When Cassie and Judith catch wind that their runaway father is set to inherit a passel of money in far-off Virginia, they take off to claim their share.
Cassie and Judith are half sisters in Heron-Neck, Mississippi, in the early 1950s. Cassie is black and Judith is white, and they’re both poor: Cassie works alongside her mother and grandmother in their family-owned laundry, while Judith helps her own mother deliver that laundry to the wealthy white mansions up the hill. Their father is Bill Forrest, but he’s a nonentity: he’s run off, and it’s only by way of a mysterious letter that arrives from Virginia that the girls learn he’s gone to claim his inheritance. Judith, who dreams of becoming a radio star in New York City, convinces Cassie that they should find their father, prove themselves as his progeny, and claim their share of the money. Then they take off in an old, broken-down junk car. This is the debut novel from Feldman, and it’s a magnificent one. Her work is reminiscent of both William Faulkner and Toni Morrison, but her voice is entirely her own and utterly original. Feldman’s prose blisters and pops with sparks. Cassie’s grandmother tells her to be wary of Judith: “no matter how twice related you are, she’s no kin to you,” she warns. “Kin has a feeling for how far back the blood goes.…She’ll never have that feeling for you.” But there is a tart sweetness to Judith and Cassie’s interactions. In this novel, most things are not as they seem, and Feldman doesn’t hew too close to reality. The sisters encounter mules who were once men, discover towns that appear in one place on the map and another on the road, and Cassie even spends a few days as a white girl. Eventually she decides to return to the skin she was born with; as a mysterious woman tells her near the end: “What’s important is the past.”
A searing and magical debut by a monumental new talent.
Hernández portrays the scope of dreams, love, and the fashion industry in this literary debut.
Even before he spies escape in the pages of top fashion magazine Régine, Elián San Jamar knows, intrinsically and at a young age, that he does not belong with his working-class parents in ugly Corpus Christi, Texas. Against familial and geographical odds, he adamantly forges his own path through childhood, ascending to new heights when he earns a full scholarship to Yale, changes his name to Ethan St. James, and bonds with Madeline Dupre, a blue-blooded doll with privilege to share. The pair are soon befriended by Dorian Belgraves, the son of a famous model, forming a complex trio. His friends' enthusiasm encourages Ethan to follow his calling, seeking out and cultivating beauty—and when he earns an internship at Régine after graduation, it seems that all his dreams are coming true. But of course anyone who's read a fashion-industry roman à clef knows how twisted this road will inevitably become. Work at Régine is grueling and soulless, not remotely what Ethan expected when he styled himself in its image as a young adult. As an industry, fashion turns out to be quite fascist (hysterically so, at times), and it feeds ravenously on Ethan's innocence. Madeline and Dorian are hardly helpful in this regard. Exiting the enchanted, equalizing field of Yale, they can continue to romp where their hearts desire while Ethan has to pay rent. And how to make a living in a disconnected, capitalist world is something for which neither his passion nor his Ivy League education has prepared him. Writing in a fervently literary style that flirts openly with the traditions of Salinger, Plath, and Fitzgerald, Hernández is a diamond-sharp satirist and a bracingly fresh chronicler of the heartbreak of trying to grow up.
Honest and absurd, funny and tragic, wild and lovely, this novel describes modern coming-of-age with poetic precision.
The story of a family-run bar on a tiny island off the coast of Sicily, from 1914 to 2009.
