Exploring the art of prose


New Books: October 8 Week

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


Camille Acker, Training School for Negro Girls

The lives of the girls and women featured in these stories are rendered with tremendous warmth, humor, and care. Camille Acker has written pages that are saturated with the stuff of black life in Washington, DC: the cadences, the music, the aspirations, the trouble, the disappointments, the inventiveness, and the laughter. Training School for Negro Girls is a wonderful debut.” Jamel Brinkley

In her debut short story collection, Camille Acker unleashes the irony and tragic comedy of respectability onto a wide-ranging cast of characters, all of whom call Washington, DC, home. A “woke” millennial tries to fight gentrification, only to learn she’s part of the problem; a grade school teacher dreams of a better DC, only to take out her frustrations on her students; and a young piano player wins a competition, only to learn the prize is worthless.

Ultimately, they are confronted with the fact that respectability does not equal freedom. Instead, they must learn to trust their own conflicted judgment and fight to create their own sense of space and self. (from Feminist Press)

Chaya Bhuvaneswar, White Dancing Elephants

From Kirkus Reviews (starred review): “The book provocatively probes the aftermath—the aftermath of death, of grim diagnoses, of abandonment, of monumental errors in judgment. Passages jump back and forth in time to dissect how the consequences of a fraught event shape and unravel the lives of innocent casualties. In the searing title story, which references the Buddha’s birth, the narrator wanders around London while mourning her recent miscarriage. ‘I lie down now and feel the weight of it on me, a white dancing elephant that I can see with my eyes closed, airy and Disney in one dream, bellowing despair and showing tusks in the other.’ … An exuberant collection.”

In luminous, vivid, searingly honest prose, the stories in White Dancing Elephants center on the experiences of diverse women of color—cunning, bold, and resolute—facing sexual harassment and racial violence, as well as the violence women inflict upon each other. One woman’s miscarriage is juxtaposed against the story of the Buddha’s birth. Another cheats with her best friend’s husband, only to discover it’s her friend she most yearns for. In three different stories, three artists struggle to push courageous works into the world, while a woman with an incurable disease competes with her engineer husband’s beautiful android.

White Dancing Elephants is the winner of the 2017 Dzanc Books Short Story Collection Prize. (from Dzanc Books)

Claire Fuller, Bitter Orange

From Booklist (starred review): “Fuller (Swimming Lessons, 2017) is a master of propulsive action, making the ground spin as each unreliable narrator takes center stage. Every measured sentence… builds on itself with the crumbling estate providing the saturated backdrop for this ultimately macabre tale. … Fuller’s tale offers a gripping and unsettling look at the ugly side of extreme need and the desperate measures taken in the name of love.”

From the attic of Lyntons, a dilapidated English country mansion, Frances Jellico sees them―Cara first: dark and beautiful, then Peter: striking and serious. The couple is spending the summer of 1969 in the rooms below hers while Frances is researching the architecture in the surrounding gardens. But she’s distracted. Beneath a floorboard in her bathroom, she finds a peephole that gives her access to her neighbors’ private lives.

To Frances’ surprise, Cara and Peter are keen to get to know her. It is the first occasion she has had anybody to call a friend, and before long they are spending every day together: eating lavish dinners, drinking bottle after bottle of wine, and smoking cigarettes until the ash piles up on the crumbling furniture. Frances is dazzled.

But as the hot summer rolls lazily on, it becomes clear that not everything is right between Cara and Peter. The stories that Cara tells don’t quite add up, and as Frances becomes increasingly entangled in the lives of the glamorous, hedonistic couple, the boundaries between truth and lies, right and wrong, begin to blur. Amid the decadence, a small crime brings on a bigger one: a crime so terrible that it will brand their lives forever. (from Tin House Books)

Haruki Murakami, Killing Commendatore
Translated by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen

“Eccentric and intriguing, Killing Commendatore is the product of a singular imagination. … Murakami is a wiz at melding the mundane with the surreal. … He has a way of imbuing the supernatural with uncommon urgency. His placid narrative voice belies the utter strangeness of his plot. … The worldview of Murakami’s novels is consistent, and it’s invigorating. In this book and many that came before it, he urges us to embrace the unusual, accept the unpredictable.” —San Francisco Chronicle

Martin Riker, Samuel Johnson’s Eternal Return

From Publishers Weekly (starred review): “Riker’s charming and thoughtful debut opens with the titular Samuel entering young adulthood in a secluded community in Pennsylvania during the 1950s and early ’60s. Against his parents’ wishes, he secretly watches television with a neighbor, whom he falls in love with and eventually marries. They have a son, his wife dies in childbirth, and Samuel’s existence is further rocked when a roaming vagrant tries to kidnap the child when he is 3 years old. … Riker is a gifted storyteller, and his novel’s enchanting exploration of humanity and philosophy, of how humans connect with their environment and community, is unforgettable.”

When Samuel Johnson dies, he finds himself in the body of the man who killed him, unable to depart this world but determined, at least, to return to the son he left behind. Moving from body to body as each one expires, Samuel’s soul journeys on a comic quest through an American half-century, inhabiting lives as stymied, in their ways, as his own. A ghost story of the most unexpected sort, Martin Riker’s extraordinary debut is about the ways experience is mediated, the unstoppable drive for human connection, and the struggle to be more fully alive in the world. (from Coffee House Press)

Sarah Stone, Hungry Ghost Theater

“Sarah Stone traces out the quirky, fateful dramas of one family, while having the visionary originality to take the longest possible view of human action. I found this an unforgettable book, astute, vivid, and stubbornly ambitious in its scope.” —Joan Silber

“With her laser intelligence and gorgeous prose style, Sarah Stone has written a thrilling hybrid of a novel about the intricacies of family life and the inevitable handing down from one generation to the next of our deepest passions and pathologies. Set around the world—and in the next one—this book is both marvelously inventive and deeply humane. I loved it.” —Ann Packer

A loving, dysfunctional half-Jewish family of performers, scientists, and activists long to wake up the world but must first rescue each other from their own addictions and compulsions, with a little help (and sometimes hindrance) from the occasional ghost or god. (from WTAW Press)