June 26, 2021
The books this week all have characters who straddle worlds—whether through location or vocation, reality or fantasy, historical truth or fictional reimagining, public or clandestine life, modern society or ancient folklore. It’s often a good premise for fiction and narrative nonfiction—these titles prove that to be true. Each one is a genuinely rewarding reading experience.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
By FRANCINE PROSE
Published by HARPER
The Vixen is Ethel Rosenberg and the setting is a white-shoe publishing house where our narrator, Simon, has landed a job by the grace of his uncle. Simon had watched the tragic televised Rosenberg execution at his parents’ Coney Island home but is now asked to edit a trashy romance that portrays ‘Esther’ as a busty, sexually aggressive traitor. Simon’s struggles with this moral dilemma as he uncovers the dodgy story behind the book are treated with dark humor and serious political overtones. A fascinating work of imagination!
For further reading, see also Anne Sebba’s essential biography of Ethel, who argues that she was an innocent cog in a wheel.
By ASHLEY C. FORD
Published by FLATIRON
Ford, a successful writer, editor and podcast host, was raised in poverty in Indiana by her single mother. She has penned a searing memoir recounting a life perilously on the edge, caught between how she grew up and how she wanted to live, between being the daughter of a long-incarcerated father and a mother full of rage. Ford strove to become a woman who could face her demons, including the trauma of sexual assault and the truth about her father. Her story and her storytelling are both incredibly powerful, especially at the conclusion of this brutal but sympathetic memoir as her father is released after thirty years in prison..
By MARINA JARRE
Published by NEW VESSEL PRESS
Translated by Ann Goldstein
Jarre, who passed away in 2016, grew up in Latvia (her Jewish father’s birthplace) before her family moved to Italy, her mother’s homeland. Her collection of dreamlike reminiscences provides a moving portrait of 20th century Europe and the two countries she inhabited, and brings further understanding to the displacement of so many in the Holocaust where her father died. This book could arguably be called a literary classic of war. We are lucky to have the work available in English, beautifully translated by Goldstein, for the first time.
Who They Was
By GABRIEL KRAUZE
Published by BLOOMSBURY
This is a startling debut. It was already longlisted for the Booker Prize last year, and I promise you will see why from the very start of the book. The main character lives a double life: by day he’s a seemingly normal London university student, but outside of school he is running with a violent gang, graduating from petty to very serious crime and the world of drugs. The nail-biting narrative and the urban patois put the reader in the middle of the danger as tension builds. An outstanding exploration of an outsider caught between worlds..
Hell of a Book
By JASON MOTT
Published by DUTTON
“The whole world of my life spins under a radiant marquee of fear,” our unnamed narrator writes each time he signs his bestselling novel. He is a Black man in search of the “the riddle of my skin and my mind,” a man whose childhood was pierced with death and bullying. He rises to meteoric fame with his first novel and virtually lives on book tour. Mott explores the aftermath of trauma caused by racial ignorance, as his character resides more and more in his imagination. It is a bold book and a deep investigation into the unknowable countries of memory and death.