Thursday, April 25, 2019

Front Porch Books: April 2019 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 Big Impossible
by Edward J. Delaney
(Turtle Point Press)

Jacket Copy:  The short fiction in The Big Impossible explores guilt and redemption, aspiration and failure, and the stubbornness of modest hopes. The usual mileposts are fading, and choice is in the context of institutions and assumptions that are no longer holding steady. In “Clean,” a man waits for inevitable justice to come, as much as it will play against him. In “House of Sully,” a working-class family navigates the tumultuous year that 1968 was, as new perceptions shake long-held and dependable, if sometimes misguided, beliefs. Other stories examine the inner life of a school shooter, the comical posturing of writers at a literary party, a British veteran of The Great War living at a Florida retirement home but haunted by his losses, and a man’s bittersweet visits to past lives via Google Street View. In the sequence set in the West, an itinerant worker moves across the Great Plains, navigating stark landscapes, trying for foothold.

Opening Lines:  You think of that night endlessly from your imprisonment, the decisions made, the chain of mistakes. It had begun with your two buddies, a quart of cheap vodka and a half-gallon of orange juice; one of these friends had suggested the confrontation. Said this kid, Barry, was cutting in on your girl—well, she wasn’t even really your girl yet, the flirtation was just in its formative moments—was something that you, at sixteen, had no intention of allowing.
       He’d been walking home, at night. He worked at a burger place in that little scrub-oak town out near the Cape Cod Canal and, even drunk, you’d known a spot to intercept him. Again, at the suggestion of your friends. There he was, his backpack slung on his shoulder, looking at you as if not even sure who you were. You’d decided you would rough him up, and he decided to fight back, and you’d picked up a rock, and you’d swung it at his head. A minute later he was on the ground, dead.

Fall Back Down When I Die
by Joe Wilkins
(Little, Brown)

Jacket Copy:  Wendell Newman, a young ranch hand in Montana, has recently lost his mother, leaving him an orphan. His bank account holds less than a hundred dollars, and he owes back taxes on what remains of the land his parents owned, as well as money for the surgeries that failed to save his mother’s life. An unexpected deliverance arrives in the form of seven-year-old Rowdy Burns, the mute and traumatized son of Wendell’s incarcerated cousin. When Rowdy is put under his care, what begins as an ordeal for Wendell turns into a powerful bond, as he comes to love the boy more than he ever thought possible. That bond will be stretched to the breaking point during the first legal wolf hunt in Montana in more than thirty years, when a murder ignites a desperate chase. Caught on the wrong side of a disaffected fringe group, Wendell is determined both to protect Rowdy and to avoid the same violent fate that claimed his own father. A gripping story set in a fractured and misunderstood community, Fall Back Down When I Die is a haunting and unforgettable tale of sacrificial love.

Opening Lines:  As the neighbor girl’s SUV disappeared down the road, Wendell watched the tire-kicked dust bloom and sift through shades of gold, ocher, and high in the evening sky a pearling blue. Harvest light, late-August light—thin, slanted, granular. At his back the mountains already bruised and dark.
       Wendell stepped back into the trailer and the screen door banged shut behind him. He considered the boy, sitting on the front-room floor, scribbling in a spiral notebook, pencil marks so dark and hard as to sheen to silver. Of a sudden the boy closed his notebook, jammed his pencil into the whorled spine. He looked right at Wendell, the dark of his eyes the biggest thing about him.
       —Bet you’re hungry, Wendell said. Let’s get us something to eat.

Blurbworthiness:  “The poetry of this beautiful novel isn’t only in the language―and it’s certainly in that―but also in Joe Wilkins’ keen understanding of the Bull Mountains in eastern Montana, of the people who have left their mark on the land there, or tried to erase it, and of the mysterious complexities of the human heart that drive us to one side of the law or the other.”  (Elizabeth Crook, author of The Which Way Tree)

Note: This one didn’t actually land on my front porch; I picked it up at The Well-Read Moose in Couer d’Alene, Idaho on my drive to Portland, Oregon for the annual AWP conference. But I’m sure glad I went with my impulse to buy this book.

