I have some very exciting books to share with you this month. I read two of them a while ago, and they have been added to my list of favorites so far this year. The other is one that took me a bit by surprise - and I loved it - proving yet again that sometimes we should stretch out of our reading comfort zones. Also, all three of these novels are really impressive debuts, which is always so exciting. I love adding to my list of “Authors to Read” immediately when new work comes out!
Add this book to your Summer Reading List right now. Ocean Vuong has previously published two volumes of poetry; this is his debut novel and it is incredible. Written as a letter to his Vietnamese mother who cannot read, Vuong’s protagonist, Little Dog, dives deep into masculinity, sexuality, addiction, and Americanness. His prose is lyrical, daring, and challenging - all the things I personally love in a work of fiction. Little Dog’s relationship with his mother is complex. She has expectations for her son that differ from his expectations for himself. He struggles to reconcile those expectations, often asking what he owes to a mother who gave up everything for him. One of my favorites so far this year! (On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous will be available on June 4, 2019)
Miracle Creek took me completely by surprise. On the surface, it falls into the mystery/courtroom drama category that doesn’t usually interest me. After I had read only a few pages, I knew it was not going to fit neatly into any category, and I couldn’t put it down. Angie Kim is a lawyer who moved to the United States from Seoul, South Korea when she was a kid. Her experience as a trial lawyer lends an authenticity to her writing that I really loved. The book is narrated by a rather large cast of characters, all involved in an explosion at Miracle Submarine, a pressurized oxygen chamber that patients enter to “cure” ailments like infertility and autism. The events surrounding the explosion are shrouded in mystery - each character working to cover up various secrets about their lives. And so, while the plot sounds dramatic, the strength of the narrative comes from the honesty and diversity of the cast of characters that tell the story. At its core, Miracle Creek is a story about motherhood - its challenges and triumphs, the complex emotions of giving so much of yourself to another person, and the beauty that comes with that sacrifice.
I really loved Oval. It is a complex novel, alive with characters, all seen through the lens of Anja, a fascinating woman whose awareness of her own privilege affects all of her actions. Her empathy is palpable immediately as her boyfriend, Louis, returns to Berlin from the United States after the death of his mother. While he pulls away, she burrows deeper into what she imagines he is feeling. Their home on a, theoretically, entirely sustainable man-made eco-mountain faces challenges that echo the issues in their relationship. While many debut novels would collapse under the various themes Wilk addresses - climate change, commodification of art, social decline in an industrialized city, lack of generosity and empathy across class lines, among other things - her book sparkles, or perhaps glistens from the sweat of living in a home that is being overtaken by a man-made rainforest, coming in through the windows, roof, and walls. This is a unique and important book and I cannot wait to hear what you all think of it. Another of my favorites so far this year! (Oval will be available on June 4, 2019)