Kaui Hart Hemmings follows up her best-selling debut novel The Descendants—which was made into an award-winning movie starring George Clooney—with The Possibilities, a moving story of a mother struggling to come to terms with the accidental death of her 22-year-old son. Our reviewer says of the book: "While [it] is a book ostensibly about death, it is at its core really about life—in all its messy, funny, hurtful, confusing and transcendent moments." (Read our complete review and a Q&A with Hemmings about the book.)
We were curious about the books Hemmings has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
Bread and Butter
By Michelle Wildgen
I’ve been a fan of Michelle’s work ever since our first workshop at Sarah Lawrence. This novel was rich, page-turning and simple, in the best way. Two brothers, two restaurants, one small town. The characters seriously sizzled with life—they were so utterly real, and the writing—the writing!—sings. Michelle is a master storyteller.
Another book about brothers that was captivating and fluid. This time the brothers are attorneys who return home to help their sister and her son who has been accused of hate crime. It’s an intimate book—clear-eyed, gripping and beautifully written.
The Stories of John Cheever
By John Cheever
I may as well stay the course. “Goodbye My Brother” is one of my favorite short stories of all time. A simple premise: The Pommeroy family—three sons and one daughter—meet at their summer place on the shore. One brother is so pessimistic and aggravating that he provokes his brother to hit him on the head. Small, profound and lyrical. Transcendent and enduring. It is, to me, a perfect story.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding The Possibilities—or any of Hemmings' recommended books—to your TBR list?
Today’s Debut of the Day pick is Amy & Isabelle, by Elizabeth Strout. Strout went on to win the Pulitzer Prize with her third book, Olive Kitteridge, but her debut, a sensitive story about mothers and daughters, marked her as an author to watch. Isabelle thinks she knows everything about her daughter, Amy, but when she discovers that Amy has been having an affair with her math teacher, their relationship is tested.
Amy's deceit makes Isabelle, a single mother, question her own parenting skills, remembering her own lies that began when she first moved to Shirley Falls when Amy was a baby. Horrified by her daughter's actions, Isabelle commits an act that they later regret, igniting the hostile silence throughout the summer. Unsure how to make amends, Amy and Isabelle begin the arduous process of learning to see each other as adults and recognizing their respective limits. . . . In this quiet but exhilarating novel, the reader becomes involved in the life of Shirley Falls, able to peer through everyone's roofs at night and empathize with their struggles.
Read the full review from our January 1999 issue here.
We're gearing up to recap the best books of 2012, but first, here's a look forward at a few of the fiction releases we're excited about in the first half of 2013. (Note: this post may be periodically updated as new releases are announced.)
Tenth of December by George Saunders (Random House). This ever idiosyncratic writer hasn't published a work of fiction since 2006, so this collection of short stories is highly anticipated. We're expecting plenty of acerbic—and absurdist—commentary on modern life.
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis (Knopf). A literary debut that's drawing praise from the likes of Marilynn Robinson, this book explores the black experience during the Great Migration and the decades that follow through the lives of a couple and their 12 children.
The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier (Dutton). The acclaimed historical writer's first book to be set in America chronicles the journey of a runaway slave in the 1850s.
White Dog Fell From the Sky by Eleanor Morse (Viking). Despite the Salvage the Bones rip-off cover art, this novel about Africa in the days of apartheid feels fresh and engaging. A South African refugee who escapes to Botswana and takes a job as a gardener (despite being a former medical student), and forms a bond with the white woman who hires him.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell (Knopf). Russell's imagination always astounds, and her second collection of short stories is full of the sort of hard-edged whimsey that marked her debut collection.
The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne (Free Press). Wayne's debut, Kapitoil, won the 2011 Whiting Writers' Award. In his second novel, Wayne satirizes the fame machine. Told in the memorable voice of Jonny, an 11-year-old pop star, this coming-of-age tale is part Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, part A Mother's Gift, and includes one of the most complicated portrayals of the mother-son relationship since Room. (read more)
See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid (FSG). Delayed from last fall, Kincaid's new novel about a fading marriage is said to be inspired heavily by her own life.
Schroder by Amity Gage (Twelve). This intriguing new novel promises to take on the issue of identity—the one we are born with, and the ones we make for ourselves—through the story of a German immigrant.
The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman (Bloomsbury). This quirky novel set during the final days of the Weimar Republic was on the longlist for this year's Man Booker Prize.
