New Books: February 2019
Here’s a quick look at some of the great fiction publishing in February. Happy pub day to one and all!
Ayesha Harruna Attah, The Hundred Wells of Salaga
“A powerful and moving novel that intricately explores the Salaga slave market as it hurtles toward its final days, seen through the eyes of two women whose opposite circumstances converge. Attah’s gift is her staggering ability to depict the personal within the past, to show us a moment in Ghana’s history from those who lived it, making for an urgent, poignant experience.” —Gabe Habash
Based on true events, a story of courage, forgiveness, love, and freedom in precolonial Ghana, told through the eyes of two women born to vastly different fates
Aminah lives an idyllic life until she is brutally separated from her home and forced on a journey that transforms her from a daydreamer into a resilient woman. Wurche, the willful daughter of a chief, is desperate to play an important role in her father’s court. These two women’s lives converge as infighting among Wurche’s people threatens the region, during the height of the slave trade at the end of the nineteenth century.
Through the experiences of Aminah and Wurche, The Hundred Wells of Salaga offers a remarkable view of slavery and how the scramble for Africa affected the lives of everyday people. (From Other Press February 5)
Christopher Castellani, Leading Men
From Publishers Weekly (starred review): “Castellani’s novel hits the trifecta of being moving, beautifully written, and a bona fide page-turner. This is a wonderful examination of artists and the people who love them and change their work in large and imperceptible ways.”
Illuminating one of the great love stories of the twentieth century—Tennessee Williams and his longtime partner Frank Merlo—Leading Men is a glittering novel of desire and ambition, set against the glamorous literary circles of 1950s Italy
In July of 1953, at a glittering party thrown by Truman Capote in Portofino, Italy, Tennessee Williams and his longtime lover Frank Merlo meet Anja Blomgren, a mysteriously taciturn young Swedish beauty and aspiring actress. Their encounter will go on to alter all of their lives.
Ten years later, Frank revisits the tempestuous events of that fateful summer from his deathbed in Manhattan, where he waits anxiously for Tennessee to visit him one final time. Anja, now legendary film icon Anja Bloom, lives as a recluse in the present-day U.S., until a young man connected to the events of 1953 lures her reluctantly back into the spotlight after he discovers she possesses the only surviving copy of Williams’s final play.
What keeps two people together and what breaks them apart? Can we save someone else if we can’t save ourselves? Like The Master and The Hours, Leading Men seamlessly weaves fact and fiction to navigate the tensions between public figures and their private lives. In an ultimately heartbreaking story about the burdens of fame and the complex negotiations of life in the shadows of greatness, Castellani creates an unforgettable leading lady in Anja Bloom and reveals the hidden machinery of one of the great literary love stories of the twentieth-century. (From Viking February 12)
Evelyn Hampton, Famous Children and Famished Adults: Stories
“Evelyn Hampton’s prose can be measured in breaths, like poetry, and in gasps, like philosophy. The beauty on the line level will stop your heart. These are vicious stories, aching stories, stories that bleed and stories that can staunch the bleeding of loneliness, hubris, and desire. They are also, as the best darkest things are, extremely funny. A gorgeous, riveting collection.” —Kristen Iskandrian
Winner of FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize
Stories that remap the world to reveal hidden places we have always suspected of existing and scenarios that show us glimpses of ourselves
In these stories, readers encounter a wizened, silent child; a documentary filmmaker lost in the Amazon; a writer physically overwhelmed by the amount of content she has generated; the disappearance of the world’s cats; and an enormous houseplant that has become quietly malevolent. Through these encounters, which are presented with insightful, intricate, and often very funny writing, readers come to know the scintillating zone where fiction and reality become indistinguishable.
