Thursday, May 7, 2015

Front Porch Books: May 2015 edition

Front Porch Books is a monthly tally of books--mainly advance review copies (aka "uncorrected proofs" and "galleys")--I've received from publishers, but also sprinkled with packages from Book Mooch, independent bookstores, Amazon and other sources.  Because my dear friends, Mr. FedEx and Mrs. UPS, leave them with a doorbell-and-dash method of delivery, I call them my Front Porch Books.  In this digital age, ARCs are also beamed to the doorstep of my Kindle via NetGalley and Edelweiss.  Note: most of these books won't be released for another 2-6 months; I'm here to pique your interest and stock your wish lists.  Cover art and opening lines may change before the book is finally released.  I should also note that, in nearly every case, I haven't had a chance to read these books.  I'm just as excited as you are to dive into these pages.

by Nell Zink

Jacket Copy: A sharply observed, mordantly funny, and startlingly original debut from an exciting, unconventional new voice—the author of the acclaimed The Wallcreeper—about the making and unmaking of the American family that lays bare all of our assumptions about race and racism, sexuality and desire. Stillwater College in Virginia, 1966. Freshman Peggy, an ingénue with literary pretensions, falls under the spell of Lee, a blue-blooded poet and professor, and they begin an ill-advised affair that results in an unplanned pregnancy and marriage. The two are mismatched from the start—she’s a lesbian, he’s gay—but it takes a decade of emotional erosion before Peggy runs off with their three-year-old daughter, leaving their nine-year-old son behind. Worried that Lee will have her committed for her erratic behavior, Peggy goes underground, adopting an African American persona for her and her daughter. They squat in a house in an African-American settlement, eventually moving to a housing project where no one questions their true racial identities. As Peggy and Lee’s children grow up, they must contend with diverse emotional issues: Byrdie deals with his father’s compulsive honesty; while Karen struggles with her mother’s lies—she knows neither her real age, nor that she is “white,” nor that she has any other family. Years later, a minority scholarship lands Karen at the University of Virginia, where Byrdie is in his senior year. Eventually the long lost siblings will meet, setting off a series of misunderstandings and culminating in a comedic finale worthy of Shakespeare.

Opening Lines: Stillwater College sat on the fall line south of Petersburg. One half of the campus was elevated over the other half, and the waters above were separated from the waters below by a ledge with stone outcroppings.

Blurbworthiness: “[Mislaid] zips along with a giddy, lunatic momentum. It’s perverse wackiness is irresistible; unlike just about everything engineered to make you laugh out loud, Zink’s novel actually does, over and over again… She knows how to let her freak flag fly.” (Bookforum)

by Renee Knight

Jacket Copy: What if you realized the terrifying book you were reading was all about you? A brilliantly conceived, deeply disturbing psychological thriller about a woman haunted by secrets—and the price she will pay for concealing the truth. When a mysterious novel appears at Catherine Ravenscroft's bedside, she is curious. She has no idea who might have sent her The Perfect Stranger—or how it ended up on her nightstand. At first, she is intrigued by the suspenseful story that unfolds. And then she realizes. This isn't fiction. The Perfect Stranger re-creates in vivid, unmistakable detail the day Catherine became hostage to a dark secret, a secret that only one other person knew—and that person is dead. Now that the past Catherine so desperately wants to forget is catching up with her, her world is falling apart. Plunged into a living nightmare, she knows that her only hope is to confront what really happened on that terrible day . . . even if the shocking truth may destroy her.

Opening Lines: Catherine braces herself, but there is nothing left to come up. She grips the cold enamel and raises her head to look in the mirror. The face that looks back at her is not the one she went to bed with.

