February 20, 2021
The books this week have little in common except the brilliant range of their visions and the certainty that the authors are writing at the height of their powers. They range from Nigerian tales, to a debut novel by a memoirist, to an anthology of desire, to a Polish graphic novel, to irresistible domestic fiction, and finally a sweeping life in the theater by one of our finest biographers.
Buyer, Center for Fiction Bookstore
Prayer for the Living
By Ben Okri
Published by Akashic Books
I’ve been reading Okri since his magisterial novel The Famished Road won the Booker Prize in 1991, and it is a pleasure to revisit this Nigerian writer’s prose in his new collection of short fiction. These stories are set around the globe but share often-used themes, mixing the political, mythological, mystical, dystopian, and African folktales. Okri has said he likes to write “stories in which strangeness blurs the real,” and he does so beautifully. An extra treat: listen to him read one of the stories, “A Wrinkle in the Realm” (a rather perfect title that could be used for much of his work) on the New Yorker podcast “The Author’s Voice.”
No One Is Talking About This
By Patricia Lockwood
Published by Riverhead Books
Actually, everyone in the book industry is talking about this novel, and rightly so. Lockwood’s debut fiction—after many published poems, essays, the memoir Priestdaddy about her Catholic upbringing, and a huge Twitter following—is as weird and fresh as her own life. Mining autobiographical material she juxtaposes virtual life on the internet with the jolt of real life—including health disasters of her family and herself. Her work manages to balance traumatic experiences with a wicked playfulness. Lockwood is fast becoming one of America’s most important humorists. Here her Midwestern childhood ambitions to become a writer are fully realized..
By R.O. Kwon & Garth Greenwell (Editors)
Published by Simon & Schuster
A stellar collection of writers have contributed to the new and immediately brisk-selling anthology, Kink. Editors Kwon (The Incendiaries) and Greenwell (Cleanness, just out in paperback) have gathered the talents of Alexander Chee, Roxanne Gay, Chris Krauss, Carmen Maria Machado, and Brandon Taylor (whose story “Oh, Youth” is a standout) to name a few. Within these pages you’ll find essential reading for anyone looking for expression of the diversity of sexual love and longing. This is sex writing at its best, exploring desire in all its facets, like a stick of dynamite, raising the bar for kink to come.
The Lost Soul
By OLGA TOKARCZUK
Published by SEVEN STORIES PRESS
Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Illustrated by Joanna Concejo
The Nobel Prize-winning author of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead has penned a lovely tale that is particularly resonant for today’s world. As more and more readers gravitate toward poetry and self-care here is a graphic novel that brings together delicate pen-and-ink illustrations with the text about one man’s search for relief from the world’s chaos. Touching upon the value of meditation and patience, and the lessons of the natural world, Tokarczuk’s book can be enjoyed by readers of any age. Winner of the Bologna Ragazzi Award in 2018 for children’s illustrated literature..
By Ali Benjamin
Published by Random House
The Fromes, a family on the brink, have fled urban Brooklyn to live in rural Massachusetts. Ethan is souring on his remote work with the company he founded; Zo (Zenobia) has gone down the rabbit hole of women’s political activism; and Alex is a hyperactive, privileged teen with impulse control issues and a live-in babysitter who could spell trouble (hello, Edith Wharton). Watching this family hurtle toward a reckoning is a thrill, and heartbreaking at times. Benjamin’s novel is wise about marriage and childrearing, and about people just trying to live in the world and still be good. I totally adored this book, her first for adults.
Tom Stoppard: A Life
By Hermione Lee
Published by Knopf
One might assume, from his philosophically and psychologically complex plays, that this brilliant playwright lives primarily in his head. But Stoppard has had a very rich exterior life as well—hundreds of friends, a few marriages, and those affairs. Fleeing Czechoslovakia in childhood, immigrating to England, the award-winning plays (Arcadia is my favorite), screenplays (Shakespeare in Love), and good gossip fill this indispensable tome. Dame Hermione Lee has successfully tackled formidable women writers—Woolf, Cather, Wharton—and here she illuminates the plays as well as the emotional life of her first male (and living) subject. Luckily for Stoppard he can enjoy the experience as well..