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Exploring the art of fiction

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New Books: January 2020

 

Welcome to 2020! Most months we roundup our most-anticipated new fiction releases. January has a bounty!

 

Megan Angelo, Followers

“If anyone is going to explore a future version of our high-tech, internet-obsessed culture, please let it be Megan Angelo. Followers is pure gold.” —Abbi Jacobson

From Graydon House: Orla Cadden is a budding novelist stuck in a dead-end job, writing clickbait about movie-star hookups and influencer yoga moves. Then Orla meets Floss—a striving, wannabe A-lister—who comes up with a plan for launching them both into the high-profile lives they dream about. So what if Orla and Floss’s methods are a little shady—and sometimes people get hurt? Their legions of followers can’t be wrong.

Thirty-five years later, in a closed California village where government-appointed celebrities live every moment of the day on camera, a woman named Marlow discovers a shattering secret about her past. Despite her massive popularity—twelve million loyal followers—Marlow dreams of fleeing the corporate sponsors who would do anything to keep her on-screen. When she learns that her whole family history is based on a lie, Marlow finally summons the courage to run in search of the truth, no matter the risks.

Followers traces the paths of Orla, Floss, and Marlow as they wind through time toward each other, and toward a cataclysmic event that sends America into lasting upheaval. At turns wry and tender, bleak and hopeful, this darkly funny story reminds us that even if we obsess over famous people we’ll never meet, what we really crave is genuine human connection. (January 14)


Miriam Cohen, Adults and Other Children: Stories

“These shockingly insightful stories, riddled with breathtaking observation, are also, frequently, laugh out loud funny. Wisdom and hilarity are such a gorgeous couple, and Miriam Cohen makes the absolute most of this pairing. Evocative of Lorrie Moore at her sharpest best, Cohen’s is still an entirely new and very welcome voice.” —Robin Black

From Ig Publishing: Adults and Other Children follows four women as they navigate life from the confusion and innocence of childhood to the bizarre and darkly humorous complexities of adulthood. Along the way, we meet a vindictive, and imaginary, nanny, who casts doubts about the true identity of a little girl’s new baby sister; a group of friends who spend their time obsessing over the gory details of a spate of recent crimes; a college professor who has her boss fired over an imagined sexual assault; and a Jewish woman who feigns ignorance in her religion, hoping to endear herself to an Orthodox widower. Time and again, the girls and women in this riveting debut collection fantasize and deceive to get what they want—or what they think they want—while we find ourselves drawn to their often surprising and all too human behavior. (January 14)


Jeanine Cummins, American Dirt

“This book is not simply the great American novel; it’s the great novel of las Americas. It’s the great world novel! This is the international story of our times. Masterful.” —Sandra Cisneros

From Flatiron Books: Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.

Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy—two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia—trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?

American Dirt will leave readers utterly changed. It is a literary achievement filled with poignancy, drama, and humanity on every page. It is one of the most important books for our times. (January 21)


Jasmon Drain, Stateway’s Garden: Stories

“These interconnected stories bring us close to an area rarely represented in our literature and art: the project housing of Chicago. It captures the pain, cruelty, and moments of magic that can only come from living in poverty in America. Jasmon Drain’s fierce eye projects images and characters that will stay with you long after putting the book down. A devastating knockout of a debut.” Fernando A. Flores

From Random House: Before being torn down in 2007, the Stateway Gardens public housing projects on Chicago’s South Side were ridden with deprivation and crime. But for some, like Tracy, the shy, intelligent young boy at the center of this enthralling collection of linked stories, they are simply home. Set in the mid-1980s and taking readers up to the point of the destruction of the infamous Cabrini-Green housing projects—a set of buildings similar in design to Stateway Gardens to the south—this collection gives an intimate look at the hopes, dreams, failures, and fortunes of a group of people growing up with the deck always stacked against them. Through Jasmon Drain’s sensitive and often playful prose, we see another side of what we have come to know as “the projects.”

Stateway’s Garden is a coming-of-age story told in short stories, through the lens of a childhood made rough by the crush of poverty and violence, with the crack epidemic a looming specter ahead. And yet, through the experiences and ambitions of Tracy and other young characters, Drain reveals a vibrant community that creates its own ecosystem, all set in a series of massive, seemingly soulless concrete buildings. Not shying away from the darkness of life for his characters, Drain shows the full complexity of their human experiences.