Harvest by Jim Crace (Nan A. Talese). An English village awakes to the troubling sight of twin columns of smoke—sounds like another unsettling tale from the author of Being Dead.
Benediction by Kent Haruf (Knopf). Haruf is a champion when it comes to chronicling the lives of everyday people with dignity and kindness. Here, he serves up a powerful tale of faith and community. (read more)
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid (Riverhead). Buzz is that this could be a breakout novel for Hamid, whose first two books garnered critical acclaim and prize nominations for their insight into relationships between East and West.
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (Viking). If you found a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the shore, containing an old diary, would it change your life? The answer in Ozeki's tale is emphatically YES. There's much weirdness and wonder in store in this new novel from the author of My Year of Meats.
Middle C by William H. Gass (Knopf). It has been 17 years since Gass, an influential writer and critic whose work has won just about every award out there, published a novel. This book goes from 1938 Austria to modern-day Ohio in its exploration of evil, sin and blame.
Equilateral by Ken Kalfus (Bloomsbury). Kalfus' previous novel, A Disorder Peculiar to the Country, was a 2006 National Book Award finalist. Here the Philadelphia writer goes to Egypt at the turn of the 20th century, where two British scientists are attempting to communicate with Mars—but can barely interact with each other, much less the women in their lives.
Maya's Notebook by Isabel Allende (Harper). This novel about a troubled American teen is something of a departure for the best-selling Chilean novelist—it's set in modern times and involves drugs, assassins and the FBI.
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (Riverhead). Wolitzer is a favorite here at BookPage, and we can't wait for her latest—a tale of six friends who meet as teenagers at summer camp and whose relationship is challenged by their different backgrounds, successes and failures.
All That Is by James Salter (Knopf). In a season filled with long-awaited novels, this just might be the juggernaut—Salter's last novel, Solo Faces, was published more than 30 years ago, and it's been seven years since he published his last work of fiction, the short story collection Last Night. This novel is billed as "a sweeping, seductive love story set in post-World War II America that tells of one man's great passions and regrets over the course of his lifetime."
The Mothers by Jennifer Gilmore (Scribner). Though her two previous novels have been historical, here Gilmore (a former publicity director at Harcourt) takes on the very contemporary subject of infertility and adoption in a story drawn in part from personal experience.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (Regan Arthur). A woman named Ursula Todd is born in 1910, only to die—and then be born again, and again, in the years leading up to World War II. Atkinson is excellent at weaving together seemingly disparate plotlines—as displayed in the Jackson Brodie series—so I can't wait to see what she does with the many lives of Ursula Todd.
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud (Knopf). It has been seven years since Messud's last novel—the acclaimed The Emperor's Children—but being married to a literary critic probably doesn't speed up the writing process. She returns with the story of a quiet teacher with dreams of becoming an artist. When she is drawn into a glamorous crowd through the family of one of her students, what appears to be her big break is instead an opening for something more sinister.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Knopf). The first novel in seven years from this brilliant young writer follows two teenagers who fall in love in Nigeria, are separated for years and reunite in their home country to find that it—and they—may have changed forever. (read more)
Montero Caine by Sidney Poitier (Spiegel & Grau). Proving it's never too late to start a new career, award-winning actor Poitier, now in his 80s, is publishing a first novel that blends mystery, science fiction and more. We are intrigued.
And the Mountains Echo by Khaled Hosseini (Riverhead). It's been nearly 10 years since Hosseini's dark horse debut hit, The Kite Runner, was published. He returns with (in his own words), "a multi-generational-family story as well, this time revolving around brothers and sisters, and the ways in which they love, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for each other." (read more)
Which 2013 releases are YOU most looking forward to?
Though it's a bit early to be talking about 2013 books, there is one release we can't wait to tell you about: The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout, coming from Random House on
May 21. March 26*. Strout is a favorite with us here at BookPage, and it's been four years since she published a book—the Pulitzer Prize winner Olive Kitteridge.
With The Burgess Boys, Strout returns to rural Maine, which the Burgess brothers have left for a life in Brooklyn. But they're drawn back into hometown life after their nephew's thoughtless prank becomes a scandal. Random House says the book is Strout's "richest, deepest novel to date"—to say we're excited just might be an understatement.
Are you an Elizabeth Strout fan? Will you read The Burgess Boys?
Editor's note: the pub date for this book was changed after this post originally went up. Good news for fans who were having trouble waiting until May!
Related in BookPage: our 2006 interview with Strout about Abide With Me.