The Clerk’s picks for this month are rounded out by Chinese biografiction, high school drama, holocaust survivors, and the natural extension of an American classic. Click the titles below to purchase through Amazon.com and help support this site.
Lotus: A Novel – Lijia Zhang
Available January 10, 2017
Zhang’s previous book ‘Socialism is Great!’ A Worker’s Memoir of The New China (2008) documented her life’s journey from a young Chinese factory worker to international journalist. At the time, it gave an unprecedented look into the lives of average Chinese people struggling to survive under the oppressive power of the People’s Party. Her next book, Lotus, follows the same general trend, but this time around, she focuses upon the “secret life” of her grandmother. Macmillan’s description of the novel is striking, and Zhang is definitely someone I’ll be keeping an eye on in the future:
“Reserved, at times defiant, Lotus is different from the other streetwalkers. Her striking eyes glow under Shenzhen’s neon lights, capturing the attention of Funny Eye, Family Treasure, and a slew of other demanding clients determined to make Lotus their property. Choosing between wealthy, powerful, and dangerous men is no easy feat, but it is a surprising offer from Binbing, a soft-spoken and humble photojournalist, that presents the biggest challenge. Is Lotus willing to fall in love? Is she capable of it?
Inspired by the deathbed revelation that the author’s grandmother had been sold to a brothel in her youth, Lotus offers compelling insight into China’s bustling underground world and reveals the surprising strength found in those confronted with impossible choices. Written with compassion and vivid prose, and packed with characters you won’t soon forget, Lijia Zhang’s Lotus examines what it means to be an individual in a society that praises restraint in and obedience from its women.”
The Most Dangerous Place on Earth: A Novel – Lindsey Lee Johnson
Available January 10, 2017
Normally, I don’t go for fiction about high school drama, though the central section of Nathan Hill’s The Nix (2016) was a recent exception to that rule. Lindsey Lee Johnson’s debut novel has also tempted me to broaden my horizons, mainly because of the way she approaches the modern stresses of expensive, high-expectations schooling in the modern American landscape. Some elements border on cliché – such as the English teacher from a less affluent area who tries to help these kids through their problems – but the overall novel seems to be a genuinely honest attempt to map school drama in the digital age. The Penguin Random House summary paints a complex picture that seems genuinely interested in thoughtful examination of an area of human development often only superficially explored:
“Lindsey Lee Johnson’s kaleidoscopic narrative exposes at every turn the real human beings beneath the high school stereotypes. Abigail Cress is ticking off the boxes toward the Ivy League when she makes the first impulsive decision of her life: entering into an inappropriate relationship with a teacher. Dave Chu, who knows himself at heart to be a typical B student, takes desperate measures to live up to his parents’ crushing expectations. Emma Fleed, a gifted dancer, balances rigorous rehearsals with wild weekends. Damon Flintov returns from a stint at rehab looking to prove that he’s not an irredeemable screwup. And Calista Broderick, once part of the popular crowd, chooses, for reasons of her own, to become a hippie outcast.
Into this complicated web, an idealistic young English teacher arrives from a poorer, scruffier part of California. Molly Nicoll strives to connect with her students—without understanding the middle school tragedy that played out online and has continued to reverberate in different ways for all of them.”
Huck Out West: A Novel – Robert Coover
Available January 10, 2017
My third recommendation is the newest novel from Robert Coover, the most established writer on this month’s list. Coover’s Huck Out West is a departure from his previous work in postmodernism and metafiction, but it builds directly upon his reimagining of Western myths in Ghost Town (1998). This time around, he turns his talents to filling out the adventures of Huck Finn, who at the end of Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn says “I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it.” Still written in Huck’s voice, Coover’s novel uses the quintessential American trickster as a means of exploring the Wild West in the mid to late 19th century, depicting such historical icons as the Pony Express, and tangling Huck up in complex events like the 1876 Gold Rush, and the Lakota Indian wars. According to W.W. Norton,
“This period, from the middle of the Civil War to the centennial year of 1876, is probably the most formative era of the nation’s history. In the West, it is a time of grand adventure, but also one of greed, religious insanity, mass slaughter, virulent hatreds, widespread poverty and ignorance, ruthless military and civilian leadership, huge disparities of wealth. Only Huck’s sympathetic and gently comical voice can make it somehow bearable.”
Homesick for Another World: Stories – Ottessa Moshfegh
Available January 17, 2017
Fresh off of her first novel Eileen (2015), which was shorlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2016, Ottessa Moshfegh’s debut collection of short stories Homesick for Another World is one of the most highly anticipated releases of the next few months. In 14 stories, Moshfegh explores the lives of individuals who feel personally and socially isolated, alienated, or somehow adrift. Romantic entanglements form behind arcade counters, with bus depot drug dealer “zombies,” and rely upon seemingly magic ottomans. According to the Penguin Random House description, there is also a good dose of the gothic here as well: