Every month, a deluge of new books comes flooding out from big publishers, indie houses, and self-publishing platforms. So every month, The A.V. Club narrows down the endless options to five of the books we’re most excited about.
Maggie Brown & Others by Peter Orner (July 2, Little, Brown)
Over the course of nearly two decades, Peter Orner has published two novels, three books in McSweeney’s Voice Of Witness oral history series, and a collection of essays about reading, the latter of which, 2016’s Am I Alone Here?, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. But the genre that perhaps best exemplifies Orner as a writer is short fiction—very short fiction to be exact. Starting with his first book, 2001’s elegiac Esther Stories, Orner writes simultaneously heartbreaking and witty stories, some only a few pages long, that home in on a particular event or detail to illuminate the lives of his characters. A friend of a friend (seriously) tells us this latest collection, made up of 44 such compact stories, is the best thing Orner’s ever written. An intriguing claim, and given just how much we love Esther Stories, one that makes us eager to read the latest.
Hue And Cry: Stories by James Alan McPherson (July 2, Ecco)
As highly decorated as James Alan McPherson would become in his lifetime—he was the first African American writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and among the very first recipients of the MacArthur “Genius Grant”—he never quite became a household name. Now, three years after his death, Ecco is reissuing his 1968 debut short story collection, Hue And Cry, with a new preface from Edward P. Jones, author of The Known World and a fellow Pulitzer Prize winner. The semi-autobiographical “Gold Coast,” which won an Atlantic Monthly contest when McPherson was in law school, and was later anthologized in The Best American Short Stories Of The Century, tells the story of a young Black writer in an interracial relationship working as a janitor under a white supervisor. If you haven’t yet read his work, why not start with his first book?
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo (July 9, Avid Reader Press)
For eight years, journalist Lisa Taddeo embedded herself with three women across America to find out about their sex lives. One has a relationship with her teacher when she is in high school; another, a housewife in an unfulfilling marriage, begins an intense affair with an old flame; the third woman, a confident, charismatic restaurateur, has sex with other people in front of her husband. To find her subjects, Taddeo posted to Craigslist and Facebook; called up lawyers, therapists, and police officers; and crisscrossed the country handing out her business card and stapling posters to bulletin boards. “For every 50 people I met, perhaps one had the mettle to convey her deepest truths,” she says. Envisioned as an update to Gay Talese’s Thy Neighbor’s Wife, Three Women explores female desire in intimate detail, creating an emotionally charged work of nonfiction that’s as propulsive as any thriller.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (July 16, Doubleday)
It can’t be easy, psychologically speaking, to write a follow-up to the winner of the Pulitzer Prize For Fiction, but Colson Whitehead has never seemed to have much trouble shaking off the trappings of his previous work. Just as 2016’s The Underground Railroad broke from the zombie-genre experiment of 2011’s Zone One, his new novel again delves back into America’s past to explore wounds far from healed in the present. The Nickel Boys takes as its basis the real-life account of a sadistic reform school in Florida during the Jim Crow era, and fashions it into a labyrinthine tale of two boys intent on retaining their spirits against grotesque odds (and even more grotesque treatment in a sinister environment). Whitehead’s writing has remained vibrant and compelling across six novels and two works of nonfiction, engaging even when going astray, and there’s little reason to believe his latest will deviate from that stellar track record.
Becoming Superman: My Journey From Poverty To Hollywood by J. Michael Straczynski (July 23, Harper Voyager)
J. Michael Straczynski is a screenwriter whose own life, were it adapted to the screen, would defy belief. In Becoming Superman, Straczynski details an upbringing of poverty, violence, and mental illness, and the jacket copy teases a “shocking secret” from his family’s past involving “mass murder.” It all sounds very juicy. Straczynski learned to escape his dire childhood by losing himself in comics, eventually leading him to a career writing them, including some big superhero titles at Marvel and DC in the early ’00s. He’s now known for writing for television (Babylon 5) and films (Changeling), with credits on Thor and World War Z; his memoir sounds as dramatic as any of those works.
More in July: A Prayer For Travelers by Ruchika Tomar (July 9, Riverhead); Jacob’s Ladder by Ludmila Ulitskaya (July 9, Farrar, Straus & Giroux); Stay And Fight by Madeline ffitch (July 9, Farrar, Straus & Giroux); Dapper Dan: Made In Harlem by Daniel R. Day (July 9, Random House); The Need by Helen Phillips (July 9, Simon & Schuster); Vincent And Alice And Alice by Shane Jones (July 9, Tyrant Books); Say Say Say by Lila Savage (July 9, Knopf); Raised In Captivity by Chuck Klosterman (July 16, Penguin Press); The Book Of X by Sarah Rose Etter (July 16, Two Dollar Radio); Burn The Place: A Memoir by Iliana Regan (July 16, Agate Midway); Turbulence by David Szalay (July 16, Scribner); The Lager Queen Of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal (July 23, Pamela Dorman); Beijing Payback by Daniel Nieh (July 23, Ecco); Screen Tests: Stories And Other Writing by Kate Zambreno (July 23, Harper Perennial); The Vexations by Caitlin Horrocks (July 30, Little, Brown); Marilou Is Everywhere by Sarah Elaine Smith (July 30, Riverhead); The Churchgoer by Patrick Coleman (July 30, Harper Collins); Chances Are… by Richard Russo (July 30, Knopf); Professor Andersen’s Night by Dag Solstad (July 30, New Directions); The Maids by Junichiro Tanizaki (July 30, New Directions); This Is Not America by Jordi Punti (July 30, Atria)