The books we love coming out this week include new titles by John Gleeson, Mieko Kawakami, and Jill Hopper.
In this exceptional debut, former federal prosecutor Gleeson chronicles his efforts to bring Gambino family crime boss John Gotti to justice. Gotti had been an obscure Mafioso before the 1984 murder in midtown Manhattan of his predecessor, Paul Castellano. Gleeson, a junior Brooklyn Assistant United States Attorney who was a crucial part of the team that tried Gotti in 1987 for racketeering, was devastated by his acquittal. Gleeson learned years later that the jury had been tampered with. In 1992, he got another shot at his target in a high-stakes case that followed two other acquittals of Gotti on state charges and included charges that Gotti had ordered Castellano’s murder. The prosecution had been built on extensive electronic surveillance, but got a last-minute boost when Sammy Gravano, Gotti’s underboss, agreed to testify against Gotti. Gotti’s conviction at that trial was a major blow to the mob. While the general contours of the investigations have been covered elsewhere, Gleeson pulls back the curtain to reveal intriguing information previously not made public, including his daring and risky choice not to inform his superiors of his negotiations with Gravano, out of fear that the U.S. Attorney might accidentally disclose that sensitive development. This is a must-read for anyone interested in organized crime.
Kawakami (Heaven) returns with a sensational story of loneliness and friendship. Fuyuko Irie, 34, is an asocial freelance proofreader in Tokyo with a repressed libido, self-described as possessing the “self-absorption of a single woman who [does] nothing with her life but work.” Friendships elude her except when they’re related to her professional life, particularly her outspoken and free-thinking editor, Hijiri Ishikawa. In Fuyuko’s free time, she wanders aimlessly in the Shinjuku shopping district and binges on sake. Then, at a culture center, she meets Mitsutsuka, a considerably older high school physics teacher, who introduces her to Chopin’s soothing, transcendent “Berceuse” lullaby. They bond over theoretical discussions of quarks, string theory, and the physical and philosophical nature of the “mysteries of light” until Mitsutsuka reveals a disheartening truth about himself. The author dazzles with her exploration of emotions and intertwining of lofty discussions of metaphysics with descriptions of Fuyuko’s routines, making her an extraordinary character who moves effortlessly between different worlds as she struggles to find herself. Kawakami turns this study of a “dictionary definition of a miserable person,” as Fuyuko calls herself, into an invigorating and empowering portrait. It’s a winner.
In this gorgeous debut, British journalist Hopper looks back on the beauty and turmoil of a whirlwind love affair, and the illness that led to its premature ending. With passion and raw vulnerability, Hopper takes readers through her brief but intense relationship with her first love, Arif, who died of cancer at 25. When, early in their relationship, Arif was diagnosed with high-grade non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and told that he’d have “a few months at best” to live, the couple agreed to make the most of their remaining time together—sharing their passions in love letters and relishing quiet moments. As Hopper recalls, “It was as if he was trying to give me a lifetime’s worth of pleasure in advance.” In heartrending prose, she recounts supporting Arif in his final stretch of life, juxtaposing their sublime days together leading up to his hospital admittance with a deeply affecting portrayal of his physical decline: “I watched him getting weaker day by day, the faith that my love was going to save him beginning to waver.” After his death, Hopper struggled to recover from the loss, but eventually married and had a son. While slim, her narrative packs a world of feeling within it, rendering a poignant look at how love can unfold even amid immense loss. Romantics, take note and grab some tissues.
With its three versions of a romance, Rosewood’s exquisite and experimental novel in stories (after If I Had Two Lives) offers a transfixing meditation on love, envy, and obsession. Each story explores the relationship between two characters named Eve and Liam, with details about their lives changed. “The Mute Sculpture” follows Eve, a gifted artist, from college through her mid 20s. She is fixated on her beautiful roommate, Pari, and compulsively sketches her. The drawings eventually earn her an exhibition in Florence, but her career flags after she marries Liam, a furniture maker. They have a son, and Eve struggles with insecurity as a wife and mother. In “The Soft Shackle,” Eve’s paintings of Pari launch both artist and subject into fame. In this iteration, Pari, a scientist and model, is pregnant with middle-aged Liam’s child. But at Liam and Pari’s wedding, Liam pines for Eve, whom he met in Florence before Pari. “Being Eve” finds Eve and Liam as a long-married couple—childless, old, and mulling over their “easy life,” with Eve working as a teacher and Liam a figure of steady support. Each iteration builds upon the previous one, culminating in a brilliant harmony made all the more aching for its exploration of all that the characters cannot have at once. Throughout, Rosewood mesmerizes with her own artistry, such as this depiction of Liam consumed by Eve’s paintings of Pari: “It was as though Eve had inserted herself inside, invaded Pari’s body with dabs of her own feelings, her paint.” This is stunning.
