New Books: October 2019
Our monthly roundup of new fiction is here, with more collections than novels! And don’t miss the bonus round of new fall books by CRAFT contributors…
André Aciman, Find Me
“Elio is the heart of the novel, as its core themes—including fatherhood, music, the nature of time and fate, the weight and promise of the past—are infused with eroticism, nostalgia and tenderness in fluid prose. The novel again demonstrates Aciman’s capacity to fuse the sensual and the cerebral in stories that touch the heart.” —Publishers Weekly
No novel in recent memory has spoken more movingly to contemporary readers about the nature of love than André Aciman’s haunting Call Me by Your Name. First published in 2007, it was hailed as “a love letter, an invocation…an exceptionally beautiful book” (Stacey D’Erasmo, The New York Times Book Review). Nearly three quarters of a million copies have been sold, and the book became a much-loved, Academy Award–winning film starring Timothée Chalamet as the young Elio and Armie Hammer as Oliver, the graduate student with whom he falls in love.
In Find Me, Aciman shows us Elio’s father, Samuel, on a trip from Florence to Rome to visit Elio, who has become a gifted classical pianist. A chance encounter on the train with a beautiful young woman upends Sami’s plans and changes his life forever.
Elio soon moves to Paris, where he, too, has a consequential affair, while Oliver, now a New England college professor with a family, suddenly finds himself contemplating a return trip across the Atlantic.
Aciman is a master of sensibility, of the intimate details and the emotional nuances that are the substance of passion. Find Me brings us back inside the magic circle of one of our greatest contemporary romances to ask if, in fact, true love ever dies. (From FSG | October 29)
Jokha Alharthi, Celestial Bodies (translated by Marilyn Booth)
Winner of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize
“A richly layered, ambitious work that teems with human struggles and contradictions, providing fascinating insight into Omani history and society.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
In the village of al-Awafi in Oman, we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries after a heartbreak; Asma, who aspires to a different kind of life and marriage; and Khawla, who chooses to refuse all offers and await a reunion with the man she loves, who has emigrated to Canada.
These three women and their families, their losses and loves, unspool beautifully against a backdrop of a rapidly changing Oman, a country evolving from a traditional, slave-owning society into its complex present. Through the sisters, we glimpse a society in all its degrees, from the very poorest of the local slave families to those making money through the advent of new wealth.
The first novel originally written in Arabic to ever win the Man Booker International Prize, and the first book by a female Omani author to be translated into English, Celestial Bodies marks the arrival in the United States of a major international writer. (From Catapult | October 15)
Jami Attenberg, All This Could Be Yours
“Set against the vivid backdrop of New Orleans, Jami Attenberg’s extraordinary new novel All This Could Be Yours is a deep dive into fractured family dynamics. In alternating voices, Attenberg expertly weaves together a chorus of love, betrayal and inheritance, each chapter a prism turned, revealing a new spectrum of secrets.” —Hannah Tinti
“If I know why they are the way they are, then maybe I can learn why I am the way I am,” says Alex Tuchman of her parents. Now that her father is on his deathbed, Alex—a strong-headed lawyer, devoted mother, and loving sister—feels she can finally unearth the secrets of who Victor is and what he did over the course of his life and career. (A power-hungry real estate developer, he is, by all accounts, a bad man.) She travels to New Orleans to be with her family, but mostly to interrogate her tightlipped mother, Barbra.
As Barbra fends off Alex’s unrelenting questions, she reflects on her tumultuous life with Victor. Meanwhile Gary, Alex’s brother, is incommunicado, trying to get his movie career off the ground in Los Angeles. And Gary’s wife, Twyla, is having a nervous breakdown, buying up all the lipstick in drug stores around New Orleans and bursting into crying fits. Dysfunction is at its peak. As each family member grapples with Victor’s history, they must figure out a way to move forward—with one another, for themselves, and for the sake of their children.
