Our favorite books coming out this week include new titles from Celia Bell, Kristen R. Ghodsee, and Nicole Cuffy.

The Disenchantment

Celia Bell. Pantheon, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-0-593-31717-4
Bell’s inventive debut revisits an obscure incident in French history known as the Affair of the Poisons. In late 17th-century Paris, Marie Catherine la Jumelle is unhappily married to the older Baron de Cardonnoy and escapes her domestic drudgery by attending salons. At one, she meets the charismatic Victoire de Conti, who writes poetry and loves to scandalize her fellow salonnières by dressing in gentlemen’s clothes. Marie Catherine and Victoire go on to become discreet lovers, but after the baron discovers the affair (which he thinks is with a man) and confronts his wife about it, he is shot to death by a masked man. Javert-like Lt. Gen. of Police Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie immediately suspects Marie Catherine of the crime. De la Reynie is obsessed with eradicating the fortune-tellers, rogue priests and sorcerers who are supposedly dealing in corrupted sacraments, spells, and poisons, and it is among this lot that Marie Catherine tries to find someone to pin her husband’s murder on. The author excels at creating a hothouse atmosphere in which depravity, sensuality, and duplicity reside side by side, and Marie Catherine’s plight builds in suspense as the noose tightens around her, leading to an ending that turns the novel into a rousing feminist fable. It’s a bold and inspired mix of Les Liaisons Dangereuses and The Crucible. (May)

Everyday Utopia: What 2,000 Years of Wild Experiments Can Teach Us About the Good Life

Kristen R. Ghodsee. Simon & Schuster, $29.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-982190-21-7
Ghodsee (Red Valkyries), a professor of Russian and Eastern European studies at the University of Pennsylvania, offers a spirited and thought-provoking survey of “social dreaming” and the thinkers and movements that have tried to reenvision home life to promote greater harmony and happiness. Focusing particularly on utopian experiments that treated women as equals and shared property among community members, Ghodsee examines the long history of non-family groups living together, from ancient Buddhist and medieval Christian monastics to contemporary communes in Maine and Denmark; income and property sharing models proposed and practiced by John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, and the Hutterite, Shaker, and Bruderhof Christian enclaves of North America; and the centralized childcare arrangements of Israeli kibbutzim. In the book’s most moving sections, Ghodsee buttresses her argument that the nuclear family has historically divided women from their own familial care networks and made them and their children more vulnerable to intimate violence with the story of how her high school English teacher took her in for a crucial period after her parents’ abusive marriage split up. Clear-eyed yet exuberant, wide-ranging yet intimate, this is an inspiring call for imagining a better future. Agent: Melissa Flashman, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (May)


Nicole Cuffy. One World, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-0-593-49815-6
An African American ballerina battles racial profiling and personal demons in Cuffy’s brilliant debut novel (after the chapbook Atlas of the Body). At 22, Celine “Cece” Cordell gets the biggest break of her career when she’s promoted to principal dancer at the New York City Ballet. Surrounded by white dancers, she is immediately considered a trailblazer by the media. The newfound attention is spoiled, though, after her lover and fellow troupe dancer cheats on her with another performer just as Cece learns she is unexpectedly pregnant. Then, her beloved yet troubled older brother, Paul, who first encouraged her dancing, goes missing. Paul has struggled with a drug addiction, and Cece, fearing he might have died, travels to South Carolina to find him. A ballet dancer herself, Cuffy brings grace, control, and vigor to her prose. Through Cece’s trials, the story movingly explores the secrets and inner demons of a performer who struggles with artistic competition, betrayal, guilt, family, and “the ever-present weight” of her race. Indeed, as Cece acknowledges, “the ballet body is an intimidating mystique.” Readers will be enchanted. Agent: Heather Carr, Friedrich Agency. (May)

The Book Proposal

KJ Micciche. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $16.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-72826-472-1
Writer’s block leads to romance in Micciche’s adorable metafictional debut. Romance author Gracie Landing struggles to complete her second book, but inspiration comes from an unexpected place when her high school crush, attorney Colin Yarmouth, offers her the devastating details of his recent breakup with a woman he calls Elle to use as a plot point. Colin’s goal is to get a bit of revenge: he’ll let Gracie air his cheating ex’s dirty laundry in hopes that she’ll happen across the book one day—but he never considers that Gracie and Elle might know each other. Due to a nickname mix-up, Gracie doesn’t realize that Colin’s ex is a power player in the publishing industry until she’s already made the woman the villain in her story, a move that threatens to end her career. This twist causes a rift in the budding relationship between Gracie and Colin. To win her back, Colin will have to take a page from the best romance heroes. The author lays on the humor by putting her charming characters in squirmingly awkward situations. With witty banter and a clever, self-aware plot, this romantic gem marks Micciche as a writer to watch. Agent: Elizabeth Copps, Copps Literary. (May)

