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Gutiérrez writes of life and activism along the borderlands between Arizona, California, and Mexico in this essay collection with a deep commitment to community, examination of self, and rejection of colonialism. Whether they’re helping a butch elder die, refilling water barrels to aid migrants on the dangerous journey across the southern border, or dressing for a friend’s wedding after a trip to see border wall prototypes, there is a deep sense of connectivity infused into these pages. The personal is very much political, without any of the triteness of a well-worn slogan. While Brown Neon is not a memoir, it still conveys a memoir-like intimacy. Gutiérrez holds nothing back. What emerges is a story of a person trying to make a difference, attempting to right so many wrongs against tough odds. An intricate love letter to people and place.
In this bracingly honest memoir, Leftwich chronicles her experiences with bullying, religious shaming, and domestic abuse. She documents her upbringing in deeply conservative Colorado Springs, which leads to a troubling marriage, to other relationships with men across Colorado, and a short-lived coupling in Hollywood, Florida. Throughout the book, Leftwich is unflinching. She has an uncanny ability as a writer to get readers to hope right alongside her, even when it seems fairly clear things will not turn out well, and her deep commitment to protecting her son shines through. This book will likely ring true for those who have lived even closer to the economic margins than paycheck to paycheck, who have been scared to leave a relationship because of fear of retaliation, or have had nothing but a drive to survive keeping them going. Despite the narrative of trauma, this is not a story of a victim. An incredible reckoning of how our past shapes our future.
In this historical novel, a struggling young doctor named Dario Asfar agrees to perform an illegal abortion for the wife of a Russian general. Though Asfar truly needs the money to support his family — and the pregnancy termination is completed safely and effectively — the transaction sets off what becomes his unquenchable hunger for wealth. From Nice to Monte Carlo to Paris, Dr. Asfar transforms from a thoughtful and skilled physician to a charlatan who preys on wealthy clients with “nervous” disorders. Haunted by a scarcity mindset from his days as a poor apprentice and by the death of his first child from starvation, he will stop at nothing to continue to accrue wealth, even as it destroys his relationships with his wife and surviving son. A historical novel that reads as a contemporary one.
In this linked collection of stories, Davis’s characters are both cruel and heartfelt, depressed and effervescent. Whether it is a high school teacher faking a cancer diagnosis that leads to a hookup or a former football player who tries to kill himself, these stories, even with their often bleak premises, zero in the deeply human condition of wanting to feel wanted, to feel loved, to have community. Gorgeously written with the kind of detail that makes readers feel like they are along for the ride in a truck with the windows down, We Were Angry cements Davis as a master of the short story.
In this remarkable debut novel, Rosemary Caldwell, a woman grappling with family violence, drifts across Rhode Island, living sometimes on the street, sometimes in a shelter, and sometimes on her own but always just on the verge of losing stability. As she makes her way through various jobs, her observations of the world, and her place in it, are both darkly perceptive and acerbically comic. In one bleakly funny moment, she laments her inability to act on her suicidal ideation as yet another failure. But when Rosemary forms an unlikely friendship with another woman who has also been traumatized, she begins to find a foothold.
At her art school in San Francisco, Joey flounders in an elective film class where she has chosen to remake the movie Rushmore, which she has not seen. It’s a project that is emblematic of her experience as a student: trying to understand something she’s never experienced before. Joey is talented at portraiture, but her working-class background puts her at odds with her peers, who are more resourced and connected than she is. As the semester unfolds, Joey’s sister goes missing, leaving Joey’s young nephew in the care of their mother, who has an alcohol addiction. Joey attends copious parties and gallery openings without letting on what’s happening in her family. Written in a bitingly funny deadpan style, Tell Me I’m an Artist speaks to readers who have wondered how to make their way.
John Curtin and Katya Symanova both live under different names than those they were born with. For John, his name change offers him a new identity after his birth family is murdered in the Holocaust — he alone survives by literally singing for his supper to Nazis. Katya is renamed by a brilliant but predatory choreographer who imagines her as a powerful prima ballerina, instead of a middle-class girl from Queens who lost her mother as a child. Under the care of a kind, secular Jewish family in Yonkers, John completes medical school. Katya achieves fame in dance but is unable to pull herself from the choreographer’s abusive grip. When they find themselves falling in love after a chance encounter, the two realize they do not have to keep their pasts buried, at least with one another. In rich detail, Three Muses offers a story that considers music, history, and what it means to live with hidden grief. A captivating novel of longing filled with two people’s quest to find a raft of hope in a sea of loss.
In this debut novel, the rural Wisconsin lake resort Eagle’s Nest is a retreat for people taking refuge from cities transformed by climate change, increasing law enforcement surveillance, and domestic terrorism. Allie and Bud choose the place as their permanent home, where they raise their daughter Cassie to learn how to live outside of urban comforts. But when a mysterious woman arrives with two children in tow, Eagle’s Nest’s idyllic veneer begins to crack. A girl’s suicide, a rowdy bunch of hunters who turn over their weapons to alleged poachers, and people appearing from — or disappearing into — the surrounding woods amp up the drama. At its heart, Stukenberg’s novel is an examination of how the world changes and how quickly families can break under the weight of the secrets they’ve kept from one another. A moving debut.