This knockout adult debut by young British author Banner (she started writing teen novels at age 14) is guaranteed to draw comparisons to Beautiful Ruins, Cutting for Stone, and The House of the Spirits, whisking us away to a world grounded in both reality and myth, filled with marvelously peculiar characters, plotted on a grand scale. This one begins in the early 20th century with an Italian orphan, Amadeo Esposito, who overcomes his circumstances to study medicine, then answers a call for a physician on the (fictional) island of Castellamare. He arrives just in time for the annual feast for the island’s patron saint. The story of Sant’Agata, who saved the island from a plague of sorrows, is told to Amadeo by the beautiful schoolteacher Pina Vella; he adds it to the compendium of stories he collects in a red leather book given him by his foster father. At first, the villagers embrace Amadeo; he marries Pina and has a son. But thanks to past judgment errors of his own and the corrosive effects of the constant flow of gossip in the town, Amadeo is disgraced and removed from his post. To earn a living, he and Pina reopen the bar in the long-neglected House at The Edge of Night; there, three generations of Espositos will serve coffee, rice balls, and limoncellos to locals and visitors. World wars I and II, the Fascist period, and the financial crisis of 2009 all play critical roles in the plot, but so do the folk tales from Amadeo’s logbook, reprinted at the start of each section. So you get both this: “In the bar, there was some disagreement over how the trouble had started....Some of the customers maintained that it had begun with two rich Americans, Freddie and Fannie, others that it had started with two brothers named Lehman…” and this: “Two brothers were fishermen upon the sea, both very handsome and so alike that nobody could tell them apart, and both very poor.”
From childhood to motherhood, comedian Klein’s fresh takes on the perplexities of womanhood in America.
Head writer and executive producer of the Emmy Award–winning Inside Amy Schumer, the author demonstrates storytelling verve and instincts for the absurd as she targets outlandish ideas about and expectations of women. With her polished skills, honed on the gritty comedy club circuit, The Moth radio series, and as a TV writer, Klein crafts spirited gems that run through readers’ heads like a sharp sitcom. In “How I Became a Comedian,” the author tracks her career in vignettes of ambition, insecurity, and fear of performing. She has been told that doing stand-up is a brave act, but she disagrees. Any courage she has found grew out of a “desperate, aching need,” and it took her years of therapy before she could get onstage. In the meantime, she was successful writing comedy for other people. Joan Rivers’ “force and lust and decisiveness” were inspirations for Klein to finally make the leap. Throughout the book, there is no shortage of ludicrous behavior to riff on. Having never quite outgrown her tomboy spirit, she’s confounded by the objectified images of women that persistently invade the female psyche, hers included. In “Bar Method and the Secrets of Beautiful Women,” Klein chronicles her suffering through tortuous exercise in hopes of a tighter backside. In the hilarious “Lingerie Dilemma,” the author, a cotton underwear sort of gal, prepares for a date with a new paramour by braving a French lingerie store where she tries on scanty undies under the watchful eyes of the “impossibly thin and beautiful” Frenchwomen who all look like Charlotte Gainsbourg. Ultimately, she writes, “lingerie is never really worth the agita.” In the end, though, all the aggravation that comes her way pays off in this lively, irreverent collection, leaving the impression of a strong woman with a sharp eye for the ludicrous.
A gifted comedian turns the anxieties, obsessions, insecurities, and impossible-to-meet expectations that make up human nature into laughter.
First-time author Rips, a high school senior who lives with her parents in New York’s legendary Chelsea Hotel, reflects on her earlier years attending public schools in the city and befriending the many eccentric residents at the hotel.
In this delightful coming-of-age memoir, the author draws a portrait of her younger self as the ultimate outsider. Lacking traditional good looks, physically and often socially awkward, she was eager to make friends, yet her frequent attempts to fit in typically led to embarrassing results, her desire to be popular spiraling further away. In contrast to her challenging school life, she found it easy to connect with her neighbors. She has been accepting of their eccentricities and attuned to some of their own struggles: “our home was in the Chelsea Hotel, known for its writers, artists, and musicians, but also for its drug addicts, alcoholics, and eccentrics. At any given time, at least one from each group was in the lobby. Since there were few children in the hotel, it was with these people that I spent my time.” Her story progresses through a series of comedic episodes at school or within her home/hotel setting, and she vividly depicts each of the various characters she has encountered along the way. She writes about the many self-absorbed, narcissistic teachers and classmates (along with their obsessively hovering parents), while her neighbors come across as free-spirited and openly caring individuals—as do her parents, who can also be somewhat scatterbrained: “They were like balloons that had escaped a child’s grasp—pointlessly floating.” Rips is a gifted writer who quickly reveals a mature, nuanced insight into human behavior. She has a genuine talent for extracting comic potential within these encounters, yet she balances them with moments of surprising poignancy.
