pass on.” (Lydia)

Seeing Ghosts: A Memoir by Kat Chow: Founding member of NPR’s Code Switch, Chow is unusually fixated and worried over her parents dying, so much so that her mother made a joke about it. Then her mother dies unexpectedly, devastating the family. Ocean Vuong calls this memoir “a courageous act of excavation and salvage.” (Marie)

Immediate Family by Ashley Nelson Levy: Levy’s debut novel is a short, powerful exploration of family written as an address from a woman to her brother, a boy from Thailand who was adopted by a white family from suburban California when he was three years old. Rachel Khong wrote of the novel, “This unsparing and absorbing family portrait broke my heart and remade it a hundred times over. In prose that is distilled, astute, and precise, Immediate Family covers the territory of life that words are often insufficient for, those challenges that are at once isolating and universal—waiting, the imperfect love that binds a family, what you choose and what is chosen for you.” (Lydia)

The Luminous Novel by Mario Levrero (translated by Annie McDermott): This is the latest posthumously translated novel from the Uruguayan Levrero, whose Montevideo apartment was, to quote his translator McDermott, “the centre of a small universe…his legendary literary workshops, which followed an ‘unmethodical method’ designed to put people in touch with their imagination, produced hundreds of students who consider themselves his disciples.” Here, a novelist receives a generous grant that produces an insuperable writer’s block. As with Empty Words, in which the protagonist attempts “graphological self-therapy” (handwriting exercises) to better himself, this is a digressive, Sternean tale in which interruption becomes a kind of illumination. (Matt)

Leave Society by Tao Lin: In Lin’s newest novel, novelist Li travels back and forth between New York City and Taipei. As the years pass, Li worries over his parents’ health, takes psychedelics, writes autofiction, and contemplates the universe. “Leave Society is a warm, funny, hearteningly nonconformist book that changed the way I think about natural health, wellbeing, and the great mystery,” says Melissa Broder. (Carolyn)

September

Palmares by Gayl Jones: A signal event in publishing, this is the first of five of Jones’s new novels to be published after 20 years without a new book from the brilliant author of Corregidora, among other novels. (Read more about Jones’s career in this piece by Calvin Baker.) Palmares is a sprawling story set in 17th-century Brazil, and follows an enslaved woman named Almeyda who escapes to a fugitive slave settlement and embarks on a journey to find her lost husband. Imani Perri says that Jones’s work “represents a watershed in American literature. From a literary standpoint, her form is impeccable; from a historical standpoint, she stands at the very cutting edge of understanding the modern world, and as a Black woman writer, her truth-telling, filled with beauty, tragedy, humor, and incisiveness, is unmatched. Jones is a writer’s writer, and her influence is found everywhere.” (Lydia)

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead: Anyone who’s read the author’s The Colossus of New York knows no one writes more expansively and lovingly about New York City than Whitehead. Reminiscent of the work of Chester Himes, Harlem Shuffle starts with a heist and plays out in a beautifully recreated New York City of the early 1960s. A family saga, a genre-bending a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to New York, particularly Harlem. (Marie)

On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint by Maggie Nelson: Nelson returns to her signature blend of theory, scholarship, criticism, and personal revelation with a meditation on the thorny word “freedom,” and what it means in the world we live in today. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly writes, “Once again, Nelson proves herself a masterful thinker and an unparalleled prose stylist.” (Lydia)

The Spectacular by Zoe Whittall: Whittall’s third novel, The Best Kind of People, was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. She’s also a screenwriter with credits like The Baroness Von Sketch Show and Schitt’s Creek. This novel tells the story of a 22-year-old woman named Missy who is in a famous band; her mother, Carola, who is recovering from a sex scandal at a yoga center; and grandmother Ruth, who is 83 when Missy winds up crashing at her house. The three stories weave around questions about motherhood: what if you regretted it? Kristen Arnett says, “Whittall addresses motherhood and autonomy in ways I’ve never seen done before.” (Claire)

Bewilderment by Richard Powers: Powers follows The Overstory with a family story, which is also an earth story, about an astrobiologist struggling to raise his angry nine-year-old in the wake of his mother’s death, including using an experimental treatment that involves using the recorded patterns of her brain. In a starred review, Kirkus calls the novel a “taut ecological parable…A touching novel that offers a vital message with uncommon sympathy and intelligence.” (Lydia)

Matrix by Lauren Groff: Groff’s highly anticipated first new novel since Fates and Furies tackles the desire, creativity, and vision of women following “Marie of France” (based on based on 12th-century poet Marie de France) in an arc that covers actual historic event from the Crusades to the papal interdict of 1208. (Marie)

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki: The marvelous Ozeki—novelist, filmmaker, and Buddhist priest—publishes her first novel since A Tale for the Time Being. The new book is the story of Benny Oh, who hears voices—the voices of things that surround him, voices that become more and more insistent as his life becomes more and more chaotic. With her characteristic charm, empathy, and perspicacity, Ozeki writes Benny’s story of learning to hear, and manage, the voices, and hear himself along the way. David Mitchell says “This compassionate novel of life, love and loss glows in the dark. Its strange, beautiful pages turn themselves. If you’ve lost your way with fiction over the last year or two, let The Book of Form and Emptiness light your way home.” (Lydia)

The Archer by Shruti Swamy: Following her collection of short stories, A House Is a Body, which Kiese Laymon called “one of the greatest short story collections of the 2020s,” Swamy returns with a novel set in the Bombay of the 1960s and 1970s, following a young woman named Vidya as she pursues the art form of Kathak, an exacting dance, and confronts the dilemmas that pit art against the demands of wifehood in her time and place. C Pam Zhang called the novel “lush and sensual, tasted and felt, with striking images that play out like film behind the eyes. Swamy evokes an India that resists flat stereotype and teems with exuberance, beauty, and life. The Archer is timeless yet utterly modern as it asks what it means for a woman to make a life of art.” (Lydia)