Working in the tradition of voice impressionists like Maria Bamford, Hampton draws on a wide range of styles and voices to tell stories that seem at once familiar and strange, spoofed and invented. Readers who have enjoyed the work of Shirley Jackson, George Saunders, Lydia Davis, or Robert Walser will be at home in these pages, but so too will readers who have given up on fiction. These stories show us that insouciance can be beautiful, confusion can be intricate and ordered, and rule-breaking can be a discipline all its own. (From FC2 February 19)
Marlon James, Black Leopard, Red Wolf
From Kirkus (starred review): “James’ sensual, beautifully rendered prose and sweeping, precisely detailed narrative cast their own transfixing spell upon the reader. He not only brings a fresh multicultural perspective to a grand fantasy subgenre, but also broadens the genre’s psychological and metaphysical possibilities.”
The epic novel, an African Game of Thrones, from the Man Booker Prize-winning author of A Brief History of Seven Killings
In the stunning first novel in Marlon James’s Dark Star trilogy, myth, fantasy, and history come together to explore what happens when a mercenary is hired to find a missing child.
Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: “He has a nose,” people say. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard.
As Tracker follows the boy’s scent–from one ancient city to another; into dense forests and across deep rivers–he and the band are set upon by creatures intent on destroying them. As he struggles to survive, Tracker starts to wonder: Who, really, is this boy? Why has he been missing for so long? Why do so many people want to keep Tracker from finding him? And perhaps the most important questions of all: Who is telling the truth, and who is lying?
Drawing from African history and mythology and his own rich imagination, Marlon James has written a novel unlike anything that’s come before it: a saga of breathtaking adventure that’s also an ambitious, involving read. Defying categorization and full of unforgettable characters, Black Leopard, Red Wolf is both surprising and profound as it explores the fundamentals of truth, the limits of power, and our need to understand them both. (From Riverhead February 5)
Devi S. Laskar, The Atlas of Reds and Blues
“Devi S. Laskar’s The Atlas of Reds and Blues is as narratively beautiful as it is brutal. In prose that moves between cushioning characters’ falls and ushering our understandings of characters’ utopias, Laskar creates a world where the consequences of American terror never stop reverberating. I’ve never read a novel that does nearly as much in so few pages. Laskar has changed how we will all write about state-sanctioned terror in this nation.” —Kiese Laymon
When a woman—known only as Mother—moves her family from Atlanta to its wealthy suburbs, she discovers that neither the times nor the people have changed since her childhood in a small Southern town. Despite the intervening decades, Mother is met with the same questions: Where are you from? No, where are you really from? The American-born daughter of Bengali immigrants, she finds that her answer—Here—is never enough.
Mother’s simmering anger breaks through one morning, when, during a violent and unfounded police raid on her home, she finally refuses to be complacent. As she lies bleeding from a gunshot wound, her thoughts race from childhood games with her sister and visits to cousins in India, to her time in the newsroom before having her three daughters, to the early days of her relationship with a husband who now spends more time flying business class than at home.
The Atlas of Reds and Blues grapples with the complexities of the second-generation American experience, what it means to be a woman of color in the workplace, and a sister, a wife, and a mother to daughters in today’s America. Drawing inspiration from the author’s own terrifying experience of a raid on her home, Devi S. Laskar’s debut novel explores, in exquisite, lyrical prose, an alternate reality that might have been. (From Counterpoint February 5)
Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams, editors, A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers
From Publishers Weekly (starred review): “Each story builds a plausible extrapolation of the current world, and each character is well drawn. This bold collection is full of hope, strength, and courage, and will be welcomed by readers looking for emotional sustenance and validation of their experiences in a challenging time.”
A glittering landscape of twenty-five speculative stories that challenge oppression and envision new futures for America—from N. K. Jemisin, Charles Yu, Jamie Ford, G. Willow Wilson, Charlie Jane Anders, Hugh Howey, and more.
In these tumultuous times, in our deeply divided country, many people are angry, frightened, and hurting. Knowing that imagining a brighter tomorrow has always been an act of resistance, editors Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams invited an extraordinarily talented group of writers to share stories that explore new forms of freedom, love, and justice. They asked for narratives that would challenge oppressive American myths, release us from the chokehold of our history, and give us new futures to believe in.
