Subscriber-Only Content. You must be a PW subscriber to access feature articles from our print edition. To view, subscribe or log in.
Site license users can log in here.

Get IMMEDIATE ACCESS to Publishers Weekly for only $15/month.

Instant access includes exclusive feature articles on notable figures in the publishing industry, the latest industry news, interviews of up and coming authors and bestselling authors, and access to over 200,000 book reviews.

PW "All Access" site license members have access to PW's subscriber-only website content. To find out more about PW's site license subscription options please email: PWHelp@omeda.com or call 1-800-278-2991 (outside US/Canada, call +1-847-513-6135) 8:00 am - 4:30 pm, Monday-Friday (Central).

Pushcart Prize XLVI: Best of the Small Presses

Edited by Bill Henderson. Pushcart Press, $35 (576p) ISBN 978-0-9600977-4-6

The enjoyable latest entry in the annual anthology showcases works that originally appeared in literary journals that, in Henderson’s estimation, thrive despite their lack of funding (“We are locked out of the money apparatus and have emerged free”). In Kevin Wilson’s poignant story “Biology,” a man mourns the death of his eighth-grade science teacher and reflects on when he was a loner who found refuge in the eccentric teacher’s classroom. Daniel Orozco’s well-crafted “Leave No Trace” follows Rutger, who, at six, receives cryptic advice from his alcoholic father: “Be invisible. Be smoke. Be a ghost. Leave. No. Trace.” As a result of heeding the guidance, Rutger manages to be “adequate” at just about everything over the course of his life. In a touching and humorous poem by Red Hawk, “The Holy Spirit of the Moon,” a Native elder asks the Apollo 11 astronauts to deliver a message to the gods on the moon. The hilarious and quirky story “Housekeeping” by Karin-Lin Greenberg revolves around the suicide of a TV actor in a small town, where a hotel maid finds the body and becomes an instant celebrity. There are many emerging voices worthy of discovery, and their work here is a consistent delight. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
The End of Getting Lost

Robin Kirman. Simon & Schuster, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-982159-85-6

Kirman’s skillful sophomore effort (after Bradstreet Gate) centers on a honeymooning couple’s love and deception. The story opens with Gina Reinhold, a professional dancer in New York, and Duncan Lowy, a composer, at a lake outside of Zurich in the summer of 1996, on a delayed honeymoon a year after their wedding, with Gina recuperating from a head injury she’d suffered in Berlin. Weeks later, she still can’t recall her accidental fall outside their hotel, or the months leading up to the trip, but in the aftermath of her hospitalization she feels closer to Duncan, who’s loved her since they met at Yale several years earlier. They set off for Vienna, though Kirman creates an unsettling sense that all is not what it seems. The trip is funded by a mysterious commission from a young woman, Duncan’s first major payday for his musical work; and a man named Graham Bonafair is urgently trying to reach them. In Vienna, Gina finds letters she’d written to her father and best friend that Duncan never sent, in which she writes that her marriage had collapsed. As Gina’s memories re-emerge, Duncan’s elaborate ruse unfolds. Kirman keeps up the suspense, though the action gets a little bonkers as Duncan grows increasingly desperate. This twisty page-turner delivers. Agent: Adam Eaglin, the Loft Literary Center. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Pure Colour

Sheila Heti. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-60394-6

Heti (How Should a Person Be?) delivers an underwhelming fable, a sort of Generation X Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Here, God has created three kinds of people: bird, fish, and bear. Birds are ambitious, fish are socially minded, and bears love with focus and intensity. Mira, the main character, is a bird, born to a bear father, with whom she has an emotionally incestuous relationship. Annie, a fellow student at the American Academy of American Critics whom Mira has a crush on, is a fish. Heti romanticizes the characters’ time in school, which apparently took place shortly before the advent of smartphones: “They just didn’t consider the fact that one day they would be walking around with phones in the future, out of which people who had far more charisma than they did would let flow an endless stream of images and words.” Mira is prone to overblown mysticism; after her father dies, she imagines she “felt his spirit ejaculate into her, like it was the entire universe coming into her body.” Stricken by grief, she hopes for relief from Annie, though their contrasting animal natures complicate the relationship. Just what the point of it all is remains something of a mystery. Even Heti’s fans will be flummoxed. Agent: Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
The History of Man

Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu. Catalyst, $17.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-946395-56-6

