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New Books: September 2019

 

September: we’re hanging onto the last vestige of summer, and the big fall books have started to arrive. What a glorious month! Here’s a look at the new September fiction releases CRAFT can’t wait to read. Conspicuously absent are some of the biggest names—Atwood, Patchett, Rushdie—that we’ll learn so much about from other sources. And look for a mid-month bonus round of new books by friends of CRAFT…

 

Jesse Ball, The Divers’ Game

“Readers who appreciate Ball’s keen, melancholic, and often sadly satirical view of human society will likely appreciate this timely assessment of where division might take us and how it affects the generations that come after us.” Kirkus Reviews

The old-fashioned struggle for fairness has finally been abandoned. It was a misguided endeavor. The world is divided into two groups, pats and quads. The pats may kill the quads as they like, and do. The quads have no recourse but to continue with their lives.

The Divers’ Game is a thinly veiled description of our society, an extreme case that demonstrates a truth: we must change or our world will collapse.

What is the effect of constant fear on a life, or on a culture? The Divers’ Game explores the consequences of violence through two festivals, and through the dramatic and excruciating examination of a woman’s final moments.

Brilliantly constructed and achingly tender, The Divers’ Game shatters the notion of common decency as the binding agent between individuals, forcing us to consider whether compassion is intrinsic to the human experience. With his signature empathy and ingenuity, Jesse Ball’s latest work solidifies his reputation as one of contemporary fiction’s most mesmerizing talents. (From Ecco | September 10)


Kevin Barry, Night Boat to Tangier

“I devoured Night Boat to Tangier. I loved the potent truth of it all, drenched in damage and romance. The Barry turn of phrase is a true wonder of this world.” —Max Porter

In the dark waiting room of the ferry terminal in the sketchy Spanish port of Algeciras, two aging Irishmen—Maurice Hearne and Charlie Redmond, longtime partners in the lucrative and dangerous enterprise of smuggling drugs—sit at night, none too patiently. It is October 23, 2018, and they are expecting Maurice’s estranged daughter, Dilly, to either arrive on a boat coming from Tangier or depart on one heading there. This nocturnal vigil will initiate an extraordinary journey back in time to excavate their shared history of violence, romance, mutual betrayals and serial exiles, rendered with the dark humor and the hardboiled Hibernian lyricism that have made Kevin Barry one of the most striking and admired fiction writers at work today. (From Doubleday | September 17)


Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Water Dancer

“In prose that sings and imagination that soars, Coates further cements himself as one of this generation’s most important writers, tackling one of America’s oldest and darkest periods with grace and inventiveness. This is bold, dazzling, and not to be missed.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Young Hiram Waer was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her—but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, when Hiram almost drowns in a river, that same power saves his life. This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he’s ever known.

So begins an unexpected journey that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia’s proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the Deep South to dangerously idealistic movements in the North. Even as he’s enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, Hiram’s resolve to rescue the family he left behind endures.

This is the dramatic story of an atrocity inflicted on generations of women, men, and children—the violent and capricious separation of families—and the war they waged to simply make lives with the people they loved. Written by one of today’s most exciting thinkers and writers, The Water Dancer is a propulsive, transcendent work that restores the humanity of those from whom everything was stolen. (From One World | September 24)


Angie Cruz, Dominicana

Dominicana is a book that grabs you, that moves both quickly and deeply, as it explores how our very personal desires and destinies are shaped by forces of culture, politics, economics, language, migration. The kind of book I am always longing to read: a sexy book that is also meaningful. I couldn’t put it down.” —Justin Torres

Fifteen-year-old Ana Cancion never dreamed of moving to America, the way the girls she grew up with in the Dominican countryside did. But when Juan Ruiz proposes and promises to take her to New York City, she has to say yes. It doesn’t matter that he is twice her age, that there is no love between them. Their marriage is an opportunity for her entire close-knit family to eventually immigrate. So on New Year’s Day, 1965, Ana leaves behind everything she knows and becomes Ana Ruiz, a wife confined to a cold six-floor walk-up in Washington Heights. Lonely and miserable, Ana hatches a reckless plan to escape. But at the bus terminal, she is stopped by Cesar, Juan’s free-spirited younger brother, who convinces her to stay.

As the Dominican Republic slides into political turmoil, Juan returns to protect his family’s assets, leaving Cesar to take care of Ana. Suddenly, Ana is free to take English lessons at a local church, lie on the beach at Coney Island, see a movie at Radio City Music Hall, go dancing with Cesar, and imagine the possibility of a different kind of life in America. When Juan returns, Ana must decide once again between her heart and her duty to her family.

