New Books: August 2019
Summer isn’t over yet! Here’s a look at the new August fiction releases CRAFT can’t wait to read. We’re in another great month for short story collections! Happy pub day to one and all…
Ayşe Papatya Bucak, The Trojan War Museum and Other Stories
“One of the best and most surprising collections I’ve read in a long time. This is a wonder cabinet of stories so singular and marvelous that I spent a long time after each, wanting to linger in the space it had created.” —Kelly Link
In Ayşe Papatya Bucak’s dreamlike narratives, dead girls recount the effects of an earthquake and a chess-playing automaton falls in love. A student stops eating and no one knows whether her act is personal or political. A Turkish wrestler, a hero in the East, is seen as a brute in the West. The anguish of an Armenian refugee is “performed” at an American fund-raiser. An Ottoman ambassador in Paris amasses a tantalizing collection of erotic art. And in the masterful title story, the Greek god Apollo confronts his personal history and bewails his Homeric reputation as he tries to memorialize, and make sense of, generations of war.
A joy and a provocation, Bucak’s stories confront the nature of historical memory with humor and humanity. Surreal and poignant, they examine the tension between myth and history, cultural categories and personal identity, performance and authenticity. (From Norton August 20)
Christy Ann Conlin, Watermark
“If you have faith in Flannery O’Connor’s fiction, or if you watch Werner Herzog’s films with a sense of awe, then Christy Ann Conlin’s collection of stories is for you. Equal parts lovely and loathsome, terrifying and tender, this elemental book works with the rawest of raw materials.” —Alexander MacLeod
In these evocative and startling stories, we meet people navigating the elemental forces of love, life, and death. An insomniac on Halifax’s moonlit streets. A runaway bride. A young woman accused of a brutal murder. A man who must live in exile if he is to live at all. A woman coming to terms with her eccentric childhood in a cult on the Bay of Fundy shore.
A master of North Atlantic Gothic, Christy Ann Conlin expertly navigates our conflicting self-perceptions, especially in moments of crisis. She illuminates the personality of land and ocean, charts the pull of the past on the present, and reveals the wildness inside each of us. These stories offer a gallery of both gritty and lyrical portraits, each unmasking the myth and mystery of the everyday. (From Astoria August 13)
Edwidge Danticat, Everything Inside
“Rich, vibrant. Haiti is the emotional core of this collection, though the characters roam the world. Lovers reconcile after a catastrophe, a daughter meets her dying father for the first and last time and a family reunites at a baby’s christening.” —Joumana Khatib
Tope Folarin, A Particular Kind of Black Man
“From the breathless first sentence, to the devastating last, this is a particularly mesmerizing kind of novel.” —Marlon James
Living in small-town Utah has always been an uneasy fit for Tunde Akinola’s family, especially for his Nigeria-born parents. Though Tunde speaks English with a Midwestern accent, he can’t escape the children who rub his skin and ask why the black won’t come off. As he struggles to fit in and find his place in the world, he finds little solace from his parents who are grappling with their own issues.
Tunde’s father, ever the optimist, works tirelessly chasing his American dream while his wife, lonely in Utah without family and friends, sinks deeper into schizophrenia. Then one otherwise-ordinary morning, Tunde’s mother wakes him with a hug, bundles him and his baby brother into the car, and takes them away from the only home they’ve ever known.
But running away doesn’t bring her, or her children, any relief from the demons that plague her; once Tunde’s father tracks them down, she flees to Nigeria, and Tunde never feels at home again. He spends the rest of his childhood and young adulthood searching for connection—to the wary stepmother and stepbrothers he gains when his father remarries; to the Utah residents who mock his father’s accent; to evangelical religion; to his Texas middle school’s crowd of African-Americans; to the fraternity brothers of his historically black college. In so doing, he discovers something that sends him on a journey away from everything he has known.
Sweeping, stirring, and perspective-shifting, A Particular Kind of Black Man is a beautiful and poignant exploration of the meaning of memory, manhood, home, and identity as seen through the eyes of a first-generation Nigerian-American. (From Simon & Schuster August 6)
Amanda Goldblatt, Hard Mouth
“Hard Mouth’s surprises chase each other down like dominoes, both in plot and language. Goldblatt masters the balance of the epic and the personal, the adventurous and the introspective. I clung to every page.” —Jac Jemc
An adventure novel upended by grief and propelled by the aberrant charm of its narrator, Hard Mouth is an unforgettable debut that explores what it takes to both existentially and literally survive.
