While we know that 2020 will find us facing ever more political upheaval, fighting endless uphill battles for equality and freedom, and screaming into our pillows at night, we can also assure you that there will be great literature to bring us solace, to inspire and enlighten us, and to offer us moments of escape.
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Below are books Rumpus editors are eagerly anticipating that release between January 1 and June 30. Here’s to a happy New Year!
Before and After the Book Deal: A Writer’s Guide to Finishing, Publishing, Promoting, and Surviving Your First Book by Courtney Maum (Catapult, January 7, 2020)
Are MFA programs worth the time and money? How do people actually sit down and finish a novel? Did you get a good advance? What do you do when you feel envious of other writers? And why the heck aren’t your friends saying anything about your book? Covering questions ranging from the logistical to the existential (and everything in between), acclaimed author Courtney Maum has put together a definitive guide for anyone who has ever wanted to know what it’s really like to be an author.
Cleanness by Garth Greenwell (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, January 14, 2020)
Sofia, Bulgaria, a landlocked city in southern Europe, stirs with hope and impending upheaval. Soviet buildings crumble, wind scatters sand from the far south, and political protesters flood the streets with song. In this atmosphere of disquiet, an American teacher navigates a life transformed by the discovery and loss of love. As he prepares to leave the place he’s come to call home, he grapples with the intimate encounters that have marked his years abroad, each bearing uncanny reminders of his past. A queer student’s confession recalls his own first love, a stranger’s seduction devolves into paternal sadism, and a romance with another foreigner opens, and heals, old wounds. Each echo reveals startling insights about what it means to seek connection: with those we love, with the places we inhabit, and with our own fugitive selves.
Still by Sandra Meeks (Persea, January 14, 2020)
Still reimagines the Renaissance concept of the studiolo, a room displaying cabinets of wonder, each juxtaposing human-made art objects, such as miniature still-life paintings, with natural ones―harbingers of the coming wonders and catastrophes of travel brought back from distant lands Europeans claimed as “discoveries.” These poems shimmer with the wonders of the natural and aesthetic worlds―and in doing so, reckon with environmental, colonial, and sexual violence, with the oppression of silencing as well as the reclamation of voice. In confronting violations of body, family, culture, and nature, Still gives voice and image not only to what is still, what has been stilled, and what is in danger of being forever stilled, but also to the marvel of survival.
Little Gods by Meng Jin (Custom House, January 14, 2020)
On the night of June Fourth, a woman gives birth in a Beijing hospital alone. Thus begins the unraveling of Su Lan, a brilliant physicist who until this moment has successfully erased her past. When Su Lan dies unexpectedly seventeen years later, it is her daughter Liya who inherits the silences and contradictions of her life. Liya, who grew up in America, takes her mother’s ashes to China—to her, an unknown country. In a territory inhabited by the ghosts of the living and the dead, Liya’s memories are joined by those of two others: Zhu Wen, the woman last to know Su Lan before she left China, and Yongzong, the father Liya has never known. In this way a portrait of Su Lan emerges: an ambitious scientist, an ambivalent mother, and a woman whose relationship to her own past shapes and ultimately unmakes Liya’s own sense of displacement. A story of migrations literal and emotional, spanning time, space and class, Little Gods is a sharp yet expansive exploration of the aftermath of unfulfilled dreams, an immigrant story in negative that grapples with our tenuous connections to memory, history, and self.
Homie by Danez Smith (Graywolf Press, January 21, 2020)
Homie is Danez Smith’s magnificent anthem about the saving grace of friendship. Rooted in the loss of one of Smith’s close friends, this book comes out of the search for joy and intimacy within a nation where both can seem scarce and getting scarcer. In poems of rare power and generosity, Smith acknowledges that in a country overrun by violence, xenophobia, and disparity, and in a body defined by race, queerness, and diagnosis, it can be hard to survive, even harder to remember reasons for living. But then the phone lights up, or a shout comes up to the window, and family―blood and chosen―arrives with just the right food and some redemption. Part friendship diary, part bright elegy, part war cry, Homie is the exuberant new book written for Danez and for Danez’s friends and for you and for yours. A recent Rumpus Poetry Book Club selection!
The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia by Emma Copley Eisenberg (Hachette Books, January 21, 2020)
In the early evening of June 25, 1980 in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, two middle-class outsiders named Vicki Durian, 26, and Nancy Santomero, 19, were murdered in an isolated clearing. They were hitchhiking to a festival known as the Rainbow Gathering but never arrived; they traveled with a third woman, however, who lived. For thirteen years, no one was prosecuted for the “Rainbow Murders,” though deep suspicion was cast on a succession of local residents in the community, depicted as poor, dangerous, and backward. In 1993, a local farmer was convicted, only to be released when a known serial killer and diagnosed schizophrenic named Joseph Paul Franklin claimed responsibility. With the passage of time, as the truth seemed to slip away, the investigation itself caused its own traumas—turning neighbor against neighbor and confirming a fear of the violence outsiders have done to this region for centuries. Emma Copley Eisenberg spent years living in Pocahontas and reinvestigating these brutal acts. Using the past and the present, she shows how this mysterious act of violence has loomed over all those affected for generations, shaping their fears, fates, and the stories they tell about themselves.
Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo (Harper, January 28, 2020)
When Marcelo Hernandez Castillo was five years old and his family was preparing to cross the border between Mexico and the United States, he suffered temporary, stress-induced blindness. Castillo regained his vision, but quickly understood that he had to move into a threshold of invisibility before settling in California with his parents and siblings. Thus began a new life of hiding in plain sight and of paying extraordinarily careful attention at all times for fear of being truly seen. Before Castillo was one of the most celebrated poets of a generation, he was a boy who perfected his English in the hopes that he might never seem extraordinary. With beauty, grace, and honesty, Castillo recounts his and his family’s encounters with a system that treats them as criminals for seeking safe, ordinary lives.
Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu (Pantheon, January 28, 2020)
Willis Wu doesn’t perceive himself as a protagonist even in his own life: He’s merely a Generic Asian Man. Sometimes he gets to be Background Oriental Making a Weird Face or even Disgraced Son, but he is always relegated to a prop. Yet every day he leaves his tiny room in a Chinatown SRO and enters the Golden Palace restaurant, where Black and White, a procedural cop show, is in perpetual production. He’s a bit player here, too, but he dreams of being Kung Fu Guy—the most respected role that anyone who looks like him can attain. At least that’s what he has been told, time and time again. Except by one person, his mother, who says to him: Be more.
Include Me Out by María Sonia Cristoff, translated by Katherine Silver (Transit Books, February 4, 2020)
Mara is a simultaneous interpreter who moves to a provincial town in Argentina in order to speak as little as possible for a year. Steeled with the ten rules of silence set out in her manual of rhetoric, she takes a job as a guard in the local museum. The advantages of her work are threatened when she’s asked to assist in the re-embalming of the museum’s pride and joy: two horses―of great national and historical significance―are disintegrating and must be saved. But her goal and her slippery grasp on sanity lead her to more anarchistic means to bolster her purpose. Bold, subversive, and threaded through with acerbic wit, Include Me Out is an homage to silence and the impossibility of achieving it. A recent Rumpus Book Club selection!
My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland (Tin House Books, February 4, 2020)
While working as an intern in the archives at the Harry Ransom Center, Jenn Shapland encounters the love letters of Carson McCullers and a woman named Annemarie—letters that are tender, intimate, and unabashed in their feelings. Shapland recognizes herself in the letters’ language—but does not see McCullers as history has portrayed her. Shapland is compelled to undertake a recovery of the full narrative and language of McCullers’s life: she wades through the therapy transcripts; she stays at McCullers’s childhood home, where she lounges in her bathtub and eats delivery pizza; she relives McCullers’s days at her beloved Yaddo. As Shapland reckons with the expanding and collapsing distance between her and McCullers, she sees how McCullers’s story has become a way to articulate something about herself. The results reveal something entirely new not only about this one remarkable, walleyed life, but about the way we tell queer love stories. A recent Rumpus Book Club selection!
Verge by Lidia Yuknavitch (Riverhead Books, February 4, 2020)
An eight-year-old trauma victim is enlisted as an underground courier, rushing frozen organs through the alleys of Eastern Europe. A young janitor transforms discarded objects into a fantastical, sprawling miniature city until a shocking discovery forces him to rethink his creation. A brazen child tells off a pack of schoolyard tormentors with the spirited invention of an eleventh commandment. A wounded man drives eastward, through tears and grief, toward an unexpected transcendence. In Verge, Yuknavitch’s first collection of short fiction, she turns her eye to life on the margins, in all its beauty and brutality.
The Galleons by Rick Barot (Milkweed Editions, February 11, 2020)
These poems are engaged in the work of recovery, making visible what is often intentionally erased: the movement of domestic workers on a weekday morning in Brooklyn; a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, fondly sharing photos of his dog; the departure and destination points of dozens of galleons between 1564 and 1815, these ships evoking both the vast movements of history and the individual journeys of those borne along by their tides. With nods toward Barot’s poetic predecessors―from Frank O’Hara to John Donne―The Galleons represents an exciting extension and expansion of Barot’s work, marrying “reckless” ambition and crafted “composure,” in which we repeatedly find the speaker standing and breathing before the world, “incredible and true.”
The Tilt Torn Away from the Seasons by Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers (Acre Books, February 15, 2020)
The Tilt Torn Away from the Seasons imagines a human mission to Mars, a consequence of Earth’s devastation from climate change and natural disaster. As humans begin to colonize the planet, history inevitably repeats itself. Dystopian and ecopoetic, this collection examines the impulse and danger of the colonial mindset, and the ways that gendered violence and ecological destruction, body and land, are linked. Featuring a multiplicity of narratives and voices, readers are presented with sonnet crowns, application forms, and large-scale landscape poems that seem to float across the field of the page. With these unusual forms, Rogers also reminds us of previous exploitations on our own planet. Striking, thought-provoking, and necessary, The Tilt Torn Away from the Seasons offers a new parable for our modern times. A recent Rumpus Poetry Book Club selection!
Real Life by Brandon Taylor (Riverhead Books, February 18, 2020)
A novel of rare emotional power that excavates the social intricacies of a late-summer weekend—and a lifetime of buried pain. Almost everything about Wallace, an introverted African-American transplant from Alabama, is at odds with the lakeside Midwestern university town where he is working toward a biochemistry degree. For reasons of self-preservation, Wallace has enforced a wary distance even within his own circle of friends—some dating each other, some dating women, some feigning straightness. But a series of confrontations with colleagues, and an unexpected encounter with a young straight man, conspire to fracture his defenses, while revealing hidden currents of resentment and desire that threaten the equilibrium of their community.