Rabbits for Food
by Binnie Kirshenbaum
(Soho Press)

Jacket Copy:  Master of razor-edged literary humor Binnie Kirshenbaum returns with her first novel in a decade, a devastating, laugh-out-loud funny story of a writer’s slide into depression and institutionalization. It’s New Year’s Eve, the holiday of forced fellowship, mandatory fun, and paper hats. While dining out with her husband and their friends, Kirshenbaum’s protagonist—an acerbic, mordantly witty, and clinically depressed writer—fully unravels. Her breakdown lands her in the psych ward of a prestigious New York hospital, where she refuses all modes of recommended treatment. Instead, she passes the time chronicling the lives of her fellow “lunatics” and writing a novel about what brought her there. Her story is a hilarious and harrowing deep dive into the disordered mind of a woman who sees the world all too clearly. Propelled by stand-up comic timing and rife with pinpoint insights, Kirshenbaum examines what it means to be unloved and loved, to succeed and fail, to be at once impervious and raw. Rabbits for Food shows how art can lead us out of—or into—the depths of disconsolate loneliness and piercing grief. A bravura literary performance from one of our most witty and indispensable writers.

Opening Lines:  The dog is late, and I’m wearing pajamas made from the same material as Handi Wipes, which is reason enough for me to wish I were dead.

Blurbworthiness:  “The female narrator I’ve been waiting for. Wickedly funny as well as seriously depressed, she waits while in the psychiatric hospital for the therapy dog that never shows up. Trying to read her face is like trying to figure out what a napkin is thinking. Her mania flies like a bat at night. A birthday card from her best friend Stella reads: You Put the Fun in Dysfunctional. Binnie Kirshenbaum, the great novelist of female neurosis, has given us, in Rabbits for Food, the only story that really matters—a troubled soul deciding if life is worth living or not.”  (Darcey Steinke, author of Flash Count Diary)

Red Birds
by Mohammed Hanif

Jacket Copy:  An American pilot crash lands in the desert and finds himself on the outskirts of the very camp he was supposed to bomb. After days spent wandering and hallucinating from dehydration, Major Ellie is rescued by one of the camp’s residents, a teenager named Momo, whose entrepreneurial money-making schemes are failing as his family is falling apart: His older brother, Ali, left for his first day of work at an American base and never returned; his parents are at each other’s throats; his dog, Mutt, is having a very bad day; and an earthy-crunchy aid worker has shown up wanting to research him for her book on the Teenage Muslim Mind. Amidst the madness, Momo sets out to search for his brother Ali, hoping his new Western acquaintances might be able to help find him. But as the truth of Ali’s whereabouts begin to unfold, the effects of American “aid” on this war-torn country are revealed to be increasingly pernicious.

Opening Lines:  On the third day, I find the plane. I’d been looking for something to eat or drink, anything of nutritional value really. I know that I can’t survive for long on the measly rations in my survival kit. A ripped parachute and regulation sunglasses were all I had found on my bruised ass when I came to. Roving Angels would be on their way to rescue me, but sometimes Angels can take their time and in order for this rescue to be successful I need to stay alive.
       I unzip my survival kit again to inspect its contents, the things that will keep me alive.
       Four energy bars.
       Two vitamin smoothies.
       A roll of surgical cotton.
       A roll of surgical gauze.
       Needle and thread.
     They give you a 65-million-dollar machine to fly, with the smartest bomb that some beam rider in Salt Lake City took years to design, you burn fuel at the rate of fifteen gallons per second and if you get screwed they expect you to survive on four energy bars and an organic smoothie. And look, a mini pack of After Eight. Somebody’s really spent a lot of time trying to provide the comforts of a three-star hotel. Here, have another towel. Now go die.

Blurbworthiness:  “Hanif has a talent for taking the most serious subjects…and, in a style indebted to Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, emphasizing their fundamental absurdity through satire. Hanif’s authorial gifts are undeniable and Red Birds is written with ambition and powerful satirical anger.”  (Literary Review)

Deep River
by Karl Marlantes
(Atlantic Monthly Press)

Jacket Copy:  Karl Marlantes’s debut novel Matterhorn has been hailed as a modern classic of war literature. In his new novel, Deep River, Marlantes turns to another mode of storytelling—the family epic—to craft a stunningly expansive narrative of human suffering, courage, and reinvention. In the early 1900s, as the oppression of Russia’s imperial rule takes its toll on Finland, the three Koski siblings—Ilmari, Matti, and the politicized young Aino—are forced to flee to the United States. Not far from the majestic Columbia River, the siblings settle among other Finns in a logging community in southern Washington, where the first harvesting of the colossal old-growth forests begets rapid development, and radical labor movements begin to catch fire. The brothers face the excitement and danger of pioneering this frontier wilderness—climbing and felling trees one-hundred meters high—while Aino, foremost of the books many strong, independent women, devotes herself to organizing the industry’s first unions. As the Koski siblings strive to rebuild lives and families in an America in flux, they also try to hold fast to the traditions of a home they left behind. Layered with fascinating historical detail, this is a novel that breathes deeply of the sun-dappled forest and bears witness to the stump-ridden fields the loggers, and the first waves of modernity, leave behind. At its heart, Deep River is an ambitious and timely exploration of the place of the individual, and of the immigrant, in an America still in the process of defining its own identity.