They also asked that the stories be badass.
The result is this spectacular collection of twenty-five tales that blend the dark and the light, the dystopian and the utopian. These tales are vivid with struggle and hardship—whether it’s the othered and the terrorized, or dragonriders and covert commandos—but these characters don’t flee, they fight.
Thrilling, inspiring, and a sheer joy to read, A People’s Future of the United States is a gift for anyone who believes in our power to dream a just world. (From One World February 5)
Yiyun Li, Where Reasons End
A fearless writer confronts grief and transforms it into art, in a book of surprising beauty and love.
The narrator of Where Reasons End writes, “I had but one delusion, which I held on to with all my willpower: We once gave Nikolai a life of flesh and blood; and I’m doing it over again, this time by words.”
Yiyun Li meets life’s deepest sorrows as she imagines a conversation between a mother and child in a timeless world. Composed in the months after she lost a child to suicide, Where Reasons End trespasses into the space between life and death as mother and child talk, free from old images and narratives. Deeply moving, these conversations portray the love and complexity of a relationship.
Written with originality, precision, and poise, Where Reasons End is suffused with intimacy, inescapable pain, and fierce love. (From Random House February 5)
Valeria Luiselli, Lost Children Archive
From Publishers Weekly (starred review): “Juxtaposing rich poetic prose with direct storytelling and brutal reality… Luiselli explores what holds a family and society together and what pulls them apart…. Luiselli demonstrates how callousness toward other cultures erodes our own. Her superb novel makes a devastating case for compassion by documenting the tragic shortcomings of the immigration process.”
From the two-time NBCC Finalist, an emotionally resonant, fiercely imaginative new novel about a family whose road trip across America collides with an immigration crisis at the southwestern border–an indelible journey told with breathtaking imagery, spare lyricism, and profound humanity.
A mother and father set out with their two children, a boy and a girl, driving from New York to Arizona in the heat of summer. Their destination: Apacheria, the place the Apaches once called home.Why Apaches? asks the ten-year-old son. Because they were the last of something, answers his father.
In their car, they play games and sing along to music. But on the radio, there is news about an “immigration crisis”: thousands of kids trying to cross the southwestern border into the United States, but getting detained–or lost in the desert along the way.
As the family drives–through Virginia to Tennessee, across Oklahoma and Texas–we sense they are on the brink of a crisis of their own. A fissure is growing between the parents, one the children can almost feel beneath their feet. They are led, inexorably, to a grand, harrowing adventure–both in the desert landscape and within the chambers of their own imaginations.
Told through several compelling voices, blending texts, sounds, and images, Lost Children Archive is an astonishing feat of literary virtuosity. It is a richly engaging story of how we document our experiences, and how we remember the things that matter to us the most. With urgency and empathy, it takes us deep into the lives of one remarkable family as it probes the nature of justice and equality today. (From Knopf February 12)
Elizabeth McCracken, Bowlaway
From Publishers Weekly (starred review): “McCracken writes with a natural lyricism that sports vivid imagery and delightful turns of phrase. Her distinct humor enlivens the many plot twists that propel the narrative, making for a novel readers will sink into and savor.”
A sweeping and enchanting new novel from the widely beloved, award-winning author Elizabeth McCracken about three generations of an unconventional New England family who own and operate a candlepin bowling alley
From the day she is discovered unconscious in a New England cemetery at the turn of the twentieth century—nothing but a bowling ball, a candlepin, and fifteen pounds of gold on her person—Bertha Truitt is an enigma to everyone in Salford, Massachusetts. She has no past to speak of, or at least none she is willing to reveal, and her mysterious origin scandalizes and intrigues the townspeople, as does her choice to marry and start a family with Leviticus Sprague, the doctor who revived her. But Bertha is plucky, tenacious, and entrepreneurial, and the bowling alley she opens quickly becomes Salford’s most defining landmark—with Bertha its most notable resident.
