Our favorite books coming out this week include new titles from Rebecca Makkai, Veronica Roth, and Matt Ruff.

I Have Some Questions for You

Rebecca Makkai. Viking, $28 (448p) ISBN 978-0-593-49014-3
Makkai returns after her Pulitzer-finalist The Great Believers with a clever and deeply thoughtful story involving a 1990s boarding school murder and its repercussions decades later. Bodie Kane, a successful 40-year-old podcaster, returns from Los Angeles to her alma mater in New Hampshire in 2018 to teach. After two of her students team up on a Serial-like podcast about the killing of Thalia Keith, whose murder was pinned on the school’s Black athletic trainer, Omar Evans, questions are raised about the state’s flimsy case against Omar and Thalia’s classmates’ racist assumptions about his guilt. Meanwhile, Bodie reexamines her own understanding of what happened, and comes to grips with the predatory behavior of her and Thalia’s beloved music teacher. Just as Makkai brought a keen perspective to the 1980s with her previous novel, she does a brilliant job here at showing how in the ’90s girls were conditioned to shrug off sexual assault. A steady stream of precise, cringe-inducing period details—Thalia’s manipulative jock boyfriend belts out “Come to My Window” while drunk—prove the reader’s in good hands. A final act, set in spring 2022, brings more of the classmates together for a deliciously complex reckoning. This is sure to be a hit. Agent: Nicole Aragi, Aragi Inc. (Feb.)


Veronica Roth. Tor, $19.99 (128p) ISBN 978-1-250-85546-6
Readers who are tapped out on The Handmaid’s Tale as a parable for the current cultural moment will celebrate this taut, defiant reenvisioning of Sophocles’s Antigone, which brilliantly probes many of the same themes. Bestseller Roth, best known for the YA Divergent series, turns from trilogy sprawl to the confines of novella and expertly meets the demands of the form, offering just enough worldbuilding and keeping a tight focus on her well-drawn characters’ difficult choices. Antigone and her siblings are given refuge by Kreon, who overthrew their father’s government. Not only is it politically expedient for Kreon to keep his dead rival’s children alive, it’s necessary—because this is a postapocalyptic scenario: all genes are compromised, and every “viable womb” is precious to the state. The siblings are ostracized because they were naturally conceived and thus believed to be soulless. Souls can be embodied only by mixing the purified genes of the dead, who are then reborn via the surrogacy of the living. Though believed to be tainted, Antigone and her sister Ismene can still serve as such vessels. But when murder blights their lives again, will Kreon respect the right of Antigone’s beloved dead to be reborn? The plot preserves the shape of the original without ever losing the capacity to surprise and, more importantly, prod reflection and recognition. This powerful tale of reproductive oppression is sure to wow. (Feb.)

The Destroyer of Worlds: A Return to Lovecraft Country

Matt Ruff. Harper, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-325689-7
Ruff’s sequel to 2016’s Lovecraft Country delivers another virtuoso blend of horror, action, and humor. It’s now 1957 and Ruff’s African American protagonists are still trying to survive and build meaningful lives in a racist country, a challenge complicated by their discovery of the existence of other worlds and people with magic powers. Atticus Turner and his father, Montrose, must flee for their lives once again after a risky trip to North Carolina, to trace the escape route taken by an enslaved ancestor, turns deadly. Meanwhile, to rid himself of cancer, Montrose’s half brother, George, contemplates making a deal with the ghost of Hiram Winthrop, the former head of the Chicago branch of the Order of the Ancient Dawn, a white sorcerer’s cabal. Ruff makes the most of his inventive concept and his care in crafting memorable characters means that the fates of even minor cast members make an impact. Fans will find this a worthy sequel. Agent: Melanie Jackson, Melanie Jackson Agency. (Feb.)

The Way Home: Two Novellas from the World of the Last Unicorn

Peter S. Beagle. Ace, $27 (208p) ISBN 978-0-593-54739-7
SFWA Grand Master Beagle returns to the magical landscape of his most famous work with two breathtaking novellas, “Two Hearts,” a Hugo Award winner originally published in 2006, and its heartbreaking sequel “Sooz,” which is original to this volume. Narrator Sooz is nine in “Two Hearts” when a malignant griffin lands and nests in Midnight Wood near her home. Sooz sets out to ask King Lir for help defeating the beast, aided by two mysterious riders familiar to Beagle’s fans: Schmendrick the magician and his companion Molly Grue. Together they find Lir, and poignantly rouse him from old age and fatigue, recruiting both him and his beloved Unicorn to slay the griffin. Eight years later, in “Sooz,” the now 17-year-old heroine seeks the sister she never knew she had who was kidnapped by the fairies as a baby. Upon entering the land of the fae, she is raped by four men but befriends a woman of stone who comes to her aid in the aftermath. This new friend is on a quest of her own; she’s looking for Uncle Death. In reaching their goals, Sooz learns that the people who change your life stick with you, even after they’re gone. With beautiful worldbuilding and tons of heart, these tender fantasies are sure to delight. Agent: Howard Morhaim, Howard Morhaim Literary. (Apr.)