Blurbworthiness:Disclaimer stealthily steals your attention and by the end holds you prisoner—a searing story that resonates long after the final page. The best thriller I’ve read this year.” (Rosamund Lupton, author of Sister)

by Sarai Walker
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Jacket Copy: Plum Kettle does her best not to be noticed, because when you’re fat, to be noticed is to be judged. Or mocked. Or worse. With her job answering fan mail for a popular teen girls’ magazine, she is biding her time until her weight-loss surgery. Only then can her true life as a thin person finally begin. Then, when a mysterious woman starts following her, Plum finds herself falling down a rabbit hole and into an underground community of women who live life on their own terms. There Plum agrees to a series of challenges that force her to deal with her past, her doubts, and the real costs of becoming “beautiful.” At the same time, a dangerous guerrilla group called “Jennifer” begins to terrorize a world that mistreats women, and as Plum grapples with her personal struggles, she becomes entangled in a sinister plot. The consequences are explosive. Dietland is a bold, original, and funny debut novel that takes on the beauty industry, gender inequality, and our weight loss obsession—from the inside out, and with fists flying.

Opening Lines: It was late in the spring when I noticed that a girl was following me, nearly the end of May, a month that means perhaps or might be. She crept into the edges of my consciousness like something blurry coming into focus.

Blurbworthiness: Dietland is a book I have been waiting for someone to write all my life, and it hit me hard right where I live, right where so many of us have wasted too much time living. It's courageous, compassionate, intelligent, pissed off and much more fun than it has any right to be. I can think of twenty people I want to buy it for, without even trying.” (Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted)

Martian Dawn and Other Novels
by Michael Friedman
(Little A)

Jacket Copy: An essential for the postmodern library, this collection is like nothing else you’ve read—a trio of short novels that tackles stardom, science fiction, movies, love affairs, twins, French people, writing colonies, parenting, missionaries, murder, and holograms. Martian Dawn was hailed by avant-garde writer Harry Mathews as “an ultra-cool comedy of the future.” Are We Done Here? zips the reader from the New York demimonde to the rain forest and back again. And On My Way to See You is a French murder mystery in which the carpet keeps getting pulled—and you keep liking it. As cultural critic Wayne Koestenbaum says, author Michael Friedman “takes fiction seriously by not taking it seriously.” Brilliant and hugely entertaining, Martian Dawn and Other Novels is destined for a cult following.

Opening Lines: Richard and Julia strolled along Rodeo Drive, monogrammed tote bags in each hand.

Blurbworthiness: “Friedman skewers Hollywood pomposity, environmental idealism, spiritual empowerment—and the surprising banality of a human outpost on Mars—with prose that's a marvel of economy, sardonic without excess sarcasm and rife with deadpan humor. Slight but sly, this is a scrumptious literary trifle.” (Publishers Weekly)

The Wake
by Paul Kingsnorth
(Graywolf Press)

Jacket Copy: In the aftermath of the Norman Invasion of 1066, William the Conqueror was uncompromising and brutal. English society was broken apart, its systems turned on their head. What is little known is that a fractured network of guerrilla fighters took up arms against the French occupiers. In The Wake, a postapocalyptic novel set a thousand years in the past, Paul Kingsnorth brings this dire scenario back to us through the eyes of the unforgettable Buccmaster, a proud landowner bearing witness to the end of his world. Accompanied by a band of like-minded men, Buccmaster is determined to seek revenge on the invaders. But as the men travel across the scorched English landscape, Buccmaster becomes increasingly unhinged by the immensity of his loss, and their path forward becomes increasingly unclear. Written in what the author describes as "a shadow tongue"--a version of Old English updated so as to be understandable to the modern reader--The Wake renders the inner life of an Anglo-Saxon man with an accuracy and immediacy rare in historical fiction. To enter Buccmaster's world is to feel powerfully the sheer strangeness of the past. A tale of lost gods and haunted visions, The Wake is both a sensational, gripping story and a major literary achievement.