All This Could Be Yours is a timely, piercing exploration of what it means to be caught in the web of a toxic man who abused his power; it shows how those webs can tangle a family for generations and what it takes to—maybe, hopefully—break free. With her signature “sparkling prose” (Marie Claire) and incisive wit, Jami Attenberg deftly explores one of the most important subjects of our age. (From Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | October 22)
Sarah Hall, Sudden Traveler: Stories
“Sarah Hall is one of those rare writers whose short fiction has the same luminosity as her novels. But the short form allows her more room to probe and roam, to experiment with form, to sink her fingers into the earth.”
—The Observer (London)
The characters in Sudden Traveler walk, drive, dream, and fly, trying to reconcile themselves with their journeys through life, death, and love. Science fiction meets folktale and philosophy meets mortality.
A woman with a new generation of pacemaker chooses to shut it down in the Lakeland, the site of her strongest memories. A man repatriated in the Near East hears the name of an old love called and must unpack history’s dark suitcase. From the new-world waves of female anger and resistance, a mythical creature evolves. And in the woods on the border between warring countries, an old well facilitates a dictator’s downfall, before he gains power.
A master of short fiction, Sarah Hall opens channels in the human mind and spirit and takes us to the very edge of our possible selves. (From Custom House | October 8)
Jac Jemc, False Bingo: Stories
“Tense, well-imagined stories whose tendencies to unravel mirror the characters they chronicle.” —Kirkus Reviews
In Jac Jemc’s dislocating second story collection, False Bingo, we watch as sinister forces—some supernatural, some of this earth, some real and some not—work their ways into the mundanity of everyday life.
In “Strange Loop,” an outcast attempting to escape an unnamed mistake spends his days taxiderming animals, while in “Delivery,” a family watches as their dementia-addled, basement-dwelling father succumbs to an online shopping addiction. “Don’t Let’s” finds a woman, recently freed from an abusive relationship, living in an isolated vacation home in the South that might be haunted by breath-stealing ghosts.
Fueled by paranoia and visceral suspense, and crafted with masterful restraint, these seventeen stories explore what happens when our fears cross over into the real, if only for a fleeting moment. Identities are stolen, alternate universes are revealed, and innocence is lost as the consequences of minor, seemingly harmless decisions erupt to sabotage a false sense of stability. “This is not a morality tale about the goodness of one character triumphing over the bad of another,” the sadistic narrator of “Pastoral” announces. Rather, False Bingo is a collection of realist fables exploring how conflicting moralities can coexist: the good, the bad, the indecipherable. (From MCD x FSG | October 8)
Ben Lerner, The Topeka School
“Ben Lerner has redefined what it means for a writer to inhabit an American present by showing how a family reckons with its past. Here the personal and political are masterfully interwoven. The Topeka School is brave, furious, and, finally, a work of love.” —Ocean Vuong
Adam Gordon is a senior at Topeka High School, class of ’97. His mother, Jane, is a famous feminist author; his father, Jonathan, is an expert at getting “lost boys” to open up. They both work at a psychiatric clinic that has attracted staff and patients from around the world. Adam is a renowned debater, expected to win a national championship before he heads to college. He is one of the cool kids, ready to fight or, better, freestyle about fighting if it keeps his peers from thinking of him as weak. Adam is also one of the seniors who bring the loner Darren Eberheart—who is, unbeknownst to Adam, his father’s patient—into the social scene, to disastrous effect.
Deftly shifting perspectives and time periods, The Topeka School is the story of a family, its struggles and its strengths: Jane’s reckoning with the legacy of an abusive father, Jonathan’s marital transgressions, the challenge of raising a good son in a culture of toxic masculinity. It is also a riveting prehistory of the present: the collapse of public speech, the trolls and tyrants of the New Right, and the ongoing crisis of identity among white men. (From FSG | October 1)
Mimi Lok, Last of Her Name
“Assured and keenly observed stories about the devastations—large and small—that transpire between people. Rendered in prose that’s no-nonsense, darkly funny, and lovely all at once, Lok’s stories carry quiet but undeniable impact. This is a book that stays with you long after you’ve put it down. It makes you wonder, as good books should, what on earth is going on in each of our brains.”
