This week: a 750-page Man Booker finalist, plus Stephen King's latest.
Presenting 13 reinterpretations of Poe’s works alongside the originals, this enticing anthology offers an accessible, multifaceted reading experience for fans old and new. Some stories—such as Kendare Blake’s “She Rode a Horse of Fire” and Tiffany D. Jackson’s “It’s Carnival!”—serve updated wrappings of Poe’s classic plotlines. Others deconstruct Poe’s pieces in novel ways, such as Tessa Gratton’s lyrical “Night-Tide,” which poignantly delves into themes of queer identity, familial responsibility, and anxiety over the bones of Poe’s famous elegy, “Annabel Lee.” Diverse genres abound—Marieke Nijkamp situates “Changeling,” her fae rendition of Poe’s “Hop-Frog,” in a historical fantasy world that powerfully engages with disability, while Lamar Giles reframes “The Oval Portrait” in “The Oval Filter” through the lens of a football star haunted by the inexplicable death of his almost-girlfriend, an Instagram influencer. And Rin Chupeco’s “The Murders in the Rue Apartelle, Boracay” is the most comedic entry, juxtaposing the mystery of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” with Filipinx mythology, LGBTQ slang, Lovecraftian references, and romance. A refreshing assortment of diverse voices and contemporary themes ensures there’s something for everyone in this delightful compilation. Ages: 12–up.
As the sole investigator for Innocence U.K., a British nonprofit fighting to free the wrongly convicted, Tess Gilroy, the heroine of this powerful thriller from Daly (Open Your Eyes), often feels her tasks are Sisyphean, but her latest assignment presents even greater challenges than usual. Tess must reexamine the evidence that sent middle-aged mother Carrie Kamara to prison for the stabbing murder four years earlier of her husband’s mistress. For former probation officer Tess, the case literally hits too close to home. It forces her to return for the first time in decades to the faded northwestern coastal town of Morecambe, England, where the crime took place—and where Tess suffered childhood traumas from which she has been running ever since. As Tess searches for the break that could give Carrie back her life, the author skillfully explores the question of whether Tess can finally manage to do the same for herself. Daly’s fans will welcome this gritty departure from her popular novels of domestic suspense.
Del Amo’s pungent, nightmarish English-language debut describes, in a mythic, arresting style, the bleak fates of a cursed family and the pigs they rear. In the first two sections, set in early 20th-century France in the village of Puy-Larroque, a family ekes out a living farming on the “hostile, implacable land.” A stony mother (referred to solely as “the genetrix”) oversees the operations as her ailing husband wastes away and her daughter, Eléonore, chafes against her domineering ways. In the next sections, set in the 1980s, four generations of the family are living on the farm, now a full-blown piggery, described in Del Amo’s unsparing rendering as “the cradle of [the family’s] barbarism and that of the whole world.” The clan is beset with insanity, abuse, terminal illness, alcoholism, depression, incest, and financial ruin. When a giant breeding boar breaks free from its enclosure, Eléonore’s son, Henri, pursues “the Beast”—which comes to symbolize the family’s barely suppressed monstrosity—with Ahab-like vigor. The florid prose has an incantatory power well suited to the festering enmity, inhumanity, and majestic squalor on display. This uncompromising vision will leave readers breathless, thrilled, and exhausted.
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, this shaggy stream-of-consciousness monologue from Ellmann (Sweet Desserts) confronts the currents of contemporary America. On the surface it’s a story of domestic life, as the unnamed female narrator puts it: “my life’s all shopping, chopping, slicing, splicing, spilling.” Her husband, Leo, is a civil engineer; they have “four greedy, grouchy, unmanageable kids”; she bakes and sells pies; and nothing more eventful happens than when she gets a flat tire while making a pie delivery. Yet plot is secondary to this book’s true subject: the narrator’s consciousness. Written in rambling hundred-page sentences, whose clauses each begin with “the fact that...,” readers are privy to intimate facts (“the fact that I don’t think I really started to live until Leo loved me”), mundane facts (“the fact that ‘fridge’ has a D in it, but ‘refrigerator’ doesn’t”), facts thought of in the shower (“the fact that every murderer must have a barber”), and flights of associative thinking (“Jake’s baby potty, Howard Hughes’s milk bottles of pee, opioid crisis, red tide”). Interspersed throughout is the story of a lion mother, separated from her cubs and ceaselessly searching for them. This jumble of cascading thoughts provides a remarkable portrait of a woman in contemporary America contemplating her own life and society’s storm clouds, such as the Flint water crisis, gun violence, and the Trump presidency. The narrator is a fiercely protective mother trying to raise her children the only way she knows how, in a rapidly changing and hostile environment. Ellmann’s work is challenging but undoubtedly brilliant.
