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.
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.
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.
Today’s Debut of the Day pick is Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell, the rare book that could be described as both a romp and a murder-mystery. Bazell, who trained as a doctor before writing the novel, serves up plenty of laughs alongside the action in a story that will please fans of Janet Evanovich and Timothy Hallinan.
When it comes to the human body, Bazell knows his bones. He has an M.D. from Columbia University and is a medical resident at the University of California, San Francisco. His protagonist, Pietro Brnwa, is also a doctor—an overworked Manhattan hospital intern who goes by the name Peter Brown. Pietro took an unusual road to his Hippocratic oath, having spent his earlier years as a mob hit man nicknamed "The Bearclaw." After seeing the error of his ways—which in the mafia means he testified against his former employers and joined the witness protection program—he became a doctor as penance. Not surprisingly, Brnwa's former life catches up with him.
Read the full review from our January 2009 issue here.
Traversing the South Korean landscape, from the rural fishing village of Pusan to the bustling capital of Seoul, This Burns My Heart is truly a slice of history, capturing a country very much in transition. But more importantly, it is a love story so simple and universal that, in many ways, it could be set anywhere. With complex, sympathetic characters and vibrant, lyrical prose, Park reminds readers about loyalty, sacrifice, friendship, family and, above all, the enduring power of first love.
Read the full review from our August 2011 issue here.