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Exploring the art of fiction

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New books: week of February 12!

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

 

Amy Bloom, White Houses
Penguin Random House

From Kirkus Reviews: “From the prolific Bloom, whose novels and short stories have often explored the complexity of sexuality and gender (Lucky Us, 2014, etc.), a bio-fiction about the romance between Eleanor Roosevelt and journalist Lorena Hickok told from Hickok’s perspective. Lorena’s winning narrative voice is tough, gossipy, and deeply humane. Her storytelling begins and continually circles back to shortly after FDR’s death. On the last weekend in April 1945, a grieving Eleanor has summoned Lorena to her Manhattan apartment years after having sent her away. Now in late middle-age, the two fall into their ingrained routine as lovers—and has anyone written about middle-aged women’s bodies and sexuality with Bloom’s affectionate grace?.. The complexity of their mutual attraction is one of the joys of the book, particularly when Lorena recalls an Eleanor tender and even girlish during a private driving vacation to Maine they took without a Secret Service escort…Bloom elevates this addition to the secret-lives-of-the-Roosevelts genre through elegant prose and by making Lorena Hickok a character engrossing enough to steal center stage from Eleanor Roosevelt.”

 

Akwaeke Emezi, Freshwater
Grove Atlantic

From Booklist: “It is not easy to corral traditional storytelling tropes into untraditional narrative formats without coming across as gimmicky or losing the reader along the way. In her mind-blowing debut, Emezi weaves a traditional Igbo myth that turns the well-worn narrative of mental illness on its head, and in doing so she has ensured a place on the literary-fiction landscape as a writer to watch… Emezi’s brilliance lies not just in her expert handling of the conflicting voices in Ada’s head but in delivering an entirely different perspective on just what it means to go slowly mad. Complex and dark, this novel will simultaneously challenge and reward lovers of literary fiction. A must-read.”

 

Meghan Kenny, The Driest Season
W.W. Norton

From Kirkus Reviews: “A father’s death leaves a daughter seeking answers and a return to normal life in this impressive debut novel. It’s mid-July 1943, amid a drought in Boaz, Wisconsin, when 15-year-old Cielle Jacobson finds her father hanging from a beam in their barn. Her mother and a neighbor cover up the suicide as an accident, adding to the questions shadowing Cielle, whose closeness to her father is revealed in brief, tender flashbacks. As the narrative moves through several weeks and vignettes, Kenny (Love Is No Small Thing: Stories, 2017) anchors her third-person narrative to Cielle’s point of view… But from the life-altering suicide to her first kiss, everything bears some significance for Cielle’s progress toward adulthood. She calls to mind Frankie of Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding, who begins to think about the world during “a long queer season” one spring. And like Bunny in the double-edged opening of William Maxwell’s They Came Like Swallows, Cielle doesn’t “waken all at once.” Still, she begins to blossom despite the drought. Kenny’s thoughtful, finely crafted work is an eloquent reminder that the breadth of a world matters less than the depth of a character.”

 

Moriel Rothman-Zecher, Sadness is a White Bird
Atria Books

From Kirkus Reviews: “A very young Israeli soldier whose best friends are Palestinian twins is driven to the breaking point by conflicting loyalties. Rothman-Zecher’s debut begins in the “fluorescent glow of a jail cell” just days after its narrator’s 19th birthday. In an epistolary narrative addressed to his friend Laith, Jonathan pours out his heart and sorts through his past. Two years earlier, before his senior year of high school, Jonathan’s family returned to Israel after a long stint in Pennsylvania. The family’s history—his grandfather left the Greek city of Salonica before the Nazis deported all its Jews to concentration camps; other family members did not—has given Jonathan a profound sense of the importance of the Jewish state… Over a long series of adventures, bus trips, nights on the beach, marijuana-fueled conversations, and poetry readings, Jonathan begins to see the occupation through the eyes of his friends and grasps that their family history is no less tragic than his own… A passionate, poetic coming-of-age story set in a mine field, brilliantly capturing the intensity of feeling on both sides of the conflict.