Living Weapon by Rowan Ricardo Phillips (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, February 18, 2020)
Rowan Ricardo Phillips’s Living Weapon is a love song to the imagination, a new blade of light honed in on our political moment. A winged man plummets from the troposphere; four NYPD officers enter a cellphone store; concrete sidewalks hang overhead. Here, in his third collection of poems, Phillips offers us ruminations on violins and violence, on hatred, on turning forty-three, even on the end of existence itself. Living Weapon reveals to us the limitations of our vocabulary, that our platitudes are not enough for the brutal times in which we find ourselves. But still, our lives go on, and these are poems of survival as much as they are an indictment.
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong (One World, February 25, 2020)
Part memoir and part cultural criticism, this collection is vulnerable, humorous, and provocative—and its relentless and riveting pursuit of vital questions around family and friendship, art and politics, identity and individuality, will change the way you think about our world. Binding these essays together is Hong’s theory of “minor feelings.” As the daughter of Korean immigrants, Cathy Park Hong grew up steeped in shame, suspicion, and melancholy. She would later understand that these “minor feelings” occur when American optimism contradicts your own reality—when you believe the lies you’re told about your own racial identity. Minor feelings are not small, they’re dissonant—and in their tension Hong finds the key to the questions that haunt her.
A Nail the Evening Hangs On by Monica Sok (Copper Canyon Press, February 25, 2020)
In her debut collection, Monica Sok uses poetry to reshape a family’s memory about the Khmer Rouge regime―memory that is both real and imagined―according to a child of refugees. Driven by myth-making and fables, the poems examine the inheritance of the genocide and the profound struggles of searing grief and PTSD. Though the landscape of Cambodia is always present, it is the liminal space, the in-betweenness of diaspora, in which younger generations must reconcile their history and create new rituals. A Nail the Evening Hangs On seeks to reclaim the Cambodian narrative with tenderness and an imagination that moves towards wholeness and possibility.
Strung Out: One Last Hit and Other Lies That Nearly Killed Me by Erin Khar (Park Row, February 25, 2020)
Growing up in LA, Erin Khar hid behind a picture-perfect childhood filled with excellent grades, a popular group of friends, and horseback riding. After first experimenting with her grandmother’s expired painkillers, Khar started using heroin when she was thirteen. The drug allowed her to escape from pressures to be perfect and suppress all the heavy feelings she couldn’t understand. This fiercely honest memoir explores how heroin shaped every aspect of her life for the next fifteen years and details the various lies she told herself, and others, about her drug use. With enormous heart and wisdom, she shows how the shame and stigma surrounding addiction, which fuels denial and deceit, is so often what keeps addicts from getting help. There is no one path to recovery, and for Khar, it was in motherhood that she found the inner strength and self-forgiveness to quit heroin and fight for her life.
Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry by John Murillo (Four Way Books, March 2, 2020)
John Murillo’s second book is a reflective look at the legacy of institutional, accepted violence against Blacks and Latinos and the personal and societal wreckage wrought by long histories of subjugation. A sparrow trapped in a car window evokes a mother battered by a father’s fists; a workout at an iron gym recalls a long-ago mentor who pushed the speaker “to become something unbreakable.” At the heart of the book is a sonnet crown triggered by the shooting deaths of three Brooklyn men that becomes an extended meditation on the history of racial injustice and the notion of payback as a form of justice.
Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz (Graywolf Press, March 3, 2020)
Postcolonial Love Poem is an anthem of desire against erasure. Natalie Diaz’s brilliant second collection demands that every body carried in its pages―bodies of language, land, rivers, suffering brothers, enemies, and lovers―be touched and held as beloveds. Through these poems, the wounds inflicted by America onto an indigenous people are allowed to bloom pleasure and tenderness. In this new lyrical landscape, the bodies of indigenous, Latinx, black, and brown women are simultaneously the body politic and the body ecstatic. In claiming this autonomy of desire, language is pushed to its dark edges, the astonishing dunefields and forests where pleasure and love are both grief and joy, violence and sensuality. Postcolonial Love Poem unravels notions of American goodness and creates something more powerful than hope―in it, a future is built, future being a matrix of the choices we make now, and in these poems, Diaz chooses love.
Apology to the Young Addict by James Brown (Counterpoint, March 3, 2020)
Now sixty―with years of sobriety under his belt―and the father of three sons, James Brown writes about finding a new path in life, making peace with the family whose ghosts have haunted him, and helping the next generation of addicts overcome their disease. Opening with the tragic tale of an elderly couple consumed by opioid addiction and moving through the horrors of a Las Vegas massacre, these essays draw on Brown’s personal journey of recovery to illustrate how an individual life, in all its messiness and charm, can offer a blueprint for healing.
For the Ride by Alice Notley (Penguin Books, March 3, 2020)
Alice Notley has become one of the most highly regarded figures in American poetry, a master of the visionary mode acclaimed for genre-bending, book-length poems of great ambition and adventurousness. Her newest book, For the Ride, is another such work. The protagonist, “One,” is suddenly within the glyph, whose walls project scenes One can enter, and One does so. Other beings begin to materialize, and it seems like they (and One) are all survivors of a global disaster. They board a ship to flee to another dimension; they decide what they must save on this Ark are words, and they gather together as many as are deemed fit to save. They “sail” and meanwhile begin to change the language they are speaking, before disembarking at an abandoned future city.
