Late fall offers a cornucopia of new fiction
The Perishing – Natashia Deon (Counterpoint Press)
The Perishing is the story of Lou, a young Black woman in 1930s Los Angeles who is beset by visions of other times. She comes to believe she is an immortal sent to influence events that will change the lives of those around her. But she needs to untangle her mysterious past before she can sort out the challenges of her present. The Perishing is a deftly plotted philosophical novel in the style of Octavia Butler that reflects Deon’s experiences as a criminal defense attorney, divinity student, and literary scene shaper in Los Angeles.
What If We Were Somewhere Else: Stories – Wendy J. Fox (Santa Fe Writer’s Project)
Fox’s second collection is a series of interconnected stories depicting the lives of the employees of an unnamed corporation. There is the expected office politics, but Fox focuses on the characters’ families, romantic relationships, ambitions, and regrets. The tone ranges from serious to comic in these insightful snapshots of contemporary American life.
Carry the Dog – Stephanie Gangi (Algonquin Books)
In the late 1960s, iconoclastic photographer Miriam Marx produced a controversial series of black and white art photos of her three children known as the “Marx Nudes.” Half a century later, daughter Bea Seger is living a quiet but lonely life in Manhattan, one that has been shaped by her unorthodox childhood and her desire to escape her mother’s legacy. When she is approached by both a MOMA curator and a Hollywood producer about projects that will reconsider her mother’s work, she decides it’s time to confront the questions of her past and the impact the photos had on her and her twin brothers. Carry the Dog is both a compelling character study and a mystery unraveled after 50 years.
The Island of Missing Trees – Elif Shafak (Bloomsbury)
The Island of the Missing Trees moves between the island of Cypress in 1974 and London in the 2010s. During the civil war between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, star-crossed lovers Kostas and Defne rendezvous in a tavern under a huge fig tree. Eventually, they move to London and build a new life. The heart of the novel concerns the effect of their troubled past on their teenage daughter Ada. It’s a story of intergenerational memory and trauma that probes what the next generation inherits and what is left behind.
Blue Skinned Gods – SJ Sindu (Soho Press)
Sindu’s Marriage of a Thousand Lies was an auspicious debut. Blue Skinned Gods confirms that promise with its complex tale of Hindu faith, family dysfunction, and gender identity. Kalki is the blue skinned boy who becomes the center of a spiritual movement. In his teens, he begins to question his divinity and the motives of those around him. Does his life belong to others or to himself? Who can he trust? What is his true destiny? His search for the answers leads him to New York City’s underground scene. Blue Skinned Gods is an engrossing examination of faith and doubt, love and loss, and Eastern and Western philosophies.
The Sentence – Louise Erdrich (Harper)
Erdrich returns after her Pulitzer Prize-winning The Night Watchman with a story set in a small Minneapolis bookstore like the one she owns (Birchbark Books). The store’s most annoying customer, Flora, dies on All Souls’ Day in November 2019 and her ghost refuses to leave the store for the following year. New employee Tookie, just out of prison, is determined to learn why Flora is haunting the store. This mystery is set against the life-altering year of the covid pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests following the police murder of George Floyd.
O Beautiful – Jung Yun (St. Martin’s)
The economic and sociocultural changes wrought by North Dakota’s recent oil boom are explored in Jung Yun’s follow-up to her outstanding debut, Shelter. When freelance journalist Elinor Hanson returns to the childhood home she fled decades ago after her family fell apart, she finds it utterly changed in some ways and infuriatingly unchanged in others. As she works on her investigative magazine assignment, her unsettled past arises to complicate her life and her path forward.
One in Me I Never Loved – Carla Guelfenbein (Other Press)
Guelfenbein’s previous novel, the literary thriller In the Distance with You, was one of the best books of 2018. One in Me I Never Loved is a novella that packs a big punch in its 130 pages. In present-day Manhattan, Margarita is wrestling with advancing age, questions about her marriage, and the disappearance of the young Black female concierge in her apartment building. Her elderly friend from the neighborhood pastry shop, Juliana, wants to find the woman who changed her life more than 60 years ago. A separate narrative concerns the relationship between legendary Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral and her American lover in the 1940s when Mistral was visiting Barnard College. Guelfenbein ties these three threads together in an intricately constructed mystery that probes the roles women play and the choices they make in seeking fulfillment.