The Boy in the Field by Margot Livesy (August 11, 2020)
One September afternoon in 1999, teenagers Matthew, Zoe, and Duncan Lang are walking home from school when they discover a boy lying in a field, bloody and unconscious. Thanks to their intervention, the boy’s life is saved. In the aftermath, all three siblings are irrevocably changed.
Matthew, the oldest, becomes obsessed with tracking down the assailant, secretly searching the local town with the victim’s brother. Zoe wanders the streets of Oxford, looking at men, and one of them, a visiting American graduate student, looks back. Duncan, the youngest, who has seldom thought about being adopted, suddenly decides he wants to find his birth mother. Overshadowing all three is the awareness that something is amiss in their parents’ marriage. Over the course of the autumn, as each of the siblings confronts the complications and contradictions of their approaching adulthood, they find themselves at once drawn together and driven apart.
Written with the deceptive simplicity and power of a fable, The Boy in the Field showcases Margot Livesey’s unmatched ability to “tell her tale masterfully, with intelligence, tenderness, and a shrewd understanding of all our mercurial human impulses” (Lily King, author of Euphoria).
The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante (September 1, 2020)
Giovanna’s pretty face has changed: it’s turning into the face of an ugly, spiteful adolescent. But is she seeing things as they really are? Into which mirror must she look to find herself and save herself?
She is searching for a new face in two kindred cities that fear and detest one another: the Naples of the heights, which assumes a mask of refinement, and the Naples of the depths, which professes to be a place of excess and vulgarity. She moves between these two cities, disoriented by the fact that, whether high or low, the city seems to offer no answer and no escape.
Payback by Mary Gordon (September 1, 2020)
Unbeknownst to her many fans, Quin Archer, the revenge-loving queen of the reality-TV show PAYBACK, was once an angry teen named Heidi. Her true story may be known only to Agnes, who was her art teacher at a private New England girls’ school in the 1970s. Then a young woman herself, Agnes saw a spark of originality in the brooding Heidi. But when she suggests Heidi visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the girl returns with a disastrous account of having been picked up at the museum by an older man. Agnes’s stunned response will haunt both women for decades.
Mary Gordon narrates this tale of #MeToo misunderstanding, from a time before there was language to contain it, with a sharp sense of life’s changing tempo. She carries us through Heidi’s disappearance and reinvention as Quin, and Agnes’s escape into career and family in Italy — until, inevitably, they meet again. A remarkable book about the precise weight of our words and deeds from a writer whose moral vision is deeply rewarding in its subtlety.
Just Us: An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine (September 8, 2020)
As everyday white supremacy becomes increasingly vocalized with no clear answers at hand, how best might we approach one another? Claudia Rankine, without telling us what to do, urges us to begin the discussions that might open pathways through this divisive and stuck moment in American history.
Just Us is an invitation to discover what it takes to stay in the room together, even and especially in breaching the silence, guilt, and violence that follow direct addresses of whiteness. Rankine’s questions disrupt the false comfort of our culture’s liminal and private spaces ― the airport, the theater, the dinner party, the voting booth ― where neutrality and politeness live on the surface of differing commitments, beliefs, and prejudices as our public and private lives intersect.
This brilliant arrangement of essays, poems, and images includes the voices and rebuttals of others: white men in first class responding to, and with, their white male privilege; a friend’s explanation of her infuriating behavior at a play; and women confronting the political currency of dying their hair blond, all running alongside fact-checked notes and commentary that complements Rankine’s own text, complicating notions of authority and who gets the last word.
Sometimes wry, often vulnerable, and always prescient, Just Us is Rankine’s most intimate work, less interested in being right than in being true, being together.
Monogamy by Sue Miller (September 8, 2020)
Graham and Annie have been married for nearly thirty years. A golden couple, their effortless devotion has long been the envy of their circle of friends and acquaintances. Graham is a bookseller, and a large, gregarious man with large appetites—a lover of life, curious, eager to please, and the convivial host of frequent, lively parties at his and Annie’s comfortable house in Cambridge.
Annie, more reserved and introspective, is a photographer. After a six-year lull, she is about to have her first gallery show and is worried that the best years of her career may be behind her. They have two children; Sarah, the adult child of Annie and Graham, lives in San Francisco, and Lucas, Graham’s son with his first wife Frieda, works in New York. Though Frieda is an integral part of this far-flung, loving family, Annie is confident in the knowledge that she is Graham’s last and greatest love.
When Graham suddenly dies, Annie is lost without this man whose enormous presence seemed to dominate their lives together. What is the point of going on, she wonders, without him?
Soon after Graham’s death, as she is trying to pick up the pieces of her life, Annie makes a shocking discovery. Shortly before his death, Graham had been unfaithful, involved in an impulsive, brief affair he was trying to end. Confronted by his infidelity, she spirals into darkness wondering if she truly knew the man who loved her.
A tender, timeless novel that probes the heart of every committed relationship — how well do we know, can we ever know, the people we love — Monogamy is a mesmerizing portrait of a family and the secrets they keep from one another. As Sue Miller contemplates the imponderable, she reflects on the transformative power of memory, and the triumph of love over death itself. Beautiful, wise, and moving, Monogamy confirms her place as one of the most distinguished and extraordinary writers at work today.
Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar (September 8, 2020)
A deeply personal work about hope and identity in a nation coming apart at the seams, Homeland Elegies blends fact and fiction to tell an epic story of belonging and dispossession in the world that 9/11 made. Part family drama, part social essay, part picaresque adventure — at its heart, it is the story of a father, a son, and the country they both call home.
