9 books to watch for in December
Alice Adams: Portrait of a Writer,’ by Carol Sklenicka (Scribner, Dec. 3)
Adams rose to prominence with short stories, many published in The New Yorker, and novels like “Superior Women.” Sklenicka, also the author of a skillful biography of Raymond Carver, connects broader societal themes (women’s liberation, the civil rights movement) to Adams’s development as a writer.
‘Dead Astronauts,’ by Jeff VanderMeer (MCD/FSG, Dec. 3)
Known for his Southern Reach trilogy, including “Annihilation,” VanderMeer returns with an eco-horror novel set in a post-climate change future. Amid the nightmares that suffuse the narrative, VanderMeer has dreamed up some fantastical creatures: a messianic blue fox, a dangerously violent duck and an ancient fish with a secret.
‘The Dolphin Letters, 1970-1979: Elizabeth Hardwick, Robert Lowell, and Their Circle,’ edited by Saskia Hamilton (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Dec. 10)
These letters, which draw from the last years of Lowell’s life, detail a profoundly creative time for the couple as well as the breakup of their marriage (and eventual reconciliation). Elizabeth Bishop, Adrienne Rich, Mary McCarthy and other friends make appearances; taken together, the correspondence offers a debate about the cultural role and legacy of art.
‘One Long River of Song: Notes on Wonder for the Spiritual and Nonspiritual Alike,’ by Brian Doyle (Little, Brown, Dec. 3)
When Doyle, the former editor of Portland magazine, died in 2017, he left behind a fervent fan base and a trove of well-loved books. If there’s a guiding principle behind this posthumous collection, it’s reverence — for God, nature, his loved ones and more.
‘The Sacrament,’ by Olaf Olafsson (Ecco/HarperCollins, Dec. 3)
A young nun is sent to investigate claims of abuse at a school in Iceland, and while she is there, the headmaster dies under mysterious circumstances. Years later, a child who witnessed the death calls the nun back to Iceland, forcing her to revisit her past and the church’s legacy of power.
‘The Story of a Goat,’ by Perumal Murugan (Black Cat/Grove Press, Dec. 10)
Murugan, one of India’s best-known writers, tells the story of a rural community in the southern tip of the country. After a farmer in Tamil Nadu receives a small, frail black goat from a stranger, he and his wife are pleased to see the animal thrive. (The goat even narrates some passages of the book.) But as the goat grows up and encounters danger after danger, the story also becomes a political allegory.
‘The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison,’ edited by John F. Callahan and Marc C. Conner (Random House, Dec. 3)
The correspondence in this prodigious collection will thrill scholars and fans alike. Editors’ notes help contextualize the letters and amplify the themes of Ellison’s life and writing. Readers have a ringside seat to the author’s intellectual development and his close relationships with friends like Richard Wright, as well as his struggle to complete his masterpiece, “Invisible Man.”
‘Supreme Ambition: Brett Kavanaugh and the Conservative Takeover,’ by Ruth Marcus (Simon & Schuster, Dec. 3)
Marcus, a Washington Post columnist and editor, examines how Kavanaugh’s ascent dovetailed with Republicans’ decades-long effort to form a majority on the court. She also seeks to answer the questions that linger about Kavanaugh’s confirmation: Was Christine Blasey Ford, who testified that he had assaulted her, a credible witness? And what ramifications does Kavanaugh’s appointment have for the future of the Supreme Court?
‘This Is Happiness,’ by Niall Williams (Bloomsbury, Dec. 3)
When readers meet Noel, the narrator of this luminous new novel, he’s an older man reflecting on his adolescence in Faha, a small Irish village, in the 1950s. Back then, the town was preparing for the long-promised arrival of electricity while Noel grappled with his own romantic desires and the arrival of a stranger, Christy. This big-hearted story is an intimate study of a small place on the brink of change.
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