August is the final month of the summer book season, and it seems like many publishers were saving their most eclectic, off-beat titles for the sign of Leo. In The Last Days of New Paris, the City of Light detonates a “surrealist bomb” to repel the Nazi occupation in 1940. In Mr. Eternity, an old sailor who calls himself Daniel Defoe claims to be 560 years old. And in The Trees, an English suburb turns into a forest overnight.
Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was by Sjón
Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, August 2
“Máni Steinn is gay in a society in which the idea of homosexuality is beyond the furthest extreme. His city, Reykjavik in 1918, is homogeneous and isolated and seems entirely defenseless against the Spanish flu, which has already torn through Europe, Asia, and North America and is now lapping up on Iceland’s shores. And if the flu doesn’t do it, there’s always the threat that war will spread all the way north. And yet the outside world has also brought Icelanders cinema! And there’s nothing like a dark, silent room with a film from Europe flickering on the screen to help you escape from the overwhelming threats—and adventures—of the night, to transport you, to make you feel like everything is going to be all right. For Máni Steinn, the question is whether, at Reykjavik’s darkest hour, he should retreat all the way into this imaginary world, or if he should engage with the society that has so soundly rejected him.”
The Trees by Ali Shaw
Bloomsbury, August 2
“The Trees. They arrived in the night: wrenching through the ground, thundering up into the air, and turning Adrien’s suburban street into a shadowy forest. Shocked by the sight but determined to get some answers, he ventures out, passing destroyed buildings, felled power lines, and broken bodies still wrapped in tattered bed linens hanging from branches.
“It is soon apparent that no help is coming and that these trees, which seem the work of centuries rather than hours, span far beyond the town. As far, perhaps, as the coast, where across the sea in Ireland, Adrien’s wife is away on a business trip and there is no way of knowing whether she is alive or dead.
“When Adrien meets Hannah, a woman who, unlike him, believes that the coming of the trees may signal renewal rather than destruction and Seb, her technology-obsessed son, they persuade him to join them. Together, they pack up what remains of the lives they once had and set out on a quest to find Hannah’s forester brother and Adrien’s wife—and to discover just how deep the forest goes.
“Their journey through the trees will take them into unimaginable territory: to a place of terrible beauty and violence, of deadly enemies and unexpected allies, to the dark heart of nature and the darkness—and also the power—inside themselves.”
Falter Kingdom by Michael J. Seidlinger
Unnamed Press, August 9
“Everyone knows that when you get a demon, you have an exorcism. But Hunter Warden decides to keep his for the rest of senior year.
“Hunter Warden just wants some peace and quiet. He wants to watch unboxing videos and be lulled to sleep by the monotone voices and smooth talking YouTube hosts. He wants his parents that are always working to either totally leave him alone or be around for once. After a few beers, Hunter decides to get away from it all and go for a run in Falter Kingdom.
“When you run the gauntlet at Falter Kingdom, a tunnel next to a park on the outskirts of suburbia where local high school kids go to drink and smoke, one of two things can happen — nothing or you catch a demon.
“The cold spots, locked doors, scratches on the wall, and disappearing laptop immediately alert Hunter to the fact that a demon is haunting him. He knows the signs, he’s seen the videos of people that are possessed, and everyone knows someone that has had to get an exorcism. Hunter knows that he should get rid of it, but he can’t help but enjoy the company of “H,” despite this demon’s sinister intentions.”
The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville
Del Rey, August 9
“A thriller of war that never was—of survival in an impossible city—of surreal cataclysm. In The Last Days of New Paris, China Miéville entwines true historical events and people with his daring, uniquely imaginative brand of fiction, reconfiguring history and art into something new.
“1941. In the chaos of wartime Marseille, American engineer—and occult disciple—Jack Parsons stumbles onto a clandestine anti-Nazi group, including Surrealist theorist André Breton. In the strange games of the dissident diplomats, exiled revolutionaries, and avant-garde artists, Parsons finds and channels hope. But what he unwittingly unleashes is the power of dreams and nightmares, changing the war and the world forever.
“1950. A lone Surrealist fighter, Thibaut, walks a new, hallucinogenic Paris, where Nazis and the Resistance are trapped in unending conflict, and the streets are stalked by living images and texts—and by the forces of Hell. To escape the city, he must join forces with Sam, an American photographer intent on recording the ruins, and make common cause with a powerful, enigmatic figure of chance and rebellion: the exquisite corpse.
“But Sam is being hunted. And new secrets will emerge that will test all their loyalties—to each other, to Paris old and new, and to reality itself.”
Mr. Eternity by Aaron Thier
Bloomsbury, August 9
“A novel of exuberance and ambition, spanning one thousand years of high-seas adventure, environmental and cultural catastrophe, and enduring love.
Key West, 2016. Sea levels are rising, coral reefs are dying. In short, everything is going to hell. It’s here that two young filmmakers find something to believe in: an old sailor who calls himself Daniel Defoe and claims to be five hundred sixty years old.
“In fact, old Dan is in the prime of his life. It’s an incredible, perhaps eternal American life, which Mr. Eternity imagines over a millennium: a parade of conquistadors and plantation owners, lusty mermaids and dissatisfied princesses, picking up in the sixteenth century in the Viceroyalty of New Granada and continuing into the twenty-sixth, where, in the future Democratic Federation of Mississippi States, Dan serves as an advisor to the King of St. Louis. Some things remain constant throughout the centuries, and being on the edge of ruin may be one. In 1560, the Spaniards have destroyed the Aztec and Inca civilizations. In 2500, we’ve destroyed our own: the cities of the Atlantic coast are underwater, the union has fallen apart, and cars, plastics, and air conditioning are relegated to history. But there are other constants too: love, ingenuity, humor, and old Dan himself, always adapting and inspiring others with dreams of a better life.
