The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Lauren Rankin, Kate Folk, and Elizabeth Alexander.
Abortion rights activist Rankin debuts with a powerful tribute to abortion clinic escorts, who help women access the healthcare they seek despite harassment, threats of violence, and legal barriers. Drawing on her own experiences as a volunteer clinic escort in New Jersey and interviews with activists and clinic staff, Rankin describes how the anti-abortion movement in the U.S. became increasingly hostile in the years after 1973, when the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in Roe v. Wade. She documents instances of extremist violence by anti-abortion activists in the 1980s and ’90s, including bombings and burnings of abortion clinics and assassinations of abortion providers, and contends that local police often sympathize with anti-abortion protestors and fail to enforce laws meant to prevent the harassment of patients and staff. Rankin also notes that as various states have passed more restrictions on abortion, the number of clinics has plunged (currently, only 10% of U.S. counties have one), leading pro-choice activists to set up networks to help patients who must travel long distances and go through extended waiting periods with transportation, information, and accommodations. Lucidly written and sharply argued, this is a sobering and timely dispatch from the fight to preserve abortion rights.
Folk debuts with a wonderful absurdist collection that explores the vagaries of human connections. In the title story, the narrator can’t tell if her new boyfriend is an especially refined “blot,” one of the legions of catfishing androids who recently invaded internet dating, or just a tech bro who’s emotionally stunted. Shorter stories act as well-timed interludes, such as “The House’s Beating Heart,” in which a house has a beating heart in a closet, a brain in the roof, and a stomach in the basement. Folk soars in “A Scale Model of Gull Point,” in which a tourist island’s inhabitants—oppressed in ways simultaneously bonkers and viciously realistic—enact a reign of terror, and the crisis prompts a burst of maturity for the narrator, an art teacher whose sculpture career never took off after her MFA. “Big Sur,” another highlight, follows the life of a blot who bunks in an SRO and attempts to get a girlfriend with messages like, “I love dogs... I would never hurt one deliberately.” The story risks a sentimentality anathema to the previous stories’ cynicism, and pulls it off with aplomb. The whole perfectly balances compassion and caustics, and the author has an easy hand blending everyday terror with the humor that helps people swallow it. Folk impresses with her imagination as well as her insights.
Poet and memoirist Alexander (The Light of the World) expands on her New Yorker essay in this vigorous and inspiring reflection on how Black art reckons with the traumas of racism and racial violence. Contending that the “war against Black people feels as if it is gearing up for another epic round,” Alexander highlights how Black poets, artists, authors, and musicians have “continuously articulated the problem, the hope, and the possibility of America.” She lucidly analyzes poems by Amiri Baraka, Lucille Clifton, and Clint Smith, among others, and describes the political battle over historian John Hope Franklin’s eighth-grade textbook, Land of the Free, written in 1966, as an antecedent to today’s fights over critical race theory. Elsewhere, Alexander discusses how the “worldview” of African Americans who grew up in the past 25 years has been shaped by the killings of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, George Floyd, and others, and spotlights music videos by Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus that “bring together the naturalistic and the visionary” to showcase the “reanimating” power of Black joy and community. By capturing the rich spectrum of Black culture in America, Alexander offers hope and instruction for younger generations. The result is a thought-provoking must-read.
A fake relationship upends the lives of two fiercely independent protagonists in Sosa’s brilliant follow-up to The Worst Best Man. When Brazilian American Solange Pereira crashes white stranger Dean Chapman’s wedding-of-convenience, she stumbles on a reason why the couple shouldn’t get married and stops the ceremony. To make up for it, Solange agrees to pretend to be Dean’s girlfriend to help him land a partnership at his law firm—and she eventually calls in the same favor to cover a lie her mother told her judgmental aunt. Solange is holding out for true love, while Dean doesn’t believe in love, thanks to his mother’s tumultuous romances. Both agree to keep things strictly for show—but as they share secrets, build an easy camaraderie, and discover mind-blowing sexual compatibility, this proves easier said than done. Meanwhile, their busybody families (Solange’s cousins are a hoot) conspire to push them toward each other. But when Dean’s mother grieves another failed relationship and Dean learns that Solange has been keeping a secret, his pessimism about romance may spell their doom. Sosa takes incredible care developing this slow-burn romance, delivering characters readers will want to hang out with and plenty of belly laughs. With a smooth mix of cultures and a heartwarming narrative of self-discovery through love, this is an invigorating take on a favorite trope.