For ten years, Denny’s father has battled cancer. The drawn-out loss has forged her into a dazed, antisocial young woman. On the clock, she works as a lab tech, readying fruit flies for experimentation. In her spare time, only her parents, an aggressively kind best friend, and her blowhard imaginary pal Gene—who she knows isn’t real—ornament her stale days in the D.C. suburbs.
Now her father’s cancer is back for a third time, and he’s rejecting treatment. Denny’s transgressive reaction is to flee. She begins to dismantle her life, constructing in its place the fantasy of perfect detachment. Unsure whether the impulse is monastic or suicidal, she rents a secluded cabin in the mountains. When she discovers life in the wilderness isn’t the perfect detachment she was expecting—and that she isn’t as alone as she’d hoped—Denny is forced to reckon with this failure while confronting a new life with its own set of pleasures and dangerous incursions.
Morbidly funny, subversive, and startling, Hard Mouth, the debut novel from 2018 NEA Creative Writing Fellow Amanda Goldblatt, unpacks what it means to live while others are dying. (From Counterpoint August 13)
Yuka Igarashi, editor, PEN America Best Debut Short Stories 2019
“…Each story displays a mastery of the form, sure to inspire readers to seek out further writing from these adept authors and publications.” —Booklist
The stories collected here represent the most recent winners of the PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers, which recognizes twelve writers who have made outstanding debuts in literary magazines in the previous year. Chosen by a panel of distinguished judges, themselves innovators of the short story form, they take us from the hutongs of Beijing to the highways of Saskatchewan, from the letters of a poet devoted to God in seventeenth-century France to a chorus of poets devoted to revolution in the “last days of empire.” They describe consuming, joyful, tragic, complex, ever-changing relationships between four friends who meet at a survivors group for female college students; between an English teacher and his student-turned-lover in Japan; between a mother and her young son.
In these pages, a woodcutter who loses his way home meets a man wearing a taxidermied wolf mask, and an Ivy League–educated “good black girl” climbs the flagpole in front of the capitol building in South Carolina. Each piece comes with an introduction by its original editors, whose commentaries provide valuable insight into what magazines are looking for in their submissions, and showcase the vital work they do to nurture literature’s newest voices. (From Catapult August 20)
Patrice Nganang, When the Plums Are Ripe (translated by Amy B. Reid)
“Nganang’s second novel (after 2016’s Mount Pleasant) in a trilogy about Cameroon takes place as the nation is forced into World War II and caught between Vichy and the Free French. The plot and action are matched by the author’s powerful take on the damage colonialism inflicts for generations.” —Bethanne Patrick, The Washington Post
In Cameroon, plum season is a highly anticipated time of year. But for the narrator of When the Plums Are Ripe, the poet Pouka, the season reminds him of the “time when our country had discovered the root not so much of its own violence as that of the world’s own, and, in response, had thrown its sons who at that time were called Senegalese infantrymen into the desert, just as in the evenings the sellers throw all their still-unsold plums into the embers.” In this novel of radiant lyricism, Patrice Nganang recounts the story of Cameroon’s forced entry into World War II, and in the process complicates our own understanding of that globe-spanning conflict. After the fall of France in 1940, Cameroon found itself caught between Vichy and the Free French at a time when growing nationalism advised allegiance to neither regime, and was ultimately dragged into fighting throughout North Africa on behalf of the Allies.
Moving from Pouka’s story to the campaigns of the French general Leclerc and the battles of Kufra and Murzuk, Nganang questions the colonial record and recenters African perspectives at the heart of Cameroon’s national history, all the while writing with wit and panache. When the Plums Are Ripe is a brilliantly crafted, politically charged epic that challenges not only the legacies of colonialism but the intersections of language, authority, and history itself. (From FSG August 13)
Téa Obreht, Inland
“Obreht makes the American West unforgettably her own, weaving mysticism and wonder into a stirring story about how the lands we inhabit and the stories we tell define who we are.” —Esquire
In the lawless, drought-ridden lands of the Arizona Territory in 1893, two extraordinary lives unfold. Nora is an unflinching frontierswoman awaiting the return of the men in her life—her husband, who has gone in search of water for the parched household, and her elder sons, who have vanished after an explosive argument. Nora is biding her time with her youngest son, who is convinced that a mysterious beast is stalking the land around their home.