In 2016, Miles (Quakeland: On the Road to America’s Next Devastating Earthquake) became obsessed with the unsolved case of Julie Williams and Lollie Winans, a couple in their 20s who were murdered in 1996 while hiking in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, leading her to spend four years researching this engrossing account. Through extensive investigations and the help of attorney Deirdre Enright and her Innocence Project students, Miles discounted the National Park Service rangers’ and FBI’s theories that Darrel David Rice was the murderer. Rice, in prison for assaulting a female cyclist in Shenandoah Park in 1998, was indicted for the double homicide in 2002, but the case was dismissed in 2004 when DNA evidence ruled him out. The loss of evidence by the time the crime scene was investigated and park service efforts to keep the deaths quiet for fear of losing tourists hampered the inquiry, but Miles makes a convincing case that serial killer Richard Marc Evonitz, who died by suicide in 2002 as police closed in on him, was the likely culprit, though the FBI declined to connect him to the Williams and Winans murders. Along the way, Miles takes a comprehensive look at police procedures in federal parks and violence against women in rural areas. This fascinating if often grim story is a must for true crime buffs.
Technology journalist Vara’s potent debut revolves around a global society run by a corporate board. King Rao, legendary tech mogul and brainchild of the new world order, has died in mysterious circumstances, leaving his daughter, Athena, to preserve his legacy. Her first challenge is to prove herself innocent of accusations of conspiring to have him murdered. The Harmonica, an internet-connected device King invented and implanted in Athena’s brain, gives her access to all his memories, and she uses it to relive the traumatic circumstances of her father’s birth in 1950s India, which resulted in his mother’s death; his childhood years spent in the tiny village of Kothapalli before his migration to the U.S.; and his invention of the Coconut, a revolutionary computer that brought about immense global progress and indirectly led to his downfall. Even more pressing than Athena’s need to prove her innocence is her mission to distinguish herself from her father’s legacy and spread the truth about the board’s role in climate change, which leads her to seek out the “Exes”—estranged citizens who have rejected the current model of government. Throughout, Vara ingeniously identifies portentous links between history and the book’s present, such as the parallel Athena draws between the rise and fall of the East India Company with the Shareholder government run by her father. And with King “cursed” at birth, Vara succeeds at making her family portrait the stuff of myth. This is not to be missed.
“Resilience is the ability to find light in dark times,” writes psychologist Pipher (Reviving Ophelia) in these radiant essays about how joy and loss often coexist. In lyrical vignettes, she traces the bright spots in her life, from her earliest memories—“dancing in the leaves of a tall tree in my grandmother’s front yard”—to finding in adulthood a “renewed appreciation for life as it is, not as I wish it to be.” But, invoking komorebi—a Japanese word that describes the ethereal “interplay of light and leaves” in trees—Pipher reveals her “sunlight” danced with shadows. In “A Motherless Child,” for instance, she describes how she found refuge from her difficult 1950s childhood—neglected by a veteran father who struggled with PTSD—in books, nature, and the “shiny yellow leatherette booth” in her aunt’s kitchen. “Pregnancy and Exile,” meanwhile, revisits Piper’s fraught pregnancy at age 21 “by a man I didn’t want to marry” in 1971, and the supportive friends that helped her through it. To nudge readers toward building their own “transcendent narratives,” she braids in insights from her 25 years as a therapist, citing how acknowledging “evidence of growth” in one’s story, regardless of how big or small, can open up pathways toward healing. Those struggling to overcome darkness will find a guiding light in this incandescent work.
Barrera (On Lighthouses) offers a moving study of pregnancy, family, art, and loss in this showstopping essay. Told in small fragments that cover the arc of her pregnancy, birth, and nursing of son Silvestre, Barrera interweaves her grandmother’s history as a doula and her mother’s career as an artist with the changes wrought on her own body. Barrera powerfully captures the spectrum of feelings childbearing provokes, “when weariness and joy are mingled with a love so great it’s almost agonizing,” and confronts the loss and fear that shade “that simple, clear, almost ridiculous happiness.” She refers to two major losses, the earthquake that struck Mexico City in 2017 while she was pregnant, and her mother’s ovarian cancer discovered after Barrera’s son was born. Along the way, Barrera draws on the work of such writers as Adrienne Rich and Rivka Galchen, artists including Frida Kahlo, and photographer Tina Modotti. Barrera’s voice is meditative, bolstered by poetic turns of phrase, precise language, and fresh metaphors. “It’s impossible to be original when you write about being a mother,” Barrera reflects, though her own originality is striking. This beautiful meditation is thick with profound insights.
Opposites attract in Alexander’s outstanding debut rom-com. Simone Larkspur, a no-nonsense pastry chef and recipe writer for long-standing culinary outlet The Discerning Chef, is forced by her editor to pivot to video alongside Ray Lyton, her distractingly cheerful new kitchen manager who has a knack for accidental YouTube virality. When Ray comes out as nonbinary at work, the pair’s growing adoration for one another is put to the test as their coworkers draw lines, forcing Simone to decide which matters more—the culinary career she’s spent so long building, or the only person she’d ever be caught dead making eyes at on camera. Alexander accomplishes a masterful juggling act: the banter is snappy, the chemistry between Simone and Ray sings, the commentary on social media fame is poignant without ever verging on precious, and the exploration of Ray’s nonbinary identity within the structure of a romantic comedy hits exactly right. In particular, Alexander’s grasp of narrative payoff is expertly applied—this is a rom-com that manages to both subvert and embrace the tropes it’s working with, and the result is one of the most intricate and satisfying queer romances in years. Fans of Casey McQuiston will be wowed.