January 28, 2023
This week includes a riveting novel about a woman’s unravelling—one of my favorite books of the new year; a wildly creative novel about a Korean American basketball player; and an autobiographical reckoning by one of our most relevant practitioners of self-examination. There are also two new voices illuminating African culture and its diaspora.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
The Guest Lecture
By Martin Riker
Published by Black Cat / Grove Press
“This is the story of how I came to be here, the person I am in the place where I find myself.” Riker’s unusually clever novel takes the form of protagonist Abigail’s preparation for an upcoming lecture on the economist John Maynard Keynes. An anxious, tenure-obsessed prof, she leads the reader through a sleepless night at home as she explains Keynes’s theories, but mostly digresses and begins to come apart, ruminating on her life. It is a wonderful novel—much of Abby’s life will resonate with readers as they recall their own foibles and the rationales we make to explain and justify our lives.
By V (Formerly Eve Ensler)
Published by Bloomsbury
It is hard to believe V’s groundbreaking performance piece, The Vagina Monologues, was written 27 years ago. Since then, she has been continuously writing and performing, developing her role as an activist for change in every way. As she says in the introduction to her new memoir, this book “is about accountability and discomfort.” Her life and work remain an important model for making the personal political. Drawn from her journals, and through various essays, poems, dreams, and letters she reveals the issues that have defined her: body image, social justice, cultural awareness. She remains a brave and relevant part of the conversation..
The Sense of Wonder
By Matthew Salesses
Published by Little, Brown and Company
In his freshly original novel, Salesses (Craft in the Real World) offers up characters traversing the minefields of the Korean American experience. Won Lee, an ambitious basketball star with the NBA, is in a relationship with Carrie Kang, a film producer looking for Asian American stories. Robert Sung is the Asian American journalist covering Won’s career who has failed ambitions of his own to contend with. Won Lee stands in for so many others in the complicated, obstacle-strewn world of sports and the fickle media. Evoked is the memory of ‘Linsanity’ (Jeremy Lin) and the toxic racism against Asian Americans today. Extremely funny and biting, the novel has a pulsating heart beneath the social commentary.
Call and Response
By Gothataone Moeng
Published by Viking
In these shimmering stories, Botswana comes alive. Moeng has described the people she grew up among as having “a pragmatic collective of emotion,” where “joy and sorrow are communal.” In the charming, “The First Virginity of Gigi Kaisara,” our teenage protagonist is determined to fall in love and reinvent herself with a new name that does not reflect her superstitious upbringing. It is a perfect depiction of a young girl on the cusp of becoming a ‘knowing woman.’ In “Botalaote,” a joyous wedding approaches even as our narrator’s home is full of the sorrows of taking care of a dying aunt. This collection is an illuminating look at contemporary Botswana, full of familiar and universal longings..
By Jessica George
Published by St. Martin's Press
Of the many novels about a young woman’s search for self and independence, Jessica George’s debut is a standout. It manages to be both commercially appealing and a satisfyingly well written piece of fiction. Madeline (called Maame, which in Twi is ‘woman’) tells the story. Born of Ghanaian parents, she lives in London with her beloved father who suffers from Parkinson’s and requires a caretaker. Her often-domineering mother still goes back and forth to Ghana, making demands on Maame from afar. This uplifting novel follows her coming of age navigating dual cultures, mindless office jobs and the pursuit of romance despite all odds.