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr: In 2014, Doerr’s breakout World War II novel All the Light We Cannot See managed to package abstruse physics and a sympathetic young Nazi into a thinking person’s literary thriller that dominated the bestseller lists for months. Seven years later, Doerr is back with another history-driven tale of a long-lost Greek manuscript, which turns up in the library of a spaceship seeking a habitable planet in the 22nd century. Other chapters take place during the 1453 siege of Constantinople and in present-day Idaho. “This is a marvel,” says an early review in Publishers Weekly. (Michael)

How to Wrestle a Girl by Venita Blackburn: The second collection by the author of Black Jesus and Other Superheroes is a series of fiercely observant stories, many of which follow a teenage girl in the aftermath of her father’s death. Set in Southern California, these stories follow her as she grapples with her emerging queer identity, along with the challenges of her life at school and her kinetic and complicated family. In other stories, we see a class of teenagers torment their teacher to the point of mental collapse, as well as another story in which a different group of teens devise a scheme to sell their excess fat and skin. (Thom)

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney: The most widely read, discussed, and argued-about literary novelist of the last five years, Sally Rooney, returns in September with Beautiful World, Where Are You. The contours will sound familiar to anyone versed in Rooneyana: a quartet of friends—Alice, Felix, Eileen, and Simon—travel, have sex, worry about having sex, worry about themselves and their friendships and aging into adulthood in a very uncertain world. But while Rooney’s plot contrivances may occasionally, at least in summary, seem pat and prefab, her keen and tersely delivered observations about the follies of youth, sex, and friendships never are. (Adam Price)

Chronicles from the Happiest People on Earth by Wole Soyinka: The first new novel in 50 years from the Nobel laureate in literature. Chronicles, the third novel from Soyinka, best known for his award-winning plays and poetry (and life of essential political activism), is part whodunit, part social indictment, and as powerful as anything that came before. A Nigerian doctor realizes someone is selling body parts from his hospital for use in ritualistic practices, and with the help of an old friend, he begins to search for the thief—but neither realizes how far the search will take them. Toni Morrison once praised Soyinka, saying “You don’t see things the same when you encounter a voice like that,” and here that voice still has all of its power, wit, beauty, and purpose. (Kaulie)

The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina by Zoraida Córdova: Fantasy, magical realism, family: When Orquídea Divina, the matriarch of an extended family, tells them to come home and collect their inheritance, they hope for answers about the strange magic and deep secrets Orquídea holds—and instead see her transformed, leaving only more questions behind. Years later, the family—some of whom now have magic of their own—are on the run from a man hunting them down and must trace Orquídea’s roots back to her native Ecuador, where everything started. Publishers Weekly calls Córdova’s first adult novel “radiant,” “thrillerlike,” and “inspired.” (Kaulie)

The War for Gloria by Atticus Lish: In this follow-up to the smash debut Preparation for the Next Life, a 15-year-old boy becomes his mother’s caretaker when she’s diagnosed with ALS. Then his estranged father comes back into their lives. In Lish’s story of mothers and sons, perhaps the father must be destroyed in order for the boy to become a man. (Nick M.)

Harrow by Joy Williams: This novel, Williams’s first in two decades, follows the unlikely (and aged) rebels who sabotage corporations for their complicity in environmental destruction. Who better than Williams to capture pure-hearted but absurd efforts to retrieve paradise lost? (Nick M.)

The Trees by Percival Everett: Local law enforcement won’t help a pair of detectives solve a string of murders, which is to be expected. Those detectives finding a second body—a man who resembles Emmett Till—at each crime scene? Not so much. When similar murders occur across the country, what follows is a provocative page-turner focused on racialized police violence. (Nick M.)

Misfits by Michaela Coel: I May Destroy You was some of the most powerful television I have seen in recent years, an incredible exploration of trauma, violence, work, friendship, social media, and art (complete with a storyline about writers’ block). Subtitled A Personal Manifesto, Misfits is a book from Coel, who is both the brilliant mind behind the show and its star, built off the MacTaggart Lecture she delivered at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. Coel weaves stories of her own life with a call to honesty and action for everyone who has struggled to fit in. (Lydia)

Martita, I Remember You by Sandra Cisneros (translated by Liliana Valenzuela): The legendary Cisneros returns with a novel published as a dual English-Spanish edition, a story of a woman who leaves her Mexican American family in Chicago and spends wild young days in Paris, forming a friendship with two other women that resurfaces years later with the chance discovery of an old letter. (Lydia)

The Wrong End of the Telescope by Rabih Alameddine: National Book Award finalist Alameddine’s sixth novel tells the story of Mina Simpson, a Lebanese doctor and trans woman who travels to the Greek island of Lesbos to provide aid at an infamous refugee camp. For decades, Mina has avoided traveling so close to her homeland, but she decided to visit the camp to accomplish something meaningful. But when she meets Sumaiya, a Syrian woman with terminal liver cancer, and tries to chart a course of treatment with the limited resources on the island, she’s forced to reckon with the scale of the migrants’ suffering, along with as her own limitations. (Thom)

A Calling for Charlie Barnes by Joshua Ferris: Acclaimed novelist and short story writer Ferris returns in 2021 with A Calling for Charlie Barnes. Charlie Barnes, a multiply divorced romantic and schemer whose hopes for delivery are dashed by the financial crisis and a medical disaster, gets one more chance for redemption in the form of his storytelling son. Ferris is one of the master chroniclers of our declining American empire and spirit—his special gift is delivering the bad news with both laughs and an enormous amount of empathy that, at his best, recalls the work of Emerson and Thoreau. In the words of Dana Spiotta, “Joshua Ferris is one of our best writers, and A Calling for Charlie Barnes is wonderful: fast and deep, urgent and brilliant. Ingeniously written, it had me up reading late into the night. A hilarious, intimate, and scathing takedown of so many American vanities.” (Adam Price)