Carnegie Medal–nominee Emezi (Freshwater for adults) makes their young adult debut in this story of a transgender, selectively nonverbal girl named Jam, and the monster that finds its way into their universe. Jam’s hometown, Lucille, is portrayed as a utopia—a world that is post-bigotry and -violence, where “angels” named after those in religious texts have eradicated “monsters.” But after Jam accidently bleeds onto her artist mother’s painting, the image—a figure with ram’s horns, metallic feathers, and metal claws—pulls itself out of the canvas. Pet, as it tells Jam to call it, has come to her realm to hunt a human monster––one that threatens peace in the home of Jam’s best friend, Redemption. Together, Jam, Pet, and Redemption embark on a quest to discover the crime and vanquish the monster. Jam’s language is alternatingly voiced and signed, the latter conveyed in italic text, and Igbo phrases pepper the family’s loving interactions. Emezi’s direct but tacit story of injustice, unconditional acceptance, and the evil perpetuated by humankind forms a compelling, nuanced tale that fans of speculative horror will quickly devour. Ages 12–up.
Veronica Clarke, 17, is on track to be valedictorian and already has an Ivy League acceptance when she unexpectedly passes another test, one whose pink lines say she’s pregnant. Unfortunately, she lives in Missouri, where women under 18 need a parent’s permission to get a legal abortion. In desperation, she concocts a plan to have the father, Kevin, drive her to a clinic 1,000 miles away so that she can end her pregnancy. Then she discovers that he intentionally sabotaged their birth control. For help, Ronnie turns to her former best friend, “black hole of anger and darkness” Bailey Butler. Together, they embark on a road trip for the ages, one that includes cow tipping, grand theft auto, and aliens, with Kevin in hot pursuit. The authors’ background in television and film shows, with scene after hilarious scene normalizing the most serious of subjects: how far women must often go to exercise control over their own bodies. Though her desire to avoid teenage parenthood propels Ronnie to act, the trip is also one of self-discovery as she reassesses what partnership really means. A stellar, timely debut. Ages 14–up.
King wows with the most gut-wrenching tale of kids triumphing over evil since It. In a quiet Minnesota neighborhood, intruders kidnap 12-year-old prodigy Luke Ellis and murder his parents. When Luke wakes up, he finds himself in a room identical to his own bedroom, except that he is now a resident of the Institute—a facility that tests telekinetic and telepathic abilities of children. Luke finds comfort in the company of the children in the Front Half: Kalisha, Nick, George, and Avery. Others have graduated to the Back Half, where “kids check in, but they don’t check out.” The Front Half are promised that they’ll be returned to their parents after testing and a visit to Back Half, but Luke becomes suspicious and desperate to get out and get help for the others. However, no child has ever escaped the Institute. Tapping into the minds of the young characters, King creates a sense of menace and intimacy that will have readers spellbound. The mystery of the Institute’s purpose is drawn out naturally until it becomes far scarier than the physical abuse visited upon the children. Not a word is wasted in this meticulously crafted novel, which once again proves why King is the king of horror.
New Yorker staff writer Lemann (The Promised Land) describes the evolution of American corporate culture in this excellent and unusually framed economic history. Lemann describes how the American worker once dedicated his or her life to a single company, receiving generous benefits, career-long job security, and a pension, whereas the transaction man labors at the mercy of corporate shareholders who may sell, break up, or merge a company to maximize share price. Lemann attributes this change to the work of economists Milton Friedman, who believed the sole function of corporations was to maximize profits for shareholders, and Michael Jensen, who justified rapacious junk bond trading, hostile takeovers, and debt-leveraged buyouts. Lemann also depicts this transformation of the American economy at the micro level through its effect on one neighborhood, Chicago Lawn, which saw the disastrous dissolution of its auto dealerships after General Motors’ bankruptcy. He thoughtfully links income inequality to the transactional theories of the corporation and looks ahead to a possible future model for “pluralism,” wherein political and economic power is diffuse and distributed, rather than held in “institutions, transactions, or networks.” This concise and cogent history of the theories that have transformed the American economy makes a potentially dry subject fascinating.
