On January 8, I posted Part 1 of my 2015 Fiction Preview: Books to Keep You Warm This Winter. Now it’s time for Part 2, a selection of books you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for in April, May, and June.
Ann Packer – The Children’s Crusade (Scribner)
Packer, who knows families as well as Sue Miller and Anne Tyler, returns with her best work to date. The Children’s Crusade follows the Blair family of the San Francisco Bay Area for five decades, starting in 1954, and is narrated in alternating chapters by the four children. Packer writes beautifully, and you will care deeply about these very human characters and their trials and tribulations. This novel makes a neat pair with Early Warning, the second novel in Jane Smiley’s “The Last Hundred Years” trilogy (also due out in April); both capture the zeitgeist of America in the second half of the 20th century.
Marian Palaia – The Given World (Simon & Schuster)
The Given World takes us back to the height of the Vietnam War in 1968 to tell the story of Riley, a teenager whose older brother is fighting in Vietnam. When he goes missing, Riley becomes lost as well, falling into drug abuse and depression. The bulk of the story concerns her eventual road trip to find her brother, which takes her from Montana to San Francisco and ultimately to Vietnam. She is befriended by a motley cast of characters who help her find herself, if not her brother.
Amelia Gray – Gutshot: Stories (FSG Originals)
There’s a lot of buzz surrounding Gray’s story collection, which is as direct and powerful as its title suggests. She has a dark, twisted, magical sensibility reminiscent of Kelly Link, Karen Russell, and Ramona Ausubel. Not for the faint-hearted reader.
Kate Dicharry – The Fine Art of Fucking Up (The Unnamed Press)
Nina Lanning is the administrator of the School of Visual Arts, a Midwest art college beset by drama both academic and personal. Everything comes to a head when a massive flood threatens the building in which the school’s lone Jackson Pollock painting is kept. Nina and her faculty, never on the same page, have to work together to save the early work from the rising waters, and themselves from their manic and melodramatic lives. The Fine Art of Fucking Up is a satire of artistic and academic pretensions, with physical comedy and sympathetic character studies added for good measure.
Toni Morrison – God Help the Child (Knopf)
The publication of a Toni Morrison book is always an event, even if it’s under 200 pages. Her latest novel(la) delves into “the way childhood trauma shapes and misshapes the life of the adult.” The four characters struggle to reclaim their lives following childhood abuse. Bride is the beautiful, dark-skinned daughter of Sweetness, a light-skinned and hard-hearted mother. Booker, the man she loves, has never overcome the murder of his mother. Rain, a white girl, finds in Bride the mother figure she lacks. Just as Ann Packer’s The Children’s Crusade appears to match up with Jane Smiley’s Early Warning, Morrison’s God Help the Child recalls Helen Oyeyemi’s brilliant and provocative Boy, Snow, Bird from last year.
Jane Smiley – Early Warning (Knopf)
Book Two in “The Last Hundred Years” trilogy, Early Warning continues the compelling tale of the Iowa farming family we met in last year’s Some Luck. As in the first book, each chapter covers a year in the life of the Langdon family and America, this time taking us from 1953 through the early 1980s. If Early Warning is anything like Some Luck, readers are in for a satisfying read that works well on both the micro and macro levels. And Smiley can always be counted on for great insight into characters and polished prose. The final book in the trilogy, covering the mid-1980s to the present, is due this fall.
Kate Atkinson – A God in Ruins (Little, Brown)
Atkinson’s previous novel, Life After Life, was an utterly unique (and occasionally confounding) reading experience, in which we followed Ursula Todd. The result was a huge bestseller and a slew of award nominations. Atkinson returns with a sequel of sorts (readers of Life After Life will understand why this isn’t a true sequel). This time we follow Ursula Todd’s younger brother, Teddy, who survived his time as a RAF pilot in the war and has gone on to live a long and full life. Expect the unexpected.
