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Exploring the art of fiction

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New Books: October 23 Week


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

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Friday Black

“This book is dark and captivating and essential. This book is a call to arms and a condemnation. Adjei-Brenyah offers powerful prose as parable. The writing in this outstanding collection will make you hurt and demand your hope. Read this book. Marvel at the intelligence of each of these stories and what they reveal about racism, capitalism, complacency and their insidious reach.” —Roxane Gay

A National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree, chosen by Colson Whitehead 

From the start of this extraordinary debut, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s writing will grab you, haunt you, enrage and invigorate you. By placing ordinary characters in extraordinary situations, Adjei-Brenyah reveals the violence, injustice, and painful absurdities that black men and women contend with every day in this country.

These stories tackle urgent instances of racism and cultural unrest, and explore the many ways we fight for humanity in an unforgiving world. In “The Finkelstein Five,” Adjei-Brenyah gives us an unforgettable reckoning of the brutal prejudice of our justice system. In “Zimmer Land,” we see a far-too-easy-to-believe imagining of racism as sport. And “Friday Black” and “How to Sell a Jacket as Told by Ice King” show the horrors of consumerism and the toll it takes on us all. (from Mariner)


Michelle Bailat-Jones, Unfurled

From Publishers Weekly (starred review): “Bailat-Jones creates a complex and nuanced portrait of a family torn apart by mental illness and of the rebuilding process, making this novel both fascinating and stirring.”

For more than twenty years, Ella has learned to live without her mother, Maggie, who disappeared into a fog of mental illness the summer Ella turned ten. As far as Ella is concerned, her mother is dead. Despite this trauma, Ella has forged ahead, becoming a veterinarian, getting married, and most of all, developing a deep, trusting bond with her father, John, a ferry captain.

Ella’s contented life is shattered when her father is hit by a car and killed. Going through his papers, she learns that her father maintained a secret relationship with her mother. The unsettling questions raised by her father’s death and her mother’s unexpected reappearance sends Ella on a journey to discover the truth about the woman who abandoned her and the man who raised her, a journey that threatens her marriage, her unborn child, and ultimately, her sanity. (from ig Publishing)


Edward Carey, Little

“Little is exquisitely sensitive to all the warmth, vigor, humor, woe, and peculiarities of human nature, as if the writer had a dowsing rod capable of divining what hides within the human heart. Carey is without peer.” —Kelly Link

The wry, macabre, unforgettable tale of an ambitious orphan in Revolutionary Paris, befriended by royalty and radicals, who transforms herself into the legendary Madame Tussaud.

In 1761, a tiny, odd-looking girl named Marie is born in a village in Switzerland. After the death of her parents, she is apprenticed to an eccentric wax sculptor and whisked off to the seamy streets of Paris, where they meet a domineering widow and her quiet, pale son. Together, they convert an abandoned monkey house into an exhibition hall for wax heads, and the spectacle becomes a sensation. As word of her artistic talent spreads, Marie is called to Versailles, where she tutors a princess and saves Marie Antoinette in childbirth. But outside the palace walls, Paris is roiling: The revolutionary mob is demanding heads, and… at the wax museum, heads are what they do. (from Riverhead)


May-lee Chai, Useful Phrases for Immigrants

“The eight stories in this collection contain multitudes. May-lee Chai interrogates heavy subjects with a light touch. She grants each character the gift of a gleaming voice, rendering them as shaped by circumstances, while also transcending them. Useful Phrases for Immigrants is more than merely ‘useful’; this is essential reading, and I’m honored to choose this book for the Bakwin Award.” —Tayari Jones

Daisy Johnson, Everything Under

From Kirkus (starred review): “Johnson’s debut novel explores the determinism of its characters’ choices even as it asserts the fluidity of their genders and their relationships with each other, in prose that harmonizes with the haunting wasteland of its setting—a place where what is discarded takes on new identity if not new life. A tense, startling book of true beauty and insight. Proof that the oldest of stories contain within them the seeds of our future selves.”

A 2018 Man Booker Prize Finalist

The dictionary doesn’t contain every word. Gretel, a lexicographer by trade, knows this better than most. She grew up on a houseboat with her mother, wandering the canals of Oxford and speaking a private language of their own invention. Her mother disappeared when Gretel was a teen, abandoning her to foster care, and Gretel has tried to move on, spending her days updating dictionary entries.

One phone call from her mother is all it takes for the past to come rushing back. To find her, Gretel will have to recover buried memories of her final, fateful winter on the canals. A runaway boy had found community and shelter with them, and all three were haunted by their past and stalked by an ominous creature lurking in the canal: the bonak. Everything and nothing at once, the bonak was Gretel’s name for the thing she feared most. And now that she’s searching for her mother, she’ll have to face it.

In this electrifying reinterpretation of a classical myth, Daisy Johnson explores questions of fate and free will, gender fluidity, and fractured family relationships. Everything Under—a debut novel whose surreal, watery landscape will resonate with fans of Fen—is a daring, moving story that will leave you unsettled and unstrung. (from Graywolf Press)


Tammy Lynne Stoner, Sugar Land

From Kirkus (starred review): “Dara’s story is a postcard of small-town Texas life from Prohibition through civil rights, tracing the treatment and awareness of gay people through these decades. The love child of Fannie Flagg and Rita Mae Brown, Stoner is sure to win her own devoted following with this ravishing debut.”

It’s 1923 and 19-year-old Dara falls in love with her best friend, who happens to be a girl. To avoid a bleak, terrifying future in their small town, Dara takes a job in the kitchen at Imperial State Prison Farm for men. There she meets real life blues singer Lead Belly, who sings his way to a pardon from the Governor (true story)—but only after he makes her promise to follow his lead.

Life outside, however, isn’t all sweet tea and roses. After Dara’s ordinary domestic life falls apart and she gains so much weight she can barely wash herself, she is sent on a journey to accept the secret she’s been carrying. Along the way Dara reunites with her estranged step-daughters, buys a mobile home that she dubs the “Bland Old Opry,” and—to the chagrin of some in her small Texas town—falls in love with the local seamstress, a fellow widower and devotee of Bingo, Mrs. Tanya May Rogerton. (from Red Hen Press)