August 19, 2023
This week’s characters are often on the brink: a housewife dangerously weary of her life; a Dublin family hanging by a thread; two novels about being Muslim in America, struggling with identity; and essays that elucidate the late capitalistic world we live in. These five tremendously talented writers have mastered the art of bringing personal stories, true and fictional, splendidly alive.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
The Bee Sting
By Paul Murray
Published by FSG
In Murray’s ambitious new novel, selected for the 2023 Booker Prize longlist, he intertwines four beautifully realized voices of the Dublin Barnes family, fallen on hard financial times, plagued by problems. Perhaps the trouble began when the beautiful, magnetic wife was stung by a bee beneath her veil on her wedding day (“a literal bee in her bonnet!”). These characters (including the ex-car salesman father, alcoholic college-aged daughter, lonely pre-teen son) take turns telling their stories. Murray manages to inject this epic (600+ pages) family tragedy with great Irish comedy and pathos.
I Will Greet the Sun Again
By Khashayar J. Khabushani
Published by Hogarth
This Iranian American novelist’s first book is set in the San Fernando Valley and Iran. Three brothers, who embrace the America where they were born, are kidnapped by their Iranian father and taken to where he grew up. He is a too-proud man, monstrous and volatile. Our narrator, K., the youngest, takes us on a harrowing ride where we watch their struggle to survive amid violence, anti-Muslim prejudice, and gay discrimination in such effortless prose, sprinkled with Farsi, that you can’t help but to be drawn into their world. A real achievement, as evidenced by some major reviews by Iranian immigrants who applaud Kabushani for his crystallization of a familiar experience..
Breaking and Entering
By Don Gillmor
Published by Biblioasis
Poor Beatrice. She’s a bored housewife on the precipice of the middle-age blues at 49. She doesn’t get along with her sister or her son; her marriage is passionless and static. She needs to shake it up before she descends into a slough of despondency during a sweltering summer so she teaches herself to pick locks and discovers a hidden talent. She begins to sneak into other people’s houses and into their lives. This thrilling and dangerous secret life is exactly what she needed to bring her to a reckoning with her own existence. Funny and charming, perfect for the end of the summer season.
By Aaliyah Bilal
Published by Simon & Schuster
Bilal’s debut story collection uncovers a community infrequently recognized in fiction: “The primary project of this book is exploring how the Black Muslim experience fits into the larger story of African American religion.” In “Blue,” the Muslim Girls Training Class takes a bus trip to Chicago for the Savior’s Day celebration. And in “Who’s Down?” a teenage girl’s father pledges to be a vegetarian but by the story’s end the girl realizes she does not believe in God and her father is gobbling up a cheeseburger with extra pickles. Bilal gets to the heart of moral dilemmas and inner conflicts as she reveals the challenges of maintaining a culture..
By Jenn Shapland
Published by Pantheon
In Shapland’s award-winning memoir My Autobiography of Carson McCullers she broke the wall between biography and autobiography, relating McCullers’s archived love letters to her own personal history. In her new collection she once again addresses that ‘thin line,’ this time separating the individual and the world. The apt title also refers to the medical syndrome she suffers from, lacking an epidural layer. Shapland explores, among many subjects, the ongoing kidnapping of Indigenous women and children; Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt; and how she knew at five that “class could be expressed through fashion.” Wonderfully curious and erudite, she searches for answers to life’s big questions and the fragile borders between us and others.