Yup, the dog days have arrived. And while we’re just as excited as everyone else about books like Emma Straub’s The Vacationers that are topping every “hot summer books” roundup around, we decided to put together a different kind of list.
These are our picks for the new releases everyone’s not necessarily talking about — but should be.
The Other Side, Lacy M. Johnson
Gritty and gripping, The Other Side is a new release from indie press Tin House. This is the retelling of a passionate-turned-abusive relationship that ultimately led to the author’s kidnapping, rape and imprisonment. From the very first scene, Johnson’s haunting and powerful memoir is told with such intensely lyrical prose, it demands that you push any light, fluffy summer books aside and commit fully to this skillfully woven, disorienting narrative.
As Johnson brings us into her hazy world of trauma and recovery, she is often removed, something that is evident in her giving characters titles instead of names, such as “The Man I Used to Live With.” And yet there is an edgy, raw honesty in her writing that feels both refreshing and at times brutal. Reading The Other Side is thrilling.
What I Had Before I Had You, Sarah Cornwell
What I Had Before I Had You is ridiculously dreamy. Driven by two narrative threads that exist in completely different time periods during protagonist Olivia Reed’s life, the setting switches between Austin and the mystical town of Ocean Vista, New Jersey. Cornwell skillfully manages a disorienting timeline, switching back and forth between past and present with rich language and illustrative imagery. Themes of mental illness, memories and identity are all present within a plot of a lurking past filled with family secrets.
What I Had Before I Had You is difficult to categorize; it’s both a coming-of-age novel and a psychological thriller. There’s even a sprinkling of magical realism thrown in. One category it certainly belongs in? Luminous and literary beach reading.
The Great Glass Sea, Josh Weil
Out this month from Grove Press, The Great Glass Sea is epic storyteller Josh Weil’s debut novel. Set in future Russia, it’s a tragedy of brotherly love that pulses with life.
Years after an inseparable childhood learning to fish from their father and then growing up on their uncle’s farm, twin brothers Yarik and Dima are now working side by side in Petroplavilsk, a fictional city centered around the largest greenhouse in the world. As they struggle with tradition and technology in the slightly futuristic world Weil has created, events push them further and further apart.
The Great Glass Sea is a magical story, spun with bits of Russian folklore and grounded in incredible intelligence.
California, Edan Lepucki
It’s hard to claim that Edan Lepucki’s debut novel California is “under the radar,” especially because Stephen Colbert has been campaigning to get the book on the New York Times Best Seller List as part of an anti-Amazon war that Colbert — and many others in the literary community — have been waging. (He succeeded, by the way. The book debuted at No. 3 last week.)
The thing is, the push from Colbert put California in a place it absolutely deserves to be: in the spotlight. The novel is arresting and powerful, and the writing is just so pretty. (We mean that in the best way.)
Set in a post-apocalyptic California, the novel defies stereotypes of post-apocalyptic literature by remaining expansive and true. When Cal and Frida move from their isolated life in the wilderness into a paranoid, guarded community harboring serious secrets, Lepucki raises questions about the ways we trust, and how far our own world really is from unraveling.
You can see this rising star in October, at the Texas Book Festival in Austin.
Land of Love and Drowning, Tiphanie Yanique
Another writer heading to the Texas Book Festival is Caribbean author Tiphanie Yanique, whose debut, bewitching novel was released this month from Riverhead Books. Spanning across three generations, The Land of Love and Drowning tells the story of a family’s mysteries and magic against the setting of a Caribbean island making its way into the modern world.
The story unfolds when a 1900s shipwreck orphans two sisters, Eeona and Anette, along with their half brother, and leaves them with an uncertain future. Head spinning, page-turning and interwoven with mystical folklore, it’s a novel best enjoyed under a scorching sun, tiki drink in hand.
The Empathy Exams: Essays, Leslie Jamison
The kind of book that compels you to buy copies for every single person you know, The Empathy Exams was released this spring from Graywolf Press. In this extraordinary collection of essays, author Leslie Jamison asks, again and again, how we truly feel other’s pain. The human condition is explored through a diverse lens of experiences and a skilled blend of stark and literary language, like this opening passage from the second essay, “Devil’s Bat,” on Morgellons disease:
For Paul, it started with a fishing trip. For Lenny, it was an addict whose knuckles were covered in sores … Patricia was attacked by sand flies on a Gulf Coast beach. The sickness can start as blisters, or lesions, or itching, or simply a terrible fog settling over the mind, over the world.
The vulnerable, visceral essays are bold and brilliant. The Empathy Exams should be required reading for all.