Exploring the art of prose


New books: Week of January 1!

Here’s a quick look at some of the great books out this week. Happy pub day to all!

Maud Casey, The Art of Mystery
Graywolf Press

From Publishers Weekly: “In the 14th volume of Graywolf’s The Art Of series, novelist Casey (The Man Who Walked Away) analyzes the inscrutable and enigmatic elements in the work of James Baldwin, Shirley Jackson, Henry James, and others. Casey applies the term “mystery” broadly (and astutely), describing it as “a whispered invitation, a siren song, a flickering light in the distance… Her analysis illuminates the behind-the-scenes work authors do to cultivate a seemingly effortless air of mystery, such as O’Connor’s “training the reader’s gaze” on that leg, or Baldwin’s impressionistic descriptions. Those seeking to understand how to bring the ineffable into their own writing would do well to start here.”


Naima Coster, Halsey Street
Little A

From Kirkus Reviews: “A quiet gut-punch of a debut, Coster’s novel is a family saga set against the landscape of gentrifying Brooklyn. After five years away in Pittsburgh—a city whose primary appeal is its distance from Brooklyn—Penelope Grand, former artist and current bartender, reluctantly returns to Bedford-Stuyvesant to care for her ailing and beloved father, Ralph, moving into a sublet a few streets away from her childhood home… The plot is simple, relatively speaking, but Coster is a masterful observer of family dynamics: her characters, to a one, are wonderfully complex and consistently surprising. Absorbing and alive, the kind of novel that swallows you whole.”

Read an excerpt.
Read an interview with Coster.


Sam Graham-Felsen, Green
Penguin Random House

From Publishers Weekly: “From the chief blogger of Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign comes a provocative debut that wrestles with matters of race, white privilege, and institutional prejudice head-on. The subtly humorous, surprisingly touching coming-of-age narrative is told from the perspective of Dave, one of the only white students at King, a predominantly black and Latino public middle school in Boston… Where Graham-Felsen shines is in his depiction of the pressures put on Marlon to rise above his circumstances and to cope with his mother’s mental illness. The novel is also a memorable and moving portrayal of a complicated but deep friendship that just might survive the weight placed on it.”

 Read an excerpt.


Neel Mukherjee, A State of Freedom
W.W. Norton

From Publishers Weekly: “Freedom, as defined by the characters in Mukherjee’s brutally honest and haunting latest novel (after The Lives of Others), is a relative state. Most of them are striving to transcend lives of grinding poverty and degradation in contemporary India, where, though the “untouchable” designation has been abolished, the vicious caste system still victimizes village dwellers and domestic workers… Seen against a pitiless landscape of primitive villages and hellish urban slums, and the extremes of scorching heat and billowing monsoon rain, this is a compassionate, deeply felt tribute to India’s forgotten people who strive to triumph over subjugation. With its mixture of prose styles and narrative voices, Mukherjee’s novel is a literary achievement.”

Watch an interview with Mukherjee.
Read an excerpt.