I'M WITH HER. AND HER. AND HER, AND HER, AND HER . . .
The First Wife
There is a New York Magazine story circulating online right now that describes “shine theory” as practised by President Obama’s staffers. Shine theory is also at the heart of Mozambican writer Paulina Chiziane’s funny and wise novel The First Wife. When Rami discovers her husband Tony’s polygamy, her first thought is to seek out and destroy her rivals. But one by one, she meets and comes to admire and befriend them. Gradually, they join forces and help one another make their lives infinitely better than they were divided. Shine on, Paulina Chiziane!
I’ve never wished I could turn back time until reading I Love Dick, which made me want to return to 1998 and read it was originally published so that it could change more of my life for the better. Kraus writes about desire, love, and power with blazing honesty. To paraphrase Eileen Myles in her introduction, Kraus transforms self-abnegation into dignity in a jaw-dropping, tits-out forward march. Recently adapted into a TV series starring Kathryn Hahn, Griffin Dunne, and Kevin Bacon (which is really well done, but the book is better).
My Brilliant Friend meets I Love Dick in a New Mexico border town in the 1990s. From the femicides in Ciudad Juárez to the Pickton pig farm in BC, Joni Murphy creates a tense atmosphere for childhood friends Celine and Julie to separately navigate towards adulthood, discovering art and academics and love and trying not to get torn apart because patriarchy. What a killer last line.
Double Teenage was published by the splendid people at BookThug.
After reading the first story – so tender and astute and just all around true – I had to check the back cover again to make sure this was really a début story collection; not that that matters, it just doesn't read like a début. Winner of the Whiting Award, Leopoldine Core has a light touch, but knows humans all the way through.
When Watched was published by Penguin.
It’s not the heroin, failed extra-marital affair, or failed marriage that make this darkly funny book so memorable to me, but rather the bracing honesty about inhabiting a female body. This is the first book released by Emily Books, a new imprint of the wonderful Coffee House Press, and what a first it is. More please, Emily Books!
I came even later than other English-language readers to this book, which was on the New York Times list of the Ten Best Books of 2015 thirty years after it was originally published in Hungary. It’s about the relationship between a woman writer and her odd, insular housekeeper, Emerence – and if that doesn’t sell you on it, just wait, there are layers. Szabo masterfully weaves in divisions of class, gender, and age, but underneath it all is a poignant warning against failures of simple human understanding and connection.
A 2016 Man Booker finalist, this book has everything: a crazy story, suspense, a wacky main character, and utterly virtuosic writing. It's also hilarious. NPR said it best, calling it "Dark, damaged fun."
Eileen cares for her verbally abusive, alcoholic dad and also works at a prison for delinquent boys. She's miserable, filled with self-loathing, and obsessed with self-harm . . . until she falls in love, at which point hold on for some amazing plot twists. The novel, told in retrospect, is the story of her disappearance.
It's rare for a novel to deliver on so many levels: writerly, smart, gripping, and funny. Reviewers are ecstatically comparing Eileen to the work of Raymond Chandler, Mary Gaitskill, and Shirley Jackson. Unusual as the book is, Moshfegh also manages to create a startlingly honest and original take on a young woman's view of her own body.
Ottessa Moshfegh is from Boston. She won the Plimpton Prize for her stories in The Paris Review, and is currently a Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford. She also wrote a novella, McGlue. Eileen was published by Penguin Press.
This already acclaimed début tells the story of the descendants of two sisters, Effia and Esi – one married off to a British colonialist and the other sold as a slave and sent to America. Carrying us with apparent ease from 18th-century Ghana to Alabama to Harlem to California and then back to Ghana, Gyasi inflects her writing with the dignity and spirit of her characters’ forebears. A very moving book from an exciting new writer.
Homegoing was published in Canada by Bond Street Books, a Penguin Random House imprint; in the US by Knopf; and in the UK by Viking (who, IMHO, has the best cover).
Emma Cline’s dazzling writing in this buzzy début has been praised far and wide, particularly by James Wood in the New Yorker. The story switches between the present and the late 1960s, when main character Evie was drawn into an infamous Manson-like cult that committed heinous crimes. Cline trains her focus on the allure girls hold for a particular kind of girl: bored, a little alienated, and dangerously anxious to please.
Emma Cline won the Paris Review's Plimpton Prize. The Girls was published by Random House.
A Manual for Cleaning Women
A NEW YORK TIMES "10 BEST OF 2015"
Very simple, direct, unadorned stories from the tragically under-celebrated — while alive — Lucia Berlin. Critics have compared Berlin to Raymond Carver, and you can see why; but where Carver wrote a little from the outside of work, Berlin writes within it, bringing it to life at a redeeming slant. Her stories are little miracles — transforming the mundane to the exquisite.
Lucia Berlin (1936-2004) lived in various Western mining towns, Chile, New Mexico, and Mexico City, and her stories reflect these places as well as her three marriages and the various jobs she held to support her writing and her four sons. She died in 2004 in Marina del Rey.