Whether you’re looking for an escape or a kick in the pants this summer, it’s an incredible season for new books. From Big Five blockbusters to indie press gems; from experimental novels to incisive reportage and inspiring poetry; there’s something for everyone. Kudos in particular to Minnesota indie Coffee House Press (who’s on a roll this year) and Farrar, Straus and Giroux (whose three fantastic imprints are all over this list).
Coffee House Press, June 6
One of the most memorable novels I’ve read this year, with a truly unique narrative voice. Plus…that cover.
From Coffee House Press: “Foxcatcher meets The Art of Fielding, Stephen Florida follows a college wrestler in his senior season, when every practice, every match, is a step closer to greatness and a step further from sanity. Profane, manic, and tipping into the uncanny, Stephen Florida a story of loneliness, obsession, and the drive to leave a mark.”
FSG Originals, June 6
Another weird little novel that really pushes the boundaries of the medium and erases genre distinctions. For the reader who goes to both AWP and Comic-Con (e.g., me).
From FSG Originals: “In a small Midwestern town, two Asian American boys bond over their outcast status and a mutual love of comic books. Meanwhile, in an alternative or perhaps future universe, a team of superheroes ponders modern society during their time off.”
St. Martins Press, June 6
Big Little Lies off the coast of Long Island in the early 90s? With 100% more bugs? Sign me up. If you can’t tell, I’m a sucker for good cover art. Don’t you just want to hold this in your hands?
From St. Martins: “It is the summer of 1992 and a gypsy moth invasion blankets Avalon Island, an islet off the coast of Long Island. Leslie Day Marshall—only daughter of Avalon’s most prominent family—returns to live in ‘The Castle,’ the island’s grandest estate.”
By Arundhati Roy
Knopf, June 6
It’s been 20 years since Roy’s breakout debut novel, The God of Small Things. Her second novel was worth the wait, a subcontinental epic (set primarily in a graveyard) that will be compared with Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. It asks some interesting questions about gender and religion.
From Knopf: “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on an intimate journey of many years across the Indian subcontinent—from the cramped neighborhoods of Old Delhi and the roads of the new city to the mountains and valleys of Kashmir and beyond, where war is peace and peace is war.”
FSG, June 6
Lacey’s last book Nobody Is Ever Missing was one of my favorites of 2014. She’s since moved to Chicago (!) and her second novel is super-weird and super-good (purple prose, I know). Lacey will be at Printers Row this weekend.
From FSG: “An urgent, propulsive novel about a woman learning to negotiate her ailment and its various aftereffects via the simulacrum of a perfect romantic relationship. Told in her signature spiraling prose, The Answers is full of the singular yet universal insights readers have come to expect from Lacey. It is a gorgeous hybrid of the plot- and the idea-driven novel that will leave you reeling.”
Translated by Helen Stevenson
The New Press, June 6
A new translation from Africa’s most-celebrated French-speaking writer, Alain Mabanckou, who now teaches at UCLA.
From The New Press: “It’s not easy being Tokumisa Nzambe po Mose yamoyindo abotami namboka ya Bakoko. There’s that long name of his for a start, which means, “Let us thank God, the black Moses is born on the lands of the ancestors.” Most people just call him Moses. Then there’s the orphanage where he lives, run by a malicious political stooge, Dieudonné Ngoulmoumako, and where he’s terrorized by two fellow orphans—the twins Songi-Songi and Tala-Tala. Mabanckou’s vivid portrayal of Moses’s mental collapse echoes the work of Hugo, Dickens, and Brian DePalma’s Scarface, confirming Mabanckou’s status as one of our great storytellers. Black Moses is a vital new extension of his cycle of Pointe-Noire novels that stand out as one of the grandest, funniest, fictional projects of our time.”
MCD x FSG, June 6
From MCD x FSG: “The Last Kid Left begins when a car smashes into a sculpture of a giant cowgirl. The police find two bodies in the trunk. Nineteen-year-old Nick Toussaint Jr. is arrested for murder, and after details of the crime rip across the Internet, his sixteen-year-old girlfriend, Emily Portis—a sheltered teen who’s been off the grid until now, her first romance coinciding with her first cell phone—is nearly consumed by a public hungry for every lurid detail, accurate or not. Emily and Nick are not the only ones whose lives come unmoored. A retired police officer latches on to the case. Nick’s alcoholic mother is thrust into an unfamiliar role. A young journalist who left her hometown behind is pulled into the fray. And Emily’s father, the town sheriff, is finally forced to confront a monstrous secret.
