by Jill Owens, September 11, 2020 9:20 AM
Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is the author of Kintu
, which The New York Times Book Review
calls “magisterial” and The Guardian
describes as “a novel that is inventive in scope, masterful in execution….she does for Ugandan literature what Chinua Achebe
did for Nigerian writing,” and Let’s Tell This Story Properly
, a collection of short fiction which Publishers Weekly
calls “thoughtful, eloquent.” Her newest novel, A Girl Is a Body of Water
, is a fascinating, sweeping, and compelling family portrait, centering on Kirabo, a young girl growing up in the ’70s and ’80s in Uganda. It is also a thoughtful exploration of girlhood, womanhood, and feminism, featuring a cast of strong and vivid aunts, grandmothers, and friends. Kirabo doesn’t know who or where her mother is, and enlists Nsuuta, a witch who is entangled with Kirabo’s family, to try and find answers. She also wants to get rid of her emerging secret self, which is causing her to fly...
by Jill Owens, March 12, 2020 4:40 PM
Anne Enright is an extraordinary, masterful writer whose prose brims with confidence, intelligence, and wit. She might be best known for her Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Gathering
, or perhaps The Forgotten Waltz
, which won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. Her last book, The Green Road
, was named one of The Guardian’s 100 Best Books of the 21st Century, and Enright served as the inaugural Irish Fiction Laureate. Actress
, her newest novel, is the story of Katherine O’Dell, briefly one of the most famous actresses in Ireland, as told through her daughter Norah’s eyes. It is an indelible portrait of an unforgettable character, and encapsulates two generations of women’s lives in Ireland, including marriage, politics, affairs, love, and tragic secrets. In a starred review, Kirkus
"[a]nother triumph for Enright: a confluence of lyrical prose, immediacy, warmth, and emotional insight." We are proud to choose Actress
as Volume 85 of our Indiespensable
by Jill Owens, October 28, 2019 9:40 AM
Ben Lerner is a critically acclaimed poet, novelist, and essayist with plenty of well-deserved accolades — he's currently a MacArthur Fellow, has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a finalist for the National Book Award, and has won the Believer Book Award and the Hayden Carruth Award, among others. In his newest work, The Topeka School
, the main character is Adam Gordon, who is also the narrator of Lerner’s debut novel, Leaving the Atocha Station
; we see Adam here largely as an adolescent growing up in Topeka, Kansas, with his psychologist parents, who are part of the Foundation, an esteemed, groundbreaking psychological institute and progressive hub in a very conservative state. Lerner utilizes multiple perspectives and voices, including those of Adam's parents, to thoroughly investigate the history of this family and how it ties to our present moment, parsing themes of debate, masculinity, and the dissolution of language...
by Jill Owens, May 14, 2019 10:07 AM
Photo credit: Maria Jones
Kristen Arnett is many things — one of Book Twitter's funniest writers; a librarian in Orlando, Florida; a columnist for LitHub; a short story author; and a 7-Eleven scholar™ (according to her Twitter bio). Now she can add "novelist" to the list. Mostly Dead Things
is the utterly original story of Jessa-Lynn Morton and her family, taxidermy shop owners struggling after the shocking suicide of Jessa's father. Jessa, her brother, Milo, and her mother deal with their grief in very different ways — in her mother's case, by making sexually explicit art with taxidermied animals. Jessa and Milo are also grieving the loss of her lover and his wife, Brynn, and trying to raise the children she left behind. Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!