In bright, musical prose that reflects the energy of New York City, Angie Cruz’s Dominicana is a vital portrait of the immigrant experience and the timeless coming-of-age story of a young woman finding her voice in the world. (From Flatiron | September 3)


Jean-Baptiste Del Amo, Animalia (translated by Frank Wynne)

“Every page blazes with incandescent prose. After reading Animalia it might be a while before I can return to reading a contemporary novel, I suspect everything will seem tepid and timid in comparison. Del Amo has thrown down a gauntlet: be bold, be daring, be rigorous, be a poet. A stunning book.” —Christos Tsiolkas

The small village of Puy-Larroque, southwest France, 1898. Éléonore is a child living with her father, a pig farmer whose terminal illness leaves him unable to work, and her God-fearing mother, who runs both farm and family with an iron hand. Éléonore passes her childhood with little heat and no running water, sharing a small room with her cousin Marcel, who does most of the physical labor on the farm. When World War I breaks out and the village empties, Éléonore gets a taste of the changes that will transform her world as the twentieth century rolls on. As the reader moves into the second part of the novel, which takes place in the 1980s, the untamed world of Puy-Larroque seems gone forever. Now, Éléonore has herself aged into the role of matriarch, and the family is running a large industrial pig farm, where thousands of pigs churn daily through cycles of birth, growth, and death. Moments of sublime beauty and powerful emotion mix with the thoughtless brutality waged against animals that makes the old horrors of death and disease seem like simpler times.

A dramatic and chilling tale of man and beast that recalls the naturalism of writers like Émile Zola, Animalia traverses the twentieth century as it examines man’s quest to conquer nature, critiques the legacy of modernity and the transmission of violence from one generation to the next, and questions whether we can hold out hope for redemption in this brutal world. (From Grove | September 10)


Edward J. Delaney, The Big Impossible: Novellas + Stories

“If you’ve come to look for America, it’s here in The Big Impossible. Taut, urgent, emotionally powerful stories about the families, workers, and dreamers who are our neighbors, and Delaney’s range and sense of history make him the perfect writer to illuminate their lives.” ―Christopher Castellani

The short fiction in The Big Impossible explores guilt and redemption, aspiration and failure, and the stubbornness of modest hopes. The usual mileposts are fading, and choice is in the context of institutions and assumptions that are no longer holding steady.

In “Clean,” a man waits for inevitable justice to come, as much as it will play against him. In “House of Sully,” a working-class family navigates the tumultuous year that 1968 was, as new perceptions shake long-held and dependable, if sometimes misguided, beliefs. Other stories examine the inner life of a school shooter, the comical posturing of writers at a literary party, a British veteran of The Great War living at a Florida retirement home but haunted by his losses, and a man’s bittersweet visits to past lives via Google Street View. In the sequence set in the West, an itinerant worker moves across the Great Plains, navigating stark landscapes, trying for foothold.

The Atlantic‘s C. Michael Curtis praised Ted Delaney’s debut collection for its “moral intensity…in the tradition of writers as varied as Ethan Canin and William Trevor.” Two decades later Delaney returns to the short fiction form with utter mastery. (From Turtle Point Press | September 24)


Anita Felicelli, Chimerica

“Felicelli’s remarkable Chimerica is a coolly surrealist legal thriller—in turns sly, absurd, emotionally vivid, and satirically incisive—that shifts the reader into a world just adjacent to our own.” —Jonathan Letham

Down-and-out Tamil American trial lawyer Maya Ramesh fights to save a painted lemur come to life and becomes a champion for them both. In magic realist tradition, Anita Felicelli’s novel Chimerica unearths the inherent absurdities that drive systems of culture, power, and law. Fans of Marquez, Kelly Link, and Helen Oyeyemi will find Chimerica a spirited investigation of the ways in which art is codified and commodified. Traveling from Oakland, California, to a Malagasy rainforest, Chimerica is a contemporary, philosophical novel about art, originality, and American culture. (From WTAW Press | September 5)


Petina Gappah, Out of Darkness, Shining Light

“Engrossing, beautiful, and deeply imaginative, Out of Darkness, Shining Light, is a novel that lends voice to those who appeared only as footnotes in history, yet whose final, brave act of loyalty and respect changed the course of it. An incredible and important book by a masterful writer.” —Yaa Gyasi

“This is how we carried out of Africa the poor broken body of Bwana Daudi, the Doctor, David Livingstone, so that he could be borne across the sea and buried in his own land.” So begins Petina Gappah’s powerful novel of exploration and adventure in nineteenth-century Africa—the captivating story of the loyal men and women who carried explorer and missionary Dr. Livingstone’s body, his papers and maps, fifteen hundred miles across the continent of Africa, so his remains could be returned home to England and his work preserved there. Narrated by Halima, the doctor’s sharp-tongued cook, and Jacob Wainwright, a rigidly pious freed slave, this is a story that encompasses all of the hypocrisy of slavery and colonization—the hypocrisy at the core of the human heart—while celebrating resilience, loyalty, and love. (From Scribner | September 10)


