New Books: March 2019
Here’s a quick look at some of the great fiction publishing in March—so many short story collections! Happy pub day to one and all.
Candice Carty-Williams, Queenie
From Booklist (starred review): “Fast moving and with a strong sense of Queenie’s London, this entertains while tackling topics like mental health and stigma, racism and tokenism, gentrification, and the isolation of social-media and dating-app culture. This smart, funny, and tender debut embraces a modern woman’s messiness.”
Bridget Jones’s Diary meets Americanah in this disarmingly honest, boldly political, and truly inclusive novel that will speak to anyone who has gone looking for love and found something very different in its place.
Queenie Jenkins is a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures and slotting neatly into neither. She works at a national newspaper, where she’s constantly forced to compare herself to her white middle class peers. After a messy break up from her long-term white boyfriend, Queenie seeks comfort in all the wrong places…including several hazardous men who do a good job of occupying brain space and a bad job of affirming self-worth.
As Queenie careens from one questionable decision to another, she finds herself wondering, “What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Who do you want to be?”—all of the questions today’s woman must face in a world trying to answer them for her. (From Gallery/Scout Press March 19)
Peter Heller, The River
From Kirkus (starred review): “In bringing his characters to the brink of death (and past it), Heller speaks soberly to the random perils of everyday living. An exhilarating tale delivered with the pace of a thriller and the wisdom of a grizzled nature guide.”
From the best-selling author of The Dog Stars, the story of two college students on a wilderness canoe trip–a gripping tale of a friendship tested by fire, white water, and violence
Wynn and Jack have been best friends since freshman orientation, bonded by their shared love of mountains, books, and fishing. Wynn is a gentle giant, a Vermont kid never happier than when his feet are in the water. Jack is more rugged, raised on a ranch in Colorado where sleeping under the stars and cooking on a fire came as naturally to him as breathing. When they decide to canoe the Maskwa River in northern Canada, they anticipate long days of leisurely paddling and picking blueberries, and nights of stargazing and reading paperback Westerns. But a wildfire making its way across the forest adds unexpected urgency to the journey. When they hear a man and woman arguing on the fog-shrouded riverbank and decide to warn them about the fire, their search for the pair turns up nothing and no one. But: The next day a man appears on the river, paddling alone. Is this the man they heard? And, if he is, where is the woman? From this charged beginning, master storyteller Peter Heller unspools a headlong, heart-pounding story of desperate wilderness survival. (From Knopf March 5)
Amy Hempel, Sing to It: New Stories
From Kirkus (starred review): “The brilliance of the writing, however, resides in the way Hempel manages to tell us everything in spite of her narrator’s reticence, teaching us to read between the lines…. Hempel’s great gift is that her indirection only leads us further inward, toward the place where her characters must finally reckon with themselves.”
From legendary writer Amy Hempel, one of the most celebrated and original voices in American short fiction: a ravishing, sometimes heartbreaking new story collection—her first in over a decade.
Amy Hempel is a master of the short story. A multiple award winner, Hempel is highly regarded among writers, reviewers, and readers of contemporary fiction. This new collection, her first since her Collected Stories published more than a decade ago, is a literary event.
These fifteen exquisitely honed stories reveal Hempel at her most compassionate and spirited, as she introduces characters, lonely and adrift, searching for connection. In “A Full-Service Shelter,” a volunteer at a dog shelter tirelessly, devotedly cares for dogs on a list to be euthanized. In “Greed,” a spurned wife examines her husband’s affair with a glamorous, older married woman. And in “Cloudland,” the longest story in the collection, a woman reckons with the choice she made as a teenager to give up her newborn infant. Quietly dazzling, these stories are replete with moments of revelation and transcendence and with Hempel’s singular, startling, inimitable sentences. (From Scribner March 26)
Laila Lalami, The Other Americans
From Booklist (starred review): “Lalami impressively conducts this chorus of flawed yet graceful human beings to mellifluous effect…. An eloquent reminder that frame of reference is everything when defining the ‘other.'”