Civilizations by Laurent Binet (translated by Sam Taylor): Binet’s fictions explore and exploit cracks in history. His bestselling first novel, HHhH, fictionalized the assassination of a high-ranking Nazi official, and his more recent The Seventh Function of Language made a thriller out of literary critic Roland Barthes’s death. In Binet’s latest, Civilizations, he spins a counterfactual history of civilization where the Vikings discovered the Americas, Christopher Columbus and his men were captured upon their arrival, and the last Incan emperor repurposes Columbus’s fleet to sail to Europe, divide and conquer (using Machiavelli’s The Prince as his guide). (Anne)

The Water Statues by Fleur Jaeggy (translated by Gini Alhadeff): Even when considered alongside Jaeggy’s other singular and slim novels, The Water Statues is a peculiar book. Within, Jaeggy tells the story of family and isolation, and the inheritance of loneliness and emotional poverty that accompanies wealth (in line with Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, though that’s where comparisons end). This “strange and shimmering nonlinear text” is voluptuous yet melancholic and austere. Which seems in line with Jaeggy’s profession that, “One should be in one’s own void. Void is silence. Solitude. An absence of relationships…The void is a plant that must continually be watered.” (Anne)

Out of the Ruins: The Apocalyptic Anthology edited by Preston Grassman: Now here’s an idea whose time has come: an anthology from top writers who share a fascination with what worlds look like—and how humans change—after they’ve gone through an apocalyptic crisis. Among the contributors are The Millions staff writer Emily St. John Mandel, the British fantasy writer China Mieville, Clive Barker, Samuel R. Delaney, Carmen Maria Machado, and many more. This mix of new and classic stories asks questions that need to be asked in moments like the one we’re living through now. What makes us human? And who will we be when we come out of the ruins? (Bill)

Lean Fall Stand by Jon McGregor: The newest novel by McGregor—who has thrice been longlisted for the Booker Prize—takes place in the aftermath of an Antarctic expedition gone terribly wrong. When veteran technician Robert Wright suffers a life shattering accident, his life—and how he approaches and interacts with the world—is changed forever. A starred review from Publishers Weekly calls the novel “stunning” and a “gorgeous work [that] leaves an indelible mark.” (Carolyn)

The Magician by Colm Tóibín: Scribner describes Tóibín’s most recent project as “a stunning marriage of research and imagination” in this, his exploration of the life and art of Thomas Mann. Tóibín’s refined gift is about as perfect a match as could be imagined for the construction of a nuanced portrait of a complicated man and artist living in a complex period of modern history. (Il’ja)

The Blue Book of Nebo by Manon Steffan Ros: With the greater part of the planet devastated by a nuclear disaster, a mother and son struggle to survive in a remote Welsh village. Despite their desolate existence, the pair soon learn that in an emptied land there is still plenty of room for secrets and plenty of time for grace. (Il’ja)

The Actual Star by Monica Byrne: Reincarnation, a Belizean cave, 2000 years of connected narrative: mix them together and you have The Actual Star, an indescribable “epic saga of three reincarnated souls” from the author of The Girl in the Road. As it interweaves three stories, separated by millennia, the novel follows twin Mayans who become royalty, a young American woman on a trip abroad, and a group of futuristic people trying to survive after massive climate change. Already drawing comparisons to Octavia Butler’s Earthseed series and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, The Actual Star is for those who love complexities and questions that transcend single lives. (Kaulie)

Heart Radical by Anne Liu Kellor: Kellor’s memoir describes her travels through China as a young multiracial woman, relaying her years living in China, falling in love, speaking her mother tongue, working, traveling, and searching for what called her to a place that is both familiar and not. Cheryl Strayed said of the memoir, “I loved this book. It’s vulnerable, searching, insightful, riveting and beautifully written.” (Lydia)

An Ideal Presence by Eduardo Berti (translated by Daniel Levin Becker): The Argentinian novelist Berti wrote this after a “medico-literary residency” at a palliative care facility, and the first offering from the new press Fern Books is a highly fictionalized account of the myriad stories of the workers who make this vital department of human life run. Carmen Maria Machado says of the book, “An Ideal Presence is about death, yes, but more than that, it’s a meditation on the complicated business of living. A funny, tender book.” (Lydia)

Crazy Sorrow by Vince Passaro: Nearly 20 years after his debut novel, Violence, Nudity, Adult Content, Passaro returns with a novel about the tumults of a relationship that spans four decades in the ever-changing New York City. (Lydia)

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull: Author of The Lesson, which was shortlisted for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, Turnbull returns with the first in a fantasy saga, one that involves police brutality, werewolves, and other monstrous things. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly lauds, “The expert combination of immersive prose, strong characters, sharp social commentary, and well-woven speculative elements” that make “for an unforgettable experience.” (Lydia)

Hao by Ye Chun: A collection of stories that take place in China and America within the Chinese Diaspora, spanning time and place and focusing on the lives and struggles of women as they wrestle with everything that attends migration, motherhood, and personhood. Lynn Steger Strong says of the collection, “Each of these stories is an individual world brought to life fully by the particularity of its language, by Ye’s extraordinarily far-reaching and deeply felt imagination, combined with her consistently stunning acuity and control.” (Lydia)

