Writers To Watch, from Scott Blackwood to David Whitehouse | Fiction Previews, Jan. 2015, Pt. 2

Blackwood, Scott. See How Small. Little, Brown. Jan. 2015. 224p. ISBN 9780316373807. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780316373975. lib. ebk. ISBN 9780316294843. CRIME
Three teenage girls who had been tied up in a small-town Texas ice cream shop that was then set on fire watch over those they’ve left behind, trying to find ways to help them reconnect with life. Blackwood, a Whiting Writers’ Award recipient and PEN USA fiction award finalist, will tour Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Ann Arbor, and Austin, his old stomping ground; a BEA and ALA featured title with a 25,000-copy first printing.

Burgess, Matt. Uncle Janice. Doubleday. Jan. 2015. 288p. ISBN 9780385536806. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385536813. LITERARY/URBAN
Since Burgess’s debut, Dogfight, A Love Story, was a Discover Great New Writers and an Indie Next pick, you can expect good things from this second novel. First-generation Guyanese American Janice Itwaru is an uncle—that is, an undercover narcotics officer, out there on the mean Queens streets trying to make detective by busting enough drug dealers. But who’s buwaldaworse, the bad guys or her bosses? Billed as a literary/crime mash-up with a touch of the hilarious.

Buwalda, Peter. Bonita Avenue. Hogarth: Crown. Jan. 2015. 544p. ISBN 9780553417852. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780553417869. LITERARY
A respected mathematics professor with a lovely family to match his political ambitions, Siem Sigerius has the kind of picture-perfect life that in fiction always spells trouble. Sure enough, his life soon implodes, with a little help from his own dark tendencies and a violent son from a former marriage. Bearing great credentials—over 300,000 copies sold in the author’s native Holland, translation into seven languages, receipt of five of the 12 prizes for which it was nominated—this debut appears to be wicked good fun: “a family saga that swerves from gross-out sex comedy to pitch-black revenge tragedy” (the Telegraph).

Christie, Michael. If I Fall, If I Die. Hogarth: Crown. Jan. 2015. 336p. ISBN 9780804140805. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780804140812. LITERARY
Christie, whose debut story collection, The Beggar’s Garden, won the City of Vancouver Book Award and was nominated for other big Canadian prizes, makes his first U.S. appearance with a coming-of-age debut novel. It’s hardly surprising that former professional skateboarder Christie’s young hero, long confined to home by a devoted but deeply agoraphobic mother, finally finds christieway in the world by making a friend who teaches him to skate. A mystery about a missing boy adds frisson, but I’m betting that the skating scenes especially will soar.

Ellison, Jan. A Small Indiscretion. Random. Jan. 2015. 336p. ISBN 9780812995442. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780812995459. Downloadable: Random Audio. LITERARY
Ellison’s debut novel will interest readers who’ve been following her since she won an O. Henry Prize for her first published story in 2007. Protagonist Annie Black is nicely settled into her grown-up life when an act of infidelity from her wild past comes back to haunt her. Pitched to the Amy Bloom/Elizabeth Strout/Liane Moriarty crowd.

Harrison, Rashad. The Abduction of Smith and Smith. Atria. Jan. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9781451625783. $25. HISTORICAL
Like his debut novel, Our Man in the Dark, Harrison’s second novel treads troubled historical ground. Having fought for the Union, former slave Jupiter Smith returns to his old plantation to find his former master turned mad and strangles him in an act of mercy. He’s then pursued cross-continent by the master’s vengeful son, whose opium addiction eventually gets both men into deep trouble (see the title). Harrison graduated from New York University’s MFA program, where he was a Jacob K. Javits Fellow.

Hooper, Emma. Etta and Otto and Russell and James. S. & S. Jan. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9781476755670. $26. LITERARY
A featured title at ALA, Canadian-born, UK-based Hooper’s debut novel opens with 82-year-old Etta’s decision to trek east across Canada to the ocean she’s never seen, never mind that it’s 3,232 kilometers away. Husband Otto understands, having seen the ocean when he crossed itdriving to fight a war (painful memories are now resurfacing), but worshipful friend Russell marches after her. And James? That’s a talking coyote. How charming.

Howard, Ravi. Driving the King. Harper. Jan. 2015. 336p. ISBN 9780060529611. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062199157. HISTORICAL
A writer to heed, having won both the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Award and the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, Howard reimagines a significant incident in the life of Nat King Cole. In post–World War II Alabama, Nat Weary is jailed for defending childhood friend Cole when he returns home to give a performance and is attacked onstage by a white man. After Weary is freed, Cole invites him to Los Angeles to serve as his chauffeur, but whether it’s Alabama or L.A., this is still America before the Civil Rights movement.

Lane, Harriet. Her. Little, Brown. Jan. 2015. 272p. ISBN 9780316369879. $26. WOMEN’S FICTION
Emma is a young woman overwhelmed by motherhood, Nina a chic and sophisticated friend who offers Emma everything. But there’s something increasingly suspicious and spooky about their bond. Lane’s debut, Alys, Always, was shortlisted for the Writers’ Guild Best Fiction Book Award and optioned for film.

Metcalf, Ben. Against the Country. Random. Jan. 2015. 336p. ISBN 9781400062690. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780812996531. LITERARY
A former literary editor at Harper’s magazine also noted for his short story output, Metcalf offers a first novel whose cranky, acidulous narrator recalls being moved to rural Virginia by parents anxious for a simpler, less corrupting environment. What they encounter sounds less than glowingly healthy, though, with the land itself communicating a certain raw menace. Not a sweet bedtime story.

Whitehouse, David. Mobile Library. Scribner. Jan. 2015. 272p. ISBN 9781476749433. $25. LITERARY
Whitehouse writes wittily weird fiction; his debut, Bed, features a disillusioned 25-year-old who retires permanently to his childhood bed. Tellingly, it won the 2012 Betty Trask Prize and has been published in 18 countries. Now, he does it again with the story of off-beat Bobby Nusku (so offbeat he’s plotting with friend Sunny to turn her into a cyborg) who becomes attached to bullied neighborhood girl Rosa and even more attached to Rosa’s mom, Val. Then Val loses her job cleaning a mobile library, and Bobby is badly beaten by his dad, and before you can say road trip, they’re off in the rolling library.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @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.