April 29, 2023
I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of this week’s extraordinary writers at the bookseller’s Winter Institute in Seattle and have been itching for their books to come out. There are historical, contemporary, and near future settings, and two gay love stories—one heralding the close of Arab American Heritage Month. We’re lucky enough to host two of these authors in the coming weeks. We hope you’ll be able to join us.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
The Covenant of Water
By Abraham Verghese
Published by Grove Press
This should go on your TBR pile, no questions asked. A completely immersive, emotionally all-consuming novel that takes place over seven decades in Southern India. The extraordinary cast of characters features generations of a family cursed with death by water. Many beautiful stories are threaded together, including that of the remarkable matriarch, called Big Ammachi and her granddaughter, a Madras med student searching for the cause of the water tragedies due to the family ‘Condition.’ Verghese, author of the bestselling novel Cutting for Stone, practices medicine at Stanford University and graduated from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. He has written a truly unforgettable book.
By Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Published by Pantheon
Incarceration is the subject of Adjei-Brenyah’s satiric novel, a subject that (as the son of a criminal defense attorney) is close to his heart. The near-future story is set in a private prison. Here, like in the film Death Race, prisoners compete for their freedom like ancient gladiators. We follow two women, armed with hammer, scythe, mace, and corkscrew as they vie for liberation. Adjei-Brenyah (Friday Black) continues his exploration of what it is like to be young, gifted and Black in the U.S.—with a powerful message about our criminal justice system and the caging of humans..
The Half Moon
By Mary Beth Keane
Published by Scribner
Keane’s work has been tremendously successful, especially her last novel, Ask Again, Yes. She is especially adept at drawing portraits of marriage that are deeply compassionate. In her newest novel, The Half Moon, she lets us hear both sides of a family story. The small-town setting places a microscope on Malcolm, who has purchased the bar where he’s been working, and his wife Jess, a lawyer. Taking place over the course of a week, their childless union, the ups and downs of their relationship, and their fortunes and misfortunes are examined. Keane is one of the very best contemporary authors writing about domestic life.
By Alice Winn
Published by Knopf
This striking debut has elements of homoerotic war stories like All Quiet on the Western Front and Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy. It also evokes the beautiful Tennyson poem of the same name. Like those works, it is the deep romanticism of male love set against the madness of war that makes for compelling reading. Two boarding school friends enlist in the British Army during WWI—an English poet and a half-German pacifist—and fight to survive and preserve their secretive relationship. The author (also an improv comedy actor) manages to infuse her serious subject with a fair amount of wit. The result is an impressive mix of gravity and levity..
The Skin and Its Girl
By Sarah Cypher
Published by Ballantine Books
We celebrate Arab American Heritage Month with an exceptional debut featuring Elspeth, a young Palestinian American woman whose family ran a soap factory on the West Bank. She directs her thoughts to her recently deceased great aunt (the book opens at her grave on a foggy San Francisco day). The women were very close, and both queer, which added complications to their lives. As did the color of Elspeth’s skin: blue. Pronounced dead at birth she miraculously revives and her skin turns “the pure cobalt of a gas flame.” This wondrous color acts as a metaphor for the author to contemplate racial and sexual identity in her first, superb novel.