What to Read When You’ve Made It Halfway Through 2021
We’re (somehow) about halfway through another long year. How are we making it through? As always, the answer is: books.
So, we’ve asked Rumpus editors to share the titles forthcoming between now and the year’s end that they are most eagerly anticipating. These books transport us to different worlds, give us glimpses into lives we might never otherwise know, share new perspectives to consider, and offer us respite from reality.
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Mona at Sea by Elizabeth Gonzalez James (Santa Fe Writers Project, June 30, 2021)
When we find what gives our life meaning, will we be ready for it? Get ready to meet Mona Mireles, the infamous “Sad Millennial,” as she finds herself unemployed, living with her parents, and adrift in life and love. Mona is a perfectionist who fails upwards in the midst of the 2008 economic crisis. Mona walks a knife’s edge as she faces unemployment, underemployment, the complexities of adult relationships, and the downward spiral of her parents’ shattering marriage. The more Mona craves perfection and order, the more she is forced to see that it is never attainable. A recent Rumpus Book Club selection!
The Collection Plate by Kendra Allen (Ecco, July 6, 2021)
Looping exultantly through the overlapping experiences of girlhood, Blackness, sex, and personhood in America, award-winning essayist and poet Kendra Allen braids together personal narrative and cultural commentary, wrestling with the beauty and brutality to be found between mothers and daughters, young women and the world, Black bodies and white space, virginity and intrusion, prison and freedom, birth and death. Most of all, The Collection Plate explores both how we collect and erase the voices, lives, and innocence of underrepresented bodies—and behold their pleasure, pain, and possibility.
Seek You: A Journey through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke (Pantheon, July 13, 2021)
There is a silent epidemic in America: loneliness. Shameful to talk about and often misunderstood, loneliness is everywhere, from the most major of metropolises to the smallest of towns. In Seek You, Kristen Radtke’s wide-ranging exploration of our inner lives and public selves, Radtke digs into the ways in which we attempt to feel closer to one another, and the distance that remains. Through the lenses of gender and violence, technology and art, Radtke ushers us through a history of loneliness and longing, and shares what feels impossible to share. Ranging from the invention of the laugh-track to the rise of Instagram, the bootstrap-pulling cowboy to the brutal experiments of Harry Harlow, Radtke investigates why we engage with each other, and what we risk when we turn away.
Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night by Morgan Parker (Tin House Books, July 13, 2021)
Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night is back in print, featuring a new introduction from Danez Smith. The debut collection from award-winning poet Morgan Parker demonstrates why she’s become one of the most beloved writers working today. Her command of language is on full display. Parker bobs and weaves between humor and pathos, grief and anxiety, Gwendolyn Brooks and Jay-Z, the New York School and reality television. She collapses any foolish distinctions between the personal and the political, the “high” and the “low.” Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night not only introduced an essential new voice to the world, it contains everything readers have come to love about Morgan Parker’s work.
Purgatorio by Dante Alighieri, translated by Mary Jo Bang (Graywolf, July 13, 2021)
Award-winning poet Mary Jo Bang’s new translation of Purgatorio is the extraordinary continuation of her journey with Dante, which began with her transformative version of Inferno. In Purgatorio, still guided by the Roman poet Virgil, Dante emerges from the horrors of Hell to begin the climb up Mount Purgatory, a seven-terrace mountain with each level devoted to those atoning for one of the seven deadly sins. At the summit, we find the Terrestrial Heaven and Beatrice—who will take over for Virgil, who, as a pagan, can only take Dante so far. During the climb, we are introduced to the myriad ways in which humans destroy the social fabric through pride, envy, and vindictive anger. In her signature lyric style, accompanied by her wise and exuberant notes, Bang has produced a stunning translation of this fourteenth-century text, rich with references that span time, languages, and cultures. The contemporary allusions echo the audacious character of the original, and slyly insist that whatever was true in Dante’s era is still true. Usain Bolt, Tootsie Fruit Chews, the MGM logo, Leo the Lion, Amy Winehouse, Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, and Gertrude Stein are among those who make cameo appearances as Bang, with eloquence and daring, shepherds The Divine Comedy into the twenty-first century.
A Touch of Jen by Beth Morgan (Little, Brown and Company, July 13, 2021)
Remy and Alicia, a couple of insecure service workers, are not particularly happy together. But they are bound by a shared obsession with Jen, a beautiful former co-worker of Remy’s who now seems to be following her bliss as a globe-trotting jewelry designer. In and outside the bedroom, Remy and Alicia’s entire relationship revolves around fantasies of Jen, whose every Instagram caption, outfit, and new-age mantra they know by heart. Imagine their confused excitement when they run into Jen, in the flesh, and she invites them on a surfing trip to the Hamptons with her wealthy boyfriend and their group. Once there, Remy and Alicia try (a little too hard) to fit into Jen’s exalted social circle, but violent desire and class resentment bubble beneath the surface of this beachside paradise, threatening to erupt. As small disturbances escalate into outright horror, we find ourselves tumbling with Remy and Alicia into an uncanny alternate reality, one shaped by their most unspeakable, deviant, and intoxicating fantasies. Is this what “self-actualization” looks like? Part millennial social comedy, part psychedelic horror, and all wildly entertaining, A Touch of Jen is a sly, unflinching examination of the hidden drives that lurk just outside the frame of our carefully curated selves.
The Monster I Am Today: Leontyne Price and A Life in Verse by Kevin Simmonds (TriQuarterly, July 15, 2021)
Leontyne Price remains one of the twentieth century’s most revered opera singers and, notably, the first African American to achieve such international acclaim. In movements encompassing poetry and prose, writer and musician Kevin Simmonds explores Price as an icon, a diva, a woman, and a patriot—and himself as a fan, a budding singer, and a gay man—through passages that move polyphonically through the contested spaces of Black identity, Black sound, Black sensibility, and Black history. Structured operatically into overture, acts, and postlude, The Monster I Am Today guides the reader through associative shifts from arias like “weather events” and Price’s forty-two-minute final ovation to memories of Simmonds’s coming of age in New Orleans. As he melds lyric forms with the biography of one of classical music’s greatest virtuosos, Simmonds composes a duet that spotlights Price’s profound influence on him as a person and an artist: “That’s how I hear: Her.” A recent Rumpus Poetry Book Club selection!
Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder (Doubleday, July 20, 2021)
An ambitious mother puts her art career on hold to stay at home with her newborn son, but the experience does not match her imagination. Two years later, she steps into the bathroom for a break from her toddler’s demands, only to discover a dense patch of hair on the back of her neck. In the mirror, her canines suddenly look sharper than she remembers. Her husband, who travels for work five days a week, casually dismisses her fears from faraway hotel rooms. As the mother’s symptoms intensify, and her temptation to give in to her new dog impulses peak, she struggles to keep her alter-canine-identity secret. Seeking a cure at the library, she discovers the mysterious academic tome which becomes her bible, A Field Guide to Magical Women: A Mythical Ethnography, and meets a group of mommies involved in a multilevel-marketing scheme who may also be more than what they seem.
Goldenrod by Maggie Smith (Atria/One Signal, July 27, 2021)
Award-winning poet Maggie Smith returns with a powerful collection of poems that look at parenthood, solitude, love, and memory. Pulling objects from everyday life—a hallway mirror, a rock found in her son’s pocket, a field of goldenrods at the side of the road—she reveals the magic of the present moment. Only Maggie Smith could turn an autocorrect mistake into a line of poetry, musing that her phone “doesn’t observe / the high holidays, autocorrecting / shana tova to shaman tobacco, / Rosh Hashanah to rose has hands.” The poems in Goldenrod celebrate the contours of daily life, explore and delight in the space between thought and experience, and remind us that we decide what is beautiful.
Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So (Ecco, August 3, 2021)
Seamlessly transitioning between the absurd and the tenderhearted, balancing acerbic humor with sharp emotional depth, Afterparties offers an expansive portrait of the lives of Cambodian Americans. As the children of refugees carve out radical new paths for themselves in California, they shoulder the inherited weight of the Khmer Rouge genocide and grapple with the complexities of race, sexuality, friendship, and family. A high school badminton coach and failing grocery store owner tries to relive his glory days by beating a rising star teenage player. Two drunken brothers attend a wedding afterparty and hatch a plan to expose their shady uncle’s snubbing of the bride and groom. A queer love affair sparks between an older tech entrepreneur trying to launch a “safe space” app and a disillusioned young teacher obsessed with Moby-Dick. And in the sweeping final story, a nine-year-old child learns that his mother survived a racist school shooter.
Immediate Family by Ashley Nelson Levy (FSG, August 3, 2021)
It is the day of her brother’s wedding and our narrator is still struggling with her toast. Despite a recent fracture between them, her brother, Danny, has asked her to give a speech and she doesn’t know where to begin, how to put words to their kind of love. She was nine years old when she traveled with her parents to Thailand to meet her brother, six years her junior. They grew up together like any other siblings, sharing a bucolic childhood in Northern California. Yet when she holds their story up to the light, it refracts in ways she doesn’t expect. What follows is Immediate Family, a heartfelt letter addressed to Danny and an attempt at a full accounting of their years growing up, invoking everything from the Victorian adoption plot to childless women in literature to documents from Danny’s case file. It’s also a confession, of sorts, to the parts of her life that she has kept from him, including her own struggle with infertility. And as the hours until the wedding wane, she uncovers the words that can’t and won’t be said aloud.
Made in China: A Memoir of Love and Labor by Anna Qu (Catapult, August 3, 2021)
As a teen, Anna Qu is sent by her mother to work in her family’s garment factory in Queens. At home, she is treated as a maid and suffers punishment for doing her homework at night. Her mother wants to teach her a lesson: she is Chinese, not American, and such is their tough path in their new country. But instead of acquiescing, Qu alerts the Office of Children and Family Services, an act with consequences that impact the rest of her life. Nearly twenty years later, estranged from her mother and working at a Manhattan start-up, Qu requests her OCFS report. When it arrives, key details are wrong. Faced with this false narrative, and on the brink of losing her job as the once-shiny start-up collapses, Qu looks once more at her life’s truths, from abandonment to an abusive family to seeking dignity and meaning in work. Traveling from Wenzhou to Xi’an to New York, Made in China is a fierce memoir unafraid to ask thorny questions about trauma and survival in immigrant families, the meaning of work, and the costs of immigration.
Pilgrim Bell by Kaveh Akbar (Graywolf, August 3, 2021)
With formal virtuosity and ruthless precision, Kaveh Akbar’s second full-length collection takes its readers on a spiritual journey of disavowal, fiercely attendant to the presence of divinity where artifacts of self and belonging have been shed. How does one recover from addiction without destroying the self-as-addict? And if living justly in a nation that would see them erased is, too, a kind of self-destruction, what does one do with the body’s question, “what now shall I repair?” Here, Akbar responds with prayer as an act of devotion to dissonance―the infinite void of a loved one’s absence, the indulgence of austerity, making a life as a Muslim in an Islamophobic nation―teasing the sacred out of silence and stillness. Richly crafted and generous, Pilgrim Bell’s linguistic rigor is tuned to the register of this moment and any moment. As the swinging soul crashes into its limits, against the atrocities of the American empire, and through a profoundly human capacity for cruelty and grace, these brilliant poems dare to exist in the empty space where song lives―resonant, revelatory, and holy. A recent Rumpus Poetry Book Club selection!
Something New Under the Sun by Alexandra Kleeman (Hogarth, August 3, 2021)
East Coast novelist Patrick Hamlin has come to Hollywood with simple goals in mind: overseeing the production of a film adaptation of one of his books, preventing starlet Cassidy Carter’s disruptive behavior from derailing said production, and turning this last-ditch effort at career resuscitation into the sort of success that will dazzle his wife and daughter back home. But California is not as he imagined: Drought, wildfire, and corporate corruption are omnipresent, and the company behind a mysterious new brand of synthetic water seems to be at the root of it all. Patrick partners with Cassidy—after having been her reluctant chauffeur for weeks—and the two of them investigate the sun-scorched city’s darker crevices, where they discover that catastrophe resembles order until the last possible second.
Radiant Fugitives by Nawaaz Ahmed (Counterpoint, August 3, 2021)
Working as a consultant for Kamala Harris’s attorney general campaign in Obama-era San Francisco, Seema has constructed a successful life for herself in the West, despite still struggling with her father’s long-ago decision to exile her from the family after she came out as lesbian. Now, nine months pregnant and estranged from the Black father of her unborn son, Seema seeks solace in the company of those she once thought lost to her: her ailing mother, Nafeesa, traveling alone to California from Chennai, and her devoutly religious sister, Tahera, a doctor living in Texas with her husband and children. But instead of a joyful reconciliation anticipating the birth of a child, the events of this fateful week unearth years of betrayal, misunderstanding, and complicated layers of love—a tapestry of emotions as riveting and disparate as the era itself. Told from the point of view of Seema’s child at the moment of his birth, and infused with the poetry of Wordsworth and Keats and verses from the Quran, Radiant Fugitives is a moving tale of a family and a country grappling with acceptance, forgiveness, and enduring love.
We’re Not Broken: Changing the Autism Conversation by Eric Garcia (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, August 3, 2021)
With a reporter’s eye and an insider’s perspective, Eric Garcia shows what it’s like to be autistic across America. Garcia began writing about autism because he was frustrated by the media’s coverage of it; the myths that the disorder is caused by vaccines, the narrow portrayals of autistic people as white men working in Silicon Valley. His own life as an autistic person didn’t look anything like that. He is Latino, a graduate of the University of North Carolina, and works as a journalist covering politics in Washington, DC. Garcia realized he needed to put into writing what so many autistic people have been saying for years; autism is a part of their identity, they don’t need to be fixed. In We’re Not Broken, Garcia uses his own life as a springboard to discuss the social and policy gaps that exist in supporting those on the spectrum. From education to healthcare, he explores how autistic people wrestle with systems that were not built with them in mind. At the same time, he shares the experiences of all types of autistic people, from those with higher support needs, to autistic people of color, to those in the LGBTQ community. In doing so, Garcia gives his community a platform to articulate their own needs, rather than having others speak for them, which has been the standard for far too long.
The Book of Atlantis Black: The Search for a Sister Gone Missing by Betsy Bonner (Tin House Books, August 4, 2021)
A young woman is found dead on the floor of a Tijuana hotel room. An ID in a nearby purse reads “Atlantis Black.” The police report states that the body does not seem to match the identification, yet the body is quickly cremated and the case is considered closed. So begins Betsy Bonner’s search for her sister, Atlantis, and the unraveling of the mysterious final months before Atlantis’s disappearance, alleged overdose, and death. With access to her sister’s email and social media accounts, Bonner attempts to decipher and construct a narrative: frantic and unintelligible Facebook posts, alarming images of a woman with a handgun, Craigslist companionship ads, DEA agent testimony, video surveillance, police reports, and various phone calls and moments in the flesh conjured from memory. Through a history only she and Atlantis shared―a childhood fraught with abuse and mental illness, Atlantis’s precocious yet short rise in the music world, and through it all an unshakable bond of sisterhood―Bonner finds questions that lead only to more questions and possible clues that seem to point in no particular direction. In this haunting memoir and piercing true crime account, Bonner must decide how far she will go to understand a sister who, like the mythical island she renamed herself for, might prove impossible to find.
