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In the midst of rereading novelist Helen DeWitt’s first short story collection, Some Trick, at a certain East Village café, a man who did not have fortune on his side tried to strike up a conversation with me. He asked if I was reading a book (yes?). He asked if I was a writer (yes!). Then he said he’d never met a writer before, a comment that made me insatiably jealous and completely backfired on him. This story illustrates fine enough some basic themes of DeWitt’s writing, and those exemplified in Some Tricks: artists, what artists do (to each other), and games of chance. Another obvious through line in this collection is the fickle, often mysterious business of being an artist, at the mercy of so many calculating pockets and minds. At times I’ve thought of “geniuses” as those lucky individuals who turn out to have a destiny, one they can convince themselves and many others of at once. To me, DeWitt is an exception: No matter the vicissitudes of the publishing industry, she remains the real deal.
— Hannah Gold, Village Voice contributor
I really enjoyed Amy Fusselman’s Idiophone, a book-length essay that deftly maneuvers through topics like addiction, The Nutcracker, and art-making itself. Each sentence is given its own line here, allowing each thought to resonate before bleeding into the next one, which makes this book difficult to put down. Fusselman’s writing feels like a scroll unfurling page by page, and the connections she makes here are surprising and delightful. This book is a place where anything can happen: The word abracadabra can become annihilation, the theoretical becomes the real, and the essay becomes a dance. Take it to the beach and forget where you are.
— Chelsea Hodson, whose Tonight I’m Someone Else is on sale June 5 through Macmillan
I’m a sucker for Scottish history, and when I saw The Debatable Land by Graham Robb on the W.W. Norton publishing calendar, I had the sensation that here was a book targeted squarely at me. A British historian and biographer of Scottish descent who has spent much of his adult life in France, Robb is a writer who seems to find the adventure in even the dustiest corners of history, and this story of the lawless borderland between Scotland and England is packed with enough mystery, violence, romance, and personal discovery to satisfy any fan of Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, or — for that matter — Bill Bryson. And with border disputes from around the world making headlines — and a potential one between Scotland and England once again on the horizon — The Debatable is both timeless and timely. I can’t wait to see how it ends.
— David Swanson, Village Voice senior editor
As a former smoker, current vaper, moderate-to-heavy drinker, and pathological writer, the only reason I look pretty young at thirty-four is because I stay out of the harsh summer daylight with books like Jade Sharma’s Problems, a novel about a fellow shut-in dirtbag. Though the pro-heroin antiheroine Maya isn’t someone I would trust around my nieces (or parents, or me), her squalid depression is so winsome that I might try heroin myself just to see if it makes me funnier. “You live like a homeless person indoors,” Maya’s boyfriend tells her, which made me resent him and only strengthened my hermit solidarity. The whole book is full of the kind of fun rants and quips you can post to Instagram, if for no other reason than to disrupt the nonstop train of Ray-Bans and poolside thighs.
— Tony Tulathimutte, author of Private Citizensand founder of CRIT, a writing class in Brooklyn
This is how Ottessa Moshfegh began her 2017 collection of short stories, Homesick for Another World: “My classroom was on the first floor, next to the nuns’ lounge. I used their bathroom to puke in the mornings.” The gut punch did not end there. The entire collection is filled with sad, pathetic, detestable, yet hilarious and somehow sympathetic characters. Her new novel, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, figures to have similar complex characters, and I’m eager for more cringeworthy moments.
—Jorge Arangure Jr., Village Voice contributing editor
A quintessential beach read, here’s a thriller that goes meta on our obsession with true-crime documentaries. Don’t Believe It, Charlie Donlea’s third outing, goes down on the white sand beaches of St. Lucia. Donlea’s Caribbean idyll was the setting for the most-watched doc in TV history — The Girl of Sugar Beach. Think Amanda Knox meets Robert Durst, with the whodunnit set in paradise. Except, in the novel, it’s not “true,” so you really get to find out, you know, the “truth.”
— Casey Barrett, Village Voice contributor. His second book,Against Nature: A Duck Darley Novel, is out July 31 through Kensington.
Gavin Francis makes being a doctor sound like the best job in the world. In Shapeshifters: A Journey Through the Changing Human Body, Francis—a Scottish physician and writer for the London Review of Books—weaves together historical case studies, philosophical meditations, and stories from his own practice. A fascinating cast of characters comes through his clinic, each with a medical mystery. Megan believes her fingertips emit a stench that only she can detect; Joanne breaks out in blisters in the sun; a horn is growing on Simone’s forehead, “like the stalk on a Halloween pumpkin.” The 24 essays in this collection—on topics ranging from puberty and death to eunuchs and scalps— all circle the theme of metamorphosis, and shed light on the biases of modern medicine even while celebrating its achievements. “After all,” he notes in a chapter on the cultural history of werewolves, “74 percent of mental health professionals believe that the full moon can cause madness.”
— Alice Robb, whose book Why We Dream: The Transformative Power of Our Nightly Journey is out in November through Eamon Dolan.
The Village Voice is celebrating the summer’s literary scene throughout the week. For full coverage to date, visit our Best of Summer Books page.