An engaging story with a big heart, written by a young adult whose sharply tuned and often witty observations will appeal to adults and teens alike.
The lives of three generations of women in Jamaica intersect as they try to build better lives.
Margot, a 30-year-old desk clerk at a hotel in Jamaica, has fallen into a side business of sex with the white men who visit the island looking for poor women to exploit. This, of course, is not the life Margot wants. She only does it to support her younger sister, Thandi, a 15-year-old schoolgirl who's destined to be successful and “make everything better” for the family. Thandi, however, is more interested in being thought beautiful and the type of success that goes along with that, spending her extra money on skin-lightening creams to turn her dark skin whiter. Thandi's and Margot’s tales intertwine with the story of their abusive mother, Delores, and the rest of their poverty-stricken community, set against the backdrop of wealthy white tourists. Margot finds a temporary refuge from the constant barrage of work and men in her romantic relationship with a local woman named Verdene, but she can't escape the fear of violence that same-sex couples in their society face. And, as past secrets come to a head, the poor black and wealthy white worlds of Jamaica collide. This debut novel from Dennis-Benn is an astute social commentary on the intricacies of race, gender, wealth inequality, colorism, and tourism. But these themes rise organically from the narrative rather than overwhelming it. Here are visceral, profound writing and invigorating characters. Here, too, is the deep and specific sensation of experience. Consider teenage Thandi’s first awareness of being watched by the boy she likes: “a pulse stirs between her legs and she hurries down the path, holding it in like pee."
Haunting and superbly crafted, this is a magical book from a writer of immense talent and intelligence.
Will someone help this poor young woman with her virginity?
Despite being reasonably attractive and chalking up a few near misses, Julia Greenfield has reached the age of 26 without having sex. Now it’s all she can think about. “Untouched. Like a flower suffocating in its own air. Like something pickling in its own juices. Something that badly needs to be turned inside out, banged right.” Her obsession with this issue is magnified by the fact that she’s lost the focus once provided by her nearly-but-not-quite Olympic swimming career. Since she hates her job, there’s nothing to keep her in the D.C. suburb where she’s moved after college, but she can’t go home because her parents have rented out their house and gone to Costa Rica. So she ends up spending the summer with her dowager Aunt Vivienne in North Carolina. Terrifyingly, Viv turns out to be a virgin, too, and the dull small town she lives in looks like part of the problem. Nonetheless, Julia forges gamely on. A contributor to the New Yorker's “Shouts and Murmurs” humor column, Rathbone (The Patterns of Paper Monsters, 2010) reliably wrings the humor out of this situation, but more impressively, she manages to evoke its poignancy. Julia’s longing is revealed in moments like this, watching a friend with her boyfriend: “he put his hand on her chest, kind of fit his fingers above her collarbone as if it was a ridge on a rock face and he was going to climb her. I’d thought about that for a long time.” Also nuanced is the uncomfortable relationship between aunt and niece, in which both withhold more than they give.
Amusing but also smart about people and unexpectedly sweet.
The years 1850-1851 are pivotal for Herman Melville, as his newborn relationship with Nathaniel Hawthorne has a crucial influence on Moby-Dick, according to this historical novel.
