Reading is one pleasure the COVID-19 pandemic did not rob from us. Granted, the publication dates for many summer books have been pushed to August, but there are still plenty of outstanding new Southern books available to keep you company all season long. Here are some we eagerly anticipate.
Brit Bennett was just 26 when she made her literary debut in 2016 with The New York Times bestselling novel “The Mothers.” Crisscrossing the country from Louisiana to California, and spanning decades from the 1950s to the 1990s, Bennett’s sophomore novel follows the lives of twin sisters who choose very different paths as adults. One remains in the small Louisiana town where they were born. The other lives across the country where she passes as white. She even manages to fool her husband, until the twins’ daughters connect. (Riverhead Books, June 2)
Lake Charles, Louisiana, native Stephanie Soileau’s literary debut is a collection of 11 short stories about flawed outcasts living in dead-end towns along the Gulf in her home state. A teenage Goth girl resists coming to terms with her role as a new mother. A sister seeks salvation for both herself and her obese brother with a trip to Mexico so he can undergo surgery. Paralyzed by inertia, Soileau’s characters cannot get out of their own way, but we end up rooting for them anyway. (Little, Brown & Company, July 7)
Critics were rapturous over David James Poissant’s literary debut, the short story collection “The Heaven of Animals.” His highly anticipated debut novel takes place over a weekend when the Starling family returns to their vacation home on a lake in North Carolina one last time before it’s sold. When a tragic event occurs, the whole family is thrust into existential turmoil, and a 30-year-old secret is revealed. (Simon & Schuster, July 7)
Florida native Kent Russell, author of the essay collection “I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son,” walks the length of Florida from the Panhandle to Miami with two friends on the presumption of making a documentary. The result is a riotous account of an odyssey through the land of “Florida Man,” appropriately populated with drug dealers, gun nuts and gators. Their adventures are punctuated with hilarious snippets of conversation between the three friends as they trudge down the road pushing a shopping cart of camera equipment. (Knopf, July 8)
Tennis icon Alice Marble was the “it girl” of the 1930s, renowned for her trendsetting fashion design, her social life hobnobbing with Hollywood stars and her role helping integrate the sport. But she went to great lengths to keep her private life secret, sparking speculation about the true nature of her relationship with her longtime coach. Decatur author Robert Weintraub gets to the bottom of it in this biography. (Penguin Random House, July 14)
Jill McCorkle’s first book in seven years explores how well a person can truly know one’s parents. In this novel, long-married couple Lil and Frank leave Boston behind to return to North Carolina for retirement. Lil spends her days sifting through memorabilia to create a history of their life for their children. In the process, she reveals secrets Frank would prefer kept under wraps. Meanwhile, Frank becomes obsessed with the house where he grew up, now home to a single mother. (Algonquin, July 28)
In this slim, elegant memoir, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey recalls the emotions and events surrounding the 1985 murder of her mother on Memorial Drive in Atlanta. The former U.S. poet laureate was just 19 when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. Her remembrance is a moving, poetic meditation on love and loss. (Ecco, July 28)
Randall Kenan’s second short story collection is rooted in fictitious Tims Creek, North Carolina, and features a colorful cast of characters. Some stories are tragic, some are funny, but they are all deeply humane. In one, a retired plumber returns to New York City after a 30-year absence to attend a Baptist church convention when he gets swept up in Billy Idol’s entourage. In another, a California restaurateur recalls his mother’s story about the time Howard Hughes tried to employ her as his personal chef. (W.W. Norton, Aug. 4)
In a new novella, New York Times bestselling author Ron Rash returns to his most memorable character, Serena, of the 2008 eponymous novel about the ruthless wife of a timber baron in 1930s North Carolina. It is accompanied by a collection of short stories, including “Baptism,” which appeared in “The Best American Short Stories 2018,” and “Neighbors,” included in “The Best American Mystery Stories 2019.” (Doubleday, Aug. 4)
Edward Ball won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 1998 for “Slaves in the Family,” about his South Carolina family’s history as slaveholders. He continues exposing his family’s dirty laundry with this account of his great-great-grandfather, a white French Creole in Louisiana and member of the Ku Klux Klan who participated in masked marches, night riding and massacres. (FSG Books, Aug. 4)
Renowned pastry chef Lisa Donovan, formerly of Husk Nashville, helped usher in a return to traditional desserts at high-end restaurants with her cakes and pastries deeply rooted in her Southern heritage. This memoir traces the challenges she faced as a woman in a man’s world and pays tribute to the generations of women who shaped the cuisine behind the success of today’s celebrity chefs and brands. (Penguin Random House, Aug. 4)
Author of the critically acclaimed “The Line That Held Us,” David Joy returns to western North Carolina for another tale of Appalachian noir. The opioid crisis is at the crux of this tense showdown between Ray Mathis, who will do anything to save his drug addict son; Denny Rattler, a petty crook who gets in over his head with a group of violent criminals; and junior DEA agent Rodriguez, who goes undercover to find the source of drugs coming into the area. (Putnam, Aug. 18)
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