Today’s Debut of the Day pick is An Evening of Long Goodbyes, the inventive and hilarious first novel from Irish writer Paul Murray (whose follow up, Skippy Dies, was also marvelous and memorable). The story stars Charles Hythloday, a Dublin would-be gentleman of leisure who doesn't quite have the means to pursue his chosen lifestyle. So, as you do in a comic novel, Charles fakes his own death to collect the insurance money. Of course, things don't quite go according to plan . . .
Murray's simultaneous skewering of both the upper and lower classes is brilliant, but the novel is much more than a farce. It hinges on the complex relationship between Charles and his sister, Bel, a troubled would-be actress. . . . It's one thing to write an outrageously funny book; it's another to infuse that book with tenderness and real emotional depth. Luckily for us, Murray has done both.
Read the full review from our August 2004 issue here.
Today’s Debut of the Day pick is The Icarus Girl, by Helen Oyeyemi. Written when Oyeyemi was still studying for her A-levels, this literary debut blends Nigerian folklore and the British ghost story to create a chilling, compelling story. Oyeyemi, now 29, has gone on to write three more acclaimed novels, most recently Mr. Fox. She was named one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists earlier this year.
Oyeyemi fluently incorporates Nigerian iconography and mythology into the plot and explains Jess' bizarre behavior (which includes cutting out pictures of twins from schoolbooks) as a meeting of the real and the surreal. While the doppelganger theme runs the risk of being played out given its prevalence in so many timeless works of literature, Oyeyemi adds a new spin by relating this doubling to Nigerian custom and culture. Her imagination is gripping and fearsome and even more estimable given the fact that she is only in her second year of college.
Read the full review from our August 2005 issue here.
Today’s Debut of the Day pick is The Intuitionist, by Colson Whitehead. Set in New York City, before the Civil Rights movement, it's the story of a black female elevator operator who stumbles onto some big-city corruption. Like his novel's protagonist, Whitehead was going up in the world—his four subsequent books have hit bestseller lists and been praised by critics.
A stunning contemplation on race, The Intuitionist brings to mind the strength of Ralph Ellison and the quirky brilliance of Thomas Pynchon. Whitehead crafts an entire culture around elevators, complete with specifications, internecine philosophical battles, founding fathers, and corporate shenanigans. But what makes The Intuitionist so darn good is the way Whitehead balances his concerns. By turns literate, thrilling, comic, and poignant, Whitehead lifts readers into this strange world and never allows identity politics to turn the book into an ideological jag. His prose pulses across the page, seamlessly jumping characters, time, style, and events.
Read the full review from our January 1999 issue.
So, you've managed to snap up all the debut novels that float your boat so far this year. Don't worry, there are more excellent choices on the way! Check out our previews of our favorites below:
The Residue Years by Mitchell Jackson (Bloomsbury). Based in part on Jackson's own youth, this coming-of-age story set on the streets of Portland, Oregon—and not the streets portrayed in "Portlandia"—is a gritty, literary slice of real life that introduces a compelling new voice.
The Returned by Jason Mott (MIRA Books). What if the people you had loved and lost were returned to you? Sounds like a dream come true, but in his anticipated first novel, poet Mott takes on the realities that such a miracle would entail: for one, where do you put everyone? The book is on sale today, but for an expanded preview, check out our BEA interview with Mott.
How to Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman (St. Martin's). A mind-bending first novel, this is the story of Marta, whose husband Hector has always taken care of her. In fact, she can't remember a time before Hector. That is, until she stops taking her medicine. Are the visions she's experiencing memories? Or a sign that she's as unstable as Hector tells her she is?
The Lion Seeker by Kenneth Bonert (HMH). An epic 600-odd pages, this anticipated debut charts the Jewish experience in South Africa through a touching mother-son story that recalls writers like Leon Uris and Philip Roth. Bonert was born in South Africa to Lithuanian immigrants, and he has created a very vivid portrait of a little-known community and culture.
The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane (Faber & Faber). Set in New Zealand, this debut has more than a touch of magic. Widowed Ruth is trying to put off her grown sons' worries about her living alone. When a carer shows up on her doorstep one sunny day, she seems heaven-sent. But is it just the opposite?
And one peek ahead to January 2014
Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah (FSG). The first novel from the author of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, this new story is a simple, fable-like tale set in a postwar Sierra Leone.
What debut novels are you looking forward to this fall?
Today’s Debut of the Day pick is The Submission, Amy Waldman's thought-provoking novel about the controversy that involves when a Muslim is chosen to design a (fictional) monument to the 9/11 World Trade Center victims. This noteworthy debut raises crucial questions about faith and humanity that are increasingly relevant in today's culture wars.
What is most rewarding about Waldman’s novel is her deftness in shunning stereotypes, offering an array of characters both appealing and frustrating in all their human complexity. She skillfully manages multiple points of view to tell the story, among them Claire Burwell, jury member and widow of a wealthy investment banker killed on 9/11; Sean Gallagher, the brother of a firefighter victim, who becomes an angry spokesman for survivor families; and Asma Anwar, a Bangladeshi immigrant, widowed herself on that terrible day, whose dignified appearance at a climactic public hearing provides the story’s moral anchor. These characters and others are buffeted by the emotions, some genuine and others stoked by the media and special interest groups pursuing their own agendas, that swirl around the memorial.
Read the full review from our September 2011 issue here.
