Fall is well underway, and just because summer ended, it doesn’t mean your reading list has to. Our wonderful Offing fiction readers have put together a roundup of some excellent reads that have been released since the end of summer. You’re going to find something to add to your list, even if you haven’t finished the one you made at the beginning of June. (It’s okay, we won’t tell anybody.)
Beauty is a Wound (New Directions Books) and Man Tiger (Verso Books) by Eka Kurniawan
Beauty is a Wound is “a sweeping polyphony [that] astonishes from its opening line: One afternoon on a weekend in March, Dewi Ayu rose from her grave after being dead for twenty-one years… [What follows is] a scathing critique of Indonesia’s troubled past: the rapacious offhanded greed of colonialism; the chaotic struggle for independence; the mass murders of perhaps a million “Communists” followed by three decades of Suharto’s despotic rule. Translator Annie Tucker calls the novel ‘luscious yet astringent’ while Saturday Paper finds it to be ‘so sorrowful, so savage, so freaking weird…Densely textured, complex in time scheme and epic in scope.’”
Man Tiger recounts the tale “of two interlinked and tormented families, and of Margio, a young man ordinary in all particulars except that he conceals within himself a supernatural female white tiger…A slim, wry story…at once elegant and bawdy, experimental, and political. Siddharta Deb writes the work ‘constitutes a retort from the present to the dark times, while also acknowledging that the dark times may not yet be over.’”
Eka Kurniawan is the author of two novels, two collections of short stories, and a critical appreciation of Pramoedya Ananta Toer. He studied philosophy at Gagjah Mada University, Yogyakarta and lives in Jakarta. Read his interview with Text Publishing here.
Only the Animals (Farrar Straus Giroux) by Ceridwen Dovey
“The souls of ten animals caught up in human conflicts over the last century tell the story of their deaths in turn. Each of the animals also pay homage to a human writer who has written imaginatively about animal. In a trench on the Western Front, a cat recalls her owner Colette’s theatrical antics in Paris. A Russian tortoise once owned by the Tolstoy’s drifts in space during the Cold War. During the Siege of Sarajevo, a starving bear tells a fairy tale. And a dolphin sent to Iraq by the U.S. Navy writes a letter to Sylvia Plath. Exquisitely written, playful and poignant. “
Ceridwen Dovey was born in South Africa and raised between South Africa and Australia. Watch her interview with Booktopia TV here and read her recent pieces for the New Yorker blog here.
Tram 83 (Deep Vellum) by Fiston Mwanza Mujila
“Two friends, one a budding writer home from Europe, the other an ambitious racketeer, meet in the only nightclub, the Tram 83, in a war-torn city-state in secession, surrounded by profit-seekers of all languages and nationalities. Tram 83 plunges the reader into the modern African gold rush as cynical as it is comic…using jazz rhythms to weave a tale of human relationships in a world that has become a global village.”
Fiston Mwanza Mujila was born in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo. He is a poet, dramatist, and scholar. Currently he lives in Graz, Austria and is pursuing a PhD in Romance Languages and Literatures. Read an interview with him and translator Roland Glasser over at Bomb.
The Suicide of Claire Bishop (Dzanc Books) by Carmiel Banasky
“Greenwich Village, 1959. Claire Bishop sits for a portrait — a gift from her husband — only to discover that what the artist has actually depicted is Claire’s suicide. Haunted by the painting, Claire is forced to redefine herself within a failing marriage and a family history of madness. Shifting ahead to 2004, we meet West, a young man with schizophrenia obsessed with a painting he encounters in a gallery: a mysterious image of a woman’s suicide. Convinced it was painted by his ex-girlfriend, West constructs an elaborate delusion involving time-travel, Hasidism, art-theft, and the terrifying power of representation. When the two characters finally meet, in the present, delusions are shattered and lives are forever changed.”
Carmiel Banasky is a writer and teacher from Portland, OR. Her work has appeared in Glimmer Train, American Short Fiction, Slice, Guernica, PEN America, The Rumpus, and NPR, among other places. Listen to her interview with Otherppl here, and read her conversation with Alexandra Kleeman and The Offing’s own Matthew Salesses, here.
Welcome to Braggsville (William Morrow) by T. Geronimo Johnson
“Born and raised in the heart of old Dixie, D’aron Davenport finds himself in unfamiliar territory his freshman year at UC Berkeley. Two thousand miles and a world away from his childhood, he is a small-town fish floundering in the depths of a large hyperliberal pond. Caught between the prosaic values of his rural hometown and the intellectualized multicultural cosmopolitanism of ‘Berzerkeley,’ the nineteen-year-old white kid is uncertain about his place, until one disastrous party brings him three idiosyncratic best friends: Louis, a ‘kung fu comedian’ from California; Candice, an earnest do-gooder from Iowa claiming Native roots; and Charlie, an introspective inner-city black teen from Chicago. They dub themselves the ‘4 Little Indians.’ But everything changes in the group’s alternative history class, when D’aron lets slip that his hometown hosts an annual Civil War reenactment, recently rebranded ‘Patriot Days.’ His announcement is met with righteous indignation and inspires Candice to suggest a ‘performative intervention’ to protest the reenactment. Armed with youthful self-importance, makeshift slave costumes, righteous zeal, and their own misguided ideas about the South, the 4 Little Indians descend on Braggsville. Their journey through backwoods churches, backroom politics, Waffle Houses, and drunken family barbecues is uproarious at first but has devastating consequences.”
New Orleans native T. Geronimo Johnson is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a former Stegner Fellow teaching at UC Berkeley. Read a review of Welcome to Braggsville published in The New York Times here.