No Ruined Stone by Shara McCallum (Alice James Books, August 10, 2021)
No Ruined Stone is a verse sequence rooted in the life of eighteenth-century Scottish poet Robert Burns. In 1786, Burns arranged to migrate to Jamaica to work on a slave plantation, a plan he ultimately abandoned. Voiced by a fictive Burns and his fictional granddaughter, a “mulatta” passing for white, the book asks: what would have happened had he gone?
Kiss the Scars on the Back of My Neck: Stories by Joe Okonkwo (Amble Press, August 10, 2021)
A young Black woman defies her community, and a gay man’s concept of beauty is rocked. A ménage à trois becomes uncomfortable for unexpected reasons, and a sixteen-year-old embarks upon a dangerous seduction that could destroy numerous lives. An unemployed, pot-smoking technophobe stumbles into a job that blows up his resistance to change, and two opera-loving Black men, opposites in every way, launch into a contentious love affair. Okonkwo’s brilliant, viscerally drawn characters in Kiss the Scars on the Back of My Neck vibrate with energy and raw power as they brave (and resist) the damaging emotional effects of negative body image and loneliness, Black-on-Black racism, the changing nature of romantic relationships, and the complications of living in a relentlessly digital world.
What to Miss When by Leigh Stein (Soft Skull, August 10, 2021)
Catalyzed by sheltering in place and by a personal challenge to give up alcohol for thirty days, Leigh Stein, the poet laureate of The Bachelor, has written a twenty-first-century Decameron to frame modern fables. What to Miss When makes mischief of reality TV and wellness influencers, juicy thoughtcrimes and love languages, and the mixed messages of contemporary feminism. “Think Starlight,” the first poem in this collection, written before any self-quarantine orders, imagined the likelihood that the United States would follow in Italy’s footsteps in terms of caseload and hospital overwhelm. By March 17, 2020, the imagined was the real: New York City had closed schools, bars, and restaurants—with the rest of the country close behind. With nihilist humor and controlled despair, What to Miss When explores fears of death and grocery shopping, stress cleaning and drinking, celebrities behaving badly, everything we took for granted, and life mediated by screens—with dissociation-via-internet, and looking for mirrors in a fourteenth-century pandemic text, a kind of survival response to living casually through catastrophe.
American Estrangement: Stories by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh (W. W. Norton, August 10, 2021)
Said Sayrafiezadeh’s new collection of stories is set in a contemporary America full of the kind of emotionally bruised characters familiar to readers of Denis Johnson and George Saunders. These are people contending with internal struggles―a son’s fractured relationship with his father, the death of a mother, the loss of a job, drug addiction―even as they are battered by larger, often invisible, economic, political, and racial forces of American society. Searing, intimate, often slyly funny, and always marked by a deep imaginative sympathy, American Estrangement is a testament to our addled times.
Superdoom: Selected Poems by Melissa Broder (Tin House Books, August 10, 2021)
Featuring a new introduction from the author, Superdoom brings together the best of Broder’s three cult out-of-print poetry collections―When You Say One Thing but Mean Your Mother, Meat Heart, and Scarecrone―as well as the best of her fourth collection, Last Sext. Embracing the sacred and the profane, often simultaneously, Broder gazes into the abyss and at the human body, with humor and heartbreak, lust and terror. Broder’s language is entirely her own, marked both by brutal strangeness and raw intimacy. At turns essayistic and surreal, bouncing between the grotesque and the transcendent, Superdoom is a must-have for longtime fans and the perfect introduction to one of our most brilliant and original poets.
The Manningtree Witches by A.K. Blakemore (Catapult, August 10, 2021)
England, 1643. Puritanical fervor has gripped the nation. And in Manningtree, a town depleted of men since the wars began, the hot terror of damnation burns in the hearts of women left to their own devices. Rebecca West, fatherless and husbandless, chafes against the drudgery of her days, livened only occasionally by her infatuation with the handsome young clerk John Edes. But then a newcomer, who identifies himself as the Witchfinder General, arrives. A mysterious, pious figure dressed from head to toe in black, Matthew Hopkins takes over the Thorn Inn and begins to ask questions about what the women on the margins of this diminished community are up to. Dangerous rumors of covens, pacts, and bodily wants have begun to hang over women like Rebecca—and the future is as frightening as it is thrilling.
Once I Was Cool: Personal Essays by Megan Stielstra (Northwestern University Press, August 15, 2021)
Once I Was Cool contrasts past aspirations with the mess and magic of the present. In her younger days, essayist Megan Stielstra saw Jane’s Addiction at the Aragon Ballroom and fantasized about living on the same block, right in the thick of music and revelry. As an adult, she lives in a turreted condo across the street, with her husband, a child, and an onerous mortgage. It’s just the home her young, cool self imagined. And it isn’t what she expected, either. With conversational flourishes and on-the-mark descriptions, Stielstra’s essays evoke the richness of her everyday life and the memories that are never far away. She remembers learning how to shoot a gun, a cancer scare, and—in a piece that was anthologized in The Best American Essays 2013—the time she eavesdropped on another new mother using her son’s baby monitor. “I shouldn’t have listened,” she writes. “But it was the first time since my son was born that I didn’t feel alone.” Combining footnotes, electric sentences, and uproariously funny anecdotes (have you ever run into an ex while rolling on ecstasy?), Stielstra shows us that maturity is demanding, but its rewards are a gift.
Everyone Remain Calm: Stories by Megan Stielstra (Northwestern University Press, August 15, 2021)
The stories in Everyone Remain Calm reveal landscapes where the surreal and the familiar clash, to visceral effect. A woman yearns for—and dreads—the snowfall that arrives whenever her ex-boyfriend returns to the home she shares with their son. Another character reassures herself after breakups by seeking out the monster under her bed, the Incredible Hulk himself, for rebound sex that can be hot, heavy, and unnerving. Marching bands blare all the way from New Orleans to the Midwest. There are wild shootouts, rising tides, and perils embedded in the act of storytelling itself. “There are words that can kill you if you’re not careful,” Stielstra writes. And the stories we tell ourselves are the most fantastic tales of all. Everyone Remain Calm is eerie, hilarious, moving, and down-to-earth, even as its characters defy the rules—sometimes in the ways we wish we could.
Names for Light: A Family History by Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint (Graywolf, August 17, 2021)
Names for Light traverses time and memory to weigh three generations of a family’s history against a painful inheritance of postcolonial violence and racism. In spare, lyric paragraphs framed by white space, Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint explores home, belonging, and identity by revisiting the cities in which her parents and grandparents lived. As she makes inquiries into their stories, she intertwines oral narratives with the official and mythic histories of Myanmar. But while her family’s stories move into the present, her own story―that of a writer seeking to understand who she is―moves into the past, until both converge at the end of the book. Born in Myanmar and raised in Bangkok and San Jose, Myint finds that she does not have typical memories of arriving in the United States; instead, she is haunted by what she cannot remember. By the silences lingering around what is spoken. By a chain of deaths in her family line, especially that of her older brother as a child. For Myint, absence is felt as strongly as presence. And, as she comes to understand, naming those absences, finding words for the unsaid, means discovering how those who have come before have shaped her life.
Image Control: Art, Fascism, and the Right to Resist by Patrick Nathan (Counterpoint, August 17, 2021)
Images come at us quickly, often without context. A photograph of Syrian children suffering in the wake of a chemical attack segues into a stranger’s pristine Instagram selfie. Before we can react to either, a new meme induces a laugh and a share. While such constant give and take might seem innocent, even entertaining, this barrage of content numbs our ability to examine critically how the world, broken down into images, affects us. Images without context isolate us, turning everything we experience into mere transactions. It is exactly this alienation that leaves us vulnerable to fascism—a reactionary politics that is destroying not only our lives and our nations, but also the planet’s very ability to sustain human civilization. Who gets to control the media we consume? Can we intervene, or at least mitigate the influence of constant content? Mixing personal anecdotes with historical and political criticism, Image Control explores art, social media, photography, and other visual mediums to understand how our culture and our actions are manipulated, all the while building toward the idea that if fascism emerges as aesthetics, then so too can anti-fascism. Learning how to ethically engage with the world around us is the first line of defense we have against the forces threatening to tear that world apart.
