Lots of paperbacks to anticipate eagerly this April which is when, I hope, we can expect spring to take off here in the UK unless there’s another little winter reprise. For no reason other than my own convenience, I’ve divided this month’s preview geographically into America then Europe which is where all the titles are either set or originate.
I’m starting with one which attracted a good deal of attention in my neck of the Twitter woods when it was first published. Julie Buntin’s Marlena follows naïve fifteen-year-old Cat who finds herself becoming best friends with her neighbour when she moves to a new town in rural Michigan. Cat and Marlena make the town their own, partying like there’s no tomorrow until Marlena is found drowned in nearby woods. Decades later Cat is still trying to come to terms with her past. ‘Alive with an urgent, unshakeable tenderness, Julie Buntin’s Marlena is an unforgettable look at the people who shape us beyond reason and the ways it might be possible to pull ourselves back from the brink’ say the publishers a little dramatically.
Olivia Sudjic’s Sympathy is set in New York where twenty-three-year-old Alice settles after leaving London. There she becomes obsessed with a Japanese writer she meets online whose life seems to echo her own. ‘As Alice closes in on Mizuko, her ‘internet twin’, realities multiply and fact and fiction begin to blur. The relationship between the two women exposes a tangle of lies and sexual encounters’ according to the publishers putting me in mind of Delphine de Vigan’s Based on a True Story.
Cherise Wolas’ The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is also about a writer and comes garlanded with praise from A. M. Homes. A rising literary star, Joan becomes distracted when she falls in love. Neither she nor her lover wants children but Martin’s surprised delight when she becomes pregnant results in her keeping the child. ‘Decades later, when she is finally poised to reclaim the spotlight, a betrayal of Shakespearean proportions forces Joan to question every choice she has made’ say the publishers enticingly. Very much like the sound of that.
I’m not sure how I’ve managed to miss Laird Hunt’s fiction before now – he’s written six novels besides The Evening Road. Set in 1920s Indiana, Hunt’s odyssey follows two women through a searing summer’s night on which a lynching is to take place: one white, making her way to what she sees as a show; one black, travelling in the opposite direction. Hunt very effectively shows us both sides of this sorry story, each told by women who have more in common than they might imagine. It’s quite riveting: shocking at times, very funny at others, and vividly memorable.
In Tell Me How This Ends Well, David Samuel Levinson takes us to an anti-Semitic America in 2022 as the Jacobson family gathers for Passover in Los Angeles. Each of the three adult children is in the midst of a crisis, blaming their father for his mistreatment of them. Believing that he has their mother’s death in his sights, they begin to plot against him hampered by their own resentments and petty squabbling. ‘Tell Me How This Ends Well presents a blistering vision of near-future America, turning the exploits of one very funny, very troubled family into a rare and compelling exploration of the state of America itself’ say the publishers.
I’m ending this first paperback selection with a book from my 2017 books of the year list: Victoria Redel’s Before Everything. Five women, friends since school, come together when one of them is dying having called a halt to the emotional rollercoaster her illness has taken her on. The women gather themselves around Anna for what may be their last day of the constant conversation the five of them share, struggling with the imminent loss of the woman they love dearly. Redel uses a fragmentary structure for her novel – full of flashbacks, vignettes and anecdote – capturing the intimacy of death when the world falls away, all attention focused on the dying. It’s a gorgeous empathetic and tender portrait of friendship, shot through with a dry humour which steers it well clear of the maudlin.
That’s it for April in America. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to learn more, or to my reviews for The Evening Road and Before Everything. If you’d like to catch up with April’s new titles they’re here. Europe next week which will defiantly kick off with a British title because we’re still European