Barbara’s Picks, Apr. 2013, Pt. 2: Rachel Kushner’s New Novel, Edna O’Brien’s Memoir

Kimberling, Brian. Snapper. Pantheon. Apr. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9780307908056. $24.95; eISBN 9780307908063. LITERARY FICTION
When a publicist tells me that a book is punch-in-the-gut affecting and that she wants to scream it from the rooftops, I do sit up and listen. Now I’m a convert. The topic might seem improbable—Nathan Lochmueller is a bird researcher in southern Indiana, driving around in a Day-Glo truck called the Gypsy Moth—but (as might be expected of a playwright, here making his fiction debut) the characters immediately attract. There’s seductive Lola, the Fast Eddie’s Burgers guy who thought up “Thong Thursdays,” vainglorious Uncle Dart, a German Shepherd that howls/growls backup, and a snapping turtle. Sharp dialog (well, maybe not from the turtle), also to be expected from a playwright; a big promotional push.

Kushner, Rachel. The Flamethrowers. Scribner. Apr. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781439142004. $26; eISBN 9781439154175. LITERARY FICTION
Kushner launched herself splendidly with her debut, Telex from Cuba, a finalist for the National Book Award, winner of the California Book Award, and a New York Times best seller. Her new work sounds even better than her first. When Reno heads to New York in 1977, hoping to make art of her fascination with speeding motorcycles, she falls in with some squatters/dreamers making art of their very lives in not-yet-chic Soho. Then she falls for the scion of an Italian motorcycle empire and travels with him to Italy, where she’s drawn into the radical movement flourishing at the time. Tremendous in-house excitement; don’t miss.

O’Brien, Edna. Country Girl: A Memoir. Little, Brown. Apr. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780316122702. $26.99. MEMOIR
After fleeing pharmacy school (which was strictly her family’s dream), esteemed Irish author O’Brien eloped with an older writer, had two children, and published the 1960 debut novel The Country Girls—so shocking that her family’s parish priest burned it. Since then, she’s been turning out indelible fiction, carefully observed and always arresting (though it appears that no more books were consigned to the flames). She also won the James Joyce Ulysses Medal. Here O’Brien offers an aptly named memoir, which moves from her tumble-down family home and the terrors of convent school to marriage, divorce, Swinging Sixties London, and writerly acclaim—she was even invited to the White House by Hillary Clinton. Snatch up for the literati.

Soueif, Ahdaf. Cairo: Memoir of a City Transformed. Pantheon. Apr. 2013. 208p. ISBN 9780307908100. $24.95; eISBN 9780307908117. POLITICS/CURRENT EVENTS
We’ve seen a number of accounts about the Arab Spring in general and the Egyptian uprising in particular. Writing somewhat after the events, Egyptian author Soueif can tell us what happened in her country while also considering the consequences, reflecting on what might unfold in light of the recent election. Soueif is concerned not only with Cairo’s transformation after the 18 days of upheaval that led to the crash of the Mubarak regime but with Cairo itself, recalled here as the heart and soul of her family. As author of the novel The Map of Love, a best seller shortlisted for the Booker Prize, she knows how to write—and she has an audience, at least among sharper readers.

Williams, Mary. The Lost Daughter. Blue Rider: Penguin Group (USA). Apr. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780399160868. $26.95. MEMOIR
Born to Black Panther parents in Oakland, CA, with her father often absent or in prison and her mother and sister lost to alcohol and prostitution, respectively, Williams was attending a summer camp run by Jane Fonda and former husband Tom Hayden when Fonda invited her home, adopting her unofficially and becoming the concerned mama (family dinners, monitored homework) that Williams never had. For the next three decades, Williams traveled the world (her work with the Lost Boys of Sudan became the basis of her children’s book, Brothers in Hope), then returned home to rediscover the birth family she had left behind. Some focused publicity, with Fonda pitching in; Williams’s work has appeared in the Believer, McSweeney’s, and elsewhere, a good sign. Sure to be big.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.