Book of the Week: Bad Dreams and Other Stories – Tessa Hadley

Elizabeth Strout. Alice Munro. Marilyn Robinson. This elite club of writers creates a small miracle with their exquisite, economical prose. I never ceased to be amazed by their ability to look behind the quotidian dailiness of peoples’ lives (mostly women’s) and unfurl for us a vast star map of the human heart.

Anyone who has read Tessa Hadley will add her to the top of this list. Hadley finally broke out in the U.S. with her bestselling novel, The Past, which the Washington Post compared to Anne Tyler and Alice Munro, noting that “the book offers similar deep pleasures. Like those North American masters of the domestic realm, Hadley crystallizes the atmosphere of ordinary life in prose somehow miraculous and natural…. Extraordinary.”

Lily King commented:

Few writers have been as important to me as Tessa Hadley. She puts on paper a consciousness so visceral, so fully realized, it heightens and expands your own. She is a true master, and The Past is a big, brilliant novel: sensual, wise, compelling—and utterly magnificent.”

As good as the novel is, I think Hadley is at her very best with the short stories. (The New Yorker has published 22.) She always seems able to lever the constraints of the shorter form in an exhilarating way. In her 2014 novel, Clever Girl, interlinked stories accrued in discreet story-like chapters to create the story of one woman’s life in the later 20th century. It’s easily the peer of the remarkable Olive Kitteridge and, like that book, remains one of the my most rewarding reading experiences.

So, this new collection from Hadley is a very happy event—and already has two starred advance reviews. I expect it to be reviewed widely.

Young women and girls take the measure of themselves in Hadley’s remarkably precise and perceptive collection of short stories, set in the middle-class Britain of the 1950s and ’60s and in the present day. Chance encounters disrupt the punctiliously observed rituals of daily life, often leading to a lifetime of consequence for Hadley’s characters…. In subtly insightful and observant prose, Hadley writes brilliantly of the words and gestures that pass unnoticed “in the intensity of [the] present” but echo without cease.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Quietly explosive short stories that reveal, with unsparing precision, the epic drama simmering beneath the mundanity of everyday life…. Achingly lovely, though never sentimental, Hadley’s collection renders common lives with exquisite grace.”
Kirkus (starred review)

Bad Dreams and Other Stories (9780062476661) by Tessa Hadley. $26.99 hardcover. 5/16/17 on sale.

New Fiction: Sycamore – Bryn Chancellor

This very assured literary debut marries the uncovering of the decades-old secret behind a teenage girl’s disappearance with the effect that disappearance has on a small Arizona community. Told in multiple voices, what could have been just another “disappearing girl whodunit” instead becomes a character study in grief, secrets and reconciliation. PW calls it “riveting” and I’ve had several early readers rave, one even texting me that it left her in tears.

It’s a LibraryReads Top 10 Pick for May and received two starred advance reviews.

In this riveting first novel, 17-year-old Jess Winters, a recent transplant to Sycamore, Ariz., disappears one night in 1991, leaving behind a jagged hole in the community. Eighteen years later, Laura Drennan, a new professor at Sycamore College, goes hiking and accidentally discovers human bones in a dry streambed near the campus. Word quickly spreads, and the entire town wonders if Jess’s remains have been discovered. As speculation runs high, we meet the former friends, classmates, neighbors, and teachers who continue to be haunted by Jess’s absence. They include her still-grieving mother…. There are also flashbacks, which ultimately reveal what happened to Jess on that fatal night. This is a movingly written, multivoiced novel…. The author ends her novel with a transporting vision of community, connection, and forgiveness.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 “A meaty, suspenseful debut.”
Booklist

“Haunting and elegiac, Bryn Chancellor’s Sycamore masterfully traces the fault lines of trauma and loss that resurface in the wake of a tragedy’s second coming. Chancellor’s multivocal narrative brims with intelligence and insight, and her subtle writing poignantly illuminates the ways in which we are sometimes bound, for better and for worse, by a collective sorrow.”
— Claire Vaye Watkins