Today’s Debut of the Day pick is Dear American Airlines, a comic novel from Jonathan Miles that blends humor with heart. Stranded at a New York airport, Bennie Ford pens an increasingly desperate letter to the airline whose change in schedule just might deny him the opportunity to change his life. Miles, a journalist who has studied fiction with Larry Brown, has a second novel, Want Not, coming in November.
This gritty, hilarious, heartbreaking novel illustrates a life gone awry, the regret of years lived without notice and the hope of finally being able to make a change. Readers will root for Bennie to get on his plane and start making up for the lost years when he gets off. A perfect read for summer airport delays, Dear American Airlines just might get readers thinking differently about that idle time.
Read the full review from our June 2008 issue here.
You are likely already aware that it's First Fiction Month here at BookPage—a month-long celebration of debut novels . . . and their authors, of course! One such author is Jennifer McQuiston, whose debut—What Happens in Scotland, a historical romance—was published earlier this year.
In this fabulous guest post, Jennifer discusses her fascinating path to becoming a romance writer and her experience of being a first-time author—although, with her second book (Summer Is for Lovers) coming out next month and her third (Moonlight on My Mind) in April, she's actually well on her way to becoming a veteran!
I didn’t always want to be an author.
There. I said it. And the lights just flickered above my head, suggesting I have upset some delicate balance of literary fate. After all, don’t authors emerge from the womb knowing not only who they are, but also what they want to write?
Nope. Not me. A veterinarian and a scientist by training, I work for the federal government tracking infectious disease outbreaks around the globe. Reading has always been a way for me to escape the pressures of work, or a treat to savor on those rare vacations. I have always enjoyed reading historical romance, but about five years ago I realized I was beginning to search for stories that were a bit different. Grittier. Less dukes and dancing, more cholera and syphilis. At some point, I began to realize those stories were in my head, and began toying with the idea to write a novel.
My earliest attempts to craft said “gritty romance novel” failed on several levels. My scientific training ensured I understood everything there was to know about cholera, but I knew nothing about craft. I tried again, feeling my way blindly to a voice that was uniquely mine but did not require translation for a lay audience. Writing became less of a pastime and more of an obsession. I set my clock for 4 a.m. every morning for a slog in front of the laptop before the real day job started. Each time I woke up to that insistent alarm, I learned a little better how to tune out my internal scientist, and how to become . . . gasp . . . an author.
What Happens in Scotland is my first published novel, but it was my fifth completed manuscript, a testament to just how long I slogged. Be forewarned: there is no cholera in this story. It isn’t even that gritty, although it features a chamber pot and a few raw edges to the plot. But it is still, irrevocably, me. My voice, my vision, my eccentricity. I knew it was special from the moment I started writing it, but I don’t think I realized how truly different it was until the reviews started rolling in. It is a book that has engendered some strong opinions among readers and reviewers, namely because it breaks a few of what are considered “standard rules of romance.” Not everyone loves the fact that I keep the hero and heroine apart for half the book searching for each other, but others have praised that difference. Some dislike the fact it takes place over a 24-hour period, while others welcome the change in pace. It contains a little too much physical humor for readers looking for lilting prose, but others claim the humor is their favorite part of the writing.
The truth is, there is no one way to write—or read—a book. I feel remarkably privileged that my publisher, Avon/Harper Collins, believed in me enough to not only take a risk on a different sort of book, but to make me a multi-published author.
Today’s Debut of the Day pick is Mrs. Kimble, by Jennifer Haigh, a novel that was one of the most buzzed-about releases of 2003—it sold within a month. Tackling the difficult subject of why women think they have to marry with elegant writing and plenty of insight, Haigh's ambitious debut is well worth looking back on (and her later work has fulfilled its promise and then some).
"Ken Kimble is what I call a serial marrier," Haigh says by phone from Boston, where she moved after graduating from the Iowa Writers Workshop last year. "He has these serious character flaws, but he has no problem finding women to marry." Haigh has firm opinions about why such a man can always find a bride. "We're raised as women to value marriage and family," she says, "and to believe that unless we've achieved those things, the rest of our accomplishments don't really count for very much."
Read the full interview from our February 2003 issue here.
Today’s Debut of the Day pick is The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent. Set during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, the story follows the real-life Carrier family, whose sharp-tongued matriarch is accused of consorting with the devil.
A descendent of the Carriers, Kent relates the story quietly, with moments of beauty that give way to horror, then to redemption. The Heretic's Daughter not only chronicles the insanity of the witch trials, but a family learning—maybe too late—to truly value each other.
Read the full review from our September 2008 issue here, and keep a lookout for Kent's next novel, The Outcasts, coming in October.
Today’s Debut of the Day pick is The Madonnas of Leningrad, by Debra Dean, a historical novel set during the 1941 Siege of Leningrad. For months, the city was cut off from supply routes, driving its residents to desperate measures. One young woman, Marina, takes refuge in the Hermitage, wandering the bare halls while preserving in her memory the artwork that used to hang there. Near the end of her life, her memory failing, this time returns to Marina, and she begins to share her wartime experiences with her own daughter for the first time.
Dean merges past and present in prose that shines like the gilt frames in the Hermitage. The story shifts seamlessly from 1941 to the present, just as Alzheimer's shifts time within Marina's mind. The heart of the story is its flashbacks, when we walk the Spanish Hall with Marina, aching with loss and hunger. As she commits scenes, colors, even brushstrokes to memory, the paintings come alive. Chapters narrated by her daughter Helen show us the present, when Marina slips away at a family gathering. During the search, Helen, herself a mother and an artist, wonders about the memories parents choose to tell their children and the memories they keep secret.
Read the full review from our April 2006 issue here.