October 9, 2021
A debut storyteller leads the list this week with a collection set in the volatile American South that’s not to be missed. We also hear from writers we’ve come to love and always anticipate their new offerings. There’s a page-turning thriller, a quixotic cross-country adventure, truths passed down among a dynasty of women and a powerful memoir about living with depression. All deal with acts of survival, whether escaping from society’s hardships, or inner demons.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
By JOCELYN NICOLE JOHNSON
Published by HENRY HOLT
A bold new voice on the literary scene, Johnson’s debut is a collection of linked stories about her hometown community of Charlottesville. Quietly writing fiction and teaching art for many years, the author comes to acclaim in mid-life with a big imagination and decades of life experience to inform her work. The compelling title story, a near-futuristic tale influenced by the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, is being developed as a Netflix project. This and the other five pieces focus on race and local politics of a city in turmoil that became a flash point for opening eyes on the state of American racism. With fervent energy and probing psychological acuity, Johnson’s characters will remain seared in your mind.
One Friday in April
By DONALD ANTRIM
Published by W. W. NORTON
It seems like a cliché to compare this book to William Styron’s classic memoir Darkness Visible, but I have not read another book that addresses depression or suicide as honestly and poetically. The night in question finds the author literally hanging from a 3rd floor fire escape in Brooklyn pondering whether or not to go on living. His moving descriptions of anguish stemming from early childhood entail disabling fraught relationships and parental abuse and neglect. For sufferers, he tells us, “history might not seem to exist.” Antrim’s observations are stunningly simple and true, blunt but beautifully elegiac..
By MIRIAM TOEWS
Published by BLOOMSBURY
Like Antrim, Toews is a truth-seeker and does not sugar coat her messages. One of The Center’s favorites (we launched her 2018 novel Women Talking; can’t wait to see Sarah Polley’s film adaptation), she is among the most accomplished contemporary Canadian women writers. Toews tackles serious subjects with intensity and, in her own words, “comedy and pathos.” Her novels usually star female characters evincing resilience. This time it is three generations, in a narrative structured as letters: the 9-year-old main character, her mother and her grandmother, each member fighting for what they believe in. It’s inspired by her own family history, especially the watchwords of her grandmother, “good luck, have fun, don’t work too hard.”
The Lincoln Highway
By AMOR TOWLES
Published by VIKING
Towles’s new novel, which is full of dark mischief and humor, is also an old-fashioned historical fiction among this season’s bounty of BIG books. The characters are two midwestern brothers who have been recently orphaned. Eighteen-year-old Emmett is just out of reform school and has promised to take his eight-year-old brother on a road trip to California to find their fortunes. But events take a turn for the East, as they leave 1950s Nebraska for New York via America’s first continental highway. Full of terrific atmosphere, memorable characters, and alternating storytellers, I highly recommend you accompany these brothers on their adventure..
By JOHN LE CARRÉ
Published by VIKING
If you are not already a devoted fan there are of course earlier books to start with, but this final le Carré installment (with an afterword by his son Nick Cornwell, who edited the book after his father passed away in 2020) is really outstanding. Like his last novel, Agent Running in the Field, it focuses on disenchanted spies. It stars an English bookseller and a Polish emigré. Their entanglements, as usual, keep the reader guessing about who is the agent or the double agent, and how bureaucracy undermines the players’ intentions. It reminds us of the author’s great talent to raise the bar of espionage fiction into the realm of high literature.