“This deeply moving story, which could have easily veered towards melodrama and sentimentalism, explores the fateful events that led to Jess’s disappearance and slowly reveals the mistakes, secrets and regrets but also the humanity and good that resides in each of the characters. Heart-wrenching and compassionate in the manner of Kent Haruf’s stories, this is a flawless first novel.
—  Pierre Camy, Schuler Books & Music, Grand Rapids, MI

Sycamore (9780062661098) by Bryn Chancellor. $26.99 hardcover. 5/9/17 on sale.

Book of the Week: The Book of Joan – Lidia Yuknavitch

This morning I was contemplating the difference between “speculative fiction” and “science fiction.” For fans of realistic fiction, the distinction may seem a quibble–both deal with imagined worlds, maybe focusing on space, maybe the future, maybe technology, maybe aliens…. Whatever.

But I’d argue that “speculative fiction” uses the fantastical to draw attention to cultural and social challenges in the real world. And in the last decade I feel like I’ve seen more and more “literary” writers embracing speculative fiction to address cultural anxieties over issues such as class, technology, authoritarianism, religion and climate degradation.

Familiar bestselling-examples in recent years include Karen Walker Thompson’s moving novel about coming of age at the end of the world, Age of Miracles, and Tom Perotta’s novel The Leftovers, And the scope ranges from an intimate novel like Joshua Ferris’ The Unnamed, a haunting story about the illusion that we have control over our bodies and psyches, to sweeping scope of the book of the moment, American War. (Can’t wait to read it!) Margaret Atwood might well be the mother of this kind of novel in the contemporary era. Her 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale is over 30 years old and has never lost its unnerving currency.

Add to this body of literary speculative fiction Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Book of Joan.

Of her last book, The Small Backs of Children, the Los Angeles Review of Books wrote:

[This is] an important book…Yuknavitch’s formal and linguistic playfulness, and her insistence that this experimentalism is distinctly gendered, places her in the vanguard of contemporary American writing… and places [the novel] squarely in the realm of the most accomplished experimental fiction…. Yuknavitch’s novel, like the work of the radical artists who inspire her, is difficult in the truest and best sense of the word. While male writers, such as Franzen and Marcus, remain busy debating the value and future of experimental fiction, Yuknavitch and her female peers have written their way into its canon.”

Rebecca Solnit likewise comments on the marriage of the feminist and the experimental in Yuknavitch’s work

All my youth I gloried in the wild, exulting, rollercoaster prose style and questing narratives of writers like Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, and Jack Kerouac, but cringed at the misogyny; couldn’t we have the former without the latter? It turns out we can, because: Lidia Yuknavitch. Buckle your seat belts; it’s gonna be a wild feminist ride.”

So, what about the plot? In the smallest of nutshells Yuknavitch reimagines Joan of Arc as the heroine of a ruined Earth fighting the wealthy elite who have withdrawn from Earth and live above it in a suborbital complex, leaving the rest of humanity to a grim fate. Yes…I agree it sound like a Matt Damon  sci fi movie. But as with so much that involves literature, the magic is in the telling. Check out the reviews below. Those readers who pick up Yuknavitch are in for a wild and worthy ride.

The book has already been optioned for film by the same production company working on Station Eleven (another gem of literary speculative fiction). The Book of Joan will be covered on NPR’s Weekend Edition, in Salon.com, the Washington Post, NYT and O, the Oprah Magazine at on sale.

