January 14, 2023
Two novels in translation from Italy, indigenous crime in New Zealand, an American climate epic, and a debut of speculative fantasy make up this week’s offerings. These authors build worlds—both interior and exterior, private and public—within which you will happily lose yourself.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
Better the Blood
By Michael Bennett
Published by Atlantic Monthly Press
January reading is ripe for mysteries, and Michael Bennet has created a terrific new series with his first Hana Westerman thriller. Hana is a New Zealand Māori detective, a tough single mother tasked with solving a violent murder with echoes of a crime 160 years ago. The title (“better the blood of the innocent than no blood at all”) refers to a historical ritual of settling scores, and the serial killer she is hunting is coming very close to home. With a fresh location and captivating indigenous history and politics, this is a great beginning for Hana’s next installment.
Everything Calls for Salvation
By Daniele Mencarelli
Published by Europa Editions
Translated by Wendy Wheatley
Mencarelli’s novel won the prestigious 2020 Strega Giovani Award in Italy. The author draws upon personal experience in a mental hospital creating a poignant story of a 20-year-old man who wakes up in a ‘cuckoo’s nest’ after a psychotic breakdown. One of his roommates is catatonic, another tries to set ‘Daniele’s’ hair on fire. Now he must come to terms with his family (he was institutionalized for trying to kill his father) as he passes the sometimes harrowing but also very moving week among his unfortunate fellow patients. The author dedicates his novel to “…madmen of all times, swallowed up by the asylums of history.”.
By Stephen Markley
Published by Simon & Schuster
The world is on the brink of climate disaster in this frightening, timely story of an apocalyptic America (2013-2039). It is a broader canvas and a new genre for Markley (Ohio) but equally as stuffed with a fully-realized ensemble of characters. The lives of a socially diverse, environmentally conscious group (including an actor, a scientist, a drug addict, an eco-activist) intertwine across the country as they work to counteract the destruction of our biosphere. The author intended to and succeeds in making his latest propulsive novel “as hyper realistic as possible…” so that his readers gain “…an emotional reorientation about what the future will hold.” Buckle up.
By Alba de Céspedes
Published by Astra House
Translated by Ann Goldstein
Jhumpa Lahiri offers a fine introduction to this book by the anti-fascist Italian writer working from the 30s to her death in Paris in 1997. De Cépedes was a fascinating early feminist (her father was a President of Cuba) who faced imprisonment and whose books were banned. Her adeptly translated novel concerns a young woman in postwar Rome who secretly purchases a diary (the forbidden notebook) and whose desire to create recalls Virginia Woolf before her. In the act of putting down her thoughts, a dissatisfaction with her bourgeois family life grows and has serious repercussions for her carefully constructed domestic equanimity as a wife and mother..
Liar, Dreamer, Thief
By Maria Dong
Published by Grand Central
Katrina Kim maintains her equilibrium by living between two worlds—the actual one where she is obsessed with her secretive office co-worker, and the supernatural one. That private world is based on a children’s book about a young Korean girl who finds a fantastical spyglass that Katrina read as a ten-year old Asian American growing up in the Midwest. She tells us, “Belief is a very powerful lens; it can shape the whole world to fit.” As the real-world fixation turns to stalking, she has some life-changing realizations about herself. Blurring the lines between truth, reality, magical thinking, and imagination, it’s an extremely strong debut.