March is a truly dynamite month for books, including juicy novels, bracing polemics, and volumes that defy category. My bedside table is piled high with all the works listed here; hopefully by the end of the month, I’ll have made some inroads into the stack.
All Grown Up, Jami Attenberg
The Middlesteins and Saint Mazie author is back with the much-buzzed about story of Andrea, a woman facing the daunting task of trying to make sense of adulthood in her own way — a task made all the harder by the fact that everyone around her is making different choices, providing her with a whole new set of troubles.
The Doorposts of Your House and On Your Gates, Jacob Bacharach
Bacharach’s second novel is an intriguing modern twist on the Biblical story of the Binding of Isaac (Abraham’s almost-sacrifice of his son).
Mikhail and Margarita, Julie Lekstrom Hines
Publisher’s Weekly described this as a “confident, carefully crafted” debut, and so it is. It looks at the affairs, both romantic and political, of writers in Stalinist Russia, looking at the intertwined lives of poet Osip Mandelstam and satirist Mikhail Bulgakov, as well as the Margarita who inspired the latter’s The Master and Margarita. A book about authoritarian crackdown on speech and satire that is sadly timely.
Ties, Domenico Starnone
Hoo, boy. This is Jhumpa Lahiri’s first translation from her new chosen language, Italian, as well as the first new novel from Starnone since the search for the real Elena Ferrante brought him his share of the literary spotlight. It catalogs a marriage that’s fracturing (or already broken?), and it’s short and searing.
The Middlepause, Marina Benjamin
Benjamin’s celebration and contemplation of women getting older in a sexist, ageist society, this one is sure to be a subject of much conversation. “For men, the midlife crisis, if it comes, is less about biology than society…. In my conversations with women, it is the decisiveness and insistence of biology that is the trouble,” writes Benjamin in the title essay. “Aging has punched us in the face like a thug and it has been transfiguring.”
South and West: From a Notebook, Joan Didion
Any new work by Joan Didion is sure to get the Didion stans buzzing. These are early and hithero unseen excerpts from her notebooks — one on a trip through the South with her husband, one during the Patty Hearst trial for an assignment that never materialized — that give us an insight into her process and technique.
Our Short History, Lauren Grodstein
A tender, heartrending book from A Friend of the Family author Grodstein about a young, single mom with a terminal illness who has to let the father of her child back into his life.
More Alive and Less Lonely, Jonathan Lethem
Jonathan Lethem’s collection of essays on literature from Dickens to Bartheleme is a compedium of pithy nuggets of wisdom and insight.
Exit West, Mohsin Hamid
A great romance that is also a story of refugees; this couldn’t be more timely. “Part of the political paralysis we see from America to Europe stems from a desire to pretend mass movement isn’t coming,” Hamid told The Lit Hub this fall. “But mass movement is the history of our species and it is the likely future of our species, and maybe, just maybe, our grandkids will enjoy that future far more than our grandparents enjoyed the past.”
The Idiot, Elif Batuman
The fiercely intelligent Batuman’s long-awaited novel (yes, the title is a Dostoevsky riff) follows a young Harvard student. “One of the things I wanted to convey through the structure of the book is how, especially when we’re young, the narrative of life seems to be lopsidedly distributed,” she told the New Yorker recently. “Some periods of time are so eventful, while others feel static.”
The Family Gene: A Mission to Turn My Deadly Inheritance into a Hopeful Future, Joselin Linder
A medical detective story that’s also a brutal look at one family’s genetic tragedy. “The gene has killed five people in the Linder family, and it now threatens the sisters themselves,” reads the NBC story about the Linder family. “But if they have their way, it will die out in their generation.”
Follow Me Into the Dark, Felicia Sullivan
Sullivan’s dark look at murder, envy and rage is “an original, spellbinding, and horrifying read,” per Kirkus.
The Rules Do Not Apply, Ariel Levy
Levy’s essay about her miscarriage while in assignment was one of the most memorable pieces of journalism in recent years; now her memoir she describes the dissolution of her marriage and her pregnancy in the light of her early plans to “have it all.” “Levy has the rare gift of seeing herself with fierce, unforgiving clarity. And she deploys prose to match, raw and agile,” an early Atlantic review says.
The Perils of “Privilege”: Why Injustice Can’t Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage by Phoebe Maltz Bovy
This critique of the way the “check your privilege” mantra has been applied is going to be as controversial as Jessa Crispin’s recent taking of feminism to task but these are important conversations to have, as the Left reckons itself for a tough fight against fascism.
The Vine that Ate the South, J.D. Wilkes
The word “phantasmagoria” keeps coming up in early reviews of this novel from indie house Two Dollar Radio. “Wilkes’s sardonic humor and twisting literary explorations of Southern lore are as relentless as the kudzu entwining the story, and more fun than being attacked by revenge-bent ghosts,” writes Publishers Weekly.