The Curse of the Marquis de Sade: A Notorious Scoundrel, a Mythical Manuscript, and the Biggest Scandal in Literary History

Joel Warner. Crown, $28.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-593-13568-6
In this illuminating account, journalist Warner (The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny with Peter McGraw) follows the trail of the Marquis de Sade’s original manuscript of 120 Days of Sodom, an unfinished novel of sex and sadism, written on a scroll in 1785 while the author was a prisoner in the Bastille. Warner brings to life its various owners over two centuries, including French noblemen and German gay rights pioneers. In 1985, it ended up in the hands of rare manuscript dealer Gérard Lhéritier, a Frenchman who was more Bernie Madoff than the socialite man of letters he portrayed himself to be. His company, Aristophil, bought rare manuscripts and antique writings, then sold shares of them to unsuspecting investors at artificially inflated prices. When the Aristophil house of cards collapsed in 2014, the French government seized the manuscript of 120 Days of Sodom, along with Lhéritier’s other assets. As of 2021, its estimated worth is €4.55 million and it is held in the National Library of France. The wealth of detail never slows Warner’s well-paced narrative. Literary history buffs will want to check this out. Agent: Larry Weissman, Larry Weissman Literary. (Feb.)

Oscar Wars: A History of Hollywood in Gold, Sweat, and Tears

Michael Schulman. Harper, $35 (608p) ISBN 978-0-06-285901-3
Schulman (Her Again), a staff writer at the New Yorker, combines thorough research with an eye for drama in this highly entertaining history of the Academy Awards. Highlighting eras and awards races that speak to “larger stories of cultural change,” Schulman starts with the founding of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1927 by MGM cofounder Louis B. Mayer, who wanted it to offset unionizing. The first awards followed in 1929, but by the mid-1930s, unions and guilds were pushing back against the Academy’s role in arbitrating labor disputes, leading it to pivot and focus solely on giving awards. Schulman covers Citizen Kane’s “notorious” defeat at the Oscars in 1942 (suggesting director Orson Welles’s auteurism threatened the Hollywood “assembly line”), screenwriter Dalton Trumbo’s campaign during McCarthyism to undermine the blacklist by winning Oscars (he nabbed one in 1957 under a pseudonym), and calls in the 1960s to diversify Academy voters and bring in a younger perspective. Delving into recent controversies, the author details #OscarsSoWhite protests in 2016 and offers a backstage account of how the following year’s “Envelopegate” unfolded. The behind-the-scenes perspectives don’t skimp on juicy trivia while the connections Schulman draws to larger societal issues illustrate the power and limitations of cinema to reflect and drive change. This will thrill cinephiles. (Feb.)

Empty Theatre: A Novel or, The Lives of King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Empress Sisi of Austria (Queen of Hungary), Cousins, in Their Pursuit of Connection and Beauty...

Jac Jemc. MCD, $28 (448p) ISBN 978-0-374-27792-5
In this lively work, Jemc (False Bingo) composes a twin portrait of two very different 19th-century monarchs. Austria’s Empress Elisabeth (“Sisi”) is comparatively more engaged than her younger cousin King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Sisi regularly pushes her husband, Franz, on policy matters while suffocating under the confines of Habsburg palace life. She has an ambiguous relationship to motherhood, suffers from syphilis as a result of Franz’s dalliances, and engages in a long flirtation with Hungarian nationalist Count Andrassy. As for Ludwig, he doesn’t even pretend to occupy himself with governing, feeling it his only duty “to sustain his subjects with beauty and majesty.” He longs to escape into his own dreamworld, embracing the epic works of Richard Wagner with an almost religious devotion and constructing a series of increasingly fantastical and ruinously expensive castles. Jemc largely succeeds in humanizing this eccentric and possibly insane figure. Her episodic style gives the novel a brisk, impressionistic air but sacrifices some of the immersive qualities of historical fiction and necessitates the occasional dry summary: “With Austria’s defeat to Napoleon III in the Second Italian War of Independence, the nation hits a low point.” Nonetheless, Jemc seldom lacks for brio in portraying these inscrutable figures weighed down by their crowns and visions. The originality on offer is well worth the price of admission. Agent: Claudia Ballard, WME. (Feb.)

The Diary Keepers: World War II in the Netherlands, as Written by the People Who Lived Through It

Nina Siegal. Ecco, $29.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-307065-3
This diverse and enlightening collection of excerpts from journals kept during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands is an essential contribution to the history of WWII. Drawing from an archive of more than 2,100 wartime diaries, novelist Siegal (You’ll Thank Me for This), whose Czech Hungarian grandfather Emerich Safar was a survivor, contextualizes her primary sources with exhaustive research and analysis of contemporaneous records, seeking to understand, among other questions, why 75% of the Dutch Jewish population died in the Holocaust, a higher percentage even than some Eastern European countries, including Hungary. The diarists featured include Philip Mechanicus, a Jewish reporter who documented his experiences at the Westerbork transit camp before he was sent to Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz; two Dutch Nazis; a teenage factory worker without political affiliations; and a grocery store owner who became involved in resistance activities. Siegal uses their words to create a vivid portrait of the Nazi occupation as it unfolded, providing a wider lens than many Holocaust histories, and she incisively explains how the Netherlands’ willingness to confront its complex Holocaust legacy has evolved, culminating in the 2021 unveiling of the National Holocaust Names Monument in Amsterdam. Even those well versed in the subject will find much to discover in this treasure trove of firsthand perspectives. Agent: Marly Rusoff, Marly Rusoff Literary. (Feb.)