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.

Hysteria

Jessica Gross. Unnamed, $18 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-9512-1312-1

A young woman’s downward spiral into alcohol and sex leads to a personal breakthrough in Gross’s intoxicating debut. After the unnamed protagonist hooks up with one of her psychiatrist parents’ colleagues, Dr. Langham, during a weekly dinner party, then with Sam, her roommate’s brother, during a chance encounter, she decides that the new bartender at a local dive, Pilz Bar, is Sigmund Freud reincarnated. Meanwhile, Sam appears at a friend’s house party, having developed feelings for her (“I actually like you”), much to her frustration. Her complex feelings about older men coalesce when she returns to Pilz Bar to confront the man she calls “Freud,” and an odd, imagined client-therapist relationship begins. Gross’s aptitude for shocking yet highly sensory prose propels the reader along the protagonist’s bender, all the way to rock bottom. The narrator’s perfectly rendered inner monologue, replete with her nuanced urges and obsessions, will make readers wonder if they’re getting to know her better than she knows herself, and Gross succeeds in capturing the complexities of sex addiction. It is every bit a page-turner as it is a descent into sexual madness. Agent: Stephanie Delman, Sanford J. Greenburger Assoc. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/29/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
Why Visit America

Matthew Baker. Holt, $27.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-23720-0

In Baker’s sophomore collection (after Hybrid Creatures), the mundane details of everyday life are tweaked in subtle but surprising, fantastical ways. “Rites” follows a Minnesota family’s frustration with their ornery Uncle Orson, who refuses to perform his “last rites,” which are expected of all people over the age of 70 and are essentially a suicide ceremony. In “Life Sentence,” a felon is sent home for “reintroduction” after a procedure that permanently erased his memory of everything but his family’s faces, his punishment for a terrible, unknown crime. And in the title story, a libertarian town in Texas votes to secede from the United States in protest against government corruption, renaming itself America. America’s first town hall is surprisingly progressive, passing such reforms as the abolition of gendered titles and conversion to the metric system. With such a voluminous collection, there will inevitably be writerly flourishes that begin to grate, like Baker’s reliance on the first person plural or his love of a list, but there are plenty of strong stories, the best of which are rooted in specific political or cultural critiques. Despite its flaws, this is a smart, imaginative, and thoughtful collection. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/29/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
Last Call on Decatur Street

Iris Martin Cohen. Park Row, $27.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7783-0816-4

Cohen’s thoughtful and vivid second novel (after The Little Clan) follows burlesque dancer Rosemary Grossman as she navigates friendship and loss on Twelfth Night in 2004 New Orleans. It’s been a year since Rosemary, now in her mid-20s, has seen her lifelong best friend, Gaby, after they fought about Rosemary’s job as a dancer at the Sugarlick. As children, the pair bonded while being ostracized in grade school: Rosemary for being poor, and Gaby for being black. Now, when Rosemary’s beloved dog, Ida, dies, she feels utterly alone. After her shift at the club, Rosemary wanders through the French Quarter, trying to track down a sometime lover. She befriends an affable street punk who’s questioning his sexuality and dealing with his own friend drama. Along the way, Cohen pens an eloquent love letter to New Orleans and captures her protagonist with succinct descriptions: “By the time I turned twenty, I was as old as I’ll ever be,” Rosemary thinks, recounting how her problem with alcohol contributed to her losing a college scholarship, and realizing how her relative privilege contributed to her rift with Gaby. Cohen also aces the difficult feat of crafting a credible narrator who has blind spots. The lush language, fully realized characters, and tight storytelling make this a winner. Agent: Dana Murphy, the Book Group. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/29/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
It is Wood, It is Stone

Gabriella Burnham. One World, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-1-9848-5583-1