These Ghosts Are Family by Maisy Card (Simon & Schuster, March 3, 2020)
Stanford Solomon has a shocking, thirty-year-old secret. And it’s about to change the lives of everyone around him. Stanford Solomon is actually Abel Paisley, a man who faked his own death and stole the identity of his best friend. And now, nearing the end of his life, Stanford is about to meet his firstborn daughter, Irene Paisley, a home health aide who has unwittingly shown up for her first day of work to tend to the father she thought was dead. These Ghosts Are Family revolves around the consequences of Abel’s decision and tells the story of the Paisley family from colonial Jamaica to present day Harlem. Card explores the ways each character wrestles with their ghosts and struggles to forge independent identities outside of the family and their trauma. The result is an engrossing portrait of a family and individuals caught in the sweep of history, slavery, migration, and the more personal dramas of infidelity, lost love, and regret.
Foreign Bodies by Kimiko Hahn (W. W. Norton & Company, March 3, 2020)
Inspired by her encounter with Dr. Chevalier Jackson’s collection of ingested curiosities at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, Kimiko Hahn’s tenth collection investigates the grip that seemingly insignificant objects exert on our lives. Itself a cabinet of curiosities, the collection provokes the same surprise, wonder, and pangs of recognition Hahn felt upon opening drawer after drawer of these swallowed, and retrieved, objects. As Hahn remakes the lyric sequence in chains reminiscent of the Japanese tanka, the foreign bodies of the title expand to include the immigrant woman’s trafficked body, fossilized remains, a grandmother’s Japanese body. Foreign Bodies investigates the power of possession, replete with Hahn’s electric originality and thrilling mastery of ever-changing forms.
Pale Colors in a Tall Field by Carl Phillips (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, March 3, 2020)
Carl Phillips’s new poetry collection, Pale Colors in a Tall Field, is a meditation on the intimacies of thought and body as forms of resistance. The poems are both timeless and timely, asking how we can ever truly know ourselves in the face of our own remembering and inevitable forgetting. Here, the poems metaphorically argue that memory is made up of various colors, with those most prominent moments in a life seeming more vivid, though the paler colors are never truly forgotten. The poems in Pale Colors in a Tall Field approach their points of view kaleidoscopically, enacting the self’s multiplicity and the difficult shifts required as our lives, in turn, shift.
In the Lateness of the World by Carolyn Forché (Penguin Press, March 10, 2020)
Forché’s first new collection in seventeen years, In the Lateness of the World is a tenebrous book of crossings, of migrations across oceans and borders but also between the present and the past, life and death. The poems call to the reader from the end of the world where they are sifting through the aftermath of history. Forché envisions a place where “you could see everything at once… every moment you have lived or place you have been.” The world here seems to be steadily vanishing, but in the moments before the uncertain end, an illumination arrives and “there is nothing that cannot be seen.”
The Gutter Spread Guide to Prayer by Eric Tran (Autumn House Press, March 15, 2020)
In The Gutter Spread Guide to Prayer, Eric Tran contends with the aftermath of a close friend’s suicide while he simultaneously explores the complexities of being a gay man of color. Grief opens into unraveling circles of inquiry as Tran reflects on the loss of his friend and of their shared identity as gay Asian American men. Through mourning and acute observations, these poems consider how those who experience marginalization, the poet included, may live and fall victim to tragedy. Tran explores how his life, even while in the company of desire and the pursuit of freedom, is never far from danger. Like grief that makes the whole world seem strange, Tran’s poetry merges into fantasy lands and rides the lines between imagined worlds and the reality of inescapable loss. A Rumpus Poetry Book Club upcoming selection!
The Eighth Girl by Maxine Mei-Fung Chung (William Morrow, March 17, 2020)
Meet Alexa Wú, a brilliant yet darkly self-aware young woman whose chaotic life is manipulated and controlled by a series of alternate personalities. Only three people know about their existence: her shrink Daniel, her stepmother Anna, and her enigmatic best friend Ella. When Ella gets a job at a high-end gentleman’s club, she catches the attention of its shark-like owner and is gradually drawn into his inner circle. As Alexa’s world becomes intimately entangled with Ella’s, she soon finds herself the unwitting keeper of a nightmarish secret. With no one to turn to and lives at stake, she follows Ella into London’s cruel underbelly on a daring rescue mission. Threatened and vulnerable, Alexa will discover whether her multiple personalities are her greatest asset, or her most dangerous obstacle.
Later: My Life at the Edge of the World by Paul Lisicky (Graywolf Press, March 17, 2020)
When Paul Lisicky arrived in Provincetown in the early 1990s, he was leaving behind a history of family trauma to live in a place outside of time, known for its values of inclusion, acceptance, and art. In this idyllic haven, Lisicky searches for love and connection and comes into his own as he finds a sense of belonging. At the same time, the center of this community is consumed by the AIDS crisis, and the very structure of town life is being rewired out of necessity: What might this utopia look like during a time of dystopia? Later dramatizes a spectacular yet ravaged place and a unique era when more fully becoming one’s self collided with the realization that ongoingness couldn’t be taken for granted, and staying alive from moment to moment exacted absolute attention. A Rumpus Book Club upcoming selection!
Guidebooks for the Dead by Cynthia Cruz (Four Way Books, March 2, 2020)
In Guidebooks for the Dead, Cynthia Cruz returns to a familiar literary landscape in which a cast of extraordinary women struggle to create amidst violence, addiction, and poverty. For Marguerite Duras, evoked here in a collage of poems, the process of renaming herself is a “Quiet death,” a renewal she envisions as vital to her evolution. In “Duras (The Flock),” she is “high priestess” to an imagined assemblage of women writers for whom the word is sustenance and weapon, “tiny pills or bullets, each one packed with memory, packed with a multitude of meaning.” Joining them is the book’s speaker, an “I” who steps forward to declare her rightful place among “these ladies with smeared lipstick and torn hosiery… this parade of wrong voices.” Guidebooks for the Dead is both homage to these women and a manifesto for how to survive in a world that seeks to silence those who resist.
