The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Tessa Hadley, Florence Williams, and Carl Phillips.
The poignant, ironic latest from Hadley (Late in the Day) is drenched in the atmosphere of late-1960s Britain, when the lives of women seemed to be changing radically, but maybe, in fact, weren’t so much. In 1967, Phyllis Fischer is 40 years old, “pleased with her life” as a housewife in suburban London, married to civil servant Roger, and mother to charming nine-year-old Hugh and discontented 15-year-old Colette. But, as the detached, observant narrator notes, “under the placid surface of suburbia, something was unhinged.” Soon Phyllis is involved, to Colette’s chagrin, in an affair with Nicholas, the 20-something son of family friends. What seems at first to be a simple tale of adultery and its consequences twists into something between a “cosmic comedy” (as Nicholas’s mother calls it) and a “situation as fatally twisted as a Greek drama” (according to the narrator) as the affair reveals unexpected connections between Phyllis’s family and Nicholas’s. The narrator’s wise, disaffected view of life homes in on the shakiness of Phyllis’s sentimental education. In keen, lush prose, Hadley conveys the many ways her characters delude themselves amid fraught relationships between parents and children as well as between lovers. The result is sumptuous and surprising.
“Much has been written about the science of falling in love, but very little about what happens on the other side,” writes journalist Williams (The Nature Fix) in this show-stopping, offbeat story about the science of heartbreak. Deciding to unravel “what the heck had happened to the woman I used to be” after her 25-year marriage ended, and aiming to understand how “heartbreak changes our neurons, our bodies, and our sense of ourselves,” Williams visits psychologists, geneticists, and others researching emotion and behavior. She cites studies showing divorce to be a greater health risk than smoking; hears about experiments on monogamous prairie voles, in which those separated from their partners produce more stress hormones; and learns about “broken-heart syndrome,” the symptoms of which are similar to a heart attack. Along the way, she fills out reams of health evaluations and tries dozens of healing methods, including taking Ecstasy (she hallucinates becoming a tree and her ex-husband “a strangler fig”) and a solo whitewater rafting trip (“I was flowing away from the broken bad lands of my marriage”). Unflagging research—she even flies to London to interview Britain’s first “minister of loneliness”—and the author’s vulnerability make for an impressive and moving survey. This is a courageous, whirlwind tale of healing and self-discovery.
Combining new and old poems from the last 13 years with sections of his lyric prose memoir, "Among the Trees," this selected offers admirers of Phillips's work a chance to revisit his masterful poems, and new readers an opportunity to see the evolution of a vital presence in American poetry. There is a deceptive looseness in Phillips's poems, which are conversational and intimate, heightening the poet's abiding concern with nuance. He begins "The Difficulty": "It's as if the difficulty were less about what happened—/ the truth presumably—than how little/ what happened resembles the story/ of what happened." Often, he lays two ideas side by side as a way of exploring how beings (fathers, lovers, dogs, to name a few) affect one another: "what isn't love—at all—/ can begin to feel like love" ("Of California"); "as if to be plundered meant at least not being alone" ("Among the Trees"). These lyrically rich, insightful poems are full of palpable aching—"like the rhyme between lost/ and most"—and a human urge to understand. This remarkable compendium is a testament to the spirit of Phillips's work.
Documentary filmmaker and sociologist Russell debuts with a harrowing look at the disastrous consequences of financial speculation. Contending that recent political and social turmoil in Iraq, Ukraine, Venezuela, and other countries has been triggered by irrational price shocks that don’t correspond to actual issues of supply and demand, Russell details how small market movements are amplified and manipulated by hedge fund managers and commodities traders seeking to deliver consistent profits regardless of real-world conditions. Among a plethora of disturbing case studies, Russell describes how oil wealth generated by market speculation fueled corruption and then caused ruinous hyperinflation in Venezuela; explains how artificially low coffee prices, climate change, and agricultural debt led to a surge in migration from Guatemala toward the U.S.; notes that the terrorist organization al-Shabaab drove down cattle prices in Somalia during a 2010–2011 drought in order to compel desperate farmers to join their ranks; and contends that Western governments suspending “the rules of the game” to prop up their economies during the Covid-19 pandemic only underscores how much arbitrary control markets and prices have over the global economy. Deeply reported and thoroughly accessible, this investigation into the far-reaching consequences of economic speculation deserves a wide readership.
