Log In

Subscriber-Only Content; You must be a PW subscriber to access the Table-of-Contents Database.

Get a digital subscription to Publishers Weekly for only $19.95/month.

Your subscription gives you instant access exclusive feature articles on notable figures in the publishing industry, he latest industry news, interviews of up and coming authors and bestselling authors, and access 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: pw@pubservice.com or call 1-800-278-2991 (U.S.) or 1-818-487-2069 (all other countries), Monday-Friday between 5am and 5pm Pacific time.

Unseen City

Amy Shearn. Red Hen, $17.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-59709-367-5

Shearn’s luminous latest (after The Mermaid from Brooklyn) follows a self-avowed librarian spinster; a man researching the history of his father’s Crown Heights, Brooklyn, home; and the ghost of an orphaned girl from Civil War–era Manhattan. Meg Rhys lives in the perfect apartment: it’s rent-controlled, close to her job at the Brooklyn Library, and also home to the ghost of her dead sister, Kate. When Meg’s landlord decides to sell the building, Meg must face the dizzying and depressing prospect of finding a new apartment, the “lingua franca of New York.” Meanwhile, widower Ellis Williams helps his father with his Crown Heights multifamily rental property, which has never been able to keep any tenants. The first floor rattles, there’s a draft coming from nowhere, and the doors keep slamming when no one is around. When Ellis seeks Meg’s help to research the building’s history, the two stumble upon more than they bargained for. Interwoven with the contemporary narrative is the story of a girl whose orphanage burned down during the Draft Riots of 1863 and who then moved in with a new family in Weeksville, a settlement of free Blacks that existed in what is present-day Crown Heights. The presence of ghosts is easily believable, helped along by the characters’ shared sense of grief. Shearn’s nimble storytelling unearths a fascinating and fraught history. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
Jubilee

Jennifer Givhan. Blackstone, $25.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-538-55677-1

In Givhan’s intense, artfully woven psychological drama (after Trinity Sight), a woman treats a doll as if it is her living infant child. Bianca Vogelsang, 20, shows up at the home of her brother, Matty, bleeding and bruised, and insists a doll she’s carrying is her daughter, Jubilee. The reader soon comes to learn that the smart, ambitious Bianca, a poetry student of some promise in thrall to the work of Sandra Cisneros, had been in an abusive relationship with her high school sweetheart, Gabe, who convinced her to get an abortion at 15. Several months after Bianca shows up at Matty’s house, she kindles a romance with a fellow student Joshua Walker, and becomes pregnant again, but even thnen is unable to let go of her belief that Jubilee is her daughter. Givhan flashes back to when Bianca was pregnant at 15 and Gabe threatens to abandon her and sexually assaults her. Another flashback dovetails with the book’s climax and sheds more light on Bianca’s attachment to Jubilee, which has consequences for Matty and Joshua. Bianca’s repeated meditations on bodies of water as a source of life (“Rivers take, yes, but rivers bring back”) and the echoes of lines from Cisneros add rich lyrical layers to the fast-paced plot. Givhan rewards readers with an intense, fiery story. Agent: Laura Blake Peterson, Curtis Brown. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
The Perfect Nine

Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. New Press, $23.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-62097-525-1

Kenyan writer Thiong’o (Birth of a Dream Weaver) departs from the sprawl of his past novels into an engaging if slight lyrical epic. Combining Homeric verse with oral storytelling tropes—choruses, chants, songs—he retells the origin myth of the Gikuyu, Kenya’s largest tribe. The title is a reference to the “perfect nine” (10, in Thiong’o’s retelling) beautiful daughters of Gikuyu and Mumbi (the first father and mother) who are married off to men who appear after a prayer. In Thiong’o’s version, 99 men compete for the women’s hands, who in turn compete against them. Gikuyu explains to the suitors that his daughters will “do the choosing,” adding that all couples are to remain living with him and Mumbi. This angers one man, who retorts: “I came to marry to take away, not to be taken in.” He leaves and a few men join him; some of those who remain lose out to the women in archery and riding challenges, or simply quit; others die. The book takes a fantastical turn when Gikuyu and Mumbi issue their final challenge: a quest to steal from an ogre king a hair that can cure their disabled daughter, Warigia. The remaining story is rigidly heroic—evil creatures, heroic deeds, a bittersweet ending—giving this a Disneyesque sheen. Thiong’o’s fans will appreciate this, even if it doesn’t rise to the heights of his most accomplished work. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
The Lying Life of Adults

Elena Ferrante, trans from the Italian by Ann Goldstein. Europa, $26 (324p) ISBN 978-1-60945-591-0