Last of Her Name is an eye-opening story collection about the intimate, interconnected lives of diasporic women and the histories they are born into. Set in a wide range of time periods and locales, including 80s UK suburbia, WWII Hong Kong, and urban California, Last of Her Name features an eclectic cast of outsiders: among them, an elderly housebreaker, wounded lovers, and kung-fu fighting teenage girls.
In the novella “The Woman In The Closet,” a homeless woman finds refuge in the unlikeliest of places, while in “Motet,” a teenage girl navigates art and emotional allegiances with her ex-opera-singer stepmother. In “The Wrong Dave,” a soon-to-be-married architect takes up a covert correspondence with a grief-stricken woman who may or may not be writing to the right person. “Wedding Night” centers on an unconventional romance threatened by societal mores. The title story follows the parallel, interweaving journeys of a mother and daughter as they grapple with their respective foes, taking us from the suburbs of England to a Chinese village on the eve of World War II, and exploring the hidden lives and secret histories within an immigrant family. Collectively, Last of Her Name offers a unique exploration of love, longing, and endurance. (From Kaya Press | October 22)
Sheila O’Connor, Evidence of V: A Novel in Fragments, Facts, and Fictions
“Written in compelling, creative, and near poetic prose, O’Connor vividly introduces the reader to V—a promising 15-year-old singer in 1930s Minnesota, sentenced to a reformatory for sexual delinquency. O’Connor uses a mix of fiction with historical case file information to illustrate the myriad ways such facilities exploited, misunderstood, silenced, and traumatized young women who were deemed insolent, damaged, and mendacious. Kin to Girl, Interrupted, Evidence of V gives a keen sense of how we have punished (and continue to punish) girls for non-criminal violations, often in a misguided effort to ‘rescue and save.’”
In an ambitious blend of fact and fiction, including family secrets, documents from the era, and a thin, fragmentary case file unsealed by the court, novelist Sheila O’Connor tells the riveting story of V, a talented fifteen-year-old singer in 1930s Minneapolis who aspires to be a star. Drawing on the little-known American practice of incarcerating adolescent girls for “immorality” in the first half of the twentieth century, O’Connor follows young V from her early work as a nightclub entertainer to her subsequent six-year state school sentence for an unplanned pregnancy. As V struggles to survive within a system only nominally committed to rescue and reform, she endures injustices that will change the course of her life and the lives of her descendants. Inspired by O’Connor’s research on her unknown maternal grandmother and the long-term effects of intergenerational trauma, Evidence of V: A Novel in Fragments, Facts, and Fictions is a poignant excavation of familial and national history that remains disturbingly relevant—a harrowing story of exploitation and erasure, and the infinite ways in which girls, past and present, are punished for crimes they didn’t commit. O’Connor’s collage novel offers an engaging balance between illuminating a shameful and hidden chapter of American history and captivating the reader with the vivid and unforgettable character of V. (From Rose Metal Press | October 15)
“Despite the loneliness and violence of these tales…there is icy beauty in Percy’s language… This beauty redeems the vision of darkness that he offers—held out before us, these words suggest that there is still something worth saving in our broken human existence…. Like modern Grimm fairy tales, the stories in this volume are cautionary and haunting.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)
Benjamin Percy is a versatile and propulsive storyteller whose genre-busting novels and story collections have ranged from literary to thriller to postapocalyptic. In his essay collection, Thrill Me, he laid bare for readers how and why he channels disparate influences in his work. Now, in his first story collection since the acclaimed Refresh, Refresh, Percy brings his page-turning skills to bear in Suicide Woods, a potent brew of horror, crime, and weird happenings in the woods.
A boy in his uncle’s care falls through the ice on a pond and emerges in a frozen, uncanny state. A group of people in therapy for suicidal ideation undergoes a drastic session in the woods with fatal consequences. A body found on a train and a blood-soaked carpet in an empty house are clues to a puzzling crime in a small town. And in a pulse-quickening novella, thrill seekers on a mapping expedition into the “Bermuda Triangle” of remote Alaska are stranded on a sinister island that seems to want them dead.
