Despite having only two novels to her credit, Lauren Groff is one of the most original voices in American literature today. Rumor has it she cements that reputation on September 15, when she'll release novel #3, Fates and Furies (Riverhead). A tour de force about a marriage, it's a story that posits that "the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets." Lotto and Mathilde married at 22, in secret, and their whirlwind romance and creative partnership is the envy of their friends. But 10 years on, we revisit the couple to find that there is more beneath the surface.
Check out an excerpt here. Who else is looking forward to this one?
Taisy Cleary and her twin brother, Marcus, haven't seen much of their father since he left the family when they were toddlers. Now, Wilson Cleary wants Taisy back in his life: He's writing a memoir, and needs her help. But doing so also means Taisy has to meet her teenaged half-sister for the second time—and confront the love she lost almost 20 years ago.
"Where there's a father saying 'whorish,' there's a boy. Spill it, missy."
I opened my mouth. Shut it.
Trillium reached for my hand. "Hold on. The boy wasn't a bad one, was he? He didn't abuse you or something?"
I shook my head. "He was good."
My mouth was dry. My heart was marbles in a tin can that someone was shaking.
"Name?" asked Trillium.
"Ben Ransom." The tin can shook harder. Clatter, clatter, clatter. After all this time, all it took was saying his name.
What are you reading this week?
Happy St. Patrick's Day! When you raise a (green) beer to honor an Irish saint for his brave 5th-century snake-banishing (via Riverdance, perhaps?) take a moment to consider Ireland's rich literary legacy. Here are a few of our favorites from today's best Irish authors:
A Death in Summer by Benjamin Black
Black's atmopheric mysteries are as full of twists as they are elegantly written (Black is a pseudonym for prize-winning author John Banville). We love his take on 1950s Ireland and his savvy amateur detective Garret Quirke.
Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín
This quiet story of the life of an everywoman in 1970s Ireland turns into a wider exploration of the country's past, present and future in the capable hands of Tóibín, one of today's most accomplished Irish writers.
Faithful Place by Tana French
No list of Irish writers would be complete without Tana French, whose textured mysteries have taken the suspense world by storm since she made her debut in 2007. In Faithful Place, she brings the Liberties—a housing project in Dublin—into the spotlight, uncovering the truth behind a decades-old disappearance.
An Evening of Long Goodbyes by Paul Murray
Murray is best known for his excellent second novel, Skippy Dies, but his charming, Wodehous-ian debut, set in a crumbling Irish mansion, is a social satire for the ages.
At the Edge of Ireland by David Yeadon
In the tradition of classics like Under the Tuscan Sun, big-city reportor David Yeadon recounts his adventures and attempts to fit in with the locals after moving to the most isolated outpost in Ireland he could find—the Beara Peninsula.
My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain
This novel blends past and present in a time-tested formula. It's the story of modern-day Irishwoman Kathleen de Burca, who becomes obsessed with the story of an ancestor who escaped Ireland during the potato famine.
A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle
Roddy Doyle is best known for his novels for adults, but in this magical middle-grade novel has an Irish setting that shines, a tough heroine and, best of all, a ghost.
Big news for Fall 2015: Jojo Moyes will publish a sequel to her blockbuster 2013 hit, Me Before You, on September 29. After You (Pamela Dorman) continues the story of Lou Clarke, a working-class girl whose unlikely romance with wealthy, wheelchair-bound Will Traynor changed her life forever.
Moyes credits her work on the script for the film adaptation of Me Before You (due in 2016) for her continued interest in the characters' lives, adding, "It has been such a pleasure revisiting Lou and her family, and the Traynors, and confronting them with a whole new set of issues. As ever, they have made me laugh, and cry. I hope readers feel the same way at meeting them again."
Moyes' British publisher has posted a brief trailer here, complete with a specially commissioned song. Are you looking forward to this one?
It's the middle of winter, and Francis Falbo is depressed, despondent and he hasn't changed out of his long johns and blue terrycloth bathrobe—the "uniform of a Life in Default"—for nine days. In the wake of his mother's death and his recent divorce, 30-something Francis has taken refuge in his father's creaky Victorian in his hometown of Pollard, Illinois. He could write some songs about all of this, except his moderately successful rock band, the Third Policeman, has also fallen apart. But as he slowly starts to venture outside his attic room, he comes to know his increasingly offbeat tenants and becomes more entangled and invested in their complicated lives than he ever expected.
