We're one step closer to fall, and that means a nice assortment of new fiction to enjoy. Andrea Barrett's new collection of fictions (I think that means stories) is Archangel (Norton). In these five fictons rich with fact, the publisher notes that Barrett explores the thrill and sense of loss that comes with scientific progress. Whether she's playing off of Darwin's theory of evolution, the theory of relativity, or the 20th the developments in genetics and x-ray technology, Barrett, as Valerie Ryan in Shelf Awareness notes, "combines fact and fiction in scenarios that bring the reader to a better understanding of the high cost, both personal and public, of scientific advances. For all that is gained, a great deal is lost: reputations, long-held beliefs, years of research. Her own scientific knowledge illuminates these complex questions and discoveries without sacrificing character or story."
Because W.W. Norton uses pub dates instead of on-sale dates, there are no to the moment trade reviews that I'm able to find using a search engine. Compare that to Alexander Maksik's A Marker to Measure Drift (Knopf) where there's already a Boston Globe review from former Granta editor John Freeman, who praises Maksik's effort to bring "a moving dignity" to this tale of a homeless Liberian woman in Greece and Africa. The publisher notes that the story is visceral and gripping, and contemplates ruin and faith, barbarism and love, and the devastating memories that contant the power both to destory us and redeem us.
If you want a little noir with your women's journey to awareness, try Natsuo Kirino's The Goddess Chronicle (Canongate), a slice of Japanese feminist noir of two sisters from a family of Oracles. Kaminkuu is admired for her beauty, while Namima lives in her sister's shadow, per the publisher. One nice thing about a book that's an American reprint is that the reviews are all there, ready to be linked. It seems that the Guardian seems to review every literary novel published in the UK, and this time, Tai Twan Eng reports "Kirino is a master at creating an atmosphere of unease and distrust between her characters. In her skilful hands we see that the divide between man and woman is greater than the one between humans and gods."
Mark Slouka is American and from W.W. Norton, which because they do pub date as noted above, won't have trade reviews yet. I bet they will be good, however, as there is a lot of good advance word on Brewster. I see he's touring to at least Northshire and Brookline Booksmith, so here's hoping those esteemed booksellers will continue the buzz. The new novel is a departure from his World War I set previous novel, with the newest being the story of four teens in 1968, set in the town where Slouka himself grew up. Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review, noting "Slouka’s laconic dialogue resonates with regional authenticity, his late-1960s pop culture references ring true, and the stripped-down prose style in his masterful coming-of-age novel recalls the likes of Tobias Wolff and Raymond Carver."
But it appears the real outgrowth of on-sale dates is that Michiko Kakutani can set the tone by reviewing books in The New York Times over a week before the book's arrival. Is this because they don't care, or to show how important they are, or to mark the fates of the chosen. When it's a good review, who cares, and in the case of The Panopticon (Hogarth), by Jenni Fagan, it is good indeed. It's the story of a young woman set in Scotland's foster care system, a genre that seems to have bubbled to prominence, with the huge success of Vanessa Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers and Susan Nussbaum's Bellwether Prize winning Good Kings Bad Kings (at Boswell on August 8, 6 pm). Kakutani called the novel "fierce" at the beginning and "genuinely felt and deeply affecing" at the end, so even though she quibbles in the middle, that's a review that was meant to be perceived as positive. I've complained in the past about reviews that are cranky at the beginning and end but positive in the middle---this is sort of the opposite.
The Panopticon came out last week, but I had nothing else to group it with. That shouldn't be a problem going forward. August 6 is a big on-sale week. All titles listed, by the by, are Boswell's Best through Monday, August 5.