August 20, 2022
This week we shake it up in subject and locale. Queer Indian girls in Wisconsin, East African political revolts, a Harlem apartment building, a charismatic English academic and a superstar of Bohemian life in ’60s New York City. Clear off your nightstand.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
All This Could Be Different
By Sarah Thankam Mathews
Published by Viking
“If there’s a message in this novel’s workings, it’s that people matter,” says author Mathews whose likable narrator, recent college grad Sneha, has recently moved to Milwaukee for a somewhat decent consulting job. Her parents are back home in India, and she is proud to be making it on her own. But it’s a dead town in winter, she has an hour commute, and she’s starting from scratch. After some unsuccessful dating she meets Marina and begins to build a community. Mathews’s touching coming-of-age story is fresh and funny and her casual, slangy prose, gives this bighearted novel a great sense of immediacy.
Stories from the Tenants Downstairs
By Sidik Fofana
Published by Scribner
These interconnected stories from our Emerging Writer Fellowship alum are impossible to put down. The first one alone, “The Rent Manual,” is irresistible. The tenants of 14D in the 300+ apartments in Banneker Terrace on Frederick Douglass Boulevard are Mimi and her baby boy, Fortune. She toils away at a Harlem soul food joint and braids hair on the side but can never quite make rent. Of the tenement she says, “Little bit of everybody here. Young people with GEDs. Old people with arthritis. Folks with child-support payments, uncles in jail, aunties on crack, cousins in the Bloods, sisters hoein.” Come for the characters and the deep understanding of human failings laced with humor; stay for the language..
By Abdulrazak Gurnah
Published by Riverhead
Gurnah’s (Paradise) first book since winning the Nobel Prize for Literature is a sweeping historical novel that begins in the late 1880s and follows the revolts that tore apart East Africa in the ensuing decades. It is peopled with war orphans, child slaves and an unhinged German soldier—ultimately a tale of survival and love against all odds. Gurnah was born in Zanzibar and came to London in the 60s as a refugee and knows intimately the costs of political upheavals and European colonialism. He says that what drives him “to write is because you are faced every day with things that are also necessary to be talked about.”
By Julian Barnes
Published by Knopf
In Barnes’s penetrating unconventional love story, we meet Elizabeth Finch who teaches a course called “Culture and Civilisation” to adults. She mesmerizes her students with her uncompromising teaching methods, her enormous breadth of knowledge, her stoicism and her no-nonsense lectures that never make the students feel diminished. “If she taught us one thing it was that history is for the long haul…it is active, effervescent, at times volcanic.” Our student narrator describes her not in sexual terms but nonetheless seductive in her brilliance. It is a singular portrait of a woman, but also perfectly captures the exhilarating experience one can have when encountering someone who will forever change your life. Read it carefully..
As It Turns Out: Thinking About Edie and Andy
By Alice Sedgwick Wohl
Published by FSG
Alice Sedgwick Wohl, now past 90, shapes a portrait of her sister, the actress, Vogue model, and pop icon Edie, as a letter to her beloved brother, Bobby. He died in a motorcycle accident in ’65 before Edie met Andy (Warhol) and became his muse. Another sibling died by suicide in a mental hospital, making this sprawling family resemble a cursed Kennedy-esque clan. Edie’s privileged childhood on a California ranch and her troubled adolescence preceded her meteoric rise to fame until her tragic death at 28 from an overdose. It is an inquiry into what made Edie “Edie,” who remains an enduring figure of fascination from the downtown scene in 1960s New York City.