Our favorite books coming out this week include new titles from Maylis de Kerangal, Maggie Millner, and Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀.


Maylis de Kerangal, trans. from the French by Jessica Moore. Archipelago, $17 (128p) ISBN 978-1-953861-50-4
First published in France in 2012, de Kerangal’s impeccable novel (after The Cook) follows two strangers on the Trans-Siberian Railway in search of political and emotional freedom. More than one hundred army conscripts from Moscow are crammed on the train like a “mass of squid,” destination unknown. Though set in contemporary Russia, the vibe is uncompromisingly Soviet, a “bored resignation” clouding over the crowd. Aliocha, 20, fears he’s headed to Siberia, and is bullied and knocked around by his fellow soldiers. He decides to desert, and on his way to the first-class compartment he has a noirish encounter with a Frenchwoman named Helene, who boarded the train to get away from her Russian lover, a toxic bureaucrat. Neither speaks the other’s language, but that doesn’t deter them during several intense nights as Aliocha and Helene bond over their respective feelings about the men running a tight-fisted military regime. Disguises, hidden spaces for overhead luggage, and a spectacular sighting of the country’s “pearl,” Lake Baikal, add to Aliocha and Helene’s series of adventures as they speed toward Vladivostok and their hopeful independence. De Kerangal’s triumphant achievement is powered by mellifluous prose with a rhythm as steady as the train. Readers are in for a dazzling literary ride. (Feb.)


Maggie Millner. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (128p) ISBN 978-0-374-60795-1
Copulative pleasures abound in this spectacular debut that cloaks memoir in rhyming couplets and prose poems. The autofictional plot reads like a fairy tale: a woman in Brooklyn leaves her old life with “its familiar openwork/ of sex and teaching, kale and NPR// and the boyfriend at the center I revered,” for a woman, “My eye loved// everything it fell upon./ And then one day it fell upon/ a mirror. And he was nowhere/ in the mirror. And she was everywhere.” Love and lust find uncanny expression under poetic constraints (“isn’t love itself a type// of rhyme?”). The rhymes are at once delicious—at times gasp-worthy—and yet so expertly deployed that they become “a shape that feels more native than imposed.” “Those days, I was something else:// a soft vacuity. A sort of net./ No guilt, no age. No epithet.” As the perfectly paced narrative unfolds, self-scrutiny about life and writing deepens; love becomes “the engine of self-knowledge.” Exploring the question of how exactly to tell her story, the poet admits: “Sometimes when you sat down, alone with your mind, you felt you were performing both parts of an elaborate duet.” Erudite but never overbearing, this is a remarkable achievement. (Feb.)

A Spell of Good Things

Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀. Knopf, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-525-65764-4
Adébáyọ̀ follows up Stay with Me with this bright and distinctive tragedy set in modern Nigeria. Ẹniọlá, a teenager whose father has lost his job, can no longer pay the tuition at the private school that he’d hoped would enable him to rise from poverty. Wúràọlá is a doctor from a wealthy and politically connected family. She’s overworked in an underfunded hospital, and courted by well-bred Kúnlé, whose mood shifts and possessiveness unnerve her. Ẹniọlá takes an apprenticeship with a tailor, but after he is beaten at school for the unpaid fees, his mother insists Ẹniọlá and his little sister accompany her to beg for money. Things spiral out of control when Ẹniọlá’s parents decide to pay his sister’s tuition with the proceeds but not his. He takes his revenge by joining a gang working for the vengeful politician Fẹ̀sọ̀jaiyé. Wúràọlá, meanwhile, becomes engaged to Kúnlé despite her misgivings, and though her parents are ecstatic, he slaps her at a party. Kúnlé’s father is running against Fẹ̀sọ̀jaiyé, and the story’s violent denouement is as devastating as it is inevitable. Pitch-perfect details provide a sense of the characters’ lives—the red dust caked on Ẹniọlá’s white socks from long walks to school, the soft headscarf worn by Wúràọlá’s mother that “barely whispered”—and as the characters are pushed to the brink, Adébáyọ̀ delivers a searing indictment of the country’s corruption and gender inequalities. This packs a powerful punch. Agent: Kathy Robbins, in association with Clare Alexander of Aitken Alexander Associates. (Feb.)

Don’t Fear the Reaper

Stephen Graham Jones. Saga, $27.99 (464p) ISBN 978-1-982186-59-3
Jade Daniels and her encyclopedic knowledge of slasher films return for another blood-soaked romp in Jones’s superb sequel to My Heart Is a Chainsaw. It’s been four years since Jade—now going by Jennifer—survived the Independence Day Massacre that devastated her hometown of Proofrock, Idaho. Jennifer is trying to put her traumatic past behind her when Dark Mill South, a legendary hook-handed serial killer, escapes captivity on the outskirts of Proofrock during a once-in-a-century winter storm. When gruesomely gutted bodies pile up around town, Jennifer’s reflexes and genre savvy kick in and she must once again rally her friends and the local authorities, while using her familiarity with cinematic slaughter to save them all from victimhood. The only problem, as she deduces from the killer’s unstoppable onslaught, is that “he knows all the same movies we do.” Jones expertly blends snappy graveyard humor with nail-biting suspense, and he gives his characters distinctive personalities that distinguish them from the underdeveloped body fodder common to most slasher scenarios. This characteristically clever gore-fest proves Jennifer to be a horror heroine worthy of many more adventures. Agent: B.J. Robbins, BJ Robbins Literary. (Feb.)

