A New Leaf: This Season’s Must-Read Books

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Critics’ Pick: Family Ties

This spring brings the first English translation of The End of Eddy (May 2, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 208 pp.), a timely and deeply moving coming-of-age novel that French writer Édouard Louis first published in 2014. It tells the story of Eddy Bellegueule, a gay boy growing up in the Nineties in a working-class village in the north of France. Eddy’s effeminate nature is at odds with the masculinity embraced by the men in his neighborhood. When not being violently attacked by peers, Eddy bears the crushing disappointment of a father who wished he raised a brawny rabble-rouser, not the wisp of a boy he got. But, incredibly, grown-up Eddy, who narrates the story, tells his tale from a place not of anger but of compassion, by parsing the social and cultural forces that led to his abuse.

Also coming this season is Mormama (May 30, Tor Books, 288 pp.), a supernatural thriller by the award-winning Kit Reed, who’s published speculative fiction since the Fifties. Her latest gives us Dell Duval, an amnesiac who can’t remember who he is or where he’s from. Penniless and living on the streets, he makes his way to an address written on a note in his pocket. He arrives to find a house occupied by a mother and her son, as well as a cadre of supernatural forces that haunt all who enter the front door. It’s a smart and chilling tale on par with the best of Shirley Jackson, by an author who helped define the American Gothic. — Amy Brady

Lesley Nneka Arimah: What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky

April 4

Pay no attention to the seemingly whimsical title of Lesley Nneka Arimah’s debut collection: Inside lie stories that unfold in a hopeless state of suspension, with no chance of ending well. The characters in Arimah’s haunting, twisted fairy tales are simultaneously held aloft and sunk by the force of familial trauma, often passed down from parent to child, and informed by structural violence: poverty, racism, gender stereotypes, nationalism. Some tales are accented with surrealist touches (a bit reminiscent of short fiction by Aimee Bender or Alexandra Kleeman), but only to highlight how these narratives can become ingrained in our nature: In one story, even the river is a mother. In “Windfalls,” a mother barters over the body of her young daughter to receive lawsuit damages: “You learned to fall out of self-preservation as your mother pushed too hard, dropped from too high a height,” recounts the daughter in alienated second-person. “You have been living off these falls for years, sometimes hers, but mostly yours.” The magic of Arimah’s writing is her ability to capture how a character’s swooping desperation can give them the sensation of flying. Riverhead, 240 pp. — Hannah Gold

Mary Gaitskill: Somebody With a Little Hammer

April 4

I can’t imagine how anyone could have ever brought themselves to break up with Mary Gaitskill, but by her own account it did happen, at least in her very early twenties, and it was one of the few small twists of fate that led her into a born-again-Christian phase at age twenty-one. Gaitskill blesses us with this story in an essay about the Book of Revelation, which, like all the works in this collection — most ostensibly on literature and music — is an experiment in authorial vulnerability, and a beautiful, funny, filthy one at that. Gaitskill’s blockbuster essays are all gathered here: her condemnation of Camille Paglia’s and Katie Roiphe’s flippant date-rape screeds, her lengthy piece on being a cat person with plenty of affection to spare for humanity, her diary of the 2008 Republican National Convention. But it’s her littler reviews that charmed me most, and which I probably would not otherwise have encountered, scattered as they were across two decades’ worth of Harper’s, Bookforum, the New York Review, and so forth. On Nicholson Baker, Gaitskill writes, “Misogynists will definitely not like The Fermata“; on Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl: “I found it as irritating as I’d imagined.” Pantheon, 288 pp. — H.G.

Patricia Lockwood: Priestdaddy

May 2

Like many others, I first encountered Patricia Lockwood’s work when the Awl published her irreverent, autobiographical poem “Rape Joke,” and have been transfixed ever since by her Twitter account, where she performs such comic public services as tweeting ­@ParisReview, “So, is Paris any good or not.” Then her longform report on last year’s New Hampshire Republican primary convinced me utterly that she is some kind of bawdy wizard, whose unabashed wackiness can subdue whichever medium tickles her fancy. With Priestdaddy, Lockwood has delivered the goods once again. The 34-year-old’s memoir chronicles her upbringing in the Catholic Church, as well as time she and her husband spent living in her parents’ Kansas City, Missouri, home after going flat broke. This is not a subtle book, and thank god for that. (You can also thank Lockwood’s parents, whose manic personalities furnish most of the book’s material.) With very few exceptions, nearly every line of Lockwood’s prankish heterodoxy is brazen as can be. “What exactly do Catholics believe?” Lockwood asks, not innocently. “First of all, blood. BLOOD. Second of all, thorns. Third of all, put dirt on your face.” And she’s got a million more where those came from. Riverhead, 352 pp.H.G.

Scaachi Koul: One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter

May 2

My favorite essays from this collection of knockouts are about shadism in Canada and India, online harassment, and this one time Scaachi Koul had to be cut out of a dress she was trying on in a store she had previously worked at. (On the latter: “It’s like the saddest version of a C-section, where the baby is just a half-naked lady with no dignity.”) After reading Koul’s work in trickles for a couple of years at outlets like BuzzFeed and Hazlitt, I found it delicious to finally flip through her book for hours, quivering with mad laughter. Most of Koul’s pieces, all personal in nature, incorporate stories about her extended family, her boyfriend, and most of all her parents, who emigrated from India in the Seventies and raised Koul in Canada, “a country made of ice and casual racism.” The chapters are interleaved with emails from her “Papa,” lightly parenting through a fog of depression, existential malaise, and love. I want to compare Koul to Nora Ephron and David Sedaris so that you’ll buy the book (and because it is that funny), but her deft voice — with its smirking gut punches, its generous exasperation — is unmistakable, or at least will be soon. Picador, 256 pp. — H.G.

Tommy Pico: Nature Poem

May 9

My family’s experience isn’t fodder/for artwork, says Nature in btw make outs,” go a couple of lines from Tommy Pico’s second book-length poem (the first, IRL, came out in September); they’re about as decent a distillation of the work’s intricate style and themes as I can hit upon here. Pico, a queer Brooklynite who grew up near San Diego on the Kumeyaay tribe’s Viejas Reservation, is an exceptional critic of conquests, bleeding together histories of sweeping, genocidal violence, linguistic domination, and dating-app hookups. The language, filled with pinched Internet slang and wheeling ripostes, is catchy and sticks in your ear, like the popular music Pico so tenderly reveres (Hole and Aretha Franklin are standouts). Pico’s own refrain invokes the taunting, oppressive form of the “nature poem” — soiled with “NDN” stereotypes — and everything he would or wouldn’t put in it, if only he could write it. Or, better, crash into it. “and that’s prolly why poetry,” Pico muses, “bc, in order to get inside/a poem has to break you/the way the only thing more obvious than your body/is leaving yr shirt on in the pool.” Tin House, 128 pp. — H.G.