February 18, 2023
This week we feature two novelists who are beloved at The Center, working at the height of their literary prowess. Coming of age is explored as we meet protagonists as young children, and a couple in their teenage years—characters at their most vulnerable and naïve. In each, these writers show incredible imagination and fancy both in fiction and memoir. Additionally, there is a feast for readers who love literary gossip, a tantalizing volume that highlights the wives of some of the most fascinating couples.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
By Salman Rushdie
Published by Random House
A new novel from Rushdie is always a major event, now more than ever. Leap into Victory City, one of his very best, and discover a fantastical world constructed of duplicitous kings and queens. In 14th century South India, the newly orphaned 9-year-old Pampa is granted powers by a goddess to envision a city “into being with nothing more than a bunch of seeds and a few days of whispering.” With dramatic flair and magical storytelling, Rushdie charts the rise and fall of this wonder of the world through the epic chronicle Pampa composes (she lives to be 247 years old!) of the raucous history of Bisnaga.
I Have Some Questions for You
By Rebecca Makkai
Published by Viking
Boarding school is often fertile ground for a novel (Never Let Me Go; Prep). Bodie Kane, a successful California podcaster, is invited back for a teaching gig at the New Hampshire school where her roommate was murdered 25 years before. She was always dubious about the guilt of the Black man they put in prison. The can of worms Bodie opens disturbs the peace of many of the characters involved. Makkai (The Great Believers) writes deftly of each one of them—who they were then and now—reminding us of the many solved and unsolved cases of teenage girls’ deaths. As ever, Makkai is superb at depositing an ensemble of characters into politically charged circumstances..
By Joseph Earl Thomas
Published by Grand Central
At seven, “Joey” takes over his sister’s Easy Bake Oven, wraps himself in toilet paper as a Mummy for Halloween and keeps tabs on all the people he’d like to die. In this memoir, growing up a Black boy in Philadelphia in the 90s becomes vivid as we meet Joey’s extended family, including his crack-smoking mother. Of the voice he has chosen, Thomas has said, “Third person, and then second became the most valuable way to explore childhood uninterrupted, and then to bring someone else as close into that world as might be possible towards its termination.” Here is autobiography that reads like the best fiction.
By Pilar Quintana
Published by World Editions
Translated by Lisa Dillman
Quintana (The Bitch) is an award-winning novelist who captures the world of an eight-year-old girl living in ’80s Cali, Columbia with remarkable perception. Though she is growing up in relative comfort, Claudia’s family is unstable. Her unhappy mother reads popular magazines and is having an affair; her father is always working and not a big communicator. Claudia worries that she will be abandoned by her parents and her beloved tía. The title refers to that dark place a child fears might envelope her. Quintana crystallizes the emotions and insecurities of an adolescent who is yet to comprehend the actions of adults even as she witnesses their behavior..
Lives of the Wives
By Carmela Ciuraru
Published by Harper
Biting quotes abound (Margaret Atwood on marriage: “Longed for him. Got him. Shit.”) in this deliriously readable portrait of five literary marriages, including Elsa Morante and Alberto Moravia, and Patricia Neal and Roald Dahl. In the chapter on Elizabeth Jane Howard and her alcoholic, narcissistic partner Kingsley Amis, Ciuraru observes: “Any distress she felt was of no consequence to her crapulous husband.” (Any book using the adjective ‘crapulous’ is one I want to read!) By turns frightening and enlightening, Ciuraru is such a good tour guide through these difficult marriages and the heroic, long-suffering women behind their famous men of letters, you’ll want to read it in one go.