March 4, 2023
March brings in an array of superb voices and perspectives. You’ll discover (or revisit) writers from New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, and Japan, along with a necessary anthology of essays about the craft of writing from the non-white experience.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
By Eleanor Catton
Published by FSG
A morality tale about the corruptive power of money featuring a group of environmental do-gooders at Birnam Wood, a gardening collective on the brink of financial ruin—oops, I don’t want to spoil the terrific plot of Catton’s (The Luminaries, the 2013 Booker Prize winner) new novel set in the lush forests of New Zealand’s South Island. She draws excellent psychological portraits of her characters in this clash of greed and idealism. With elements of a page-turning crime novel, it also pays homage to Shakespeare in the characters of Lord and Lady Darvish, whose ambition and avarice lead inexorably to a tragedy not unlike the Macbeths’.
Old Babes in the Wood
By Margaret Atwood
Published by Doubleday
Atwood’s (Handmaid’s Tale) recent novels stand firmly in the dystopian genre, but her short stories remain my favorite for their range and deep examinations of character. This new collection has all the hallmarks of her gifts: a slyly comic attitude matched with scintillating prose. The ‘old babes’ of the title star in several pieces—especially Nell and Tig who are dealing with aging. In “Widows” Nell writes (and rewrites) a letter after her beloved Tig has died: “Sorry. I’m becoming cranky about language, a thing you don’t do unless you’re past a certain age.” That playful crankiness is another hallmark of these memorable, evocative stories that will often floor you..
The Gospel of Orla
By Eoghan Walls
Published by Seven Stories Press
Fearless, grieving, and lonely, Orla is a 14-year-old English girl who longs to run away from home, perhaps to Ireland where her sister lives. Her father is a well-meaning drunk and her mother recently died. Thank goodness for her baby sister, whom she adores. A tough tomboy, Orla manages to escape by bicycle and picks up another lost soul—a tall, filthy man who calls himself Jesus and can bring animals back from the dead. Their journey is a road trip wonder. Orla is an appealing protagonist who will amuse you, bring out the parent in you, and make you believe in both vampires and miracles.
The Flowers of Buffoonery
By Osamu Dazai
Published by New Directions
Dazai was a Japanese writer, born into wealth, who died young by his own hand with his lover in 1948. Hailed by Patti Smith as an ‘aristocratic tramp,’ his hugely successful novel No Longer Human (coming out in a new edition this summer and also available in a manga edition) introduced protagonist Oba, whose feelings of failure and shame paralleled Dazai’s own life. The Flowers of Buffoonery, set in a prewar-Japan sanitorium following Oba’s failed suicide attempt, is a prequel to that novel—as poignant as and more mordantly funny than its predecessor. Get both to experience the full dazzle of Dazai’s short-lived talent..
Letters to a Writer of Color
By Edited by Deepa Anappara & Taymour Soomro
Published by Random House
There are many standouts among the 17 pieces in this fantastic collection of essays on the craft of writing from the perspectives of writers of color. Kiese Laymon’s raw and brutal “On the Second Person” is a gem, speaking to the heartbreak and self-doubt that can be a part of the publishing process, and in deciding who you want to write for. Tiphanie Yanique’s “On Character” explores the need to develop the often-contradictory exterior and interior lives of your characters. Each essay ends with suggested reading—an excellent bibliography from contributors with diverse backgrounds (Indian, Black American, Chinese British, African, Pakistani among them) to inspire writers everywhere.