Thursday, August 16, 2018

Front Porch Books: August 2018 edition

Front Porch Books is a monthly tally of new and forthcoming booksmainly advance review copies (aka “uncorrected proofs” and “galleys”)I’ve received from publishers. Cover art and opening lines may change before the book is finally released. I should also mention that, in nearly every case, I haven’t had a chance to read these books, but they’re definitely going in the to-be-read pile.

The Current
by Tim Johnston
(Algonquin Books)

Jacket Copy:  In the dead of winter, outside a small Minnesota town, state troopers pull two young women and their automobile from the icy Black Root River. One is pronounced dead at the scene, while the other, Audrey Sutter, daughter of the town’s retired sheriff, survives. What happened was no accident, and news of the crime awakens the community’s memories of another young woman who lost her life in the same river ten years earlier, and whose killer may still live among them. Determined to find answers, Audrey soon realizes that she’s connected to the earlier unsolved case by more than just the river. And as she plunges deeper into her own investigation, she begins to unearth long-hidden secrets and stoke the violence simmering just below the surface of her hometown.

Opening Lines:  The two girls, young women, met for the first time the day they moved in together, first semester of that first year of college, third floor of Banks Hall, a north-facing room that overlooked green lawns and treetops and streams of students coming and going on the walkways below. Roommated by mysterious processes, perhaps a computer algorithm, perhaps a tired administrator plowing his way through a thousand folders, the girls tried at first to become friends, then tried simply to get along, and finally put in for reassignment, each without telling the other, and by the end of the winter holidays had both moved into new rooms with new roommates. If they saw each other on campus after that, they pretended they hadn’t; they looked away, they looked at the sky, they received phone alerts of highest importance. They seemed to have made a pact of mutual invisibility, and this pact might have gone on forever, all the way through college at least, if not for a literature class in the fall of their sophomore year.

Deep Creek
by Pam Houston
(W. W. Norton)

Jacket Copy:  “How do we become who we are in the world? We ask the world to teach us.” In her travels from the Gulf of Mexico to Alaska, Pam Houston explores what ties her to the earth—her 120-acre homestead in the Colorado Rockies most of all. Here, elk calves and bluebirds mark the changing seasons, winter temperatures drop to 35 below, and lightning sparks a 110,000-acre wildfire in a dry summer, threatening her century-old barn and its inhabitants. Alongside her devoted Irish wolfhounds, Houston learns what it means to take responsibility for a piece of land and the creatures on it. A survivor of parental abuse and neglect, Houston also discovers how the natural world has mothered and healed her. Deep Creek delivers her most profound meditations yet on how “to live simultaneously inside the wonder and the love the damaged world and do what I can to help it thrive.”

Opening Lines:  When I look out my kitchen window, I see a horseshoe of snow-covered peaks, all of them higher than 12,000 feet above sea level. I see my old barn—old enough to have started to lean a little—and the low-ceilinged homesteaders’ cabin, which has so much space between the logs now that the mice don’t even have to duck to crawl through. I see the big stand of aspen ready to leaf out at the back of the property, ringing the small but reliable wetland, and the pasture, greening in earnest, and the bluebirds, just returned, flitting from post to post. I see Isaac and Simon, my bonded pair of young donkey jacks, pulling on opposite ends of a tricolor lead rope I got from a gaucho in Patagonia. I see Jordan and Natasha, my Icelandic ewes, nibbling on the grass inside the goose pen, keeping their eyes on Lance and L.C., this year’s lambs. I see two elderly horses glad for the warm spring day, glad to have made it through another winter of 30 below zero, and whiteout blizzards, of 60 mph winds, of short days and long frozen nights and coyotes made fearless by hunger. Deseo is twenty-seven and Roany’s over thirty, and one of the things that means is that I have been here a very long time.

Blurbworthiness:  “Pam Houston is the rodeo queen of American letters. In Deep Creek, her voice has never been more fully realized, and her message never more important.”  (Samantha Dunn, author of Not By Accident)

Ruby Dreams of Janis Joplin
by Mary Clearman Blew
(University of Nebraska Press)

Jacket Copy:  Music, whether a Debussy étude or Gram Parsons’ “Hickory Wind,” has been a constant in Ruby Gervais’s life. After Ruby helps fuel a paranoid fervor that spreads like wildfire throughout her rural Montana community, her home life deteriorates. As a sixteen-year-old high school dropout busing tables at the local bar two nights a week, her prospects are uncertain. So when, after her shift one night, the Idaho Rivermen invite her to join their band and head toward fame and fortune, Ruby doesn’t think twice. In Ruby Dreams of Janis Joplin Mary Clearman Blew deftly braids together memories of the past with the present, when the Rivermen have imploded and a severely bruised and disillusioned Ruby returns to her hometown to find everything she ran away from waiting for her. In lyrical yet muscular prose, Blew explores women dealing with the isolation of small towns, the enduring damage done when a community turns against itself, the lasting effects of abuse on the vulnerable, and our capacity to confront the past and heal. Throughout, Ruby Dreams of Janis Joplin is underscored by the music that forms inextricable bonds between Blew’s fascinating characters.