Best Debut Short Stories 2021 edited by Yuka Igarashi (Catapult, August 24, 2021)
Who are the most promising short story writers working today? Where do we look to discover the future stars of literary fiction? This book will offer a dozen answers to these questions. The stories collected here represent the most recent winners of the PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers, which recognizes twelve writers who have made outstanding debuts in literary magazines in the previous year. They are chosen by a panel of distinguished judges, themselves innovators of the short story form: Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Kali Fajardo-Anstine, and Beth Piatote. Each piece comes with an introduction by its original editors, whose commentaries provide valuable insight into what magazines are looking for in their submissions, and showcase the vital work they do to nurture literature’s newest voices.
Something Wonderful: Stories by Jo Lloyd (Tin House Books, August 24, 2021)
In this debut collection of stories that delight in language and shine with wit, wisdom, and deep humanity, a vainglorious mine owner dreams of harnessing all of nature to the machinery of commerce. Two women hunt rare butterflies in a pre-First World War landscape already experiencing the first bites of biodiversity loss. A young man tracks down the father who abandoned him inside a festival exhibit. A rural Welsh community is fascinated and angered by glimpses of its invisible, wealthy neighbors. Whether seeking knowledge, riches, or a better life, the characters in Something Wonderful are united by a quest for lasting value, as they ask how we should treat our world, our work, our selves, and each other in both past and present.
Seeing Ghosts: A Memoir by Kat Chow (Grand Central Publishing, August 24, 2021)
Kat Chow has always been unusually fixated on death. She worried constantly about her parents dying—especially her mother. A vivacious and mischievous woman, Kat’s mother made a morbid joke that would haunt her for years to come: when she died, she’d like to be stuffed and displayed in Kat’s future apartment in order to always watch over her. After her mother dies unexpectedly from cancer, Kat, her sisters, and their father are plunged into a debilitating, lonely grief. With a distinct voice that is wry and heartfelt, Kat weaves together a story of the fallout of grief that follows her extended family as they emigrate from China and Hong Kong to Cuba and America. Seeing Ghosts asks what it means to reclaim and tell your family’s story: Is writing an exorcism or is it its own form of preservation? The result is an extraordinary new contribution to the literature of the American family, and a provocative and transformative meditation on who we become facing loss.
A Woven World: On Fashion, Fishermen, and the Sardine Dress by Alison Hawthorne Deming (Counterpoint, August 24, 2021)
The desire to create is the cornerstone of civilization. But as we move into a world where machine manufacturing has nearly usurped craft, Alison Hawthorne Deming resists the erasure of our shared history of handiwork with this appeal for embracing continuity and belonging in a time of destabilizing change. Sensing a need to preserve the crafts and stories of our founding communities, and inspired by an exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute featuring Yves St. Laurent’s “sardine” dress, Deming turned to the industries of her ancestors, both the dressmakers and designers in Manhattan in the nineteenth century and the fishermen on Grand Manan Island, a community of 2,500 residents, where the dignity of work and the bounty of the sea ruled for hundreds of years. Reweaving the fabric of those lives, A Woven World gives presence on the page to the people, places, and practices, uncovering and preserving a record of the ingenuity and dignity that comes with such work. In this way the lament becomes a song of praise and a testament to the beauty and fragility of human making.
The Animal Indoors by Carly Inghram (Autumn House Press, August 26, 2021)
Carly Inghram’s poems explore the day-to-day experiences of a Black queer woman who is ceaselessly bombarded with images of mass-consumerism, white supremacy, and sexism, and who is forced, often reluctantly, back indoors and away from this outside chaos. The poems in The Animal Indoors seek to understand and define the boundaries between our inside and outside lives, critiquing the homogenization and increasing insincerity of American culture and considering what safe spaces exist for Black women. The speaker in these poems seeks refuge, working to keep the interior safe until we can reckon with the world outside until the speaker is able to “unleash the indoor news onto the unclean water elsewhere.” A Rumpus Poetry Book Club upcoming selection!
Reparations Now! By Ashley M. Jones (Hub City Press, September 7, 2021)
In formal and non-traditional poems, award-winning poet Ashley M. Jones calls for long-overdue reparations to the Black descendants of enslaved people in the United States of America. In this, her third collection, Jones deftly takes on the worst of today—state-sanctioned violence, pandemic-induced crises, and white silence—all while uplifting Black joy. These poems explore trauma past and present, cultural and personal: the lynching of young, pregnant Mary Turner in 1918; the current white nationalist political movement; a case of infidelity. These poems, too, are a celebration of Black life and art: a beloved grandmother in rural Alabama, the music of James Brown and Al Green, and the soil where okra, pole beans, and collards thrive thanks to her father’s hands. By exploring the history of a nation where “Black oppression’s not happenstance; it’s the law,” Jones links past harm to modern heartache and prays for a peaceful world where one finds paradise in the garden in the afternoon with her family, together, safe, and worry-free. While exploring the ways we navigate our relationships with ourselves and others, Jones holds us all accountable, asking us to see the truth, to make amends, to honor one another.
On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint by Maggie Nelson (Graywolf, September 7, 2021)
Drawing on a vast range of material, from critical theory to pop culture to the intimacies and plain exchanges of daily life, Maggie Nelson explores how we might think, experience, or talk about freedom in ways responsive to the conditions of our day. Her abiding interest lies in ongoing “practices of freedom” by which we negotiate our interrelation with―indeed, our inseparability from—others, with all the care and constraint that entails, while accepting difference and conflict as integral to our communion. For Nelson, thinking publicly through the knots in our culture―from recent art-world debates to the turbulent legacies of sexual liberation, from the painful paradoxes of addiction to the lure of despair in the face of the climate crisis―is itself a practice of freedom, a means of forging fortitude, courage, and company. A Rumpus Book Club upcoming selection!
Hao: Stories by Ye Chun (Catapult, September 7, 2021)
By turns reflective and visceral, the stories in Hao examine the ways in which women can be silenced as they grapple with sexism and racism, and how they find their own language to define their experience. In “Gold Mountain,” a young mother hides above a ransacked store during the San Francisco anti-Chinese riot of 1877. In “A Drawer,” an illiterate mother invents a language through drawing. And in “Stars,” a graduate student loses her ability to speak after a stroke. Together, these twelve stories create “an unsettling, hypnotic collection spanning centuries, in which language and children act simultaneously as tethers and casting lines, the reasons and the tools for moving forward after trauma. You’ll come away from this beautiful book changed” (Julia Fine, author of The Upstairs House).
Heart Radical: A Search for Language, Love, and Belonging by Anne Liu Kellor (She Writes Press, September 7)
Wanting to understand how her path is tied to her mother tongue, Anne, a young, multiracial American woman, travels through China, the country of her mother’s birth. Along the way, she tries on different roles—seeker, teacher, student, girlfriend, artist, and daughter—and continually asks herself: Why do I feel called to make this journey? Whether witnessing a Tibetan sky burial, teaching English at a university in Chengdu, visiting her grandmother in LA, or falling in love with a Chinese painter, Anne is always in pursuit of intimacy with others, even as she is all too aware of her silences and separation. For two years, she settles into a comfortable routine in her boyfriend’s apartment and regains fluency in Chinese, a language she spoke as a young child but has used less and less as an adult. Eventually, however, her desire to know herself in other ways surfaces again. She misses speaking English, she feels suffocated by urban, polluted China, and she starts to fall for another man. Ultimately, Anne realizes that to live her truth as a mixed-race, bilingual woman she must embrace all of her influences and layers. In a world that often wants us to choose a side or fit an ideal, she learns that she can both belong and not belong wherever she is, and that home is ultimately found within.
