Most of the independent press books in my round-up for this month are about motherhood in some way—the day-to-day experience of caring for children, the challenges of adoption as a woman of color, the devastation of losing a child. I’m excited about the books below, from five different independent presses, because they are full of wisdom about the human experience, and they are also formally inventive and daring. Each book takes its genre in a new direction. I’ve included a short story collection, a stream-of-consciousness novel, a memoir that incorporates poetry, a memoir combined with social critique, and one book I have no idea how to classify, except that it’s clearly nonfiction.
Books from independent presses are so varied and exciting! My first pick is from last year, and all others come out in September. I hope you find something you love.
White Dancing Elephants by Chaya Bhuvaneswar (Dzanc Books, 2018)
This short story collection came out last year and was the winner of the Dzanc Books Short Story Collection prize. Its range of subjects, moods, settings, and characters is impressive. Many of the stories are about women’s experiences. In one story, a woman struggles to make sense of the miscarriage she just had. In another, a woman betrays a friendship by having an affair with a dying friend’s husband—and is now pregnant with his baby. Another woman becomes unhealthily obsessed with her therapy patient and finds that patient is also obsessed with her. Several stories depict moments in history, bringing them to life in just a few pages. The stories focus on people of color, including many queer characters, and people from a variety of places and backgrounds. They are moving, beautifully written, and offer readers surprising twists and satisfying endings.
When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back: Carl’s Book by Naja Marie Aidt, Translated by Denise Newman (Coffee House Press, September 3)
This book tells the story of the death of Naja Marie Aidt’s son Carl at the age of 25. It’s a difficult, searing book, one that will make you cry, so be prepared. It’s also formally inventive: it’s poetic and fragmentary and uses space on the page in ways that capture the anguish of the experience. Aidt was with her family in March, 2015, when she received a call that her son was in an accident and was on life support at the hospital. The family rushed to his side, but there was nothing the doctors could do. As the book unfolds, we gradually find out the nature of the accident and hear about Carl’s childhood and young adulthood. We witness Aidt trying to grasp what happened and what it means. As befits a person whose life was shaped by books, she draws on literature to help her understand. This is not an easy book to read, but it’s a a brilliant evocation of grief and a powerful, fitting tribute to a lost life.
Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin (Transit Books, September 3)
I love nonfiction books that aren’t easily categorized, and this one is exactly that. It contains five sections, each one exploring the similar themes—justice, intergenerational trauma, how the past shapes the present—from different perspectives. Tumarkin is a prize-winning Australian author, although this is her first book to be distributed in the United States. She looks at the story of a woman who kidnapped her grandson in an effort to keep him safe, the experiences of a lawyer trying to help poor people in her community, what happens to a place when young people die by suicide, and more. Tumarkin describes these people and their stories with clarity and compassion, and she writes candidly about her own life. This is an idea-driven book, and Tumarkin dives into abstract concepts such as time and justice and makes them vital and urgent. The book is cerebral and heart-wrenching at once, and I loved it.
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann (Biblioasis, September 10)
I haven’t finished this one yet, but, in my defense, it’s 1,000+ pages long. I’m loving every single page. Not only is this book very long, but the main narrative is written in one long, stream-of-consciousness, run-on sentence, following the thoughts of a woman living in Ohio. She works as a baker from her home and is raising four children. Her interior monologue is interspersed with short sections from the point of view of a mountain lion. If all this sounds intimidating, let me assure you that the novel is not difficult. The narrator’s thoughts are fascinating, covering Laura Ingalls Wilder, gun control, Trump, climate change, Anne of Green Gables, her children, the pies she spends all day baking, her social anxieties, the everyday objects that fill her life, and so much more. She is funny, reflective, worried, angry, and above all endlessly entertaining. I’m still figuring out how the mountain lion narrative fits in, although she, too, is a mother, and her story surely offers a parallel or contrast to the human account of motherhood. I’m in awe of the ambition of this novel, its range, depth, and inventiveness, and I love that it’s focused on one woman’s thoughts and feelings. More of this, please.
Motherhood So White: A Memoir of Race, Gender, and Parenting in America by Nefertiti Austin (Sourcebooks, September 23)
When Nefertiti Austin decided to adopt a Black child, she went looking for books that could offer her wisdom and guidance. But she found that none of the books addressed her particular situation as a single Black woman. And she encountered bewilderment and resistance to her adoption plans among family and friends. Motherhood So White sets out to help rectify this situation by critiquing the ways our culture associates motherhood with whiteness and telling her own story of successfully navigating the public adoption system. She fights against stereotypes of many kinds to argue that women of any race and marital status should be free to pursue her dream of motherhood in whatever way she decides is best. Her book is both informational and inspiring, and is a much-needed addition to the literature of motherhood.
Finally, here are some September 2019 new releases that are going on my TBR:
Elements of Fiction by Walter Mosley (Grove Press, September 3): a craft guide to writing fiction by the well-regarded author of the Easy Rawlins mysteries.
Homesick by Jennifer Croft (The Unnamed Press, September 10): a coming-of-age memoir about illness, family, and learning to love language.
Ruby & Roland: A Novel by Faith Sullivan (Milkweed, September 10): a novel set in Harvester, Minnesota, where Ruby, orphaned by an accident, makes her way in the world.
A Kitchen in the Corner of the House by Ambai, translated by Lakshmi Holmström (Archipelago, September 17): a short story collection with 25 stories about motherhood and the body.