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, “This week, we’re linking each book to a different one of our favorite independent bookstores. Powells is in trouble, of course, but so too are plenty of other wonderful bookstores that don’t have that immediate name recognition.” Check out last month’s picks.
April 3: Godshot, Chelsea Bieker
From the synopsis: “Drought has settled on the town of Peaches, California. The area of the Central Valley where 14-year-old Lacey May and her alcoholic mother live was once an agricultural paradise. Now it’s an environmental disaster, a place of cracked earth and barren raisin farms … But then her life explodes in a single unimaginable act of abandonment: her mother, exiled from the community for her sins, leaves Lacey and runs off with a man she barely knows … With her only guidance coming from the romance novels she reads and the unlikely companionship of the women who knew her mother, she must find her own way through unthinkable circumstances.”
With a synopsis like that, giving off shades of Tupelo Hassman and Claire Vaye Watkins, I’m already halfway to must-read. Missing from the snippet of synopsis I grabbed is the cult-leader pastor who apparently is obsessed with glitter, the taxidermy mice collection of Lacey’s grandmother, the beautiful cover, and the incredible title. With all that thrown into the mix, I’m all the way there. Cannot wait for this one.
April 10: Afterlife, Julia Alvarez
From the synopsis: “Antonia Vega, the immigrant writer at the center of Afterlife, has had the rug pulled out from under her. She has just retired from the college where she taught English when her beloved husband, Sam, suddenly dies. And then more jolts: her bighearted but unstable sister disappears, and Antonia returns home one evening to find a pregnant, undocumented teenager on her doorstep. Antonia has always sought direction in the literature she loves — lines from her favorite authors play in her head like a soundtrack — but now she finds that the world demands more of her than words.”
Julia Alvarez is one of those authors that I somehow keep missing and so I keep pretending that I’ve read because everyone’s read Julia Alvarez, right? It sure feels like it. Well, this time, that’s going to be true, and it doesn’t hurt that this book seems from that synopsis to hit on a lot of relevant themes of the moment: grief, certainly, life suddenly upended (that hasn’t happened to anyone we can think of lately, has it? Oh wait), and the rights of the undocumented.
April 17: Death in her Hands, Otessa Moshfegh
From the synopsis: “While on her daily walk with her dog in a secluded woods, a woman comes across a note, handwritten and carefully pinned to the ground by stones. ‘Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body.’ But there is no dead body. Our narrator is deeply shaken; she has no idea what to make of this. She is new to this area, alone after the death of her husband, and she knows no one.”
Somewhere in the reviews of this book, I saw someone suggest that this could be read as a sort of sequel to Moshfegh’s novel Eileen. I didn’t love that book, but I did admire it, and the main character, specifically her fascinating thought process, was most of the reason I did. That, and the writing is ridiculously impressive on a sentence-by-sentence level. Plus, of course, every one of her books is an event, and that’s at least part of the point of these lists, to make sure I (we) don’t skip past something that deserves attention.
April 27: Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America, Laila Lalami
From the synopsis: “What does it mean to be American? In this starkly illuminating and impassioned book, Pulitzer Prize-finalist Laila Lalami recounts her unlikely journey from Moroccan immigrant to U.S. citizen, using it as a starting point for her exploration of the rights, liberties, and protections that are traditionally associated with American citizenship. Tapping into history, politics, and literature, she elucidates how accidents of birth — such as national origin, race, and gender — that once determined the boundaries of Americanness still their shadows today.”
Every one of Laila Lalami’s books is impressive: The Moor’s Account continues to be an absolute favorite of mine, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits is ridiculously good, and The Other Americans was a finalist for the National Book Award, so yeah. Her essays and political commentary are always must-read, and she is releasing a new book, so therefore it should be bought. That’s just math, or logic, or something.