Exploring the art of prose


New books: week of April 30

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

Jamel Brinkley, A Lucky Man
Graywolf Press

From Kirkus Reviews: “An assured debut collection of stories about men and women, young and old, living and loving along the margins in Brooklyn and the Bronx.  In “I Happy Am,” one of nine tales Brinkley spins here about dreamers constricted or confounded by realities, Freddy is a young black boy from the Bronx who, at least for the length of the trip his summer camp is taking to the suburbs, imagines himself as a superpowered robot. Upon finding the house his camp is visiting to be “a bigger version of the apartment where [he] lived,” Freddy begins to wonder whether real life “spoke…to what his imagination guarded”: that there may be more potential for wonder and mystery beyond his dream life. This story shares with the others a preoccupation with characters’ reckoning with unfulfilled promises and unrecognized possibilities… It’s difficult to single out any story as most outstanding since they are each distinguished by Brinkley’s lyrical invention, precise descriptions of both emotional and physical terrain, and a prevailing compassion toward people as bemused by travail as they are taken aback by whatever epiphanies blossom before them. A major talent.”

Read “A Lucky Man” in A Public Space
Read our interview with Brinkley
Read an interview with Brinkley in Electric Lit


Melissa Broder, The Pisces

From Kirkus Reviews: “In Broder’s debut novel, a disaffected academic struggling with a breakup finds love in the arms of a merman… When Lucy meets Theo, a mysterious swimmer who haunts Venice Beach by night, she thinks her luck in love might have finally turned around. But what—other than a tail—might Theo be hiding? And who is Lucy willing to neglect in order to find out? On the surface, this audacious novel from Broder (So Sad Today, 2016, etc.) is a frank exploration of desire, fantasy, and sex. But it dives deeper, too, seeking out uncomfortable topics and bringing them into the light: codependency, depression, suicidal ideation, and an existential fascination with the void each get their days in the sun… This isn’t just a novel about navigating the dangers of codependency, but an attempt to learn how we all might love better in a culture that pushes even its strongest women to the brink of self-destruction. A fascinating tale of obsession and erotic redemption told with black humor and biting insight.”


Sheila Heti, Motherhood
Henry Holt & Co

From Publishers Weekly: “The subject of the new novel from Heti (How Should a Person Be?) is neither birth nor child-rearing, but the question of whether to want a child, which the unnamed narrator calls “the greatest secret I keep from myself.” To find the answer, she practices techniques cribbed from the I Ching, consults a psychic and Tarot cards, contemplates her mother’s experiences as a woman, counts her periods, and considers freezing her eggs… Although readers shouldn’t go in expecting clean-cut epiphanies, this lively, exhilaratingly smart, and deliberately, appropriately frustrating affair asks difficult questions about women’s responsibilities and desires, and society’s expectations.”


Rachel Kushner, The Mars Room

From Kirkus Reviews: “Another searing look at life on the margins from the author of The Strange Case of Rachel K (2015) and The Flamethrowers (2013). Romy Hall killed a man. This is a fact. The man she killed was stalking her. This is also a fact, but, as far as the jury was concerned, the first fact mattered more than the second. That’s why she’s serving two life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility in California’s Central Valley. Romy soon learns that life in prison is, in many respects, like her former life working at the Mars Room, a down-market strip club in San Francisco. The fight for dominance among the powerless looks much the same anywhere, Romy explains, and this novel is very much a novel about powerlessness… This is, fundamentally, a novel about poverty and how our structures of power do not work for the poor, and Kushner does not flinch. If the novel lags a bit in the long sections of backstory, it’s because the honest depiction of prison life is so gripping. An unforgiving look at a brutal system.”


Chibundu Onuzo, Welcome to Lagos

From Publishers Weekly: “In her winning U.S. debut, Onuzo anatomizes a tumultuous city and its inhabitants, from street hustlers to well-connected government ministers. Seeking refuge in the metropolis for various reasons, several Nigerian travelers group up en route to Lagos, including morally upright army deserter Chike; swaggering teenage militant Fineboy; well-to-do Oma, who is fleeing her abusive husband; and a precocious but traumatized girl, Isoken. These characters form a family of sorts as they are welcomed to Lagos coolly, obliged to live in a homeless encampment before settling in an unoccupied house… Onuzo’s briskly plotted novel is a rewarding exploration of the limits of idealism and transparency against widespread cynicism and corruption.”


Renee Simms, Meet Behind Mars
Wayne State University Press

From Wayne State University Press: “’I feel like I can’t tell one story about a giant mustard penis because it’s not about a mustard penis only, but about all of these incidents together, in context, and through time.’ So begins the title story in Renee Simms’s debut short story collection, Meet Behind Mars—a revealing look at how geography, memory, ancestry, and desire influence our personal relationships…Simms writes from the voice of women and girls who struggle under structural oppression and draws from the storytelling tradition best represented by writers like Edward P. Jones, whose characters have experiences that are specific to black Americans living in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries. One instance of this is in “The Art of Heroine Worship,” in which black families integrate into a white suburb of Detroit in the 1970s. The stories in this collection span forty years and two continents and range in structure from epistolary to traditionally structured realism, with touches of absurdity, humor, and magic. Meet Behind Mars will appeal to readers interested in contemporary literary fiction.”

Read “Meet Behind Mars” in Duende
Read an interview with Simms in The Rumpus