January 23, 2021
From a chorus of voices both in fiction and nonfiction, these writers highlight the amazing array of talent we are lucky to have at our fingertips. The tempo of this particular chorus is not universally upbeat yet each writer’s exploration of the inner and outer lives of their characters is exceptionally penetrating, and their visions of humanity are full of insights.
Buyer, Center for Fiction Bookstore
By Avni Doshi
Published by The Overlook Press
Rarely have I read fiction about a mother and daughter that was so unsparing and authentic. This novel, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, is narrated by an Indian wife and mother, whose relationship to her own mother (now slipping into dementia) is startling yet at the same time very still and measured. Tara now finds herself a reluctant caretaker for a parent who has been unkind and cold to her for much of her life. But (like in Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom) the reader feels the bundle of emotions (frustration, disgust, rebellion) tempered by the unbreakable, undeniable bond between them. It is a scathing, powerful portrait.
By Ellie Eaton
Published by William Morrow
Who doesn’t love a good girls-only boarding school setting with its insular environment and all the suffocating, secretive, scandalous and naughty things that can happen? Eaton’s first novel takes its inspiration from her own childhood and teenage years spent as a scholarship student in a Midlands institution, an “elitist bubble,” she calls it, where one experiences the excruciating “embarrassment of adolescence.” Our adult narrator now looks back from her perch in Los Angeles to her early life at St John the Divine in 90s England to relate what happened. To tell much of the plot is spoiling but suffice to say it is delicious..
The Rib King
By Ladee Hubbard
Published by Amistad Press
On the eve of Black History Month, it is a perfect time to discover Ladee Hubbard and her wonderfully distinctive voice. Her 2018 debut, The Ribkins, which used an essay by W.E.B. Dubois as inspiration, was hailed by Toni Morrison and won the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. This follow-up is set in a turn of the century Chicago household where the Black ‘help’ includes a cook whose fabulous barbecue sauce the family wishes to exploit and market to replace their diminishing fortunes. Hubbard has captured an all too familiar situation where upper class whites take advantage of Black workers. Expect fireworks.
My Grandmother's Braid
By Alina Bronsky
Published by Europa Editions
Translated by Tim Mohr
More nasty characters—but this time in a rambunctious, droll novel that has a Dickensian flair and will recall Olga Tokarczuk’s fiction. Bronky’s widely praised earlier novel, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine, came out a decade ago, and it is a pleasure to have another chance to discover her wonderfully acerbic style. The grandmother in question here is a refugee from Russia and has mostly mean-spirited opinions about everything—from the hopelessly inept Germans to her hopelessly inept grandson, Max. But Max, who tells our story, is actually a very wise child and views the bigger picture in Bronsky’s infectious domestic comic novel..
Let Me Tell You What I Mean
By Joan Didion
Published by Knopf
Always a cause for celebration, any new Didion publication reminds us of her singular voice and brilliance as a cultural observer. This book brings together a dozen uncollected essays from 1968 to 2000, a time that already seems so long ago. Whether she is commenting upon journalism, gender, Ernest Hemingway, or looking inward, her reporter’s eye brings depth to any subject. Included here is her essay “Why I Write’” which also reminds us why we want to know ‘what she means.’
Note: A new addition to the Library of America series is coming in April: Joan Didion: The 1980s & 90s.
The Copenhagen Trilogy: Childhood—Youth—Dependency
By Tove Ditlevsen
Published by FSG
Translated by Tina Nunnally & Michael Favala Goldman
In this one-volume edition Ditlevsen lays out her early life, her sexual experiences, becoming a mother and a writer, and her descent into addiction. One of Denmark’s acknowledged masters of literature, the author’s tragic life ended in her 1978 suicide. Here’s a taste of her dazzling prose: “In the morning there was hope. It sat like a fleeting gleam of light in my mother’s smooth black hair that I never dared touch; it lay on my tongue with the sugar and the lukewarm oatmeal I was slowly eating while I looked at my mother’s slender, folded hands that lay motionless on the newspaper, on top of the reports of Spanish flu and the Treaty of Versailles.” I definitely want to read on..