Nancy Hale, Where the Light Falls: Selected Stories of Nancy Hale, edited by Lauren Groff

“Nancy Hale’s touch was so precise and delicate that you might think you’re reading undiscovered Edith Wharton stories. Seen anew in Lauren Groff’s excellent selection, these stories are very much of-the-moment. What an exhilarating book!” —Ann Beattie

A teenage girl in Connecticut driven to near delirium over her burgeoning sexuality. A twenty-something New Yorker transplanted to a small Virginia community who boldly befriends the town pariah. A New England widow in search of alcohol and excitement while babysitting her grandson. A Maryland socialite who has built a secret bomb shelter that becomes the center of her imaginative life.

These are some of the characters who inhabit Nancy Hale’s lush fiction. Haunting, vivid, and wonderfully subversive, Hale’s stories typically concern women recognizable to all of us—sometimes fragile, possibly wicked, deceptively ordinary, navigating their way uncertainly through life.

Nancy Hale was one of the most accomplished short story artists of her era, winner of ten O. Henry Awards and a frequent contributor to The New Yorker from the 1930s to the 1960s. But by the time of her death in 1988, this remarkable writer, so far ahead of her time in her depiction of complex women, was largely forgotten. Now Lauren Groff reintroduces this modern master with a selection of twenty-five of her best stories— brilliant short fiction that encompasses childhood and adolescence, marriage and motherhood, desire and infidelity, madness and memory.

Where the Light Falls reveals Hale as a gifted stylist—a painter in light and shadow—and an acute observer of modern American life. (From Library of America | September 24)


Alice Hoffman, The World That We Knew

“Oh, what a book this is! Hoffman’s exploration of the world of good and evil, and the constant contest between them, is unflinching; and the humanity she brings to us—it is a glorious experience. The book builds and builds, as she weaves together, seamlessly, the stories of people in the most desperate of circumstances—and then it delivers with a tremendous punch. It opens up the world, the universe, in a way that it absolutely unique. By the end you may be weeping.” —Elizabeth Strout

In Berlin, at the time when the world changed, Hanni Kohn knows she must send her twelve-year-old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime. She finds her way to a renowned rabbi, but it’s his daughter, Ettie, who offers hope of salvation when she creates a mystical Jewish creature, a rare and unusual golem, who is sworn to protect Lea. Once Ava is brought to life, she and Lea and Ettie become eternally entwined, their paths fated to cross, their fortunes linked.

Lea and Ava travel from Paris, where Lea meets her soulmate, to a convent in western France known for its silver roses; from a school in a mountaintop village where three thousand Jews were saved. Meanwhile, Ettie is in hiding, waiting to become the fighter she’s destined to be.

What does it mean to lose your mother? How much can one person sacrifice for love? In a world where evil can be found at every turn, we meet remarkable characters that take us on a stunning journey of loss and resistance, the fantastical and the mortal, in a place where all roads lead past the Angel of Death and love is never ending. (From Simon & Schuster | September 24)


Etgar Keret, Fly Already: Stories (translated by Jessica Cohen, Nathan Englander, Yardenne Greenspan, Miriam Shlesinger, and Sondra Silverston)

“There is sweetheartedness and wisdom and eloquence and transcendence in his stories because these virtues exist in abundance in Etgar himself… I am very happy that Etgar and his work are in the world, making things better.” —George Saunders

There’s no one like Etgar Keret. His stories take place at the crossroads of the fantastical, searing, and hilarious. His characters grapple with parenthood and family, war and games, marijuana and cake, memory and love. These stories never go to the expected place, but always surprise, entertain, and move…

In “Arctic Lizard,” a young boy narrates a post-apocalyptic version of the world where a youth army wages an unending war, rewarded by collecting prizes. A father tries to shield his son from the inevitable in “Fly Already.” In “One Gram Short,” a guy just wants to get a joint to impress a girl and ends up down a rabbit hole of chaos and heartache. And in the masterpiece “Pineapple Crush,” two unlikely people connect through an evening smoke down by the beach, only to have one of them imagine a much deeper relationship.

