The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Charles McGrath, Ru Freeman, and Katharine Schellman.

The Summer Friend: A Memoir

Charles McGrath. Knopf, $25 (240p) ISBN 978-0-593-32115-7

A long friendship stirs a meditation on summertime in this tender elegy. New York Times writer McGrath revisits his bromance with Chip Gillespie, an architect who lived in the small Massachusetts town where McGrath and his family vacationed for many years; the relationship entailed much sailing, marathon rounds of golf, playing charades at parties, setting off firecrackers, and aimless breeze shooting (Q. “If you were on death row, what would you want as your last meal?” A. “You’re probably not going to feel like eating anyway”). He weaves in other reminiscences: boyhood idylls at his parents’ cottage; breaking into deserted Yale buildings with his wife, Nancy; going to the town dump; and finally, watching Chip succumb to cancer. McGrath’s prose unspools like a long summer day, full of excursions that set out in vague directions and arrive at delightful places brimming with exuberant sensations (On jumping off a bridge into a river: “[t]hat long moment of free fall is both exhilarating and heart-thumpingly scary, and when... you... break through the surface, taking in a great, blessed breath of air, the feeling is one of indescribable relief”). Through his glowing, retrospective lens, McGrath captures life at its most carefree and meaningful. 

Sleeping Alone

Ru Freeman. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-1-64445-088-8

In Freeman’s delicate and vital debut collection (after the novel On Sal Mal Lane), characters examine their convictions and transform via relationships with others. In “Fault Lines,” Mira, a Black mother from a Philadelphia suburb is presumed by her neighbors to be a nanny because her skin color is darker than her daughter’s. In “The Wake,” a girl named Silvia grows up in a New York City “mousehole” apartment, where she watches her mother, Rene, grieve over the death of a cult leader, her newly found spiritual practice “a riddle” that Sylvia “determine[s] to solve.” Don, a Sri Lankan cheese-making apprentice who lodges in 1969 Dublin with a woman named Madailein and her daughters in “The Irish Girl,” learns about the city through Madailein, whose voice is equally admonishing and loving, and punctuated by a “nicotine-and-chocolate laugh.” The story spans 33 years, and by its end, Don and Madailein “have grown toward each other.” Freeman’s charisma shines on each page of these beautiful stories. This is a treasure.

Last Call at the Nightingale

Katharine Schellman. Minotaur, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-83182-8

Vivian Kelly, the courageous protagonist of this excellent series launch set in 1924 Manhattan from Schellman (the Lily Adler mysteries), shares a tenement apartment with her older sister, Florence. Florence is serious and practical, but Vivian, who loves to drink and dance, is a regular at the Nightingale, a speakeasy, and often comes home at dawn before having to toil as a seamstress during the day. Her friends at the Nightingale, all of whom are distinctive characters readers will care about, include bartender Danny Chin, waitress and singer Bea Henry, and Nightingale owner Honor “Hux” Huxley. When Vivian and Bea find a dead man in the alley behind the club, they wonder if he was a bootlegger, but Hux forbids them to talk about it. After the cops raid the speakeasy, Hux bails Vivian out of jail. In return, Vivian agrees, after the cops find the victim’s wallet with his ID in it, to spy on the dead man’s family to determine whether they can help find the killer. Schellman vividly evokes Jazz Age Manhattan as Vivian proves to be a most imaginative sleuth. Readers will eagerly await her return.

We Refuse to Forget: A True Story of Black Creeks, American Identity, and Power

Caleb Gayle. Riverhead, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-0-593-32958-0

Gayle, a journalism professor at Northeastern University, debuts with an illuminating look at racial dynamics within Creek Nation. In the decades before the Creeks were forcibly relocated from the southeastern U.S. to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears, “Blacks could become formally adopted and identified as fully Creeks... when they put down roots in the Creek Nation.” In 1866, a Black Creek leader named Cow Tom negotiated a treaty with the U.S. government that “gave certain Black people citizenship rights within the Nation.” But the 1887 Dawes Act, which instituted a policy of determining Native American identity based on “a highly dubious measurement of how much ‘Indian blood’ one has,” posed a significant challenge to Black Creeks, and the Nation’s 1979 constitution disenfranchised them. Gayle brilliantly untangles the interwoven threads of colonialism, racism, and capitalism by documenting the lives of Cow Tom’s descendants, including businessman and civil rights activist Jake Simmons Jr. and attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, who is currently waging a legal battle to reinstate tribal citizenship for Black Creeks. Sharp character sketches, incisive history lessons, and Gayle’s autobiographical reflections as a Jamaican American transplant to Oklahoma make this a powerful portrait of how “white supremacy divides marginalized groups and pits them against each other.”