Windswept: Walking the Paths of Trailblazing Women by Annabel Abbs (September 7, 2021, Tin House Books)
Annabel Abbs’s Windswept is a beautifully written meditation and memoir that reflects on that most fundamental way of connecting with the outdoors: the simple act of walking. In absorbing and transporting prose, Abbs follows in the footsteps of groundbreaking women, including Georgia O’Keeffe in the empty plains of Texas and New Mexico, Nan Shepherd in the mountains of Scotland, Gwen John following the French River Garonne, Daphne du Maurier following the River Rhône, and Simone de Beauvoir—who walked as much as twenty-five miles a day in a skirt and espadrilles—in the mountains and forests of France. These trailblazing women were reclaiming what had historically been considered male domains. The stories of these incredible women and artists are laced together by the wilderness walking in Abbs’s own life, beginning with her poet father who raised her in the Welsh countryside as an “experiment,” according to the principles of Rousseau. Windswept is an inventive retrospective and an arresting look forward to the way walking brings about a kind of clarity of thought not found in any other activity, and how it has allowed women throughout history to reimagine their lives and break free from convention. As Abbs traces the paths of these exceptional women, she realizes that she, too, is walking away from, and towards, a very different future. Windswept crosses continents and centuries in an arresting and stirring reflection on the power of walking in nature.
Brocken Spectre by Jacques Rancourt (Alice James Books, September 14, 2021)
Set in San Francisco, Brocken Spectre examines the way the past presses up against the present. The speaker, raised in the wake of the AIDS crisis, engages with ideas of belatedness, of looking back to a past that cannot be inhabited, of the ethics of memory, and of the dangers in memorializing and romanticizing tragedy.
Sinking Islands by Cai Emmons (Red Hen Press, September 14, 2021) A recent Rumpus Book Club selection!
Sinking Islands continues the story of Bronwyn Artair, a scientist who possesses the power to influence the natural forces of the Earth. After several successful interventions, including one in Siberia, she has gone into hiding, worried about unintended consequences of her actions, as well as about the ethics of operating solo. But circumstances call her to action again, and an idea takes shape: What if she could impart her skill to other people? Gathering a few kindred souls from climate-troubled places around the world—Felipe from São Paulo, where drought conditions are creating strains on day-to-day life; Analu and his daughter Penina from a sinking island in the South Pacific; and Patty from the tornado-ridden plains of Kansas—she takes them to the wilds of Northern New Hampshire where she tries to teach them her skill. The novel, realistic but for the single fantastical element, explores how we might become more attuned to the Earth and act more collaboratively to solve the enormity of our climate problem.
Philomath by Devon Walker-Figueroa (Milkweed Editions, September 14, 2021)
With Devon Walker-Figueroa as our Virgil, we begin in the collection’s eponymous town of Philomath, Oregon. We drift through the general store, into the Nazarene Church, past people plucking at the brambles of a place that won’t let them go. We move beyond the town into fields and farmland―and further still, along highways, into a cursed Californian town, a museum in Florence. We wander with a kind of animal logic, like a beast with “a mind to get loose / from a valley fallowing / towards foul,” through the tense, overlapping space between movement and stillness. An explorer at the edge of the sublime, Walker-Figueroa writes in quiet awe of nature, of memory, and of a beauty that is “merely existence carrying on and carrying on.” In her wanderings, she guides readers toward a kind of witness that doesn’t flinch from the bleak or bizarre: A vineyard engulfed in flames is reclaimed by the fields. A sow smothers its young, then bears more. A neighbor chews locusts in his yard. For in Philomath, it is the poet’s (sometimes reluctant) obligation “to keep an eye / on what is left” of the people and places that have impacted us. And there is always something left, whether it is the smell of burnt grapes, a twelfth-century bronze, or even a lock of hair.
Inter State: Essays from California by José Vadi (Soft Skull Press, September 14, 2021)
California has been advertised as a destiny manifested for those ready to pull up their bootstraps and head west across to find wealth on the other side of the Sierra Nevada since the nineteenth century. Across the seven essays in the debut collection by José Vadi, we hear from the descendants of those not promised that prize. Inter State explores California through many lenses: an aging obsessed skateboarder; a self-appointed dive bar DJ; a laid-off San Francisco tech worker turned rehired contractor; a grandson of Mexican farmworkers pursuing the crops they tilled. Amidst wildfires, high speed rail, housing crises, unprecedented wealth and its underlying decay, Inter State excavates and roots itself inside those necessary stories and places lost in the ever-changing definitions of a selectively golden state.
Imagine a Death by Janice Lee (Texas Review Press, September 15, 2021)
In the face of a slow but impending apocalypse, what binds three seemingly divergent lives (a writer, a photographer, an old man), isn’t the commonality of a perceived future death, but the layered and complex fabric of how loss, abuse, trauma, and death have shaped their pasts, and how these pasts continue to haunt their present moments, a moment in which time seems to be running out. The writer, traumatized by the violent death of her mother when she was a child, lives alone with her dog and struggles to finish her book. The photographer, stunted by the death of his grandmother and caretaker, struggles to take a single picture and enters into a complicated relationship with the writer. The old man, facing his past in small doses, spends his time watching television and reorganizing the objects in his apartment to stay distracted from the deterioration around him. A depiction of the cycles of abuse and trauma in a prolonged end-time, Imagine a Death examines the ways in which our pasts envelop us, the ways in which we justify horrible things in the name of survival, all of the horrible and beautiful things we are capable of when we are hurt and broken, and the animal (and plant) companions that ground us.
My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long (Tin House Books, September 21, 2021)
Each poem in Rachel Long’s award-winning My Darling from the Lions has a vivid story to tell—of family quirks, the perils of dating, the grip of religion, or sexual awakening—stories that are, by turn, emotionally insightful, politically conscious, wise, funny, and outrageous. Told in three sections, it’s a book about growing up, falling in love with not-great men, and girlhood; a collection that speaks to femininity, divinity, familial shame, Black identity, and modern culture. Long reveals herself as a razor-sharp and original voice on the issues of sexual politics and cultural inheritance that polarize our current moment. With a fresh commitment to the power of the individual poem, her collection offers immediate, wide-awake poetry that entertains royally, without sacrificing a note of its urgency or remarkable skill.
Tenderness by Derrick Austin (BOA Editions, September 21, 2021)
With lush language, the meditative poems in the Isabella Gardner Award-winning Tenderness examine the fraught nature of intimacy in a nation poisoned by anti-Blackness and homophobia. From the bedroom to the dance floor, from the natural world to The Frick, from the Midwest to Florida to Mexico City, the poems range across interior and exterior landscapes. They look to movies, fine art, childhood memory, history, and mental health with melancholy, anger, and playfulness. Even amidst sorrow and pain, Tenderness uplifts communal spaces as sites of resistance and healing, wonders at the restorative powers of art and erotic love, and celebrates the capaciousness of friendship. An upcoming Rumpus Poetry Book Club selection!
The Body Scout by Lincoln Michel (Orbit, September 21, 2021)
In the future you can have any body you want—as long as you can afford it. But in a New York ravaged by climate change and repeat pandemics, Kobo is barely scraping by. He scouts the latest in gene-edited talent for Big Pharma-owned baseball teams, but his own cybernetics are a decade out of date and twin sister loan sharks are banging down his door. Things couldn’t get much worse. Then his brother—Monsanto Mets slugger J.J. Zunz—is murdered at home plate. Determined to find the killer, Kobo plunges into a world of genetically modified CEOs, philosophical Neanderthals, and back-alley body modification, only to quickly find he’s in a game far bigger and more corrupt than he imagined. To keep himself together while the world is falling apart, he’ll have to navigate a time where both body and soul are sold to the highest bidder.
