October 2, 2021
The books here are stories about attachments—to family, to ourselves, and to the world. They include a meticulous examination of one family as it quietly implodes; a novel about a dead father; one about a newly discovered living father; a chorus of shared lives devastated by natural disaster; and reflections by one of our most trenchant humorists and his obsessions through eighteen years of personal journals.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
By JONATHAN FRANZEN
Published by FSG
I fell headlong into this engrossing epic of a pastor’s family as they deal with everyday domestic tragedies in Vietnam era Illinois: the father’s shameful fall from grace at his church, the unhappy mother slowly unraveling and the four children who inherited their traits, each in different ways. I don’t know how Franzen does it but, as in The Corrections, every chapter is a crystalline, discreet snapshot of the agony and ecstasy of being part of a family in modern Middle America. There’s really no one like him. Don’t be intimidated by the page count, or the fact that it is only Part 1 of a projected trilogy. Dig right in, as the Robert Johnson blues song that echoes the novel’s title plays in your head.
The Book of Form and Emptiness
By RUTH OZEKI
Published by VIKING
Ozeki, the Booker-shortlisted author of A Tale for the Time Being, is a Zen Buddhist priest in addition to her writing and teaching careers. That philosophy is evident in the way in which she takes her time telling this story. She said recently on NPR that all novels are really about relationships: “people are not independent of each other.” Her new fiction illustrates this statement with a story of a young boy who is grieving for his father and begins to hear his voice. Eight years in the making, this dazzling novel is incredibly timely in its concerns—about our consumer culture, our relationship to the natural (and supernatural) world and about how we deal with emotional pain..
What Storm, What Thunder
By MYRIAM J. A. CHANCY
Published by TIN HOUSE BOOKS
Chancy sets her story during the 2010 earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince and much of Haiti. We see the havoc wrought and how it was dealt with through the eyes of a number of characters, among them a musician taxi driver, a criminal, a mother in a home refugee camp, an accountant and an old market woman who begins this tale. Their intertwined relationships and linked lives reveal the heartbreak and tragedy of this overwhelming event, in haunting, unforgettable prose.
By CHIBUNDU ONUZO
Published by CATAPULT
In Onuzo’s (Welcome to Lagos) latest story, Anna discovers her long lost father’s diaries after her mother has died. At a crossroads (her marriage on the rocks, her daughter with a life of her own), the startling information impels her to travel from London to West Africa to track him down. Her travels are perfectly expressed by the title, meaning ‘to retrieve’ in the Akan language spoken by many in Ghana and symbolized (as on the book’s cover) by a bird both moving forward and looking back. Anna’s transformation is a tale of reattachments and coming to terms with her bi-racial background.
Watch Onuzo sing the song she wrote for the novel!.
A Carnival of Snackery
By DAVID SEDARIS
Published by LITTLE, BROWN AND COMPANY
And finally, treat yourself to Sedaris’s newest compilation. It seems like years since 2020’s ‘best of’ was released (now in paperback) and this collection (as large as the Franzen!) assembles his diaries from 2003 to 2020. It is amazing to read how the world has changed—politically and otherwise. Sedaris brings his readers guffaws as well as cringes as he observes and often skewers everything around him with that uniquely funny/dark perspective. As he says in his intro you’ll find, oddly, lots of stories about airports, mice and litter. You need to own this book.