“An ingenious, hilarious, and genre-bending page-turner, Mr. Eternity is multiple novels in one. Together they form an uncommon work—about our changing planet and its remarkable continuities.”
In the Not Quite Dark: Stories by Dana Johnson
Counterpoint Press, August 9
“Following her prize-winning collection Break Any Woman Down, Dana Johnson returns with a collection of bold stories set mostly in downtown Los Angeles that examine large issues –love, class, race – and how they influence and define our most intimate moments. In “The Liberace Museum,” a mixed-race couple leave the South toward the destination of Vegas, crossing miles of road and history to the promised land of consumption; in “Rogues,” a young man on break from college lands in his brother’s Inland Empire neighborhood during a rash of unexplained robberies; in “She Deserves Everything She Gets,” a woman listens to the strict advice given to her spoiled niece about going away to college, reflecting on her own experience and the night she lost her best friend; and in the collection’s title story, a man setting down roots in downtown L.A. is haunted by the specter of both gentrification and a young female tourist, whose body was found in the water tower of a neighboring building.
With deep insight into character, intimate relationships, and the modern search for personal freedom, In the Not Quite Dark is powerful new work that feels both urgent and timeless.
The Kukotsky Enigma by Ludmila Ulitskaya
Translated from the Russian by Diane Nemec Ignashev
Northwestern University Press, August 15
“The central character in Ludmila Ulitskaya’s celebrated novel The Kukotsky Enigma is a gynecologist contending with Stalin’s prohibition of abortions in 1936. But, in the tradition of Russia’s great family novels, the story encompasses the history of two families and unfolds in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and the ruins of ancient civilizations on the Black Sea. Their lives raise profound questions about family heritage and genetics, nurture and nature, and life and death. In his struggle to maintain his professional integrity and to keep his work from dividing his family, Kukotsky confronts the moral complexity of reproductive science. Winner of the 2001 Russian Booker Prize and the basis for a blockbuster television miniseries, The Kukotsky Enigma is an engrossing, searching novel by one of contemporary literature’s most brilliant writers.”
Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal
Tor Books, August 16
“A new novel from beloved fantasy author Mary Robinette Kowal featuring the mysterious spirit corps and their heroic work in World War I. Ginger Stuyvesant, an American heiress living in London during World War I, is engaged to Captain Benjamin Hartshorne, an intelligence officer. Ginger is a medium for the Spirit Corps, a special Spiritualist force.
“Each soldier heading for the front is conditioned to report to the mediums of the Spirit Corps when they die so the Corps can pass instant information about troop movements to military intelligence.
“Ginger and her fellow mediums contribute a great deal to the war efforts, so long as they pass the information through appropriate channels. While Ben is away at the front, Ginger discovers the presence of a traitor. Without the presence of her fiance to validate her findings, the top brass thinks she’s just imagining things. Even worse, it is clear that the Spirit Corps is now being directly targeted by the German war effort. Left to her own devices, Ginger has to find out how the Germans are targeting the Spirit Corps and stop them. This is a difficult and dangerous task for a woman of that era, but this time both the spirit and the flesh are willing…”
The Subsidiary by Matias Celedon
Translated from the Spanish by Samuel Rutter
Melville House, August 30
“In the subsidiary offices of a major corporation, the power suddenly goes out: the lights switch off; the doors lock; the phone lines go dead. The employees are trapped in total darkness with only cryptic, intermittent announcements over the loud speaker, instructing all personnel to remain at their work stations until further notice.
“Terrified, one lone worker uses the implements on his desk to give testimony to the horrors that occur during the days he spends trapped in the building, testimony told exclusively—and hauntingly—through the stamps he uses to mark corporate documents.
“Hand-designed by the author with a stamp set he bought in an bookstore in Santiago, Matías Celedón’s The Subsidiary is both an exquisite object and a chilling avant-garde tale from one of Chile’s rising literary stars.”
How to Travel without Seeing: Dispatches from the New Latin America by Andrés Neuman
Translated from the Spanish by Jeffrey Lawrence
Restless Books, August 30
“A kaleidoscopic, fast-paced tour of Latin America from one of the Spanish-speaking world’s most outstanding writers.
“Lamenting not having more time to get to know each of the nineteen countries he visits after winning the prestigious Premio Alfaguara, Andrés Neuman begins to suspect that world travel consists mostly of “not seeing.” But then he realizes that the fleeting nature of his trip provides him with a unique opportunity: touring and comparing every country of Latin America in a single stroke. Neuman writes on the move, generating a kinetic work that is at once puckish and poetic, aphoristic and brimming with curiosity. Even so-called non-places—airports, hotels, taxis—are turned into powerful symbols full of meaning. A dual Argentine-Spanish citizen, he incisively explores cultural identity and nationality, immigration and globalization, history and language, and turbulent current events. Above all, Neuman investigates the artistic lifeblood of Latin America, tackling with gusto not only literary heavyweights such as Bolaño, Vargas Llosa, Lorca, and Galeano, but also an emerging generation of authors and filmmakers whose impact is now making ripples worldwide.
“Eye-opening and charmingly offbeat, How to Travel without Seeing: Dispatches from the New Latin America is essential reading for anyone interested in the past, present, and future of the Americas.”
Adam Morgan is the founding editor of the Chicago Review of Books and the Southern Review of Books. His essays and criticism have appeared in The Paris Review, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago magazine, and elsewhere.