Exquisitely detailed and novelistic in scope, this collection of stories will linger in your mind long after you have turned the final page. (January 21)


Garth Greenwell, Cleanness

“Greenwell’s writing on language, desire, and sex in all their complex choreography vibrates with intensity, reading like brainwaves and heartbeats as much as words. Concerned with intimacy, its performance, and the inevitability of becoming and being oneself, this is in every way an enriching, deepening follow-up.” Booklist (starred review)

From FSG: Sofia, Bulgaria, a landlocked city in southern Europe, stirs with hope and impending upheaval. Soviet buildings crumble, wind scatters sand from the far south, and political protesters flood the streets with song.

In this atmosphere of disquiet, an American teacher navigates a life transformed by the discovery and loss of love. As he prepares to leave the place he’s come to call home, he grapples with the intimate encounters that have marked his years abroad, each bearing uncanny reminders of his past. A queer student’s confession recalls his own first love, a stranger’s seduction devolves into paternal sadism, and a romance with another foreigner opens, and heals, old wounds. Each echo reveals startling insights about what it means to seek connection: with those we love, with the places we inhabit, and with our own fugitive selves.

Cleanness revisits and expands the world of Garth Greenwell’s beloved debut, What Belongs to You, declared “an instant classic” by The New York Times Book Review. In exacting, elegant prose, he transcribes the strange dialects of desire, cementing his stature as one of our most vital living writers. (January 14)


Zora Neale Hurston, Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick: Stories

“With biting wit, Hurston gets to the heart of the human condition… her rediscovered stories will electrify book media and draw in readers.”Booklist (starred review)

From Amistad: In 1925, Barnard student Zora Neale Hurston—the sole black student at the college—was living in New York, “desperately striving for a toe-hold on the world.” During this period, she began writing short works that captured the zeitgeist of African American life and transformed her into one of the central figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Nearly a century later, this singular talent is recognized as one of the most influential and revered American artists of the modern period.

Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick is an outstanding collection of stories about love and migration, gender and class, racism and sexism that proudly reflect African American folk culture. Brought together for the first time in one volume, they include eight of Hurston’s “lost” Harlem stories, which were found in forgotten periodicals and archives. These stories challenge conceptions of Hurston as an author of rural fiction and include gems that flash with her biting, satiric humor, as well as more serious tales reflective of the cultural currents of Hurston’s world. All are timeless classics that enrich our understanding and appreciation of this exceptional writer’s voice and her contributions to America’s literary traditions. (January 14)


Meng Jin, Little Gods

“Artfully composed and emotionally searing, Jin’s debut about lost girls, bottomless ambition, and the myriad ways family members can hurt and betray one another is gripping from beginning to end. This is a beautiful, intensely moving debut.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

From Custom House: On the night of June Fourth, a woman gives birth in a Beijing hospital alone. Thus begins the unraveling of Su Lan, a brilliant physicist who until this moment has successfully erased her past, fighting what she calls the mind’s arrow of time.

When Su Lan dies unexpectedly seventeen years later, it is her daughter Liya who inherits the silences and contradictions of her life. Liya, who grew up in America, takes her mother’s ashes to China—to her, an unknown country. In a territory inhabited by the ghosts of the living and the dead, Liya’s memories are joined by those of two others: Zhu Wen, the woman last to know Su Lan before she left China, and Yongzong, the father Liya has never known. In this way a portrait of Su Lan emerges: an ambitious scientist, an ambivalent mother, and a woman whose relationship to her own past shapes and ultimately unmakes Liya’s own sense of displacement.

A story of migrations literal and emotional, spanning time, space and class, Little Gods is a sharp yet expansive exploration of the aftermath of unfulfilled dreams, an immigrant story in negative that grapples with our tenuous connections to memory, history, and self. (January 14)


Susan Lowell, Two Desperados: Stories

From Texas Review Press: Winner of the George Garrett Fiction Prize, Susan Lowell’s Two Desperados is a collection of southwest-flavored stories that feature a blacksmith, several smugglers, a mule, a jaguar, a runaway groom, a murderess, a witch, a basket weaver, a Gremlin, three cowboys, and a ghost. Settings range from a grand university library to a construction site, from an apocalyptic dream world to the coyote-haunted banks of the Rio Grande. A novella called “Captain Death” traces a journalist’s odyssey along the U.S.–Mexico border. Another novella, “Two Desperados,” follows a prodigal daughter’s return to her eccentric Arizona home. And although they grapple with love and death, many members of this motley gang still manage to find sparkles in the darkness and a few crazy moments of grace.