A single comment can change a life, or for Giovanna, the adolescent only child of a middle-class Neapolitan couple in the early 1990s and narrator of Ferrante’s sumptuous latest (after The Story of the Lost Child), it can set it in motion. “She’s getting the face of Vittoria,” Giovanna’s father, Andrea, says about her, referring to Giovanna’s estranged aunt Vittoria, whom Andrea disdains and calls ugly. The comment provokes Giovanna into seeking out Vittoria on the other side of Naples, where she finds a beautiful, fiery woman, consumed by bitterness over a lover’s death and resentful of Andrea’s arrogance at having climbed the social ladder. Andrea can’t save Giovanna from Vittoria’s influence, and their relationship will affect those closest to Giovanna as family secrets unravel and disrupt the harmony of her quiet life. Giovanna’s parents’ devastating marital collapse, meanwhile, causes her to be distracted at school and held back a year, and prompts Giovanna into a steely self-awareness as she has her first sexual experiences along a bumpy ride toward adulthood. Themes of class disparity and women’s coming-of-age are at play much as they were in Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, but the depictions of inequality serve primarily as a backdrop to Giovanna’s coming-of-age trials that buttress the gripping, plot-heavy tale. While this feels minor in comparison to Ferrante’s previous work, Giovanna is the kind of winning character readers wouldn’t mind seeing more of. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
The Cookbook Club

Beth Harbison. Morrow, $16.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-295862-4

Harbison (Every Time You Go Away) cooks up a delectable novel about a woman who finds a way to renew her life. In Washington, D.C., foodie Margo Brinker’s marriage comes to a sudden end when her husband leaves her for his therapist. She feels disillusioned by the so-called friends in her book club, who aren’t available to commiserate with her, and heads to the internet for something a little bit more real. She finds the Cookbook Club, started by Trista, who was fired from her lawyer job and now runs a bar, who convenes the club IRL to try new recipes. The club becomes the focal point for several characters, including Aja, a yoga teacher who gets pregnant and takes over her ex-boyfriend’s mother’s garden (finding an unexpected relationship), while Max, a figure from Margo’s past who is now a movie star hiding from the spotlight, surprises her with a DM. Margo and Max take on the job of fixing up a piece of collateral property from Margo’s divorce, and Max recognizes the potential Margo’s ex missed in the property. As expected, romance ensues. Through recipes and easy reading, Harbison’s pleasant tale shines a light on her characters’ successes and failures. Despite a few clichés, this is a mostly delicious story. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
Renato!

Eugene Mirabelli. McPherson, $20 trade paper (592p) ISBN 978-1-62054-042-8

Mirabelli (The Passion of Terri Heart) has revised three previously published novels, all of which chronicle the life and times of the painter Renato Stillamare, for a blazing magnum opus. In Book One, still titled “The Goddess in Love with a Horse,” baby Renato is left swaddled in a map of Sicily on the doorstep of the Cavallù family in 1860s Boston, a clan descended from Sicilian centaurs and goddesses. This dreamy narrative is a love letter to the people and customs of Sicily, “where Demeter, the warm-breasted goddess... had her daughter Persephone stolen from her.” In Book Two, “Renato, the Painter,” the artist looks back from his 70s on a long, satisfying marriage with Alba, his many children, and a few lovers, while trying to secure his artistic legacy by landing one last gallery exhibition. He’s moved into his studio to paint, while Alba stays in their apartment and plays host to a strange young woman and her son, whom Renato suspects is descended from a fallen angel. Well into his 80s in Book Three, “After Alba,” Renato finds he’s a poor match for fighting despair after Alba’s death. The author swings back and forth through time and memories, and entertains fantasy and philosophy with captivating if occasionally long-winded results. Mirabelli’s impassioned cycle succeeds at capturing an artist’s longing to be remembered. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
American Gospel

Lin Enger. Univ. of Minnesota, $24.95 (248p) ISBN 978-1-5179-1054-9

Enger (The High Divide) sets this potent novel in mid-1970s Battlepoint, Minn., where pious preacher Enoch, leader of a religious commune, has collapsed. After Enoch is revived, he claims an angel visited him to announce a rapturous biblical prophecy, in which Jesus Christ will appear to “snatch up all true believers” on Enoch’s land in two weeks’ time. Enoch’s vision propels much of the plot, into which Enger dexterously adds Enoch’s son, Peter, a struggling 30-something Manhattan journalist hoping to cover President Nixon’s anticipated resignation, and Melanie, a Hollywood starlet and boyhood love of Peter’s, whom Enoch convinces to travel to Battlepoint to participate in the communal pilgrimage to the place now known as “Ground Jesus.” Word of Melanie’s sojourn spreads quickly across the celebrity newswires, sparking a media frenzy and a poignant epic showdown at the zero hour. Enger takes on a lot, from playing on the momentum and the mysteries of religious prognostication to the innate familial allegiance between prophetic father and skeptical son, and for the most part it ties together, though readers may feel the primary characters are a bit underdeveloped. Still, Enger effectively expands on themes of belonging and blind devotion as a group of true believers face their final day of reckoning. While Enger doesn’t reach the height he seeks, there is plenty of apocalyptic excitement. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
The Golfer’s Carol

