Exploring the art of fiction


New books: week of March 5!

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


Ramona Ausubel, Awayland

From Kirkus Reviews: “Eleven stories laced with humorous developments, mythic tendencies, and magical realist premises. Ausubel (Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, 2016, etc.) is, at heart, a fabulist, and the current collection puts this impulse in the forefront. The stories are grouped in four sections with geographical names—Bay of Hungers, The Cape of Persistent Hope, The Lonesome Flats, and The Dream Isles… Many of the stories are both interesting and amusing; some are a little juvenile, like “Remedy,” a silly yarn about lovers whose doomed love drives them to have a transplant operation. But this is followed by one of the gems of the collection, “Club Zeus,” narrated by a young man who works at a mythology-themed resort. “Most of the staff is Ukrainian, but I’m from California. My job is to be the Wizened Storyteller…. I sit in a hut all day and tell Greek myths to whoever comes in.””

Read an interview with Ausubel.
Read “You Can Find Love Now,” published in The New Yorker.


Jesse Ball, Census

From Publishers Weekly: “Ball’s latest (after How to Set a Fire and Why) is an intensely moving and dazzlingly imagined journey of a dying father and his disabled adult son as they make their way through a sometimes recognizable yet ultimately mysterious terrain. The unnamed father, a widower, narrates the novel as he travels with his son as a census taker for an obscure governmental agency, entering the homes of strangers and marking them with a tattoo on their ribs to indicate that they have been counted… This novel is a devastatingly powerful call for understanding and compassion.”

Watch Ball talk and read at the Creative Capital Retreat.


Aminatta Forna, Happiness
Atlantic Monthly Press

From Kirkus Reviews: “The paths of two people—an American woman who studies the habits of urban foxes and a Ghanaian man specializing in refugee trauma—cross in London, creating a fork in the road for both. Shot through with history, biology, and psychiatry, Forna’s (The Hired Man, 2013, etc.) fourth novel is an unusual work that characteristically integrates multiple layers with fluidity. Its central characters are divorced wildlife biologist Jean Turane, in London working for a local council, and noted psychiatrist Attila Asare, a widower, who’s arrived to give the keynote speech at a conference. Both have devoted their working lives to interpreting behavior and response, whether human or animal… Low-key yet piercingly empathetic, Forna’s latest explores instinct, resilience, and the complexity of human coexistence, reaffirming her reputation for exceptional ability and perspective.”


Uzodinma Iweala, Speak No Evil
Harper Collins

From Publishers Weekly: “In Uzodinma’s staggering sophomore novel (after Beasts of No Nation), the untimely disclosure of a secret shared between two teens from different backgrounds sets off a cascade of heartbreaking consequences. The first of the book’s two sections follows Niru, a Nigerian-American high school senior and track star heading off to Harvard in the fall. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his immigrant parents, who are loving but traditional and strict… In the book’s devastating second half, a broken and haunted Meredith looks back on that tumultuous time six years later… This novel is notable both for the raw force of Iweala’s prose and the moving, powerful story.”

Read an excerpt.


Steve Kistulentz, Panorama
Little, Brown

From Publishers Weekly: “The plot of Kistulentz’s poignant debut novel (after the poetry collection Little Black Daydream) centers on a New Year’s Day plane crash in Dallas that kills everyone on board. But this is neither a thriller nor a traditional disaster story. A short opening chapter describes the tragedy, then flashes back a day or so…The crash occurs near the novel’s midpoint, and the story then follows the families and loved ones of the victims as they cope, grieve, and try to understand their losses, particularly Richard and Gabriel, who are brought together after Mary Beth dies in the crash. This is a lyrical and moving debut novel.”


Will Mackin, Bring Out the Dog: Stories
Random House

From Publishers Weekly: “In this spellbinding, adrenaline-fueled debut linked collection, Mackin pulls from his own time in the Navy to follow a team of SEALs who, from 2008 to 2011, serve and try to survive together, primarily in Iraq and Afghanistan. Each story explodes with dust and dread as the SEALs are sent to recover the bodies of missing soldiers who were kidnapped south of Kabul; come to blows over chocolate milk in the mess hall; and snub a fellow SEAL who, disoriented in a cornfield one night, accidentally shoots the team’s beloved bomb-sniffing dog…  In this story, and indeed in the whole unforgettable collection, the men fighting this war know better than anyone how tragic each loss is.”

Listen to Mackin read “Crossing the River No Name.”
Read an interview with Mackin.
Read and/or listen to “The Lost Troop.”


Luís Alberto Urrea, The House of Broken Angels
Little, Brown

From Kirkus Reviews: “A family saga that asks what it means to be American. Urrea (The Water Museum, 2015, etc.) tells the story of Miguel Angel de la Cruz, or Big Angel, who must bury his mother as he himself is dying. Before his death, though, he means to celebrate one last birthday. “He wanted a birthday, pues. A last birthday,” Angel’s sister explains, and from that simple statement, the entire book unfolds… Big Angel tells his daughter, “is love. Love is the answer. Nothing stops it. Not borders. Not death.” It’s impossible to read that line (or, for that matter, this novel) without reflecting on the current American moment, in which Mexican-American families such as the de la Cruzes are often vilified. But if Urrea’s novel is anything, it is an American tale. It is a celebration, although Urrea is no sentimentalist; he knows the territory in which his narrative unfolds.”