These eighteen stories play a few games with traditional short story form, but by and large they remain in the realism camp—yet it is realism tweaked or enlivened with an occasional sprinkle of magic or a small electric zap. In length they range from a few words to many pages, from the brief text of a bumper sticker to a full-scale novella. In the words of Apuleius, author of The Golden Ass: “Reader! Pay attention! You’re going to enjoy yourself!” (January 10)


Liz Moore, Long Bright River

“Both sweeping and unbearably intimate, a riveting crime novel and a character-rich study of a city and its battered heart. And, in the way that Dennis Lehane anatomizes and explores his Boston, or Tana French her Dublin, Moore brings Philadelphia to vivid, wrenching life. Not to be missed.” —Megan Abbott

From: Riverhead: In a Philadelphia neighborhood rocked by the opioid crisis, two once-inseparable sisters find themselves at odds. One, Kacey, lives on the streets in the vise of addiction. The other, Mickey, walks those same blocks on her police beat. They don’t speak anymore, but Mickey never stops worrying about her sibling.

Then Kacey disappears, suddenly, at the same time that a mysterious string of murders begins in Mickey’s district, and Mickey becomes dangerously obsessed with finding the culprit–and her sister–before it’s too late.

Alternating its present-day mystery with the story of the sisters’ childhood and adolescence, Long Bright River is at once heart-pounding and heart-wrenching: a gripping suspense novel that is also a moving story of sisters, addiction, and the formidable ties that persist between place, family, and fate. (January 7)


Yelena Moskovich, Virtuoso

“A hint of Lynch, a touch of Ferrante, the cruel absurdity of Antonin Artaud, the fierce candour of Anaïs Nin, the stylish languor of a Lana del Rey song… Moskovich writes sentences that lilt and slink, her plots developing as a slow seduction and then clouding like a smoke-filled room.” —Shahidha Bari

From Two Dollar Radio: As Communism begins to crumble in Prague in the 1980s, Jana’s unremarkable life becomes all at once remarkable when a precocious young girl named Zorka moves into the apartment building with her mother and sick father. With Zorka’s signature two-finger salute and abrasive wit, she brings flair to the girls’ days despite her mother’s protestations to not “be weird.” But after scorching her mother’s prized fur coat and stealing from a nefarious teacher, Zorka suddenly disappears.

Meanwhile in Paris, Aimée de Saint-Pé married young to an older woman, Dominique, an actress whose star has crested and is in decline. A quixotic journey of self-discovery, Virtuoso follows Zorka as she comes of age in Prague, Wisconsin, and then Boston, amidst a backdrop of clothing logos, MTV, computer coders, and other outcast youth. But it isn’t till a Parisian conference hall brimming with orthopedic mattresses and therapeutic appendages when Jana first encounters Aimée, their fates steering them both to a cryptic bar on the Rue de Prague, and, perhaps, to Zorka.

With a distinctive prose flair and spellbinding vision, Virtuoso is a story of love, loss, and self-discovery that heralds Yelena Moskovich as a brilliant and one-of-a-kind visionary. (January 14)


Vikram Paralkar, Night Theater

“Haunting and irresistible. I cannot wait for you to read this book.” —Wayétu Moore

From Catapult: A surgeon flees a scandal in the city and accepts a job at a village clinic. He buys antibiotics out of pocket, squashes roaches, and chafes at the interventions of the corrupt officer who oversees his work.

But his outlook on life changes one night when a teacher, his pregnant wife, and their young son appear. Killed in a violent robbery, they tell the surgeon that they have been offered a second chance at living if the surgeon can mend their wounds before sunrise.

So begins a night of quiet work, “as if the crickets had been bribed,” during which the surgeon realizes his future is tied more closely to that of the dead family than he could have imagined. By dawn, he and his assistant have gained knowledge no mortal should have.