McFarlane (Who’s That Girl?) strikes romantic comedy gold with this tale of reunited sweethearts who have to grapple with the past. During their last term of high school, popular Georgina Horspool and loner Lucas McCarthy fell in love. They planned to become each other’s first lover after the end-of-year party—but a traumatic event derailed that plan. Twelve years later, Georgina’s life is in a downward spiral. After being publicly fired from a dead-end waitressing job, catching her comedian boyfriend in bed with his assistant, and dealing with her critical family, she gets a job working for Lucas, who shows no signs of recognizing her. This is no standard lost-love-reunited tale; McFarlane builds it into a powerful exploration of grief and the way incomplete information can shape a narrative. As Georgina’s background is carefully revealed, readers will continually revise their ideas of who she is and gain a better understanding of her closest relationships, especially with her father and with Lucas. As a result, the ending, while not unexpected, is deeply satisfying on several levels, and Lucas’s final romantic speech is one for the ages. McFarlane strikes a beautiful balance of tenderness, wry humor, and deep emotion.
In this searing investigation, Moaveni, an Iranian-American journalist (Honeymoon in Tehran), explores the phenomenon of Muslim women—many of them educated, successful, and outwardly Westernized—choosing to travel to Syria in support of jihad. She follows 13 women and girls who were radicalized by news, by recruiters on social media, or within their social circles. Many of them naively dreamed of handsome warrior husbands, “camels trudging through a glowing vermilion sandstorm and Moorish palaces set against the moonlight.” In Syria, many found that “the militants [were] no better than the tyrants they claimed to oppose” and their new husbands, assigned immediately upon arrival by ISIS, were often alarming (some described as “swiping through phone apps for sex slaves”). The guest house of the title, which most women come to know well, since the men die so quickly, “was a place of such deliberate uninhabitability that few women could stay long without going mad. This was precisely the intention.... Refusing to marry was recalcitrant behavior that would not be enabled by a comfortable private room with en suite bathroom.” In concise, visceral vignettes, Moaveni immerses her readers in a milieu saturated with the romantic appeal of violence. The result is a journalistic tour de force that lays bare the inner lives, motivations, and aspirations of her subjects.
Unrelenting and artfully crafted, this haunting debut and its tortured protagonist easily cement Moulton as a must-read writer in the horror genre. Running from addiction and the tragic death of her stepbrother, Emma hitchhikes to the Black Hills with Lowell, a man in search of his ex and their child. When Lowell attempts to kidnap her, Emma robs him of his gun and van, leaving him with a bullet wound alone in the middle of the Badlands with the threat of snow. Soon out of gas, Emma finds herself stranded in a mostly abandoned community; its primary resident is a little boy named Earl who wears a tinfoil mask over his scarred face. Earl, in immediate danger after poisoning his violent father, refuses to help her until she finishes off his abuser. As the pair conspire to escape, the purity of Emma and Earl’s relationship stands in stark contrast to their isolated setting and the darkness of their traumas. Readers will be heartsick at the thought that either one might not survive. The narrative, both disturbing and irresistible, is propelled by these two well-imagined characters and their need for each other. This is a gripping tale of terribly human horrors.
This touching, semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel from Murnane (Border Districts) presents the original vision of what became his second novel, 1976’s A Lifetime on Clouds. Two previously unpublished sections are now added to the funny, stirring chronicle of the adolescence of Adrian Sherd. In 1950s suburban Melbourne, Adrian is fixated on sex. To appease his Catholic guilt and cure himself of the “sins of impurity” he commits alone, Adrian decides to devote himself to a girl he sees every day on the train. Though he never speaks to her, he vividly imagines a complex married life together that doesn’t really alter his fixation on sex. So, he decides to become a priest, joining the Catholic Charleroi order as a junior seminarian (a section that proves essential for understanding how Murnane evolved from a sad, young seminarian into a committed literary aesthete). He later changes his mind, opting instead to join the Cistercians, which offer him better landscapes to peruse. But once he is back home in Melbourne, he changes his vocation yet again. Murnane’s protagonist is absolutely unforgettable, and the author himself, whose name has been appearing on Nobel Prize–contender lists recently, only adds to his exceptional body of work with this wonderful novel.