The thread that weaves these pieces together is our inability to communicate, to see so little of the world around us and to understand each other even less. Yet somehow, in these pages, through Etgar’s deep love for humanity and our hapless existence, a bright light shines through and our universal connection to each other sparks alive. (From Riverhead | September 3)


Maaza Mengiste, The Shadow King

“One of the most affecting accounts of the terror of war I have ever read, all the more so for the being cloaked in the language of beauty, such that the words and their meaning burn through the senses. The Shadow King is a work borne of rage, a rage made magnificent for its compassion and the story it tells us—that in war there are no winners.” —Aminatta Forna

With the threat of Mussolini’s army looming, recently orphaned Hirut struggles to adapt to her new life as a maid in Kidane and his wife Aster’s household. Kidane, an officer in Emperor Haile Selassie’s army, rushes to mobilize his strongest men before the Italians invade. His initial kindness to Hirut shifts into a flinty cruelty when she resists his advances, and Hirut finds herself tumbling into a new world of thefts and violations, of betrayals and overwhelming rage. Meanwhile, Mussolini’s technologically advanced army prepares for an easy victory. Hundreds of thousands of Italians—Jewish photographer Ettore among them—march on Ethiopia seeking adventure.

As the war begins in earnest, Hirut, Aster, and the other women long to do more than care for the wounded and bury the dead. When Emperor Haile Selassie goes into exile and Ethiopia quickly loses hope, it is Hirut who offers a plan to maintain morale. She helps disguise a gentle peasant as the emperor and soon becomes his guard, inspiring other women to take up arms against the Italians. But how could she have predicted her own personal war as a prisoner of one of Italy’s most vicious officers, who will force her to pose before Ettore’s camera?

What follows is a gorgeously crafted and unputdownable exploration of female power, with Hirut as the fierce, original, and brilliant voice at its heart. In incandescent, lyrical prose, Maaza Mengiste breathes life into complicated characters on both sides of the battle line, shaping a heartrending, indelible exploration of what it means to be a woman at war. (From Norton | September 24)


Lara Prescott, The Secrets We Kept

“How does Lara Prescott manage to do so much in one book? The Secrets We Kept is stylish, thrilling, smart, vivid, at once intimate and sweeping, dreamlike and true-to-life, with an unforgettable cast and story. This is a riveting novel about a riveting novel, a love story to love stories.” —Elizabeth McCracken

At the height of the Cold War, two secretaries are pulled out of the typing pool at the CIA and given the assignment of a lifetime. Their mission: to smuggle Doctor Zhivago out of the USSR, where no one dare publish it, and help Pasternak’s magnum opus make its way into print around the world. Glamorous and sophisticated Sally Forrester is a seasoned spy who has honed her gift for deceit all over the world—using her magnetism and charm to pry secrets out of powerful men. Irina is a complete novice, and under Sally’s tutelage quickly learns how to blend in, make drops, and invisibly ferry classified documents.

The Secrets We Kept combines a legendary literary love story—the decades-long affair between Pasternak and his mistress and muse, Olga Ivinskaya, who was sent to the Gulag and inspired Zhivago’s heroine, Lara—with a narrative about two women empowered to lead lives of extraordinary intrigue and risk. From Pasternak’s country estate outside Moscow to the brutalities of the Gulag, from Washington, D.C. to Paris and Milan, The Secrets We Kept captures a watershed moment in the history of literature—told with soaring emotional intensity and captivating historical detail. And at the center of this unforgettable debut is the powerful belief that a piece of art can change the world. (From Knopf | September 3)


Jacqueline Woodson, Red at the Bone

“Woodson knows how to articulate aches that, for most of us, remain locked in articulateness—particularly the very human craving for validation. In her latest, Red at the Bone, the National Book Award–winner uses this gift to unpack the ambitions and struggles of three generations of a black family in Brooklyn. By the slim novel’s end, she’s painted a poetic mural of their lives.” Elle

As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming of age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own ceremony—a celebration that ultimately never took place.

Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives–even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be. (From Riverhead | September 17)


Katherine Zlabek, When: Stories

“Katherine Zlabek is a writer with an honest style. Her prose is so clear that you can see the ache and hope shimmering at the bottom of these stories. This is a sad, lovely, and utterly convincing collection.” —Chris Bachelder

A bull’s heart simmers in a crockpot, echoing the household’s tension in a retelling of Biblical Jacob’s trials. A priest observes his congregation’s descent into madness and wonders at his own role. An elderly woman imagines herself into her boomtown’s history and eventual abandonment at the height of the Gold Rush. Towns and people vanish, daughters return, women prepare escapes, and animals invade. In this collection of stories situated within the mythology of the Midwest, the past is always present, tangible and unrelenting, constantly asking these characters whether they will be a sacrifice or a martyr, daring them to give in without a fight. Here, transcendence is a tonic hard-earned by the battered soul.

The atmospheric stories in When illuminate the customs of rural America, a part of this country that’s been asked to risk the best of itself in order to survive, revealing with humor and weight fears about wealth, worth, and the dignity of home. (From Mad Creek/OSU Press | September 30)