June 24, 2023
Sometimes it’s nice to get out of your comfort zone. These five books offer an opportunity to do just that, either through their plotlines or the characters within the stories who are experiencing some manner of unease. Whether it is grief, loss, poverty, family discord, failing health or grip-the-arms-of your-chair suspense, the novels below provide a bit of not-unwelcome discomfort.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home
By Lorrie Moore
Published by Knopf
Moore has written a devastating portrait of grief that rates as one of her best books. Finn’s ex-lover has succeeded—after several failed attempts—at committing suicide. His older brother is slipping away in hospice. Interspersed is a collection of decades-old letters from a woman who runs a boarding house, writing to her sister about a flirtatious tenant. The book is haunted and ghostly, not unlike George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo. Read it in one or two sittings if you can and enjoy the full effects of Moore’s beautiful portrayal of how death affects the living. The novel soars, rendering the reader uncomfortably comforted.
By Tom Rachman
Published by Little, Brown and Company
Following Lorrie Moore with Tom Rachman’s latest seems apt as each admires the other’s work. The former journalist and author of The Imperfectionists presents an aging writer racing against time (and encroaching dementia) to finish what could be her last book. As Dora assembles a cast of characters for us (including an estranged daughter, an author who, like Dora, is struggling in her career), we assemble the life that she’s lived, her self-doubts and desire for relevancy. Tinged with ruefulness, Rachman’s novel confirms the relevance of his own writing and his ability to touch readers with his sensitive, darkly humorous approach to storytelling..
By Jenny Xie
Published by Riverhead
Jenny Xie is an accomplished Brooklyn-based poet who moved to the U.S. from China when she was four. “I’m most pulled toward what opens up in the gaps between things not fitting side by side, in what refuses to lie quietly…. I think my multi-dimensional relationship to China…and the U.S. are some of these uneasy spaces.” In her new novel she explores the sometimes-uneasy mother-daughter relationship a young woman encounters when she returns to Northern California unhappily single and unemployed to find her mother has fallen in love. The title can be read several ways (displacement/life transitions/a mother’s embrace) in this tender story of family bonds.
The Quiet Tenant
By Clémence Michallon
Published by Knopf
We meet the protagonist of this thrilling debut in a shed where she’s been held for five years. (Shades of Emma Donoghue’s Room.) She has lost all sense of her former identity (she’s been given the new name of ‘Rachel’) and knows she could be killed at any moment. Her captor is a widower with a sweet teenaged daughter. This is Michallon’s first novel, but you’d never know it. And it is the first time this Parisian is writing in English. Very impressive. Michallon has created a villain as banal and terrifying as any in real life. Will Rachel get away? Expect to hold your breath in anticipation..
By Itamar Vieira Junior
Published by Verso Books
Translated by Johnny Lorenz
A potential heir to the great Clarice Lispector, Vieira Junior, a Bahian native, sets his first story to appear in English among poor Afro-Brazilian tenant farmers. Introducing the first of three sections is a harrowing scene as two young sisters discover a knife under their grandmother’s bed. Soon there is blood and a severed tongue. “We felt like Siamese twins, sharing the same tongue to make the words that revealed what we needed to become.” This is a powerful tale of marginalized characters who speak to spirits and suffer countless social injustices long after the end of slavery, in what is being called a contemporary Brazilian masterpiece.