A Free State (Harper) by Tom Piazza
“The year is 1855. Blackface minstrelsy is the most popular form of entertainment in a nation about to be torn apart by the battle over slavery. Henry Sims, a fugitive slave and a brilliant musician, has escaped to Philadelphia, where he earns money living by his wits and performing on the street. He is befriended by James Douglass, leader of a popular minstrel troupe struggling to compete with dozens of similar ensembles, who imagines that Henry’s skill and magnetism might restore his troupe’s sagging fortunes. The problem is that black and white performers are not allowed to appear together onstage. Together, the two concoct a masquerade to protect Henry’s identity, and Henry creates a sensation in his first appearances with the troupe. Yet even as their plan begins to reverse the troupe’s decline, a brutal slave hunter named Tull Burton has been employed by Henry’s former master to track down the runaway and retrieve him, by any means necessary.”
Award-winning author Tom Piazza lives in New Orleans, writes for the HBO series Treme, and has published ten books, including Why New Orleans Matters and City of Refuge. Read an interview appearing in The Los Angeles Review of Books here.
The Story of My Teeth (Coffee House Press) by Valeria Lusielli
Centering on Gustavo “Highway” Sanchez, he could possibly give the Most Interesting Man in the World a run for his money. With his unconventional list of talents—singing like Janis Joplin after two rums and the ability to interpret Chinese fortune cookies—Highway is at his weaving stories around the items he sells as auctioneer. He primarily sells the teeth of famous people. Valeria Luiselli’s novel is a fascinating meta-narrative on the creation of art and ultimately, the process of writing her novel, which was completed with the assistance of the workers of the Grupo Jumex juice factory.
Valeria Lusielli is a Mexican author, whose previous works include the novel Faces in the Crowd and essay collection Sidewalks. She is the recipient of a National Book Foundation ‘5 Under 35’ award.
Did You Ever Have A Family (Scout Press) by Bill Clegg
The novel begins in the aftermath of a house fire, which robs June Reid not only of her home and all her belongings, but her family, including her much younger boyfriend Luke. With shifting perspectives, covering major characters to seemingly periphery ones, Bill Clegg writes a devastating portrait of familial histories, betrayal and tensions within race and class in small town America.
Bill Clegg is a literary agent, who has worked with some of 2015’s biggest releases such as Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen. He is the author of two memoirs, Portrait of An Addict as a Young Man and Ninety Days. This is his first novel, which has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award.
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
“Ijeoma comes of age as her nation does; born before independence, she is eleven when civil war breaks out in the young republic of Nigeria. Sent away to safety, she meets another displaced child and they, star-crossed, fall in love. They are from different ethnic communities. They are also both girls.
Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees uses one woman’s lifetime to examine the ways in which Nigerians continue to struggle toward selfhood. Even as their nation contends with and recovers from the effects of war and division, Nigerian lives are also wrecked and lost from taboo and prejudice. This story offers a glimmer of hope — a future where a woman might just be able to shape her life around truth and love.”
Chinelo Okparanta was born and raised in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, before receiving degrees from Pennsylvania State University, Rutgers University, and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. She holds the Iowa Provost’s Postgraduate Fellowship in Fiction and was one of Granta’s New Voices for 2012. Her short story collection, Happiness, Like Water, won the 2014 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction, among other recognitions. Listen to Okparanta’s NPR interview about Under the Udala Trees here.
Not on Fire, but Burning by Greg Hrbek (Melville House)
“Twenty-year-old Skyler saw it from the window: a metallic object that descended from the sky at terrific speed, slowed above the Golden Gate Bridge, and then severed the bridge’s suspension cables before a toxic mushroom cloud lifted above San Francisco.
Flash-forward to a future America, where no one knows who was responsible for the explosion, but Muslims have nonetheless been herded onto the old Indian reservations in the west.
In suburban New York, Skyler’s little brother Dorian is twelve and dreaming about killing Muslims when his next-door neighbor adopts a Muslim orphan from the territories.
A simple act of benevolence sets off a series of increasingly terrifying incidents that force an entire community to reckon with their most deeply held beliefs, and—for Dorian—leads to either tragedy or redemption.”
Greg Hrbek is the author of The Hindenburg Crashes Nightly, which won the James Jones First Novel Award. His 2011 collection, Destroy All Monsters, and Other Stories won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction and his short stories have appeared in Harper’s Magazine, Conjunctions, and Black Warrior Review. He lives in Saratoga Springs, New York and is a writer-in-residence at Skidmore College. A review of this novel can be found here.
Half an Inch of Water by Percival Everett (Graywolf Press)
“Percival Everett’s long-awaited new collection of stories, his first since 2004’s Damned If I Do,finds him traversing the West with characteristic restlessness. A deaf Native American girl wanders off into the desert and is found untouched in a den of rattlesnakes. A young boy copes with the death of his sister by angling for an unnaturally large trout in the creek where she drowned. An old woman rides her horse into a mountain snowstorm and sees a beloved dog that had died years before.
For the plainspoken men and women of these stories—fathers and daughters, sheriffs and veterinarians—small events trigger sudden shifts in which the ordinary becomes unfamiliar. A harmless comment about how to ride a horse changes the course of a relationship, a snakebite gives rise to hallucinations, and the hunt for a missing man reveals his uncanny resemblance to an actor. Half an Inch of Water tears through the fabric of the everyday to examine what lies beneath the surface of these lives. In the hands of master storyteller Percival Everett, the act of questioning leads to vistas more strange and unsettling than could ever have been expected.”
Percival Everett is Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southern California and the author of nearly thirty books, including Percival Everett by Virgil Russell, Assumption, Erasure, I Am Not Sidney Poitier, and Glyph. He is the recipient of the Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, the Believer Book Award, and the 2006 PEN USA Center Award for Fiction. He has fly-fished the west for more than thirty years. He lives in Los Angeles.
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