Opening Lines: the night was clere though i slept i seen it. though i slept i seen the calm hierde naht only the still. when i gan down to sleep all was clere in the land and my dreams was full of stillness but my dreams did not cepe me still

Blurbworthiness:The Wake is an astonishing accomplishment. The events in it are chronicled by Buccmaster, a brutally unreliable narrator, in an adapted version of old English. At first the prospect seems unreadably off-putting; within twenty pages you get the hang of it; by thirty the suddenly fluent reader is immersed entirely in the mental and geographical contours of the era. But it works the other way too: we are seeing--and feeling and hearing--the living roots of Englishness.” (Geoff Dyer, author of Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush)

by Christopher Bollen

Jacket Copy: A gripping novel of culture clash and murder: as summer draws to a close, a small Long Island town is gripped by a series of mysterious deaths—and one young man, a loner taken in by a local, tries to piece together the crimes before his own time runs out. Orient is an isolated town on the north fork of Long Island, its future as a historic village newly threatened by the arrival of wealthy transplants from Manhattan—many of them artists. One late summer morning, the body of a local caretaker is found in the open water; the same day, a monstrous animal corpse is found on the beach, presumed a casualty from a nearby research lab. With rumors flying, eyes turn to Mills Chevern—a tumbleweed orphan newly arrived in town from the west with no ties and a hazy history. As the deaths continue and fear in town escalates, Mills is enlisted by Beth, an Orient native in retreat from Manhattan, to help her uncover the truth. With the clock ticking, Mills and Beth struggle to find answers, faced with a killer they may not be able to outsmart.

Opening Lines: This is how I first saw you, Long Island, on a map in the front seat of Paul Benchley's car. Like the body of a woman floating in New York harbor. It still amazes me that no one else sees the shape of a woman in that island sprawled along the coastline, her legs the two beach-lined forks that jut out to sea when the land splits, her hips and breasts the rocky inlets of oyster coves, her skull broken in the boroughs of New York City. Even now, when I close my eyes and try to picture the place where all the trouble happened, I see her drifting there in the waters of the east.

Blurbworthiness: The Great Gatsby meets Donna Tartt. Suspenseful, beautifully written, and wonderfully atmospheric, Orient is that rare treat that is both a page-turner and a book you will want to savor.” (Philipp Meyer, author of The Son)

Bream Gives Me Hiccups
by Jesse Eisenberg

Jacket Copy: Bream Gives Me Hiccups: And Other Stories is the whip-smart fiction debut of Academy Award-nominated actor Jesse Eisenberg. Known for his iconic film roles but also for his regular pieces in the New Yorker and his two critically acclaimed plays, Eisenberg is an emerging voice in fiction. Taking its title from a group of stories that begin the book, Bream Gives Me Hiccups moves from contemporary L.A. to the dormrooms of an American college to ancient Pompeii, throwing the reader into a universe of social misfits, reimagined scenes from history, and ridiculous overreactions. In one piece, a tense email exchange between a young man and his girlfriend is taken over by the man’s sister, who is obsessed with the Bosnian genocide (The situation reminds me of a little historical blip called the Karadordevo agreement); in another, a college freshman forced to live with a roommate is stunned when one of her ramen packets goes missing (she didn’t have “one” of my ramens. She had a chicken ramen); in another piece, Alexander Graham Bell has teething problems with his invention (I’ve been calling Mabel all day, she doesn’t pick up! Yes, of course I dialed the right number – 2!). United by Eisenberg’s gift for humor and character, and grouped into chapters that each open with an illustration by award-winning cartoonist Jean Jullien, the witty pieces collected in Bream Gives Me Hiccups explore the various insanities of the modern world, and mark the arrival of a fantastically funny, self-ironic, and original voice.

Opening Lines: Last night, Mom took me to Sushi Nozawa, near Matt's house. Except she didn't let Matt come with us and I had to leave in the middle of my favorite show because Mom said we would be late for our reservation and that I didn't know who she had to blow on to get the reservation.

Blurbworthiness:Bream Gives Me Hiccups isn’t merely comic writing of the first order; it’s an often tender, highbrow-lowbrow mash-up that encompasses everything from Chomsky and Žižek to disastrous pickup lines and pubescent neuroses. Jesse Eisenberg writes with formidable intellect and verbal dexterity, but he also has something many deadeye satirists lack: empathy with his targets. To borrow his most unforgettable character’s line, you’ll want to give his debut collection 2000 out of 2000 stars.” (Teddy Wayne, author of The Love Song of Jonny Valentine)

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