10 New Books We Recommend This Week

This week’s recommended books cast their nets wide, from the shores of a Scottish loch to the hills of southern India to the story of a peripatetic childhood in Europe and East Africa. They look back in time, too: George Saunders revisits classics of Russian literature; Robert Jones Jr. imagines a love story on a Mississippi plantation before the Civil War; and the father-son team of Stephen Kendrick and Paul Kendrick write about Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1960 arrest in Georgia, which played a surprising role in that year’s presidential elections. Other books we like include James Comey’s reckoning with honesty and accountability in politics, Rich Cohen’s look at a children’s hockey league in Connecticut, a bad-seed parenting thriller and a classic Surrealist novel, reissued.

Gregory Cowles
Senior Editor, Books
Twitter: @GregoryCowles

SUMMERWATER, by Sarah Moss. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) Moss’s seventh novel is intimately concerned with social class. It’s set in a vacation park in Scotland, on a loch in the middle of nowhere, over the course of a long, oppressively rainy day in August. People are stuck in their cabins. There’s no wifi. With nothing to do and nowhere to go, they’re thrown back on their own wiles. Moss “writes beautifully about English middle-class life, about souls in tumult, about people whose lives have not turned out the way they’d hoped,” our critic Dwight Garner writes. “She catches the details of ordinary existence in a manner that’s reminiscent of the director Mike Leigh. She never condescends, and her fluid prose is suggestive of larger and darker human themes.”

A SWIM IN A POND IN THE RAIN: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life, by George Saunders. (Random House, $28.) This analysis of the art of writing, conducted through a close analysis of seven classic Russian short stories — by Chekhov and Turgenev, Tolstoy and Gogol — emerges from a longtime course Saunders teaches at Syracuse University. “Saunders lives in the synapses — he looks at all the minute and meaningful decisions that produce a sentence, a paragraph, a convincing character,” our critic Parul Sehgal writes. “He offers one of the most accurate and beautiful depictions of what it is like to be inside the mind of the writer that I’ve ever read — that state of heightened alertness, lightning-quick decisions.”

AFTERSHOCKS: A Memoir, by Nadia Owusu. (Simon & Schuster, $26.) Nadia Owusu’s birth mother was Armenian-American; her father was Ghanaian; her stepmother was from a small village near Mount Kilimanjaro. Owusu herself was born in Tanzania. Her father worked for a United Nations agency, and Owusu lived all over — Tanzania, England, Italy, Ethiopia, Uganda. Her book is an attempt to understand what it means to be rooted and rootless. Our critic Jennifer Szalai calls it a “gorgeous and unsettling” memoir. “‘Aftershocks’ knits together the author’s own experiences with the histories of some of the places she has lived.”

THE PROPHETS, by Robert Jones Jr. (Putnam, $27.) A lyrical and rebellious love story about two enslaved boys in antebellum Mississippi, whose relationship is accepted and even cherished until a Christian evangelist, also enslaved, turns the plantation against them. The novel is about their choice to love in the face of the forces that would crush them, and the repercussions of that love. “A book I entered hesitantly, cautiously, I exited anew — something in me unloosed, running,” our reviewer, Danez Smith, writes. “May this book cast its spell on all of us, restore to us some memory of our most warrior and softest selves.”

A WILL TO KILL, by RV Raman. (Polis, $26.) This modern-day gloss on the classic locked-room mystery takes place in a remote mansion high in the hills of southern India. After the property has been completely cut off by a landslide, guests at a party there begin to die one by one, picked off by an invisible assailant matching wits with the canny private detective Harith Athreya. “There seem to be several crimes going on at once,” Sarah Lyall writes in her latest thrillers column, “and a lot to pay attention to: an art scam, a drug ring, the falsification of identities, not to mention a spot of adultery. But Athreya is a fine detective with a curious mind, a cool eye for the chance detail, a skill in synthesizing disparate threads and a talent for resisting the insults of the requisite police officer assigned to the case.”

SAVING JUSTICE: Truth, Transparency, and Trust, by James Comey. (Flatiron, $29.99.) This revealing memoir by the man who was fired as director of the F.B.I. for placing loyalty to country above loyalty to Donald Trump presents an individual of unswerving rectitude, who rues the national descent from strict, fact-based truth into a feckless mirage. “Of course, he is right: You can’t have a working democracy without an agreed-upon standard of truth,” Joe Klein writes in his review. “Comey has laid out the challenge of the next four years. Joe Biden’s quiet humanity will confront a noisy nation where too many citizens have become so sour that they’ve found solace, and entertainment, in an alternative reality. It will not be easy to lure them away from their noxious fantasies, but fact-based truth is not negotiable.”

PEE WEES: Confessions of a Hockey Parent, by Rich Cohen. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.) Cohen’s memoir of sports fatherhood follows one season in the life of a Connecticut youth hockey team — including all the ups and downs and personalities and a close-up, honest examination of the motivations behind his own devotion to the sport. “No matter the struggle, Cohen shines when he’s exploring hockey history,” Mark Rotella writes in his review. “What emerges for Cohen in this warmhearted memoir is a love for his son beyond hockey, as well as the acknowledgment that ‘there is little to match the intoxication of seeing your child do something well.’”

THE HEARING TRUMPET, by Leonora Carrington. (New York Review Books, paper, $15.95.) Carrington, the Surrealist painter and writer, defies all expectations with her curious 1974 novel about, well, everything. The 92-year-old protagonist is sent to an elder-care institution, where she unlocks a world of enigmatic abbesses, murder plots, mythology and apocalypse. Blake Butler, reviewing it, says that the novel “stands out as something at last truly radical, undoing not only our expectations of time and space, but of the psyche and its boundaries. … The result is a mind-flaying masterpiece, held together by Carrington’s gifts of wit, imagination and suspense.”

NINE DAYS: The Race to Save Martin Luther King Jr.’s Life and Win the 1960 Election, by Stephen Kendrick and Paul Kendrick. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28.) The Kendricks tell the story of how the arrest of Martin Luther King Jr. in Georgia led to two telephone calls — one from John Kennedy to King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, and the other from Robert Kennedy to the judge overseeing King’s jailing — that may have changed the direction of American politics. “No brief review can do full justice to the Kendricks’ masterly and often riveting account,” Raymond Arsenault writes in his review, but “any reader who navigates the many twists and turns and surprises in this complex tale will come away recognizing the power of historical contingency.”

THE PUSH, by Ashley Audrain. (Pamela Dorman, $26.) Audrain’s taut, tense thriller considers the legacy of childhood trauma and the evergreen parental question of whether one’s child is “normal.” A mother grapples with these issues along with the disintegration of her marriage in this chilling debut. “Audrain has a gift for capturing the seemingly small moments that speak volumes about relationships,” Claire Martin writes in her review. The protagonist’s experiences are “relatable on one level and full-stop alarming on another, a hallmark of the psychological thriller genre that’s executed with gripping precision here.”

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