Kaya Days by Carl de Souza (translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman): Named for the days of protest and mourning that followed the death of Mauritian musician Joseph Réginald Topize, or Kaya, at the hands of police, the debut novel by de Souza follows a woman through Mauritius as she searches for her missing brother, delineating the many intersecting worlds of the island nation at a revolutionary moment. J.M.G. Le Clézio calls the novel “a searing, urgent, far-seeing dispatch that imprints the reality of Mauritius, at odds with its picture-postcard views, on the global consciousness. Carl de Souza is a formidable voice in Mauritian literature; his account is an indictment and a plea for understanding among its communities.” (Lydia)

Talk to Me by T.C. Boyle: What if we could actually talk to the animals? What would they have to say? These are the questions at the heart of Boyle’s tale of a latter-day Dr. Doolittle, an animal behaviorist named Guy Schermerhorn, who teaches a chimp to speak in sign language. This attracts a young female student to his lab, setting off an interspecies love triangle that, since this is T.C. Boyle we’re talking about, promises to be as unsettling as it is hilarious. (Michael)

The Morning Store by Karl Ove Knausgaard (translated by Martin Aitken): The mega-popular Norwegian author’s latest novel centers on a cast of characters who witness a bizarre astronomical phenomenon. On a normal night in August, a group of tangentially related people in the Norwegian resort town of Sørlandet watch as a massive star suddenly appears in the night sky. No one—including the astronomers—knows just what the star is or why it appeared. The days wear on, unusual and baffling things begin to occur, and the characters grapple with these events and their impact on their lives. (Thom)

Inter State by José Vadi: As award-winning writer Vadi examines California with anger and love in his first essay collection, he centers the ever-changing Golden State and includes wildfires, dive bars, the tech industry, farmwork, decay, and wealth. Nina Renata Aron describes Vadi as an “ethnographer-on-a-skateboard” and Publishers Weekly describes the book as “part love letter, part indictment.” Vadi’s writing style has received much advanced praise: Kirkus says that “at a line level, the book is outstanding, filled with long, breathless sentences, innovative syntax,” and Melissa Valentine recommends that “with smart prose and daring form, these are perfect essays for our complicated times.” (Zoë)

In the Shadow of the Yalı by Suat Derviş (translated by Maureen Freely): Dervis (1905-1972) is a well-known Turkish author, feminist, and socialist who was placed under house arrest for her political beliefs and later exiled from Turkey for a decade. Described by Selim İleri as “a novel that examines love from a Marxist perspective,” In the Shadow of the Yalı takes place when Turkey is transitioning from the Ottoman Empire to the new Republic. The story follows Celile, who finds herself in an unexpected and passionate love affair. Ilana Masad declares that Derviş’s English-language debut “is a rare gem—a romantic character study, a social novel, and a feminist critique on patriarchy and capitalism.” (Zoë)

October

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen: Whether he’s insulting Oprah or posing self-importantly as “The Great American Novelist” on the cover of Time, Franzen has a singular talent for arousing public contempt. But the fact is he writes good books. Here, he returns to his literary roots in the story of a troubled family, the Hildebrandts, fractured by the cultural upheaval of the early 1970s. The novel is the first in a planned trilogy, with the Middlemarchian title “A Key to All Mythologies,” that will span three generations of the Hildebrandt clan. (Michael)

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson: In her debut collection, Johnson explores a world (and country) ever on the brink and the people who choose to survive no matter the cost. In the titular novella, set in the near future, a Black descendant of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings is driven from her home by violent white supremacists. In another story, a single mother attempts to buy a home before the apocalypse happens. About the incandescent collection, Colson Whitehead writes: ““A badass debut by any measure—nimble, knowing, and electrifying.” (Carolyn)

I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness by Claire Vaye Watkins: Vaye Watkins, author of Gold Fame Citrus, and the beloved story collection Battleborn, now brings us her second novel, which, clearly, has the most badass title of all time. In it, a writer suffering from postpartum depression leaves her husband and baby to do a speaking engagement in Reno, only to end up deep in the Mojave Desert where she grew up. Jenny Offill writes, “There’s some kind of genius sorcery in this novel. It’s startlingly original, hilarious and harrowing by turns, finally transcendent.” A piece by Vaye Watkins, with the same memorable title, is available to read on Granta. (Edan)

Reprieve by James Han Mattson: Four contestants competing for a cash prize enter the final cell of Quigley House, a full-contact haunted escape room—but only three exit. Mattson’s second novel follows the survivors as they come to terms with how they are partially responsible for the tragedy. Rumaan Alam says, “But the brilliance of James Han Mattson’s novel is in deploying the haunted house as a metaphor for our nation, where the true scare is a cultural reckoning with whiteness itself.” (Carolyn)

Trust by Domenico Starnone (translated by Jhumpa Lahiri): Lovers Pietro and Teresa are trying to save their doomed relationship when they decide to do something impulsive: share the most shameful secret of their lives. When they break up, their lives diverge temporarily—until Teresa begins to reappear at the most inopportune times. Acclaimed Italian novelist and National Book Award finalist Starnone’s newest novel explores vulnerability, relationships, and the gulf between our public and private selves. (Carolyn)

The House of Rust by Khadija Abdalla Bajaber: Winner of the inaugural Graywolf Press African Fiction Prize, Bajaber’s debut novel—a fabulist bildungsroman—follows a Hadrami girl who takes to the sea after her fisherman father goes missing. The magical novel has already garnered praise from Shailja Patel (“The House of Rust is as labyrinthine, magical and multilayered as Mombasa itself”) and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (“…Bajaber is a radiant addition to the constellations of transcultural literature”), among others. (Carolyn)