Ndlovu impresses with a fresh and astute perspective on colonialism, race, and family that focuses on white South African-born civil servant Emil Coetzee, who appeared in the author’s debut, The Theory of Flight. Ndlovu follows Emil’s life chronologically from the short-lived bliss he felt while living among natives in a small village in the 1930s through a series of episodes in his childhood and adolescence marked by animated moments of camaraderie with boarding school classmates, family conflicts (his parents separate after his mother catches his father dressing as a woman), and the feeling of not belonging. In the 1950s, having moved to the City of Kings in his unnamed country in southern Africa, he founds the Organization of Domestic Affairs to keep records of Black people’s births, marriages, divorces, education, work, and deaths, after learning a woman’s killing couldn’t be investigated because the police had no information about her. It’s an altruistic project, and an example of Emil’s complexity despite his racism, support of torture during a civil war in the 1970s, and homophobia, which impacts public policy. Through the narrative can grow tiring at times and get bogged down in minor details, Ndlovu deserves credit for her brilliant and meticulous characterization. This leaves readers with much to think about. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
I’d Like to Say Sorry, but There’s No One to Say Sorry To: Stories

Mikołaj Grynberg, trans. from the Polish by Sean Gasper Bye. New Press, $19.99 (160p) ISBN 978-1-62097-683-8

The vital English-language debut from Grynberg, a photographer, psychologist, and oral historian of the Holocaust, features 31 vignettes narrated by Polish Jews, each of whom experienced the horrors of the ghettos and the camps and now struggles with survivor’s guilt. Common themes among them are wanting to forget the past so as to belong to the living and feeling alienated in the present by both family and fellow countrymen. In “An Elegant Purse,” the speaker is determined to find her grandparents’ graves. As it dawns on her that her mother was Jewish, she has a new purpose: “I’m learning how to be a daughter all over again.” “Procession” tells the story of a man whose grandfather mistakenly believed the French would protect his family, but they were arrested and everyone, except the narrator’s mother, died in Auschwitz. As a photographer, Grynberg knows the value of capturing a moment in time; through these narratives, the reader sees, as translator Bye notes, “something we might not have seen with our own eye.” These views of a tragic past are brought sharply into focus. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
The Tobacco Wives

Adele Myers. Morrow, $27.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-308293-9

Myers makes a sparkling debut with a coming-of-age tale about the limited opportunities available to the women of a tobacco town. In the spring of 1947, 15-year-old Maddie Sykes assists her seamstress aunt in Bright Leaf, N.C. When Etta is hospitalized with the measles, Maddie takes over Etta’s client list, sewing gowns for the wives of the top tobacco executives. Mitzy Winston, Etta’s most valued customer and wife of Richard Winston, the president of Bright Leaf Tobacco, takes a maternal interest in Maddie and invites her to live in the Winston home. The teen’s initial enchantment with the town—its seemingly happy workers and uniform prosperity—is dashed when she stumbles on a confidential letter in Richard’s study from a doctor who helped create Bright Leaf’s new MOMints cigarettes, marketed for women, which reveals cigarettes are harmful to pregnant women and infants. Maddie then finds out about a cover-up and begins to recognize that the women around her are being unfairly treated, from factory and field workers to the executives’ wives, whose contributions to the businesses go unpaid, and she considers blowing the whistle about the letter. The ending comes a bit too abruptly, but the fabulous fashion descriptions and Maddie’s unwavering determination more than make up for it. Historical fiction fans will be pleased. Agent: Stefanie Leiberman, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
The High House

Jessie Greengrass. Scribner, $27 (240p) ISBN 978-1-982180-11-9

Two half siblings eke out their survival after an environmental catastrophe in the quietly devastating latest from Greengrass (Sight). In the near-future, a London scientist named Francesca travels around the world to study flooding brought on by climate change with her partner, whose 18-year-old daughter Caro watches Francesca’s toddler son, Pauly, Caro’s half brother. A nonlinear narrative reveals that Francesca has prepared a house on high ground in Suffolk for the family, complete with supplies and a vegetable garden to make them self-sustaining. After Francesca and Caro’s father drown in a storm in Florida, Caro and Pauly trek to the isolated home. There, they discover Sally, a young woman whom Francesca hired as a caretaker along with her grandfather, who remembers the last major flood in the area when he was a child. As Caro battles incapacitating grief and Sally grapples with the survival plan bestowed upon them, the world continues to disintegrate. Unlike other postapocalyptic tales, plot is secondary to the emotional weight borne by the characters who know the end is coming, and to the harrowing glimpses of the future as the house’s residents “do nothing but try to make sure that we will have enough to eat so that we might continue to do the same the next day.” Throughout, their gradual reckoning with their existence and the fate of the planet is made heartbreaking through Greengrass’s stunning prose. Painful and beautiful, this is not to be missed. Agent: Lisa Baker, Aitken Alexander Assoc. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Jack Ruby and the Origins of the Avant-Garde in Dallas: And Other Stories