I am also now sporting a beard, and have developed a very real anxiety about it smelling gamey, like a wet squirrel or coon. Beard pong can be and acute social/hygienic problem and when I encounter my tenants at the front porch mailboxes or in the basement laundry room I make an effort to keep at least an arm's length between us. Though I twiddle and stroke the beard compulsively, in fact I don't know what it looks like, as I've been doing my best to avoid mirrors and reflective surfaces of any kind out of fear of what I'm liable to see staring back at me. I'm starting to imagine the beleaguered Civil War soldier. Or the banished indie record store warlock. Or a derelict from the northeast United States. Like one of those Olympia, Washington, societal dropouts who eat only frosted Pop-Tarts, living out a Nineties grunge fantasy. The beard mangy and random with riptides and lots of wiry rogue strands.
The word wayward comes to mind.
But I'm a musician, so doesn't this fact make my current state okay?
What are you reading today?
On the eve of her wedding, a young woman wonders if she's ready to commit to her picture-perfect fiancé.
A lonely, overweight 20-something is working a dead-end job as an advice columnist when someone unexpected enters her life and shakes things up.
These may sound like stories you've read before. But this summer, two fearless debut novelists are pushing the boundaries, releasing female-centered stories that blend dark twists and searing social commentary.
Lily Wilder, the narrator of Eliza Kennedy's I Take You (Crown, May), is doubting her decision to marry—but not for the reasons you'd expect. Lily, a successful lawyer, isn't afraid that the ceremony won't be perfect, that she's not good enough for Will or that he'll run out on her: She's worried that marriage will cramp her not-exactly-monogamous lifestyle.
And Plum Kettle, the overweight protagonist of Sarai Walker's Dietland (HMH, June)? The person she meets who changes her life isn't a man, but a mysterious young woman who initiates the virtually housebound Plum (who is planning on having bariatric surgery) into a secret society of guerrilla fighters who are committing terrorist acts against the patriarchy. (No surprise, The Sun's page 3 is among the targets.)
Both Lily and Plum are heroines who lie outside the social norms. Lily loves her fiancé, Will, but she also loves sex—lots of it. She isn't sure if she can change that about herself, or if she even wants to, even though by accepting his proposal she's signed on to try.
Likewise, Plum is not conventionally beautiful–and maybe not even unconventionally beautiful, although it's hard to tell since Plum is only ever described through her own very critical eyes. All her life, Plum has defined herself by her weight, spending years on thankless diets waiting for her skinny self—whom she calls Alicia—to emerge so she can finally start living.
Still, it's not entirely unusual for stories to start out with women who don't conform to the norms. After all, that's why their lives aren't perfect, right? As the pages turn, you're waiting for the moment when Lily and Plum transform, become what society expects—which makes you realize just how well-trodden the tropes of women's fiction can be. But as Dietland and I Take You approach their very different but equally satisfying conclusions, it becomes clear that this isn't the point. Plum and Lily aren't the ones who need to change—the world is.
These two daring debuts introduce authors who have something to say.
It's still early in 2015, but at least one unknown female author has already rocketed to the top of bestseller lists (we're looking at you, Paula Hawkins!). Which other women will join her this year? Here's our list of the top 10 candidates.
THE FAIR FIGHT
Riverhead • April 14
Fans of authors like Sarah Waters and Michel Faber will thrill to Anna Freeman's debut, The Fair Fight, an exciting historical novel set in the little-known world of women's bare-knuckle boxing. Yes, in 1800s England, women—at least, some women—were allowed to escape the confines of the home to fight for prizes that were twice the annual salary of a housemaid (one of the few occupations for women at the time). But Freeman, who is a poet and lectures in English at Bath Spa University, goes beyond the blood splatters and missing teeth to take a broader look at the limitations of class and gender, encouraging readers to ponder who (if any) among her characters is given a fair fight.
Thomas Dunne • April 21
An artful mix of suspense, fantasy and social critique, Emily Schultz's The Blondes puts a feminist twist on the dystopian stories that have been crowding fiction shelves for the last several years. It's the near future in New York City, and grad student Hazel is pregnant after an affair with a married man. She's also confined to the house thanks to a mysterious virus that is turning blonde women into cold-blooded killers (luckily, Hazel is a natural redhead). Now blondes are no longer the butt of jokes but the world's worst nightmare. Schultz's work has been praised by the likes of Margaret Atwood and Stephen King (who gave an unwitting bump to her first novel, Joyland, when he published a book by the same name)—look for The Blondes to be embraced by an equally diverse group of readers.
Pamela Dorman • May 5
Retellings of Jane Eyre are not exactly thin on the ground (see 1 2 3 4), but Queens-born writer Patricia Park takes a fresh tack in her debut, Re Jane. She casts the quiet but strong-willed heroine as a mixed-race Korean orphan living with relatives in 2001 Flushing—and that's just the first twist Park puts on her decidedly 21st-century, girl-power take on the beloved classic, which sends its heroine from Brooklyn to Gangam and back again. Park, a Korean-American who spent time in Seoul on a Fulbright scholarship and has studied under the novelist Ha Jin, expertly details the cultural divides facing her heroine, adding another dimension to a tale that might otherwise seem too familiar.
