While summer book releases often tend toward frothy, entertaining fare, fall is the time for heavy hitters, and this year’s slate of titles do not disappoint. Here are nine substantive Southern books we look forward to curling up with when temperatures cool.
‘The Line That Held Us’
“Meat in the freezer was meat that didn’t have to be bought and paid for, and that came to mean a lot when the work petered off each winter. So even though it was almost two months early, he was going hunting.” That decision by Darl Moody sets in motion a series of harrowing events that include murder, buried secrets and acts of revenge that take place in the mountains of Western North Carolina in this latest entry into the canon of Appalachian noir by David Joy. (Putnam, Aug. 14)
‘Pieces of Her’
Breakfast between mother and daughter at the Rise-n-Dine restaurant in Savannah turns into chaos when a mass shooter unloads his weapon into the bodies of unsuspecting victims. Apropos of Atlanta author Karin Slaughter’s style, the scene is a vividly gruesome one in which skulls are “snapped open like a plastic bag.” Laura’s calm reaction to the situation is Andrea’s first clue there are things she doesn’t know about her mother. After Laura kills the assailant, who turns out to be the mentally ill scion of a powerful family, the police begin to question her motives. When Laura clams up, it’s up to Andrea to delve into her mother’s past to find the answers that might save her. (William Morrow, Aug. 21)
‘What Luck, This Life’
Set during the Columbia shuttle disaster of 2003, North Carolina author Kathryn Schwille’s debut novel unfolds in a series of stories told from the perspectives of the residents of a small community in east Texas where severed body parts and pieces of the doomed spacecraft rain down on them. Encounters with the detritus of the disaster punctuate and inform the human dramas that play out as characters grapple with mortality, fractured relationships and life’s disappointments. (Hub City Press, Sept. 18)
‘Our Prince of Scribes: Writers Remember Pat Conroy’
Pat Conroy’s death in 2016 left a colossal void in the literary landscape, but his spirit survives not only in the legacy of his work but in new books like this collection of funny, bittersweet recollections by those who knew him. Most contributors are Southern authors, many of them influenced by the long shadow he cast in the publishing world. Among them are cookbook author Nathalie Dupree, memoirist Rick Bragg, fiction writers Josephine Humphreys, Ron Rash and Patti Callahan Henry, and Sallie Ann Robinson, who was Conroy’s student on Daufuskie Island, the setting for his break-out memoir, “The Water Is Wide.” Writes former AJC books editor Teresa Weaver: “My most indelible memories are not so much about things he said as about how people responded to him. He connected with his readers in an extraordinary way. They didn’t just adore his books; they adored him.” (University of Georgia Press, Sept. 18)
‘The Fat Kid’
Atlanta author Jamie Iredell’s bleak novel about a lonely, obese boy and his hateful, alcoholic father is told in sections that alternate between their points of view, with chapters of varying lengths, some containing little more than a single paragraph. Known only as the Fat Kid and the Thin Man, their lives are mysteriously influenced by a character known as the Man, and their hopes for salvation center on a mysterious contraption called the Machine. The chilling, remote tone of the prose lays groundwork for a brutal outcome. (Civil Coping Mechanisms, Oct. 4)
‘Becoming Mrs. Lewis’
Told from the wife’s point of view, New York Times best-selling author Patti Callahan (she’s dropped the surname Henry) tells the love story of “Chronicles of Narnia” creator C.S. Lewis and his wife, Joy Davidman. Mired in an unhappy marriage, Davidman experiences a religious conversion from atheism to Christianity. Having read Lewis’ books and eager for intellectual discourse on spirituality, she becomes pen pals with the author. Ultimately, she would divorce her first husband and marry Lewis, transforming their lives forever. (Thomas Nelson, Oct. 2)
Barbara Kingsolver’s eighth novel speaks to the economic ills of modern life — i.e., layoffs, college loans and lost pensions — and juxtaposes them in alternating chapters with another time in history when the social order seemed to be in flux: the late 19th century. Where these stories overlap is in an old, ramshackle house in south Jersey inherited by Willa Knox, a middle-aged, unemployed magazine editor. Her research into the history of the home leads her to former resident Thatcher Greenwood, a science teacher who gets in hot water for teaching Darwin’s theories of evolution in the 1870s. (HarperCollins, Oct. 16)
Having already written a novel, “Long Division,” and a collection of essays, “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America,” Kiese Laymon next unleashes his incendiary truth-seeking voice on a memoir that leaves no stone unturned in his examination of a life surrounded by poverty, sexual violence, racism, obesity and gambling. But “Heavy” is also about the lies family members tell each other and the heartache of growing up in Mississippi the son of a complicated mother, about whom he writes: “You made me feel like the most beautiful black boy in the history of Mississippi until you didn’t.” (Scribner, Oct. 16)
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey publishes her first retrospective collection of work, along with 11 new poems. Culled from “Domestic Work,” “Bellocq’s Ophelia,” “Native Guard,” “Thrall” and “Congregation,” the poems are haunting reflections on a mother’s murder, the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, an early 20th-century prostitute in New Orleans, a regiment of black soldiers guarding Confederate POWs, mixed-race families and the black working class. The opening poem, a new one, titled “Imperatives for Carrying On in the Aftermath,” ends with an emotional punch to the gut that sets the tone for what follows. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Nov. 7)
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