 Earth in 2049 is ravaged…. Christine Pizan (a nod to medieval court writer Christine de Pisan), at age 49, resembles the other inhabitants of CIEL [the refuge of the wealthy]: physically androgynous, completely white “like the albumen of an egg,” and covered in scars and skin grafts. These deliberate body modifications, or ‘skinstories’, are Christine’s expertise, and they are some of the only reminders she has left of life on Earth…. Christine has seared into her body the story of Joan, a young eco-terrorist from the time of the geocatastrophe…. [Yuknavitch] writes with her characteristic fusion of poetic precision and barbed ferocity…. Perhaps even more astounding is Yuknavitch’s prescience: readers will be familiar with the figure of Jean de Men, a celebrity-turned–drone-wielding–dictator who first presided over the Wars on Earth and now lords over CIEL, having substituted ‘all gods, all ethics, and all science with the power of representation, a notion born on Earth, evolved through media and technology.’”
Kirkus Reviews

 “This ambitious novel encompasses a wide canvas to spin a captivating commentary on the hubris of humanity. An interesting blend of posthuman literary body politics and paranormal ecological transmutation; highly recommended.”
Library Journal (starred review)

Nearing her final, 50th birthday, the master graft artist Christine begins to burn the outlawed story of Joan on her body. Joan was a child warrior whose great power came from her connection to the natural …. The novel is most memorable from a thematic standpoint, particularly its insistence that “the body is a real place. A territory as vast as Earth.”
Publishers Weekly

Where humanity has driven itself to the brink of extinction, Lidia Yuknavitch finds amid the rubble an urgent yearning for hope. Brutality and love, creation and destruction, desolation and the richness of art all move through this novel with a forceful energy, translating the transcendent power of the human experience into something to be felt on a visceral level. Or, as whispered by one of our narrators, ‘Bodies are miniature renditions of the entire universe…This is what we have always been.’ The Book of Joan is an unforgettable work of speculative fiction.
— Kelsey O’Rourke, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

“A sci-fi, dystopic retelling of the Joan of Arc story, Yuknavitch’s latest feels particularly essential at this moment in history. But then, every time we read something by the immensely talented Yuknavitch, it feels particularly essential.”
— Nylon Magazine

“Riveting, ravishing, and crazy deep, The Book of Joan is as ferociously intelligent as it is heart-wrenchingly humane, as generous as it is relentless, as irresistible as it is important. In other words, it’s classic Lidia Yuknavitch: genius.”
— Cheryl Strayed

“Lidia Yuknavitch is a writer who, with each ever more triumphant book, creates a new language with which she writes the audacious stories only she can tell. The Book of Joan is a raucous celebration, a searing condemnation, and fiercely imaginative retelling of Joan of Arc’s transcendent life.”
— Roxane Gay

The Book of Joan (9780062383273) by Lidia Yuknavitch. $26.99 hardcover. 4/18/17 on sale.

Book of the Week: The Women in the Castle – Jessica Shattuck

In a season of very good books, I’d argue this is the most important novel we’ll publish this spring. It’s the story of three German women in the impoverished aftermath of WWII, coming to terms with their lives, their country, and what has been done in their names. Haunting, cautionary…a terrific read.

From the day the manuscript started circulating in-house, people were talking about it. And that has continued through the early reads. I’ve rarely gotten so much feedback and so many bookseller nominations for Indie Next. (It’s next month’s #1 pick.)

Part of what makes the novel so compelling is that it’s hard to read The Women in the Castle in 2017 America and not feel a little shiver of familiarity in this story of everyday people being seduced by an authoritarian government that promises greatness again while delivering a great evil in which all are eventually complicit.

Author Jessica Shattuck’s grandparents were Nazis during WWII and she wrote recently about how that experience informed this novel:

My grandmother heard what she wanted from a strong leader who promised simple answers to complicated questions. She chose not to hear and see the monstrous sum those answers added up to. And she lived the rest of her life with the knowledge of her indefensible complicity. But in her willingness to talk about a subject few members of her generation would, she taught me the vital importance of knowing better.”

