Exploring the art of prose


New books: week of June 11!

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

Nick Arvin, Mad Boy
Europa Editions

From Kirkus Reviews: “Across the battlefields of the War of 1812, a young boy races to carry out his mother’s dying wish and rescue his father. When 10-year-old Henry Phipps’ mother is killed in a bizarre accident, he strikes out over the Maryland countryside to give her a burial at sea and free his alcoholic father from the Baltimore prison where his unpaid gambling debts have landed him… At less than 250 pages, the novel is a masterpiece of compression without sacrificing character development to the demands of the relentless action and adventure. Sandwiched between the nation-defining glamour of the Revolutionary War and the epic conflict of the Civil War, the War of 1812 hasn’t garnered comparable attention in the world of fiction. Arvin’s robust novel helps redress that imbalance.”

Listen to an interview with Arvin on Behind the Prose

Lydia Millet, Fight No More

From Kirkus Reviews:“Real estate—and the anxiety and disruption that often come with moving house—drives this linked collection of Los Angeles–set tales. Millet has used broken relationships as a launchpad for austere, absurdist fiction (Magnificence, 2012; Sweet Lamb of Heaven, 2016) and laugh-out-loud farce (Mermaids in Paradise, 2014). Here, her attack is more compassionate and realistic, but she can still bring the weird: In one story, a woman believes her home is being overrun by “handyman midgets” who arrive unsolicited to make repairs; how much of this is real and how much is the panicked vision of a woman who’s just been abandoned by her husband is intentionally vague… Those stories are especially strong because Millet so readily shifts point of view—by turns she can be a snotty rich kid, a pedophile, and a lower-class cam girl striving to rise above her station. And though Millet has never been much for easy uplift, the collection ends with the sense that our lives can find some kind of order if we acknowledge the forces that disrupt them. A linked-story collection done right, with sensitive and complex characters each looking for a place to call home.”


Fatima Farheen Mirza, A Place for Us
SJP for Hogarth

 From Kirkus Reviews: “An American Muslim family is torn apart in the struggle between tradition and modernity. ‘The wedding was coming together wonderfully. People were arriving on time. There was a table for mango juice and pineapple juice and another for appetizers, replenished as soon as the items were lifted from the platter. White orchids spilled from tall glass vases on every table.’ But down the hall at the hotel bar, there is an element of this wedding that is not coming together so smoothly—the prodigal brother of the bride… The debut of 26-year-old Mirza is the first book from Sarah Jessica Parker’s imprint at Hogarth; it explores the spiritual lives of its characters with sympathy and passion. The title of the book echoes a song from West Side Story, itself a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Here the warring forces are not two families but one, split by the tension between reverence and rebellion. The author’s passion for her subject shines like the moon in the night sky, a recurrent image in this ardent and powerful novel.”

Read an interview with Mirza in The Guardian


Joseph O’Neill, Good Trouble

 From Kirkus Reviews: “In 11 stories, the author of Netherland (2008) looks at crises, fads, and conundrums among the aging denizens of 21st-century New York. With six of these stories first appearing in either the New Yorker or Harper’s, it’s clear that O’Neill (The Dog, 2014, etc.) produces well-made, fairly mainstream short fiction. He probes the frictions that make marriages and families fissure or fight for survival, the situations where discomfort breeds anxiety and resentment mushrooms into malaise… There’s often a subversive, comic element in O’Neill’s writing. “The World of Cheese” centers on a rancorous dispute between a woman and her son over his child’s circumcision, but the narrative also notes the father’s new infatuation with cheese, including a “cheesing trip to Ireland.” With a faux academic tone (“Social historians will record”), the narrator in “The Mustache in 2010” moves from a survey of facial hair to a man’s peculiar shaving habits to recalling a contretemps seven years earlier between two people at a charity auction and then finds herself crying even as she tries to parse “the state of the upper-middle-class adventure” objectively: ‘I’m brushing tears from my eyes, it should be documented.’ A thoroughly enjoyable collection in which O’Neill treats his characters with a wry sympathy and a sense of fun.”

Read “The Referees” in The New Yorker