Meanwhile, Lurie is a former outlaw and a man haunted by ghosts. He sees lost souls who want something from him, and he finds reprieve from their longing in an unexpected relationship that inspires a momentous expedition across the West. The way in which Lurie’s death-defying trek at last intersects with Nora’s plight is the surprise and suspense of this brilliant novel.
Mythical, lyrical, and sweeping in scope, Inland is grounded in true but little-known history. It showcases all of Téa Obreht’s talents as a writer, as she subverts and reimagines the myths of the American West, making them entirely—and unforgettably—her own. (From Random House August 13)
Yoko Ogawa, The Memory Police (translated by Stephen Snyder)
“Ogawa employs a quiet, poetic prose to capture the diverse (and often unexpected) emotions of the people left behind rather than of those tormented and imprisoned by brutal authorities. Small acts of rebellion—as modest as a birthday party—do not come out of a commitment to a greater cause but instead originate from her characters’ kinship with one another.” —Kirkus (starred review)
When a young woman who is struggling to maintain her career as a novelist discovers that her editor is in danger from the Memory Police, she concocts a plan to hide him beneath her floorboards. As fear and loss close in around them, they cling to her wiring as the last way of preserving the past.
A surreal, provocative fable about the power of memory and the trauma of loss,The Memory Police is a stunning new work from one of the most exciting contemporary authors writing in any language. (From Pantheon August 13)
Kimberly King Parsons, Black Light
“Black Light is an unshakable debut, a collection of stories that will grip you under its spell until its closing notes. Compulsively readable, this book is as much a love letter to language as it is to the natural world, the darkened corners of desire, and the absurdities of girlhood. Gutsy, loud, and so very Texas, this one moved me in a tectonic way. You’ll underline every sentence.” —T Kira Madden, Bustle
Taking us from hot Texas highways to cold family kitchens, from the freedom of pay-by-the-hour motels to the claustrophobia of private school dorms, these stories erupt off the page with a primal howl—sharp-voiced, acerbic, and wise. (From Vintage August 13)
Zach Powers, First Cosmic Velocity
“In the darkly comic vein of Martin Amis and Mark Leyner, First Cosmic Velocity mixes the earnest with the satirical and the profound with the absurd for a ride through a fictionalized Russian space program that is as thought-provoking as it is fun.” —Courtney Maum
Because there are no more twins left.
Combining history and fiction, the real and the mystical, First Cosmic Velocity is the story of Leonid, the last of the twins. Taken in 1950 from a life of poverty in Ukraine to the training grounds in Russia, the Leonids were given one name and one identity, but divergent fates. Now one Leonid has launched to certain death (or so one might think…), and the other is sent on a press tour under the watchful eye of Ignatius, the government agent who knows too much but gives away little. And while Leonid battles his increasing doubts about their deceitful project, the Chief Designer must scramble to perfect a working spacecraft, especially when Khrushchev nominates his high-strung, squirrel-like dog for the first canine mission.
By turns grim and whimsical, fatalistic and deeply hopeful, First Cosmic Velocity is a sweeping novel of the heights of mankind’s accomplishments, the depths of its folly, and the people–and canines–with whom we create family. (From Putnam August 6)
Rion Amilcar Scott, The World Doesn’t Require You
“Flat-out unputdownable. The fictional town of Cross River, MD sits at the heart of this dazzling collection—home to water-women and a wayward lecturer secretly dwelling in the basement of a university building and the last son of god, to myth and wonder and sorrow. With these innovative, refreshing, and altogether thrilling stories, Rion Amilcar Scott once again shows his readers that he is a blazingly original talent, a vital voice.” —Laura van den Berg
Established by the leaders of the country’s only successful slave revolt in the mid-nineteenth century, Cross River still evokes the fierce rhythms of its founding. In lyrical prose and singular dialect, a saga beats forward that echoes the fables carried down for generations—like the screecher birds who swoop down for their periodic sacrifice, and the water women who lure men to wet deaths.
