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 4/18/17.

LaRose (9780062277039) by Louse Erdrich. $15.99 paperback. 4/18/17 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.

Book of the Week: The Hearts of Men – Nickolas Butler

Butler’s last book, Shotgun Lovesongs, made a huge splash in the Indie market. A heartfelt exploration of the inner lives and public fortunes of four Midwestern friends, it was a #1 Indie Next Pick and won a number of awards including France’s Prix Page/America, the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award, and the Great Lakes Great Reads Award. Fans of that book will not be disappointed by this new novel which continues Butler’s exploration of small town Midwestern life and male relationships in particular. The Hearts of Men begins at a Wisconsin Boy Scout camp in 1962 and follows the life of Nelson Doughty and his popular friend Thomas from a traumatic hazing that forges their relationship and through the next sixty years. The Hearts of Men arrives with three starred advance reviews and is both a March Indie Next and LibraryReads pick. It has already been covered on NPR’s All Things Considered and Butler will be interviewed by NPR’s Lynn Neary at on sale. National reviews are already scheduled in the NYTBR, People and USA Today.

 “Butler returns to rural Wisconsin in this big-hearted epic full of sturdy characters that wear their hearts—and pride—on their sleeves. Told in four parts… [it] follows three generations struggling to find their place in a world bent on dealing them a bad hand. In the first section, 13-year-old social outcast Nelson finds little comfort as the camp’s bullied bugler while dealing with conflicted feelings about his abusive father. A tentative friendship formed with cocky older Jonathan saves Nelson’s hide more than once while also demonstrating the limits of just how much Jonathan can give…. In a fiery conclusion, Nelson and Jonathan reunite after more than 20 years….Butler demonstrates enormous command over the material and sympathy for his flawed characters. This beautiful novel might be his best yet.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Across three generations and as many wars, this earnest novel explores the ways boys become men and how even flawed men may stand as models for the young… A well-paced, affecting read.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review) “Butler’s latest delves into the meaning of loyalty and friendship, how some rise to life’s challenges while others fail… Fans of Butler’s award-winning Shotgun Lovesongs will welcome this impressive work with an outstanding ensemble cast. Top of the class for Butler on this one.”
Library Journal (starred review)

“Butler achieves a rare triple play here of brilliant characterizations, a riveting story line, and superlatively measured prose, putting him in the front ranks of contemporary American writers of literary fiction.”
— Booklist  

“The Boy Scouts at Wisconsin’s summer Camp Chippewa practice their knot tying every morning at reveille. The knot that they don’t practice is the one that will bind four generations of Chippewa’s scouts to each other through wars and family upheaval. The cruelty of bully campers, the surprising loyalty of lightly made friends, the feckless absent fathers, the lonely heroism of soldiers and their mothers–the patterns repeat, each family generation sharing some of the blame, some of the glory….I was completely won over by Butler’s novel. The movie plays in my head. An original coming of age novel that deserves a place alongside of A Separate Peace.”
— Carla Bayha, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

“I’m a big Nickolas Butler fan. This is by far his darkest work. That said, this is a wonderfully crafted novel. I think Nicholas Butler is extremely good at writing in such a way that you can identify with all the characters in his books. This book, like Shotgun Lovesongs, alternates between several character’s point of view while following a delicate main thread. Loved it!”
— Tim Smith, Schuler Books & Music, Grand Rapids, MI

The Hearts of Men (9780062469687) by Nickolas Butler. $26.99 hardcover. 3/7/17 on sale.

New Fiction: A Book of American Martyrs – Joyce Carol Oates

As I sat in a Delta gate area today watching coverage of the Women’s March and marches all over the country just a day after an Inauguration that made some on the Right literally shed tears of joy, I realized that Ms. Oates is once again publishing into the zeitgeist with this major new novel. Editor Daniel Halpern calls A Book of American Martyrs “a powerful, timely, and important story of wide-ranging scope…. At a moment when our country is painfully reckoning with the consequences of violence and hatred, this nuanced, insightful portrait feels necessary and urgent.”

It’s the story of two men—an abortion provider and the man who kills him. It’s also the story of their families and by extension of a divided America and its legacy of violence.

Booklist gives it a starred review. The book is already scheduled for coverage on NPR’s All Things Considered and we expect major review attention.

“Oates often channels the inner voices of psychopaths, with morbid fascination modulating into empathy. In this robust, relentless, inquisitive, and astutely balanced novel of social conflict, Oates portrays with unfailing nuance two troubled men on the opposite sides of the ever-fraught abortion-rights debate after roofer Luther Dunphy murders Dr. Gus Voorhees outside a women’s clinic in a small Ohio town in 1999. With searing specificity, Oates unspools Luther’s grim backstory and illuminates Gus’ complicated choice to put conviction and work before family and personal safety….But Oates also ventures into the dark consequences of sexism and the horrors of capital punishment as she follows the lives of the bereft Dunphy and Voorhees families over the years, ultimately homing in on two daughters coping with anguish …. [Oates] dramatizes the complex motivations and meanings of martyrdom both sought and unintentional, while seeking understanding and sympathy for all.”
Booklist (starred review)