The book is not a simple polemic, though. Its deep literary satisfaction lies in the personal stories of three women rebuilding their lives after the war. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, author of last year’s blockbuster, The Nest, comments that:

Shattuck’s arresting novel focuses on three very different women who are forced to rely on one another as they attempt to survive the past and reclaim hope. The writing is magnificent, as is Shattuck’s ability to render unimaginable circumstances with tremendous clarity and compassion. A joy to read, this is a beautiful and important book.”

The Women in the Castle is set to be covered everywhere, starting with NPR’s Weekend Edition, NYTBR, Washington Post, USA Today, NY Post, Parade, Boston Globe, Marie Claire and O, The Oprah Magazine. Along with being the #1 Indie Next Pick for April, it is a LibraryReads Pick and Book Page has selected it as its top pick for April.

Don’t miss this one. It’s a beautiful and important book.

“Shattuck explores the lives of three widows at the tail end of World War II in this redemptive tale…. As new chapters in their lives are written, the women come to rely on each other as a makeshift family—much as the entire country, reeling after the horrors of the war, must imagine a new future and forge a new identity. Shattuck’s latest has an intricately woven narrative with frequent plot twists that will shock and please. The quotidian focus of the story, falling on the period just after the war, provides a unique glimpse into what the average German was and was not aware of during World War II’s darkest months. Shattuck’s own German heritage and knack for historical details adds to the realism of the tale. A beautiful story of survival, love, and forgiveness.”
 Publishers Weekly

In this primer about how evil invades then corrupts normal existence, Shattuck delivers simple, stark lessons on personal responsibility and morality… Neither romantic nor heroic, Shattuck’s new novel seems atypical of current World War II fiction but makes sincere, evocative use of family history to explore complicity and the long arc of individual responses to a mass crime.”
Kirkus Reviews

 “The reader is fully immersed in the experiences of these women, the choices they make, and the burdens they carry.  Shattuck has crafted a rich, potent, fluently written tale of endurance and survival.”
 Booklist (starred review)

 “Men wreak the havoc of war and women are left to manage the postwar mayhem…. Jessica Shattuck brilliantly takes on the struggles of three women in postwar Germany, wives of resistors who are brought together to live in a crumbling castle by the well-meaning but imperious Marianne von Lingenfels.   The women Marianne brings to her castle carry dark secrets and dreams for better lives for themselves and their children while struggling to come to terms with what it took to survive the war.
–  Cathy Langer, Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, CO

This is a beautifully written and moving book about three very different, strong, flawed women set in Germany before, during, and after World War II. The combined perspectives of Marianne, Benita, and Ania offer a fascinating glimpse into a time and place in history where people’s morals seemed broken, and where forgiveness was desperately needed but hard to come by. I loved every moment of this heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful book!”
–  Stephanie Schindhelm, Boulder Book Store, Boulder, CO

 “[This] will be at the top of my 2017 list of great books.  This is a WWII novel, but it is not about Nazis or concentration camps, rather Germans who couldn’t believe what they were seeing, who endured hardships and watched their families disappear.  Shattuck shows us this unique point of view through three German women of differing backgrounds.  Her prose is wonderful and the variance in voice is outstanding.  I found this moving, engaging and recent parallels chilling and thought provoking.”
 Karin Barker, The Bookworm of Edwards, Edwards, CO

“A gripping, sweeping story about the devastation of war and the resilience of human dignity, Women in the Castle is not to be missed. Jessica Shattuck has created three daring, empathetic, and deeply flawed women who witnessed the rise of the Nazi Party and, in some cases, fell sway to its perverse propaganda. Under the rule of a barbaric regime, and in the painful aftermath after its collapse, Marianne, Benita, and Ania must determine where their loyalties lie, and whether to accept the horrifying truths of Germany’s crimes or hide behind willful ignorance. Full of vivid detail about women’s lives in WWII Germany, I could not stop reading this book.”
  Maggie Kane, Between the Covers, Harbor Springs, MI

“[A] powerful story of how three widows of German war resisters coped in the aftermath of their husbands’ deaths. With a completely unique perspective the author has created an immersive and thought provoking story. I hesitate to say a novel about this difficult time is a really good read…but this one definitely is…. There is a sensitivity and grace to Shattuck’s writing which I found powerful and deeply moving. Ultimately this is a tale of struggle, complicated relationships, loyalty and reconciliation.”
– Sharon Gambin, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

The Women in the Castle (9780062563668) by Jessica Shattuck. $26.99 hardcover. 3/28/17 one day laydown.