The Essential Peter S. Beagle, Vol. 1: Lila the Werewolf and Other Stories

Peter S. Beagle. Tachyon, $28.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-61696-388-0
Beagle (The Overneath) showcases his versatility and ability to entertain even as he challenges expectations in 13 fantasy shorts from throughout his career. While several offerings, including “Lila the Werewolf” (1969) and “Come Lady Death” (1963), stem from Beagle’s early years, the majority represent his post-2000 output, demonstrating that his skills have only been refined over the decades. With a tendency toward gentle thoughtfulness and philosophical rumination, tales such as “Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros” and “Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel” prove timeless in their quiet yet profound exploration of Jewish faith, friendship, family, and fellowship. Others, like “The Stickball Witch” and “Four Fables,” drift into absurdity or everyday uneasiness, while “We Never Talk About My Brother” looks at the balance between good and evil in a new light. Jane Yolen’s introduction helps place Beagle and his work into further context. The result is both an ideal entry point for newcomers, and a lovely way for existing fans to revisit or rediscover old favorites. Agent: Howard Morhaim, Howard Morhaim Literary. (Apr.)

King: A Life

Jonathan Eig. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $35 (688p) ISBN 978-0-374-27929-5
Martin Luther King Jr. went beyond meek nonviolence into far-reaching radicalism, according to this sweeping biography. Eig (Ali: A Life) gives a rousing recap of King’s triumphs as a civil rights leader—the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, his “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 march on Washington, the 1965 procession from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.—as well as his despondency later in the 1960s as his anti-poverty campaigns struggled and Black energies drifted from nonviolent protest toward armed militance and “Black power.” Contesting accusations by Malcolm X and others that King was an “Uncle Tom,” Eig casts him as a revolutionary who reshaped the South with his integrationism, became an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War despite losing political support and drawing the ire of the FBI, and developed a deep critique of systemic racism and economic inequality that called for reparations for slavery and a guaranteed minimum income. King is no saint in this complex, nuanced portrait—his plagiarism and womanizing are probed in detail—but Eig’s evocative prose ably conveys his bravery, charisma, and spell-binding oratory (rallying the Montgomery boycotters, “he called out in his deep, throbbing voice, and the people responded, the noise of the crowd rolling and pounding in waves that shook the building as he built to a climax”). It’s an enthralling reappraisal that confirms King’s relevance to today’s debates over racial justice. Agent: David Black, David Black Literary. (May)

The Bathysphere Book: Effects of the Luminous Ocean Depths

Brad Fox. Astra House, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-1-66260-190-3
In this mesmerizing history, novelist Fox (To Remain Nameless) draws on research notes from a trio of pioneering deep-sea explorers to offer a lyrical meditation on the mysteries of the ocean. In the late 1920s, engineer Otis Barton and “protoecologist” William Beebe developed the bathysphere, a “four-and-a-half foot steel ball... fitted with two three-inch quartz windows” that could carry them thousands of feet below the surface of the ocean. In a series of dives off the coast of Bermuda, they partnered with scientist Gloria Hollister, who recorded their observations via telephone line. (Hollister also made her own record-setting dives in the bathysphere.) Among other insights, Beebe took note of how the sunlight receded the further he dove, until the bathysphere was surrounded by “the deepest black-blue imaginable,” and described bizarre, bioluminescent creatures, including siphonophores, which appear “to be a single organism” but are in reality “a colony of smaller animals—polyps and other beings called zooids.” Photographs were impossible, so Beebe worked with artists to visually recreate his observations; Fox includes many of those striking images. Some of the species Beebe described have never been seen again, giving credence to Barton’s assertion that the two were on an “oxygen jag” during certain dives. Original and often profound, this is a moving testament to the wonders of exploration. Illus. (May)

The Land of Hope and Fear: Israel’s Battle for Its Inner Soul

Isabel Kershner. Knopf, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-1-101-94676-3
In this masterful study, New York Times correspondent Kershner (Barrier) enriches her analysis of the forces roiling modern Israel through incisive conversations with individual Israelis. Shifting the focus from Israel’s territorial conflicts with its Arab neighbors to domestic issues, Kershner reveals how the unequal treatment of Jewish immigrants from Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Russia, and other parts of the world, coupled with the failure of the Oslo Peace Accords, fostered deep-seated resentments against the political establishment and contributed to the rise of the right wing in Israel. Elsewhere, she documents grievances against the ultra-Orthodox community, who sometimes receive privileged treatment from politicians despite their opposition to obligatory military service and other polices; talks with members of Israel’s Arab minority about “the self-contradiction of being an Arab citizen of the Jewish state”; and contends that prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has willfully inflamed ethnic tensions for political gains. Striking an ominous note, Kershner warns that Israel’s “demographic trajectory,” which has it on track to become “one of the most crowded countries on earth,” will strain the country’s already faltering infrastructure and exacerbate “the rise of the political fringes and the threats to liberal democracy.” Nuanced and persuasive, this is a valuable dispatch from a country in turmoil. (May)