Yellow Rain by Mai Der Vang (Graywolf Press, September 21, 2021)
In this staggering work of documentary, poetry, and collage, Mai Der Vang reopens a wrongdoing that deserves a new reckoning. As the United States abandoned them at the end of the Vietnam War, many Hmong refugees recounted stories of a mysterious substance that fell from planes during their escape from Laos starting in the mid-1970s. This substance, known as “yellow rain,” caused severe illnesses and thousands of deaths. These reports prompted an investigation into allegations that a chemical biological weapon had been used against the Hmong in breach of international treaties. A Cold War scandal erupted, wrapped in partisan debate around chemical arms development versus control. And then, to the world’s astonishment, American scientists argued that yellow rain was the feces of honeybees defecating en masse―still held as the widely accepted explanation. The truth of what happened to the Hmong, to those who experienced and suffered yellow rain, has been ignored and discredited. Integrating archival research and declassified documents, Yellow Rain calls out the erasure of a history, the silencing of a people who at the time lacked the capacity and resources to defend and represent themselves. In poems that sing and lament, that contend and question, Vang restores a vital narrative in danger of being lost, and brilliantly explores what it means to have access to the truth and how marginalized groups are often forbidden that access.
MENAFTER10 by Casey Hamilton (Amble Press, September 28, 2021)
MENAFTER10 is a geosocial online dating application for gay “urban men looking for urban men.” Among its users is Chauncey Lee, who is always online, always looking. What exactly he’s looking for is a mystery even to him, but he does his best trying to find it by dating in bedrooms across an unnamed city. Brontae Williams is just the opposite. He’s lonely and desperately wants to settle down into a long-term relationship. His biggest problem is that the only thing anyone wants these days is quick and casual sex. LeMilion Meeks, however, is used to the fast life. With his big personality, he might come off as content with snorting coke in club bathrooms, but he’s learning that knowing his HIV status is entirely different than knowing what to do with it. Despite the differences between them, their reasons for using the app are the same. The stories of these men and the men they meet online intersect and converge in this brilliant and sexy debut novel.
A Harp in the Stars: An Anthology of Lyric Essays edited by Randon Billings Noble (University of Nebraska Press, October 1, 2021)
What is a lyric essay? An essay that has a lyrical style? An essay that plays with form in a way that resembles poetry more than prose? Both of these? Or something else entirely? The works in this anthology show lyric essays rely more on intuition than exposition, use image more than narration, and question more than answer. But despite all this looseness, the lyric essay still has responsibilities—to try to reveal something, to play with ideas, or to show a shift in thinking, however subtle. The whole of a lyric essay adds up to more than the sum of its parts. In A Harp in the Stars, Randon Billings Noble has collected lyric essays written in four different forms—flash, segmented, braided, and hermit crab—from a range of diverse writers. The collection also includes a section of craft essays—lyric essays about lyric essays. And, because lyric essays can be so difficult to pin down, each contributor has supplemented their work with a short meditation on this boundary-breaking form.
Between Certain Death and a Possible Future: Queer Writing on Growing up with the AIDS Crisis edited by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (Arsenal Pulp Press, October 5, 2021)
Every queer person lives with the trauma of AIDS, and this plays out intergenerationally. Usually we hear about two generations—the first, coming of age in the era of gay liberation, and then watching entire circles of friends die of a mysterious illness as the government did nothing to intervene. And now we hear about younger people growing up with effective treatment and prevention available, unable to comprehend the magnitude of the loss. But there is another generation between these two, one that came of age in the midst of the epidemic with the belief that desire intrinsically led to death, and internalized this trauma as part of becoming queer. Between Certain Death and a Possible Future offers crucial stories from this missing generation in AIDS literature and cultural politics, and includes thirty-six personal essays on the ongoing and persistent impact of the HIV/AIDS crisis in queer lives. Here you will find an expansive range of perspectives on a specific generational story—essays that explore and explode conventional wisdom, while also providing a necessary bridge between experiences. These essays respond, with eloquence and incisiveness, to the question: How do we reckon with the trauma that continues to this day, and imagine a way out?
I Love You but I’ve Chosen Darkness: A Novel by Claire Vaye Watkins (Riverhead Books, October 5, 2021)
Leaving behind her husband and their baby daughter, a writer gets on a flight for a speaking engagement in Reno, not carrying much besides a breast pump and a spiraling case of postpartum depression. Her temporary escape from domestic duties and an opportunity to reconnect with old friends mutates into an extended romp away from the confines of marriage and motherhood, and a seemingly bottomless descent into the past. Deep in the Mojave Desert where she grew up, she meets her ghosts at every turn: the first love whose self-destruction still haunts her; her father, a member of the most famous cult in American history; her mother, whose native spark gutters with every passing year. She can’t go back in time to make any of it right, but what exactly is her way forward? Alone in the wilderness, at last she begins to make herself at home in the world.
Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo (Catapult, October 5, 2021)
Anna is at a stage of her life when she’s beginning to wonder who she really is. She has separated from her husband, her daughter is all grown up, and her mother—the only parent who raised her—is dead. Searching through her mother’s belongings one day, Anna finds clues about the African father she never knew. His student diaries chronicle his involvement in radical politics in 1970s London. Anna discovers that he eventually became the president—some would say dictator—of a small nation in West Africa. And he is still alive… When Anna decides to track her father down, a journey begins that is disarmingly moving, funny, and fascinating. Like the metaphorical bird that gives the novel its name, Sankofa expresses the importance of reaching back to knowledge gained in the past and bringing it into the present to address universal questions of race and belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora, and the search for a family’s hidden roots.
What Storm, What Thunder by Myriam J. A. Chancy (Tin House Books, October 5, 2021)
At the end of a long, sweltering day, as markets and businesses begin to close for the evening, an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude shakes the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. Award-winning author Myriam J. A. Chancy masterfully charts the inner lives of the characters affected by the disaster—Richard, an expat and wealthy water-bottling executive with a secret daughter; the daughter, Anne, an architect who drafts affordable housing structures for a global NGO; a small-time drug trafficker, Leopold, who pines for a beautiful call girl; Sonia and her business partner, Dieudonné, who are followed by a man they believe is the vodou spirit of death; Didier, an emigrant musician who drives a taxi in Boston; Sara, a mother haunted by the ghosts of her children in an IDP camp; her husband, Olivier, an accountant forced to abandon the wife he loves; their son, Jonas, who haunts them both; and Ma Lou, the old woman selling produce in the market who remembers them all. Artfully weaving together these lives, witness is given to the desolation wreaked by nature and by man.
How Not to Be Afraid of Everything by Jane Wong (Alice James Books, October 12, 2021)
This new collection explores the vulnerable ways we articulate and reckon with fear: fear of intergenerational trauma and the silent, hidden histories of families. What does it mean to grow up in a take-out restaurant, surrounded by food, just a generation after the Great Leap Forward famine in 1958-62? Full of elegy and resilient joy, these poems speak across generations of survival.
The Echo Chamber by Michael Bazzett (Milkweed Editions, October 12, 2021)
“Narcissus was never one to see himself // in moving water. // He liked his image / still.” In The Echo Chamber, myth is refracted into our current moment. A time traveler teaches a needleworker the pleasures of social media gratification. A man goes looking for his face and is first offered a latex mask. A book reveals eerie transmutations of a simple story. And the myth itself is retold, probing its most provocative qualities—how reflective waters enable self-absorption, the tragic rightness of Echo and Narcissus as a couple. The Echo Chamber examines our endlessly self-referential age of selfies and televised wars and manufactured celebrity, gazing lingeringly into the many kinds of damage it produces, and the truths obscured beneath its polished surface.
