This fall the dead will walk (down Broadway, no less), a family of flash mobbers will incite unease, convicts will change color, and flowers will talk.
The high-profile raconteurs are back. In some cases, as with Paul LaFarge, this will be their first book since their last book splashed down a decade back. That was a whole other era, and as much as we might think that we'll never return to those halcyon days, word on the carpet at this year's Book Expo was that "literary fiction" was "back." I'm glad. I like literary fiction. And nothing says "I'm back" like publishers emptying their pockets to acquire debut books from unknown authors.
The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern's debut about a magical rivalry set 100-some years ago, has already sold to more than 20 countries; a film version is in the works. Let us hope that it's more The Social Network than Like Water for Elephants. Vanessa Diffenbaugh's debut, The Language of Flowers, narrated by a girl just aged out of the foster care system, was bought at auction for a truckload of money in the U.S. (and another lorry load in the U.K.). The author has started a network dedicated to helping kids make the transition from foster care. So, yes, she's both richer and better than you. On the shores of Lake Michigan, a young baseball player seems destined for the big leagues until a bad throw changes everything, in The Art of Fielding. Like bugs at a ballpark, this debut by Chad Harbach, an editor with literary journal n+1, is generating tremendous buzz.
Kevin Wilson's novel, The Family Fang, was one of the most talked about titles at BEA. With whimsy reminiscent of a Wes Anderson flick, he presents a family of performance artists specializing in creating chaos. It's not all fun and games, though, and Wilson pulls the fuzzy line between art and life very taut when the parents go missing. Are they in danger, or is this just another part of the act? The Nigerian-born Cambridge grad Helen Oyeyemi published her first book at the age of 20. That's right, 20. Some salt for that wound is her lovely English accent. Though inspired by classic fairy tales, Mr. Fox, her fourth book, deals with the ways in which the violence that men bring upon women becomes normalized. Hillary Jordon's debut, Mudbound, won the Bellwether Prize; she's back with When She Woke, a jagged shard of dystopian future-shock that mines the racial concerns of her first novel in a totally different way: in a theocratic near-future America, the skin color of convicts is changed to match their crime. Colson Whitehead finds something just as dystopian about America, but maybe even more nightmarish, in Zone One. The funny thing is, a postcatastrophe Manhattan crawling with the infected undead isn't what's scary; what's scary (and brilliant) is that the apocalypse, in Whitehead's hands, is merely another branding opportunity. It even produces its own clean-up anthem: "Stop! Can You Hear the Eagle Roar? (Theme from Reconstruction)." Now that's biting.
Come October, we'll have a number of major new works by major old writers, from Haruki Murakami to Jim Harrison. Jeffrey Eugenides and Russell Banks both return, with The Marriage Plot and Lost Memory of Skin, respectively. And I personally hope that Michael Ondaatje's The Cat's Table, the tale of a young boy's journey from Ceylon to the U.K. in the '50s, is a return to form. When he's on, Ondaatje conveys life's wondrous little details like nobody else.
PW's Top 10 Literary Fiction
The Night Circus
Erin Morgenstern. Doubleday, Sept.
The Language of Flowers
Vanessa Diffenbaugh. Ballantine, Aug.
The Art of Fielding
Chad Harbach. Little, Brown, Sept.
The Family Fang
Kevin Wilson. Ecco, Aug.
Helen Oyeyemi. Riverhead, Sept.
When She Woke
Hillary Jordan. Algonquin, Oct.
Colson Whitehead. Doubleday, Oct.
The Marriage Plot
Jeffrey Eugenides. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Oct.
Lost Memory of Skin
Russell Banks. Ecco, Sept.
The Cat's Table
Michael Ondaatje. Knopf, Oct.
Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron (Jan. 2012, hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1-61620-042-8). Winner of the Bellwether Prize for social justice, ex-geophysicist and MIT-graduate Benaron's first novel (after her collection, Love Letters from a Fat Man) traces 10 tumultuous years in the life of Tutsi Olympic contender Jean Patrick Nkuba.
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan (Oct., hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1-56512-629-9). Jordan follows her 2006 Bellwether Prize–winning debut, Mudbound, with the near-future tale of a female convict's struggle against a rigidly theocratic American government that alters the skin color of its criminals and broadcasts their lives on national TV.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (Aug., hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-0-345-52554-3). In its review, PW called this tale of a young woman aging out of the foster care system an "affecting debut." Diffenbaugh deftly "chronicles the first harrowing steps into adulthood taken by a deeply wounded soul" who has adopted the Victorian symbolic "language of flowers" as a means to communicate with the world.
Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones (Sept., hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1-60819-699-9). Commonwealth Writers' Prize–winning author Jones (Mister Pip, shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker prize) returns with a Dickensian tale of lost children and manufactured identities. PW says Jones "deserves praise."
No More Mr. Nice Guy by Howard Jacobson (Sept., paper, $16, ISBN 978-1-60819-687-6). Man Booker Prize–winner Jacobson's U.K. novel, about the sexcapades of a television exec, receives its first U.S. printing.
Apricot Jam: And Other Stories by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (Sept., hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-1-58243-602-9). Nobel laureate Solzhenitsyn (1918–2008) published the eight linked "binary" stories in this collection in Russian, in 1994, upon returning to the country after a long period of exile.
Lightning People by Christopher Bollen (Sept., hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1-59376-419-7). An actor who moved to New York to escape his Midwestern family finds a city transformed by the attacks of September 11, 2001. He also finds belonging in the arms of conspiracy groups. A debut novel from the editor-at-large of Interview Magazine and a contributor to the Believer.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Aug., hardcover, $24, ISBN 978-0-307-88743-6). Cline's genre-busting debut is a coming-of-age tale made fresh by the first-time author's vibrant pastiche of space opera, cinema, and pop-culture. According to PW, it's an "adrenaline shot of uncut geekdom."
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Sept., hardcover, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-385-53463-5). In Morgenstern's electric debut breakout, two magicians battle over love in a circus at the end of the 19th century. PW called it a "smashing tale of greed, fate, and love."
Zone One by Colson Whitehead (Oct., hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-385-52807-8). In Whitehead's brilliant new novel, a pandemic has divided humanity into the living... and the living dead. According to PW's starred review, "Whitehead dumpster dives genre tropes, using what he wants and leaving the rest to rot, turning what could have been another zombiepocalypse gore-fest into the kind of smart, funny, pop culture–filled tale that would make George Romero proud."
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Luminous Airplanes by Paul La Farge (Sept., hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-0-374-19431-4). It's been almost 11 years since the publication of La Farge's novel, Haussmann, or the Distinction. Now La Farge shifts his imagination from 19th-century Paris to America at the dawn of the 21st in a novel that begins a year before—and anticipates—9/11.
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (Oct., hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-0-374-20305-4). The author of the bestsellers Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides returns with a modern-day riff on the "marriage plot" at the heart of the great English novels and made famous by writers like Jane Austen and George Eliot.
River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh (Sept., hardcover, $28, ISBN 978-0-374-17423-1). The second installment of the epic Ibis trilogy by "a writer of uncommon talent who combines literary flair with a rare seriousness of purpose" (the Washington Post Book World). A consuming historical novel from a writer who, according to PW, makes the English language "alive and vibrant."
The Third Reich by Roberto Bolaño, trans. from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer (Nov., hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-0-374-27562-4). Discovered after Bolaño's death in 2003, and being published in four parts in the Paris Review, a lost novel from the pre-eminent Latin American writer of his generation.
Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks (Sept., hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-06-185763-8). A provocative new novel from a literary powerhouse, inspired by a colony of registered sex offenders that existed beneath a Florida causeway from 2006 till 2010.
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson (Aug., hardcover, $23.99, ISBN 978-0-06-157903-5). In the spirit of George Saunders, Carson McCullers, and Wes Anderson comes a novel about the art of surviving a masterpiece of dysfunction, from the promising writer of the 2009 story collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth.
An Accident in August by Laurence Cossé, trans. from the French by Alison Anderson (Aug., paper, $15, ISBN 978-1-60945-049-6). Cossé audaciously imagines the life of a driver who fled the scene of Princess Diana's fatal car crash in 1997; a suspenseful new novel from the author of A Novel Bookstore (a PW starred review).
You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik (Aug., paper, $15, ISBN 978-1-60945-048-9), Maksik's lyrical novel is the much-discussed debut book from Europa's new Tonga Books imprint, acquired and edited by Alice Sebold (The Lovely Bones).
Wunderkind by Nikolai Grozni (Sept., hardcover, $24, ISBN 978-1-4516-1691-0). The author of the memoir, Turtle Feet, a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice pick, sets his tragicomic debut novel at the tail end of the cold war. Behind the Iron Curtain, Grozni's narrator, Konstantin, is a gifted musician (like the author), and a classic bad boy with a heart of gold who pushes back against the dulling powers of communism.
