Saturday, October 16, 2021
A myth is often a traditional, typically ancient story dealing with supernatural beings, ancestors, or heroes. Sanjena Sathian’s book Gold Diggers is a magical realist coming-of-age story that skewers the model minority myth to tell a hilarious and moving story about immigrant identity, community, and the underside of ambition. Discovering that his love is the beneficiary of an ancient, alchemical potion made from stolen gold—a “lemonade” that harnesses the ambition of the gold’s original owner—Neil sees his chance to get ahead. In Kirsten Valdez Quade’s The Five Wounds, it’s Holy Week in the small town of Las Penas, New Mexico, and thirty-three-year-old unemployed Amadeo Padilla has been given the part of Jesus in the Good Friday procession. He is preparing feverishly for this role when his fifteen-year-old daughter Angel shows up pregnant on his doorstep and disrupts his plans for personal redemption.
The past often comes back to haunt us; secrets bind us together and tear us apart. Master storyteller Francine Prose brings us The Vixen, the story of a unlucky publicist. It’s 1953, and Simon Putnam, a recent Harvard graduate is hired by a distinguished New York publishing firm and has entered a glittering world of three-martini lunches and exclusive literary parties. But his first assignment—editing The Vixen, the Patriot and the Fanatic, a lurid bodice-ripper based on the recent trial and execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, makes him question the cost. Because Simon has a secret that, at the height of the Red Scare, he cannot reveal: his mother was a childhood friend of Ethel Rosenberg’s and his parents mourn her death.
In Miranda Beverly Whitmore’s Fierce Little Thing, Saskia is a damaged, lonely teenager when she arrived at the lakeside commune called Home. Two decades later, Saskia is shuttered in her Connecticut estate, estranged from the others. Her carefully walled life is torn open by threatening letters. Unless she and her former friends return to the land in rural Maine, the terrible thing they did as teenagers―their last-ditch attempt to save Home―will be revealed.
So what makes a writer successful? We hear about big splashy seven-figure deals, but those are definitely outliers in the industry. For the majority of authors, the true answer to that question is “not enough,” which goes to show writing the books you love is often a labor of love for the authors themselves. In Jean Hanff Korelitz’s book The Plot, Jacob Finch Bonner was once a promising young novelist with a respectably published first book. Today, he’s teaching in a third-rate MFA program and struggling to maintain what’s left of his self-respect; he hasn’t written―let alone published―anything decent in years. When a student announces he doesn’t need Jake’s help because the plot of his book in progress is a sure thing, Jake is prepared to dismiss the boast. But then . . . he hears the plot.
In Lily King’s Writers & Lovers, Casey, now 31, is still holding onto her dream of being a novelist. Most of her artist friends have given up their artist dreams for more practical, and lucrative, endeavors; but Casey writes and makes ends meet by waitressing and walking her landlord’s dog. A former child golf prodigy, she now waits tables in Harvard Square and rents a tiny, moldy room at the side of a garage where she works on the novel she’s been writing for six years.
The South has produced some of America’s most celebrated authors, and no state more so than Mississippi. Names such as William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Richard Wright and contemporary writers Jessamyn Ward, Natasha Tretheway and Kiese Laymon have created a literary legacy spanning decades and stretching across lines of class, gender, and race.
One thing binds together these wide- ranging perspectives—the land itself. In A Place Like Mississippi, W. Ralph Eubanks explores those ties and the ways in which the Magnolia State has fostered such a bounty of expression. The stories haven’t always been easy to tell; even beautiful landscapes can’t obscure a complicated history.
Eubanks will be in conversation with his long time friend and fellow Mississippi born author Steve Yarbrough.
In Eric Nguyen’s captivating novel, The Things We Lost to Water, an immigrant Vietnamese family who settles in New Orleans struggles to remain connected to one another as their lives are inextricably reshaped. When Huong arrives in New Orleans with her two young sons, she is jobless, homeless, and worried about her husband, Cong, who remains in Vietnam. With time, she realizes she will never see her husband again. While she attempts to come to terms with this loss, her sons, Tuan and Binh, grow up in their absent father's shadow.
Former President Barack Obama selected this book for his summer reading list. Eric Nguyen will be in conversation with Julie Pham, who came here on a boat at the age of two. She is part owner of the Vietnamese newspaper in Seattle founded by her family.
Dariel Suarez’s book, The Playwright’s House, tells the story of a happily married, successful young Cuban attorney whose estranged brother Victor appears with news that their father—famed theater director Felipe Blanco—has been detained for what he suspects are political reasons, Serguey’s privileged life is suddenly shaken. A return to his childhood home in Havana’s decaying suburbs—a place filled with art, politics, and the remnants of a dissolving family—reconnects Serguey with his troubled past.
