Exploring the art of prose


New books: week of July 9

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


Keith Gessen, A Terrible Country

From Publishers Weekly: “In Gessen’s exceptional and trenchant novel, floundering 30-something professor Andrei Kaplan flees from New York to Russia, the country of his birth, to reassess his future and take care of his ailing grandmother. Called abroad by his enterprising older brother, Dima, Andrei arrives in Moscow to find the city of his memory surreally changed, his 89-year-old grandmother’s apartment one of the few spaces exempt from a partial Westernization…While poised to critique Putin’s Russia, this sharp, stellar novel becomes, by virtue of Andrei’s ultimate self-interest, a subtle and incisive indictment of the American character.”

Read an interview with Gessen.


Rachel Heng, Suicide Club
Henry Holt & Co

From Kirkus Reviews: “In a frighteningly plausible future, the economy revolves around the currency of health, life spans are potentially eternal, and the new have-nots are born with poverty encoded in their genes. Lea Kirino is a career Lifer. At 100 years old, she is already high up the ladder at the Healthfin fund, where she spends her days working with clients whose fortunes are invested in the organ trade—mostly hearts, lungs, and livers…Heng expertly threads a ribbon of dread through her glittering vistas and gleaming characters; however, the plot is so solidly foreshadowed that the climax, when it comes, feels almost preordained. This speaks to the intricacy of the world Heng has created and sets a dark mirror against the robotic bureaucracy of the Ministry’s oversight that assigns at birth “an algorithm [that] decides who lives and who doesn’t” so as not to waste resources on anyone with subpar genetic potential. Unfortunately, it also undercuts the author’s considerable skill at rendering her characters in all their solid, bodily reality by making their actions seem less like startling acts of free will and more like functions of an overweening plot. A complicated and promising debut that spoofs the current health culture craze even as it anticipates its appalling culmination.”

Read an interview with Heng.


Caoilinn Hughes, Orchid & The Wasp

From Kirkus Reviews: “A fast-talking young woman sets out to help her family at the height of Ireland’s recession in this language-driven debut. From a young age, Gael Foess is a hustler: ambitious, arrogant, and more capable than most adults. After her father walks out, Gael must care for her unusual family on her own… For a novel with a con-artist heroine, Hughes’ debut is oddly quiet and language-focused. Most of the action takes place off-stage or in long passages of dialogue relayed well after the fact. But Hughes delivers a compelling exploration of what it means to create art, skewering the arbitrary restrictions of art-world gatekeepers along the way. At the emotional heart of this book lies a darker question, though: What does it mean to make a performance of your own life, in service of your family, when the cost might be to lose them forever? As strange, musical, and carefully calculated as its unusual heroine.”


Ottessa Moshfegh, My Year of Rest and Relaxation
Penguin Press

From Publishers Weekly: “The latest from Booker finalist Moshfegh (following the story collection Homesick for Another World) is a captivating and disquieting novel about a woman’s quest to sleep for a year. The unnamed narrator is in her 20s, lives alone on the Upper East Side, has plenty of money from her inheritance, and decides to hibernate with chemical assistance in the year 2000 in order to “drown out her thoughts” and avoid the world, since she “hate[s] everyone and everything.”.. Though the novel drags a bit in the middle, leading up to the Infermiterol plan, it showcases Moshfegh’s signature mix of provocation and dark humor. Following the narrator’s dire trajectory is challenging but undeniably fascinating, likely to incite strong reactions and much discussion among readers.”

Read an excerpt from the novel.
Read an interview with Moshfegh.



Lucy Tan, What We Were Promised
Little, Brown

From Publishers Weekly: “Tan’s solid debut centers on Shanghai housewife Lina Zhen and her observant former housekeeper, Sunny. Lina still holds a torch for Qiang, the wild brother of her husband, Wei, though Qiang has been gone for 20 years. After living in the U.S., the Zhen family relocates to Shanghai, now a part of the upper class, for Wei’s lucrative, high-profile marketing job, which allows Lina to forgo working and live a life of leisure… Sunny and Wei’s stories are arresting, but Qiang and Lina come off as entitled in spite of the author’s efforts to make them sympathetic. Despite this, the novel presents an intriguing portrait of class, duty, and family.