The Spring Fiction Reading Guide
We could say that the last dregs of winter make for a nice time to curl up with a book, or that you should be building your spring pile now—but, really, it’s always a good season for reading great books. Here, to keep you ahead of the game, a mix of recently published and coming-soon (available for pre-order now) novels, plus a memoir/essay collection, that we were hard-pressed to put down.
Funny, disturbing, heartfelt, Perfect Little World is the story of a single mom who joins the Infinite Family Project, a futuristic commune that really revolves around a newfangled approach to alloparenting, where all the adults raise the kids collectively. It’s a fun and fast read, and does an excellent job of calling into question exactly what it means to be a parent.
At first glance, this looks like a college-town thriller but this is hardly a book about a serial killer. It’s really about friendship (see Christine Lennon’s piece for us on frenemies), growing up, and the emotional implication of long-held secrets. It’s a page-turner and perfect to stash in a carry-on for a beach vacation, but it’s also a great book: Lennon not only paints a very specific picture of time and place, but she populates it with people you will feel you know. No small feat.
Roxane Gay’s latest published work—which was mostly written before her lauded book of essays Bad Feminist—is an unapologetically dark collection of short fiction that explores the lives of women both mundane and extreme, sometimes woven with an unexpected (but welcome) flourish of magical realism. It’s at once hopeful and macabre, knowing and cryptic—which is to say, deeply human. It doesn’t hurt that the book’s title seems to become more charged with each passing day.
This is Chanelle Benz’s debut book of stories, which is almost hard to believe, considering her impressive command of every world she creates. Each story is set at different points throughout history but a few common threads (longing, disappointed hopes, brutality, the richly textured American south) weave throughout. In one, a former slave—a woman, who travels with the man who bought her freedom—tours the country reciting her poetry, and in what could be either an act of bravery or a grave lapse of judgment, ends up revisiting the deep south to perform, where slaves are still kept. Told from the perspective of the woman’s diary entries, it’s one of the more visceral experiences in this wholly essential volume.
Literary genius George Saunders first-ever novel does not disappoint. Set a year into the Civil War, it begins with the death of President Lincoln’s beloved son, who winds up in a bizarre purgatory (the Tibetan bardo) populated with specific, yet universally recognizable ghosts. It is strange and hilarious and sad, full of poignant lessons on community, what it means to be a good citizen, the significance of life and death—and, really, it’s a form and narrative altogether different from the novel. The beginning of Lincoln in the Bardo can be disorienting, as you try to wrap your mind around the various voices and texts (real? fake?) that turn up in Saunders’s take on oral history—but just keep going; you don’t have to get it right away (or all of it, ever), and it’s well worth the ride. (Audio people: Check out the audiobook, which has a 150-plus person cast, including the author, Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, Lena Dunham.)
If there is one book everyone should read ASAP, it is Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (out March 7, add to cart now). Short, unsentimental, deeply intimate, and so very powerful, it opens in an unknown country that tips into a civil war, destroying the city where a man and woman have begun to fall in love. Here’s the twist: Doors are discovered inside random homes and buildings that have the potential to transport refugees (and others) to cities and countries around the globe. What unfolds is a thought-provoking tale, of the way place and circumstance can change a relationship, that also has the ability to change the way we think about our migratory world.
Admittedly, we’d read (and likely love) anything by Will Schwalbe, whose last book was the bestselling memoir, The End of Your Life Book Club, about his relationship with his mother. Now, he’s written a pleasantly meandering cross between memoir and narrative that is also another kind of love letter to books—with each chapter focusing on a book that helped him better understand a pivotal moment in time/life.
Carefully and coldly told with a gorgeous economy of words, this tells the story of a woman who follows her estranged husband to Greece—at the behest of his mother. This is a quick, though not particularly easy read that stays with you after the last page is turned.
This debut novel—from a rising writer, who is also an editor of some of Random House’s best fiction—chronicles a couple’s flawed journey to carve their separate paths in NYC post college. The Futures is so acutely drawn—we were transported back to our younger selves and that universal feeling of trying to make sense of an uncertain future ahead.
Recently released Idaho, set in a beautiful, haunting landscape in the north of the state is inarguably exquisitely written—but it’s not going to be for everyone. The premise at its heart—the most horrific family tragedy—makes for a gut-wrenching read. If you can stomach it, though, you’ll be blown away by the dignity and truth that Ruskovich unearths in the least expected of places.
Playwright and filmmaker, Kathleen Collins, who passed away in 1988, has begun to receive the acclaim and celebration she so deserves. Pulled from her unpublished work—Collins was also a writer—the sixteen stories in Whatever Happened to Interracial Love serve to share a poignant perspective on the social and political issues that the world still grapples with today.
One of the most exciting books of the last few months, The Mothers takes on a difficult subject (abortion) in a way that perfectly illuminates its incipient agonies.