In story after story, which have appeared in magazines ranging from VQR and Orion to McSweeney’s and Ploughshares, Percy delivers haunting and chilling narratives that will have readers hanging on every word. A master class in suspense and horror, Suicide Woods is a dark, inventive collection packed to the gills with eerie, can’t-miss tales. (From Graywolf | October 15)
Josephine Rowe, Here Until August: Stories
“Here Until August tracks the shimmer of precarious moments and transient moods with devastating precision. In their steady excavation of intimacy, these spacious stories bring Alice Munro to mind. I underlined sentence after sentence as I read: for their beauty, their clarity, and their wisdom. Josephine Rowe is a breathtakingly good writer, and this is a marvelous book.” —Michelle de Kretser
The stories in Here Until August follow the fates of characters who, by choice or by force, are traveling beyond the boundaries of their known worlds. These are people who move with the seasons. We meet them negotiating reluctant or cowardly departures, navigating uncertain returns, or biding the disquieting calm that so often precedes moments of decisive action.
In one story, an agoraphobic French émigré compulsively watches disturbing footage from the other side of the world as she attempts to keep a dog named Chavez out of trouble. In another, a young couple weather the interiority of a Montreal winter, more attuned to the illicit goings-on of their neighbors than to their own hazy, unfolding futures. Other stories play out against the fictional counterparts of iconic Australian and American locales, places that are recognizable but set just beyond the brink of familiarity: flooded townships and distant islands, sunlit woodlands or paths made bright by ice, places of unpredictable access and spaces scrubbed from maps.
From the Catskills to New South Wales, from the remote and abandoned island outports of Newfoundland to the sprawl of a North American metropolis, these transformative stories show how the places where we choose to live our lives can just as easily turn us inward as outward. (From Catapult | October 8)
Zadie Smith, Grand Union: Stories
“Fury, heartbreak, and drollery collide in masterfully crafted prose that ranges in effect from the exquisitely tragic lyricism of Katherine Mansfield to the precisely calibrated acid bath of Jamaica Kincaid as Smith demonstrates her unique prowess for elegant disquiet.” —Booklist (starred)
Zadie Smith has established herself as one of the most iconic, critically respected, and popular writers of her generation. In her first short story collection, she combines her power of observation and her inimitable voice to mine the fraught and complex experience of life in the modern world. Interleaving eleven completely new and unpublished stories with some of her best-loved pieces from The New Yorker and elsewhere, Smith presents a dizzyingly rich and varied collection of fiction. Moving exhilaratingly across genres and perspectives, from the historic to the vividly current to the slyly dystopian, Grand Union is a sharply alert and prescient collection about time and place, identity and rebirth, the persistent legacies that haunt our present selves and the uncanny futures that rush up to meet us.
Nothing is off limits, and everything—when captured by Smith’s brilliant gaze—feels fresh and relevant. Perfectly paced and utterly original, Grand Union highlights the wonders Zadie Smith can do. (From Penguin | October 8)
Elizabeth Strout, Olive, Again
“Strout’s stories form a cohesive novel, both sequel and culmination, that captures, with humor, compassion, and embarrassing detail, aging, loss, loneliness, and love. Strout again demonstrates her gift for zeroing in on ordinary moments in the lives of ordinary people to highlight their extraordinary resilience.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)
Prickly, wry, resistant to change yet ruthlessly honest and deeply empathetic, Olive Kitteridge is “a compelling life force” (San Francisco Chronicle). The New Yorker has said that Elizabeth Strout “animates the ordinary with an astonishing force,” and she has never done so more clearly than in these pages, where the iconic Olive struggles to understand not only herself and her own life but the lives of those around her in the town of Crosby, Maine. Whether with a teenager coming to terms with the loss of her father, a young woman about to give birth during a hilariously inopportune moment, a nurse who confesses a secret high school crush, or a lawyer who struggles with an inheritance she does not want to accept, the unforgettable Olive will continue to startle us, to move us, and to inspire moments of transcendent grace. (From Random House | October 15)
Jeanette Winterson, Frankissstein: A Love Story
“Yes, the book we have all been waiting for. Yes, everything Winterson has always done so well. Yes, above and beyond anything that is yet to be written.” —Daisy Johnson
Since her astonishing debut at twenty-five with Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson has achieved worldwide critical and commercial success as “one of the most daring and inventive writers of our time” (Elle). Her new novel, Frankissstein, is an audacious love story that weaves together disparate lives into an exploration of transhumanism, artificial intelligence, and queer love.
