The Strop is a place to whet your appetite for damn good stories. This week’s recommendations come from Wrangler editor Brandon Williams.
In his words, “Just like everything else, the book industry has been put in something of a hold during the pandemic. There are still new releases each week, but not a ton—many are being pushed back to the fall or even later, in a bid for normalcy. With that in mind, I’m going to switch up my format just slightly, recommending a couple brand-new releases and a couple books from earlier this year that I’ve grabbed in previous trips and have been waiting to explore. As always, links are to various small bookstores that we love. Support your local bookstores!” Check out last month’s picks.
May 8: All Adults Here, Emma Straub
From the synopsis: “When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus accident in the center of town, it jostles loose a repressed memory from her young parenting days decades earlier. Suddenly, Astrid realizes she was not quite the parent she thought she’d been to her three, now-grown children. But to what consequence? Astrid’s youngest son is drifting and unfocused, making parenting mistakes of his own. Her daughter is pregnant yet struggling to give up her own adolescence. And her eldest seems to measure his adult life according to standards no one else shares. But who gets to decide, so many years later, which long-ago lapses were the ones that mattered? Who decides which apologies really count?”
Emma Straub is one of those writers I feel like an idiot for not having an opinion on; I just sort of smile and nod when people praise her or attack her, and she’s brought up enough that I know I’m an idiot for not having read her (you know, like we all do for all the books we’ve missed, because there are so. Many. Books). I’m down with the synopsis here, which seems to be exploring plenty of relevant and intriguing questions in a Normal People/Mrs. Fletcher/Little Gods kind of way—what I’m hoping for, and what it seems like it’s bent on delivering, is a consideration of questions through the lens of character and plot as opposed to the questions themselves.
May 15: Boys of Alabama, Genevieve Hudson
From the synopsis: “In this bewitching debut novel, a sensitive teen, newly arrived in Alabama, falls in love, questions his faith, and navigates a strange power. Max already expects some of the raucous behavior of his new, American friends―like their insatiable hunger for the fried and cheesy, and their locker room talk about girls. But he doesn’t expect the comradery―or how quickly he would be welcomed into their world of basement beer drinking. In his new canvas pants and thickening muscles, Max feels like he’s ‘playing dress-up.’ That is until he meets Pan, the school ‘witch,’ in Physics class: ‘Pan in his all black. Pan with his goth choker and the gel that made his hair go straight up.’ Suddenly, Max feels seen, and the pair embarks on a consuming relationship: Max tells Pan about his supernatural powers, and Pan tells Max about the snake poison initiations of the local church. The boys, however, aren’t sure whose past is darker, and what is more frightening―their true selves, or staying true in Alabama.”
A queer reinvention of the Southern gothic is pretty much all I need to hear to be interested, full of complication and character and at least one “witch” and magic and religion and addiction. Whenever I can get that many “ands” into my description of a book, I’m excited for what I’m about to read.
May 22: When We Were Vikings, Andrew David MacDonald
From the synopsis: “For Zelda, a twenty-one-year-old Viking enthusiast who lives with her older brother, Gert, life is best lived with some basic rules…But when Zelda finds out that Gert has resorted to some questionable—and dangerous—methods to make enough money to keep them afloat, Zelda decides to launch her own quest. Her mission: to be legendary. It isn’t long before Zelda finds herself in a battle that tests the reach of her heroism, her love for her brother, and the depth of her Viking strength.”
In one of my classes, I have students research, read, and report on one brand-new novel each quarter. Three different students chose this book, and each loved it, and it’s been high on my to-read list ever since. I’m completely onboard for the central metaphor (plus, just generally: Vikings!), and my students reported enjoying the writing style as well. A book I was disappointed I missed on my first go-round, I’m excited to dive in now.
May 29: The Resisters, Gish Jen
From the synopsis: “The time: not so long from now. The place: AutoAmerica. The land: half under water. The Internet: one part artificial intelligence, one part surveillance technology, and oddly human—even funny. The people: Divided. The angel-fair ‘Netted’ have jobs, and literally occupy the high ground. The ‘Surplus’ live on swampland if they’re lucky, on water if they’re not.”
Because I’m somehow behind the times completely, I only recently learned of Gish Jen, from her ridiculously good story “No More Maybe” that you should all go read. This is the first of her books to come out since that discovery, so there was no way I was skipping out, and on top of that it’s one of those books that manages to be markedly timely: about the overreach of technology, about people struggling to prove their value in a world that doesn’t respect their contributions, and about baseball while we sit here in a world without sports.