Now Comes Good Sailing: Writers Reflect on Henry David Thoreau edited by Andrew Blauner (Princeton University Press, October 12, 2021)
The world is never done catching up with Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), the author of Walden, “Civil Disobedience,” and other classics. A prophet of environmentalism and vegetarianism, an abolitionist, and a critic of materialism and technology, Thoreau even seems to have anticipated a world of social distancing in his famous experiment at Walden Pond. In Now Comes Good Sailing, twenty-seven of today’s leading writers offer wide-ranging original pieces exploring how Thoreau has influenced and inspired them—and why he matters more than ever in an age of climate, racial, and technological reckoning.
Concepcion: An Immigrant Family’s Fortunes by Albert Samaha (Riverhead Books, October 12, 2021)
Nearing the age at which his mother had migrated to the US, part of the wave of non-Europeans who arrived after immigration quotas were relaxed in 1965, Albert Samaha began to question the ironclad belief in a better future that had inspired her family to uproot themselves from their birthplace. As a rising tide of inequality and discrimination threatened to engulf her, her brother Spanky—a rising pop star back in Manila, now working as a luggage handler at San Francisco airport—and others of their generation, he wondered whether their decision to abandon a middle-class existence in the Philippines had been worth the cost. Excavating his family’s history back to the region’s unique geopolitical roots in Spanish colonialism, Japanese occupation, and American intervention, Samaha fits his family’s arc into the wider story of global migration as determined by chess moves among superpowers. And by relating their personal history with warmth and affection but also clear-eyed skepticism, Concepcion explores what it might mean to reckon with imperialism’s unjust legacy, to live with contradiction and hope, to fight for the unrealized ideals of an inherited homeland.
Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief by Victoria Chang (Milkweed Editions, October 12, 2021)
For poet Victoria Chang, memory “isn’t something that blooms, but something that bleeds internally.” It is willed, summoned, and dragged to the surface. The remembrances in this collection of letters are founded in the fragments of stories her mother shared reluctantly, and the silences of her father, who first would not and then could not share more. They are whittled and sculpted from an archive of family relics: a marriage license, a letter, a visa petition, a photograph. And, just as often, they are built on the questions that can no longer be answered. Dear Memory is not a transcription but a process of simultaneously shaping and being shaped, knowing that when a writer dips their pen into history, what emerges is poetry. In carefully crafted missives on trauma and loss, on being American and Chinese, Victoria Chang shows how grief can ignite a longing to know yourself. In letters to family, past teachers, and fellow poets, as the imagination, Dear Memory offers a model for what it looks like to find ourselves in our histories.
All the Leavings by Laurie Easter (Oregon State University Press, October 15, 2021)
At times heartbreaking, at times harrowing, All the Leavings navigates the rugged terrain not just of the rural Oregon land where Laurie Easter has forged an off-the-grid life, but of the ragtag terrain of the human heart. At once quiet and searching, these essays lay bare the experience between mother and child, between living and dying, between the human world and nature. This is a book about love—for the child who faces a health crisis, for the friend dying of AIDS, for the one entangled by addiction who then disappears—while also examining the tenacity of the human condition. All the Leavings employs a multitude of forms to probe the boundaries of mother-daughter relationships, privacy and secrets, guilt and forgiveness, crushing grief and abiding love. It will interest readers of memoir and personal essay, those who have suffered loss and grief, and those who appreciate place-based writing, particularly set in the Pacific Northwest.
Gentrifier: A Memoir by Anne Elizabeth Moore (Catapult, October 19, 2021)
In 2016, a Detroit arts organization grants writer and artist Anne Elizabeth Moore a free house—a room of her own, à la Virginia Woolf—in Detroit’s majority-Bangladeshi “Banglatown.” Accompanied by her cats, Moore moves to the bungalow in her new city where she gardens, befriends the neighborhood youth, and grows to intimately understand civic collapse and community solidarity. When the troubled history of her prize house comes to light, Moore finds her life destabilized by the aftershocks of the housing crisis and governmental corruption. This is also a memoir of art, gender, work, and survival. Moore writes into the gaps of Woolf’s declaration that “a woman must have money and a room of one’s own if she is to write”; what if this woman were queer and living with chronic illness, as Moore is, or a South Asian immigrant, like Moore’s neighbors? And what if her primary coping mechanism was jokes? Part investigation, part comedy of a vexing city, and part love letter to girlhood, Gentrifier examines capitalism, property ownership, and whiteness, asking if we can ever really win when violence and profit are inextricably linked with victory.
Go Home, Ricky! by Gene Kwak (The Overlook Press, October 19, 2021)
After seven years on the semi-pro wrestling circuit, Ricky Twohatchet, aka Richard Powell, needs one last match before he gets called up to the big leagues. Unlike some wrestlers who only play the stereotype, Ricky believes he comes by his persona honestly—he’s half white and half Native American—even if he’s never met his father. But the night of the match in Omaha, Nebraska, something askew in their intricate choreography sets him on a course for disaster. He finishes with a neck injury that leaves him in a restrictive brace and a video already going viral: him spewing profanities at his ex-partner, Johnny America. Injury aside, he’s out of the league. Without a routine or identity, Ricky spirals downward, finally setting off to learn about his father, and what he finds will explode everything he knows about who he is—as a man, a friend, a son, a partner, and a wrestler. A Rumpus Book Club upcoming selection!
This Fierce Blood by Malia Márquez (Acre Books, October 19, 2021)
In rural late-nineteenth-century New England, Wilhelmina Sylte is a settler starting a family with her Norwegian immigrant husband. When she forms an inexplicable connection with a mountain lion and her cubs living near their farm, Mina grapples with divided loyalties and the mysterious bond she shares with the animals. In 1927 in southern Colorado, Josepa is accused of witchcraft by a local priest for using the healing practices passed down from her Native mother. Fighting for her family’s reputation and way of life, Sepa finds strength in worldly and otherworldly sources. When Magdalena, an ecologist, inherits her great-grandmother Wilhelmina’s Vermont property, she and her astrophysicist husband decide to turn the old farm into a summer science camp for teens. As Magda struggles with both personal and professional responsibilities, the boundary between science and myth begins to blur.
Requeening by Amanda Moore (Ecco, October 26, 2021)
Engaging the matriarchal structure of the beehive, Amanda Moore explores the various roles a woman plays in the family, the home, and the world at large. Beyond the productivity and excess, the sweetness and sting, Requeening brings together poems of motherhood and daughterhood, an evolving relationship of care and tending, responsibility and joy, dependence and deep love. The poems that anchor this collection don’t shy away from the inevitability of a hive’s collapse and consider the succession of “requeening” a hive as “a new heart ready to be fed and broken and fed again.” The collapse is both physical—there are poems of illness and recovery—and emotional, as the mother-daughter relationship shifts, the daughter becoming separate, whole, and poised to displace. The liminal spaces these poems traverse in human relationships is echoed in a range of poetic and hybrid form, offering freedom and stricture as they contemplate the way we hold one another in love and grief. A Rumpus Poetry Book Club upcoming selection!
Trashlands by Alison Stine (MIRA Books, October 26, 2021)
A few generations from now, the coastlines of the continent have been redrawn by floods and tides. Global powers have agreed to not produce any new plastics, and what is left has become valuable: garbage is currency. In the region-wide junkyard that Appalachia has become, Coral is a “plucker,” pulling plastic from the rivers and woods. She’s stuck in Trashlands, a dump named for the strip club at its edge, where the local women dance for an endless loop of strangers and the club’s violent owner rules as unofficial mayor. Amid the polluted landscape, Coral works desperately to save up enough to rescue her child from the recycling factories, where he is forced to work. In her stolen free hours, she does something that seems impossible in this place: Coral makes art. When a reporter from a struggling city on the coast arrives in Trashlands, Coral is presented with an opportunity to change her life. But is it possible to choose a future for herself?