In this inventive novel charged with philosophical gravity and sly humor, Vikram Paralkar takes on the practice of medicine in a time when the right to health care is frequently challenged. Engaging earthly injustice and imaginaries of the afterlife, he asks how we might navigate corrupt institutions to find a moral center. Encompassing social criticism and magically unreal drama, Night Theater is a first novel as satisfying for its existential inquiry as for its enthralling story of a skeptical physician who arrives at a greater understanding of life’s miracles. (January 14)


Nicolette Polek, Imaginary Museums: Stories

“In Polek’s deliciously unnerving debut, the mundane is made very strange, as everyday objects or normal people are considered in new and unsettling ways… A surprising and potent catalogue of small, eerie discoveries.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

From Soft Skull: In this collection of compact fictions, Nicolette Polek transports us to a gently unsettling realm inhabited by disheveled landlords, a fugitive bride, a seamstress who forgets what people look like, and two rival falconers from neighboring towns. They find themselves in bathhouses, sports bars, grocery stores, and forests in search of exits, pink tennis balls, licorice, and independence. Yet all of her beautifully strange characters are possessed by a familiar and human longing for connection: to their homes, families, God, and themselves. (January 14)


Miranda Popkey, Topics of Conversation

“An intimate evisceration of our narrow imaginings of female sexuality, a brilliantly structured character study, and a book that repeatedly asks how women can fully trust their own desires when they’ve grown up steeped in the wrong stories. Its narrator is as skeptical of her own self-delusive fictions as she is of the stifling cliches and shallow fantasies about women’s interior lives perpetuated by the wider culture.” —Karen Russell

From Knopf: Miranda Popkey’s first novel is about desire, disgust, motherhood, loneliness, art, pain, feminism, anger, envy, guilt–written in language that sizzles with intelligence and eroticism. The novel is composed almost exclusively of conversations between women–the stories they tell each other, and the stories they tell themselves, about shame and love, infidelity and self-sabotage–and careens through twenty years in the life of an unnamed narrator hungry for experience and bent on upending her life. Edgy, wry, shot through with rage and despair, Topics of Conversation introduces an audacious and immensely gifted new novelist. (January 7)


Scarlett Thomas, Oligarchy

“Thomas does a fantastic job of capturing the mental and verbal style of a contemporary teen without being precious or exasperating… This is a weird, twisty book, and anyone familiar with Thomas’s oeuvre will expect the kind of dark humor that is only possible from a writer of profound compassion. Strong stuff. Another strange delight from one of the United Kingdom’s most interesting authors.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

From Counterpoint: It’s already the second week of term when Natasha, the daughter of a Russian oligarch, arrives at a vast English country house for her first day of boarding school. She soon discovers that the headmaster gives special treatment to the skinniest girls, and Natasha finds herself thrown into the school’s unfamiliar, moneyed world of fierce pecking orders, eating disorders, and Instagram angst. When her friend Bianca mysteriously vanishes, the world of the school gets ever darker and stranger.

The halls echo with the story of Princess Augusta, the White Lady whose portraits—featuring a hypnotizing black diamond—hang everywhere. She fell in love with a commoner and drowned herself in the lake, and her ghost is said to haunt the dorms. But the girls don’t really know anything about the woman she was, much less anything about each other.

Hilariously dark, Oligarchy is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie for the digital age. Scarlett Thomas captures the lives of privileged teenage girls seeking to be loved and accepted in all their triviality and magnitude. With the help of her diet-obsessed classmates, Tash must try to stay alive–and sane–while she uncovers what’s really going on. (January 14)


Crissy Van Meter, Creatures

“Crissy Van Meter balances fracture and fusion and navigates Evangeline’s story with exquisite, racking grace… Filled with the ‘pressure of missing things, the leaving of things,’ and ‘the constant foreboding of implosion,’ Crissy Van Meter’s bold debut novel is stamped with a signature, polymetric tension all its own.” Foreword Reviews (starred review)

From Workman: On the eve of Evangeline’s wedding, on the shore of Winter Island, a dead whale is trapped in the harbor, the groom may be lost at sea, and Evie’s mostly absent mother has shown up out of the blue. From there, in this mesmerizing, provocative debut, the narrative flows back and forth through time as Evie reckons with her complicated upbringing in this lush, wild land off the coast of Southern California.