Fight Night by Miriam Toews: The award-winning author of Women Talking and All My Puny Sorrows is back with a novel as moving as it is full of humor. Swiv is a nine-year-old who lives in Toronto with her pregnant mother and lively grandmother. When Swiv is expelled from school, Grandma takes on the role of teacher. Swiv, in turn, assigns Grandma the job of writing her unborn brother, Gord. “You’re a small thing,” Grandma writes, “and you must learn to fight.” As Susan Cole, in Now Magazine, says, “Few authors mix humor and deep emotion with Toews’s skill.” (Claire)

The Pessimists by Bethany Ball: From Richard Ford to Edward Albee, Rick Moody to John Cheever, the American suburbs have always had a dark core underneath the façade of Levittown homes and perfectly manicured front lawns. Ball gives her own spin on the tribulations of suburban ennui in her aptly named new novel The Pessimists. Ball’s second novel is no mid-century rehash, however, because The Pessimists is very much a suburban gothic for our current American dystopia. The denizens of Connecticut’s Gold Coast include Virginia and Trip, the perfect couple, who secretly hoard a cache of basement weapons to survive the apocalypse, as well as the more conventionally despairing Richard and Margot whose trials only include infidelity and mental health crises. Both twistedly dark and wickedly funny, The Pessimists updates our narratives of suburban anguish for an age of American decline. (Ed)

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles: It’s June 1954, and 18-year-old Emmett Watson has just finished serving 15 months at the juvenile work farm for involuntary manslaughter. But when he returns home to Nebraska expecting to pick up his kid brother Billy and leave for California to start a new life, he gets a surprise. Two buddies from the work farm are waiting to take him the other way—to New York City, where beguiling characters and adventures await. Told from multiple points of view, the novel is reason to rejoice for Towles’s millions of fans, who made his first two novels, Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow, runaway international bestsellers. (Bill)

Oh William! By Elizabeth Strout: William has remained close enough with his ex-wife Lucy that, after years of separation, she’s agreed to help him investigate a family secret. Together, they uncover past infidelity and hidden branches of his family tree. How well do any of us know one another; how can we share with others what we don’t know ourselves? (Nick M.)

Monster in the Middle by Tiphanie Yanique: How do you determine who you’re meant to be with? How do you know if a relationship is meant to last? Award-winning novelist Yanique considers these questions in Monster in the Middle. Matthew Salesses declares, “Tiphanie Yanique is one of our very best writers. This book is another marvel.” The novel centralizes the relationship of Fly and Stela and their emotional inheritance, and it is set in the United States, Ghana, and Virgin Islands across decades. Natasha Trethewey calls the novel “a compelling exploration of how we become who we are and how we manage to find our way to love. In her lyrical prose, the myriad possibilities of being—the accidents of birth, of sex, of race and geography, the choices we make, our compulsions—coalesce into something that feels, gloriously, like destiny.” (Zoë)

The Every by Dave Eggers: Author, editor, and publisher Eggers has written a sequel to his bestselling novel The Circle, this time looking at the outsized power of tech monopolies. It’s about what happens when The Circle, the world’s largest social media company, merges with the most dominant e-commerce site to become The Every. The novel follows two employees of The Every who try to dismantle the company from the inside. In order to do some of his own dismantling, Eggers has MacGyvered a unique distribution strategy so that pub-date hardcover copies of his book will be exclusively available through independent booksellers; a paperback version will be rolled out six weeks later on a variety of e-commerce platforms (including Amazon). (Hannah)

Silverview by John le Carré: Devotees of le Carré’s work will likely not be surprised that, despite his passing last December, he’s still producing novels. Billed as “an encounter between innocence and experience and between public duty and private morals,” this posthumous release gives another—final?—glimpse into the secrets we all wish could stay that way, delivered by the premier diagnostician of the predicament brought on by modernity. (Il’ja)

The Jealousy Man by Jo Nesbø (translated by Robert Ferguson): So, when the “king of all crime writers” (Daily Express) has sold 45 million books in 50 languages, it’s probably time to put out a short story collection. And Nesbø has: 560 pages of chills inflicted by assortment of creeps, including a peeping tom, an assassin, a father out for post-apocalyptic vengeance, and a detective with a score to settle. Not for the faint of heart. (Il’ja)

Pandemonium: A Visual History of Demonology by Ed Simon: Are you endlessly mixing up Asmodeus and Azazel? The Millions’ own Simon can help: he’s mapped out Satan’s family tree. When it comes to Western art and culture, the Devil certainly has been in the details for about five millennia now, and one could argue that his forte—conflict—is at the heart of any story worth reading. So, brush up your demonology with this singular, illustrated treatment that “celebrates the art of hell like never before.” (Il’ja)

Dreaming of You by Melissa Lozada-Oliva: This is a novel in verse, fitting for an acclaimed poet who has published three books of poetry. Dreaming of You follows a young Latinx poet who brings the pop star Selena back to life and embarks upon her own journey of hell, including a dead celebrity prom, in an exploration of celebrity, obsession, and identity. Terrance Hayes says of the book: “Melissa Lozada-Oliva’s kinetic, pop-operatic Dreaming of You is like some terrific amalgam of fan fiction and fantasy nonfiction; a Selena monograph made of memoir, myth and magic. Her partly satirical, partly ecstatic linguistics constitute a whole other sort of literary hybrid.” (Lydia)

Between Certain Death and Possible Future, edited by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore: The AIDS crisis and its trauma still looms large, a shadow over generations of queer people, but we often talk about those who came of age before and those who came later. Here, in a collection of 36 personal essays, the focus is on the generation in the middle—those who grew up during the epidemic and fully internalized its trauma early in their lives and as part of their identities. Between Certain Death and Possible Future contains stories of chosen families, lost communities, conventional wisdom rejected, and new wisdom shared; Dean Spade calls it “a must read for this moment.” (Kaulie)