Robert Bailey. Putnam, $24 (240p) ISBN 978-0-593-19050-0

A dejected man gains a new perspective on his life’s challenges in this sentimental golfing parable from Bailey (the McMurtie and Drake Legal Thrillers series). On his 40th birthday in 1986, Alabama insurance lawyer Randy Clark intends to kill himself. Still grieving his young son’s leukemia death three years earlier and embittered about giving up his professional golf dreams, he hopes his life insurance will wipe out his debt, provide for his wife, and let his daughter attend college. After the ghost of his best friend, pro golfer Darby Hays, appears with the news that he’d just died while driving drunk, Randy postpones the plan. Later, Darby’s ghost informs Randy he will have a chance to play four rounds of golf with his greatest heroes. Over the next several days, Randy is mystically transported to a series of famous courses. He plays golf with Bobby Jones, who teaches him about self-control; Ben Hogan, who encourages resilience; and Arnold Palmer, who pushes him to overcome his self-doubt. As Randy prepares for the final round promised by Darby, the hero who appears is not who he expects. While the lessons are a bit shallow, Bailey wrings genuine emotion from Randy’s tragedies. This life-affirming sports odyssey will appeal to fans of uncomplicated inspirational yarns. Agent: Liza Fleissig, Liza Royce Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
Jillian in the Borderlands

Beth Alvarado. Black Lawrence, $19.95 trade paper (150p) ISBN 978-1-62557-821-1

Alvarado’s mesmerizing if uneven debut novel (after the essay collection Anxious Attachments) follows Jillian Guzmán, a mute Mexican-American child-psychic; her white mother, Angie O’Malley; and her aunt Glenda on a series of travels as they seek spiritual direction and healing. Jillian’s hallucinatory childhood in San Francisco and Arizona is peopled by dead child brides, ghosts, and even a “channeling Chihuahua,” all of which she documents in prophetic drawings that only her mother and their maid can interpret. After Glenda suffers a near fatal motorcycle accident in Denver, the family drives from Arizona to visit her in the hospital. While nine-year-old Jillian sits on Glenda’s hospital bed watching TV, she grunts and points at a healer named Juana of God when she’s featured on a show. Angie takes Jillian’s gesture as a sign that the healer could help Glenda, and drives the family to the desert city of Magdalena, Mexico, where their fates become entwined with the healer’s. Alvarado’s frequent shifts in perspective among the family members disrupt the novel’s flow, as does a change in focus to the plight of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border when Jillian is conscripted by Good Samaritans to help find those in need of water. While impassioned and immersive, the work’s various components just don’t quite cohere. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
High Skies

Tracy Daugherty. Red Hen, $12.95 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-59709-445-0

Daugherty’s engrossing latest (after the collection American Originals) focuses on the small community of Midland, Tex., in the late 1950s as it reels from severe weather, Cold War paranoia, and school integration. Troy, the asthmatic protagonist, is 10 when his mother is first stricken by a migraine during a dust storm. At school, Troy helps his friend Stevie, who has arthritis, get on the ground during “duck and cover” drills. And when the school board moves to convert an abandoned Quonset hut on school property into classroom space for students from a neighboring Black high school that was damaged in a storm, local tensions come to a head. Vice principal Raymond Seaker is placed in charge of the project, which many families object to as a step toward integration. As Seaker visits with families whose children have dust-storm–induced illnesses, he’s confronted by the community’s unjust fears over the spread of diseases by Black students rather than environmental factors as he works to carry out the plan, which the school board has approved for financial rather than progressive reasons. In an illuminating coda, Troy and Stevie reminisce about Seaker’s efforts and the town’s slow, staggered march toward change. Daugherty adeptly creates a toxic environment where people’s fears obscure their rationality and impair their judgment. The account of one man left out to dry makes for a stark, memorable outing. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2020 | 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 Lost Password

Parts of this site are only available to paying PW subscribers. Subscribers: to set up your digital access click here.

To subscribe, click here.

PW “All Access” site license members have access to PW’s subscriber-only website content. Simply close and relaunch your preferred browser to log-in. To find out more about PW’s site license subscription options please email: pw@pubservice.com.

If you have questions or need assistance setting up your account please email pw@pubservice.com or call 1-800-278-2991 (U.S.) or 1-818-487-2069 (all other countries), Monday-Friday between 5am and 5pm Pacific time for assistance.

Not Registered? Click here.
X