The Strop is a place to whet your appetite for damn good stories. Check back every Friday for our latest recommendations. This week, the recommendations come from Wrangler editor Brandon Williams.
It’s really easy to get overwhelmed by all the “most anticipated books” lists that pop up constantly. So many books come out every week, month, quarter — for me, the only way to make sense of the cacophony is to break it down to one book per week. One book that, if I can find the cash that week, I will purchase, devour, enjoy, consider, write about, and otherwise interact with. These are my January selections.
Quick caveat: I don’t get Advanced Reader Copies of books (though I’m open to being propositioned!); these picks are all personal interest selections based off reading blurbs and searching bookstores and talking to the clerks at my local bookstore (yeah, they think I’m insane, but I go in the middle of the day on a Monday so there’s no one there and they have to talk to me), and all those website lists. Needless to say, the results are unscientific and biased as hell. You’re welcome.
December 31: Recipe for a Perfect Wife, Karma Brown
From the synopsis: “A modern-day woman finds inspiration in hidden notes left by her home’s previous owner, a quintessential 1950s housewife. As she discovers remarkable parallels between this woman’s life and her own, it causes her to question the foundation of her own relationship with her husband — and what it means to be a wife fighting for her place in a patriarchal society.”
Not technically January, but I’m making an exception to my own rule right off the bat (and I wanted to make a double exception for Such a Fun Age by Kylie Reid, also out December 31, but only one exception at a time, I guess). I’m a sucker for dual narratives, especially when they’re using multiple timelines to explore modern concerns. Terrible person that I am, the excellent book cover has also pulled me in. And if the blurbs are any indication, this novel might also use (very slightly) non-traditional narrative elements such as recipes, notes, and letters alongside the more structured pieces. That’s enough to sit at the top of my to-read pile and stare loomingly at me until I get reading, which will happen just as soon as I finish this article.
January 7: Topics of Conversation, Miranda Popkey
From the synopsis: ” The novel is composed almost exclusively of conversations between women — the stories they tell each other, and the stories they tell themselves, about shame and love, infidelity and self-sabotage — and careens through 20 years in the life of an unnamed narrator hungry for experience and bent on upending her life.”
A novel built around dialogues spanning multiple years and exploring the stories people tell each other to survive and hold together and tear apart their lives, and written in the mold of Rachel Cusk and Lydia Davis. Um, yes please.
January 14: Little Gods, Meng Jin
From the synopsis: “Liya, who grew up in America, takes her mother’s ashes to China — to her, an unknown country. In a territory inhabited by the ghosts of the living and the dead, Liya’s memories are joined by those of two others: Zhu Wen, the woman last to know Su Lan [her mother] before she left China, and Yongzong, the father Liya has never known.”
This is a heavyweight week of releases, with Garth Greenwell’s Cleanness coming out as well as a novel from the always-awesome Tom Lutz. I’m sure I’ll buy both of those, because I have no impulse control whatsoever, but the first book in my queue is this one. It’s being talked up by everyone (it got named a staff pick at Powells, Vogue called it one of the best books of Winter, as did USA Today and Electric Literature, and so on), and the description manages to sound both epic and intimate.
January 21: American Dirt, Jeanine Cummins
From the synopsis: ” Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia — trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?”
Probably the book in which I’m most interested, although not necessarily because of the plot or pitch or hook. This book is getting ridiculously rave reviews (and also at least one absolute demolishment of a review). The novel is being compared to Steinbeck, which on a marketing level is doing exactly what it’s supposed to: I’m sitting here thinking that’s impossible, but damn, if it is the Grapes of Wrath of our time, how do I skip it? And I can’t help the ever-swimming thought that if people are this deeply divided on it, then I’d better have an opinion, too.
January 28: Interior Chinatown, Charles Yu
From the synopsis: “Willis Wu doesn’t perceive himself as a protagonist even in his own life: he’s merely Generic Asian Man. Sometimes he gets to be Background Oriental Making a Weird Face or even Disgraced Son, but always he is relegated to a prop. Yet every day, he leaves his tiny room in a Chinatown SRO and enters the Golden Palace restaurant, where Black and White, a procedural cop show, is in perpetual production. He’s a bit player here, too, but he dreams of being Kung Fu Guy — the most respected role that anyone who looks like him can attain. At least that is what he has been told, time and time again. Except by one person, his mother. Who says to him: be more.”
There are very few writers I enjoy as much as Charles Yu. His stories are always weird, but they’re weird in ways that make complete senses within the context of character and plot (for instance, one of my favorite pieces is written as a physics problem because the main character is a physicist; such a simple, elegant, genius decision. That story also manages to be indebted in form to John Updike, so, yeah, he’s got his bona fides down). I saw Charles Yu’s name and preordered with no further information. but based off that blurb, we’re looking at race and class and how people see and define themselves and others, all against a backdrop of Hollywood and film; somehow this book is still not in my hands, even though I’ve been waiting patiently since the start of this sentence for it to get here.