Fiction Short Take: No One is Coming to Save Us – Stephanie Powell Watts

Absolutely terrific advance praise for this reinterpretation of The Great Gatsby set in an African American community in North Carolina.

 Along with the great advance reviews, on sale coverage is coming in NYTBR, USA, Today, the AP and Washington Post, O, The Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire and Essence. It’s also the cover story of the April issue of BookPage.

“In her patient yet rich first novel, a Great Gatsby reboot, Watts digs deep into the wounds of a down-and-out African-American family in the contemporary South…. [I]t hits home—and hard. Watts powerfully depicts the struggles many Americans face trying to overcome life’s inevitable disappointments. But it’s the compassion she feels for her characters’ vulnerability and desires— J.J.’s belief that he and Ava can work, Ava’s ache for a family, Sylvia’s wish to be seen and loved—that make the story so relevant and memorable.”
Publishers Weekly

The Great Gatsby is revived in an accomplished debut novel. Winner of a Pushcart Prize and other awards for her short fiction, Watts spins a compelling tale of obsessive love and dashed dreams set in a struggling North Carolina town. … Watts creates tender, sympathetic portraits of her two main characters, women enveloped in grief… Watts’ gently told story, like Fitzgerald’s, is only superficially about money but more acutely about the urgent, inexplicable needs that shape a life.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“[Stephanie Powell Watts] explores The Great Gatsby’s themes of yearning, loss, hope, and disillusion in her powerhouse debut novel…. Watts’ lyrical writing and seamless floating between characters’ viewpoints make for a harmonious narrative chorus. This feels like an important, largely missing part of our ongoing American story. Ultimately, Watts offers a human tale of resilience and the universally understood drive to hang on and do whatever it takes to save oneself.”
Booklist

“Watts’ retelling is smart, unsettling, at times hilarious, and a wonderful update to this classic American novel.”
Nylon

No One Is Coming to Save Us (9780062472984) by Stephanie Powell Watts. $26.99 hardcover. 4/4/17 on sale.

Publicity: LaRose Wins the NBCC Award

Thirty years after Erdrich won the National Book Critics Circle Award for her debut novel, Love Medicine, she has won it again this year for LaRose, based on a true story she heard about a man who accidentally shot a boy and then gave up his own son to be raised by the grieving parents.

As a result, the paperback publication date has been moved up to 4/11/17.

LaRose (9780062277039) by Louse Erdrich. $15.99 paperback. 4/11/17 on sale.

 

New Trade Paper Fiction: Their Finest – Lissa Evans

This one’s already on sale but don’t let it slip past you like I just did–you want this out on display.

From the author of the Indie favorite Crooked Heart comes another charming WWII tale. Their Finest tells the story of a group of misfits pressed into service making propaganda film for the British war effort. Easily as winning as its predecessor, Their Finest also has the same literary cred as the previous book–both were longlisted for the Orange Prize.

Their Finest also releases as a movie in the U.S. on April 7th starring Bill Nighy, Gemma Arterton and Sam Claflin. Check out the trailer below; you’ve got customers for this story.

This is a comic novel, but far warmer in tone and broader in scope than that label would suggest…. Gloriously observed…Hilliard is a wonderful creation—and Evans’s recreated propaganda scripts are a total joy. Delicious.”
Times (London)

Their Finest (9780062414915) by Lissa Evans. $15.99 trade paper original. 2/14/17 on sale.