October 22, 2022
Three works of literary nonfiction are in the spotlight this week, along with a prize-winning Scandinavian writer who has been gaining a deserved wider audience here, and not one but two novels by a Pulitzer Prize winner—one of our greatest literary treasures.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
By Cormac McCarthy
Published by Knopf
Completely intrigued by the first 20 pages, I found myself happily unsure where this novel might go but abandoned myself to the pleasures of McCarthy’s prose. Bobby is a salvage diver afraid of the depths and his sister Alicia was a suicidal schizophrenic. Bobby’s first love was physics and quantum mechanics (and Alicia) before the lure of the remunerative salvage work. Their father was a brilliant physicist working at Los Alamos. And there is a mysterious sunken plane with nine dead passengers in their seats, but the tenth is missing. The scenes are gritty and visual, the philosophy profound, the energy pulsing.
December will bring a stand-alone companion novel, Stella Maris (available for pre-order) of Alicia’s conversations with her doctors in a mental hospital. McCarthy remains a master no matter what is on his mind.
Is Mother Dead
By Vigdis Hjorth
Published by Verso
Hjorth (Will and Testament) often examines the fraught relationship between mothers and daughters. Here, Johanna, a recently widowed painter, has returned to Oslo after thirty years for a retrospective of her work whose theme is motherhood itself. She has not spoken to her family since she left, not even when her father died. But lately she has been fixated on talking to her Mum, especially now that she is back home. This desire becomes an all-consuming obsession that leads to a very dark place. A psychological thriller with great literary merit, it is also a fascinating study of how one processes shame..
By Ross Gay
Published by Algonquin
As in his previous collection, The Book of Delights, Gay’s philosophical musings reinforce how expanding our sense of wonder and pleasure remains an essential component to living a good life. And he tells us: “…joy, emerging from our common sorrows…might draw us together [so] that we can consider what, in common, we love.” Whether writing about the solace of friendship, caring for the earth, pick-up basketball or combatting intolerance he remains one of our most compassionate, hopeful, and important contemporary cultural observers.
Come Back in September
By Darryl Pinckney
Published by Fsg
Pinkney’s book chronicles his literary apprenticeship at the feet of Elizabeth Hardwick, the great essayist and novelist, and Barbara Epstein who co-founded the New York Review of Books. While studying with Hardwick at Barnard he was introduced to intellectual and artistic icons of the 60s and 70s (Susan Sontag, Jean-Michel Basquiat, etc.). Hardwick told him “…the only two reasons to write were desperation or revenge.” Pinckney has gone on to pen acclaimed criticism and essays, and novels, including High Cotton, inspired by growing up in an upper middle class Black family. His coming-of-age memoir is a revealing portrait of the making of a writer..
Sister Novelists: The Trailblazing Porter Sisters, Who Paved the Way for Austen and the Brontës
By Devoney Looser
Published by Fsg
Brontë devotees will delight in this enlightening double biography. You might think you know the most famous sisters in literary history but the Porter girls, in their heyday, were equally acclaimed and read beginning in 1793. Thanks to Looser, whose previous book explored Jane Austen’s rise to fame, for unearthing their story and bringing them back into the light. Their lives actually read like an Austen novel—lost family fortunes and romantic entanglements, the whirl of society among the rich upper classes from early country life in England and Scotland. Despite Anna Maria and Jane’s extraordinary success (26 novels), their fiction is mostly unavailable today (are you listening NYRB?).