Random House, June 13
From Random House: “The shadow of a tree in upstate New York. A hotel room in Switzerland. A young stranger in the Congo. In Blind Spot, readers will follow Teju Cole’s inimitable artistic vision into the visual realm, as he continues to refine the voice and intellectual obsessions that earned him such acclaim for Open City. In more than 150 pairs of images and surprising, lyrical text, Cole explores his complex relationship to the visual world through his two great passions: writing and photography. Blind Spot is a testament to the art of seeing by one of the most powerful and original voices in contemporary literature.”
Unnamed Press, June 13
From Unnamed Press: “At a Caribbean resort built atop a former slave plantation, Myrna works as a maid by day; by night she trespasses on the resort’s overgrown inland property, secretly excavating the plantation ruins the locals refuse to acknowledge. Myrna’s mother has stopped speaking and her friends are focused on surviving the present, but Myrna is drawn to Cruffey Island’s violent past. With the arrival of Mrs. Manion, a wealthy African-American, also comes new information about the history of the slave-owner’s estate and tensions finally erupt between the resort and the local island community. Suffused with the sun-drenched beauty of the Caribbean, Fingerprints of Previous Owners is a powerful novel of hope and recovery in the wake of devastating trauma. In her soulful and timely debut, Entel explores what it means to colonize and be colonized, to trespass and be trespassed upon, to be wounded and to heal.”
Harper, June 13
From Harper: “In her phenomenally popular essays and long-running Tumblr blog, Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and body, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as “wildly undisciplined,” Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she explores her own past—including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life—and brings readers along on her journey to understand and ultimately save herself.”
By Edward Kelsey Moore
Henry Holt, June 20
From Henry Holt: “When a late-in-life love affair blooms between Mr. Forrest Payne, the owner of the Pink Slipper Gentleman’s Club, and Miss Beatrice Jordan, famous for stationing herself outside the club and yelling warnings of eternal damnation at the departing patrons, their wedding brings a legend to town. Mr. El Walker, the great guitar bluesman, gives a command performance in Plainview, Indiana, a place he’d sworn—for good reason—he’d never set foot in again. But El is not the only Plainview native with a hurdle to overcome. A wildly philandering husband struggles at last to prove his faithfulness to his wife. A young transwoman lights out for Chicago to escape her father’s wrath and live an authentic life. And then there are the lifelong friends, known locally as ‘The Supremes,’ who show up every Sunday after church for lunch at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat—Clarice, facing down her longed-for chance at a great career; Barbara Jean, grappling at last with the loss of a mother whose life humiliated both of them, and Odette, reaching for her husband through an anger of his that she does not understand.”
Coffee House Press, July 5
From Coffee House Press: “Poems from a father, a refugee, an activist resisting the invisibility of the Asian American urban poor. Thousand Star Hotel confronts the silence around racism, police brutality, and the invisibility of the Asian American urban poor.”
Viking, July 11
From Viking: “Raised in Pennsylvania, Zinzi Clemmons’s heroine Thandi views the world of her mother’s childhood in Johannesburg as both impossibly distant and ever present. She is an outsider wherever she goes, caught between being black and white, American and not. She tries to connect these dislocated pieces of her life, and as her mother succumbs to cancer, Thandi searches for an anchor – someone, or something, to love. In arresting and unsettling prose, we watch Thandi’s life unfold, from losing her mother and learning to live without the person who has most profoundly shaped her existence, to her own encounters with romance and unexpected motherhood. Through exquisite and emotional vignettes, Clemmons creates a stunning portrayal of what it means to choose to live, after loss. An elegiac distillation, at once intellectual and visceral, of a young woman’s understanding of absence and identity that spans continents and decades, What We Lose heralds the arrival of a virtuosic new voice in fiction.”
Algonquin Books, July 11
From Algonquin: “When a catastrophic solar storm brings about the collapse of modern civilization, an Amish community in Pennsylvania is caught up in the devastating aftermath. Once-bright skies are now dark. Planes have plummeted to the ground. The systems of modern life have crumbled. With their stocked larders and stores of supplies, the Amish are unaffected at first. But as the English (the Amish name for all non-Amish people) become more and more desperate, they begin to invade Amish farms, taking whatever they want and unleashing unthinkable violence on the peaceable community. Seen through the diary of an Amish farmer named Jacob as he tries to protect his family and his way of life, When the English Fall examines the idea of peace in the face of deadly chaos: Should members of a nonviolent society defy their beliefs and take up arms to defend themselves? And if they don’t, can they survive?”