What If We Were Somewhere Else by Wendy J. Fox (Santa Fe Writers Project, November 1, 2021)
What If We Were Somewhere Else is the question everyone asks in these linked stories as they try to figure out how to move on from job losses, broken relationships, and fractured families. Following the employees of a nameless corporation and their loved ones, these stories examine the connections they forge and the choices they make as they try to make their lives mean something in the soulless, unforgiving hollowness of corporate life. Looking hard at the families to which we are born and the families we make, What If We Were Somewhere Else asks its own questions about what it means to work, love, and age against the uncertain backdrop of modern America.
Win Me Something by Kyle Lucia Wu (Tin House Books, November 2, 2021)
Willa Chen has never quite fit in. Growing up as a biracial Chinese American girl in New Jersey, Willa felt both hypervisible and unseen, too Asian to fit in at her mostly white school, and too white to speak to the few Asian kids around. After her parents’ early divorce, they both remarried and started new families, and Willa grew up feeling outside of their new lives, too. For years, Willa does her best to stifle her feelings of loneliness, drifting through high school and then college as she tries to quiet the unease inside her. But when she begins working for the Adriens―a wealthy white family in Tribeca―as a nanny for their daughter, Bijou, Willa is confronted with all of the things she never had. As she draws closer to the family and eventually moves in with them, Willa finds herself questioning who she is, and revisiting a childhood where she never felt fully at home.
Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League by Britni de la Cretaz and Lyndsey D’Arcangelo (Bold Type Books, November 2, 2021)
In 1967, a Cleveland businessman had a brilliant idea: why not start a women’s football team? It was conceived as a gimmick and a publicity stunt in the vein of the Harlem Globetrotters. He recruited women to compete as a traveling football troupe; much to his surprise, he learned that women really wanted to play, and play hard. Hail Mary is the story of the unlikely rise of the National Women’s Football League and the players who loved a game that society told them they shouldn’t be playing. In nineteen cities around the country, against the backdrop of second-wave feminism and the passage of Title IX, these athletes broke new barriers and showed adoring crowds what women were capable of physically. Thousands of people came to watch-perhaps to gawk at first but then, in the end, to cheer. Hail Mary is a rollicking chronicle of fearless women-players on the Detroit Demons, the Toledo Troopers, the LA Dandelions, and more—bringing us into the stadiums where they broke records, the small-town lesbian bars where they were recruited, and the backrooms where the league was conceived, and where it ended.
The Perishing by Natashia Deón (Counterpoint, November 2, 2021)
Lou, a young Black woman, wakes up in an alley in 1930s Los Angeles, nearly naked and with no memory of how she got there or where she’s from. Taken in by a caring foster family, Lou dedicates herself to her education while trying to put her mysterious origins behind her. She’ll go on to become the first Black female journalist at the Los Angeles Times, but Lou’s extraordinary life is about to become even more remarkable. When she befriends a firefighter at a downtown boxing gym, Lou is shocked to realize that though she has no memory of meeting him, she’s been drawing his face for years. Increasingly certain that their paths previously crossed—and beset by unexplainable flashes from different times that have been haunting her dreams—Lou begins to believe she may be an immortal sent for a very important reason, one that only others like her will be able to explain. With the help of her friends, Lou sets out to investigate the mystery of her existence and make sense of the jumble of lifetimes calling to her, just as new forces rise to threaten the existence of those around her.
All the Names Given by Raymond Antrobus (Tin House Books, November 9, 2021)
The collection opens with poems about the author’s surname—one that shouldn’t have survived into modernity—and examines the rich and fraught history carried within it. The book is punctuated with [Caption Poems] partially inspired by Deaf sound artist Christine Sun Kim, which speak to the spaces between the poems as well as the moments inside them. As Antrobus outlines a childhood caught between intimacy and brutality, sound and silence, and conflicting racial and cultural identities, the poem becomes a space in which the poet reckons with his own ancestry, and bears witness to the indelible violence of the legacy wrought by colonialism. The poems travel through space—shifting fluidly between England, South Africa, Jamaica, and the American South—and brilliantly move from an examination of family history into the wandering lust of adolescence and finally, vividly, into a complex array of marriage poems—matured, wiser, and more accepting of love’s fragility.
You Better Be Lightning by Andrea Gibson (Button Poetry, November 9, 2021)
You Better Be Lightning is a queer, political, and feminist collection guided by self-reflection. The poems range from close examination of the deeply personal to the vastness of the world, exploring the expansiveness of the human experience from love to illness, from space to climate change, and so much more in between.
God of Mercy by Okezie Nwọka (Astra House, November 9, 2021)
God of Mercy is set in Ichulu, an Igbo village where the people’s worship of their gods is absolute. Their adherence to tradition has allowed them to evade the influences of colonialism and globalization. But the village is reckoning with changes, including a war between gods signaled by Ijeoma, a girl who can fly. As tensions grow between Ichulu and its neighboring colonized villages, Ijeoma is forced into exile. Reckoning with her powers and exposed to the world beyond Ichulu, she is imprisoned by a Christian church under the accusation of being a witch. Suffering through isolation, she comes to understand the truth of merciful love. Reimagining the nature of tradition and cultural heritage and establishing a folklore of the uncolonized, God of Mercy is a novel about wrestling with gods, confronting demons, and understanding one’s true purpose.
The Four Humors by Mina Seçkin (Catapult, November 9, 2021)
Twenty-year-old Sibel thought she had concrete plans for the summer. She would care for her grandmother in Istanbul, visit her father’s grave, and study for the MCAT. Instead, she finds herself watching Turkish soap operas and self-diagnosing her own possible chronic illness with the four humors theory of ancient medicine. Also on Sibel’s mind: her blond American boyfriend who accompanies her to Turkey; her energetic but distraught younger sister; and her devoted grandmother, who, Sibel comes to learn, carries a harrowing secret. Delving into her family’s history, the narrative weaves through periods of political unrest in Turkey, from military coups to the Gezi Park protests. Told with pathos and humor, Sibel’s search for strange and unusual cures is disrupted as she begins to see how she might heal herself through the care of others, including her own family and its long-fractured relationships.
Fire Is Not a Country by Cynthia Dewi Oka (Northwestern University Press, November 15, 2021)
In her third collection, Indonesian American poet Cynthia Dewi Oka dives into the implications of being parents, children, workers, and unwanted human beings under the savage reign of global capitalism and resurgent nativism. With a voice bound and wrestled apart by multiple histories, Fire Is Not a Country claims the spaces between here and there, then and now, us and not us. As she builds a lyric portrait of her own family, Oka interrogates how migration, economic exploitation, patriarchal violence, and a legacy of political repression shape the beauties and limitations of familial love and obligation. Woven throughout are speculative experiments that intervene in the popular apocalyptic narratives of our time with the wit of an unassimilable other. An upcoming Rumpus Poetry Book Club selection!
I’m Not Hungry But I Could Eat by Christopher Gonzalez (Santa Fe Writers Project, December 1, 2021)
Long nights, empty stomachs, and impulsive cravings haunt these stories. A college grad reunites with a high school crush when invited to his bachelor party, a lonely cat-sitter wreaks havoc on his friends’ apartment, happy hour french fries leave more than grease on lips and fingers, and, squeezed into a diner booth, one man eats past his limit for the sake of friendship. Exploring the lives of bisexual and gay Puerto Rican men, these fifteen stories show a vulnerable, intimate world of yearning and desire. The stars of these narratives linger between living their truest selves and remaining in the wings, embarking on a journey of self-discovery to satisfy their hunger for companionship and belonging. A Rumpus Book Club upcoming selection!