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Exploring the art of fiction

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New Books: May 2019


Here’s a look at some of the May releases CRAFT can’t wait to read. Happy pub day to one and all!

 

Ted Chiang, Exhalation

“There’s so much excellence in the labyrinth of ideas in Exhalation—machines that question free will, AIs that challenge love, software that shapes memory—what truly astounds is the tenderness that pulses through each story like a heartbeat. When I read Ted Chiang, I am reminded not only of what might be, but what is: our own humanity, realized again and again through wonder, language, and empathy. He is not only at the top of his genre, but a true storyteller, and one of our most skilled and fascinating. I am so excited to live in a world where Ted Chiang is writing.” —Aja Gabel


Wendy J. Fox, If the Ice Had Held

“Wendy J. Fox’s prose is both haunting and full of bright spirit Her latch on language is akin to an insect in amber:tight and solid and sparkling, and in the case of If the Ice had Held, houses perfect, vivid characters awash in the most timeless of troubles, namely, the bearing and rearing of unplanned children and the sleep of unchartered lives. The various perspectives leave us scratching our heads, wondering why we’ve never before possessed the ability to see the world–and life–in quite this same way.” —Paula Coome

Melanie Henderson’s life is a lie. The scandal of her birth and the identity of her true parents is kept from her family’s small, conservative Colorado town. Not even she knows the truth: that her birth mother was just 14 and unmarried to her father, a local boy who drowned when he tried to take a shortcut across an icy river. Thirty-five years later, in Denver, Melanie dabbles in affairs with married men while clinging to a corporate job that gives her life order even as her tenuous relationships fall apart. She still hasn’t learned that the woman who raised her is actually her aunt—or that her birth mother visits her almost every day. This fiercely-guarded secret bonds the two most important women in her life, who hatched a plan to trade places and give Melanie a life unmarred by shame. Yet, as a forest fire rages through the Rocky Mountains and a car accident shakes the family, Melanie finds herself at the center of an unraveling tangle of tragedy and heartbreak. If the Ice Had Held speaks with a natural lyricism, and presents a cast of characters who quietly struggle through complicated lives. (From SFWP May 1)


Mohammed Hanif, Red Birds

From Kirkus (starred review): “Narrated in the first-person from multiple perspectives…Hanif’s novel maneuvers between compelling, hilarious voices with the fast pace of a slapstick comedy, albeit a comedy with teeth…. Funny, fresh, and not afraid to draw blood, this is an unusual gem of a book.”


Ma Jian, China Dream translated by Flora Drew

“Ma has a marksman’s eye for the contradictions of his country and his generation, and the responsibilities and buried dreams they carry. His perceptiveness, combined with a genius for capturing people who come from all classes, occupations, backgrounds and beliefs; for identifying the fallibility, comedy and despair of living in absurd times, has allowed him to compassionately detail China’s complex inner lives. Censoring his novels and banning his name have been Beijing’s cynical response to Ma’s artistry, and to the human lives that the novelist cannot forget, even as the Chinese Dream envelops them.” —Madeleine Thien, The Guardian


Chia-Chia Lin, The Unpassing

The Unpassing is a devastating debut, igneous, aching as if with the glow of the great northern skies beneath which it is set. More than meditation on grief; more than immigrant saga, or bildungsroman; more than new American gothic: here, Chia-Chia Lin has written a novel of such strange, brittle beauty as to resemble nothing else so much as living, itself. Her prose—at once poetic and lucid, by turns darkly comic and haunting—achieves something like the peculiar grammar of loss. I turned the last page with heartache and wonder, a feeling of having been undone and remade.” —D. Wystan Owen

In Chia-Chia Lin’s debut novel, The Unpassing, we meet a Taiwanese immigrant family of six struggling to make ends meet on the outskirts of Anchorage, Alaska. The father, hardworking but beaten down, is employed as a plumber and repairman, while the mother, a loving, strong-willed, and unpredictably emotional matriarch, holds the house together. When ten-year-old Gavin contracts meningitis at school, he falls into a deep, nearly fatal coma. He wakes up a week later to learn that his little sister Ruby was infected, too. She did not survive.

Routine takes over for the grieving family: the siblings care for each other as they befriend a neighboring family and explore the woods; distance grows between the parents as they deal with their loss separately. But things spiral when the father, increasingly guilt ridden after Ruby’s death, is sued for not properly installing a septic tank, which results in grave harm to a little boy. In the ensuing chaos, what really happened to Ruby finally emerges.

With flowing prose that evokes the terrifying beauty of the Alaskan wilderness, Lin explores the fallout after the loss of a child and the way in which a family is forced to grieve in a place that doesn’t yet feel like home. Emotionally raw and subtly suspenseful, The Unpassing is a deeply felt family saga that dismisses the American dream for a harsher, but ultimately more profound, reality. (From FSG May 7)


Joanna Pearson, Every Human Love

From Kirkus: “Pearson’s stories are meticulously written, with layers that are incrementally and patiently revealed. Her voice nimbly creates a sense of strangeness and detachment without ever lapsing into coldness…. At the heart of this collection are questions about how people can survive circumstances that demand hard choices without losing faith in everything in their lives up to that critical juncture.”

