September 2, 2023
Whether it’s due to growing up celebrating the Jewish New Year or from living in New York where September brings a deluge of exciting new cultural events, Labor Day always carries with it a frisson of positive anticipation. We launch our fall season at The Center celebrating a debut novel that also welcomes an actor-turned-publisher to our stage; a Dickensian novel set in the 1800s; fiction inspired by an obsession with Melville’s genius; and two novels about the Arab American experience.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
By Kim Coleman Foote
Published by Sjp Lit / Zando
From the American South in 1916 where the children picked cotton at seven (“freedom wasn’t all it was cracked up to be”), to 1989 in Coleman Hill, New Jersey, Foote has created a tapestry of three generations and two families. Their journeys comprise what the author calls, after Audre Lorde, a ‘biomythography.’ She blends personal history (over thirty family members) with the history of 20th-century Black America. These clear and powerful voices—including strong-willed, spirited women and compromised, short-lived husbands—recount traumatic experiences as well as hard-learned survival skills. Beautifully rendered, and longlisted for The Center’s First Novel Prize, it is a special treat for us as Foote was one of our Emerging Writer Fellows.
By Ghassan Zeineddine
Published by Tin House
Lebanese Americans in Dearborn, Michigan populate these ten terrific stories by a first-time writer. It is reminiscent of Antony Veasna So’s debut stories about Cambodian Americans in California. Both bring the queer immigrant experience totally alive—the distress of relocation made less traumatic by creating small communities of those who also fled their faraway homes. In “Speedoman,” set in a community center where five friends weight train, an Arab-looking stranger arrives in a tight, bulging blue Speedo causing great speculation about his identity. This and other funny and tender tales will remain in your memory for a long while..
By Zadie Smith
Published by Penguin Press
The ‘fraud’ in Smith’s new historical fiction refers to an 1871 trial that captured the imagination of all Victorian England. The two main protagonists are a bored Scottish widow and secret abolitionist who is the longtime housekeeper to her aristocratic cousin (a failing novelist and good friend to Charles Dickens); and a former slave from Jamaica. These and other real and imagined characters form the backbone of this courtroom drama that involves a suspicious claim of inheritance to a British fortune, allowing the multi-talented Smith to delve into thorny notions of truth and justice while fleshing out backstories with fascinating detail.
By Etaf Rum
Published by HarperCollins
Yara, a Palestinian immigrant, has a fraught relationship with her superstitious, conservative mother. In Rum’s powerful second novel, set in Brooklyn, Yara attempts to reconcile her complicated feelings about family, traditional expectations, and her strict upbringing. Rum states, “Writing is how I make sense of myself and my place in the world…” Yara looks for clues to her unhappiness as a wife and mother, and in her work as she struggles with a family curse, the ‘evil eye.’ When events build to a bursting point after she gets into an altercation with a racist co-worker, she is forced to reckon with her cultural identity..
By Chris Bachelder & Jeanne Habel
Published by W.W. Norton
Chris Bachelder and his wife Jeanne Habel have collaborated on a novel that is…novel. It consists mostly of considerations of Herman Melville’s life and work, his marriage, and his friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne. It is not necessary to know Moby-Dick or the other works cited (from E.M. Forster to Elizabeth Hardwick and Lauren Groff) well to appreciate the clipped prose of a woman narrator whose good, long marriage starts to feel claustrophobic during the pandemic. The couples’ ironic banter is full of the shorthand language of the long-married, creating a formally engaging and fresh piece of fiction.