Lake Geneva, 1816. Nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley is inspired to write a story about a scientist who creates a new life-form. In Brexit Britain, a young transgender doctor called Ry is falling in love with Victor Stein, a celebrated professor leading the public debate around AI and carrying out some experiments of his own in a vast underground network of tunnels. Meanwhile, Ron Lord, just divorced and living with his mom again, is set to make his fortune launching a new generation of sex dolls for lonely men everywhere. Across the Atlantic, in Phoenix, Arizona, a cryogenics facility houses dozens of bodies of men and women who are medically and legally dead… but waiting to return to life.
What will happen when homo sapiens is no longer the smartest being on the planet? In fiercely intelligent prose, Jeanette Winterson shows us how much closer we are to that future than we realize. Funny and furious, bold and clear-sighted, Frankissstein is a love story about life itself. (From Grove Atlantic | October 1)
Brian Wood, Joytime Killbox: Stories
“A collection full of startling, unforgettable treasures. With echoes of Kafka and homages to George Saunders, Brian Wood rewards readers with his remarkable combination of tenderness, searing wit, and striking inventions.” —Joanna Scott
The awkwardness of modern living takes center stage in these nine short stories by Brian Wood. Well-intentioned characters fumble through social situations: a man making small talk in line for a deadly thrill ride, a pet parrot arrested for murder, a seductive stranger on an airplane who just pulled out a handle of gin. With sparse prose and candid humor, these stories draw attention to the absurdities of our day-to-day interactions. (From BOA Editions | October 15)
Ashley Wurzbacher, Happy Like This
A National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 Honoree
Winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award
“I love these dark, lyrical, sinewy stories about women’s relationships with their bodies and with each other. It’s the sort of theme that could feel irritably well-trod, but that’s not the case here at all; these stories surprised me at every turn. And the writing is so gorgeous!” —Carmen Maria Machado
The characters in Happy Like This are smart girls and professional women—social scientists, linguists, speech therapists, plant physiologists, dancers—who search for happiness in roles and relationships that are often unscripted or unconventional. In the midst of their ambivalence about marriage, monogamy, and motherhood and their struggles to accept and love their bodies, they look to other women for solidarity, stability, and validation. Sometimes they find it; sometimes they don’t. Spanning a wide range of distinct perspectives, voices, styles, and settings, the ten shimmering stories in Happy Like This offer deeply felt, often humorous meditations on the complexity of choice and the ambiguity of happiness. (From U of Iowa P | October 15)
Robert Yune, Impossible Children: Stories
Winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction
“Robert Yune’s magnificent and richly assured debut, Impossible Children, takes us across the United States, from New Jersey to Michigan to Alaska, portraying the lives of the itinerant, the wanderers, and the lost. The stories—through a fully realized community—embody and evoke generations, history, and the history of war and migration. This is a collection that is both precise—in language, in imagery and tone, revealing key moments in a life—and vast in geography, events, and the heart.” —Paul Yoon
In these inventive short stories, characters must navigate an impossible world: America as we know it. Two estranged brothers on a road trip attempt to reconcile but end up at a Revolutionary War reenactment camp; a young woman moves in with her boyfriend and discovers an eerily personalized seduction manual on his bookshelf; a middle-aged Korean American father attends college courses and is either blessed or haunted by the presence of Edward Moon, an eccentric billionaire who also happens to be “the most successful Korean in America.”
Playfully engaging with genres like science fiction, the fairy tale, and the Gothic tale, the interconnected short stories of Impossible Children pit tiny heroes against tiny villains; the result is a stunning mapping of geography, heritage, immigration, freedom, and the mysterious forces behind epic ruins and epic successes. (From Sarabande | October 8)