October 30, 2021
A modern ghost story by a Pulitzer Prize-winner leads this week’s selections, followed by comic fiction about a troupe of characters in Edenic isolation during COVID, and another about isolation on an Arctic archipelago. We also have a satire about a Nigerian visitor to New York and essays about an unexpected nature-lover. The human spirit’s essential need for connection binds these books in a common theme.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
By LOUISE ERDRICH
Published by HARPER
Erdrich, the first Indigenous woman to win a Pulitzer Prize (for The Night Watchman this past July), has set her new novel in a bookshop run mostly by Native staff (the author owns a store in Minnesota.) The shop is haunted by an irritating customer who had fabricated her own roots and recently died. A formerly imprisoned bookseller becomes intent on getting to the bottom of Flora’s mysterious presence. In the aftermath of both the George Floyd murder and the ensuing pandemic that compromises the bookshop’s ability to invite customers in, Erdrich offers us another totally enthralling and timely piece of fiction, one of her best yet.
Our Country Friends
By GARY SHTEYNGART
Published by RANDOM HOUSE
Few writers have captured the behavior of people isolated in the pandemic quite as well as Russian American novelist Shteyngart. In his hilarious but tender new novel about a group of friends and acquaintances spending months in a country house together, hijinks abound. The ensemble (they seem like characters in a play or film, they are so vivid) includes the home’s owner, a writer; his high school friends; his doctor wife and their precocious child; a former student with the wink-wink name of Dee Cameron; and a handsome film star referred to as The Actor who causes this cauldron of personalities to bubble over. Their Chekhovian escapades are infectious..
New York, My Village
By UWEM AKPAN
Published by W. W. NORTON
Akpan’s (Say You’re One of Them) newest fiction features a young Nigerian writer who is invited to Manhattan by a prestigious publishing company to edit an anthology of war stories. He cautiously (and comically) navigates the contrast between his beloved home village and his New York “village”: A bathroom in his kitchen apartment! The generosity of his colleagues! But also: The challenge of communicating the tragedy of war; contending with identity politics while missing his beloved homeland. It is a beautiful lens through which to experience the highs and lows of coming to America, and the power of storytelling to bridge nations.
The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven
By NATHANIEL IAN MILLER
Published by LITTLE, BROWN AND COMPANY
Like another one of my Fall ’21 favorites (Lean Fall Stand), this is a story set in the Arctic, by a debut novelist who has had first-hand experience there. In 1916 a Swedish man goes on a quest to experience the excitement of extreme nature which results in a hermetic journey leading him to fellow travelers, human and animal. Sven is an unforgettable character and the story, initially like Krakauer’s Into the Wild, becomes a testament to endurance and love. The gorgeous landscape and the punishing conditions are a magnificent backdrop for an exploration of man’s capacity to survive and thrive..
By REBECCA SOLNIT
Published by VIKING
Solnit is one of our best essayists and I’d read anything she had to say about life. Now she rethinks the writer George Orwell with this unexpected biography—an examination of his life and passions that subverts assumptions. She reveals a happier version of the man who brought us 1984 and Animal Farm. His sheer enjoyment in parenthood and growing roses is evidence of this softer, gentler Orwell who represents a sort of kindred spirit, politically and philosophically to Solnit herself. An exploration of the delectability of flowers and the beauty of the natural world that is equally eye-opening and pleasurable to read.