Lakewood by Megan Giddings (Amistad, March 24, 2020)
When Lena Johnson’s beloved grandmother dies, and the full extent of the family debt is revealed, the black millennial drops out of college to support her family and takes a job in the mysterious and remote town of Lakewood, Michigan. On paper, her new job is too good to be true. High paying. No out of pocket medical expenses. A free place to live. All Lena has to do is participate in a secret program—and lie to her friends and family about the research being done in Lakewood. An eye drop that makes brown eyes blue, a medication that could be a cure for dementia, golden pills promised to make all bad thoughts go away. The discoveries made in Lakewood, Lena is told, will change the world—but the consequences for the subjects involved could be devastating. As the truths of the program reveal themselves, Lena learns how much she’s willing to sacrifice for the sake of her family.
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. Mandel (Knopf, March 24, 2020)
In this captivating story of crisis and survival, Emily St. John Mandel takes readers through often hidden landscapes: campgrounds for the near-homeless, underground electronica clubs, the business of international shipping, service in luxury hotels, and life in a federal prison. Rife with unexpected beauty, The Glass Hotel is a captivating portrait of greed and guilt, love and delusion, ghosts and unintended consequences, and the infinite ways we search for meaning in our lives.
Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby (Vintage, March 31, 2020)
Irby is forty, and increasingly uncomfortable in her own skin despite what Inspirational Instagram Infographics have promised her. She has left her job as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic, has published successful books and has been friendzoned by Hollywood, left Chicago, and moved into a house with a garden that requires repairs and know-how with her wife in a blue town in the middle of a red state where she now hosts book clubs and makes mason jar salads. This is the bourgeois life of a Hallmark Channel dream. She goes on bad dates with new friends, spends weeks in Los Angeles taking meetings with “TV executives slash amateur astrologers” while being a “cheese fry-eating slightly damp Midwest person,” “with neck pain and no cartilage in [her] knees,” who still hides past-due bills under her pillow.
Days of Distraction by Alexandra Chang (Ecco, March 31, 2020)
The plan is to leave. As for how, when, to where, and even why—she doesn’t know yet. So begins a journey for the twenty-four-year-old narrator of Days of Distraction. As a staff writer at a prestigious tech publication, she reports on the achievements of smug Silicon Valley billionaires and start-up bros while her own request for a raise gets bumped from manager to manager. And when her longtime boyfriend, J, decides to move to a quiet upstate New York town for grad school, she sees an excuse to cut and run. Moving is supposed to be a grand gesture of her commitment to J and a way to reshape her sense of self. But in the process, she finds herself facing misgivings about her role in an interracial relationship. Captivated by the stories of her ancestors and other Asian Americans in history, she must confront a question at the core of her identity: What does it mean to exist in a society that does not notice or understand you?
Godshot by Chelsea Bieker (Catapult, April 7, 2020)
Drought has settled on the town of Peaches, California. The area of the Central Valley where fourteen-year-old Lacey May and her alcoholic mother live was once an agricultural paradise. Now it’s an environmental disaster, a place of cracked earth and barren raisin farms. In their desperation, residents have turned to a cult leader named Pastor Vern for guidance. He promises, through secret “assignments,” to bring the rain everybody is praying for. Lacey has no reason to doubt the pastor. But then her life explodes in a single unimaginable act of abandonment: her mother, exiled from the community for her sins, leaves Lacey and runs off with a man she barely knows. As Lacey May begins to uncover the full extent of Pastor Vern’s shocking plan to bring fertility back to the land, she decides she must go on a quest to find her mother, no matter what it takes. Godshot is a book of grit and humor and heart, a debut novel about female friendship and resilience, mother-loss and motherhood, and seeking salvation in unexpected places. A Rumpus Book Club upcoming selection!
Birthright by George Abraham (Button Poetry, April 7, 2020)
Birthright is a book that balances the weight of place. The pride and shame and worth of homeland. Palestine, a homeland under siege and under scrutiny from a world that doesn’t occupy its borders. It is a book of immense nuance, pulling together all corners of the author’s pride in home, but also a desire to understand the violent cycles of the American machinery of war.
Rift Zone by Tess Taylor (Red Hen Press, April 7, 2020)
Taylor’s much-anticipated third book traces literal and metaphoric fault lines—rifts between past and present, childhood and adulthood, what is and what was. Circling Taylor’s hometown—an ordinary California suburb lying along the Hayward fault—these poems unearth strata that include a Spanish land grant, a bloody land grab, gun violence, valley girls, strip malls, redwood trees, and the painful history of Japanese internment. Taylor’s ambitious and masterful poems read her home state’s historic violence against our world’s current unsteadinesses—mass eviction, housing crises, deportation, inequality. They also ponder what it means to try to bring up children along these rifts. What emerges is a powerful core sample of America at the brink—an American elegy equally tuned to maternal and to geologic time.
How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang (Riverhead Books, April 7, 2020)
Ba dies in the night; Ma is already gone. Newly orphaned children of immigrants, Lucy and Sam are suddenly alone in a land that refutes their existence. Fleeing the threats of their western mining town, they set off to bury their father in the only way that will set them free from their past. Along the way, they encounter giant buffalo bones, tiger paw prints, and the specters of a ravaged landscape as well as family secrets, sibling rivalry, and glimpses of a different kind of future. Both epic and intimate, blending Chinese symbolism and reimagined history with fiercely original language and storytelling, How Much of These Hills Is Gold explores race in an expanding country and the question of where immigrants are allowed to belong. But page by page, it’s about the memories that bind and divide families, and the yearning for home.
