by Jill Owens, January 6, 2017 4:03 PM
Emily Fridlund's History of Wolves
is one of the most powerful debuts we've read in a long time. T. C. Boyle
raves that it's "as exquisite a first novel as I've ever encountered. Poetic, complex, and utterly, heartbreakingly beautiful," and Aimee Bender
calls it "so delicately calibrated and precisely beautiful that one might not immediately sense the sledgehammer of pain building inside this book. And I mean that in the best way." History of Wolves
is the story of Linda, an isolated teenager raised in a defunct commune in a small northern Minnesota town. As the book begins, one of her teachers is arrested for child pornography, and a new family (Leo, Patra, and their toddler son, Paul), with whom Linda becomes increasingly entangled, moves in across the lake. Fridlund connects and layers these separate elements...
by Jill Owens, October 13, 2016 2:24 PM
If you haven't been paying close attention, it's easy to miss just how prolific Jonathan Lethem has been. Over the course of his career, he's written several early, genre-defying novels (including Gun With Occasional Music
, Amnesia Moon
, and Girl in Landscape
) and better-known later novels, like the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Motherless Brooklyn
, The Fortress of Solitude
, and Dissident Gardens
(to name but a few). But he's also published five collections of short stories, a novella, two books of essays, and a comics series, along with editing and co-editing anthologies on music, science fiction, and memory loss. His wide range of interests and obsessions are part of the great pleasure of his work, informing it all with fascinating juxtapositions and an incredibly generous, intelligent voice.
His newest work, A Gambler's Anatomy
, is quintessential Lethem – Alexander Bruno, a good-looking, charming backgammon gambler who believes he's telepathic, is felled in Berlin by a blot in his vision that turns out to be an almost inoperable tumor...
by Jill Owens, September 27, 2016 9:31 AM
Brit Bennett's The Mothers
has been one of the most anticipated and buzzed about debuts of the fall, for good reason – this story of three young people within a close-knit black church community in California is moving, poignant, subtle, and gorgeously written. Nadia, a beautiful, troubled teenager about to leave on a college scholarship, starts seeing Luke, the pastor's son, after her mother's suicide — and then she gets pregnant. Her decision to have an abortion has a ripple effect on all of their lives, including Aubrey, a devoted church-goer who has her own secrets. The relationships between Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are framed by the voices of The Mothers, the older women who are the bedrock of the church. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly
raves, "[A] brilliant, tumultuous debut novel...
by Jill Owens, August 23, 2016 8:47 AM
It's been 14 years since Jonathan Safran Foer's first novel, Everything Is Illuminated
, propelled the author onto the American literary landscape. Only 25 when his debut novel was published, he garnered critical praise, a National Jewish Book Award, a Guardian First Book Award, and later a movie deal. His second book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
, was a similarly acclaimed bestseller. He also wrote the beautiful Tree of Codes
, which was an artwork based on Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles
, and the nonfiction work Eating Animals
. But his fans have had to wait a while for his latest novel. Here I Am
is more than worth their patience.
Jacob and Julia Bloch are an intelligent, troubled, well-meaning married couple with three fascinating sons facing a moment of reckoning...
by Jill Owens, June 16, 2016 1:55 PM
, Annie Proulx's latest novel, is a sweeping, epic story of the ecological and historical transformation of North America throughout the last three centuries. Though that might sound daunting, it's incredibly tough to put down and as page-turning as a good thriller. Barkskins
is divided into 10 sections which move ahead through time, beginning with 1693 and ending up in 2013. The novel is told through the intermingled stories of two families, the Dukes and the Sels, one mostly considered white and the other largely considered Native American, though both include a mix of the two heritages. Proulx's characters, as always, are unforgettable — she gives us rich and realistic portraits of flawed, empathetic, remarkable people. And the harsh, beautiful, valuable forests, which seem (but of course are not) endless, are a major determiner...
by Jill Owens, May 23, 2016 9:15 AM
Yaa Gyasi's novel, Homegoing
, is a marvelous debut, particularly given the author's youth (Gyasi is 26 years old). But her voice is remarkably confident and assured, spanning generations and centuries. Homegoing
is the story of Esi and Effia, two half-sisters unknown to each other in 18th-century Ghana. Esi becomes the wife of a slave trader; Effia is abducted as a slave, bound for America. Each sister's story, and the stories of their descendants up through the present day, is told in rich, precise, poetic language. Ta-Nehisi Coates
raves, "Gyasi's characters are so fully realized, so elegantly carved — very often I found myself longing to hear more….I think I needed to read a book like this to remember what is possible. I think I needed to remember what happens when you pair...