In this chilling novel, bestselling author Oates approaches one of America’s enduringly divisive topics through the lens of a sprawling family epic…[Her] sprawling tale presents a sensitively painted portrait of the inextricable quality of grief and the weight of family legacy, showing how unexpected connections can bind people together in counterintuitive ways.”
Publishers Weekly

“I’ll be honest: in all my years of selling books, I had never read anything by Joyce Carol Oates.  As I sit here in my sublime book-hangover, I can’t believe I waited this long to find my way to reading what Oates has given to the literary world. I’m not sure I can write a review worthy enough to express how this raw and striking tale of two families is told. An exquisite portrait of one most provocative topics of our time told with unexpected and deep intimacy.”
— Shannon Alden, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

A Book of American Martyrs (9780062643049) by Joyce Carol Oates. $29.99 hardcover. 2/7/17 on sale.

 

Book of the Week: Perfect Little World – Kevin Wilson

Let me preface this review by saying readers love Kevin Wilson. Over the last five years a season has rarely gone by that a bookseller hasn’t asked when the author of the The Family Fang has a new book coming. That novel was the story of a brother and sister who grew up as participants in their parents’ performance art. Both hilarious and wise, Entertainment Weekly compared that book to George Saunders and Wes Anderson. If you haven’t yet read it, treat yourself to The Family Fang after you read this new one.

Both books successfully and movingly explore the idea of family. Perfect Little World has, in some ways, an even more outlandish set up than Wilson’s last book. The setting is a utopian experiment in collective child-rearing involving 19 parents and 10 children. Tara Bagnola at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor explains the resulting combination of charm and gravitas that Wilson is able to conjure:

Until finishing this book I hadn’t realized how odd it felt to read a story with a happy ending and actually feel gratified. However, Wilson does more than tell a wonderful story with a happy ending. He captures, with an expert kind of grace, the paradoxical, heart-breaking, life-saving power of family — the ones we are born into and the ones we create for ourselves.”

With this book I think I can now say Wilson’s got a signature style: sweet, funny, wise–emotionally generous and completely disarming.

Perfect Little World arrives with an Indie Next Pick, two starred advance reviews and major review coverage scheduled in the NYTBR, People, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly and Vanity Fair.

“Persistently compassionate….Wilson’s best moments are funny and earnest…. [His] crisp language and smart plotting make Perfect Little World immensely likable and absolutely enjoyable.”
GQ

“[A] sweet and thoroughly satisfying second novel. When bright high school senior Izzy Poole, whose mother has died and whose alcoholic father ignores her, discovers that she is pregnant…[she joins] nine other couples, all pregnant at the same time, who will raise their kids in common in the Infinite Family Project for 10 years, to see if that situation aids the children’s emotional and intellectual development. The children thrive; the adults, not so much. Wilson keeps his eye on the grown-ups…as rifts begin to form in the carefully planned and maintained structure. Wilson grounds his premise in credible human motivations and behavior, resulting in a memorable cast of characters. He uses his intriguing premise to explore the meaning of family and the limits of rational decision making.”
Publishers Weekly

Stellar….Compelling. …Realer and wiser and sadder and eventually reassuring about human nature than dozens of other novels.”
   — Booklist (starred review)

“Bittersweet….Wilson delves into the drama and tensions inherent in this strange aquarium….A moving and sincere reflection on what it truly means to be a family.”
   — Kirkus (starred review)

“There’s nothing like watching a cast of characters grow up in front of your eyes, each passing year making each person both more and less knowable, until you are as attuned to their individual changes as to the waxing and waning of your own understanding, delight, and frustration with them. With Kevin Wilson’s latest, Perfect Little World, such character growth is nearly steroidal as we are presented with not only a cast of ten babies, but also ten pairs of parents, all living together in pursuit of a revolutionary child psychology experiment created by Dr. Preston Grind. Under such extreme circumstances, impossible to imagine yet, under Wilson’s meticulous hand, compellingly and magically easy to believe, we follow Isabelle Poole, the only single mother involved in the Infinite Family project, as she tries to stitch together a family out of total strangers. Wilson, as author, is the true parent of this brood of squalling characters, and he treats them each like a good parent might, with watchful love, never blind to their flaws but always, eventually, forgiving of them. I wished that I could live in the imperfect, larger-than-life world that is Wilson’s novel forever. I’ll settle for knowing that I can visit anytime I like.”
Lillian Li, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

“Wow, I loved this book! Wilson’s first novel, The Family Fang, showcased his prodigious talent for striking a balance between big, outrageous ideas, quirky humor, and heartfelt human drama. The same strengths have been honed even further for this amazing novel, in which a brilliant-but-academically-disinterested pregnant teen joins a project organized by an idealistic child psychologist and funded by an elderly billionaire, in which a group of ten children are raised together from birth without knowing who their parents are. Wilson’s greatest strength is his portrayal of the complexity of his characters’ feelings, particularly when faced with the unexpected. Warm, funny, satisfying, and thought-provoking, Perfect Little World is exactly what it says on the cover–perfect.”
Carol Schneck Varner. Schuler Books and Music, Okemos, MI

Perfect Little World (9780062450326) by Kevin Wilson. $26.99 hardcover. 1/24/17 on sale.