In Sabina Murray’s book, The Human Zoo, Filipino-American Christina “Ting” Klein has just travelled from New York to Manila to begin research for a biography of Timicheg, an indigenous Filipino brought to America at the start of 20th century to be exhibited as part of a "human zoo." It has been a year since Ting’s last visit, and one year since Procopio “Copo” Gumboc swept the elections in an upset and took power as president. As days pass, Ting witnesses modern Filipino society languishing under Gumboc’s terrifying reign. Ting cannot extricate herself from the increasingly repressive regime, and soon finds herself personally confronted by the horrifying realities of Gumboc’s power.
Sunday, October 17, 2021
The world is changing so fast that we often find ourselves asking…could that really happen? Did that really happen? Mateo Askaripour’s novel Black Buck is the story of Buck. Before Buck was the Muhammad Ali of sales, he was Darren: an unambitious twenty-two-year-old living with his mother and working at Starbucks. All that changed with a coffee order from the CEO of NYC’s hottest tech startup, resulting in Darren joining their elite sales team. On his first day Darren realizes he is the only Black person in the company, and when things start to get strange, he reimagines himself as ‘Buck’, a ruthless salesman, unrecognizable to his friends and family.
In Lauren Oyler’s Fake Accounts, on the eve of Donald Trump's inauguration, a young woman snoops through her boyfriend's phone and makes a startling discovery: he's an anonymous internet conspiracy theorist, and a popular one at that. She's not exactly shocked by the revelation. Actually, she's relieved--he was always a little distant--and she plots to end their floundering relationship while on a trip to the Women's March in DC. But this is only the first in a series of bizarre twists that expose a world whose truths are shaped by online lies.
At the center of Russell Banks new novel Foregone is famed Canadian American leftist documentary filmmaker Leonard Fife, one of sixty thousand draft evaders and deserters who fled to Canada to avoid serving in Vietnam. Fife, now in his late seventies, is dying of cancer in Montreal and has agreed to a final interview in which he is determined to bare all his secrets at last, to demythologize his mythologized life. It is a daring and resonant work about the scope of one man’s mysterious life, revealed through the fragments of his recovered past.
Set in late nineties, Scott Spencer’s latest novel, An Ocean Without a Shore follows Kip, a gay man in his forties who works at a small investment firm and has been in love with his best friend since their college days. Thaddeus Kaufman, married with children, owns a property he can’t afford and as a persona non grata in Hollywood is struggling to succeed as a scriptwriter. When Thaddeus’ latest writing effort bear no fruit, he finds himself in need of a bailout, so he gives Kip a call. This is a spellbinding and elegantly written novel that touches upon many themes, such as loneliness, love, family, memory, and money.
In Kia Corthron’s new novel, Moon and the Mars, beginning in 1857, biracial seven-year-old orphan Theo Brigid Brook. She lives in Manhattan’s infamous impoverished Five Points district neighborhood in New York City with her Grammy Brook and Grammy Cahill, who are discriminated against for being Irish and Black, respectively. Theo observes the social upheaval and racial injustice leading up to the Civil War.
Jakob Guanzon debuts with Abundance, a harrowing story of a man’s desperation and unyielding love for his son. Single father Henry has less than $100 to his name, and he’s planning on spending it on his son Junior’s eighth birthday present: a night in a hotel with a real bed and cable TV instead of sleeping in Henry’s truck. With each chapter name being the amount of money in his pocket, Guanzon’s descriptions of homelessness and grinding poverty are visceral
Imbolo Mbue’s powerful second novel, How Beautiful We Were is set in the fictional African village of Kosawa and tells of a people living in fear amid environmental degradation wrought by an American oil company. Pipeline spills have rendered farmlands infertile. Children are dying from drinking toxic water. Promises of cleanup and financial reparations to the villagers are made—and ignored. The country’s government, led by a brazen dictator, exists to serve its own interests. Left with few choices, the people of Kosawa decide to fight back. Their struggle will last for decades and come at a steep price. Mbue will be in conversation with Clare Morgana Gillis who is the Vice Chairperson of Windham World Affairs Council.
Anna North’s book Outlawed is the story of Ada. In 1893, on the day of her wedding, the 17 year old’s life looks good—she loves her husband, and she loves working as an apprentice to her mother, a respected midwife. But after a year of marriage and no pregnancy, in a town where barren women are routinely hanged as witches, her survival depends on leaving behind everything she knows. She joins up with the notorious Hole in the Wall Gang, a band of outlaws led by a preacher-turned-robber known to all as the Kid, who is determined to create a safe haven for outcast women.
Jim Shepard’s book, Phase Six, takes us not so far into the future with a prescient story that is by now all too familiar. In a tiny settlement on the west coast of Greenland, 11-year-old Aleq and his best friend, frequent trespassers at a mining site exposed to mountains of long-buried and thawing permafrost, carry what they pick up back into their village, and from there Shepard's harrowing and deeply moving story follows Aleq, one of the few survivors of the initial outbreak, through his identification and radical isolation as the likely index patient. Karen Russell said “If you’ve been waiting for the great novel of the COVID-19 era, it’s in your hands.With heroic humor and a poet’s ear and eye for what makes humanity worth saving...”