The Malevolent Volume by Justin Phillip Reed (Coffee House Press, April 7, 2020)
Subverting celebrated classics of poetry and mythology and examining horrors from contemporary film and cultural fact, Justin Phillip Reed engages darkness as an aesthetic to conjure the revenant animus that lurks beneath the exploited civilities of marginalized people. In these poems, Reed finds agency in the other-than-human identities assigned to those assaulted by savageries of the state. In doing so, he summons a retaliatory, counter-violent Black spirit to revolt and to inhabit the revolting.
The Dominant Animal by Kathryn Scanlan (MCD x FSG Originals (April 7, 2020)
In The Dominant Animal, compression is key. Sentences have been relentlessly trimmed, tuned, and teased for maximum impact, and a ferocious attention to rhythm and sound results in a palpable pulse of excitability and distress. The nature of love is questioned at a golf course, a flower shop, an all-you-can-eat buffet. The clay head of a man is bought and displayed as a trophy. Interior life manifests on the physical plane, where characters―human and animal―eat and breathe, provoke and injure one another. With exquisite control, Scanlan moves from expansive moods and fine afternoons to unease and violence―and also from deliberate and generative ambiguity to shocking, revelatory exactitude.
Obit by Victoria Chang (Copper Canyon Press, April 14, 2020)
After her mother died, poet Victoria Chang refused to write elegies. Rather, she distilled her grief during a feverish two weeks by writing scores of poetic obituaries for all she lost in the world. In Obit, Chang writes of “the way memory gets up after someone has died and starts walking.” These poems reinvent the form of newspaper obituary to both name what has died (“civility,” “language,” “the future,” “Mother’s blue dress”) and the cultural impact of death on the living. Whereas elegy attempts to immortalize the dead, an obituary expresses loss, and the love for the dead becomes a conduit for self-expression. In this unflinching and lyrical book, Chang meets her grief and creates a powerful testament for the living.
What Is the Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life by Mark Doty (W. W. Norton & Company, April 14, 2020)
Mark Doty has always felt haunted by Walt Whitman’s bold, perennially new American voice, and by his equally radical claims about body and soul and what it means to be a self. In What Is the Grass, Doty keeps company with Whitman and his Leaves of Grass, tracing the resonances between his own experience and the legendary poet’s life and work. He meditates on desire, love, and the mysterious wellsprings of the poet’s enduring work: a radical experience of transformation and enlightenment, queer sexuality, and an obsession with death, as well as unabashed love for a great city and for the fresh, rowdy character of American speech. In close readings threaded with personal memoir and illuminated by awe, Doty reveals the power of Whitman’s persistent presence in his life and in the American imagination at large.
Year of the Dog by Deborah Paredez (BOA Editions, April 14, 2020)
In the tradition of women as the unsung keepers of history, Deborah Paredez’s second poetry collection tells her story as a Latina daughter of the Vietnam War. The title refers to the year 1970―the “year of the Metal Dog” in the lunar calendar―which was the year of the author’s birth, the year her father prepared to deploy to Vietnam along with many other Mexican-American immigrant soldiers, and a year of tremendous upheaval across the United States. In poems and lamentations that evoke Hecuba, the mythic figure so consumed by grief over the atrocities of war that she was transformed into a howling dog, and La Llorona, the weeping woman in Mexican folklore who haunts the riverbanks in mourning and threatens to disturb the complicity of those living in the present, Paredez recontextualizes the historical moments of the Vietnam era, from the arrest of Angela Davis to the haunting image of Mary Ann Vecchio at the Kent State Massacre, never forgetting the outcry and outrage that women’s voices have carried across time.
A Sinking Ship Is Still a Ship by Ariel Francisco (Burrow Press, April 21, 2020)
In Ariel Francisco’s Miami, invasive lionfish are sympathetic creatures, the beach succumbs to sea-level rise, and “305 till I die” is a cry for help. The speakers in these hilarious and melancholy poems depict a rich and varied emotional landscape that mirrors that of the state they long to leave, dead or alive. They imagine themselves standing on ocean garbage patches, contemplate the crabgrass on traffic medians, and envision the new beauty of a submerged Miami Beach. In one moment the strange becomes familiar, only to become strange again in the next stanza. Taking inspiration from Campbell McGrath and Richard Blanco, among others, Ariel Francisco’s second book of poems deals with climate change and the absurdities and difficulties of being a millenial Latinx in the Sunshine State. This first edition includes side-by-side Spanish translations by José Nicolás Cabrera-Schneider. A Rumpus Poetry Book Club upcoming selection!
If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha (Ballantine Books, April 21, 2020)
Kyuri is an achingly beautiful woman with a hard-won job at a Seoul “room salon,” an exclusive underground bar where she entertains businessmen while they drink. Though she prides herself on her cold, clear-eyed approach to life, an impulsive mistake with a client threatens her livelihood. Her roommate, Miho, is a talented artist who grew up in an orphanage but won a scholarship to study art in New York. Returning to Korea after college, she finds herself in a precarious relationship with the heir to one of the country’s biggest conglomerates. Down the hall in their building lives Ara, a hair stylist whose two preoccupations sustain her: an obsession with a boy-band pop star, and a best friend who is saving up for the extreme plastic surgery that she hopes will change her life. And Wonna, one floor below, is a newlywed trying to have a baby that she and her husband have no idea how they can afford to raise in a brutal economic reality. Together, their stories tell a gripping tale at once unfamiliar and unmistakably universal—their tentative friendships perhaps these women’s only saving grace.
