August 5, 2023
Three tension-filled works of fiction by highly acclaimed authors present characters and plots driven in part by racial differences and the complicated bonds of family and community. If you prefer your steamy end-of-summer reading on the creepy side, there are two devourable psychological thrillers that feature some rather unhinged female protagonists.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store
By James McBride
Published by Riverhead
McBride has set his magnificent new novel in Chicken Hill, Pennsylvania—a community made up mostly of refugees: Black southerners and Jews from Eastern Europe. His story begins with a 1970s flood that wiped out pretty much everything including a murder investigation. McBride builds portraits of these residents and how they supported one another, including the Jewish-run titular grocery that gave the Black residents credit. Add in the story of a deaf Black orphan and this rich tapestry of a particular small town in America comes vividly alive. Limited signed copies available.
By Elizabeth Acevedo
Published by Ecco
Just announced on our First Novel Prize Longlist, poet Acevedo’s first adult novel takes us into her familiar territory of Dominican American characters in New York City. In this family one sister can predict when others will die. Acevedo’s mother is one of nine sisters born in the D.R., and this novel is in part her homage to them. The “impetus to write Family Lore…is my devotion to writing my people in a way that is full of tenderness and integrity and cutting honesty.” She has succeeded greatly, filling her novel with family secrets and a bit of magic. Also available in Spanish..
By Catherine Chidgey
Published by Europa Editions
Chidgey’s new novel set in 1980s New Zealand has been compared to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. This story about a magnetic teacher begins when Justine was a 12-year-old suffering from seizures, her mother recently dead. Everyone wanted to be Mrs. Price’s pet. “We would have done anything for her.” Events take a dark turn when Mrs. Price begins to date Justine’s father and strange events at school cause a schism in Justine’s friendship with her best friend. The story becomes a novel of betrayal—but its success hinges on the reader’s growing uncertainty about truth, memory, and how reliable a narrator we have in the fascinating Justine.
By Jamel Brinkley
Published by Fsg
Brinkley, a master short-story-teller, has a new collection. We meet, among others, a college teenager back in Brooklyn for the summer who is accosted by a glamorous 40ish woman outside a museum. He thinks he’s finally going to have some romantic luck, but she turns out to be his father’s ex-mistress—upending all his assumptions and fantasies. In the title story a young man finds himself exhausted by his older sister’s dramatic behavior and becomes the only witness to her impetuous marriage to a DJ. Brinkley who has said he writes about “ordinary people” manages to make his characters—mostly young, Black New York residents—extraordinary..
How Can I Help You
By Laura Sims
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons
In 2019, acclaimed poet Sims published Looker which remained in my head for a long time. It is satisfying to discover that her new psychological thriller is as surprising and disturbing as her debut. Set in the seemingly mild world of a small-town public library, Margo, a librarian with a sketchy past, and Patricia, a wannabe novelist, square off in alternating chapters building up to a shocking ending you won’t see coming. Sims works as a reference librarian and her vivid imagination, especially in creating Margo’s secret, sinister obsession, will have you wondering the next time you visit a library (like ours at The Center?).