The fourteen stories in EVERY HUMAN LOVE redefine our sense of reality. Set seemingly in the quotidian, these tales veer into the unexpected, the uncomfortable, occasionally the eerie, thrusting characters in crisis into still greater quandaries, where the world of weddings and work, of frustrated hopes and mundane dissatisfactions, collides with a realm of legend, of fairy tale, of nightmare. (From Acre Books May 15)


Julia Phillips, Disappearing Earth

“Julia Phillips is at once a careful cartographer and gorgeous storyteller. Written with passion and patience, this is the story of a people and the land that shapes them. A mystery of two missing girls burns at the center of this astonishing debut, and the complexity of ethnicity, gender, hearth and kin illuminates this question and many more.” —Tayari Jones


Adam Popescu, Nima

“Adam Popescu’s novel Nima is as much a composite memoir of the tragic optimism of Himalayan youth as a fictional account of a blossoming woman surviving the perils of both nature and modernity at the same time. It paints a memorably vivid contrast between the power of the mountains and that of the human spirit. Beautifully done.” —Parag Khanna

Nima is a young Sherpa woman living in the foothills of the Himalayas, a range so immense and a place so isolated it is impossible to imagine anything existing beyond it. Nima and her sister are both betrothed to Norbu, a local Sherpa, but when Norbu stuns both families by only wanting to marry Nima, Nima flees her father’s wrath and the destiny that had been arranged for all of them.

Disguised as a man, Nima seeks work, and is hired by an American journalist to guide their small group up to Everest Base Camp. The journey is treacherous, and Nima challenges every restriction her culture places on her gender while balancing the duties of her new role as guide. Popescu brings to life the many contradictions of the region through the eyes of Nima: trails strewn with litter overlook majestic views, Buddhist clarity is marred by sexual oppression, and a tourism industry that fuels the local economy also threatens to destroy it. (From Unnamed Press May 21)


Max Porter, Lanny

From Booklist (starred review): “[Lanny] delivers quite the punch with its combination of unlikely effervescence, authentic emotion, and literary exploration…. Porter has created both an entertaining tale and a novel of exceptionally creative experimentation and genre extension.”

There’s a village an hour from London. It’s no different from many others today: one pub, one church, redbrick cottages, some public housing, and a few larger houses dotted about. Voices rise up, as they might anywhere, speaking of loving and needing and working and dying and walking the dogs. This village belongs to the people who live in it, to the land and to the land’s past.

It also belongs to Dead Papa Toothwort, a mythical figure local schoolchildren used to draw as green and leafy, choked by tendrils growing out of his mouth, who awakens after a glorious nap. He is listening to this twenty-first-century village, to its symphony of talk: drunken confessions, gossip traded on the street corner, fretful conversations in living rooms. He is listening, intently, for a mischievous, ethereal boy whose parents have recently made the village their home. Lanny.

With Lanny, Max Porter extends the potent and magical space he created in Grief Is the Thing with Feathers. This brilliant novel will ensorcell readers with its anarchic energy, with its bewitching tapestry of fabulism and domestic drama. Lanny is a ringing defense of creativity, spirit, and the generative forces that often seem under assault in the contemporary world, and it solidifies Porter’s reputation as one of the most daring and sensitive writers of his generation. (From Graywolf May 14)


Joanne Ramos, The Farm

From Kirkus (starred review): “Perhaps the most powerful element of this debut novel by Ramos, who was born in Manila and moved to Wisconsin when she was 6, is its portrait of the world of Filipinas in New York. The three-page soliloquy of instructions for nannying delivered to Jane by her more experienced cousin is a work of art in itself. Excellent, both as a reproductive dystopian narrative and as a social novel about women and class.”

Nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley is a luxury retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, personal fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you’re paid big money to stay here—more than you’ve ever dreamed of. The catch? For nine months, you cannot leave the grounds, your movements are monitored, and you are cut off from your former life while you dedicate yourself to the task of producing the perfect baby. For someone else.

Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, is in desperate search of a better future when she commits to being a “Host” at Golden Oaks—or the Farm, as residents call it. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her family, Jane is determined to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she’ll receive on the delivery of her child.

Gripping, provocative, heartbreaking, The Farm pushes to the extremes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love. (From Random House May 7)


Karen Russell, Orange World and Other Stories

“A feast of invention and a fun house of surprising wisdom, Orange World contains a ghost-ship lodge, tourist trade in a post-apocalyptic drowned city, a tornado farm, a local succubus. Karen Russell moves from the farcical to the forbidden with tender conviction. Don’t miss this book of marvels!” —Louise Erdrich


Xuan Juliana Wang, Home Remedies

“Vast in scope and ridiculously accomplished, Home Remedies captures the rapidity and dislocation of our modern world. Underneath it all is a tender yearning for belonging, self-possession and connection. Xuan Juliana Wang is singing an incredibly complex song of hybridity and heart.” —Justin Torres


Julie Zuckerman, The Book of Jeremiah: A Novel in Stories

“This book is the moving, endearing story of Jeremiah Gerstler—son, father, husband, academic, Jew—who tries over the course of his life to be the best person he can, and who will inspire his readers to do the same. Jumping backwards and forwards in time to hone in on various periods in Gerstler’s life, this novel-in-stories offers a sensitive and nuanced portrayal of some of life’s most painful and private moments.”  —Ilana Kurshan

A moving and engrossing debut novel-in-stories, THE BOOK OF JEREMIAH, tells the story of awkward but endearing Jeremiah Gerstler—the son of Jewish immigrants, brilliant political science professor, husband, father. Jeremiah has yearned for respect and acceptance his entire life, and no matter his success, he still strives for more. Spanning eight decades and interwoven with the Jewish experience of the 20th century, Julie Zuckerman charts Jeremiah’s life from boyhood, through service in WWII, to marriage and children, a professorship and finally retirement, with compassion, honesty, and a respect that even Gerstler himself would find touching. (From Press 53 May 3)