From the Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of The Moor’s Account, here is a timely and powerful novel about the suspicious death of a Moroccan immigrant—at once a family saga, a murder mystery, and a love story, informed by the treacherous fault lines of American culture.
Late one spring night, Driss Guerraoui, a Moroccan immigrant living in California, is walking across a darkened intersection when he is killed by a speeding car. The repercussions of his death bring together a diverse cast of characters: Guerraoui’s daughter Nora, a jazz composer who returns to the small town in the Mojave she thought she’d left for good; his widow, Maryam, who still pines after her life in the old country; Efraín, an undocumented witness whose fear of deportation prevents him from coming forward; Jeremy, an old friend of Nora’s and an Iraq War veteran; Coleman, a detective who is slowly discovering her son’s secrets; Anderson, a neighbor trying to reconnect with his family; and the murdered man himself.
As the characters—deeply divided by race, religion, and class—tell their stories, connections among them emerge, even as Driss’s family confronts its secrets, a town faces its hypocrisies, and love, messy and unpredictable, is born. (From Pantheon March 26)
David Means, Instructions for a Funeral: Stories
From Kirkus (starred review): “Means’ fifth collection cements his reputation as one of the finest, and most idiosyncratic, practitioners of short fiction in contemporary literature…. In this magnificent book, we find the stories of every one of us: absent and present, dislocated and connected, at the mercy of our history, our narratives.”
Means’s work has earned him comparisons to Flannery O’Connor, Alice Munro, Sherwood Anderson, Denis Johnson, Edgar Allan Poe, Anton Chekhov, and Raymond Carver but his place in the American literary landscape is fully and originally his own.
Following the publication of his widely acclaimed, Man Booker-nominated novel Hystopia, David Means here returns to his signature form: the short story. Thanks to his four previous story collections, Means has won himself an international reputation as one of the most innovative short fiction writers working today: an “established master of the form.” (Laura Miller, The Guardian). Instructions for a Funeral—featuring work from The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Paris Review, and VICE—finds Means branching out beyond the explorations of violence and trauma with which he is often identified, prominently displaying his sly humor and his inimitable way of telling tales that deliciously wind up to punch the reader in the heart. With each story Means pushes into new territory, writing with tenderness and compassion about fatherhood, marriage, a homeless brother, the nature of addiction, and the death of a friend at the hands of a serial-killer nurse. Means transmutes a fistfight in Sacramento into a tender, life-long love story; two FBI agents on a stakeout in the 1920s into a tale of predator and prey, paternal urges and loss; a man’s funeral instructions into a chronicle of organized crime, real estate ventures, and the destructive force of paranoia. (From Farrar, Straus and Giroux March 5)
John Metcalf, Finding Again the World: Selected Stories
From Kirkus (starred review): “Harsh reality, hope, and caricature mingle in this tour de force…. An exceptional collection.”
With an introduction by Keath Fraser, Finding Again the World is a landmark collection, a sumptuous gathering of singular work: these are stories that will last.
Finding Again the World brings together a dozen of the best stories by John Metcalf, a modern master of the form. Spanning more than fifty years and ranging from some of his earliest published stories, such as “Dandelions” and “The Eastmill Reception Centre,” to his latest, with “Ceazer Salad” and “The Museum at the End of the World,” this current gathering shows a writer whose voice, at every stage of his career, is unmistakable. These are elegant and brilliantly charged fictions, entertaining and moving and mischievous: taking the dross and straw of everyday life and transforming it, through some sort of alchemical process of sensibility, into art. (From Biblioasis March 19)
Erin McGraw, Joy: And 52 Other Very Short Stories
From Publishers Weekly (starred review): “This quintessential collection of stories serves as an homage to the form while showcasing McGraw’s stunning talent and deep empathy for the idiosyncrasies, small joys, and despairs of human nature.”
Claire Messud described Erin McGraw’s last collection of stories as “at once laugh-out-loud funny and utterly serious, [exploring] life’s profundity through its details.” This is even more true with McGraw’s new collection, Joy.
