Like most people in the book world, my favorite thing to do is recommend great books—particularly books you might not have heard about. So in honor of our annual Woman Issue, here are some excerpts from reviews of recently published novels, all of which have gotten Kirkus stars but not a lot of other hype. If you pick one up, let me know!
Fiebre Tropical by Juliana Delgado Lopera (Feminist Press, March 4): “Dragged unwillingly from Bogotá to Miami, crammed with her mother and sister into her grandmother's apartment…Francisca misses her friends and her former life.…With a whip-smart, unapologetic voice peppered with Colombian slang, Francisca pulls us into her new life in ‘Yanquilandia.’ Trouble arises when she meets Carmen the pastor's daughter, who wants her to accept Jesus into her heart….Instead, she finds herself falling in love with Carmen, threatening her family's tenuous place in the immigrant community….A rich, deeply felt novel about family ties, immigration, sexual longing, faith, and desire.”
The Living Days by Ananda Devi; translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman (Feminist Press, Nov. 5): “Devi, a celebrated Mauritian author, uses modern London as a place to explore the legacy of colonialism and the limitations of global culture. Mary Grimes, an old white woman, is sitting in her rotting home in Portobello Road, reminiscing as she waits to die. Her thoughts drift back to her youth during World War II. With death looming, young people are given license to live, and even timid Mary Rose manages to have a sexual adventure. She escapes her family and the countryside for London when her grandfather leaves her his terraced house, and, there, she works as a sculptor until arthritis makes that impossible. She is now purposeless, poor, and alone—until she meets Cub. The son of a single mother of Jamaican descent, Cub is 13 when he begins doing odd jobs for Mary [and] sleeping in her bed. Devi’s language is luscious…and her depiction of Mary so gentle, that the reader might be lulled into hoping that this relationship is somehow not as grotesque as it seems….A gorgeously written, profoundly upsetting fairy tale of race, class, power, and desire.”
Deceit and Other Possibilities by Vanessa Hua (Counterpoint, March 10): “Secrets and lies drive the protagonists to acts of desperation in Hua’s dazzling story collection, first published in 2016 and now reissued with an additional three tales. Most of the 13 stories are set in the San Francisco Bay Area and revolve around characters from the Asian and Mexican immigrant communities who are caught between the expectations of their ancestral homelands and the promise of America….Hua writes with tenderness, humor, and empathy, imbuing her stories with lovely turns of phrase.”
Oligarchy by Scarlett Thomas (Counterpoint, Jan. 14): “Our protagonist, Natasha, is whisked from penury in Russia to a British boarding school when her post-communism, new-money father takes an interest in her. She also establishes herself as one of the girls who leads the student body into disordered eating and light debauchery.…This is a weird, twisty book, and anyone familiar with Thomas’ oeuvre will expect the kind of dark humor that is only possible from a writer of profound compassion….Another strange delight from one of the United Kingdom’s most interesting authors.”
Creatures by Crissy Van Meter (Algonquin, Jan. 7): “This spiky, elliptical novel, which takes place on a fictional island off the coast of Southern California, begins with a beached whale. The inescapable odor and massive, macabre presence of the corpse are just two of the challenges Evangeline faces as she prepares for her wedding. Her long-absent mother has arrived uninvited. And it’s possible that the groom, a fisherman, has died at sea. While the whale is, in any practical sense, the least of Evie's worries, it feels horribly emblematic of her circumstances—maybe even of her whole existence….A quietly captivating debut.”
Laurie Muchnick is the fiction editor.