Assumption by Percival Everett (Oct., paper, $15, ISBN 978-1-55597-598-2). A troubling trio of murder mysteries lays an uneasy foundation in this literary thriller by the author of I Am Not Sidney Poitier. PW says that Everett is "a novelist at the height of his narrative and satirical powers."
Grove/Atlantic/Atlantic Monthly Press
I Married You for Happiness by Lily Tuck (Sept., hardcover, $24, ISBN 978-0-8021-1991-9). PW calls National Book Award–winner Tuck's "triumph of a novel" about a woman's long night of grief and recollection "[a] breathlessly mannered, affecting new work."
The Great Leader by Jim Harrison (Oct., hardcover, $24, ISBN 978-0-8021-1970-4). The prolific Harrison (Legends of the Fall) delivers another witty, absorbing tale set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. This one features a retirement-age recently divorced detective, his 16-year-old sidekick, and a hedonistic cult.
The Kingdom of Childhood by Rebecca Coleman (Sept., paper, $15.95, ISBN 978-0-7783-1278-9). In this eagerly anticipated debut, Coleman hooks readers early with a dark fairy tale childhood set against a snowy wonderland before constructing a beautifully written puzzle to be solved.
The Artist of Disappearance by Anita Desai (Dec., hardcover, $23, ISBN 978-0-547-57745-6). Feminist and award-winning (and three-times Booker Prize–shortlisted) novelist Desai (mother of Kiran) explores time and transformation in three linked novellas.
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (Oct., hardcover, $30, ISBN 978-0-307-59331-3). The prolific and internationally acclaimed Murakami, who PW calls an "ingenious" writer, returns with a mind-bending ode to George Orwell's 1984. 100,000 first printing.
Aleph by Paulo Coelho, trans. from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa. (Sept., hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-307-70018-6). A crisis of faith sends the author of The Alchemist on a journey through Europe, Africa, and Asia. Coelho's books have been translated into 72 languages and sold more than 130 million copies worldwide. 150,000 first printing.
The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje (Oct., hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-0-307-70011-7). Drawing inspiration from his own youth, award-winning, bestselling author Ondaatje (The English Patient) returns with a new novel set in the 1950s, about a young boy who undertakes a life-altering journey from Ceylon to England. 100,000 first printing.
Grand Central Publishing
The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks (Oct., hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-446-54765-9). Bestseller Sparks (The Notebook) sticks to the familiar (opposite sides of the tracks; nostalgia for the past) by imagining the midlife crises of two former high school sweethearts. Sure to be a hit.
The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam (Aug., hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-06-147876-5). The second novel from the bestselling Bangladeshi author of A Golden Age tracks the complicated rise of Islamic radicalism in Bangladesh through the lens of one family whose members find themselves on wildly divergent paths.
This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman (Aug., hardcover, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-06-202438-1). With a subject torn from the headlines, Schulman (P.S.) investigates the ways in which a single act of youthful stupidity can affect a life, a family, and a community. While the plot, according to PW, "is rife for salacious tabloid treatment... Schulman sidesteps easy shock and hyperbole to turn out a provocative story of ethics and responsibilities in the ever-shifting digital age."
The Queen's Gamble by Barbara Kyle (Sept., $15, ISBN 978-0-7582-3856-6), the fourth book in the Queens series, continues the saga of the Thornleigh family as young Queen Elizabeth I faces the first major crisis of her reign.
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (Sept., hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-316-12669-4). In Harbach's anticipated debut set at a small school near Lake Michigan, a young baseball star seems destined for the big leagues until a routine throw goes terribly off course, impacting the lives of five people. Harbach is a founding editor of the literary journal n+1.
Falling Together by Marisa De Los Santos (Oct., hardcover, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-06-167087-9). Book club fave and bestseller De Los Santos (close to a million copies have been sold of Belong to Me and Love Walked In) returns with another chick lit novel about "a friendship among three people—two women and a man," according to the author.
Lights Out in Wonderland by DBC Pierre (Aug., hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-393-08123-7). From PW's review: "Man Booker–winner Pierre pulls a gonzo evisceration of these grim times in his high-octane third novel," tracing the final acts of a suicidal Englishman; "As a nihilistic screed that rails against capitalism and excesses, this hits all the right buttons."
The Day Before Happiness by Erri DeLuca, trans. from the Italian by Michael Moore (Nov., hardcover, $20, ISBN 978-1-59051-481-8). The former Italian radical and international bestselling author of Sea of Memory, returns with a story of an orphan initiated into the ways of the world in post-WWII Naples.
