By Carole Reedy
Catch up on your reading now, because the last few months of this year are filled with new works from our favorite writers.
But who’s missing? Donna Tartt fans are combing the web in search of her next book. It seems she publishes one every ten years: 1992, The Secret History; 2002, The Little Friend; 2013, The Goldfinch. 2023? Tartt’s novels are long and lush with unforgettable plots that twist and turn. They always feature vivid characters and an imaginative writing style that captures the reader from the start. My search for her next work has been unsuccessful as of this writing.
In better news, here’s a selection of new books that have been published or will soon be during the second half of 2023. This list includes some of my favorite writers and, judging from your messages to me, yours too.
Provocatively, there are three books of short stories on this list. I consider myself and readers of this column literary novel admirers, but these brilliant collections just may just have turned my head.
This is Whitehead’s second novel in his Harlem Trilogy. While you can enjoy Crook Manifesto on its own, for maximum pleasure take time to read Harlem Shuffle (2021) first. I like to call the Trilogy Whitehead’s love story to Harlem. This second novel takes place in 1976 as the bicentennial celebrations are in full swing. However, it’s business as usual for crooked politicians and the manipulation of the poor and disadvantaged by up-and-coming “wannabes.”
Ray Carney, everyone’s favorite furniture vendor, seems to find himself once again in the midst of the machinations of less-than-savory company, including a shady candidate for political office who is ironically actively supported by Ray’s wife Elizabeth. Ray’s family has a welcome presence in this second book, and we hope will again in the third.
Delightfully dark and mysterious characters, though tinted with affection, sprinkle the text. This is Whitehead’s magic: he gives us the harsh reality of Harlem from the inside out. He goes to the heart of the city, as well as to the heart of his characters, offering a glimpse into the soul of the ‘hood and the denizens who struggle there daily.
Zero-Sum: Stories, by Joyce Carol Oates
Despite more than 100 extant novels, short story collections, nonfiction books, and essays, Oates delivers every year new creations to equal and even surpass her past successes.
Oates is audacious and intrepid, conveying that which often goes unsaid. Her latest collection does just that with a wide range of characters, emotions, and settings in place and time.
The most memorable of these is a story called “The Suicide,” told from the point of view of the one attempting to commit it. He mesmerizes us with his confusion, determination, apprehension, and pain.
Three other stories especially will remain with us and even haunt our dreams. We who have experienced a pandemic now have visions of our future world. Oates delivers a triad of stories about the future years of our planet. Need I say more?
Cravings: Stories, by Garnett Kilberg Cohen
Garnett Cohen popped into my life several years when a Chicago friend gifted me her novella, How We Move the Air (2010). A collection of seven linked stories, it was an unusual and stunning read in many ways, leaving me craving (no pun intended) more from this author. Since then I’ve religiously read Cohen’s collections of short stories as well as her individual works published in a diverse range of magazines. I and my band of avid readers highly recommend her short story collection Swarm to Glory (2014).
Through the details of everyday life, Cohen opens up a character’s world. The slightest phrase evokes a flood of emotions. At one point I felt, “This author knows me; I feel this way too.” There is good variety in the selection of these stories: they’ll make you laugh, cry, or just sigh. Like Joyce Carol Oates, she can be dauntless, an admirable and necessary quality in a writer.
Thoughts of Proust and involuntary memory come to mind when reading these stories. From the end of “Hors d’oeuvres,” the first story: “Our memories travel with us over the years, popping up when least expected.” As an avid traveler, I love to think of my memories traveling with me, at home and abroad.
I would have liked to point to my favorite story from the collection, but I can’t. I admired them all, each in its own way.
Roman Stories, by Jhumpa Lahiri
Many of us were crushed a few years ago when Lahiri announced she was moving to Italy to write and publish her future books in Italian. This endeavor proved successful, and we’ve now been rewarded for our patience. Lahiri has created an homage, a collection of short stories where the main personage is the magical city of Rome. She wrote these stories in Italian and translated them to English with Knopf editor Todd Portnowitz.
Kirkus gives the collection a starred review, praising this new work from a veteran writer: “A brilliant return to the short story by an author of protean accomplishments … filled with intelligence and sorrow, these sharply drawn glimpses of Roman lives create an impressively unified effect.”
This is Lahiri’s first short story collection since she published Unaccustomed Earth in 2008.
It’s also appropriate to mention here Lahiri’s first novel written in Italian, which she then translated into English. Called Whereabouts (2021), it consists of 46 chapters, or rather entries into a diary, that are one woman’s reflections on her life. Highly praised by critics and a definite thumbs-up from me.
Baumgartener, by Paul Auster
One never knows what to expect from this icon whose repertoire over 38 years always surprises and never disappoints. His range of subject matter is vast, as are the style and breadth of his 18 novels.
This newest asks, “Why do we remember certain moments in our lives and not others?” The protagonist is a soon-to-be retired philosophy professor and phenomenologist. Auster’s prose takes us on a literary journey with characters Sy Baumgartner, his dead wife Anna, and his Polish-born father, a dressmaker and revolutionary.
This is his first novel since the extraordinary 4 3 2 1: A Novel was published in 2017.
Recently, Siri Hustvedt, Auster’s renowned philosopher/author wife, posted on Instagram that Auster is suffering from cancer and being treated with chemotherapy and infusions. As a fan since 1972, this news breaks my heart.
Day, by Michael Cunningham
It’s difficult to contemplate writer Michael Cunningham without conjuring up thoughts of an equally imposing author, the illustrious Virginia Woolf. Cunningham resurrected the memory of Virginia Woolf with his Pulitzer-winning novel The Hours: A Novel (2019). In The Hours, Cunningham relates moments in the life of Woolfe through three separate characters and stories. It is a tour de force that will haunt you long after you finish it.
In his newest novel, Cunningham takes us through three days (April 5 in 2019, 2020, and 2021) in the lives of a New York family.
The highest praise comes from another famous writer, Colum McCain (Let the Great World Spin, 2009) “Michael Cunningham crafts a glorious sentence, and at the same time he tells an achingly compelling story that speaks precisely to the times we live in. And it all flows so damn gorgeously that at times you just want to suspend the sacred day itself and hold it close, never let it, or the characters, go.”
The Bee Sting: A Novel, by Paul Murray
Rave reviews everywhere. Long waitlists at the library that include yours truly. The Los Angeles Times calls it a masterpiece, saying “it ought to cement Murray’s already high standing…it’s a triumph of realist fiction, a big, sprawling social novel in the vein of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. The agility with which Murray structures the narrative around the family at its heart is virtuosic and sure-footed, evidence of a writer at the height of his power deftly shifting perspectives, style and syntax to maximize emotional impact. Hilarious and sardonic, heartbreaking and beautiful.”
Plus a sneak preview …
James, by Percival Everett
Move over Demon Copperhead, James is coming. Everett reworks Mark Twain’s classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884 in the UK, 1885 in the US) in this most anticipated novel. We’ll be eager to see if he can accomplish what Barbara Kingsolver was able to achieve in her brilliant and award-winning novel Demon Copperhead: A Novel (2022), which possesses the bones and heart of the beloved Dickens classic David Copperfield.
Percival Everett’s most recent books include Dr. No: A Novel (2022, finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction and the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award), The Trees: A Novel (2021, finalist for the Booker Prize and the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award), and Telephone (2021, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize).