April 17, 2021
In Brooklyn and Harlem, London and Pakistan, as well as various unnamed locations, these writers combine the personal, psychological and political in their novels. Despite a wide range of writing styles, all of these authors root around in their characters’ psyches to reveal profound truths. That facility, beyond the well-plotted stories, gives a particular richness to this selection.
Buyer, Center for Fiction Bookstore
The Man Who Lived Underground
By Richard Wright
Published by Library of America
Wright’s unpublished novel from the 40s is an exciting addition to his literary legacy and strikingly resonant today. It begins with a horrific scene of a forced murder confession (that may have led to Harper’s decision to decline publication at the time—the story followed the successful Native Son.) After a slippery escape from custody, Fred Daniels slides under a manhole and there begins his underground existence beneath the borough of Brooklyn. The powerful story was anthologized, but here it is published in full with Wright’s accompanying essay, and an afterword by his grandson, Malcolm Wright.
By Fiona Mozley
Published by Algonquin Books
London’s Soho is the setting for Mozely’s follow-up to her Booker Prize finalist novel Elmet. From the opening scene (following a snail, in danger of becoming garlicky escargot, as it escapes from a French bistro) we get a capsule history of the neighborhood on the brink of change. The long-standing brothel, run by Precious and Tabitha, above the long-established restaurant, is in danger of being replaced with condos by its millionaire owner. Mozley’s wonderfully raucous novel, peopled with an array of colorful characters, and her take on class, money and sex, is irresistible..
Are You Enjoying?
By Mira Sethi
Published by Knopf
We leave London for Pakistan with Sethi’s first collection of connected stories. Populated with actors, politicians, journalists, and religious radicals, relationships and affairs abound. The author, also an actress, had a role in a popular TV series, the Pakistani romantic thriller Yeh Dil Mera. Her experiences inform some of the material herein—as in the story “Breezy Blessings,” which reveals the cold reality of how young actresses can be (mis)treated. Part of Sethi’s appeal lies in her ability to portray the dark side of life with a gentle hand.
By J Robert Lennon
Published by Graywolf Press
A new book by Lennon is always a happy occasion but this month we get two: a novel and a story collection. The author, who started publishing fiction over twenty years ago, is also an accomplished musician who often explores a slightly skewed world. In the novel Subdivision, the guest house where the narrator with a mysterious past arrives is filled with unnerving denizens and events. In the story “The Loop” (from the new collection Let Me Think), a woman who works for a moving company describes one day that seems destined to be endlessly recycled. With this sense of dislocation, Lennon uncovers his characters’ emotions with a trademark surreal sense of humor..
By Morgan Jerkins
Published by Harper
A caul, the extra layer of skin some babies are born with, has been thought since medieval times to have healing, protective powers and to bring good luck. In Jerkins’s first novel (after her recent memoir) she includes an epigraph by Tina McElroy Ansa, whose 1989 Baby of the Family is the first fiction I read about the caul. Jerkins sets her story amidst a Harlem community where a powerful local family is rumored to use the magical powers of the caul to help protect pregnancy. It’s a fascinating tradition to build a book around and she skillfully examines the heartbreak of miscarriage, the issues of adoptive and biological relationships, and the folklore that has been passed down through the generations.