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.
In his words, “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 his February selections. Don’t miss last month’s picks.
February 4: Verge, Lidia Yuknavitch
From the synopsis: “Lidia Yuknavitch’s bestselling novels, The Book of Joan and The Small Backs of Children, and her groundbreaking memoir, The Chronology of Water, have established her as one of our most urgent contemporary voices: a writer with a rare gift for tracing the jagged boundaries between art and trauma, sex and violence, destruction and survival. In Verge (Riverhead), her first collection of short fiction, she turns her eye to life on the margins, in all its beauty and brutality. A book of heroic grace and empathy, Verge is a viscerally powerful and moving survey of our modern heartache life.”
Hard to build a synopsis for a collection of short stories, but not hard to build excitement for it; I’m always down for a collection that explores both fantastical elements and deep introspection, and when it’s coming from the keyboard of a writer as powerful as Yuknavitch, this will be the first story collection I’ll be reading this year.
February 11: Weather, Jenny Offill
From the synopsis: “Lizzie Benson slid into her job as a librarian without a degree, but this gives her a vantage point from which to practice her other calling: she is a fake shrink. For years she has tended to her God-haunted mother and her recovering addict brother. They have both stabilized for the moment, but soon Lizzie’s old mentor makes a proposal. She’s become famous for her podcast, Hell and High Water, and wants to hire Lizzie to answer the mail she receives: from left-wingers worried about climate change and right-wingers worried about the decline of western civilization. As Lizzie dives into this polarized world, she begins to wonder what it means to keep tending your own garden once you’ve seen the flames beyond its walls. When her brother becomes a father and Sylvia a recluse, Lizzie is forced to address the limits of her own experience — but still she tries to save everyone, using everything she’s learned about empathy and despair, conscience and collusion, from her years of wandering the library stacks … And all the while the voices of the city keep floating in — funny, disturbing, and increasingly mad.”
Librarian as savior, as main character, as fake shrink? Yes, please. Add in the introspection of being on the front lines of panic on both sides of a world falling apart at the seams, and presumably those trademark tight, polished sentences that were a large part of Dept. of Speculation‘s power, and this sounds like a book that will explore the complication of the current moment without letting that be the only thing that exists. I’m sold.
February 18: Real Life, Brandon Taylor
From the synopsis: ”Almost everything about Wallace, an introverted African-American transplant from Alabama, is at odds with the lakeside Midwestern university town where he is working toward a biochem degree. For reasons of self-preservation, Wallace has enforced a wary distance even within his own circle of friends–some dating each other, some dating women, some feigning straightness. But a series of confrontations with colleagues, and an unexpected encounter with a young straight man, conspire to fracture his defenses, while revealing hidden currents of resentment and desire that threaten the equilibrium of their community.”
Probably the book I’m most looking forward to this month. I love the layers of hiding and revelation that the synopsis promises, and there’s an expectation of plot and conflict within the book jacket copy (with the confrontation with colleagues, the unexpected encounter, the threatening of the community’s equilibrium) to go along with that deep dive into character that suggests this is a book we can sit down and get deep into the story of.
February 25: Apeirogon, Colum McCann
From the synopsis: “Bassam Aramin is Palestinian. Rami Elhanan is Israeli. They inhabit a world of conflict that colors every aspect of their daily lives, from the roads they are allowed to drive on, to the schools their daughters, Abir and Smadar, each attend, to the checkpoints, both physical and emotional, they must negotiate. Their worlds shift irreparably after 10-year-old Abir is killed by a rubber bullet and 13-year-old Smadar becomes the victim of suicide bombers. When Bassam and Rami learn of each other’s stories, they recognize the loss that connects them and they attempt to use their grief as a weapon for peace.”
Well, I just learned a new word. If you’re like me and don’t know it, the title means: a shape with a countably infinite number of sides. This sounds like a book that’s going to hit hard, and hit huge — early reviews have consistently used words like “vast” and “ambitious.” Inspired by real-life events, crossing “centuries and continents” (as the synopsis says later), I can’t wait to see what this book is going to throw at us. Also, it’s Colum McCann, so it goes in the pile immediately.