When Bertha dies in a freak accident, her past resurfaces in the form of a heretofore-unheard-of son, who arrives in Salford claiming he is heir apparent to Truitt Alleys. Soon it becomes clear that, even in her death, Bertha’s defining spirit and the implications of her obfuscations live on, infecting and affecting future generations through inheritance battles, murky paternities, and hidden wills.
In a voice laced with insight and her signature sharp humor, Elizabeth McCracken has written an epic family saga set against the backdrop of twentieth-century America. Bowlaway is both a stunning feat of language and a brilliant unraveling of a family’s myths and secrets, its passions and betrayals, and the ties that bind and the rifts that divide. (From Ecco February 5)
Mandeliene Smith, Rutting Season: Stories
From Kirkus (starred review): “Nuanced and empathetic, at times dangerous, tragic, or redemptive, these stories find their subjects in the midst of pivotal moments in their lives, as they struggle with impulses and actions both animalistically urgent and deeply, hauntingly human.”
An intimate, sparkling collection of stories by a debut writer about girls behaving badly and families on the brink of collapse.
In these lucid, sharply observant stories, Mandeliene Smith traces the lives of men and women in moments of crisis: a woman whose husband has just died, a social worker struggling to escape his own past, a girl caught in a standoff between her mother’s boyfriend and the police. A lively and insightful collection, Rutting Season is dark, humorous, and moving, filled with complex characters who immediately demand our interest and attention.
In “What it Takes,” a teenage girl navigates race and class as the school’s pot dealer. “The Someday Cat” follows a small girl terrified of being given away by her neglectful mother. “Three Views of a Pond” is a meditation on the healing time brings for a college student considering suicide. And in “Animals,” a child wrestles with the contradictions inherent in her family’s relationship with the farm animals they both care for and kill.
In barnyards, office buildings, and dilapidated houses, Smith’s characters fight for happiness and survival, and the choices they make reveal the power of instinct to save or destroy. Whether she’s writing about wives struggling with love, teenage girls resisting authority, or men and women reeling from loss, Smith illuminates her characters with pointed, gorgeous language and searing insight. Rutting Season is an unforgettable, unmissable collection from an exciting new voice in fiction. (From Scribner February 12)
Lauren Wilkinson, American Spy
From Kirkus (starred review): “Wilkinson…navigates the psychic and physical terrain of this tale of divided loyalties with the poise of such classic masters as Eric Ambler and Graham Greene spiked with late-20th-century black American intellectual history. There’s an honorable, unsung tradition of African-American novelists using the counterspy genre as a metaphor for what W.E.B. Du Bois called ‘double consciousness,’ and Wilkinson’s book is a noteworthy contribution.”
What if your sense of duty required you to betray the man you love?
It’s 1986, the heart of the Cold War, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She’s brilliant, but she’s also a young black woman working in an old boys’ club. Her career has stalled out, she’s overlooked for every high-profile squad, and her days are filled with monotonous paperwork. So when she’s given the opportunity to join a shadowy task force aimed at undermining Thomas Sankara, the charismatic revolutionary president of Burkina Faso whose Communist ideology has made him a target for American intervention, she says yes. Yes, even though she secretly admires the work Sankara is doing for his country. Yes, even though she is still grieving the mysterious death of her sister, whose example led Marie to this career path in the first place. Yes, even though a furious part of her suspects she’s being offered the job because of her appearance and not her talent.
In the year that follows, Marie will observe Sankara, seduce him, and ultimately have a hand in the coup that will bring him down. But doing so will change everything she believes about what it means to be a spy, a lover, a sister, and a good American.
Inspired by true events—Thomas Sankara is known as “Africa’s Che Guevara”—American Spy knits together a gripping spy thriller, a heartbreaking family drama, and a passionate romance. This is a face of the Cold War you’ve never seen before, and it introduces a powerful new literary voice. (From Random House February 12)