Perestroika in Paris, Jane Smiley
Author Jane Smiley, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in the early 1990s with A Thousand Acres, has now turned to charming the masses with a cast of animal characters who somehow manage to find adventure in the densely populated Parisian cityscape. A 3-year-old filly nicknamed "Paras"—"Perestroika" would have taken too much effort— escapes from a racetrack to experience the world as the humans do, albeit with higher stakes. The fable is a gift for children and parents alike.
Mediocre, Ijeoma Oluo
Ijeoma Oluo is perhaps best known for her book So You Want to Talk About Race, which graced the lists of nearly every "must read" compilation in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Her follow-up, Mediocre, strikes a similar nerve, addressing the pervasive toxicity of white male power, a force that props up even those who stumble at the first hurdle. In clear, accessible prose, Oluo works her way through over a century of American history, beginning with the cowboy mythology of the West and ending with the divisiveness around modern protests.
Agaat, Marlene van Niekerk
South African novelist Marlene van Niekerk first published Agaat in 2004, a work of creative discomfort that Toni Morrison called "as brilliant as it is haunting." Now translated into English by Michiel Heyns, American readers have access to van Niekerk's saga working through the stretch marks of loyalty and betrayal in a lifetime. Set in 1940s apartheid South Africa, one family's kindness lapses into cruelty along lines of race, power and justice, a dynamic that moves and shifts as the years pass on.
Big Girl, Small Town, Michelle Gallen
Michelle Gallen's chatty, hard-edged debut begins with tragedy: Her misanthropic protagonist is left to fend for herself after the death of her grandmother, forcing a ruthless initiation into the type of social cameraderie she least enjoys. Set in post-conflict Northern Ireland, Gallen carefully balances the nuances of autism spectrum disorder, late-20s bedlam, and the mundanities of small-town life, each cloaked under the lasting effects of political unrest. The premise is bleak, but the payoff is deeply rewarding.
Love Poems for the Office, John Kenney
To be fair, few people are working in an office right now, so John Kenney's collection of poems may have lost their relevance. On second thought, maybe the release is perfect timing—if readers want to fantasize about falling in love over lukewarm coffee and barely legible spreadsheets. In his fourth anthology—following love poems for married people, people with children, and anxious people—Kenney turns his gaze to the politics of Zoom and Slack, distilling years of interpersonal eccentricities into just a few lines.