Reviewer Bethanne Patrick recommends 10 promising titles, fiction and non-fiction, to consider for your April list.
April is the mildest month, the season when novels spring from the richest literary soil. Beloved novelists return to push their particular talents in bold new directions (and one of them, Ocean Vuong, returns to poetry). These recommendations include some amazing books on dark and difficult subjects, but there’s always joy in good writing.
sea of tranquility
By Emily St. John Mandel
Knopf: 272 pages, $25
Mandel is perhaps best known for “Station Eleven,” her bestselling dystopian pandemic tale of grief and recovery in which art may be the only thing worth saving. After a beloved HBO Max adaptation and realistic follow-up novel, “The Glass Hotel,” the author returns to science fiction with a saga about a wormhole in time and a group of lost souls who may hold the key to human survival.
The candy house
By Jennifer Egan
Scribner: 352 pages, $28
Egan has already expanded the possibilities of fiction with “A Visit From the Goon Squad,” his time- and genre-hopping 2010 story novel – and won the Pulitzer for it. But she wasn’t done with her eclectic and eccentric characters. “The Candy House” takes them into an ever-distant future, an era of AI-fused consciousness that still leaves room for hope, change, and rock ‘n’ roll.
By Douglas Stuart
Grove: 400 pages, $27
Stuart’s debut novel ‘Shuggie Bain’ won the 2020 Booker Prize. Any writer would find it a tough act to follow. ‘Young Mungo’, a gay ‘Romeo and Juliet’ set in Glasgow, has the same dynamic writing as ‘Shuggie’ but a word of warning: it goes to much darker places exploring the entanglements of love and violence. Again, Shuggie Bain is a child, Mungo Hamilton a teenager. Growing up can be brutal.
A little push up
By Melissa Chadburn
FSG: 352 pages, $27
Born to a Filipina mother and a black father, Marina Salles endures sexual abuse, the horrors of foster care, a struggle with drug addiction and a too short period of happiness with a girlfriend before a serial killer does not end his life. But that’s not the end: a Filipino spirit known as an aswang inhabits Marina’s consciousness and opens up insights into her life that she never had while living it. The novel shocks, but always with a purpose.
city on fire
By Don Winslow
William Morrow: 384 pages, $29
The first volume in a planned trilogy, “City on Fire” confronts two crime families in 1980s Providence, RI, and follows their ongoing war with an eye to the greatest epic ever written: “The Iliad.” ‘Homer. Is it also a new version of “The Godfather”? Swapping the southwest of his “Border” trilogy for the more corrupt corners of the northeast, Winslow shows that criminal dynasties know no borders.
Easy beauty: a memoir
By Chloe Cooper Jones
Avid reader: 288 pages, $28
Taking its title from a philosopher who describes “easy beauty” as “apparent and unchallenging,” Cooper Jones, herself a philosopher and journalist, examines aesthetics from her perspective as someone born with sacred agenesis and the challenges that come with it. For all of its heady ideas, the book has bite, especially when the author connects those ideas to his real-life conversations and practical concessions.
time is a mother
By Ocean Vuong
Penguin Press: 128 pages, $24
Vuong, acclaimed for his 2019 novel “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous”, returns to poetry (following 2016’s “Night Sky With Exit Wounds”) in a collection focused on his mother’s death that incorporates fragments of his life (a poem is based on his Amazon orders). The immediacy of the verse and the universality of the loss of family will surely bring new readers to Vuong – and to the poetry.
Building a Nervous System: A Memoir
By Margo Jefferson
Hall of Fame: 208 pages, $27
In her 2015 memoir, “Negroland,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic wrote about how her upbringing in a privileged black community shaped her. Her new memoirs take the story forward to her training as a critic and thinker, analyzing her heroes, influences and foils, from her parents to Bing Crosby and Ike Turner. These self-examinations are coupled with reconsiderations of culture and society, including the artists she now sees in a much more complicated light.
Why we fight: the roots of war and the paths to peace
By Christopher Blattman
Viking: 400 pages, $32
The University of Chicago professor writes about how violence, crime and poverty are intertwined and how they can fuel larger-scale conflict. Blattman fights at every level, from local coups to global warfare, providing telling examples of escalation. But perhaps his most salient point is this: “There is rarely a reason for a war.” This is a relevant and urgent new study.
Finding Me: A Memoir
By Viola Davis
Harper One: 288 pages, $29
Hopefully Davis wins a Grammy for her Audible recording of those memoirs, becoming the first black woman to claim a coveted EGOT. The Oscar, Tony and Emmy winner’s memoir unravels the story she built on her way to real-life fame, a tougher but ultimately more fulfilling tale of struggle and success. Her gorgeous storytelling will inspire anyone who wants to get rid of old labels.