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April showers bring May flowers—and a crop of fresh books, each deliciously inventive. In Abraham Verghese’s long-anticipated The Covenant of Water, a curse follows a South Indian family for close to a century. Tom Hanks’ The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece takes readers behind the scenes of a Hollywood superhero flick. And R.F. Kuang’s Yellowface tells the sordid tale of a stolen manuscript, with substantial ethical and racial implications. Here, the best new books to read this May.
Don’t Call Me Home, Alexandra Auder (May 2)
Alexandra Auder didn’t have a typical childhood. The writer and actor was raised by filmmaker Michel Auder (who directed the 2011 documentary Chelsea Girls with Andy Warhol) and Viva, a Warhol superstar. This memoir chronicles the author’s bohemian youth, from the moment Viva went into labor in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel in New York City to her time partying in East Village nightclubs to the present day, when an 80-year-old Viva visits Auder at Christmas. At the core of this meditation on family is a story about motherhood, daughterhood, and what it means to become your own woman.
The Half Moon, Mary Beth Keane (May 2)
Mary Beth Keane, author of 2019’s Ask Again, Yes, is back with her fourth book, which is about a marriage in crisis. Forty-five-year-old Malcolm Gephardt bought the Half Moon, the bar where he worked for 24 years, without including his wife, Jess, in the financial decision. After 15 years together—and a long, heartbreaking struggle to get pregnant—Jess, a successful lawyer, moved out. Now she’s been spotted with Neil Bratton, a fellow lawyer who’s divorced with three kids and lives in a nice house. In Keane’s tale of midlife musings on second chances, Malcolm must contend with the shock of his wife’s new relationship, a blizzard in their small town, and a missing bar patron.
You Are Here, Karin Lin-Greenberg (May 2)
Karin Lin-Greenberg’s debut novel stemmed from a short story, “The Sweeper of Hair,” which was originally published in the Chicago Tribune. “The Sweeper of Hair” follows Tina Huang, the last hair stylist at Sunshine Clips in an upstate New York shopping mall. The mall, though slowly dying, is the sun around which the characters in You Are Here orbit. Tina’s son Jackson sweeps up hair and studies magic tricks. Jackson’s friend Maria works at the food court fried chicken place and dreams of being an actor. Tina’s loyal, curmudgeonly customer Ro Goodson lives next door to Kevin, who manages the bookstore across from the salon. Lin-Greenberg’s web of characters illustrate the complex lives of ordinary people.
The Covenant of Water, Abraham Verghese (May 2)
In his first novel since his best-selling 2009 fiction debut Cutting For Stone, physician Abraham Verghese has returned with another epic story. The Covenant of Water is a 736-page work of historical fiction set in 20th-century India—the southern state of Kerala, to be specific. In 1900, a 12-year-old girl (later known as Big Ammachi) marries a 40-year-old widower. Big Ammachi becomes the matriarch of the cursed Parambil family: at least one person in each generation drowns. Over the course of three generations, two seemingly disparate, deeply connected narratives unfold in an ode to India, family, and medical marvels.
The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece, Tom Hanks (May 9)
In 2017, Tom Hanks published the short story collection Uncommon Type, but The Making of Another Major Motion Picture Masterpiece marks the Oscar-winning actor’s first foray into novel territory. In 1947, Bob Falls is having a hard time reacclimating to civilian life after wielding a flamethrower in World War II. He meets his 5-year-old nephew, Robby Andersen, who will go on to write a comic book series, The Legend of Firefall, inspired by his uncle, in 1970. In the present day, the comics get a big screen adaptation as a Marvel-esque superhero movie. Going behind the scenes of lead actors and big egos, Hanks posits that the real stars in Hollywood are the people who make movie magic possible.
The Three of Us, Ore Agbaje-Williams (May 16)
An unnamed Nigerian wife, her unnamed devoted husband, and her sarcastic best friend, Temi, form the three points of a complicated constellation in Ore Agbaje-Williams’ debut novel. Over the course of one day, readers hear from the wife in the afternoon, the husband in the evening, and Temi at night as long-standing tensions finally unspool. Temi is the wife’s ride-or-die, but she doesn’t like the husband—she thinks he has relegated the wife back into a traditional gender role—and hasn’t made that much of a secret. The Three of Us toes the tightrope between concession and deception as Agbaje-Williams executes surprise twists in a narrative that’s drenched in wine.
Quietly Hostile, Samantha Irby (May 16)
To know Samantha Irby’s sidesplitting work is to love it. The writer and comedian’s fifth book, a collection of 17 essays, flips between the poignant and the snidely hilarious, sometimes fusing the two. The first essay embraces all things cringey, declaring the author’s love for everything from Justin Bieber to milk. In another, she cracks jokes while in the hospital with anaphylactic shock. Irby also recalls squabbling with her sisters over her mother’s deathbed and, after her father dies, reuniting with her estranged half-brother. Nothing is sacred in Quietly Hostile—yet even the quirks hold rich meaning.
Yellowface, R.F. Kuang (May 16)
In R.F. Kuang’s latest novel (after The Poppy War and Babel, or the Necessity of Violence), Athena Liu is a Chinese American literary darling whose star is on the rise. Her college friend June Hayward isn’t particularly pleased with Athena’s success, and is frustrated that she hasn’t also broken out in the industry. But when a freak accident occurs that leaves Athena dead, June ends up walking away with the manuscript of her frenemy’s latest work. June, who is white, edits the novel about Chinese laborers during World War I and passes it off as her own. It’s an immediate hit, and June has finally reached the top of the literary world—until the cracks begin to show in her scheme, and inevitable fissures surrounding cultural appropriation, diversity, and racism emerge.
Why Fathers Cry at Night, Kwame Alexander (May 23)
Newbery medalist Kwame Alexander opens this unconventional memoir of heartfelt letters, love poems, and family recipes with a clarification: “This is not a traditional memoir. These are just snapshots of a man learning to love. Again.” Why Fathers Cry at Night traces Alexander’s experience with love, from his parents’ distant marriage to his own two marriages, which have since dissolved, to his most meaningful bonds: those with his daughters. Interspersed throughout are recipes (a family 7UP pound cake, Granny’s hot buttered rolls, his mother’s fried chicken), which only add to the richness of and depth of his reminiscences.
Beware the Woman, Megan Abbott (May 30)
Megan Abbott, master of crime fiction told through the female lens, has written another novel (her 11th) brimming with suspense. Jacy and Jed are newlyweds with a baby on the way when they set out on a summer road trip from New York City to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to meet Jed’s father, Dr. Ash. At first, Jacy feels cocooned by a warm welcome. (At least by Dr. Ash—the house manager, Mrs. Brandt, is another story.) But the expecting mother soon learns that Jed’s own mom died in childbirth, and a miscarriage scare leads to her feeling trapped in the house. Abbott spins an enigmatic web of foreboding and unease as she delves into family secrets and gender politics.
Lesbian Love Story: A Memoir in Archives, Amelia Possanza (May 30)
Lesbian Love Story boasts an inventive blend of genres. Amelia Possanza spins together memoir, archival nonfiction, and fictional passages with ease. Seven timeless love stories form the spine of the book: the classical Greek poet Sappho and her lover Anactoria take the author to Hadrian’s Library in the ruins of the Acropolis. Back home, in 20th-century New York, Black lesbians organize in Harlem during the Great Depression and a drag king performs in Bushwick. Possanza is building her own queer history in Brooklyn, too, seeking out for fellow lesbians as role models of love, care, and community.
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