One Friday in April: A Story of Suicide and Survival by Donald Antrim: Antrim, a brilliant novelist, short story writer, and memoirist, now explores suicide and names it as an illness in its own right in his new book, a work of memoir. The book begins with an account and excavation of a terrifying day in 2006 when Antrim found himself in crisis on the roof of a building, and recounts the years of struggle that followed as he fought for his life. A work of solace for the many people who have encountered this fear or lived with its aftermath. (Lydia)

The Days of Afrekete by Asali Solomon: In this new novel from the author of Get Down and Disgruntled, two women who knew each other in college before embarking on very different paths come together in mid-life in a tender, comic, searching novel inspired by Mrs. Dalloway and Sula. Danielle Evans says of the novel, “Asali Solomon illuminates what it means to grow away from what felt like the truest version of yourself, what the way back might look like, what Black women in particular are asked to give up, and what it might mean to refuse. Solomon is a treasure: wise, hilarious, and full of poignant insight.” (Lydia)

Empty Wardrobes by Maria Judite de Carvalho (translated by Margaret Jull Costa): First published in Portugal in 1966, this novel is translated into English from the first time by Costa with an introduction by Kate Zambreno, who calls it “a compact, merciless tragedy.” In it, three generations of women live in thrall to the choices and thoughtlessness of men, and the central character mourns a husband who lived as a kind of messianic figure, until she learns a secret that throws all of his past acts into a new, awful light. (Lydia)

The Loneliest Americans by Jay Caspian Kang: New York Times Magazine writer-at-large, Vice News correspondent, and author of the novel The Dead Do Not Improve, interrogates identity and what it means to become, and to feel, “American.” (Marie)

When Two Feathers Fell from the Sky by Margaret Verble: A new novel from the Pulitzer Prize finalist for Maud’s Line takes place in the 1920s at Glendale Park Zoo, a now-defunct but once famous zoo in Nashville, where a daredevil horse-diver—a Cherokee woman—forges a friendship with a the scion of a Black landowning family and a zookeeper haunted by memories of World War I, while around them in segregated Nashville, apparitions and other frightening things swirl. (Lydia)

Search History by Eugene Lim: The author of the critically acclaimed 2017 novel Dear Cyborgs and The Strangers returns with a kaleidoscopic novel of art, grief, artificial intelligence, identity, and a man who is reincarnated as a dog. John Keene raves, “Lim has found a way to capture both the pointed specificity of the internet and its Borgesian infiniteness, in order to tell a picaresque tale about race and American culture, artificial intelligence, artmaking, storytelling, and so much more.” (Lydia)

Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit: Just when you think are you sick of hearing about George Orwell, Solnit, the author of more than 20 books, reveals a surprising side. Orwell was a passionate gardener, and especially enjoyed flowers. “If war has an opposite, gardens might sometimes be it,” the author writes, using this fresh insight to illuminate an absorbing mediation on Orwell’s work as a writer and antifascist. (Marie)

April in Spain by John Banville: The Booker Prize winner’s latest novel is a mystery set on the coast of the Basque Country in Spain. In San Sebastian, native Dubliner Quirke is struggling to relax and enjoy his time in the countryside, despite the pleasant locale and the amiable company of his wife. Then, one night, he spots a stranger in a bar who looks like April Latimer, the woman his brother murdered years before. He makes a call home to Ireland and summons Det. St. John Strafford, who flies down to Spain at the same time as a hit man, whose ultimate target may just be Quirke himself. (Thom)

A Time Outside This Time by Amitava Kumar: In the latest from the author of Immigrant, Montana, a professor and writer named Satya goes to a well-known artist’s retreat, where he finds the outside world increasingly difficult to ignore. A certain rage-filled president keeps tweeting, a virus is spreading across the globe, and seemingly every day brings another attention-grabbing news story. As time passes and the distractions don’t let up, Satya begins to synthesize these stories into a new novel, a contemporary story about the lies we tell ourselves and other people. (Thom)

Spring and Autumn Annals by Diane DiPrima: A work of memoir and elegy by one of the great, under-recognized women Beats, a year after her death. Begun as letters to a friend, the dancer Freddie Herko, who died by suicide, the work is both a meditation on friendship and an account of a Brooklyn childhood that turned into a Village adulthood in the thick of a pivotal cultural moment. Chris Kraus says of the book: “Diane di Prima is one of the greatest writers of her generation, and this book offers a window into its lives.” (Lydia)

Still Life by Sarah Winman: Words you don’t expect to see in a publisher’s book description: “Big-hearted story of people brought together by the ghost of E.M. Forster.” Also file under: I want to read more, please. Still Life may not have actual ghosts, but Forster’s influence certainly shows in this, the fourth novel from Winman, author of When God was a Rabbit and Tin Man. A story of intergenerational friendship, love, and art, Still Life begins in 1944 in a Tuscan wine cellar, where a young soldier spends a life-changing evening talking to Evelyn, a much older art connoisseur (and accused spy) with memories of Forster and her own room with a view. (Kaulie)

November

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich:Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Erdrich’s new book follows Tookie, a formerly incarcerated Ojibwe woman who takes a job in a Minneapolis bookstore after serving an absurdly long sentence. When one of the bookstore’s best customers dies, her ghost returns to the store to haunt Tookie. The ghost’s appearance leads Tookie and a fellow bookseller to a shocking personal discovery of historical consequence. Taking place over the course of a year, from All Soul’s Day 2019 to All Soul’s Day 2020, Erdrich confronts a year of pandemic and protest. (Hannah)