Pantheon, July 11
From Pantheon: “Policing the Black Man explores and critiques the many ways the criminal justice system impacts the lives of African American boys and men at every stage of the criminal process, from arrest through sentencing. Essays range from an explication of the historical roots of racism in the criminal justice system to an examination of modern-day police killings of unarmed black men. The contributors discuss and explain racial profiling, the power and discretion of police and prosecutors, the role of implicit bias, the racial impact of police and prosecutorial decisions, the disproportionate imprisonment of black men, the collateral consequences of mass incarceration, and the Supreme Court’s failure to provide meaningful remedies for the injustices in the criminal justice system. Policing the Black Man is an enlightening must-read for anyone interested in the critical issues of race and justice in America.”
Knopf, July 11
From Knopf: “Gork isn’t like the other dragons at WarWings Military Academy. He has a gigantic heart, two-inch horns, and an occasional problem with fainting. His nickname is Weak Sauce and his Will to Power ranking is Snacklicious—the lowest in his class. But he is determined not to let any of this hold him back as he embarks on the most important mission of his life: tonight, on the eve of his high school graduation, he must ask a female dragon to be his queen. If she says yes, they’ll go off to conquer a foreign planet together. If she says no, Gork becomes a slave. Vying with Jocks, Nerds, Mutants, and Multi-Dimensioners to find his mate, Gork encounters an unforgettable cast of friends and foes, including Dr. Terrible, the mad scientist; Fribby, a robot dragon obsessed with death; and Metheldra, a healer specializing in acupuncture with swords. But finally it is Gork’s biggest perceived weakness, his huge heart, that will guide him through his epic quest and help him reach his ultimate destination: planet Earth.”
Riverhead, July 4
From Riverhead: “A young boy has fled his home. Crouched in a hiding place, he hears the shouts of men hunting him. When the search party has passed and he emerges, what lies before him is an infinite, arid plain, one he must cross in order to escape those from whom he’s fleeing. One night he meets an old goatherd, a man who lives simply but righteously, and from that moment, nothing will ever be the same for either of them. Out in the Open tells the story of this journey through an unnamed, drought-stricken country ruled by violence. A claustrophobic world where names and dates don’t matter, where morals have drained away with the water. In this landscape the boy, not yet a lost cause, has the chance to choose hope and bravery, or to live forever mired in the violence with which he grew up.”
Speak, July 11
From Speak: “Twelve-year-old Sunny lives in Nigeria, but she was born American. Her features are African, but she’s albino. She’s a terrific athlete, but can’t go out into the sun to play soccer. There seems to be no place where she fits. And then she discovers something amazing-she is a “free agent,” with latent magical power. Soon she’s part of a quartet of magic students, studying the visible and invisible, learning to change reality. But will it be enough to help them when they are asked to catch a career criminal who knows magic too?”
FSG Originals, July 18
From FSG Originals: “The acclaimed novelist Samantha Hunt’s first collection of stories blends the literary and the fantastic and brings us characters on the verge—girls turning into women, women turning into deer, people doubling or becoming ghosts, and more. Strange things happen all around us all the time, but is it best to acknowledge or to turn away from moments when the weird pokes its way into our ordinary lives? In these marvelously inventive stories, Samantha Hunt imagines numerous ways in which lives might be altered by the otherworldly. An FBI agent falls in love with a robot built for a suicide mission. A young woman unintentionally cheats on her husband when she is transformed, nightly, into a deer. Two strangers become lovers and find themselves somehow responsible for the resurrection of a dog. A woman tries to start her life anew after the loss of a child but cannot help riddling that new life with lies. Thirteen pregnant teenagers develop a strange relationship with the Founding Fathers of American history. A lonely woman’s fertility treatments become the stuff of science fiction.”
FSG Originals, August 1
From FSG Originals: “Jac Jemc’s The Grip of It tells the eerie story of a young couple haunted by their new home. Julie and James settle into a house in a small town outside the city where they met. The move—prompted by James’s penchant for gambling, his inability to keep his impulses in check—is quick and seamless; both Julie and James are happy to leave behind their usual haunts and start afresh. But this house, which sits between lake and forest, has plans for the unsuspecting couple. As Julie and James try to settle into their home and their relationship, the house and its surrounding terrain become the locus of increasingly strange happenings. The architecture—claustrophobic, riddled with hidden rooms within rooms—becomes unrecognizable, decaying before their eyes. Stains are animated on the wall—contracting, expanding—and map themselves onto Julie’s body in the form of bruises; mold spores taint the water that James pours from the sink. Together the couple embark on a panicked search for the source of their mutual torment, a journey that mires them in the history of their peculiar neighbors and the mysterious residents who lived in the house before Julie and James. Written in creepy, potent prose, The Grip of It is an enthralling, psychologically intense novel that deals in questions of home: how we make it and how it in turn makes us, inhabiting the bodies and the relationships we cherish.”