Anne Enright — The Green Road (Norton)
Enright well deserves her recent honor as the inaugural Laureate of Irish Fiction. Best known for her 2007 novel, The Gathering, which won the Booker Prize, Enright in The Green Road again explores the distinctive people and place of the west coast of Ireland. Rosaleen Madigan has raised four children, who have grown up and moved away to Dublin, New York City, and even as far as west Africa. When she tells them she plans to sell the house, they return for one last Christmas in their childhood home. That’s when circumstances become increasingly complicated.
Catie Disabato — The Ghost Network (Melville House)
Molly Metropolis, one of the music world’s biggest stars has disappeared. Her personal assistant and a journalist working on a book about her are determined to track her down, whether she has been kidnapped or has simply gone into hiding. They discover a secret map of underground Chicago, which leads them to the headquarters of a sect of intellectuals (a group of moles with vision, one might say). The result is a literary mystery, pop commentary, and exploration of fame, privacy, and identity. This is Disabato’s first novel. She is a columnist for Full Stop and has written criticism and commentary for The Millions and The Rumpus.
Diana Wagman – Life #6 (Ig Publishing)
Wagman, whose last novel, 2012’s The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets, was a psychological thriller about the kidnapping and imprisonment of a suburban wife and mother, again considers life and death in Life#6. Fiona, on the verge of divorce and recently diagnosed with breast cancer, looks back at her life and considers the five times she nearly lost her life. One particular incident in the younger Fiona’s life exerts a magnetic pull on her. Thirty years earlier, she and her boyfriend Luc experienced a nightmarish boat trip, and she believes the solution to her quandary lies in finding Luc to see if he can save her again. Life #6 is an exploration of love won and lost, invincible youth and vulnerable, anxious maturity, and the ways impending death can give meaning to our seemingly random lives.
Nell Zink – Mislaid (Ecco)
Zink, whose debut, The Wallcreeper, brought her a lot of attention last year, returns with a Southern novel addressing issues of class and privilege, race and racism, and sexuality and sexism. Mislaid begins in 1966 on the campus of a small college in Virginia. It is the story of Peggy, a bright, literary student who, through a series of predictable events, ends up pregnant and married to one of her professors. Their marriage is in trouble from the start: Peggy and Lee are both gay. Eventually, she flees with their young daughter, leaving an older son behind, and remains incognito for over a decade. Years later, the two children meet again at the University of Virginia, with disastrous results.
Jami Attenberg – Saint Mazie
Attenberg’s previous book, The Middlesteins, received a great deal of acclaim, and her follow-up is generating a lot of anticipation. Saint Mazie was inspired by the life of one of the residents profiled in Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel. A party girl during the Jazz Age and Prohibition, Mazie becomes the proprietress of The Venice, a residential hotel for the down-and-out in New York City’s Lower East Side. Her story is told through her diary and the voices of many of the people whose lives she affected so dramatically.
Vendela Vida – The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty (Ecco)
Vida is perhaps best known as the founding co-editor of The Believer, but I know her as the author of the excellent novel, Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name. Her fourth novel explores the nature of identity and the common desire to start over as someone else. A woman on business in Morocco is robbed of her passport and other identifying documents. The police seem uninterested or, perhaps, even complicit in the crime. In a state of shock, the woman considers the freedom conferred by her circumstances. When she is hired as a stand-in for the lead actress in a movie production, she finds herself adopting her film persona, with intriguing consequences.
Mia Alvar – In the Country: Stories (Knopf)
Alvar’s story collection immerses readers in the Filipino experience, both at home and among the diaspora. The stories are set in Manila, New York, and Bahrain, each of which has been home to Alvar, and tell the stories of teachers, students, laborers, nurses, and journalists trying to find their way across chasms of culture and class. Alvar’s work has been cited for distinction in The Best American Short Stories and twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Any book that receives high praise from Joan Silber and Celeste Ng is a book worth paying attention to.
Karen Joy Fowler – Black Glass: Short Fictions
Fowler’s last novel, 2013’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, found massive critical and commercial success, including winning the PEN/Faulkner Award and being shortlisted for the Booker Prize. In light of this success, Fowler’s publisher, Putnam, has decided to reissue her well-regarded 1998 collection of 15 dark and distinctive stories.