This excellent debut novel by Nebula winner Pinsker (after the collection Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea) establishes her as an astonishingly impressive writer of day-after-tomorrow SF. Band leader Luce Cannon is devoted to writing rock music and performing it live, even though threats of terrorism and disease have led Americans to retreat into solitude, connected only virtually. Rosemary Laws has grown up in impersonal, shallow isolation, but music awakens her, and she strains against the restrictions that are supposed to be keeping her safe. Luce plays clandestine concerts for tiny audiences while Rosemary, whose job is to find illegal musicians like Luce and build them into virtual reality stars, struggles to steer the monolithic StageHolo entertainment corporation toward more humane activity. Without shortcuts or heartstring-tugging tricks, Pinsker shows how people whose personalities and backgrounds seem incompatible can be united by art, and how the need to feel safe can be less important than the need to create together and share joy. She handles both intimate emotions and extrapolative worldbuilding with aplomb. This tale of hope and passion is a remarkable achievement.
In vividly told scenes, with bracing honesty and breathless prose, Pulitzer Prize–winner Power (A Problem from Hell) reflects on the roads that led from her college days at Yale to her work in the U.S. government. She graduated from Harvard Law School, and in 2005 met Sen. Barack Obama, who asked her to serve as a foreign policy adviser. After his presidential election, Obama brought Power into the National Security Council in 2009, and from 2013 to 2017, she served as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Power takes readers behind the scenes of her visits to Libya during the final tense days of the Qaddafi regime, pointing out that in spite of the downturn in security, Libya’s citizens agreed that they wanted no international presence in their country, but to determine their own future. She discovered that Burma’s human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi is a bad listener and that it’s not clear that Suu Kyi cared that much about humans. Ultimately, she stresses the necessity of caring, acting, and not giving up when seeking to change people’s lives. Power’s vibrant prose, exuberant storytelling, and deep insights into human nature make for a page-turning memoir.
Ruefle (My Private Party) delivers a giddy, incisive ode to failure, fragility, and unknowing in her 12th book. “It may be our heads/ are filled with feathers/ from the stuff/ we don’t know,” she hazards, tiptoeing through one after another outlandish scenario sketched with uncanny delicacy. Many of these poems conceal sly fragments of lyric allusion or history: “I loved to wander, utterly alone”; “The fourteenth way of looking at/ a blackbird is mine.” Rhymes abound as though refusing resistance to such play, and a poem that opens in euphoria (“What a beautiful day for a wedding!”) ends, just a few lines later, in despair (“I hate my poems”). However, the poet reassures the reader that such states are kindred, even twinned. Ruefle celebrates the world’s imagination and mystery: “I want to thank my clothes for protecting my body. I want to/ fold them properly—I want/ the energy that flows from my hands/ to engulf the world./ Upon reflection, this is not/ possible. Upon reflection/ it is I who am pummeled by/ the world, that vast massage/ machine.” These poems grace the readers with wonder, wisdom, and whim “conducted/ without compromise,” securing Ruefle’s reputation among poets as the patron saint of childhood and the everyday.
Set in the early 1900s, this moving tale from Sullivan (Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse) centers on the romance between a farmhand and a farmer. Ruby Drake is orphaned at age 12 after her parents freeze to death. Her last living relative, a great aunt, refuses to take Ruby in, and Ruby drifts from town to town as a hired hand, eventually making a home in Harvester, Minn., where she works on the farm of Henry and Emma Schoonover. There, Ruby grows into her own as she’s guided by hard work, the stories and characters in her late mother’s books, and Emma’s nurturing friendship. She also falls irrevocably in love with Roland Allen, the handsome, hardworking, married farmer next door. The two begin an affair, and after Roland’s wife, Dora, injures herself in a failed suicide attempt, Ruby unexpectedly becomes Dora’s caregiver and confidante. Torn between her love for Roland and her growing camaraderie with Dora, Ruby must decide whether to eke out her destiny away from the man, land, and community she loves or continue to exist within an impossible compromise. Fans of Jane Eyre will adore the intelligent, brazen Ruby whose combination of pragmatism and besottedness is winningly sympathetic. Replete with agrarian nostalgia and crisp prose, Sullivan’s quiet tale is a wonderful, arresting meditation on sacrifice.