Set in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, where Oliver Wendell Holmes and other 19th-century literary figures reside, this first novel begins with a hike and a picnic during which Melville meets and becomes smitten with Hawthorne. The author of A Scarlet Letter is somewhat restrained from reciprocating by his deep feelings for his wife and his morality. Within a plot whose action is confined largely to trips between and visits at the writers’ homes, Beauregard sustains a fine tension with the turbulent friendship, Melville’s troubled marriage, his lack of money, and an amusing bluestocking who plants rumors of another affair. In what is otherwise a well-written debut, however, Melville’s passion and frustration produce some unfortunately overheated language: “the soft ravishments of his beauty”; “a maelstrom of joy and confusion”; “the most beautiful creature that had ever existed.” Fortunately, Hawthorne, amid the most productive period of his writing career, also inspires rich conversation and offers crucial suggestions for transmuting what had been a "grand farce" about whaling into one of the greatest American novels. The real tension and treat here is watching how a distraught, impecunious romantic finds a way to set aside all distractions in pursuit of his artistic grail. An afterword confirms the extensive research behind the people, events, dialogue, and letters depicted while noting that the letter in which Hawthorne advises on Moby-Dick is fictional. Whether Beauregard’s research supports the inference of a near affair is almost beside the point. As an element in the present novel, it is decidedly for better and only a bit for worse.
Rich in historical detail, this novel explores its themes of creativity and friendship with an unusual intensity that kindles some excesses but goes far to overshadowing them.
An award-winning young author uses Charles Manson and his followers as the inspiration for her first novel.
Evie Boyd is in a city park the first time she sees the girls. With their bare feet and long hair and secondhand dresses they offer a vision of life beyond her suburban, upper-middle-class experience. “Like royalty in exile,” they suggest the possibility of another world, a world separate from the wreckage of her parents’ marriage, from the exacting lessons gleaned from teen magazines, from the unending effort of trying to be appealing. What 14-year-old Evie can’t see that day is that these girls aren’t any freer than she is. Shifting between the present and the summer of 1969, this novel explores the bitter dregs of 1960s counterculture. Narrating from middle age, Evie—like the reader—knows what’s going to happen. But Evie has had decades to analyze what she did and what was done to her, and Cline peoples her version of this oft-examined story with carefully crafted characters. The star in Evie’s solar system isn’t Russell, the Manson stand-in. Instead, it’s Suzanne, the young woman who becomes Evie’s surrogate mother, sister, lover, and—finally—protector. This book is, among other things, a love story. Cline makes old news fresh, but she also succumbs to an MFA’s fondness for strenuously inventive language: “Donna spooked her hands dreamily.” “The words slit with scientific desire.” “I felt the night churn in me like a wheel.” These metaphors are more baffling than illuminating. And Evie’s conclusion that patriarchal culture might turn any girl deadly feels powerfully true at first but less so upon reflection. Suzanne and her accomplices don’t turn on their oppressor like righteous Maenads; instead, they sacrifice themselves on his behalf. And there’s also the simple fact that very few girls become mass murderers.
Posh Manhattanite Catherine West has everything but the family she’s always wanted. But when she falls for the man of her supposed dreams, she unravels a web of deception that upends life as she knows it.
“I was rich,” begins Huntley’s mesmerizing debut. “I owned a small business, I had a wardrobe I replaced all the time. I was toned enough and pretty enough. I moisturized, I worked out.” And yet, despite the West Village apartment, the trust fund, the weekly massages, and the occasional soup kitchen shift (“I was also a really good person,” she promises), Catherine feels existentially incomplete. So when she encounters William Stockton —at an art gala, obviously—she believes she’s found her missing piece: handsome, well-bred, adoring, if oddly reserved, he is the man she’s been waiting for. Plus, she wants children, and at 43, “the hourglass was running out of sand.” But immediately, there is something amiss about stately William Stockton; just the mention of his name causes her ailing mother to slam shut. Then again, Catherine reasons, “even pre-Alzheimer’s” her mother “had a tendency to hate people for no apparent reason.” And so, within months, the pair is engaged. And still, Catherine cannot ignore the increasingly unsettling signs. Why won’t her mother speak of him? Why is William so alarmed when Catherine sifts through his stash of innocuous childhood photos? And what is the meaning of the note from her former nanny, neatly taped in her mother’s old diary—“we cannot trust anyone to care for us fully”? As elegantly plotted as it is—and it is—Huntley’s debut stands out not for its thrills but rather for her hawkish eye for social detail and razor-sharp wit. It is more than a classic psychological thriller: it is also a haunting—and weirdly moving—portrait of love and family among Manhattan’s flailing upper crust.