Akhtar forges a new narrative voice to capture a nation in which debt has ruined countless lives and our ideals have been sacrificed to the gods of finance, where a TV personality is president and immigrants live in fear, and where the unhealed wounds of 9/11 continue to wreak havoc around the world. Akhtar attempts to make sense of it all through the lens of a story about one family, from a heartland town in America to palatial suites in Central Europe to guerilla lookouts in the mountains of Afghanistan, and spares no one — least of all himself — in the process.
What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez (September 8, 2020)
A woman describes a series of encounters she has with various people in the ordinary course of her life: an ex she runs into by chance at a public forum, an Airbnb owner unsure how to interact with her guests, a stranger who seeks help comforting his elderly mother, a friend of her youth now hospitalized with terminal cancer. In each of these people the woman finds a common need: the urge to talk about themselves and to have an audience to their experiences. The narrator orchestrates this chorus of voices for the most part as a passive listener, until one of them makes an extraordinary request, drawing her into an intense and transformative experience of her own.
In What Are You Going Through, Nunez brings wisdom, humor, and insight to a novel about human connection and the changing nature of relationships in our times. A surprising story about empathy and the unusual ways one person can help another through hardship, her book offers a moving and provocative portrait of the way we live now.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (September 1, 2020)
Gifty is a sixth-year PhD candidate in neuroscience at Stanford University School of Medicine studying reward-seeking behavior in mice and the neural circuits of depression and addiction. Her brother, Nana, was a gifted high school athlete who died of a heroin overdose after an ankle injury left him hooked on OxyContin. Her suicidal mother is living in her bed. Gifty is determined to discover the scientific basis for the suffering she sees all around her. But even as she turns to the hard sciences to unlock the mystery of her family’s loss, she finds herself hungering for her childhood faith and grappling with the evangelical church in which she was raised, whose promise of salvation remains as tantalizing as it is elusive. Transcendent Kingdom is a deeply moving portrait of a family of Ghanaian immigrants ravaged by depression and addiction and grief — a novel about faith, science, religion, love. Exquisitely written, emotionally searing, this is an exceptionally powerful follow-up to Gyasi’s phenomenal debut.
Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America by Laila Lalami (September 22, 2020)
What does it mean to be American? In this starkly illuminating and impassioned book, Pulitzer Prize–finalist Laila Lalami recounts her unlikely journey from Moroccan immigrant to U.S. citizen, using it as a starting point for her exploration of the rights, liberties, and protections that are traditionally associated with American citizenship. Tapping into history, politics, and literature, she elucidates how accidents of birth — such as national origin, race, and gender — that once determined the boundaries of Americanness still their shadows today.
Lalami poignantly illustrates how white supremacy survives through adaptation and legislation, with the result that a caste system is maintained that keeps the modern equivalent of white make landowners at the top of the social hierarchy. Conditional citizens, she argues, are all the people with whom America embraces with one arm and pushes away with the other.
Brilliantly argued and deeply personal, Conditional Citizens weaves together Lalami’s own experiences with explorations of the place of nonwhites in the broader American culture.
Jack by Marilynne Robinson (September 29, 2020)
Marilynne Robinson’s mythical world of Gilead, Iowa ― the setting of her novels Gilead, Home, and Lila, and now Jack ― and its beloved characters have illuminated and interrogated the complexities of American history, the power of our emotions, and the wonders of a sacred world. Jack is Robinson’s fourth novel in this now-classic series. In it, Robinson tells the story of John Ames Boughton, the prodigal son of Gilead’s Presbyterian minister, and his romance with Della Miles, a high school teacher who is also the son of a preacher. Their deeply felt, tormented, star-crossed interracial romance resonates with all the paradoxes of American life, then and now.
Robinson’s Gilead novels, which have won one Pulitzer Prize and two National Book Critics Circle Awards, are a vital contribution to contemporary American literature and a revelation of our national character and humanity.
Snow by John Banville (October 6, 2020)
Detective Inspector St. John Strafford has been summoned to County Wexford to investigate a murder. A parish priest has been found dead in Ballyglass House, the family seat of the aristocratic, secretive Osborne family.
The year is 1957 and the Catholic Church rules Ireland with an iron fist. Strafford — flinty, visibly Protestant and determined to identify the murderer — faces obstruction at every turn, from the heavily accumulating snow to the culture of silence in this tight-knit community. As he delves further, he learns the Osbornes are not at all what they seem. And when his own deputy goes missing, Strafford must work to unravel the ever-expanding mystery before the community’s secrets, like the snowfall itself, threaten to obliterate everything.
Beautifully crafted, darkly evocative and pulsing with suspense, Snow is “the Irish master” (New Yorker) John Banville at his page-turning best.
The Sun Collective by Charles Baxter (November 17, 2020)
Once a promising actor, Tim Brettigan has gone missing. His father thinks he may have seen him among some homeless people. And though she knows he left on purpose, his mother has been searching for him all over the city. She checks the usual places — churches, storefronts, benches — and stumbles upon a local community group with lofty goals and an enigmatic leader who will alter all of their lives. Christina, a young woman rapidly becoming addicted to a boutique drug that gives her a feeling of blessedness, is inexplicably drawn to the same collective by a man who’s convinced he may start a revolution. As the lives of these four characters intertwine, a story of guilt, anxiety, and feverish hope unfolds in the city of Minneapolis.
A vision of modern American society and the specters of the consumerism, fanaticism, and fear that haunt it, The Sun Collective captures both the mystery and the violence that punctuate our daily lives.
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