Madame Clairevoyant’s Guide to the Stars: Astrology, Our Icons, and Our Selves by Claire Comstock-Gay (Harper, April 21, 2020)
In Madame Clairevoyant’s Guide to the Stars, Claire Comstock-Gay brings the sky down to Earth and points to our popular “stars”—from Aretha Franklin to Mr. Rogers, from poets in Cancer to punk singers in Scorpio—to reveal what the sky has to teach us about being human. She examines the twelve astrological signs, illuminating the ways each one is more complicated, beautiful, and surprising than you might have been told. Claire suggests that actually it’s okay, and even important, to be a seeker, to hunger for self-knowledge, and if astrology is the vehicle for that inquiry, so be it.
Shrapnel Maps by Philip Metres (Copper Canyon Press, April 24, 2020)
Writing into the wounds and reverberations of the Israel/Palestine conflict, Shrapnel Maps is at once elegiac and activist, an exploratory surgery to extract the slivers of cartography through palimpsest and erasure. A wedding in Toura, a suicide bombing in Jerusalem, uneasy interactions between Arab and Jewish neighbors in University Heights, the expulsion of Palestinians in Jaffa, another bombing in Gaza: Shrapnel Maps traces the hurt and tender places, where political noise turns into the voices of Palestinians and Israelis. Working with documentary flyers, vintage postcards, travelogues, cartographic language, and first person testimonies, Shrapnel Maps ranges from monologue sonnets to prose vignettes, polyphonics to blackouts, indices to simultaneities, as Palestinians and Israelis long for justice and peace, for understanding and survival.
Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change by Maggie Smith (Atria/One Signal Publishers, May 5, 2020)
When Maggie Smith, the award-winning author of the viral poem “Good Bones,” started writing daily Twitter posts in the wake of her divorce, they unexpectedly caught fire. In this deeply moving book of quotes and essays, Maggie writes about new beginnings as opportunities for transformation. Like kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending broken ceramics with gold, Keep Moving celebrates the beauty and strength on the other side of loss. This is a book for anyone who has gone through a difficult time and is wondering: What comes next?
All Adults Here by Emma Straub (Riverhead Books, May 5, 2020)
When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus accident in the center of town, it jostles loose a repressed memory from her young parenting days decades earlier. Suddenly, Astrid realizes she was not quite the parent she thought she’d been to her three, now-grown children. But to what consequence? Astrid’s youngest son is drifting and unfocused, making parenting mistakes of his own. Her daughter is pregnant yet struggling to give up her own adolescence. And her eldest seems to measure his adult life according to standards no one else shares. But who gets to decide, so many years later, which long-ago lapses were the ones that mattered? Who decides which apologies really count? It might be that only Astrid’s thirteen-year-old granddaughter and her new friend really understand the courage it takes to tell the truth to the people you love the most.
The Park by John Freeman (Copper Canyon Press, May 5, 2020)
John Freeman uses a park as a petri dish, turning a deep gaze on all that pass through it. In language both precise and restrained, Freeman explores the inherent contradictions that arise from a place whose purpose is derived purely from what we bring to it––a park is both natural and constructed, exclusionary and open, unfeeling and burdened with sentimentality. Pulling from both history and his own meditations in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, the seasons pass through famous parks, personal parks, parks beneath parks, and other spaces with fabricated outer limits. Throughout, Freeman wonders at how a park, being both curated and public, can be a nexus for a manifestation of great wealth inequality. How have we created these false boundaries for ourselves––with regard to physical space, but also in our minds and societies, in our personal relationships? Interspersed with meditations on love, beauty, and connection, The Park is a pacific and unflinching mirror cast upon a space defined by its transience.
Quotients by Tracy O’Neill (Soho Press, May 12, 2020)
Jeremy Jordan and Alexandra Chen hope to make a quiet home together but struggle to find a space safe from their personal secrets. For Jeremy, this means leaving behind his former life as an intelligence operative during The Troubles in Northern Ireland. For Alexandra, a high-powered job in image management for whole countries cannot prepare her for her missing brother’s sudden reappearance. In a culture of limitless surveillance, Jeremy and Alexandra will go to great lengths to protect what is closest to them and answer the question of whether their love will be returned. Spanning decades and continents, their saga brings them into contact with a down-and-out online journalist, shadowy security professionals, and jockeying technology experts, each of whom has a different understanding of whether information really protects us, and how we might build a world worth trusting in our paranoid age. A Rumpus Book Club upcoming selection!
Not Go Away Is My Name by Alberto Ríos (Copper Canyon Press, May 12, 2020)
Resistance and persistence collide in Not Go Away Is My Name, a book about past and present, changing and unchanging, letting go and holding on. The borderline between Mexico and the US looms large, and Ríos sheds light on and challenges our sensory experiences of everyday objects. At the same time, family memories and stories of the Sonoron desert weave throughout as Ríos travels in duality: between places, between times, and between lives. In searching for and treasuring what ought to be remembered, Ríos creates an ode to family life, love and community, and realizes “All I can do is not go away. / Not go away is my name.”
