It's hot out, and that's as good an excuse as any to stay inside and read a book—or 16—this month. Need some help getting started? Here are the titles we're most excited about this July.
Idiophone by Amy Fusselman (available July 3)
Perhaps all you need to know about this book (really one long, brilliant essay) is that it covers everything from ballet to quilt-making, with kind of everything else you can imagine thrown in between. Amy Fusselman is a genius with language, every sentence manages to surprise; they wend themselves into your brain—your everything, really. Fusselman's prose has the delicate, tensile musculature of a ballet dancer, and the best thing you can do for yourself is surrender to it, let Fusselman take you where she wants you to go, and then allow yourself to spring off the platform she has provided.
Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls: Stories by Alissa Nutting (available July 3)
Alissa Nutting is one of the most wildly funny and provocative authors working today. Never afraid of the grotesque (rather, she likes to examine it at length), Nutting is comfortable exploring all aspects of the human condition, and this is all put to good use in her new collection of stories, which, yes, involves plenty of cybersex and even a "futuristic ant farm." (But is there dolphin sex???)
Can You Tolerate This? by Ashleigh Young (available July 3)
A question I ask myself often is, Can poets just do everything well? I mean, I suppose I can't comment on their personal lives, but when it comes to writing, I'd say the answer is a resounding yes. Their ability to switch genre is worth marveling over, and the latest example of this is New Zealand poet Ashleigh Young's compelling, exhilarating book of essays Can You Tolerate This? The essays center around the body, our first, last, and always home in the world, and the ways in which its limitations force us to find accommodations, force us to come to terms with our own strengths and frailties, as well as those of the people—all those other frail, strong bodies—around us.
A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen (available July 10)
Is there anyone you know who isn't struggling, in ways both big and small, with the concept of place? With answering the questions not only of the importance of home and origin and family and what we owe to them, but also the questions of our importance to them, and what they owe to us? Though it's easy enough to ascribe those feelings to being an American at this point in time, that would be missing the degree to which struggles with identity and with belonging are, of course, ever relevant, ever necessary, and never exclusive to the modern American experience. And yet, Keith Gessen's dark, brilliant, drily hilarious new novel A Terrible Country, is about the experience of a modern American—an expat, to be sure, but is there anything more modern and American than that? Andrei Kaplan has left America—New York, to be precise, where life wasn't exactly living up to his expectations—to go to Moscow and take care of his elderly, ailing grandmother. Once there, Andrei finds himself taking stock of the society around him, filled with political injustices, expensive coffee, an anachronistic health care system, passionate young dissidents, and a vibrant hockey scene. It is up to Andrei to navigate this country's specific terribleness; or, rather, it is up to Gessen to guide Andrei through the mundane tumult of his life—and Gessen does so with a clarity and grace (and no small amount of humor) that makes for the kind of book that lodges inside your consciousness long after you've finished it, so compelling and provocative are its ideas, so unforgettable its characters.
Suicide Club: A Novel About Living by Rachel Heng (available July 10)
We now live in an era when tech bros unironically subsist on a product called Soylent and talk about how they're going to try to live forever, so there's probably no time for a book to come out which centers around a vision of society only slightly removed from our own reality, a place where, thanks to "HealthTech™" and juicing, people might get to live forever. This is the world that Heng creates, and in which her protagonist Lea tries to determine if life without death has any meaning, or if she should pursue an association with the mysterious Suicide Club, whose members are determined to live—and die—without the intervention of the state.
The Seas by Samantha Hunt (available July 10)
It has been a big year for mermaids and mermen, and should you want to read more on this theme, let me point you in the direction of Samantha Hunt's spare, elegant, affecting novel, The Seas. Centering around a young woman who is mourning the loss of her father, clinging to the fact that he once told her she was a mermaid, The Seas is a testament to doomed romanticism, to the ways in which we hang our hopes on impossible things becoming possible.
Eden by Andrea Kleine (available July 10)
Eden tells the story of two sisters—Hope and Eden—who were kidnapped as children, and have grown up to live two very different—and separate—lives. Twenty years after their abduction, when the man responsible is up for parole, Hope starts to search for her sister, who has lost touch with her family; what follows is a devastating, revelatory examination of trauma, memory, creation, and the ways in which we define ourselves according to our experiences.
No One Tells You This: A Memoir by Glynnis MacNicol (available July 10)
It can be easy to forget how fully we rely on commonly shared life narratives when planning out our own futures; how many of us spent our childhoods assuming our lives would follow the framework of college, job, marriage, kids, retirement, grandkids. Of course, once you become an adult, once you start to fill in the outline of that life, you start to understand that not only is there no promise from the universe that you're going to get what you thought was coming to you, but that you don't necessarily want to live according to rules that seem less and less applicable to your individual experience. Still, though, what do you do when you realize that you're now at an age—40—when there are no societal guideposts from what you're supposed to be doing with your life? This is the question which serves as the inspiration for Glynnis MacNicol's sharp, hilarious, enthralling memoir, as she sets about having adventures, enduring hardships, and figuring out what she wants her life to look like, in the face of society's expectations and her own. This book is an essential read for women who both are and aren't checking off all the boxes we're told we're supposed to as we grow up, because it reminds us that there is no perfect way to plan a life, there is only your way of planning your life, and finding the beauty and thrill inherent within that is all that matters.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (available July 10)
I must admit, I'm particularly predisposed to novels about young women that have as their central premise: What could possibly go wrong? Only to answer that question with a thoroughness that could fairly be called head-spinning. And with My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh does not disappoint, with a story set in the retroactively ominous time and place of New York City in the year 2000. What could possibly go wrong? It seems, at first, like nothing will go wrong for the narrator, who is young, successful, and attractive in a city which prizes those things above all else in its women, but quickly it becomes clear that things are wrong, if not externally, then internally, as she suffers through the kind of severe alienation which tends to follow those who know, deep down, that their dark insides don't match their glittery outsides. Moshfegh excels at writing this kind of paradoxical character, and her latest novel is a triumph of the kind of dark humor and probing insight for which she has become renowned.