Nightwoods: A Novel by Charles Frazier (Oct., hardcover, $26, ISBN 978-1-4000-6709-1). The National Book Award-winning author of Cold Mountain returns with a new novel set in small town North Carolina in the early 1960s. In a starred review of Frazier's last novel, Thirteen Moons, PW said that the author's "storytelling prowess doesn't falter."
Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi (Sept., hardcover, $25.95, ISBN 978-1-59448-807-8). The young Oyeyemi takes on love, lies, and inspiration in her fourth book. PW calls her writing "unconventional, intoxicating, and deeply disquieting."
11/22/63 by Stephen King (Nov., hardcover, $35, ISBN 978-1-4516-2728-2). International bestseller King rewrites history with a hefty new novel (1,000 pages) about a man who travels back in time to try to prevent JFK's assassination.
Bed by David Whitehouse (Aug., hardcover, $24, ISBN 978-1-4516-1422-0). This accomplished debut novel about a brother who refuses to leave his bed on his 25th birthday is "a masterful balance of displaced emotion, black humor, and reportage," according to the starred PW review. Whitehouse pulls "a distinguished and accessible story out of a profoundly strange experience."
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman (Oct., hardcover, $27.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-1747-4). Set in ancient Israel, this is the most ambitious novel to date from a soulful writer who PW says "often lets mystical atmospherics... do all the work while her characters behave in strange and incredible ways under the influence of forces outside themselves." Bestseller Hoffman can always be counted on to "enchant... readers with a many-layered morality tale."
The Angel Esmeralda: Nine Stories by Don DeLillo (Nov., hardcover, $24, ISBN 978-1-4516-5584-1). In his signature review of DeLillo's last book, Point Omega, Dan Fesperman said, "It's hardly a new experience to emerge from a Don DeLillo novel feeling faintly disturbed and disoriented. This is both a charm and a curse..." This is the first collection of DeLillo's short fiction, published in magazines like the New Yorker, Esquire, and Granta between 1979 and 2011.
The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman (Oct., hardcover, $25, ISBN 978-1-4391-8446-2). From the provocative cultural commentator and author who "makes good, smart company" (New York Times) comes a highly imaginative page-turner about a therapist and her unusual patient—a man who claims he can render himself invisible. PW's starred review claims, "Klosterman's deadpan humor is in full effect in this tour de force exploration of intimacy and voyeurism."
Simon & Schuster
Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell (Sept., hardcover, $24, ISBN 978-0-7432-7670-2). The promising author of Use Me (a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award) returns with a new collection (her debut, called a novel, was 10 interconnected stories) of eight stories; this effort is "raw and engaging," with "a bigger, more textured and complicated world than is usually found in collections," according to PW.
The Popularity Rules by Abby McDonald (Oct., $14.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-5668-4). A Glamour U.K. "must-read," McDonald's second novel follows an aspiring music critic's struggle to make it big. But the appearance of a friend who once betrayed her makes her redefine success.
A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison (Jan., hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-1-4027-9280-9). Addison's page-turning debut chronicles the descent into hell of two teenage Indian girls after their coastal town is wiped out by a tsunami. Homeless, they seek shelter in a convent, but are abducted and sold into the sex trade.
Trafalgar Square/Little, Brown Book Group
Revenge by Sharon Osbourne (Sept., paper, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-84744-284-0). In the tradition of Jackie Collins comes Osbourne's debut about two sisters who share the same dream—the kind of ginormous fame that Osbourne enjoys. According to PW, "wicked fun is the name of the game."
University of Nebraska Press
Bohemian Girl by Terese Svoboda (Sept., $14.95, ISBN 978-0-8032-2682-1). Set around the American Civil War, Svoboda's newest tells the story of a young white girl, sold into slavery, her struggle to escape, and what she faces once she does; from the Flyover Fiction series.
Destroy All Monsters, and Other Stories by Greg Hrbek (Sept., $14.95, ISBN 978-0-8032-3644-8). Winner of the Prairie Schooner Prize for Fiction, Hrbek's genre-bending collection of short stories ranges in subject from parenthood to war to terrorism, exploring what it means to be human. PW says that Hrbek "builds scenes with a tight economy of timing and details, so that tension resonates well beyond its conclusion."
On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry (Sept., hardcover, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-670-02292-2) The Man Booker shortlisted Dublin-born author of The Secret Scripture returns with a new novel that is, according to the publishers, "the story of 20th-century America" itself.