Opening Lines:  The hiss of the Greyhound’s air compression brakes wakes me from what might have been sleep. The pain in my abdomen is much worse. Lights flash past the bus windows, hitting my eyes like blows after miles of rolling through darkness. It must be past midnight, we must be arriving somewhere, I don’t know where, but maybe it’s Versailles, in northern Montana, because I remember buying a bus ticket to Versailles. I think I remember. My mind hasn’t been right for days.

Blurbworthiness:  “Mixing real time with past time, Blew reveals the underbelly of small-town life—secrets, betrayals, Satanic cults, and sexual abuse. But she also discovers grace and generosity driven by love, and how music may have the power both to heal and to connect. This is a stunning narrative told in vivid detail with the insights of someone who has been there. You will not be able to put it down.”  (Annick Smith, author of Crossing the Plains With Bruno)

You Know You Want This
by Kristen Roupenian
(Scout Press)

Jacket Copy:  From the author of “Cat Person”—the short story that went viral after it appeared in The New Yorker last December—comes Kristen Roupenian's highly anticipated debut, a compulsively readable collection of short stories that explore the complex—and often darkly funny—connections between gender, sex, and power across genres. You Know You Want This brilliantly explores the ways in which women are horrifying as much as it captures the horrors that are done to them. Among its pages are a couple who becomes obsessed with their friend hearing them have sex, then seeing them have sex…until they can’t have sex without him; a ten-year-old whose birthday party takes a sinister turn when she wishes for “something mean”; a woman who finds a book of spells half hidden at the library and summons her heart’s desire: a nameless, naked man; and a self-proclaimed “biter” who dreams of sneaking up behind and sinking her teeth into a green-eyed, long-haired, pink-cheeked coworker. Spanning a range of genres and topics—from the mundane to the murderous and supernatural—these are stories about sex and punishment, guilt and anger, the pleasure and terror of inflicting and experiencing pain. These stories fascinate and repel, revolt and arouse, scare and delight in equal measure. And, as a collection, they point a finger at you, daring you to feel uncomfortable—or worse, understood—as if to say, “You want this, right? You know you want this.”

Opening Lines:  Our friend came over the other night. He and his terrible girlfriend had finally broken up. This was his third breakup with that particular girlfriend, but he insisted it was going to be the one to stick.

Blurbworthiness:  “In an age that needs a wrecking ball You Know You Want This provides one. This is a raucous, visceral page-turner that tunnels into the heart of relationships gone awry, modern-day miscommunications, and other horrors of being human. Not polite. Suffers no fools. Takes no prisoners. Read it.”  (Jeff VavnderMeer, author of Annihilation)

Lost Children Archive
by Valeria Luiselli
(Alfred A. Knopf)

Jacket Copy:  A mother and father set out with their kids from New York to Arizona. In their used Volvo—and with their ten-year-old son trying out his new Polaroid camera—the family is heading for the Apacheria: the region the Apaches once called home, and where the ghosts of Geronimo and Cochise might still linger. The father, a sound documentarist, hopes to gather an “inventory of echoes” from this historic, mythic place. The mother, a radio journalist, becomes consumed by the news she hears on the car radio, about the thousands of children trying to reach America but getting stranded at the southern border, held in detention centers, or being sent back to their homelands, to an unknown fate. But as the family drives farther west—through Virginia to Tennessee, across Oklahoma and Texas—we sense they are on the brink of a crisis of their own. A fissure is growing between the parents, one the children can feel beneath their feet. They are led, inexorably, to a grand, unforgettable adventure—both in the harsh desert landscape and within the chambers of their own imaginations. Told through the voices of the mother and her son, as well as through a stunning tapestry of collected texts and images—including prior stories of migration and displacement—Lost Children Archive is a story of how we document our experiences, and how we remember the things that matter to us the most. Blending the personal and the political with astonishing empathy, it is a powerful, wholly original work of fiction: exquisite, provocative, and deeply moving.

Opening Lines:  Mouths open to the sun, they sleep. Boy and girl, foreheads pearled with sweat, cheeks red and streaked white with dry spit. They occupy the entire space in the back of the car, spread out, limbs offering, heavy and placid. From the copilot seat, I glance back to check on them every so often, then turn around to study the map again. We advance in the slow lava of traffic toward the city limits, across the GW Bridge, and merge onto the interstate.

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