This month's book selections range from dystopian fiction to memoir trafficking in the realest of human emotions to a look at all the drug use happening in Nazi Germany. What I'm trying to say is: There's something here for everyone. Read one or, nah, read 'em all. And, while you're at it, check out some of our other top books of the month from our 2017 Master List; it might be an insanity-inducing time to be a person in the world, but at least there's good stuff to read.
All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg (available March 7)
This is definitely one of my most anticipated books of the year, thanks to Attenberg's reliably trenchant voice and her unique ability to create the kind of complicated, true-to-life characters that I crave in my fiction, All Grown Up is a perfect example of why Attenberg is one of our finest contemporary writers. The novel offers one of the most compelling protagonists in recent memory precisely because Andrea, the almost 40-year-old main character, is so, well, ordinary—or at least recognizable as being a flawed-but-trying woman in a world where flawed-but-trying women (especially as they grow older) are often dismissed and disregarded. Andrea has up-and-down relationships with just about everybody, including herself, and it is a real pleasure to go along on her journey over the course of this book, and see if we can figure out what it actually means to be all grown up, and to function in this world of ours.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (available March 7)
It's kind of lazy to say something like "this is the book we need right now," but also: This is the book we need right now. Hamid's gorgeously-written novel is a love story and a fable and a slanted look at the very dystopian world that we live in right now, one in which millions of people are categorized as "alien," where having a home—and being able to stay in it—is nothing more than a fantasy for many. In some ways an ambiguity permeates much of the novel—it's impossible to say with certainty where it is supposed to be taking place, though it's easy enough to guess that it's set in somewhere like Syria—but there is a fierce certainty when it comes to Hamid's intent: The global powers which make an uncertain future (and present) a reality for so many people across the world are incalculably damaging the lives of all these people, and negatively shaping the collective experience of humankind.
Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler (available March 7)
Drugs and Nazis! Who's up for a little speed reading? This newly released translation of a hugely popular German book is a fast, compelling read about the crystal meth use that ran rampant among the Wehrmacht during World War II, and is a fascinating look at just what was fueling German visions of supremacy on the battlefield and at home. (It was drugs!)
Sorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell (available March 14)
Cottrell's debut is a finely-wrought family drama, which I described in an earlier review as being "a poignant, profoundly empathetic look at the things that might drive us toward death, or toward life." Despite the heaviness of the subject matter (the narrative centers around a young woman looking into the reasons her brother might have killed himself), Cottrell's book is often very funny, if darkly so, perhaps due in no small part to the destabilizing effect of her lyrical writing; reading this feels fully like being in a real-life surrealist landscape—it's hard to know what to make of what's in front of you, what is true and what isn't—but it's truly awe-inspiring to just take it all in, and go along for the ride.
The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy (available March 14)
We never fail to get excited when we see Ariel Levy's byline in our latest issue of The New Yorker, and we have never once been disappointed in what we then read, whether it's an in-depth, often hilarious look at ayahuasca, the hallucinogen of the moment, or a heartbreakingly beautiful account of her late-term miscarriage while she was in Mongolia. And so we've been waiting with no small degree of excitement for Levy's memoir, which proves itself as revelatory, hilarious, and uncompromising as all of Levy's writing. Get it now.
White Tears by Hari Kunzru (available March 14)
Kunzru's latest is centered around an ill-conceived internet hoax, but quickly finds itself dealing with very serious topics revolving around race relations in America. New York magazine recommends pairing White Teeth with Jordan Peele's excellent new racism-inspired horror film Get Out, and we heartily second the recommendation. What Kunzru has done with his exceptional seventh novel is make a narrative about racism, appropriation, and exploitation (with a murder mystery thrown in for good measure) so compulsively readable that many will tear through the story, only to find themselves having its message stay with them for a long time to come.
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti (available March 28)
I don’t know if every story is a love story, but Hannah Tinti’s eagerly awaited second novel certainly is—or rather, it’s many love stories, all wrapped up into one gripping narrative that traverses time and space to meditate on life’s most profound questions: those surrounding death, love, and the fleeting nature of everything we hold dear. Tinti’s storytelling is masterful—she weaves together dozens of beautifully-drawn characters, from teenage townie bullies to a milquetoast high school principal to a vengeful ex-con widower, and brings readers along with Hawley and Loo to places like a quiet wooded lake in Wisconsin, a calving glacier in Alaska, and into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, under a star-studded night sky. The book’s central relationship is that of Samuel Hawley and his teenage daughter, Loo, who have, at the outset of the novel, relocated after a decade of peripatetic living to Olympus, the coastal Massachusetts hometown of Loo’s long-dead mother, Lily. Although Lily is only alive via the book’s many flashback chapters (which are also where we come to know better the inscrutable and scar-riddled Samuel Hawley, whose checkered past hangs ominously over his and Loo’s present) the mystery surrounding her death looms large throughout the story, and is one of many reminders that we can’t escape the consequences of our actions. There are no do-overs, only the opportunity to right our wrongs.
This review is in NYLON's March 2017 issue