In these very short stories, narrators step out of themselves to explain their lives to us, sometimes defensively, sometimes regretfully, other times deceitfully. Voices include those of the impulsive first-time murderer, the depressed pet sitter, the assistant of Patsy Cline, the anxiety-riddled new mother, the aged rock-and-roller, the girlfriend of your husband—human beings often (incredibly) unaware of the turning points staring them in the face.
Crossing time, states, class, and religions, McGraw’s stories are on the edge, causing you to wince even as you laugh. And McGraw will draw you to a deep need to read some sentences aloud—a sweet voice, a shrewd insight, some uneasy charm. (From Counterpoint March 5)
Helen Oyeyemi, Gingerbread
From Publishers Weekly (starred review): “Oyeyemi excels at making the truly astounding believable and turning even the most familiar tales into something strange and new. This fantastic and fantastical romp is a wonderful addition to her formidable canon.”
Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s stories, beloved novelist Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe.
Perdita Lee may appear to be your average British schoolgirl; Harriet Lee may seem just a working mother trying to penetrate the school social hierarchy; but there are signs that they might not be as normal as they think they are. For one thing, they share a gold-painted, seventh-floor walk-up apartment with some surprisingly verbal vegetation. And then there’s the gingerbread they make. Londoners may find themselves able to take or leave it, but it’s very popular in Druhástrana, the far-away (or, according to many sources, non-existent) land of Harriet Lee’s early youth. The world’s truest lover of the Lee family gingerbread, however, is Harriet’s charismatic childhood friend Gretel Kercheval—a figure who seems to have had a hand in everything (good or bad) that has happened to Harriet since they met.
Decades later, when teenaged Perdita sets out to find her mother’s long-lost friend, it prompts a new telling of Harriet’s story. As the book follows the Lees through encounters with jealousy, ambition, family grudges, work, wealth, and real estate, gingerbread seems to be the one thing that reliably holds a constant value. Endlessly surprising and satisfying, written with Helen Oyeyemi’s inimitable style and imagination, it is a true feast for the reader. (From Riverhead March 5)
Polly Rosenwaike, Look How Happy I’m Making You: Stories
From Kirkus (starred review): “The push-pull of life and death, the tug of postpartum depression, the shame of deception, the guilt of separation—all are explored in these pages…. An exquisite collection that is candid, compassionate, and emotionally complex.”
A candid, ultimately buoyant debut story collection about the realities of the “baby years,” whether you’re having one or not
The women in Polly Rosenwaike’s Look How Happy I’m Making You want to be mothers, or aren’t sure they want to be mothers, or—having recently given birth—are overwhelmed by what they’ve wrought. Sharp and unsettling, wry and moving in its depiction of love, friendship, and family, this collection expands the conversation about what having a baby looks like.
One woman struggling with infertility deals with the news that her sister is pregnant. Another woman nervous about her biological clock “forgets” to take her birth control while dating a younger man and must confront the possibility of becoming a single parent. Four motherless women who meet in a bar every Mother’s Day contend with their losses and what it would mean to have a child.
Witty, empathetic, and precisely observed, Look How Happy I’m Making You offers the rare, honest portrayal of pregnancy and new motherhood in a culture obsessed with women’s most intimate choices. (From Doubleday March 19)
Namwali Serpell, The Old Drift
From Kirkus (starred review): “Comparisons with Gabriel García Márquez are inevitable and likely warranted. But this novel’s generous spirit, sensory richness, and visionary heft make it almost unique among magical realist epics.”
An electrifying debut from the winner of the 2015 Caine Prize for African writing, The Old Drift is the Great Zambian Novel you didn’t know you were waiting for
On the banks of the Zambezi River, a few miles from the majestic Victoria Falls, there was once a colonial settlement called The Old Drift. Here begins the epic story of a small African nation, told by a mysterious swarm-like chorus that calls itself man’s greatest nemesis. The tale? A playful panorama of history, fairytale, romance and science fiction. The moral? To err is human.
In 1904, in a smoky room at the hotel across the river, an Old Drifter named Percy M. Clark, foggy with fever, makes a mistake that entangles the fates of an Italian hotelier and an African busboy. This sets off a cycle of unwitting retribution between three Zambian families (black, white, brown) as they collide and converge over the course of the century, into the present and beyond. As the generations pass, their lives—their triumphs, errors, losses and hopes—form a symphony about what it means to be human.