I Can't Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I've Put My Faith in Beyoncé by Michael Arceneaux (available July 24)
This brilliant collection of essays explores Michael Arceneaux's life as a gay black man from Texas (why, yes, he does share a hometown with Beyoncé), who was raised within a religion and society that never fully recognized his humanity. Arceneaux is fearless in exploring things like intimacy and identity issues and never flinches from exploring the darkest aspects of his life, from growing up with a rage-fueled father to constantly having to prove that he was worthy of consideration, that he would not be marginalized. And thank Bey he wasn't, because this is one of the most compelling, provocative, poignant essay collections of the year.
Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott (available July 17)
Whether taking place in the high stakes world of teenage gymnastics or high school cheerleading, ultra-competitive environments are the fertile breeding grounds for novelist Megan Abbott's books—and no other working writer better captures the fiery intensity of the rivalries which result when incredibly ambitious women compete and clash with one another. In her latest, highly anticipated novel, Give Me Your Hand, Abbott explores another high stakes world—a scientific research lab—through the lens of two estranged friends, who both know too much about each other's pasts to let old loyalties get in the way of their own dreams. A white-hot look at the ways in which envy perverts ambition, and our secrets make us sick, Give Me Your Hand is the ultimate unsettling read of the summer.
Inappropriation by Lexi Freiman (available July 24)
Have you ever read a book and felt it crackle? Like, you start to worry that it's going to start emitting smoke and then flames because so much is going on and there's a visceral charge to each word you're reading? Same! But if you haven't experienced that, you should probably make it a point to read Lexi Freiman's Inappropriation, which skewers just about every societal and literary convention you can think of, making it one of the most subversive coming-of-age stories out there. The novel centers around 15-year-old Ziggy Klein, whose struggle with identity issues leads her to embrace her school's radical feminist contingent, as well as the seminal book The Cyborg Manifesto. Ziggy uses these things as the jumping-off point to explore issues of gender, sexuality, and identity, and, yes, this does involve coming up with an elaborate revenge plot, but... you know what? Just go along for the ride with Ziggy, it'll be worth the fiery journey.
Now My Heart Is Full by Laura June (available July 24)
This beautiful, heart-rending and -restoring memoir explores what it means to be a mother and a daughter, and coming to terms with the imperfections within these most foundational of familial bonds. Laura June writes with grace, wit, and honesty about the ways in which her fraught relationship with her late mother, who suffered from alcoholism, led to her later ambivalence about having a child of her own in fear of continuing a complicated legacy. And yet, this is not a story about regret or recrimination, it is instead propelled by the joy that June takes in her daughter Zelda. This is no small thing, this joy; it isn't that June shies away from the difficult aspects of parenting or veers into overly sentimental gushing, but rather it is that she makes achingly clear how much she values and adores Zelda for being her own person, and how this respect and love for her daughter affords her the ability to revisit her relationship with her mother. Here, too, June avoids anything mawkish. She instead does what is so hard for children to do: She looks at her mother as a whole person, puts together the fragments of her mother's life, and finds it within herself to forgive her mother, forgive herself, and move forward with love, with a heart now full.
Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras (available July 31)
This novel is loosely based on Rojas Contreras' own experience growing up in Bogota, Colombia, under the threat of drug war-fueled kidnappings, bombings, and assassinations. It is appropriate, then, that one of the book's narrators is a young girl, seven-year-old Chula, who lives behind gated walls with her wealthy family, and who is only starting to grow aware of the complicated world beyond those walls. One way in which Chula becomes introduced to it is through her family's young maid, Petrona, who comes from an impoverished family, and who is working to support them while also navigating a passionate love affair. A true coming-of-age story, Fruit of the Drunken Tree offers a portrait at the ways in which political horrors can infiltrate the most intimate corners of our lives, but how it's still possible to find beauty and grace amidst all the pain.
The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon (available July 31)
This lyrical, haunting novel is a remarkable debut from Kwon, in which she shows with real lucidity the tangled ways in which passion slips into fanaticism, love into desperation, and faith into folly. At the center of this novel are three people: Will, a former evangelical Christian; Phoebe, whose implacable exterior hides the grief and responsibility she feels over her mother's death; and John, a charismatic cult leader, who seduces Phoebe away from Will and into a complex, violent world of political actions. Though this is, in many ways, a classic page-turner, as we go along with Will on his journey to find out how culpable Phoebe is in John's extremist acts, what truly stands out is Kwon's ability to portray the intimate ways in which we deal with issues of fractured identity and feelings of displacement, and how quickly the personal becomes political, and then personal all over again.
The Shortest Way Home by Miriam Parker (available July 31)
And now for something that is just purely delightful and as smooth to knock back as a glass of rosé on a sticky summer day. Miriam Parker's debut tells the story of Hannah, who leaves her finance career behind in New York City to work in a Sonoma vineyard. There are unexpected challenges and a star-crossed romance and all of the things which you want in a summer book about leaving your life and starting over somewhere new (especially when it's somewhere straight out of a Nancy Meyers movie!). But simply because this fare is on the lighter side, that doesn't mean that it isn't fully satisfying: It is—and it is also, to borrow some wine tasting terminology, refreshing and bright, with a clean, crisp aftertaste.