Thursday, June 8, 2017

All the Buzz at Book Expo

Each year, Wendi and I kick off Book Expo with a talk by six editors promoting the books they hope will be the year’s hottest read.  I don’t know how the panelists are selected, but the slots must be highly coveted.  After all, the editors have a room filled with hundreds of eager booksellers and librarians waiting to hear why “their” book should be prominently placed on their shelves. 

Jennifer Jackson’s pitch for “Stay with Me” by Ayobami Adebayo grabbed me right away with her evocation of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Having now read the book, the comparison is a bit of a stretch. But there is one striking parallel. In both, women are defined by their fertility. In the Nigerian community where “Stay with Me” is set, family is everything. Men take multiple wives whose primary responsibility is to provide them with children. Our protagonist told her husband upfront, “I don’t do polygamy.” He was fine with the proposition until, four years into the marriage, the couple remained childless. The book’s narrative focuses on what happens after the couple reaches this juncture, with numerous plot twists. "Stay with Me" has already been published in the U.K. and was shortlisted for the prestigious Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. The novel will be available in the U.S. on August 22 and is being published by Alfred A. Knopf. 

If you’ve ever wondered how you would live your life if you knew the day you would die, “The Immortalists” by Chloe Benjamin is for you. Four young siblings encounter a fortune teller who reveals to them their final days. They take her revelations to heart (without telling their parents, who of course would have laughed the incident off).  The book spans 50 years as each sibling’s story is told in turn, building on what has transpired before. Editor Sally Kim called the book “the love story of a family” and said it “demands to be discussed.”  I'm eager to read this one. "The Immortalists" will be available in January and is being published by Putnam.
"The World of Tomorrow" by Brendan Mathews takes place over the course of one week in June 1939. The New York World's Fair is the backdrop for a story featuring three Irish brothers (two of whom stole a small fortune from the IRA), a retired hitman conscripted into one last job, and a female Jewish photographer whose visa is running out. Editor Ben George compared Matthews' ability to keep his multi-layered story on track to that "a juggler who keeps adding balls without dropping any." George shared that Little Brown acquired "The World of Tomorrow" based on a partial manuscript, which is definitely not the norm. Mathews would periodically send George emails saying how surprised he was by the direction a character had taken. While the process surely caused George some anxiety, he is clearly enthusiastic about the final product, a book he says "captures the vitality of New York."  "The World of Tomorrow" will be available on September 5.
Editor Sarah McGrath opened her presentation of Gabriel Tallent's "My Absolute Darling" by saying the book gave her "faith in the transformative power of reading." McGrath also shared that she received an unsolicited email from Stephen King about the book that read, in part, "The word 'masterpiece' has been cheapened by too many blurbs, but My Absolute Darling absolutely is one." Clearly, she has no qualms about setting high expectations for this book.  Our protagonist is Turtle, a young girl being raised in an isolated home--complete with a gun range--by her father. He's a charismatic survivalist who exerts absolute control over his daughter. But as Turtle gets a bit older, she does what adolescents do -- she begins seeing the world from her own perspective, making her own friends and choices. This change in Turtle is not well-received. Without revealing any plot points, McGrath said the book made her think about violence in a new way. She also lauded Tallent's use of nature as a character and its exploration of "the intersection between human and physical landscape." I am highly intrigued. "My Absolute Darling" will be available on August 29 and is being published by Riverhead Books.

"I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her." Editor Jackie Cantor began her presentation of "Unraveling Oliver" by Liz Nugent with this opening line from the book. And while this sets us up to hate Oliver, it's a bit more complicated than that. Oliver is a sociopath whom Cantor compared to literary and cinematic characters we all have mixed feelings about -- Dexter, Hannibal Lector and Tom aka "The Talented Mr. Ripley." "Unraveling Oliver" digs into Oliver's past in search of an explanation for his behavior.   Like "Stay With Me," "Unraveling Oliver" has already been published abroad. It won the IBA (Irish Book Award) Crime Fiction Book of the Year in 2014. The book will be available in the U.S. on August 22 and is being published by Scout Press. 

Last, but not least, was "The Woman in the Window" by A.J. Finn.  This one has a particularly interesting backstory. Unbeknownst to his colleagues at William Morrow, editor Daniel Mallory was writing a book in his spare time. It wasn't until his own publishing house had agreed to publish the book that he revealed the author's true identity. (Editor Jennifer Brehl said she was shocked the book was written by a man, much less her colleague.) Being an editor doesn't, of course, automatically translate into being a good writer. But it sounds as if Mallory has hit one out of the ball park. "The Woman in the Window" will be published in 37 countries, and the film rights have already been picked up. In case you're wondering, the book tells the story of an alcoholic, drug-dependent, agoraphobic woman who witnesses a crime from her window. As I'm sure you recall, the police didn't trust Jimmy Stewart's reports of a crime, and his only disability was a broken leg. I'm already anticipating seeing this book at airports after it comes out next January. 


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