Six Essential Debuts, from Quan Barry to M.O. Walsh | Fiction Previews, Feb. 2015, Pt. 1

Barry, Quan. She Weeps Each Time You’re Born. Pantheon. Feb. 2015. 288p. ISBN 9780307911773. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307911780. LITERARY
Barry writes quietly fervent poetry that’s been honored with an AWP Donald Hall Poetry Prize, quanbarrywhich bodes well for her first foray into fiction. Heroine Rabbit is born along the Song Ma River as the Vietnam War rages, and her ability to hear the voices of the dead allows her to chronicle her country’s history from the heyday of French Indochina to the dislocations of war and  the reunification of North and South Vietnam. Saigon-born Barry gives her narrative urgency, and her novel is part of a new wave of literature reflecting on the Vietnam experience.

Doten, Mark. The Infernal. Graywolf. Feb. 2015. 416p. ISBN 9781555977016. pap. $18. LITERARY
A senior editor at Soho Press whose work has appeared in venues like Conjunctions and New York magazine, Doten augments our efforts to understand contemporary East-West anguish with a novel whose premise is particularly arresting. As the fighting in Iraq heats up, a badly burned boy appears near the Akkad Valley, and the U.S. government is worried about what he knows or might have seen. An interrogator sprung from prison and an exacting instrument of torture elicit from the boy an outpouring of voices (including those of Osama bin Laden and Condoleezza Rice) that together capture a world remade by the war on terror. With a five-city tour.

Ritchell, Ross. The Knife. Blue Rider. Feb. 2015. 272p. ISBN 9780399173400. $25.95. LITERARY
A former soldier with a United States Special Operations Command team that conducted classified operations in the Middle East, Ritchell offers you-are-there fiction about the fighting in what he has dubbed Afghanipakiraqistan. Team Leader Dutch Shaw has already lost any sense of connection with the world beyond when two helicopters in a sister squadron are blasted out of the sky, forcing his team deep into insurgent territory to track a shadowy new group called Al Ayeelaa. Big promotional efforts have already been launched; part of the burgeoning soldier-writer literature that embraces Brian Turner (Here, Bullet), Kevin Powers (The Yellow Birds), truesylviaand Phil Klay (Redeployment).

True, Sylvia. The Wednesday Group. St. Martin’s. Feb. 2105. 288p. ISBN 9781250048929. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466850040. CD: Macmillan Audio. WOMEN’S FICTION
British author True is making eyes pop with this first novel about five women who meet in a therapy group, where they examine what it’s like to be married to sex addicts. (Maybe their husbands should be in therapy, too?) Gail, a distinguished judge, is getting letters from the latest girlfriend of her theology professor husband, who says he’s sworn off promiscuity. Hannah stumbled over her husband having sex with a male prostitute. Bridget’s husband is addicted to match-making websites, while Lizzy’s is a porn addict. And Flavia’s husband has just been arrested for groping a teenage girl, which means she might end the marriage. Major publicity.

van den Berg, Laura. Find Me. Farrar. Feb. 2015. 288p. ISBN 9780374154714. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374710606. LITERARY
Van den Berg’s first collection of stories was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers findmepick and a finalist for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award; her second won the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award for Fiction. So the cognoscenti will be paying attention to her first novel, another example of the literary dystopian fiction that’s sweeping the country. Also sweeping the country, in van den Berg’s pages: an illness that leads to memory loss and death. But the ironically named Joy, who works nights at a Boston-area grocery store and drowns bad memories in cough syrup, is immune. That leads first to hospitalization (those curious doctors), then a road trip to find the mother who abandoned her. Heady stuff.

Walsh, M.O. My Sunshine Away. Amy Einhorn: Putnam. Feb. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9780399169526. $26.95. CD: Penguin Audio. LITERARY
Folks have been talking about Walsh’s debut since it was chosen as a BookExpo America Buzz Book. The setting is the hot Louisiana summer of 1989, the narrator a 14-year-old boy obsessed (like all the other boys in the neighborhood) with sunny-haired Lindy Simpson, who rides by on her bicycle each day. Then a terrible crime upends the neighborhood, our narrator is one of the suspects, and nothing will ever be the same. Bets on for this one.

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.