Look for Me and I’ll be Gone by John Edgar Wideman: For more than half a century, two-time PEN Award-winning novelist and short story author Wideman has very much been a writer’s writer. His magisterial The Homewood Trilogy made the Black neighborhood of his Pittsburgh youth as mythic as William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, and if there were any literary justice in the United States, Wideman would be as widely known as the Nobel laureate. Arguably the last of the great modernist writers, Wideman combines stream of consciousness and the American vernacular in a style that recalls Joyce and Baldwin, and is yet entirely his own. His sixth collection of short stories, Look for Me and I’ll be Gone, gathering previously published material from The New Yorker, among other literary journals and magazines, returns to Wideman’s familiar themes of race and identity, punishment and injustice, Pittsburgh and Blackness. As Wideman said in an interview from Callaloo in 1989, “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” (Ed)

Medusa’s Ankles by A.S. Byatt: Byatt demonstrated her long-form virtuosity in the wide ranging and beguiling Possession, and here shows her versatility in this collection of short stories. David Mitchell admires the range of these stories, both in theme and style, and Byatt’s “portraitist’s eye.” (Marie)

The Art of Revision: The Last Word by Peter Ho Davies: Davies, author of The Fortunes and A Lie Someone Told You About Yourself, has joined an illustrious line of writers, from Charles Baxter to Edwidge Danticat, in penning an “art of” book, my favorite craft books series, published by Graywolf Press. Davies sheds light on an often invisible part of writing—rewriting—by showing drafts of his own work as well as early drafts of Carmen Maria Machado and Flannery O’Connor, among others. He also uses the topic of revision to consider how it is not only the work that changes, but the writer, too. (Edan)

The Perishing by Natashia Deón: Critically acclaimed writer Deón returns with The Perishing, a speculative and historical novel recommended for readers who love Octavia Butler and N. K. Jemisin. Deón’s second novel focuses on Lou, who finds herself in Los Angeles in the 1930s without any recollection of how she arrived, becomes the first Black journalist at The Los Angeles Times, and experiences flashbacks of various time periods. As Lou starts to believe she’s immortal and that she has arrived with an important and specific purpose, threats to her safety arise. Publishers Weekly and Library Journal have highlighted The Perishing as a fall must-read. (Zoë)

Win Me Something by Kyle Lucia Wu: As a biracial Chinese-American woman, Willa Chen has drifted through high school and college, struggling to come to some kind of peace with herself. But when she begins working as a nanny for the Adriens, a wealthy white New York City family, she is confronted with all of the things she never had. After moving in with the Adriens, Willa must come to terms with her complicated childhood and finally begin to define her adult life. As Crystal Hana Kim, author of If You Leave Me says: “Win Me Something is an observant, contemplative story about the complex reality of growing up with a mixed identity in two starkly different mixed families. Kyle Lucia Wu deftly weaves back and forth between Willa’s teenaged years and her adult life to explore loneliness, uncertainty, and a singular, persistent question―where do I truly belong?” (Adam Price)

White on White by Ayşegül Savaş: “Beauty avoids our grasp because it’s made of the same, ephemeral texture as imagination,” the Paris-based Turkish writer Savaş writes in her essay, “On Invisible Beauty,” published in our very own pages. Beauty and art are subjects Savaş returns to in her second novel, White on White. When, by virtue of proximity, a student of Gothic nudes becomes a companion and repository of stories told by her artist landlord, she becomes a student not only of art but of life. Lauren Groff compares White on White’s elegance to “an opaque sheet of ice that belies the swift and turbulent waters beneath. (Anne K. Yoder)

New York, My Village by Uwem Akpan: In Akpan’s debut novel (following Say You’re One of Them, his bestselling, critically-acclaimed collection), Nigerian editor Ekong Udousoro, who is working on a collection about the Biafran War, relocates to New York City after receiving a publishing fellowship—only to discover the dark side of an industry that smiles in his face while disparaging his home, race, and culture. Elif Batuman writes: “Unforgettable characters, deeply realistic and ‘relatable’ interpersonal conflicts, a contagious love of life, fresh insights into the crazy-making properties of racist ideology: New York, My Village has it all.” (Carolyn)

Sacred City by Theodore C. Van Alst: A follow-up to Van Alst’s debut, Sacred Smokes, the story tracks a young man guided by an ancestral band only he (and the reader) can see, leading us on a path toward the inevitable conclusion that “Chicago was, is, and always will be Indian Country.” (Il’ja)

Chasing Homer by László Krasznahorkai (translated by John Batki, musical performances by Szilveszter Miklós, illustrated by Max Neumann): Brief (only 96 pages), collaborative, and propulsive—Chasing Homer is a chase story the likes of which you’ve not yet experienced in a book. The story: a being with no past, for whom only the present moment exists, blends into every terrain in a desperate attempt to elude the hunt and outrun death. It’ll be weird but it’ll be good. (Il’ja)

The Four Humors by Mina Seçkin: As someone whose vade mecum is Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, I’m especially excited for Seçkin’s debut novel, in which a young woman analyzes her illness according to the four humors theory. (My problem: excess of phlegm.) Taking place over a summer in Istanbul, where the woman has travelled to care for her ailing grandmother, the novel balances the protagonist’s humor-gazing with stories of her family’s and Turkey’s history. The premise faintly echoes two other recent medico-literary works of quackery and experimental treatment: Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk. (Matt)

The Making of Incarnation by Tom McCarthy: A novel that explores the varied “intersection(s) of technology and the human” and the limits, or lack thereof, of imagination. McCarthy stirs together the art of raising 12 children, counting sheep, and the laws of motion to paint a compelling portrait of the drives that inhabit and inhibit us. A wild ride. (Il’ja)

Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women who Revolutionized Food in America by Mayukh Sen: Nowadays many people write or produce videos about food and culture, but Mayukh Sen is arguably the first one who makes you feel the American kitchen sizzling with wonder. Taste Makers carefully selects seven extraordinarily courageous, brilliant, and loving immigrant women who dedicate their lives to what Americans take for granted in their diet today. James Beard Award-winning writer Sen’s impeccable research accurately restores the lives of these women; his lively prose style matches the vivacity of his heroines. More importantly, he both entertains and challenges our previous mental association of women and food. After reading this group biography, perhaps what we see on our mundane plate is no longer the same as before. (Jianan)

Love in the Big City by Sang Young Park: Contradictions abound in Sang Young Park’s English-language debut, and that’s exactly how it should be. The Seoul inhabited by the book’s hero, Young, is filled with joy, sadness, anxiety, heartbreak, languor, and intensity—sometimes all in one chapter. As Young grows, yearns, and makes messy mistakes, readers will find themselves rooting for him all the way until the brilliant end. (Kate)

Noor by Nnedi Okorafor: Widely known—and loved, and awarded—for her genre-bending, Africanfuturist novels and stories (see: Who Fears Death, Lagoon), Okorafor is back with a vivid and unpredictable rush of a new novel. Anwuli Okwudili—or AO, for Artificial Organism—is a woman who relies on her many body augmentations to live. But when someone gets hurt, she’s forced to go on the run, heading into and across the deserts of Northern Nigeria with a Fulani herdsman, DNA, alongside her and the world watching the “saga of the wicked woman and the mad man” unfold in real time. (Kaulie)

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett: A new collection of personal essays from the beloved Patchett, including a meditation on a surprising and beautiful bond formed with Tom Hanks’s assistant, a woman named Sooki, which is basically indescribable outside of the essay that describes it, but which you can read here at Harper’s. (Lydia)

Blue-Skinned Gods by SJ Sindu: Roxane Gay writes that Blue-Skinned Gods, the second novel from Sindu, is “consummate storytelling,” “heart breaking and exhilarating”; others have called it stunning, profound, a marvel. In Tamil Nadu, India, a young boy named Kalki is born with impossibly blue skin. He is believed to be—and is worshipped as—Vishnu reincarnated, but he begins to have his doubts. As his relationships with his community and family begin to crumble, Kalki lands in New York City, seeking refuge in the city’s underground rock scene as he works to discover exactly who—and what—he is. (Kaulie)

God of Mercy by Okezie Nwọka: A debut novel set in an Igbo village where the forces of colonialism have not found root now finds itself at odds with its neighboring colonized villages, with dire consequences for its heroine Iljeoma, a girl who can fly. Maisy Card calls the novel “a profound exploration of religion, faith, and compassion from a gifted storyteller. Okezie Nwọka creates a richly imagined postcolonial landscape that is at once otherworldly, tragically human, and completely unforgettable.” (Lydia)

Five Tuesdays in Winter by Lily King: King follows five critically acclaimed novels, most recently Euphoria and Writers and Lovers, with her first collection of short stories. Ann Patchett raved that the new offering “moved me, inspired me, thrilled me. It filled up ever chamber of my heart. I loved this book.” (Lydia)

Pity the Beast by Robin McLean: Following her debut collection Reptile House, this novel of the western U.S. jumps back and forth in time from prehistory to far in the future, focusing its eye on the time in between, during which a woman named Ginny has just cheated on her husband. A new feminist western about which J.M. Coetzee raved, “Not since Faulkner have I read American prose so bristling with life and particularity.” (Lydia)

Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart: In what may be the season’s first explicitly Covid-19 novel, funny-sad author Shteyngart chronicles eight friends, including a Russian-born novelist and his wife, their child obsessed with K-pop, a Korean American app developer, and various other artistes isolated upstate in March of 2020 for a Boccaccian idyll in which they are safe from a deadly virus but not from themselves, their hungers, and their pasts. Looking forward to the hyper-observant author’s take in what Salman Rushdie pegs it as “A powerful fable of our broken time.” (Marie)

Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak: On Cyprus, a Greek Christian boy and a Turkish Muslim girl share a secret courtship. One day, war changes everything. Years later, curious about her family history, a London girl returns to the island where her parents met, where she’s never been. What does she find? (Nick M.)

December

I’m Not Hungry but I Could Eat by Christopher Gonzalez: As the title implies, all the protagonists in this story collection struggle with midnight cravings to some extent. A college graduate attends the bachelor party of a high school crush and has the confusing desire rekindled; a cat-sitter accidentally troubles his friend with the excessive grease of French fries and his undue longing for connection. Though those crucial, intimate moments of self-discovery, the physical sense of hunger gains a metaphorical weight as the constant human yearning for where we can call a home. (Jianan)

Tell Me How to Be by Neel Patel: Patel follows up his collection If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi with a novel of mother-son and other forms of love and rediscovery set against the backdrop of ’90s R&B. Akash leaves Los Angeles for Illinois, where his widowed mother, Renu, is selling the family home. As they pack up, both confront the errors and regrets of the past. Susie Yang says of the novel ,“Once in a while there comes a book that reminds us of why we read: to feel, to question, to grow…The emotional truth of this indelibly portrayed family and their messy lives will leave you weeping and shattered.” (Lydia)

The Women I Love by Francesco Pacifico (translated by Elizabeth Harris): Pacifico composed a series of idiosyncratic lockdown dispatches from Rome for n+1 in which he mused on his father’s hip replacement and wrote a tongue-in-cheek breakup letter to his writing career. Not so fast, as he has an exuberant new work out in English. Pacifico’s previous novel to be translated, Class, was a bright-young-things tale about Italian ex-pats in New York City. His latest, The Women I Love, is set in Italy and features a middle-aged writer anatomizing the women—lovers, colleagues, relatives—who enrich and complicate his life. (Matt)

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)

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.