Binnie, a millennial who graduates from art school into the uncertain economy of 2008, takes a job as a paralegal at a Manhattan law firm to pay the bills. Her artistic medium is dioramas, and she salvages many small items to use in them — a found photograph, a shard from a broken glass eye, and a plastic Jesus from a Mardi Gras king cake — but she struggles to actually complete artworks. Binnie is unfocused and sometimes impulsively irresponsible, until a gruesome accidental death at her law office shakes her into a fuller consciousness. Dreams Under Glass captures both the struggle between art and economic stability and the deeply precarious nature of simply staying alive. A novel for our modern times.
A queer retelling of Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s original Beauty and the Beast, this epic novel spans three centuries. The story centers on Darragh, a trans man who has an encounter with the Enchanter, a being who offers Darragh a magical ritual that eases him through his transition with no need for surgeons or alchemists. The book’s alternate-world setting is plagued by the sumptuary laws similar to those of medieval Europe and has parallels with 21st-century US politics. Cochrane offers an important commentary on contemporary society, asking how much different things could be without the boundaries of gender. Infused with fairies, beasts, tangled family histories, the richness of the natural world, and sorcery, The Story of the Hundred Promises is ultimately a tale of the redeeming power of love.
In a future Philadelphia, devastated by climate change, politicians are members of secret cabals and the rich have absconded. As the Saturnalia Festival, a relic of winter solstice celebrations, takes over the city, some people revel in partying and others lock their doors. Nina is trying to make just enough money to hold on to her apartment, to please one lover, and to break things off with another. But as the night unfolds she is entangled in a web of deceit, power dynamics, and dangerous alchemy. There are only so many hours before the sun breaks against the horizon, and even on the darkest night of the year, time runs short. As Nina races against the clock and occult forces, she finds hope in friendship and an unexpected magic. An enchanting debut.
In this collection, King captures the magic of the American Mountain West and the people who call it home. Largely set in Denver, Boulder, and the surrounding metro, the 13 linked stories convey a distinct sense of place. King’s characters work in a sausage factory, pull shifts at a bar to fund their art, struggle with booze and pills, or end up with an extreme haircut after losing at poker. They also care for one another, offering kindnesses both large and small. In Bratwurst Haven King uncovers the complicated ways in which humans find community. The stories build, each one revealing more and more of the ties that bind family and friends. A memorable collection.
The Lebanese Civil War and the Israeli–Lebanese conflict form the backdrop to this short story collection featuring Lebanese characters. In defiance of the violence around them, the characters in Is This How You Eat A Watermelon? continue to live with wit, with grace, and on their own terms. An old woman, Sharife, rejects the threat of bombings in order to get a pack of cigarettes. In the title story, Ghassan makes love to a dabke dancer in a village cornfield, even though he is married to another woman; later, the root of his daughter’s breathing trouble is revealed to be a watermelon seed sprouting in her nostril. In “Killdeer,” Zaid confronts ghosts in rural Maryland. In one of the most intense stories, a man named Zein is detained on suspicions of terrorism on a short holiday to Bahrain. In this compressed and emotionally compelling book of short stories, not a word is wasted.
In 1978, the author’s 9-year-old sister Gina, her cousin Connie, two aunts, and an uncle were on their way to a pajama party when their vehicle crashed and only the adults survived. The Field is part love letter to Gina, part lamentation for other family members gone, and a study of how grief permeates a life. Gina’s spirit appears to relatives in dreams and inside campfire flames; Garza’s dying great-grandmother sees her. Garza weaves the stories of her life and her family’s lives together with fragments of sacred texts, poetry, and philosophy to illustrate a complicated journey of emotional recovery. Garza’s writing is so much more than memory, or even memorial. Gina’s presence in these pages is tangible. A work of deep imagination and resonance.
In the fictional city of Hrishipur, a suburb of New Delhi, the construction of the Trump Towers looms across the landscape. Maneka, on summer break from her teaching position in the American Midwest, is visiting her recently widowed father and does not know what to make of his new life in Hrishipur, far from Calcutta, where he and her mother raised her. The Dream Builders follows people who are trying to make their way in an increasingly commercialized and westernized India. Like Maneka, many of Mukherjee’s characters find themselves immigrants in their own country, whether they have come from small towns to the city or are struggling to find their footing in rapidly changing urban ecosystems. This intricately plotted novel juxtaposes violence and betrayal with what may be our most deeply human impulse: hope. In this debut, Mukherjee cuts across class to reveal a common longing for connection and the idea of home.
This collection of essays is divided into seven sections, all which reference different breathing states. Each part tracks Brandeis’s relationship to her physical body within the context of her emotional and mental health, her family life, and her writing. From excavating her medical history with diabetes and addressing postpartum depression to reckoning with her mother’s suicide and her separation from her husband, Brandeis succeeds in bringing the large challenges of life into focus with thoughtfulness and openness. This book is an insightful meditation.
When Danielle’s father is killed by Nazis in occupied Paris, she flees to the countryside with her mother, who joins the French Resistance and leaves Danielle in the care of family friends. In the village, Danielle must hide her Jewish heritage, she learns to do the chores common to rural life (like butchering and milking), and perfect her Catholic prayers. In her new identity, she becomes Marie-Jeanne, a model student and a consummate Christian. As years pass, it is harder and harder for Danielle to separate herself from Marie-Jeanne. She forms strong bonds with the family who has taken her in, and while her longing for her mother never truly leaves, it becomes less present. “The hour between dog and wolf” refers to dusk, when it is difficult to tell what is safe and what is dangerous. Ison’s protagonist spends much of her time in this space, with her ability to decide who to believe shattered by having to live a lie. The Hour Between Dog and Wolf is an intricately detailed portrait of a young woman who must learn to trust in deeply challenging circumstances.