Among its residents—wildly spanning decades, perspectives, and species—are David Sherman, a struggling musician who just happens to be God’s last son; Tyrone, a ruthless PhD candidate, whose dissertation about a childhood game ignites mayhem in the neighboring, once-segregated town of Port Yooga; and Jim, an all-too-obedient robot who serves his Master. As the book builds to its finish with Special Topics in Loneliness Studies, a fully-realized novella, two unhinged professors grapple with hugely different ambitions, and the reader comes to appreciate the intricacy of the world Scott has created—one where fantasy and reality are eternally at war.
Contemporary and essential, The World Doesn’t Require You is a “leap into a blazing new level of brilliance” (Lauren Groff) that affirms Rion Amilcar Scott as a writer whose storytelling gifts the world very much requires. (From Norton August 20)
Susan Steinberg, Machine
“What makes [Machine] so thrilling is Steinberg’s artistry with form; she fractures narrative into its fundamental parts. Steinberg writes prose with a poet’s sense of meter and line, and a velocity recalling the novels of Joan Didion. The result is a dizzying work that perfectly evokes the feeling of spinning out of control.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Susan Steinberg’s first novel, Machine, is a dazzling and innovative leap forward for a writer whose most recent book, Spectacle, gained her a rapturous following. Machine revolves around a group of teenagers—both locals and wealthy out-of-towners—during a single summer at the shore. Steinberg captures the pressures and demands of this world in a voice that effortlessly slides from collective to singular, as one girl recounts a night on which another girl drowned. Hoping to assuage her guilt and evade a similar fate, she pieces together the details of this tragedy, as well as the breakdown of her own family, and learns that no one, not even she, is blameless.
A daring stylist, Steinberg contrasts semicolon-studded sentences with short lines that race down the page. This restless approach gains focus and power through a sharply drawn narrative that ferociously interrogates gender, class, privilege, and the disintegration of identity in the shadow of trauma. Machine is the kind of novel—relentless and bold—that only Susan Steinberg could have written. (From Graywolf August 20)
Valerie Trueblood, Terrarium
“Terrarium [is] a career-spanning collection that brings together her classic work and dozens of new stories. It’s a statement piece, a book that seems to be intended to mark her as a real American master of the short story.” —The Seattle Review of Books
Valerie Trueblood’s writing has been praised by The New York Times as “an exercise in literary restraint and extreme empathy.” Selected here are stories from her previous collections—finalists for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award—alongside her newest collection, which lends this book its name.
The new stories collected within Terrarium represent an exciting direction for the author: a condensing of narrative and, in some cases, a departure from it into another state of mind.
It’s hard to describe any of Trueblood’s stories as “typical.” She does not write about people from a single class, or caste, or geographical area. She has not written a single story emblematic of her work. She does not write stories fantastical or eccentric. Ordinary life, her stories may be saying, is fantastical enough. She is more like Babel than Chekhov. In all her writing, it’s clear that Trueblood believes that the short story can carry both the lightest and heaviest of loads. Terrarium highlights the achievement of simply living, the stories within often unresolved but in a state of continuation, expansion. Trueblood’s stories aren’t merely “about” their subjects, they’re inside them. (From Counterpoint August 27)
Nell Zink, Doxology
“Sharp, empathetic, and at once critical and hopeful, following an oddball trio from their beginnings as a terrible punk band in 1990s Lower East Side through their coming of age into a post-9/11 New York and world.” —BuzzFeed
On September 11, 2001, the city’s unfathomable devastation coincides with a shattering personal loss for the trio. In the aftermath, Flora comes of age, navigating a charged political landscape and discovering a love of the natural world. Joining the ranks of those fighting for ecological conservation, Flora works to bridge the wide gap between powerful strategists and ordinary Americans, becoming entangled ever more intimately with her fellow activists along the way. And when the country faces an astonishing new threat, Flora’s family will have no choice but to look to the past—both to examine wounds that have never healed, and to rediscover strengths they have long forgotten.
At once an elegiac takedown of today’s political climate and a touching invocation of humanity’s goodness, Doxology offers daring revelations about America’s past and possible future that could only come from Nell Zink, one of the sharpest novelists of our time. (From Ecco August 27)