June 17, 2023
This week’s grouping includes two very different and equally compelling novels to help celebrate Pride; sensational stories that dig deep into our psyches, two of which address secret love affairs; the final installment of a series of well-loved novels; and a razor-sharp debut that reinvents the American Western.
And a note about the passing of two literary giants: This week we lost Cormac McCarthy—who garnered a Pulitzer along the way from 1965’s The Orchard Keeper to 2022’s The Passenger and Stella Maris—and the legendary Knopf editor, Robert Gottlieb, publisher extraordinaire of writers including Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, John le Carré, John Cheever, and Robert Caro (who stars with Gottlieb in the wonderful recent documentary, Turn Every Page). As the writer Pico Iyer tweeted: “May the next generation be worthy of their majesty.”
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
Return to Valetto
By Dominic Smith
Published by FSG
Smith’s 2016 The Last Painting of Sara de Vos is prized for its elevated literary sense and great storytelling. His latest takes us to the beauty of Italy and features Hugh, an academic historian who specializes in writing about abandoned towns. Valetto is an ancient Etruscan village built on volcanic tufa, now down to a mere ten residents, most of whom are Hugh’s eccentric, aging relatives. Assuming he could stay in the cottage given to him by his late mother, he arrives to find another person squatting there. It’s an enchanting tale of buried family secrets that spark fantasies of owning a little piece of Umbrian heaven.
Nineteen Claws and a Black Bird
By Agustina Bazterrica
Published by Scribner
Translated by Sarah Moses
This Argentinian writer (Tender is the Flesh) is wildly popular at The Center so I was thrilled so see a story collection arriving for summer. One finds a dentist witnessing the dentures—then the body—of a neighbor splattering on his patio in “a definitive, irreversible” suicide; another describes the murder of a prisoner as he makes a perfect ham crepe. In yet another, a man whose family legacy is to avoid tears encounters a woman who, like himself, attends the wakes of strangers. These stories, both singularly disturbing and fascinating, put all we know of life in doubt..
By Richard Ford
Published by Ecco
Many have read Ford’s four beautiful novels starring Frank Bascombe, an everyman full of human foibles and good intentions. The hero (anti-hero?) of this magnificent series (which includes The Sportswriter and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Independence Day) returns once more to complete the quintet with an emotionally poignant story of father and son. We encounter Frank with his grown son, who has been diagnosed with ALS, on a trip to Mount Rushmore. Bascombe’s story encompasses much more than just one man’s journey through life, full of joy and hardship, success and disappointment—it’s a truly indelible American portrait of a man of our time.
By K. Patrick
Published by Europa Editions
“I just had this impulse to write a horny lesbian novel,” says Patrick of their first fiction. It takes place in the always-ripe setting of a countryside English girls’ boarding school. The author says they were influenced by Violette Leduc’s 1964 feminist classic, La Batârde (just released in a nice new edition) and that they were interested in how we are shaped by desire. Their debut shares Leduc’s investigation of sensual identity during one steamy summer between the school’s matron and the headmaster’s privileged wife. Sparks fly as we contemplate how the summer will end….
By Claudia Cravens
Published by Dial Press
This rollicking debut is a refreshing queer take on the Wild West and sex workers of the late 1800s. A recent orphan, Bridget is a naïve red-haired beauty who finds herself at the Buffalo Queen brothel in Dodge City, Kansas. As she navigates between her attraction to women and her required flirtation with a deputy patron who wants to marry her, she becomes enmeshed in a revenge plot that drives the action. It’s a fast-paced read full of terrific language like her drunken father’s description of Bridget: “…no more memorable than a cracked jug or a harness with a broken strap.” American history is rarely this fun.