Robert Trammell.. Deep Vellum, $16.95 trade paper (308p) ISBN 978-1-64605-049-9

The title novella in this piquant double-decker volume from Trammel, who died in 2006 and was primarily a poet (Queen City of the Plains), transforms Jack Ruby from a murky footnote figure into a bold mover and shaker. The other 22 stories, originally collected under the title The Quiet Man, feature other larger-than-life citizens of Dallas. Trammell gives his characters vivid, evocative names like Oak Cliff Benny (a barfly who shows up in "D.J.'s Trial," "Waiting," and other stories) and Jimmy Ace (the heavy-drinking salesman in "Boredom" and "Unintended"). Even the historical figures who show up are imbued with the texture of fiction, like Mr. Thomas Y. Pickett, whose 1930 replica of George Washington's Mount Vernon figures into "Benjamin Murchison Hunt Smith." The stories are lively and colorful, but taken together, they can feel repetitive. The novella, told in short chapters full of rumors, factoids, and stark black-and-white photos, is the crown jewel, and it's made convincing by its audacity ("Jack Ruby was like Dallas's Andy Warhol before Andy Warhol was Andy Warhol," Trammell writes). Here, Jack is a major supporter of local culture and something of a reprobate, with an equal interest in art and exotic dancers. Trammell's riffs on Ruby and the less glamorous corners of Dallas coalesce into a winning portrait. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
How We Are Translated

Jessica Gait%C3%A1n Johannesson.. Scribe, $16 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-950354-82-5

Johannesson's tender and madcap debut explores themes of family, history, and language as it follows Swedish-born Kristin, 24, through a single hectic week of her life in Edinburgh. She's not sure if she is pregnant, and is putting off finding out. At the same time, her partner, Ciaran, who was born in Brazil but adopted as a small child by a Scottish woman, has surprised Kristin with his latest obsession: immersing himself in a "Språkbad," or language bath, to learn Kristin's native language-by bingeing on Bergman movies, covering their flat in vocabulary Post-It notes, and using a Swedish cab driver as a practice partner-all of which Kristin greets with dismay. Perhaps Kristin's dread of Swedish is due to her day job as a Viking reenactor at the National Museum of Immigration, where she can only speak Swedish and must pretend she does not understand English. Many bizarre characters emerge, and a lot happens over the course of the week, but not everything comes together. What keeps things moving is Johannesson's focus on the couple's love and heritage through the powers and the pitfalls of language, giving things a spiritedness reminiscent of the work of Elizabeth McKenzie. While uneven at times, on balance it's a delightful romp. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
Greek Myths

Charlotte Higgins.. Pantheon, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-31626-9

Higgins (Red Thread: On Mazes and Labyrinths) delivers a luminous collection of Greek myths relayed by women and goddesses through the weaving of tapestries. Many of the fantastical stories of witches, slayers, and monsters feature violence against women and familial murder. Athena depicts the origin of the world, her birth, creation of men by Zeus, and four scenes of war between gods. Alcithoe weaves a tale of Thebes with Europa, kidnapped and raped by Zeus; King Oedipus, who murdered his father and married his mother; and the murder of Pentheus, king of Thebes. Philomela's section includes the egotist Narcissus and Pygmalion, who loved a statue; and an account of her death at the hands of Tereus. Andromache tells of the relationship between the goddess Aphrodite and Adonis, a mortal. Helen, who blinded men with her beauty, depicts her love affair with Paris and the legendary fall of Troy to the Greeks. Circe, a witch and a recluse, punishes intruders. Penelope's handiwork is woven and unraveled daily as she awaits the return of Odysseus. While unseasoned mythology readers will have a tough time keeping a handle on the myriad deities, mortals, and creatures, Higgins's versions are consistently smart and imaginative. This makes for a provocative and alluring reanimation of the classics. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/29/2021 | Details & Permalink

show more
X
Stay ahead with
Tip Sheet!
Free newsletter: the hottest new books, features and more
X
X
Email Address

Password

Log In Forgot Password

Premium online access is only available to PW subscribers. If you have an active subscription and need to set up or change your password, please click here.

New to PW? To set up immediate access, click here.

NOTE: If you had a previous PW subscription, click here to reactivate your immediate access. PW site license members have access to PW’s subscriber-only website content. If working at an office location and you are not "logged in", simply close and relaunch your preferred browser. For off-site access, click here. To find out more about PW’s site license subscription options, please email Mike Popalardo at: mike@nextstepsmarketing.com.

To subscribe: click here.