Books to Look Out for in March 2019: Part One

Cover image This first March instalment has its feet firmly planted in the US beginning with a title I’m both eagerly anticipating and slightly apprehensive about. Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved is one of my favourite pieces of contemporary fiction. Her last novel, The Blazing World, was bursting with ideas and erudition. Expectations are sky high, then, for Memories of the Future which looks as if it may be a slice of metafiction as twenty-three-year-old S. H. arrives in New York eager to grasp any opportunities that come her way. Forty years later, she reads her younger self’s notebook with both amusement and anger. ‘A provocative, wildly funny, intellectually rigorous and engrossing novel, punctuated by Siri Hustvedt’s own illustrations – a tour de force by one of America’s most acclaimed and beloved writers’ according to the publishers. I do hope so.

Laila Lalami’s The Other Americans is set in a small desert town where an immigrant is killed by a speeding car. Lalami tells the stories of a disparate set of characters, all connected in some way with the Driss’ death, from his jazz composer daughter to the witness who fears deportation if he comes forward. ‘As the characters – deeply divided by race, religion and class – tell their stories in The Other Americans, Driss’s family is forced to confront its secrets, a town faces its hypocrisies and love, in all its messy and unpredictable forms, is born’ say the publishers promisingly.

I suspect Americans deemed ‘other’ make an appearance in Jonathan Carr’s debut, Build Me a City, about the founding of Chicago. Opening in 1800, the novel spans the city’s first century and encompasses a wide range of characters, all with stories to tell. ‘Chicago, its inhabitants and its history are brought to dazzling, colourful life in this epic tale that speaks of not just one city but America as a whole, and of how people come to find their place in the world’ according to the publishers which sounds pleasingly ambitious.

Which might also be said of Andrew Ridker’s The Altruists, another debut which explores the idea of America, this time through the lens of a professor in a Midwestern college who seems to have a good deal on his plate, from money problems to children who refuse to speak to him. When he invites them home for a reconciliation a whole can of worms opens up. ‘The Altruists is a darkly funny (and ultimately tender) family saga in the tradition of Jonathan Franzen and Zadie Smith. It’s a novel about money, privilege, politics, campus culture, dating, talk therapy, rural sanitation, infidelity, kink, the American beer industry, and what it means to be a ‘good person’’ say the publishers. I’ll take the Zadie Smith bits but leave the Franzen, thanks.

I’m ending as I began with a novel from a favourite author: Elizabeth McCraken’s Bowlaway. Cover image Bertha Truitt begins life in her small New England town, found unconscious in a cemetery with a bowling ball, a candlepin and fifteen pounds of gold at the beginning of the twentieth century. From this intriguing start, she goes on to scandalize the town, eventually opening a bowling alley and changing it forever. ‘Elizabeth McCracken has written an epic family saga set against the backdrop of twentieth-century America. Bowlaway is both a stunning feat of language and a brilliant unravelling of a family’s myths and secrets, its passions and betrayals, and the ties that bind and the rifts that divide’ say the publishers which sounds just the ticket.

That’s it for March’s first batch of new novels from which you may deduce that American authors are in the business of tackling big themes about the nature of their country. I wonder why. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that takes your fancy. Second instalment soon…

14 thoughts on “Books to Look Out for in March 2019: Part One”

  1. I have a copy of the Hustvedt but haven’t dipped into it yet. Metafiction can go either way for me, so we’ll see! I’m very keen on the Ridker and a new McCracken and will see if I can get hold of both. Thanks, as always, for your hard work on these previews.

    1. That’s kind of you to say. They’re a pleasure to write. I’m planning to read the Hustvedt in a couple of weeks. I think I may be more of a metafiction fan than you, although it can be a bit too tricksy for it’s own good.

  2. I’m also awaiting the Hustvedt with a set of mixed emotions. Like you I loved What I Loved, but found The Bkazing World less well structured. Whatever this new one turns out to be like I shall certainly read it.

  3. McCracken has been on my list of authors to read for a long time. I’ll be interested to hear more about this one, as well as the Hustvedt.
    The Altruist also sounds good – the description of it made me think of “On Beauty” right away, which I loved.

  4. Very much looking forward to the McCracken. I will await your verdict on Memories of the Future – I loved What I Loved but Blazing World was a rare DNF for me… it just seemed too clever. Or maybe I wasn’t clever enough! 😀

  5. How interesting to hear that the new Hustvedt comes with illustrations by the lady herself. I do hope the book lives up to your expectations, always a tricky thing with a much-loved author.

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