All My Mother’s Lovers by Ilana Masad (Dutton, May 26, 2020)
Intimacy has always eluded twenty-seven-year-old Maggie Krause—despite being brought up by married parents, models of domestic bliss—until, that is, Lucia came into her life. But when Maggie’s mom, Iris, dies in a car crash, Maggie returns home only to discover a withdrawn dad, an angry brother, and, along with Iris’s will, five sealed envelopes, each addressed to a mysterious man she’s never heard of. In an effort to run from her own grief and discover the truth about Iris—who made no secret of her discomfort with her daughter’s sexuality—Maggie embarks on a road trip, determined to hand-deliver the letters and find out what these men meant to her mother. Maggie quickly discovers Iris’s second, hidden life, which shatters everything Maggie thought she knew about her parents’ perfect relationship. What is she supposed to tell her father and brother? And how can she deal with her own relationship when her whole world is in freefall?
Fairest: A Memoir by Meredith Talusan (Viking, May 26, 2020)
Fairest is a memoir about a precocious boy with albinism, a “sun child” from a rural Philippine village, who would grow up to become a woman in America. Coping with the strain of parental neglect and the elusive promise of US citizenship, Talusan found childhood comfort from her devoted grandmother, a grounding force as she was treated by others with special preference or public curiosity. As an immigrant to the United States, Talusan came to be perceived as white. An academic scholarship to Harvard provided access to elite circles of privilege but required Talusan to navigate through the complex spheres of race, class, sexuality, and her place within the gay community. She emerged as an artist and an activist questioning the boundaries of gender. Talusan realized she did not want to be confined to a prescribed role as a man, and transitioned to become a woman, despite the risk of losing a man she deeply loved. Throughout her journey, Talusan shares poignant and powerful episodes of desirability and love. Her evocative reflections shift our own perceptions of love, identity, gender, and the fairness of life.
This Is One Way to Dance: Essays by Sejal Shah (University of Georgia Press, June 1, 2020)
In the linked essays that make up her debut collection, Sejal Shah explores culture, language, family, and place. Throughout, Shah reflects on what it means to make oneself visible and legible through writing in a country that struggles with race and maps her identity as an American, South Asian American, writer of color, and feminist. Shah invites us to consider writing as a somatic practice, a composition of digressions, repetitions―movement as transformation, incantation. Her essays―some narrative, others lyrical and poetic―explore how we are all marked by culture, gender, and race; by the limits of our bodies, by our losses and regrets, by who and what we love, by our ambivalences, and by trauma and silence. Language fractures in its attempt to be spoken. Shah asks and attempts to answer the question: How do you move in such a way that loss does not limit you?
Parakeet by Marie-Helene Bertino (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, June 2, 2020)
The week of her wedding, The Bride is visited by a bird she recognizes as her dead grandmother because of the cornflower blue line beneath her eyes, her dubious expression, and the way she asks: What is the Internet? Her grandmother is a parakeet. She says not to get married. She says: Go and find your brother. In the days that follow, The Bride’s march to the altar becomes a wild and increasingly fragmented, unstable journey that bends toward the surreal and forces her to confront matters long buried. A novel that does justice to the hectic confusion of becoming a woman today, Parakeet asks and begins to answer the essential questions: How do our memories make, cage, and free us? How do we honor our experiences and still become our strongest, truest selves? Who are we responsible for, what do we owe them, and how do we allow them to change?
A Fish Growing Lungs by Alysia Sawchyn (Burrow Press, June 9, 2020)
At age eighteen Alysia Sawchyn was diagnosed with bipolar I. Seven years later she learned she had been misdiagnosed. A Fish Growing Lungs takes the form of linked essays that reflect on Sawchyn’s diagnosis and its unraveling, the process of withdrawal and recovery, and the search for identity as she emerges from a difficult past into a cautiously hopeful present. Sawchyn captures the precariousness of life under the watchful eye of doctors, friends, and family, in which saying or doing the wrong thing could lead to involuntary confinement. This scrutiny is compounded by the stigmas of mental illness and the societal expectations placed on the bodies of women and women of color. And yet, amid juggling medications, doubting her diagnosis, and struggling with addiction and cutting, there is also joy, friendship, love, and Slayer concerts. Drawing from life experience, literature, music, medical journals, films, and recovery communities, each essay illuminates the richness of self-knowledge that comes from the act of writing itself. A Rumpus Book Club upcoming selection!
Inconvenient Daughter by Lauren J. Sharkey (Kaylie Jones Books, June 23, 2020)
Rowan Kelly knows she’s lucky. After all, if she hadn’t been adopted by Marie and Joseph, she could have spent her days in a rice paddy, or a windowless warehouse assembling iPhones—they make iPhones in Korea, right? Either way, slowly dying of boredom on Long Island is surely better than the alternative. According to Marie and Joseph, being adopted means Rowan is “special,” but when she’s sent to kindergarten at an all-white Catholic girls’ school, she realizes that “special” means “different,” and not in a good way. It occurs to her that she’ll never know if she has her mother’s eyes, or if she’d be in America at all, had her adoptive parents been able to conceive. She sets out to prove that she can be someone’s first choice—that she isn’t just a consolation prize. After running away from home—and her parents’ rules—and ending up beaten, barefoot, and topless on a Pennsylvania street courtesy of Bad Boy Number One, Rowan attaches herself to Never-Going-to-Commit. When that doesn’t work out, she fully abandons self-respect and begins browsing the Craigslist personals. But as Rowan dives deeper and deeper into the world of casual encounters with strangers, she discovers what she’s really looking for. A Rumpus Book Club upcoming selection!