August 27, 2022
The writers below share a talent for keeping the reader glued to the page and, in very different ways, address identity, physicality and the traumas that inform their protagonists’ paths. Often, they illuminate the difficulty in breaking from family to become one’s true self.
Also, we strongly suggest adding Salman Rushdie’s trenchant collection of essays, Languages of Truth (just out in paperback), to your bookshelf—a reminder of the fertile mind of this essential observer of life’s injustices. We wish him a quick recovery from the heinous attack he suffered on August 12th. In case you missed PEN America’s public reading in solidarity with Salman last week, you can find it here.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
Didn't Nobody Give a Shit What Happened to Carlotta
By James Hannaham
Published by Little, Brown and Company
A perfect end-of-summer read that is a great character study and a fast-paced comic novel with underlying themes about the racial issues that continue to haunt society. Like in his previous novel, Delicious Foods, the author captures a neighborhood (this time The Center’s own Fort Greene, Brooklyn) with an exuberance and intensity that will keep you enthralled throughout. Carlotta is having trouble reentering society after a 20-year stint in prison. Being a Black Colombian trans woman does not help matters. Follow her during a day in her life as she navigates a homecoming that is fraught with landmines—a sick mother, a missing son, and drugs, among other obstacles. She’s a marvel.
By Lynne Tillman
Published by Catapult
Tillman (American Genius, A Comedy) has penned a moving essay/memoir that will resonate with many readers facing the loss of a parent while observing the end of their lives. Her relationship with her mother was not ideal when she became her caregiver, making her 11-year experience even more burdened. Tillman cites both Simone de Beauvoir (for her brutal honesty) and Atul Gawande (for his understanding of the aged) as inspirations for this book. Reminiscent of the novel Burnt Sugar, it is full of insights and candor, capturing the painful frustration of harboring hidden resentment while doing something that’s also impossible to get right. It is an impressively useful book..
By Ella King
Published by Astra House
Singapore-born King’s tension-filled first novel addresses another complicated mother-daughter relationship in the form of a literary thriller. It also tackles the complexities of being biracial—her heroine Lily’s father is white and British, her mother Chinese Peranakan. Disturbing family secrets come to her in flashbacks as she tries to extricate herself from her mother’s abusive behavior—as repugnant as the juice she makes her mother from the bad fruit of the title. Lily goes to study at Oxford and there begins to unravel her inherited trauma. In the spirit of Philip Larkin’s famous poem, “. . . they fuck you up, your mum and dad,” you’ll root for her to find her independence.
A History of Present Illness
By Anna DeForest
Published by Little, Brown and Company
A startlingly powerful story that is based loosely on the author’s experiences in neurology and palliative care in New York City. It follows a medical student through the harrowing world of long rotation shifts, failing bodily functions, cadaver dissections and one female patient dying of encephalitis. DeForest has made something beautiful out of a student’s dry medical note-taking and, as the author says, days where “human suffering becomes the bread and meat of your workday.” She has imbued a brief story with enormous empathy and compassion..
My Government Means to Kill Me
By Rasheed Newson
Published by Flatiron
Newson’s debut recreates New York City during the height of the AIDS crisis. He tells the story of an affluent young Black queer man, Trey, who eschews his family inheritance and flees Indiana for ’80s NYC in all its decadence. He captures both the abandon of the men who dove into the scene and the bravery of the dying and the caregivers. Gay Mens Health Crisis, ACT UP, Larry Kramer, Wigstock and much more are namechecked in this appealing novel full of footnotes. It’s a heartfelt coming-of-age fiction that reads with the propulsion of one of the many television series (Narcos, The Chi) Newson has so successfully produced.