November 13, 2021
There is a melancholy that often descends when we turn back the clocks in November each year. It always affects my choice of reading material, a response to the seasonal transition. This week’s selection reflects the two sides of that change—sometimes it seems fitting to read something lonely and absorbing, and sometimes I search for a happy ending and levity amid the shortened days and early darkness. Here are five books from very different writers for you to choose from.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks, 1941-1995
By ANNA VON PLANTA
Published by LIVERIGHT
A treasure trove of diaries was discovered after Highsmith’s death. Edited by Highsmith’s longtime Norton editor, we can also discover the brilliant but troubled mind of this master of the psychological thriller. Though she achieved literary acclaim, she was often disappointed in her writing life and her relationships with women, and would self-medicate with alcohol. In 1942 she wrote: “How can one be happy in New York when all the bad people are merely evil, and all the good people are merely compromisers?” Yet these journals reveal Highsmith in a surprisingly different voice from her fiction—honest, open, vulnerable, even hopeful and always riveting.
By LÁSZLÓ KRASZNAHORKAI
Published by NEW DIRECTIONS
This strikingly unusual work of fiction is impossible to categorize. The visionary author, (Satantango) who has won countless literary awards including the Man Booker International Prize in 2015, has fashioned an experimental work that combines writing, visual art, and music. A full-blown fever dream, the reader follows an escaped entity that is being chased across Europe, attempting to avoid capture, assassination or even worse! The book has a breathless pace, punctuated with beautiful color paintings by the celebrated German painter Max Neumann, leaving the reader just as breathless. Listen to the accompanying musical score accessed by QR codes..
By NATASHIA DEÓN
Published by COUNTERPOINT
Deón has the canny ability to turn American historical eras into rich backdrops for her fiction. Her debut novel, Grace, was set in the world of slavery. The Perishing moves forward a hundred years to 1930s LA. Her protagonist is Lou, a Black woman with a mysterious origin story that even she is not certain of. As she comes of age in a foster family, her memory becomes peppered with flashes of possible former lives. The story is told both by another Black woman in the future, and by Lou in Los Angeles. The wonderful mélange of African American history mixed with Olivia Butler-like speculative fiction makes this novel indelibly compelling.
Love in the Big City
By SANG YOUNG PARK
Published by GROVE PRESS
Translated by Anton Hur
Park’s exhilarating debut brings another thrilling piece of fiction from South Korea to English-speaking readers. Along with works by Han Kang, Cho Nam-Joo, and Un-Su Kim, this is a welcome addition to the growing list of recent Korean novels in translation. Park’s novel is a queer love story that follows the protagonist Young from college days through the ups and downs, joys and heartbreaks of his romances, set against Seoul’s glittering nightlife. The book has been a huge success in Korea and much sought after for translation rights across the world—don’t miss this exuberant and emotionally satisfying work..
By SARAH RUHL
Published by SIMON & SCHUSTER
Subtitled The Story of a Face, Smile reminded me of Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face about living with facial disfigurement from childhood. This story, however, begins when Ruhl is already an accomplished, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and discovered her face was paralyzed on one side. Wrestling with the implications of her now compromised appearance, as well as juggling work and being a new mother, she communicates with poetry and insight the enormous challenges she encountered. Her moving contemplation of the nature of presentation and her search for answers to reverse the condition make for powerful, inspiring reading.