Riverhead, August 1
From Riverhead: “As the twentieth century draws to a close, Maria is at the start of a life she never thought possible. She and Khalil, her college sweetheart, are planning their wedding. They are the perfect couple, “King and Queen of the Racially Nebulous Prom.” Their skin is the same shade of beige. They live together in a black bohemian enclave in Brooklyn, where Khalil is riding the wave of the first dot-com boom and Maria is plugging away at her dissertation, on the Jonestown massacre. They’ve even landed a starring role in a documentary about “new people” like them, who are blurring the old boundaries as a brave new era dawns. Everything Maria knows she should want lies before her—yet she can’t stop daydreaming about another man, a poet she barely knows. As fantasy escalates to fixation, it dredges up secrets from the past and threatens to unravel not only Maria’s perfect new life but her very persona. Heartbreaking and darkly comic, New People is a bold and unfettered page-turner that challenges our every assumption about how we define one another, and ourselves.”
Viking, August 1
From Viking: “Lee Cuddy is seventeen years old and on the run, alone on the streets of Philadelphia. After taking the fall for a rich friend, Lee reluctantly accepts refuge in the Crystal Castle—a cooperative of homeless kids squatting in an austere, derelict building. But homeless kids are disappearing from the streets in suspicious numbers, and Lee quickly discovers that the secret society’s charitable façade is too good to be true. She finds an unexpected ally in Tomi, a young artist and hacker whose knowledge of the Internet’s black market is rivaled only by his ability to break into and out of buildings. From abandoned aquariums to highly patrolled museums to the homes of vacationing Philadelphians, Tomi and Lee can always chart a way to the next, perfect hide-out. But the harder Lee tries to escape into the unmapped corners of the city, the closer she unwittingly gets to uncovering the disturbing agenda of the very men who pull the strings of the secret society she’s hoped to elude, a group of fanatics obsessed with the secrets encoded in the work of early-twentieth-century artist Marcel Duchamp. What these men want is more twisted than anything Lee could’ve imagined, and they believe Lee holds the key to it all.”
MCD x FSG, August 1
From MCD x FSG: “Ricky Mendoza Jr. (aka Ghost) is trying to make good. As a teenager, he was a ruthless gangbanger, addict, and killer until he got out and met Rose. As an adult, in recovery and working as a safecracker for the DEA, Ghost is determined to live “clean” to honor Rose’s memory—until he stumbles upon an opportunity to repay the debts of his past. All he has to do is crack a safe and steal drug money from under the noses of the gangs and the feds without getting caught. Or killed. A propulsive, engaging thriller by a novelist whose writing David Mitchell called “audacious, unflinching and subversive,” Ryan Gattis’s Safe drives readers toward a shocking conclusion while exploring deeper questions about what it means to be ‘good.'”
Harper Perennial, August 1
From Harper Perennial: “In this poignant and inciting collection of literary essays, Megan Stielstra tells stories to ward off fears both personal and universal as she grapples toward a better way to live. In her titular piece “The Wrong Way To Save Your Life,” she answers the question of what has value in our lives—a question no longer rhetorical when the apartment above her family’s goes up in flames. “Here is My Heart” sheds light on Megan’s close relationship with her father, whose continued insistence on climbing mountains despite a series of heart attacks leads the author to dissect deer hearts in a poetic attempt to interrogate her own feelings about mortality. Whether she’s imagining the implications of open-carry laws on college campuses, recounting the story of going underwater on the mortgage of her first home, or revealing the unexpected pains and joys of marriage and motherhood, Stielstra’s work informs, impels, enlightens, and embraces us all. The result is something beautiful—this story, her courage, and, potentially, our own.”
FSG, August 8
From FSG: “In Lindsay Hunter’s achingly funny, fiercely honest second novel, Eat Only When You’re Hungry, we meet Greg—an overweight fifty-eight-year-old and the father of Greg Junior, GJ, who has been missing for three weeks. GJ’s been an addict his whole adult life, disappearing for days at a time, but for some reason this absence feels different, and Greg has convinced himself that he’s the only one who can find his son. So he rents an RV and drives from his home in West Virginia to the outskirts of Orlando, Florida, the last place GJ was seen. As we travel down the streets of the bizarroland that is Florida, the urgency to find GJ slowly recedes into the background, and the truths about Greg’s mistakes—as a father, a husband, a man—are uncovered. In Eat Only When You’re Hungry, Hunter elicits complex sympathy for her characters, asking the reader to take a closer look at the way we think about addiction—why we demonize the junkie but turn a blind eye to drinking a little too much or eating too much—and the fallout of failing ourselves.”
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