Burnham’s captivating debut is told in a surprisingly seamless second person. Linda, the narrator, tells her husband, Dennis, about the year the American couple spent in Brazil, after Dennis was awarded an academic appointment at the University of São Paulo. There, after weeks of hapless depression, Linda is invigorated when she meets an enticing woman named Celia (a person who uses “romance as gunpowder”) in a bar. Later, she returns home, giddy with desire for Celia, and destroys Dennis’s favorite suit, the anxious logic of this action meted out by Burnham with painstaking clarity. At her most gawky and strange, Linda is reminiscent of a character out of Clarice Lispector’s oeuvre. Observant and obsessive, Linda feels the pulse of desire (“No matter how steady I trained my mind to be, my body reigned over all”). Throughout is the mysterious presence of Dennis and Linda’s São Paulo housekeeper, Marta, whose competence intimidates Linda. Burnham dazzles by exploring the overlapping circles of need and care though tensions of race, privilege, sexuality, history, and memory. Thanks to Burnham’s precise, vivid understanding of her characters, this stranger-comes-to-town novel has the feel of a thriller as it illuminates the obligations of emotional labor. Burnham pulls off an electrifying twist on domestic fiction. Agent: Marya Spence, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (June)

Reviewed on 05/29/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
F*ckface

Leah Hampton. Holt, $25.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-250-25959-2

Hampton looks at modern life in post-industrial Appalachia in her sharp debut collection. In “Fuckface,” Pretty, a lesbian who is just shy of 21, lives in a trailer with her dad and works as a supermarket cashier in poverty-stricken Robbinsville, N.C., a town lacking in resources to address problems such as a dead bear in the market’s parking lot. Pretty, meanwhile, is afraid she’ll never be able to escape her town while her crush makes frequent trips to Asheville. In “Frogs,” twins Frank and Carolyn sign up for an ecology class led by a renowned naturalist. Carolyn’s fitful quest for self-improvement (she gives their brochure the “same frown she had given her smudged canvas in the painting class”) is botched after she feels slighted by the instructor. In “Mingo,” amateur photographer Tina struggles to convince her husband of the cost of strip mining on West Virginia’s natural habitat and to stop his accident-prone, elderly father from driving, while feeling her emotions and body enter a repeated phase of “hollowing out.” Hampton’s penetrating descriptions do a remarkable job of evoking a region where nature is dying off and tourism and mining boom and bust while the locals ponder their existence. These approachable, thought-provoking tales offer a range of insights on the characters’s complicated relationships to their environment. (July)

Reviewed on 05/29/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
Zo

Xander Miller. Knopf, $26.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-101-87412-7

Miller’s resonant debut is a coming-of-age romance set in the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where Zo, an orphan and the “poorest man in the western world” grows up in a tiny fishing village and proves to be adept at the art of seduction. While working as a laborer mixing and hauling cement, Zo’s life is transformed after a chance meeting with aspiring nurse Anaya Leconte, the well-heeled 20-year-old daughter (and descendent of Haitian president Cincinnatus Leconte) of a wealthy doctor who also happens to be Zo’s boss, and Zo instantly falls for her. Anaya and Zo become secret lovers in defiance of the marriage Leconte has planned for Anaya. The two flee to Port-au-Prince and elope to the hills above the city—only to become separated during the 2010 earthquake. Each believing the other dead, Zo and Anaya nonetheless remain devoted to their love as they navigate the changed island in all its disarray. Miller traveled to Haiti after 2010 as an EMT and admits in a note that, as an American, “he is an unlikely choice” to set a story there. Though Miller relies on tropes of Haitian history to move the story along, he does justice to his belief that Haitians have survived by saving themselves, not through outside intervention. While other writers better describe Haiti, the love story of Zo and Anaya tugs the heartstrings. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/29/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
When These Mountains Burn

David Joy. Putnam, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-0-525-53688-8

Joy (The Line that Held Us) serves up an engrossing drama of violence and vengeance in western North Carolina. In 2016, as the Tellico fire burns thousands of acres, Joy delves into the life of retired forester Raymond Mathis; his 40-year-old opiate-addicted son, Ricky, who has already stolen everything from Ray’s house that could be pawned; Ricky’s fellow addict and thief Denny Rattler, bearing a face “whittled” by drugs to “bone and shadow”; and DEA agent Ronald Holland. After a pill pusher tells Ray he has to pay $10,000 or he’ll kill Ricky, the four men become unlikely allies. The money was meant to be Ray’s nest egg, having received it after a drawn-out battle with the state over eminent domain. Joy’s razor-sharp prose details disturbing, graphic images of brutality that begin when Raymond resolves to protect his son. The threads of the story intertwine after Ricky gets hurt and Ronald connects the dots. As the fire spreads, the characters offer emotional reflections on the loss of their mountain culture, already being “sold off for tourists dollars” at the time of the fire. Joy handles everything with ease, proving himself to be one hell of a writer. Agent: Julia Kenny, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/29/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
A House is a Body: Stories

