Fiction Previews, Sept. 2013, Pt. 3: Four Hot Debut Authors; Bodden, Kent, Smith, & Zailckas

Bodden, Marlen Suyapa. The Wedding Gift. St. Martin’s. Sept. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781250026385. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250026125. CD: Macmillan Audio. LITERARY/HISTORICAL
Not every debut author sells thousands of copies of her self-published novel online before it’s snapped up by a major publisher, and not every debut author gets blurbed by Tom Wolfe and Henry Louis Gates Jr. Bodden, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society in New York, has managed both. Her story opens in the antebellum South with Cornelius Allen giving his newly married daughter Clarissa the slave girl Sarah, Allen’s daughter by his house slave and hence Clarissa’s sister. Both are sent home in shame when Clarissa’s husband doubts the paternity of his newborn son. Related alternately by Sarah and, surprisingly, Cornelius’s wife, Theodora; with a big book-club push.

Kent, Hannah. Burial Rites. Little, Brown. Sept. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780316243919. $26. LITERARY THRILLER
At age 26, Australian Ph.D. student Kent won the 2011 Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award and has since seen rights for her work sold to at least 18 countries after heated bidding. Drawing on real-life events, she retells the story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, who was convicted of murder in 1829 Iceland. Agnes is at first shunned by the farming family she must live with as she awaits execution, but as she begins a frantic confession family members come to realize that there is another side to her story.

Smith, Michael Farris. Rivers. S. & S. Sept. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781451699425. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781451699449. LITERARY
Smith’s debut is set in the near future, when storms stirred by climate change have laid waste to America’s Southeast and forced inhabitants away from coastal areas. A man named Cohen, whose pregnant wife was killed during a mandatory evacuation, has returned to his Mississippi home for good. Attacked one day after he picks up two teenage hitchhikers, who steal his food and remaining family mementos, Cohen finds himself in hot pursuit of justice. It’s not the comparisons to Cormac McCarthy and James Lee Burke that have hooked me; it’s the quality writing promised by Smith’s many honors (e.g., the Transatlantic Review Award, the Brick Streets Press Short Story Award).

Zailckas, Koren. Mother, Mother. Crown. Sept. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780385347235. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780385347242. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. PSYCHOLOGICAL SUSPENSE
Having published the searing memoir Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood, which has sold more than 500,000 copies, Zailckas has a ready audience for a debut novel drawing on the twinned experiences of family and addiction. Teenage Violet, hospitalized after drug experimentation; autistic eight-year-old Will; their withdrawn, Scotch-guzzling dad, Douglas; even runaway sister Rose—all are under the terrifying control of ever-interfering matriarch Josephine. Lots of promotion, including a blog tour and book club outreach.


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.