Coming soon: five new novels by seasoned authors

I’m excited about the following books to be released in April and May. Four are by authors I’ve read and loved in the past, while one is from a prolific author I’ve been meaning to read.

Great Circle, Maggie Shipstead’s third novel, comes in at 600+ pages in telling a century-spanning story split between a female aviator who disappears while attempting to circumnavigate the globe and the actress who portrays her in a modern Hollywood movie. “The film, ‘Peregrine,’ is based at least partly on the logbook of Marian’s ‘great circle,’ which was found wrapped in a life preserver on an ice floe near the South Pole,” writes Kirkus Reviews in its starred forecast. In a Publishers Weekly article, Shipstead said of her new novel: “I’m writing what I want to read: a provocative book with literary value that’s also entertaining.” I have a feeling this will be an involving novel, the one everyone will be looking for this spring.

I can’t ignore a new book written by Francisco Goldman, whose first novel The Long Night of White Chickens remains a favorite, and his memoir Say Her Name became for me one of those books you don’t forget. Monkey Boy is autobiographic fiction, with the protagonist’s name – Francisco Goldberg — echoing Mr. Goldman’s. The story also echoes themes/texture/events of that first novel; at least, I gather that from reading the forecasts. The book’s summary begins: “Our narrator, Francisco Goldberg, an American writer, has been living in Mexico when, because of a threat provoked by his journalism, he flees to New York City, hoping to start afresh.” Goldberg visits his Guatemalan mother outside Boston, and her “intermittent lucidity unearths forgotten pockets of the past.” Publishers Weekly writes, “Goldman’s direct, intimate writing alone is worth the price of admission.” And Kirkus Reviews writes similarly, “The warmth and humanity of Goldman’s storytelling are impossible to resist.” Indeed, this is why I’ll always read Francisco Goldman’s books.

Joan Silber delivers moving stories and novels filled up with our humanness. I’ve been away from her work for too long (Ideas of Heaven is my favorite Silber book), and I can’t wait for her new book Secrets of Happiness. Publishers Weekly writes: “This mesmerizing story of love, lies, and the consequences of betrayal brims with heart and intelligence.” The linked stories begin with a young New York lawyer who discovers his father keeps a second, secret family – a Thai wife and two children – in Queens. From what I’ve read, this appears to be a complex, layered story spanning three continents, and it’s likely to be one of the best in the spring publishing season, given Silber’s exquisite talent. Kirkus Reviews gives it a star and writes: “These secrets of happiness really will make you happy, at least for a few sweet hours.” Who can resist that?

I’m not very often drawn to science fiction and fantasy. Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, however, was one of my few exceptions. The first book in the trilogy, Annihilation, kept me up reading late into the night. I didn’t love the following two books as much, but I keep hoping for that same experience from him again, perhaps with his new eco thriller, Hummingbird Salamander, due out in April. It’s described as “a brilliant speculative thriller of dark conspiracy, endangered species, and the possible end of all things.” From the summaries I’ve read, the story hinges on a taxidermied hummingbird found in a storage unit by the protagonist. She receives a key to the unit, plus clues, from a dead ecoterrorist, daughter of an Argentine industrialist, and there’s also a taxidermied salamander. (It all sounds ridiculous, which also happened the time I talked about the flying bear in VanderMeer’s novel Borne on a live radio show — I started laughing and couldn’t stop — but VanderMeer’s talent makes the weird ring true and knows how to grip his readers.) Intrigue and perilous events start happening in Hummingbird Salamander, portending a page-turner. Fingers are crossed.

Finally, Rachel Cusk is publishing her new novel Second Place in May. It tells the story of a woman who invites a famous artist to use her guesthouse in a remote location. From the book’s summary: “Powerfully drawn to his paintings, she believes his vision might penetrate the mystery at the center of her life. But as a long, dry summer sets in, his provocative presence itself becomes an enigma—and disrupts the calm of her secluded household.” Kirkus Reviews suggests this idea is based on D.H. Lawrence and Mabel Dodge Luhan, whose invitation for the English author to work in her guest house in Taos, New Mexico, created friction of all kinds. (Lawence is most famously known for the classics Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Sons and Lovers and Women in Love.) Kirkus calls Second Place a brooding tale and writes of “increasingly tense interactions.” Cusk has been writing for decades – fiction, nonfiction – and I’ve yet to read her work. It’s time to start. Publishers Weekly says of Second Place, “It’s a novel that feels timeless, while dealing with ferocious modern questions.”