, writes, "Mostly Dead Things
is one of the strangest and funniest and most surprising first novels I’ve ever read."...
by Jill Owens, February 28, 2019 9:27 AM
Photo credit: Diego Berruecos
One way I've been describing Valeria Luiselli's Lost Children Archive
is that it reads like a classic — as though, even now, you can tell that this is a novel that will be pored over and taught, and will carry its gravity, grace, and intelligence into the future. It’s also immensely compelling, and the second half is so page-turning I raced through it, desperate to find out what happened. The story of this family — two parents in the process of separating, and their children from earlier relationships — who cross America, trying to make art, create archives, and confront and absorb the larger stories of refugee children and the lost voices of our shared past, is both revelatory and intimate. In a starred review, Kirkus
described it as "On the Road
rewritten by Maggie Nelson
by Jill Owens, January 17, 2019 9:38 AM
Tessa Hadley is a gorgeous writer whose books are a multilayered pleasure — her stories and novels are intelligent, insightful, and written in clear, beautiful prose, and her rich, realistic characters are unforgettable in their psychological depth. Her latest novel, Late in the Day
, is the story of Christine and Alex and Lydia and Zachary, two couples who have been close friends for their entire adult lives. When Zachary dies suddenly, the trajectory of the others’ lives is irrevocably altered. In a starred review, Kirkus
raves, "Riveting....A four-person character study — here as always, Hadley is a master of interpersonal dynamics — the novel captures the complexity of loss." And Publishers Weekly
notes, "Perceptive, finely wrought....Hadley is a writer of the first order." We're excited to present Late in the Day
as our pick for Indispensable Volume 78
by Jill Owens, July 23, 2018 9:41 AM
Photo credit: NAME
Laura van den Berg's new novel, The Third Hotel
, is an exquisite exploration of grief, travel, and intimacy. It's also got an extremely compelling story: Clare, an elevator sales rep, goes alone to a horror movie festival in Havana after her husband, a film scholar, dies in a car accident. A few days later, to her shock, she sees him standing in front of a museum. Thus begins a surreal, intuitive, unsettling journey through Clare's past and psyche that makes for one of the best books of 2018. Garth Greenwell raves, "In this gorgeous, frighteningly smart novel, a woman deranged by grief becomes an imposter in her own life. As inventive and inexorable as a dream...
by Jill Owens, April 10, 2018 9:26 AM
Photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths
Every book Tracy K. Smith has published has won an award or received an honor. Her first book of poetry, The Body's Question
, won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize; her second, Duende
, won the James Laughlin Award; and her third, Life on Mars
, upped the ante and won the Pulitzer. Her memoir, Ordinary Light,
was a National Book Award finalist (as well as one of our 25 Memoirs to Read Before You Die
). And of course, she has just begun her second appointment as United States Poet Laureate. Which begs the question: What's in store for her new book of poetry, Wade in the Water
If you know Smith's work, it's not surprising that she's so critically acclaimed...
by Jill Owens, March 5, 2018 9:37 AM
Photo credit: James Foster
Jesse Ball has had a fervent, if initially small, following since the publication of his first novel, Samedi the Deafness
; and before that, an avid fan base for his poetry. The Chicago Tribune
called him a "young genius,” he's won the Plimpton Prize, and been longlisted for the National Book Award. His work stretches the boundaries of what fiction can do — his spare, poetic prose encompasses philosophy as much as plot and his novels contain an enduring and appealing strangeness, often presented through mysteries or puzzles. He's been compared to Calvino
, and Auster
for his experimental and sometimes absurdist style.
, his latest novel, contains some of those elements — the main character's late wife was a "physiotelepath," a kind of performance artist clown, and the book is structured alphabetically as the characters move through towns named A, B, C, etc. — but the novel is largely focused on the relationship between a father and his mentally disabled son...
by Jill Owens, October 26, 2017 9:39 AM
Photo credit: Tom Storm Photography
Her Body and Other Parties
, the new story collection by Carmen Maria Machado, is one of those books that is almost impossible to believe is a debut, particularly by a young author. Inventive, dark, playful, authoritative, and exciting, these stories will knock you off-center and linger in your brain. The collection includes a brilliant reimagining of "The Green Ribbon," which is also a tour-de-force weaving of ghost stories and urban legends; an inventory of hook-ups that gradually reveals something grim reshaping our world; and an extraordinary, disturbing, and hilarious story made up entirely of fictional descriptions of Law and Order: SVU
episodes. Throughout, the stories in Her Body and Other Parties
display a wholly original talent...