GIRL AT WAR
Random House • May 12
It's impossible for those who have not experienced civil war to truly know what it's like—and that's one of the themes of 28-year-old Sara Nović's sensitive debut novel, Girl at War. Moving back and forth between 1991 Croatia and 2001 New York City, the story follows main character Ana as she survives a dangerous childhood and attempts to transition to a new family and culture in the United States. Nović's descriptions of Ana's wartime childhood convey how war can be both shocking and mundane as violence becomes part of everyday life. Girl at War was acquired and edited by Random House's David Ebershoff, who knows his talent: He was the editor of not one but two of the 2013 Pulitzer winners (The Orphan Master's Son and Embers of War).
Amistad • May 26
Novelist Dolen Perkins-Valdez's 2010 debut, Wench, was a word-of-mouth hit with readers and explored a lesser-known corner of American history: the resorts where plantation owners would vacation with their enslaved mistresses. Her long-awaited second novel, Balm, takes an equally unflinching look at America's past and should bring this talented writer to an even bigger audience. Set in post-Civil War Chicago, it follows three strangers—a widowed white woman, a freeborn black woman from Tennessee and a former slave whose wife was sold away from him before the war—who move to the city for a chance to start over but are unable to completely shed their pasts.
THE BOOK OF SPECULATION
St. Martin's • June 23
Erika Swyler's debut, The Book of Speculation, is a bookish mystery with a supernatural twist. In a dilapidated house on Long Island Sound, librarian Simon Watson presides over a crumbling family legacy—until the day an old book arrives on his doorstep. It's the journal of a carnival owner, and it's connected to the drowning death of Simon's mother. Can he solve the mystery before his sister meets the same fate? Swyler, who has written short fiction and worked as a playwright, probes the bonds of sibling love and loyalty with the same authenticity she brings to the book's more magical elements, giving the novel surprising depth. Fans of family sagas with a touch of the fantastic should flock to it.
Harper • July 28
TV producer and author Lissa Evans is well known in her native England (fellow Brit Paula Hawkins is a fan), but this summer she's being published for the first time in the U.S. Crooked Heart is her fourth novel, and her second for an adult audience. Set during World War II, it follows a 10-year-old orphan who's a crime novel aficionado. He's evacuated during the Blitz and rehomed with Vera Sedge, a down-on-her-luck single mother with a penchant for money-making schemes, and the two form an unlikely bond. Their odd-couple friendship will appeal to readers of books like Lost & Found, and Evans' authentic period tone evokes the subtle charm of midcentury classics like I Capture the Castle.
Touchstone • August 18
Susan Barker made the 2008 longlist for the Dylan Thomas Prize with her second novel, The Orientalist and the Ghost, but she's hovered just below most readers' radars. That just might change with the release of The Incarnations, a suspenseful tour through Chinese history and folklore that was described as "China's Midnight's Children" when it was published in the U.K. last year. In modern-day Beijing, Wang, a taxi driver, is being stalked by someone who claims to be his soul mate. As letters appear in his taxi telling the stories of their past lives over the last 1,000 years—all of which end in tragedy or betrayal—Wang's paranoia about his watcher's identity increases, and he begins to wonder if history will repeat itself.
St. Martin's • August 18
Celebrity authors may strike seven-figure deals without breaking a sweat, but for unknown writers, having a book snapped up at a price like that is a little less common. That is just one of the things that makes New York Times reporter Stephanie Clifford's first novel, Everybody Rise, a standout. Set in 2006 New York City, the book plumbs the unfailingly popular literary trope of the young and privileged in Manhattan, as seen through the eyes of an imposter in their ranks. The film rights have been secured by Fox 2000.
FSG • October 6
OK, so maybe it's a little sneaky to put an author who's already a bestseller on a list like this. But Sloane Crosley (I Was Told There'd Be Cake) is making a transition from humorous essays to fiction—and I for one am intrigued about how she'll do it. The Clasp is described as "a comedy of manners," which is a novelistic genre that's a perfect match for Crosley's talents. Other intriguing elements include the exploration of how college friendships start to change in your late 20s, a madcap search for a missing family heirloom and a nod to Guy de Maupassant.
Check out our track record by viewing past women to watch lists here.
Actor, writer and onetime Oscar host James Franco has been tapped to star in TV streaming service Hulu's adaptation of 11/22/63 by Stephen King. Franco will play Jake Epping, an unassuming high school teacher who travels back in time to kill Lee Harvey Oswald.