So We Can Know: Writers of Color on Pregnancy, Loss, Abortion and Birth

Edited by Aracelis Girmay. Haymarket, $21.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-64259-839-1
Poet Girmay (The Black Maria) brings together a striking anthology of essays, poetry, and visual art on the often-harrowing experience of pregnancy for women of color. “We are more than wombs, but we also know that our reproductive lives are in danger so we hold the shell of our lives open to the heart of the matter,” writes Nina Angela Mercer in her foreword. “We Participate in the Creation of the World by Decreating Ourselves” by Jennifer S. Cheng is a lyrical account of her fertility treatments, the birth of her child Isla, and her postpartum experience, while “Anatomy of the Breast” is an embroidery made by Laurie Ann Guerrero that depicts “the making of milk and insulin and empathy.” Tiphanie Yanique offers a bracing account of her miscarriage in “Wanting a Child Makes No Goddamn Sense”: “Do you understand that what I did to have a second child after my miscarriage, was make an agreement with God to have a third? Do you understand that I understand that bargaining is just a stage of grief?” The work as a whole is thick with grief and trauma, but the graceful reflections and breadth of experiences make sticking with it more than worthwhile. This one’s not to be missed. (Feb.)


Pilar Quintana, trans. from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman. World Editions, $17.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-64286-122-8
An eight-year-old girl takes in a series of troubling events in this luminous and transfixing account of fractured family life from Colombian writer Quintana (The Bitch). Claudia seeks the attention of her melancholic mother, also named Claudia, who occupies her days reading gossip magazines and tending to the family’s teeming collection of house plants in their Cali, Colombia, apartment. The mother is particularly obsessed with the deaths of famous women such as actor Natalie Wood, who died in 1981, and tells the narrator they took their own lives to escape from domineering men. The older Claudia married the narrator’s father, Jorge, at 19 when he was 42, and though he’s away working most of the time, the younger Claudia reveres him. The older Claudia then begins a secret love affair with her 30-year-old brother in law, which is exposed during a family trip to a seashore city, and Jorge threatens to kick Claudia out. Overhearing this, the narrator changes her view of Jorge, likening him to a monster. Later, the older Claudia’s best friend, Gloria dies by suicide, and Claudia’s comments on Gloria, who suffered from depression, make the narrator worried about her mother’s safety and well-being. Visceral images propel the story (“Mama laughed so wide, you could see the roof of her mouth, hollow and grooved like an underfed torso”), as the narrator grows increasingly concerned about what’s going to happen next. Readers will be dazzled. Agent: Sandra Pareja, Massie & McQuilkin. (Feb.)


Jessica George. St. Martin’s, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-28252-1
In this pitch-perfect debut, George captures the uncertainty, freedom, and anxiety of a London woman’s mid-20s. Narrator Maddie Wright is a people pleaser who earns the nickname Maame (“the responsible one”) from her family. She has an unsatisfying theater admin job where she is often “the only Black person in the room,” and while her older brother, James, lives his life as he wants and her mother spends most of her time in her homeland of Ghana, Maddie steps up as the main caregiver for her Parkinson’s afflicted father. Between her mother hitting her up for money and her incommunicative father, Maddie searches on Google for career guidance and dating advice, as well as remedies for panic attacks and grief. As her social life further dwindles and she worries she’ll always be a virgin, Maddie begins the “slow descent into a dull existence.” Then her mother finally comes back to take care of Maddie’s father, and Maddie moves into a flat with two roommates who are determined to help her live a larger life, starting with a list of actions to turn her into “The New Maddie.” But just as she’s getting a taste of independence, tragedy strikes at home and at work, and she’s forced to confront the microaggressions she faces in daily life, as well as ask herself how she deserves to be treated. The work’s ample magnetism resides in the savvy portrayal of Maddie as a complicated, sharp, and vulnerable person who is trying to figure out adulthood. Readers will revel in this. Agent: Jemima Forrester, David Higham Assoc. (Jan.)

Our Share of Night

Mariana Enriquez. Hogarth, $28.99 (608p) ISBN 978-0-451-49514-3
Enriquez (The Dangers of Smoking in Bed) twines sinister flights of occult imagination through the harsh realities of history in this decades-spanning masterpiece of literary horror. After Juan’s wife dies in 1981, a grieving Juan and his young son, Gaspar, embark on a road trip to her familial estate in Argentina, which Gaspar will inherit. The loss is made more fraught when Gaspar begins to manifest Juan’s ability to see and summon beings from the afterlife and beyond. Juan, a powerful but terminally ill medium, has long been in the grip of the Order, a cult controlled by his late wife’s family that strives for immortality while worshipping a mad and distant god. He knows that if Gaspar inherits his abilities, the cult will seize the boy to shape and use him for its own purposes. But if Gaspar hasn’t inherited, the Order plans to enact a ritual to keep Juan alive at the cost of Gaspar’s life. Juan launches a yearslong deception to save his son from the Order’s vampiric grasp, but the Order’s roots are far deeper than even Juan realizes—and its grip much harder to slither out of. Enriquez’s lush epic pulls no punches, probing the complex intimacies of familial bonds, the draw of darkness, and brutal Argentinian history. This unsettling gothic tale will leave readers shaken. Agent: María Lynch, Casanovas Lynch. (Feb.)