by Jill Owens, March 21, 2016 5:00 PM
A Doubter's Almanac
is Ethan Canin's fifth novel (and seventh book), and it explores some
familiar themes for the Guggenheim winner — power, genius, love, and
ethics. It's a character study of Milo Andret, a mesmerizing, brilliant,
and infuriating mathematics wunderkind who understands everything about
topology and very little about other human beings. But it's also a
father–son portrait, as Hans — Milo's son, who shares some of his
mathematical gifts and other personality quirks — struggles with his own
identity and his relationship with his difficult father. NPR raved, "A Doubter's Almanac
is exquisitely crafted. Canin takes us readers deep into the strange
world of his troubled characters without ever making us aware of the
effort involved....[A] completely captivating novel." And in a starred
review, Publishers Weekly
called the novel "a tremendous literary achievement." We are excited to have chosen A Doubter's Almanac
by Jill Owens, January 11, 2016 9:17 AM
, the third novel by the utterly charming and gracious Samantha Hunt, is one of those rare books in which both the language and the story take center stage. We were hooked by the remarkable prose and then compelled by the inventive plot and the (somewhat literally) fantastic characters. Ruth and Nat are best friends growing up in the Love of Christ! Foster Home, run by an aging megalomaniac and his sometimes-there, drug-addicted wife. Out of boredom and, later, for profit, assisted by an eloquent, intriguing con man, the two kids channel the dead. Hunt alternates Ruth's chapters with a narrative set years later following her pregnant, unwed niece Cora, who is being led by a mute Ruth on a silent journey across the state of New York. Mr. Splitfoot
by Jill Owens, November 19, 2015 1:51 PM
You know that Mary-Louise Parker can act. Even if you never saw her in her very dark, very funny Showtime series Weeds
, for which she won a Golden Globe for Best Actress, you probably caught her in Bullets over Broadway
, The Portrait of a Lady
, Fried Green Tomatoes
, or HBO's Angels in America
, to name a few of the many projects she's worked on. But you probably didn't know that Parker is also a writer. Dear Mr. You
, her first book, is a memoir in the form of letters to various men in Parker's life (real and imagined). It is playful, poetic, inventive, page-turning, and downright gorgeously written.
Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams, raves, "Dear Mr. You is straight-up fantastic; a gripping and deeply humane and often hilarious book. It catches glimpses of life at all sorts of unexpected moments, electrifying them with its sharp-eyed astonishment at how absurd and joyous things can get. There’s nothing cheaply earned about its wonder; nothing sugarcoated in its gratitude. It's all grit, all messy particulars — full of surprise and full-throated in its song." And Mary Karr writes, "Dear Mr. You is a pants-pissingly funny, gut-wrenching meditation on her loving and tormented encounters with the masculine….I drank it down in one gulp, then started back at page one again. A magnificent, necessary surprise."
÷ ÷ ÷
Jill Owens: How did Dear Mr. You come to be? It's such a good idea, structuring a book as letters to people.
Mary-Louise Parker: The very first one I wrote was the invocation; it was something I'd written for Esquire when they asked me to write about men in general. That was quite a few years ago, but I remembered I loved writing it and being able to mix the mundane with the romantic and the poetic. It felt more like a little prose poem.
I wanted to keep writing it, but of course, I had a word count. It was just a little piece in the magazine. A couple of people mentioned it to me, but I was posing right next to it in my underwear making a pie, or something like that, and it completely upstaged the whole piece. [Laughter] But I loved writing it, and so later I experimented with writing others. It really grew out of the first one that I wrote for my dad.
Jill: There's the first letter to your dad and then the last one as well, which is beautiful and emphasizes his role in inspiring your writing in general. What do you associate with him about yourself? What do you see of him in you?
Parker: Everything. It's pretty striking when your kids get older and you see not only yourself but your own parents in your children. I certainly see my father in my son, and oddly, my daughter has so many traits of my mother's. She's adopted but she's so like my mother, it's almost freakish...
by Jill Owens, November 12, 2015 1:23 PM
Kristin Hersh is that rare breed of musician who is also a fantastic writer. Though most people would know her from her solo career or her bands Throwing Muses or 50 Foot Wave, her first memoir, Rat Girl
, described her life as an 18-year-old songwriter, newly diagnosed with mental illness and pregnant. Mary Gaitskill called it "awestruck — by music, feeling, perception, wild animals, mystery, dreams….It is an original beauty." Her most recent book, Don't Suck, Don't Die
, is about her deep and long-lasting friendship with Vic Chesnutt, another extraordinarily gifted musician who committed suicide in 2009. Hersh seems to write and live where magic does — her combination of unsettling honesty, intuition, and eerily poetic language creates an impressionistic portrait of a loving, conflicted friendship between two unusual people, their relationship to art, and their marriages. Michael Schaub of NPR raves, "Don't Suck, Don't Die
is not only one of the best books of the year, it's one of the most beautiful rock memoirs ever written," and Michael Stipe of R.E.M. writes, "A stunning, difficult, and beautiful chronicle. The true Vic comes alive." Funny, heartbreaking, gorgeous, and raw, Don't Suck, Don't Die
is a powerful work and a fitting tribute that will stay with you for a long, long time.
÷ ÷ ÷
Jill Owens: When I talked to you about Rat Girl, it sounded like you were reluctant to write that book at first — and I heard you were reluctant to write this one, too. How is it that people keep talking you into writing books?
Kristin Hersh: [Laughter] I don't know! I wish they'd stop, because obviously I'm a reluctant individual.
I was honored to be asked to write an article about Vic because it seemed like, well, better me than someone else. But when I said, "sure," what I meant was "probably not." [Laughter] I'm a musician, and I figured people think I'm a fuck-up, and I'm always gone, and so it's not gonna happen.
But then six months later, the University of Texas Press called asking how it was going. I said, "Oh. Well… How many words did you want again?" And when they told me, I said, "That's a really long article!" [Laughter] They said, "Yeah, we're a publishing company. You told us you'd write a book, so you'd better get on that."
I realized I was going to have to warn them that there would be nothing definitive or biographical or even typical about what I was going to deliver. It'd be more like dreams and memories combined. All true — this is nonfiction — but sense perceptions, perceptions like sense memories, are fuzzy and dreamlike. And so is a storyline when you're talking about a human being who is somewhat shocking every time you see them, unpredictable, like Vic.
Every time I told them this, every time I gave them an excuse, they would say, "That's what we're looking for." So I couldn't get out of it.