From a woman covered with hair and another plagued with endless tears, to forbidden love affairs and fiery political ones, to homegrown technological marvels like Afronauts, microdrones and viral vaccines—this gripping, unforgettable novel sweeps over the years and the globe, subverting expectations along the way. Exploding with color and energy, The Old Drift is a testament to our yearning to create and cross borders, and a meditation on the slow, grand passage of time. (From Hogarth March 26)
Leanne Shapton, Guestbook: Ghost Stories
“‘Ghost’ is a good word for all the nameless longing that doesn’t get resolved in this lifetime. Shapton has created a mystical territory—a performance, an exhibition, a guestbook—in which I felt the ghost within myself; the thing that will outlive me. A fearless and exquisite book.” —Miranda July
One of our most imaginative writers and artists explores the visitations that haunt us in the midst of life, and reinvents the very way we narrate experience.
A tennis prodigy collapses after his wins, crediting them to an invisible, not entirely benevolent presence. A series of ghosts appear at their former bedsides, some distraught, some fascinated, to witness their unfamiliar occupants. A woman returns from a visit to Alcatraz with an uncomfortable feeling. The spirit of a prisoner has attached himself to you, a friend tells her. He sensed the sympathy you had for those men. In more than two dozen stories and vignettes, accompanied by an evocative curiosity cabinet of artifacts and images, Guestbook beckons us through the glimmering, unsettling evidence that marks our paths in life. (From Riverhead March 26)
Terese Svoboda, Great American Desert: Stories
From Kirkus (starred review): “A poet, memoirist, librettist, translator, and more, Svoboda has always engaged language as a tool of exploration. Her enigmatic sentences, elliptical narratives, and percussive plots delve into the possibilities of form, genre, and plausible futures, but always with an eye on the vast subterranean psychologies of her all-too-real creations. A challenging author’s take on the most challenging of subjects—the survival of our species from its distant beginnings into the possible future.”
In her arresting and inimitable style, Svoboda’s delicate handling of the complex dynamics of family and self seeps into every sentence of these first-rate short stories about what we do to the world around us—and what it can do to us.
Water, its use and abuse, trickles through Great American Desert, a story collection by Terese Svoboda that spans the misadventures of the prehistoric Clovis people to the wanderings of a forlorn couple around a pink pyramid in a sci-fi prairie. In “Dutch Joe,” the eponymous hero sees the future from the bottom of a well in the Sandhills, while a woman tries to drag her sister back from insanity in “Dirty Thirties.” In “Bomb Jockey,” a local Romeo disposes of leaky bombs at South Dakota’s army depot. A family quarrels in “Ogallala Aquifer” as a thousand trucks dump chemical waste next to their land. Bugs and drugs are devoured in “Alfalfa,” a disc jockey talks her way out of a knifing in “Sally Rides,” and an updated Pied Piper begs parents to reconsider in “The Mountain.” The consequences of the land’s mistreatment is epitomized in the final story by a discovery inside a pink pyramid. (From Mad Creek/Ohio State Press March 12)
Bryan Washington, Lot: Stories
From Publishers Weekly (starred review): “Washington is exact and empathetic… a dynamic writer with a sharp eye for character, voice, and setting. This is a remarkable collection from a writer to watch.”
In the city of Houston—a sprawling, diverse microcosm of America—the son of a black mother and a Latino father is coming of age. He’s working at his family’s restaurant, weathering his brother’s blows, resenting his older sister’s absence. And discovering he likes boys.
Around him, others live and thrive and die in Houston’s myriad neighborhoods: a young woman whose affair detonates across an apartment complex, a ragtag baseball team, a group of young hustlers, hurricane survivors, a local drug dealer who takes a Guatemalan teen under his wing, a reluctant chupacabra.
Bryan Washington’s brilliant, viscerally drawn world vibrates with energy, wit, and the infinite longing of people searching for home. With soulful insight into what makes a community, a family, and a life, Lot explores trust and love in all its unsparing and unsteady forms. (From Riverhead March 19)