Evie grew up with her well-meaning but negligent father, surviving on the money he made dealing the island’s world-famous strain of weed, Winter Wonderland. Although her father raised her with a deep respect for the elements, the sea, and the creatures living within it, he also left her to parent herself. With wit, love, and bracing flashes of anger, Creatures probes the complexities of love and abandonment, guilt and forgiveness, betrayal and grief—and the ways in which our childhoods can threaten our ability to love if we are not brave enough to conquer the past.

Lyrical, darkly funny, and ultimately cathartic, Creatures exerts a pull as strong as the tides. (January 7)


Alexander Weinstein, Universal Love: Stories

“The timely, nuanced stories in Alexander Weinstein’s Children of the New World are some of the most brilliantly disconcerting fiction in recent memory… As with George Saunders or Ray Bradbury, Weinstein’s satiric ingenuity seldom overpowers his deep compassion for our wayward species…. The resulting cautionary tales are superlatively moving and thought-provoking, imbued with disarming pathos and a palpable sense of wonder and loss.” —David Wright

From Henry Holt & Co.: Universal Love welcomes readers to a near-future world where our everyday technologies have fundamentally altered the possibilities and limits of how we love one another. In these gripping stories, a young boy tries to understand what keeps his father tethered to the drowned city they call home. A daughter gets to know her dead mother’s hologram better than she ever knew her living mother. And, at a time when unpleasant memories can be erased, a man undergoes electronic surgery to have his depression, and his past, forever removed.

In an age when technology offers the easiest cures for loneliness, the characters within these stories must wrestle with what it means to stay human in an increasingly cybernetic future, and how love can endure even the most alluring upgrades.

In the vein of Weinstein’s critically-acclaimed first collection, Universal Love is a visionary book, written with one foot in the real world and one stepping bravely into the future. (January 21)


Paul Yoon, Run Me to Earth

“Yoon again exemplifies his unparalleled ability to create a quietly spectacular narrative that reveals the unfathomable worst and unwavering best of humanity; the result here provides mesmerizing gratification.” Booklist (starred review)

From Simon & Schuster: Alisak, Prany, and Noi—three orphans united by devastating loss—must do what is necessary to survive the perilous landscape of 1960s Laos. When they take shelter in a bombed out field hospital, they meet Vang, a doctor dedicated to helping the wounded at all costs. Soon the teens are serving as motorcycle couriers, delicately navigating their bikes across the fields filled with unexploded bombs, beneath the indiscriminate barrage from the sky.

In a world where the landscape and the roads have turned into an ocean of bombs, we follow their grueling days of rescuing civilians and searching for medical supplies, until Vang secures their evacuation on the last helicopters leaving the country. It’s a move with irrevocable consequences—and sets them on disparate and treacherous paths across the world.

Spanning decades and magically weaving together storylines laced with beauty and cruelty, Paul Yoon crafts a gorgeous story that is a breathtaking historical feat and a fierce study of the powers of hope, perseverance, and grace. (January 28)


Charles Yu, Interior Chinatown

“I’m a big fan of Charles Yu’s writing because of his wit and inventiveness. These talents are front and center in the brilliant and hilarious Interior Chinatown, which satirizes the racist imagination and brings us deep into the humanity of those who suffer from—and struggle against—dehumanization.” —Viet Thanh Nguyen

From Pantheon: Willis Wu doesn’t perceive himself as a protagonist even in his own life: He’s merely Generic Asian man. Sometimes he gets to be Background Oriental Making a Weird Face or even Disgraced Son, but he is always relegated to a prop. Yet every day he leaves his tiny room in a Chinatown SRO and enters the Golden Palace restaurant, where Black and White, a procedural cop show, is in perpetual production. He’s a bit player here, too, but he dreams of being Kung Fu Guy—the most respected role that anyone who looks like him can attain. At least that’s what he has been told, time and time again. Except by one person, his mother. Who says to him: Be more.

Playful but heartfelt, a send-up of Hollywood tropes and Asian stereotypes, Interior Chinatown is Charles Yu’s most moving, daring, and masterly novel yet. (January 28)