Rear debuts with an engrossing account of her search for the truth about her stepsister’s murder, which leads to painful discoveries and frustrating answers. Stephanie Kupchynsky, a music teacher, disappeared in 1991 at age 27. In 1998, when Rear was 20, her mother married Kupchynsky’s father, shortly before his daughter’s decomposing remains were found in a creek close to Kupchynsky’s last home in an apartment complex in Greece, N.Y. Rear, who never knew her stepsister but was haunted by the tragedy, began her own inquiry, meeting with both people who had dated Kupchynsky and those in law enforcement who searched for her and her killer. Meanwhile, in 1994, Edward Laraby, a sexual predator who had been a maintenance worker in Kupchynsky’s apartment building, was arrested in a rape case and convicted that same year. In 2011, Laraby confessed in prison to killing Kupchynsky, laughing as he did so, but he died in 2014 before he could be tried for that crime. Rear’s personal connection to the case, and resonances between her own experiences of being victimized by men, as well as her stepsister’s experiences of being victimized, give this account a hefty emotional impact. This combination of true crime inquiry and revelatory memoir will linger in readers’ minds long after they finish it.
Lies and past hurt upend a friend group in comedian Osho’s laugh-out-loud debut rom-com. To help aspiring actor Simi break her habit of falling in love too quickly, her two best friends agree to all find dates for each other. Talent agent Meagan, who represents Simi and whose life plan doesn’t include a relationship, is just along for the ride, while writer Jemima hopes to use the experiment as fodder for her next book. The trio perfectly balance each other even as Osho shows how their individual issues hold each of them back romantically: Simi, who has a troubled relationship with her father, must learn to trust her own judgment; Jemima keeps pushing away the handsome therapist who’s interested in her; and fiercely independent Meagan keeps her friend with benefits at arm’s length even when Meagan wants more. The women’s friendship takes a nosedive when Simi searches for a new agent without telling Meagan, Jemima uses her friends’ stories without their permission, and Meagan’s controlling behavior goes overboard. Can they save both friendship and the love they’ve found along the way? Osho navigates these strained relationships with emotional nuance and dry, sarcastic humor. With as much focus on platonic love as romantic, this paean to sisterhood and personal growth is sure to charm.
Hairston (Master of Poisons) conjures a powerful coming-of-age saga highlighting hoodoo magic and the power of storytelling and set in an alternate 1890s American South. Black teen Redwood Phipps’s magic might be even more potent than her mama’s, and her confidence, fiery spirit, and hoodooing habits may be too much for the folks of Peach Grove, Ga., Black or white. Irish Indigenous Aidan Wildfire Cooper honors his promise to keep an eye on her after her mother is killed by a racist mob. The pair strike up a fast friendship—Redwood can pull the pain out of Wildfire, bringing him back from his frequent alcoholic rages, and Wildfire understands her complex relationship to her heritage, as he must hide his own Seminole roots. They’re kindred spirits and together they can work powerful magic. But backwoods Georgia isn’t safe for them, and they set out in search of a place where they can “be,” taking a winding route to Chicago and performing as storytellers and conjurers to pay their way. Hairston captures an impressive depth of tenderness between her leads and makes a moving argument for the power of stories and songs in the face of bigotry. The novel unfurls slowly, allowing each character the space to come into their own fully. It’s a spectacular feat.
In bestseller Todd’s excellent 24th Ian Rutledge whodunit (after 2021’s A Fatal Lie), the psychologically damaged Scotland Yard inspector, who’s haunted by the ghost of a subordinate whom he was forced to execute for disobeying futile orders during WWI, has another specter to deal with in 1921. Lady Benton, an Essex noblewoman, has reported seeing one man murder another—but she identified the killer as a dead man, Captain Nelson, and the supposed corpse was never found. There’s little doubt that Lady Benton was mistaken at best, as Nelson, who was stationed at the airfield built on her property during the war, was seen years earlier dying in a car crash, though whether the death was an accident or suicide is uncertain. Rutledge, who believes she did see something disturbing, probes both past and present to get at the truth. Todd (the mother-son team of Caroline and Charles Todd) has rarely been better at creating a creepy atmosphere to enhance their nuanced exploration of human darkness. Rutledge remains one of today’s most fully rounded mystery leads.