Opening Lines:  A thread of light on the eastern horizon announced the dawning of full daylight and with it the end of a night the Koski family would never talk about and never forget.

Blurbworthiness:  “Karl Marlantes’ follow-up to Matterhorn does not disappoint. Deep River follows the lives of a family of Finnish immigrants who come to America in the late 1800s and tells the stories of the their friends and family from the beginning of the great American labor movements through the World Wars. Don’t be deterred by its door-stopping 800 pages. Deep River is a page-turner. It’s stunning, timely and all-consuming. The prose is exquisite. The characters are fierce and robust. And more than anything else, the novel is a history lesson and a warning, as its portrait of 1900s America is so startlingly similar to the present state of the country. Deep River is a revelation.” (Michelle Malonzo, Changing Hands Bookstore)

Bernard Pepperlin
by Cara Hoffman

Jacket Copy:  The drowsy Dormouse from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is transported to modern-day New York City for the adventure of a lifetime in this middle-grade novel that’s perfect for fans of Stuart Little and written by critically-acclaimed author Cara Hoffman. When a girl in a blue dress crashes the Mad Hatter’s eternal tea party, the sleepy Dormouse feels more awake than he has in a long time. He wishes he could follow her and be a part of her adventure. And as luck would have it, a surprising twist of fate sends the Dormouse on an adventure of his own, where he must not fall asleep. For he is destined to save a magical world outside Wonderland, and it will take all his courage—and a few new friends—to do it.

Opening Lines:  The Dormouse had been trying hard to stay awake. First he ate a sugar cube. Then he pinched himself. Then he tried climbing on top of the rickety table instead of sitting in his chair. The table was set for a tea party and the cups and plates clattered as he moved past them. Crusts of toast were scattered over the white cloth and in the center stood a blue china teapot decorated with a picture of three bridges and a winding river that let out into the sea.
       He stood on a package of biscuits to look around but couldn’t see her anymore. The curious girl with the long blond hair must have left the party when he’d nodded off.

Blurbworthiness:  “Bernard and his newfound friends—revolutionary rats, wise-cracking cats, and coffee-chugging squirrels, to name a few—will delight and inspire readers of all ages. New York City will never be the same again!”  (Erin Entrada Kelly, Newbery Medal-winning author of Hello Universe)

Note:  If you are on Instagram, you can follow Bernard and his adventures in the city here.

Chances Are...
by Richard Russo

Jacket Copy:  One beautiful September day, three sixty-six-year old men convene on Martha’s Vineyard, friends ever since meeting in college circa the sixties. They couldn’t have been more different then, or even today: Lincoln’s a commercial real estate broker, Teddy a tiny-press publisher, and Mickey a musician beyond his rockin’ age. But each man holds his own secrets, in addition to the monumental mystery that none of them has ever stopped puzzling over since a Memorial Day weekend right here on the Vineyard in 1971. Now, more than forty years later, as this new weekend unfolds, three lives and that of a significant other are displayed in their entirety while the distant past confounds the present like a relentless squall of surprise and discovery. Shot through with Richard Russo’s trademark comedy and humanity, Chances Are... also introduces a new level of suspense and menace that will quicken the reader’s heartbeat throughout this absorbing saga of how friendship’s bonds are every bit as constricting and rewarding as those of family or any other community.

Opening Lines:  The three old friends arrived on the island in reverse order, from farthest to nearest: Lincoln, a commercial real estate broker, practically cross-country from Las Vegas; Teddy, a small-press publisher, from Syracuse; Mickey, a musician and sound engineer, from nearby Cape Cod. All were sixty-six years old and had attended the same small liberal arts college in Connecticut where they’d slung hash at a campus sorority. The other hashers, invariably frat boys, claimed to be there by choice, because so many of the Thetas were hot, whereas Lincoln, Teddy and Mickey were scholarship students doing the job out of varying degrees of economic necessity.

Blurbworthiness:  “No one understands men better than Russo, and no one is more eloquent in explaining how they think, suffer, and love.” (Kirkus)

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