Shruti Swamy. Algonquin, $25.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-61620-989-6

Swamy writes with a cool precision that draws the reader into her debut collection. Eleven of the 12 stories have simple descriptive titles—“Wedding Season,” “Night Garden,” “Mourners,” “The Neighbors”—that belie the works’ complexity, and the plots unspool in lovely lucid prose that has a poetic omniscience. “The Siege” begins with this attention-getting hook: “It was the priest who smothered the horse.” The first line of “Blindness”—“Sudha and Vinod had a modest wedding”—is shadowed by the meaning of the story’s title. The story’s heroine struggles secretly with disaffection, paranoia and nightmares despite the serene surface of her married life. “The Siege” is set in an unnamed country with regressive attitudes toward women. As the female protagonist becomes increasingly introverted and fearful, her husband gains a bravura swagger. In the long and whimsical “Earthly Pleasures,” arguably the centerpiece of the book, a young woman’s intimate relationship with the god Krishna leads her to a sensual awakening and a heightened sense of the world’s beauty. The lone stylistic exception is the title story, written in a splintered, urgent voice that amplifies the plight of the agoraphobic mother at the center; trapped with her young daughter as a raging fire encroaches from the hillside. Swamy is off to a strong start. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/29/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
Twenty After Midnight

Daniel Galera, trans. from the Portuguese by Julia Sanches. Penguin, $16 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-735-22479-7

Brazilian writer Galera’s thoughtful, bittersweet novel (after Blood-Drenched Beard) tackles the ephemeral nature of friendship. Emiliano, 39, struggles to pay the rent on his São Paulo apartment and to finish his doctorate. He’s lost touch with a group of friends from college, with whom he launched Orangutan, a webzine. The shocking murder of their friend Andrei “Duke” Dukelsky triggers a melancholy reunion for Emiliano and surviving “Orangutanuns” Aurora and Antero. Catching up begins at the funeral and continues at a bar, where Emiliano, Aurora, and Antero realize Duke, who was well-known for his novels, has made a greater impact than any of them. Emiliano, now a freelance writer, is outraged when an editor suggests he write a quick biography of Duke, to “ride the coattails of his death.” Emiliano’s memories of Duke are painfully tied to Duke’s rejection of him, and Duke gained mileage in his literary career by making Emiliano a thinly disguised character in his fiction “at a time when sex between men was either invisible or merely hinted at in Brazilian literature and made the hippest of humanities students uncomfortable.” The infectious, rueful narration shows Emiliano’s uneasy attachment to his home city. Galera crafts a nuanced, complex portrait of millennial anxiety and anomie. Agent: Laurence Laluyaux, RCW Literary Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/29/2020 | Details & Permalink

show more
The Weekend

Charlotte Wood. Riverhead, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-0-593-08643-8

In Wood’s sharp sixth novel (after The Natural Way of Things), three septuagenarian Aussie women gather to help settle the affairs of their dead friend, Sylvie. Jude, a cold-blooded restaurateur and for decades the mistress of a married man, takes charge of the friends’ task of clearing out Sylvie’s beach house, which is perched on a perilous cliff. Wendy, a bedraggled feminist academic still mourning the death of her husband, arrives with her decrepit dog, Finn, whose ailments mirror the women’s own. Late, as usual, comes Adele, a once-celebrated actor who hasn’t had a gig in some time. Together, the old friends begin sorting through Sylvie’s things. Inevitably, in the process of clearing and discarding, the women unearth old irritations and a devastating secret, causing them to question how they’d ever become friends in the first place. Wood explores myriad possibilities of success, failure, philosophy, psychic ailments, and forms of melancholy that a 70-something woman might experience. While the qualities seem to be assigned almost at random to her characters, somewhat diminishing their effect (Wood likens Wendy to Sontag even though she dresses like “a witless old hippie”), the women are mostly recognizable nonetheless, and painfully relatable. Baby boomers and Wood’s fans will best appreciate this astringent story. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 05/29/2020 | 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