Books to anticipate this September: part one

It’s exciting to see enticing new novels being published this fall season from several beloved authors. During uncertain times, for readers, it’s comforting to know there are good stories on the horizon for escape and delight. So many promising books are being published in September I’m writing about five in this post, and another five in a follow-up.

I read Colm Tóibín’s The Master last month and deeply enjoyed his eloquent, absorbing storytelling of a poignant time in the life of author Henry James. This time, Tóibín focuses on author Thomas Mann. The book’s publisher describes The Magician as “an intimate, astonishingly complex portrait of Mann, his magnificent and complex wife Katia, and the times in which they lived—the first world war, the rise of Hitler, World War II, the Cold War, and exile.” Kirkus Reviews gives the novel a starred review, but with caution: “Fans of Mann may question the novel’s scant treatment of his writing. Fans of Tóibín’s The Master (2005) and its exploration of a crucial four-year span in Henry James’ life may be surprised at Tóibín’s tackling nearly all of Mann’s 80 years.” Publishers Weekly also stars their review, saying, “Tóibín has surpassed himself.” Thomas Mann is most famously known for his novel The Magic Mountain and his novella Death in Venice.

Groff won much praise and many new fans with her last novel, Fates and Furies. Published in 2015, the novel was selected by then U.S. President Obama as his one favorite book of the year, the story of a modern marriage. Her new book is historic fiction set in a monastery, and I’m one who loves tales of monastics (such as Alice McDermott’s The Ninth Hour). The plot, from the publisher: “Cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine, deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life, seventeen-year-old Marie de France is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey, its nuns on the brink of starvation and beset by disease.” Based on the life and legend of 12th-century poet Marie de France, the young woman transforms the failing community into one of vibrant strength. More description: “Matrix gathers currents of violence, sensuality, and religious ecstasy in a mesmerizing portrait of consuming passion, aberrant faith, and a woman that history moves both through and around.” Yep. Sign me up. Starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly who both praise Groff’s extraordinary, “trademarkworthy” prose.

Joy Harjo is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and she’s currently serving as the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States. Her new memoir tells the story of how she became a poet, best summarized in this Kirkus review: “As a child, Harjo hid under the kitchen table, eavesdropping on her elders. She later found out that her mother knew about and tolerated this habit because she, too, was a lover of words. The author’s mother would routinely recite poems by writers like William Blake, a practice that Harjo credits with sparking her interest in poetry and songs. In contrast, her father’s violence filled her with the instinct to hide herself and her literary journey.” Publishers Weekly describes Poet Warrior as “a gorgeous and meditative work that blends poetry, philosophy, and nonlinear narrative” as well as a mesmerizing story to get lost in. I’m intrigued. Both publications give the book a favored star.

Who can resist a book that’s being described as “a plumber’s Mrs. Dalloway”? This small novel focuses on a day in the life of Joseph, who’s attempting to fix his wife’s best friend’s water heater. He’s all up inside his thoughts, worried that his son suffering from delusions has tried to kill his wife and may try again. He’s also worried his own wife is planning to leave him. “Placing the reader inside the head of the struggling Joseph, Insignificance works double time, as a portrait of the uncertainty and awkwardness of one vulnerable man and his relationship with the world, and also as a tense, emotional, and gripping drama.” This promises to be an unforgettable story, just as Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway remained with me long after it had been read. Publishers Weekly says, “This look at a troubled working-class family packs a powerful punch.”

Colson Whitehead’s new novel is set to be released September 14. Publishers Weekly says it’s a “sizzling heist novel set in civil rights-era Harlem,” while Kirkus Reviews calls it a crime novel that’s “as audacious, ingenious, and spellbinding as any of his previous period pieces.” The plot: Whitehead’s protagonist Ray Carney is a furniture salesman who’s living a comfortable family life, but he comes from a heritage of “hoods and crooks,” so crime is easy to fall into when cash gets tight. Thus begins his double life. From the publisher’s description: “[Harlem Shuffle] is a family saga masquerading as a crime novel, a hilarious morality play, a social novel about race and power, and ultimately a love letter to Harlem.” This portends to be another great novel by a seasoned, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.

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