Conn, Andrew Lewis. O, Africa! Hogarth: Crown. Jun. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780804138284. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780804138291. LITERARY/HISTORICAL
Conn, whose devilishly over-the-top debut novel, P., got mostly strong reviews, would seem to be delivering on that sly promise. Micah and Izzy Grand, twin brothers from a Jewish immigrant family, are successfully producing slapstick comedies in 1920s New York when they jump at the chance to shoot the first movie ever made in Africa—partly because Micah, in trouble with some Harlem gangsters, needs to leave town. Things get pratfall-wild, and the excitement of early filmmaking surfaces (our heroes end up in Hollywood), but there’s pathos, too, as the brotherly bond is tested and social prejudice gets in the way of true love.
Dybek, Stuart. Paper Lantern: Love Stories. Farrar. Jun. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9780374146443. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780374710545. SHORT STORIES
Dybek is a real writer’s writer who has accumulated numerous honors, including the PEN/Malamud Prize, a Whiting Writers’ Award, and four O. Henry prizes—that last one certainly boding well for this collection. The theme is love, though not the sweet and sticky sort; Dybek’s romances have a dark and questing edge, as when social workers fall dangerously in love with their clients and a man facing imminent execution in an alleyway, a black slip “smell[ing] faintly of a familiar fragrance” wrapped around his face, recalls an operatic romance.
Gilman, Susan Jane. The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street. Grand Central. Jun. 2014. 528p. ISBN 9780446578936. $26. CD: Hachette Audio. LITERARY
Gilman has given us Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress and Kiss My Tiara, both of which sold in the 150,000-copy range. Obviously, she can be funny (check out those titles), but she also won VQR’s 1999 Literary Award for short fiction, so don’t expect just laughs from this debut novel. After fleeing Russia in 1913 for Manhattan’s dismal Lower East Side, 13-year-old Malka Treynovsky is abandoned by her family after becoming crippled, adopted by Italian ice peddlers, and determined enough to set off across America in an ice cream truck with enticing radical Albert. How little Malka becomes Lillian Dunkle, the Ice Cream Queen, is also the story of America in the 20th century. Look for some unusual promotion, like the ice cream social at BEA.
Guterson, David. Problems with People: Stories. Knopf. Jun. 2014. 176p. ISBN 9780385351485. ebk. ISBN 9780385351492. SHORT STORIES
PEN/Faulkner Award winner Guterson revisits the Pacific Northwest setting of his beloved Snow Falling on Cedars, though he doesn’t stay there; these stories hotfoot it across America, then travel on to Nepal, South Africa, and Germany. His scenarios range widely, too, from recalling the loss of a boyfriend to losing a son at sea to a tourist’s out-of-place feeling in a fabled land. Guterson has been busy lately, having just published a memoir of his experience with depression as an e-original and arranged for the release of two books of poetry from the Washington State–based press Lost Horse in March 2014. A chance to rediscover this writer?
Henríquez, Cristina. The Book of Unknown Americans. Knopf. Jun. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780385350846. $24.95. ebk. ISBN 9780385350853. CD: Random Penguin Audio. LITERARY
After daughter Maribel is badly injured in an accident, the Riveras move from Mexico to Newark, DE, in search of treatment. Maribel’s recovery is not assured, but she finds love with Mayor Toro, whose Panamanian family lives in the same drab apartment complex as the Riveras. Alas, the families are none too pleased, which leads to a decidedly unhappy ending. Partly inspired by her father’s immigration here from Panama, this new work is seen as a breakout novel for the author, whose story collection Come Together, Fall Apart, was a New York Times Editors’ Choice selection. With a seven-city tour (and counting) to Chicago, Delaware, Iowa City, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, and San Francisco.
Lawson, Mary. Road Ends. Random. Jun. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780812995732. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780812995749. LITERARY
Lawson is a No. 1 best-selling author in her native Canada (she now lives in England but returns home annually), and she’s highly regarded in the U.K., where her work has been longlisted for the Booker. So the eagerness to find her a bigger audience here is understandable. Fed up with being mother, housekeeper, and nurse to her passel of rowdy brothers (her own mother has permanently retired to bed), Megan suddenly grabs her suitcase and abandons her isolated Canadian village for London. Terrific for her, but her departure is particularly hard for youngest brother Adam. Billed as literary, positioned as popular; see what you think.
Murphy, Jennifer. I Love You More. Doubleday. Jun. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780385538558. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385538565. Downloadable: Penguin Random Audio. LITERARY
There’s serious in-house excitement for this debut from Murphy, who’s studied with some big names and is well known on the conference trail. Oliver Lane has been murdered at his beach house, and his 12-year-old daughter, Picasso, knows something that the police are just learning: Oliver had not one but three wives, and despite denials all ’round, they have met.
Ng, Celeste. Everything I Never Told You. Penguin Pr. Jun. 2104. 304p. ISBN 9781594205712. $26.95. LITERARY
Since Ng won the Hopwood Award from the University of Michigan’s writing program, whose honorees range from Arthur Miller and Mary Gaitskill to Laura Kasischke and Jesmyn Ward, I’m pretty excited about this debut. The story opens, “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” In 1970s Ohio, blue-eyed Marilyn wants daughter Lydia to become a doctor, as she herself never could, while Lydia’s father, Chinese American James Lee, wants her to be popular. Now she’s at the bottom of a lake, her older brother suspects the local bad boy, and her little sister understands more about what happened than anyone.
O’Donnell, Lisa. Closed Doors. Harper. Jun. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9780062271891. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 978006227189. LITERARY
As in The Death of Bees, a 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize winner that was also an IndieNext and Barnes & Noble Discover Pick, O’Donnell looks at adult misbehavior through the eyes of a child. Eleven-year-old Michael Murray has peered behind enough doors to know why his mother’s face is often bruised, but he suspects that more secrets await him. Meanwhile, he must prepare for the talent show. With book club outreach and a 35,000-copy first printing.
Owen, Lauren. The Quick. Random. Jun. 2014. 544p. ISBN 9780812993271. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780679645054. CD: Penguin Random Audio. LITERARY/HISTORICAL
British author Owen, who won the 2009 Curtis Brown prize for the best fiction dissertation for an early draft of this work, crafts the story of a shy but promising young poet in 1890s London who suddenly vanishes. When Charlotte Norbury goes looking for her brother James, she ends up at the doorstep of Aegolius Club, whose rich and ambitious members prowl the margins of society. Thrills, atmosphere, sophisticated writing.
Sonnenberg, Brittani. Home Leave. Grand Central. Jun. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9781455548347. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781455548354. lib. ebk. ISBN 9781455552399. CD: Hachette Audio. LITERARY
An escalating career has taken Chris Kriegstein from North America to Europe to Asia, with profound consequences for his family. Wife Elise has morphed from shy Southern Baptist to sophisticated ex-pat, interior decorator, and adulterer, while daughters Leah and Sophie cling desperately to each other as they are repeatedly uprooted. Sonnenberg’s work has appeared in The O’Henry Prize Stories 2008, which bodes well for this debut novel. With a 50,000-copy first printing.