Living and Dying with Marcel Proust

Christopher Prendergast. Europa Compass, $17 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-60945-760-0

Prendergast (Counterfactuals), the general editor of Penguin’s English reissues of Proust’s work, sheds light on the novelist’s rich sensory world in this bibliophile’s treasure chest. Focusing on In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu in the original French), Prendergast lays out a Proustian feast in each chapter. “Pinks” examines color in Proust’s writing (he called pink the “color of life”); “The Proust Effect” looks at the “strenuous work of forgetting and remembering” in Proust’s sentences; and in “Death and Black Holes,” Prendergast posits that “The world of the Recherche is accordingly death-haunted from start to finish.” Prendergast comments on the structure of the work, too (it “remains loyal to the tradition” of a bildungsroman) , and gets into some linguistic nitty-gritty: the word life “recurs with even greater frequency” than the word time in Recherche. Well-chosen quotes enrich the text—Prendergast notes a particular description of a lunch as an example of Proust finding “the profound in things”—as does Prendergast’s dry humor: he imagines Proust “choking on his croissant” over the thought of his novel functioning as a “how-to manual... about how to stop wasting one’s life.” This one’s not to be missed. 

The Lunar Housewife

Caroline Woods. Doubleday, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-385-54783-3

This cleverly inventive yet authentic–feeling early Cold War thriller from Woods (Fräulein M.) takes on the New York publishing world from a woman’s perspective, while containing a novella-length American-Soviet space romance written by the protagonist with parallels to her own life. In 1953, Louise Leithauser has been pseudonymously writing about politics for a hot new literary magazine cofounded by her boyfriend, Joe Martin, and his charismatic partner, Harry Billings. The role brings her close to publishing celebrities who could be interested in the romance she’s working on, but also forces her into socializing with Harry and the woman he’s dating behind his wife’s back, a waitress who also knows the unglamorous secrets of Louise’s past. Meanwhile, an overheard conversation leads Louise to investigate Joe’s connections to government censorship of literary expression. Real-life writers add spice, including a playfully frank Ernest Hemingway, whom Louise befriends during an interview for which he requests a female reporter. The suspense builds as Woods shifts between the main narrative and the space romance, which provides a window into Louise’s frustrated mindset about gender dynamics, politics, and power. This is a delightfully different variety of spy story.

Geography Is Destiny: Britain’s Place in the World: A 10,000-Year History

Ian Morris. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $35 (544) ISBN 978-0-374-15727-2

England’s fateful geographical adjacency to Europe drives a millennia-long love-hate relationship in this sparkling history. Stanford historian Morris (Why the West Rules—For Now) surveys the many migrations of people across the Channel and into Britain, from prehistoric (and possibly incestuous) megalith builders, to Anglo-Saxon, Viking, and Norman invaders, to present-day Polish plumbers. These influxes have shaped the identity of Britons, bringing new religions, languages, political allegiances, and ethnic restaurants, he notes, as has the countervailing struggle to block incursions by Spanish armadas, French monarchs, and fascist dictators. Morris deftly teases out long arcs—ancient Britons were as ambivalent about the Roman Empire, he argues, as modern ones are about the European Union—and probes archaeological and genealogical evidence, data on economic development, and the literature of manners and morals to illuminate slow, profound changes in the lives of ordinary people. He relates the pageant in breezy, colorful prose, dubbing King Arthur “perhaps the greatest Briton who never lived” and describing the Glorious Revolution of 1688 as a “series of shady back-room deals.” Written with verve and wit, this compulsively readable overview of British history is full of fascinating lore and incisive analysis. 

Nora Goes Off Script

Annabel Monaghan. Putnam, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-0-593-42003-4

In Monaghan’s irresistible adult fiction debut, (after the humor book Does This Volvo Make My Butt Look Big?) she introduces romance screenwriter Nora Hamilton, who pumps out happily-ever-after stories for cable television while cynically processing her divorce from Ben, who fell out of love with Nora and lost interest in having a family. After she veers from her previous script formula for one based on her ill-fated marriage, Hollywood comes calling. Enter Leo Vance, People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive,” cast as Nora’s ex. The production includes two days at Nora’s house, and when filming wraps, Leo offers to pay her $1,000 a day to stay for a week. There, he enjoys the real-world pleasures of grocery shopping, directing a children’s play, and eating average home-cooked meals. Arthur and Bernadette, Nora’s children, are equally smitten with Leo, and as the week goes on, his presence offers them a new sense of family. After Leo is called away for work, Nora must find a way to carry on and deal with her feelings about Ben, Leo, and the romance genre, now that she’s actually put her heart on the line. With pitch-perfect characters full of foibles and flaws, the work taps into genuine feelings as the characters fall in love. This is a winner.