Infinite Home by Kathleen Alcott
Full disclosure: I have known Kathleen Alcott for many years and am currently a renter in her basement, which makes for an oddly appropriate segue to talking about her astonishing new book. Infinite Home, Alcott's second novel, follows the lives of a small group of misfit renters in a Brooklyn brownstone, each of them facing different struggles to find a place in the world. Whether it's a depressed stand-up comic or an elderly landlady with dementia, Alcott hones in so closely and intelligently on her characters that they feel utterly live, making the reader forget about all the labels. Gorgeously written, funny, and profoundly humane, Infinite Home will move you deeply and compel you to take a second look at the strangers you live next to.
Confession of the Lioness by Mia Couto
In Confession of the Lioness, Mia Couto’s magical realist prose (adeptly translated from Portuguese by David Brookshaw) is replete with some of the most stunning metaphors I’ve ever encountered. That’s fitting, seeing as how the murderous lionesses at the novel’s center may or may not be one giant mythic metaphor themselves. But then what — or who — exactly is behind the slaughter of dozens of women in Kulumani, a small village in northern Mozambique? When the novel begins, Mariamar has just lost her third (and last remaining) sister to a vicious attack. Enter Archangel Bullseye, a skilled hunter from the city who has been called upon to take out the lions. As Archangel's and Mariamar's alternating narratives unpack the madness, murders, miracles, and myths that haunt this tiny village, they uncover threats far more sinister than a plague of hungry lions. Confession of the Lioness left me shaken, but also utterly entranced.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me is written in the form of a letter, addressed to his teenage son, Samori. Deeply personal, yet instructional and performative, Between the World and Me details Coates's understanding of what it means to be black in America — an enormous topic, and one that Coates addresses elegantly and in all its huge complexity, filtering it through his own life experiences as well as his expansive knowledge of history and politics. Throughout, Coates challenges the American Dream, built as it is on an ugly history and the plunder of black bodies, a history that keeps repeating and will continue to do so unless we push past our delusions and confront it.
Though Between the World and Me has a serious flaw — its blind spot with regards to black women, as Shani O. Hilton has described here — there is no mistaking its power and urgent importance. It is a breathtaking book, for the ways in which it states truths that are all too familiar for many yet new to others, for the ways it reminds us of those who could not breathe — and that the murders of black men, women, and children are caused by the reverberations of our history and a society that is in thrall to a false Dream. Read this book, and do what Coates hopes both his son and readers will do: Think. Fight. Live.
The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
The Invasion of the Tearling, the second book in Erika Johansen's Queen of the Tearling trilogy, ramps up the stakes, complicating both the characters and the world. Kelsea hasn't been Queen of the Tearling for long, but her responsibilities are mounting rapidly — especially now that the opposing Red Queen is preparing to invade her lands — and she must grapple with how to become a good and moral ruler in a dark and complex reality. While many of the questions from the first book are answered (in ways that are both surprising and utterly satisfying), Johansen also introduces new mysteries that will have readers glued to the sequel's pages. The world of The Queen of the Tearling is an intoxicating brew of dystopian fiction, high fantasy, science fiction, and a bit of horror — and in The Invasion of the Tearling, Johansen takes those elements and turns them up to eleven, making for a thrilling and thought-provoking read that takes this trilogy to even greater heights.
Summerlong by Dean Bakopoulos
Misery really, really loves company in Dean Bakopoulos’s Summerlong — but in a surprisingly delightful sort of way. In the wake of the Great Recession, Don Lowry’s real estate career and marriage are both tanking when he stumbles upon solace (and seduction) in the form of ABC, a twentysomething stoner girl mourning the loss of her first love and contemplating suicide. Meanwhile, Don’s wife, a one-time novelist, is falling for another man — an actor — who grapples with his own bizarre personal and familial failings. All of these crises fester and collide in a small Midwestern town over the course of a few hot summer weeks. Bakopoulos handles his complicated melodrama with a knowing grin, tossing in plenty of sex, drugs, and narrative whimsy to keep things interesting. Summerlong is a perfectly provocative and eclectic summer read.