Best of the West
(Pamela Dorman Books, $25, out July 28)
By J. Ryan Stradal
Hungry? Don’t read Kitchens of the Great Midwest. Or do. Stradal’s debut novel tackles foodie culture with all the finesse of a pastry chef. Precocious Eva Thorvald grows from food-savvy toddler to the mastermind behind a super-exclusive pop-up supper club, with foodies flocking to her for cured ham and plum chutney like crowds to Jesus for loaves and fish. Each chapter is a self-contained vignette focused on a different character and a different dish—and though Eva may only breeze through the background of certain episodes, each is significant for her in some way. We meet a doting father, an absent mother, and a Lutheran grandmother who believes her peanut butter bars to be the high point of culinary history. Stradal cares for his characters in spite of their failings like few authors do, and his descriptions of food, from Scandinavian lutefisk to heirloom tomatoes, are sumptuous. Reading Kitchens is all pleasure, and thankfully, it includes recipes.
(NYRB Classics, $14.95, out July 7)
By Linda Rosenkrantz
Originally published as fiction in 1968, Talk is an experiment—an all-dialogue “reality” novel. In the mid ‘60s, Rosenkrantz vacationed in East Hampton with her two closest friends, and she recorded all their listless, gin-soaked, oceanside talks. The result was a massive 1,500-page transcript that Rosenkrantz pared down to an intimate, nightstand-worthy 250-page novel. The characters, Marsha, Emily, and Vincent, are all in their late 20s and grappling with the impending sense of maturity that comes with entering a third decade of life. The trio gossips, flirts, and talks about the subjects that matter to them: their fears, Andy Warhol, S&M, orgies, LSD, abortion, family, and their multifaceted love lives. In spite of their many romantic escapades, discussed in candid and explicit detail, the platonic intimacy they share with each other is their most precious treasure. “We’ve set up such a stimulating, total, free, hysterical, intimate, intense relationship that I find it impossible to relate to other people,” Marsha tells her friends. The book is pure, casual conversation. And though it sometimes skews shallow and often vulgar, the whole is most certainly greater than the sum of its parts.
(Ecco, $15.99, out July 7)
By Jordan Harper
Harper, a producer and writer for The Mentalist, may live in Los Angeles, but he was raised in the Missouri Ozarks, and it shows in his stories. As he told Publishers Weekly, his intent in writing Love and Other Wounds was to tap into the “American mythos of the bandit,” and he does so with all the adrenaline-infused fatalism of Breaking Bad. His stories are rugged, cutthroat, and brutal. In the titular story (which you can read over at Out of the Gutter), a botched convenience store robbery pushes a man to extremes to save a partner. In “I Wish They’d Never Named Him Mad Dog,” a man revels in the power of a nickname but lives to see it turned against him. Harper’s writing here is swift. His words hit with the impact of a shotgun blast and tear at any sense of security like an angry Rottweiler. His characters are drug dealers, weed farmers, and switchblade-wielding badasses, and he maneuvers them into situations that test the limits of the human psyche.
(Trumpeter, $16.95, out July 7)
By Dani Klein Modisett
Divorce statistics are no laughing matter, but maybe they’d be lower if we approached marriage with a sense of humor. In her years as a comedian, Modisett noticed many uncanny similarities between comedy and marriage—so she decided to apply the 13 essential rules of the former to the latter. Resilience is one of them; sticking with a spouse can be a lot like winning over a tough crowd. And like a comedy career, Modisett notes, a good marriage doesn’t happen easily or overnight. In spite of eye rolls, groans, and maybe even a little open hostility, both a marriage and a stand up gig can be redeemed. Modisett pulls together stories from fellow comedians, marriage counselors, and married couples who have stuck it out and still can take a joke (like comedy writer Lew Schneider and his wife, Liz Abbe). Their advice is more than funny business: laughter really is central to keeping a marriage fresh over the years.
Best of the Rest
(Harper, $27.99, out July 14)
By Harper Lee
“For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.”
Fifty-five years after To Kill a Mockingbird was published, a sequel is finally coming to bookstores. Set in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama 20 years after the events of Lee’s original, the story again follows Scout (presumably, she now goes by Jean Louise) as she comes back to visit Atticus, her aging father. As before, Go Set a Watchman will deal with the centrality of racial tension to Southern life and will weigh the changes in Scout and Atticus’s relationship. Though set after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird, this book was written earlier and without editorial guidance; in reality, Watchman is Lee’s debut novel. Today, The Wall Street Journal published the first chapter of the book along with an audio sample of the chapter read by Reese Witherspoon. Let the hype machine continue to crank out hype.
(Crown, $26, out July 14)
By Ernest Cline
Forget Pixels. If it’s gamers-as-unlikely-heroes-in-a-battle-against-video-game-alien-invaders action you want, look no further than Armada. Cline’s second novel (the first was 2011 sleeper hit Ready Player One) spares no expense when it comes to cinematic action (not that action scenes are at all costly in a book), and a film adaptation is already in the works over at Universal. When Zach Lightman looks out his classroom window one afternoon and beholds an all-too-familiar alien spaceship, well, he’s thrilled. “You see,” Zach explains, “ever since the first day of kindergarten, I had been hoping and waiting for some mind-blowingly fantastic, world-altering event to finally shatter the endless monotony of my public education.” And now, with the aliens from his favorite video game, Armada, here to take over the planet, it’s up to him and his fellow gamers to defeat them. Sound a little…typical? The concept may be run of the mill, but the content is far from it. Cline knows sci-fi like David McCullough knows the founding fathers, so he’s well beyond slipping into the usual tropes. Instead, he subverts them for his own exceptionally creative ends. Gamer, sci-fi nerd, or otherwise, you’ll be geeking out over Armada after the first chapter (available for preview here). The best part? Adam Sandler is nowhere to be seen.
(Viking, $26.95, out July 23)
By Rebecca Makkai
Makkai’s previous two novels were both well-received, and her first short story collection is on track to garner the same acclaim. With an imaginative touch that lends a certain truthfulness to a wide array of characters, the author has crafted stories that stay with you, all of which are good, and some of which are magnificent. In “Cross,” which you can read at the Michigan Quarterly Review, a cellist comes home to find a memorial to a dead motorcyclist constructed on her front lawn. In “The November Story,” a woman who contrives love for a reality show has trouble keeping her own romantic relationship in order. Other chapters incorporate Makkai’s own family history as well as her grandparents’ experiences in 1930s Hungary. The writing is clever and rich with the perceptiveness and human insight that earned Makkai a place (or four) in the Best American Short Stories series.
(Spiegel & Grau, $24, out July 14)
By Ta-Nehisi Coates
In the wake of the Charleston shooting, the publication date of Between the World and Me, the most recent book from The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates, was shifted from September to July out of sheer timeliness. The 152-page book, a letter from the author to his son on life in America as a black man, is light in the hands, but heavy on the heart. In it, Coates reflects on his own experience, drawing on memories of unforgettable violence and the resultant rage, as well as anecdotes of joyous times replete with a love of family and black culture. After reading an advance copy of the book, renowned author Toni Morrison hailed Coates as the successor to James Baldwin and declared his book “required reading.” Between the World and Me is meant to be discussed and grappled with by readers of all races. “I love America the way I love my family,” Coates told NPR. “But no definition of family that I’ve ever encountered or dealt with involves never having cross words with people, never having debate, never speaking directly to people.” Coates does speak directly, and he does so with all the fervor of righteous anger and all the poignancy of gracious hope.