Editor Lowery debuts with a fascinating study of how art galvanized AIDS activism in the 1980s and ’90s. He documents how a small group of activists in New York City developed the symbol of a pink triangle on a black background accompanied by the text “Silence=Death” in 1985 and how the advocacy group ACT UP raised funds by selling T-shirts and buttons emblazoned with the graphic. The image’s “widespread acceptance,” Lowery writes, “also articulated that a community actually existed.” Other early artworks associated with ACT UP included a Pride parade float designed to look like a concentration camp and a 1987 installation at the New Museum of Contemporary Art that was inspired by the Nuremberg trials. The group behind that exhibit became Gran Fury, an affiliate of ACT UP New York focused on art. Lowery thrillingly recounts Gran Fury’s use of advertising-influenced “slick aesthetic” art as protest propaganda, including the insertion of a fake front page into real editions of the New York Times and “Kissing Doesn’t Kill” posters plastered on buses in New York City and San Francisco. Throughout, Lowery provides crucial context about the history of the AIDS epidemic and draws vivid sketches of key players in Gran Fury. The result is a captivating look at the power of art as a political tool.
Ginder (The People We Hate at the Wedding), a former congressional intern and speechwriter for White House chief of staff John Podesta, delivers an effervescent family drama about a man’s attempts to salvage his mother’s Senate run after a PR disaster. In Paris, Greta Harrison hurls a bottle through a restaurant window during a political protest. In Manhattan, Greta’s congresswoman mother, Nancy, attempts to deflect the fallout of her daughter’s headline-grabbing behavior as the story jeopardizes her Senate campaign. She’s the kind of politician who spouts unapologetic lines like “America is disappointing... that’s why we do what we do,” and until Greta’s stunt, that approach has worked. Nancy feverishly appeals to her perpetually single gay son Nick, urging him to put aside his work writing a Joan Didion musical to bring Greta home from Paris. The task is tougher than it looks, but in Ginder’s hands, it yields devilish hilarity. Greta is under the spell of swarthy, seductive Xavier, a celebrity-seeking fascist troll, but he’s no match for Nick and Nancy, who swoop in to settle some unfinished family business. Ginder dexterously describes the machinations of his caffeine-fueled lead and lights up the pages with bubbly, rapid-fire dialogue among such supporting characters as Nancy’s assistant, Cate, and Xavier’s other gal pal, Colette. Politics and blood loyalty can become a slippery slope, but here they’re a perfect combination. This smart and seamless comedy is nonstop fun.
Fans and sci-fi devotees unfamiliar with Ford (1957–2006) alike will celebrate the publication of his final epic fantasy, unfinished at the time of his death but nevertheless a showcase for the lambent prose and imaginative worldbuilding that put him on par with much-better-known authors. The plot starts with a bang, before easing into the political conflicts driving the well-crafted characters: the reader is thrown into a duel in the capital of the Lescoray Republic, between politician Coron Varic and cavalry officer Chase. The physical combat serves as prologue to much more subtle conflict in the halls of parliament. There, following prosaic motions “to demolish historical structures,” Varic and his colleagues take up debate over subjecting sorcerers to damages, like any other provider of bargained-for services, if, for example, a spell to cause rain ends up drowning livestock or washing away crops. That sets up a clash between practitioners of magic and legislators, leading into a clever story line packed with action and intrigue. Neil Gaiman’s moving introduction remembering his friend and his oeuvre is an added treat. George R.R. Martin and Avram Davidson fans should rush to catch up on this gifted writer’s works.
Cooper (the Reunited series) effortlessly blends the worlds of two characters from wildly different socioeconomic backgrounds in this hilarious, bighearted rom-com. Persistent Powerball player Dremetrious “Dreamy” Daniels plans to use her future winnings to fund her idea for a nonprofit organization. When she meets multimillionaire investor Karter Redford, her boss’s new client, he volunteers to help her with her business plan, leaving Dreamy sure her life’s about to turn around. High-strung Karter, whose best friend recently died of a heart attack, is trying to relax more, a goal he finds easy around the zealous, intelligent, and fun Dreamy, and they agree to give a relationship a try. But Dreamy can still hear her ex saying she’s “not cultured, not sophisticated, not educated enough,” and this, combined with mounting financial woes, has her worried that Karter’s world is too different from hers to make things work. His snobbish mother’s objections don’t help matters. But will a Powerball win be enough to even the playing field? The supporting cast is a hoot—especially Dreamy’s grandfather—and every obstacle Cooper throws at the central couple only serves to showcase their compatibility and strength. This sexy, feel-good love story will leave readers breathless.