April 8, 2023
These five works of fiction could not be more different. Moods go from light and lively, to threatening and murderous. There is high anxiety, spirits in Denmark and the Caribbean, and a young man’s deportation to his homeland in South Korea. Two are Brooklyn-set. Romantic fantasy mixes with romantic mysticism and magic realism in one. But the common thread is that all these writers are ridiculously talented.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
By Curtis Sittenfeld
Published by Random House
Sally is a successful writer for the late-night comedy show The Night Owls, but she feels like maybe she’s been there too long. Her schedule leaves little time for romantic attachments but when a music idol hosts the show, she finds herself drawn to him despite the no-no of getting involved with the talent. It seems unlikely that he’d share her attraction, but he surprises her. What feels destined to not work (pandemic, bicoastal romance, ridiculously handsome and famous boyfriend) becomes unexpectedly possible. This is a fun one—a perfectly drawn, behind-the-scenes entertainment world milieu and a romantic pairing that breaks through fantasy to real life.
The People Who Report More Stress
By Alejandro Varela
Published by Astra House
Varela, a National Book Award finalist, returns with a terrific collection of interconnected stories about what it is like to be gay and Latinx, dedicating the book to those who have “been excluded from the conversation.” The Brooklyn author has experienced performance anxiety and fear of flying (he witnessed 9/11 up close) and this seeps into these funny, sweet stories. In “An Other Man,” a man arranges with his husband to have an affair, and finds himself neurotically cruising the dating apps. In this and many of these tender stories you’ll find a relatable self-doubt in his characters who are just trying to figure it all out..
First Comes Summer
By Maria Hesselager
Published by Riverhead
Translated by Martin Aitken
This poetic, enigmatic novel is set in a vivid Viking village where a sister and brother are unnaturally close. Their mother was a seer who taught her daughter, Folkví, the ways of the world. When their parents die unexpectedly, the siblings are thrown into a world they are not quite prepared for. The brother, Áslakr, goes on an expedition and comes home with a bride, destabilizing the delicate balance the siblings have achieved in their love for each other. “What a person will do for love, what they will do to feel secure.” Read this slim, remarkable novel (with a shocking ending) to find out. It is mysterious and utterly compelling.
By Joe Milan, Jr.
Published by W. W. Norton
The memorable hero in Milan’s first novel is a Korean adoptee, a high school senior in rural Washington State. A football scholarship could be his ticket out, but when there is a serious mishap with a family member, Bucky is sent back to South Korea—a country he has no interest in and where he does not speak the language. Bucky’s adventures in South Korea plunge him into the military where he feels lost and confused. With humor and empathy, Milan draws a portrait of a stranger in a strange land coping precariously with his future..
The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts
By Soraya Palmer
Published by Catapult
Storytelling is the tie that binds the wobbly family in Palmer’s fine first novel. Beatrice and Nigel, Caribbean immigrants (Jamaica and Trinidad transplanted to Flatbush, Brooklyn), feed their girls on the myths and folktales from their childhoods and the Black Diaspora. When their father leaves and their mother returns to Trinidad terminally ill, the sisters must explore their own independence and futures. As they grow apart (Sasha to develop as a writer and Zora to explore her gender), those Ashanti tales keep them together, reverberating from the beyond.