King has an executive producer credit for the adaptation, which was optioned by J.J. Abrams' production company and will air as a nine-part "limited series." This is the highest profile original program to date for Hulu, which has yet to have a breakout hit like Netflix's "House of Cards" or "Orange Is the New Black." Though previous adaptations of King's work are definitely hit or miss, they're always high profile, and the hook of 11/22/63 is an attention-grabber. Will you watch it?
In her latest novel, Girl Before a Mirror, Liza Palmer puts a recently divorced ad exec in charge of a competition involving seven sexy male cover models. But it's a British financial consultant who really challenges Anna's self-imposed dating sabbatical. Palmer, who earned two Emmy nominations for her work on VH1's "Pop-Up Video," is known for writing thought-provoking love stories that take unpredictable turns. In this guest post, she talks about how she learned to own up to loving what she loves—no matter what "they" think.
By Liza Palmer
Growing up, I’d been pop culturally feral. No television until my 20s, no money in the oft-empty coffers to see movies, the only music we had was the 101 Dalmatians book on record and the Annie soundtrack. And while my mom had her fancy college books, I wasn’t truly swept away by a book until I read The Color Purple in high school.
Combine this with a circle of friends that were about as with it as I was and you’ve got a childhood far removed from the fandoms and peer pressure that usually mold us whether we like it or not. So, when I liked a thing, I just got to like it. And when I loved a thing, I got to love with it my everything. The Twilight Bark can still bring me to tears, and don’t even get me started on making something shine like the top of the Chrysler building.
And then it happens. Maybe you announce—HYPOTHETICALLY, OF COURSE—that your favorite song is “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang and it’s met with snickering and some side eye. Maybe you proudly tell your friends that you bought that new Oakridge Boys tune and . . . maybe you hum a few bars of “Elvira” and learn that not everyone is as big a fan of multi-harmony genius as you are. And because being different in junior high was second only to death, I adapted. But, what started as me adapting came very close to ending with me disappearing.
If I liked a thing, I learned whether it was something I could like out loud or in secret. These were the books I could proudly display, and these were the ones I read when no one was around. These were the songs I put on mixes and these were the songs I told people I listened to “at the gym.” These were the movies I tweeted about and these were the movies I told people I liked “ironically.”
The me that loved things with all my heart got eroded away until I didn’t even remember what loving things purely felt like anymore. And although it feels slightly melodramatic, once I’d been corrupted it was much easier to then join the ranks of those who made fun of people who had the audacity to love the things that made them happy out loud, no matter the protest.
We are told that these *points to a very high shelf full of fancy things* are IMPORTANT. And if we don’t like these fancy things then we ourselves are not important. If we say we didn’t like it, we are told we didn’t “get it.” If we enjoy something They feel is pedestrian, then we become the reason our civilization is crumbling.
But then, the voice of reason came crackling through the darkness. And, as is usually the way in my life, the voice of reason was Joshua from WarGames.
“A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?”
The only winning move is not to play—whether we’re talking about Global Thermonuclear war or being true to oneself. I am valuable not because of the things I like, but because of the person I am. I am more than an algorithm. We deserve more than a brooding barista who only likes us because he thinks we like jazz. It’s time to recapture that same little kid sprawled out on our bedroom floors surrounded by an explosion of the things that made us happy.
We get to say what is important. And if something makes you happy, then it’s important. And guys. The Oakridge Boys are a really good band.
A novel about female wrestlers in the 1950s? Sign this jaded fiction editor up—that's not a summary I read every day. In Angelina Mirabella's winning (ha) debut novel, 17-year-old Leonie is stuck in Philly, waiting tables and caring for her aging father. But then a wrestling promoter walks into her diner and her life is changed forever—she's off to Florida to train at Joe Pospisil's School for Lady Grappling.
Mirabella tells her story in the second person, allowing the reader to fully step into Leonie's shoes, like a choose-your-own-adventure. Here's Leonie in the ring for the first time, with a fellow trainee and friend, Peggy.
"I'm sorry. What do you want us to do?" [Peggy] ventures.
"What do you mean, what do I want you to do?" Joe asks, his hands extended in front of him. "This is a match. You are opponents. So wrestle, damn it."
"Oh," you say, blinking back at Peggy. The two of you stare at each other for a while, each waiting for the other to begin, to offer up some clue as to how this might go. Thankfully, Peggy steps forward and takes you by the soulders, granting you permission to do the same. It is a strange sensation, to be locked in ref's position with her—not just another woman, but a buddy. It is a decidedly tentative press, and it makes you tentative, too. How real should this be? What are the boundaries? And what is she to you, exactly? Is she your colleague, or your rival?
"Well, this is boring," says Joe. "Would either of you care to do anything that might keep a paying customer from walking out?"
"Like this?" says Peggy, and she drops down and grabs your legs out from under you.
What are you reading this week?