A memoir about a parent’s murder-suicide; a biography of the first African American fighter pilot; a novel about a caretaker for combustible twins; and the collected short stories of Larry Brown are among new Southern-themed books coming out this fall, be they written by Southern authors or exploring Southern themes. Here are 12 titles we recommend.
Atlanta author Lynn Cullen (“Mrs. Poe”) brings her keen eye for historical detail to this captivating, Depression-era tale about Dorothy, an emotionally troubled mother, and the sibling rivalry between her two daughters. June is the wife of a successful doctor; she serves as one of several “Betty Crockers” in the General Mills test kitchen in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her specialty is devising fancy meals and place settings attributed to celebrity dinner parties. Ruth is married to a farmer bedridden with sleeping sickness; she struggles to raise her children and keep the farm afloat near the Indiana-Michigan state line. When the three women are reunited after a long estrangement, festering resentments and long-buried secrets are revealed. (Simon & Schuster, available now)
‘Invisible as Air’
On the surface, Sylvie Snow appears to have it all. A big house, a nice car, a successful husband, a healthy son. Granted, she’s stressed, juggling work, family and PTA. Her triathlete husband is laid up with a broken ankle, and she’s busy planning a bar mitzvah that holds no interest for her movie-obsessed son. But deep sorrow festers beneath the family’s facade in this novel by Atlanta author Zoe Fishman (“Inheriting Edith”). It’s the three-year anniversary of the stillborn death of the couple’s daughter. When Sylvie comes across a bottle of her husband’s pain pills, she impulsively takes one to dull her heartache. It is the beginning of the family’s downward spiral, as told in alternating chapters from each family member’s perspective. (William Morrow, Sept. 24)
‘The Water Dancer’
National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates (“Between the World and Me”) makes his highly anticipated fiction debut with this ambitious, imaginative novel about slavery, magic and a heart-wrenching quest to reunite family. Born into slavery and separated from his mother, Hiram Walker crashes a carriage into a river and seems doomed to die when a mysterious blue light raises him up from the depths of the current and places him safely a mile away. The event sends Hiram on an odyssey into the underground war on slavery and back to Walker Plantation, where he harnesses his magic powers to free his family. (Random House, Sept. 24)
In a rough-and-tumble rural community in post-Depression era Tennessee, young couple Nathan and Claire struggle to manage the challenges of poverty, parenthood, marriage and ambition in a newly electrified world, thanks to the construction of a massive dam. A clash of cultures and desires, complicated by secrets and guilt, plays out in this debut novel by Mark Barr. (Hub City Press, Oct. 8)
‘How We Fight for Our Lives’
Memphis-born, Texas-raised Saeed Jones is a celebrated poet and finalist for the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award, who makes his nonfiction debut with his memoir about growing up black and gay in the South. Told through a series of lyrical vignettes starting with his boyhood, Jones explores the relationships that shaped him throughout his life, from family members to lovers. Roxane Gay calls it “astonishing, unparalleled.” Kiese Laymon says, “Saeed changes everything we thought we knew about memoir writing.” (Simon & Schuster, Oct. 8)
‘The Hard Tomorrow’
Athens-based cartoonist and illustrator Eleanor Davis (“How to Be Happy”) explores what it means to create a family in uncertain times in this lushly illustrated graphic novel set in the near future. Hannah is a home-health care worker and anti-war activist eager to have a baby. Johnny is allegedly building them a home before winter comes, but mostly he smokes cannabis and dreams about growing food to sustain his family. For now, they live in a truck. Their friends include a lesbian naturalist and a conspiracy theorist. Together they try to keep their fears and anxieties about their crumbling society at bay. (Drawn & Quarterly, Oct. 15)
Historian Richard Bell tells a harrowing true story about the little-known reverse Underground Railroad that operated prior to the Civil War. In 1825 Philadelphia, five young black boys were coaxed onto a ship with promises of food and money, only to be blindfolded, shackled and transported over land for four months to a cotton plantation in Mississippi, where they were sold into slavery. This deeply researched account chronicles their capture and their desperate journeys back home. (37 Ink, Oct. 15)
Country singer/songwriter Allison Moorer isn’t a Nashville chart-topper, but she has had a long and steady recording career. Professionally, she is best known for her Oscar-nominated song “A Soft Place to Fall” from the 1998 Robert Redford movie “The Horse Whisperer.” Personally, she is known as the younger sister of Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Shelby Lynn. This fall she puts her MFA in creative writing on display in a heartbreaking memoir about her tragic childhood and the murder-suicide of her parents in Mobile, Alabama. (DaCapo Press, Oct. 29)
‘Tell Me a Story’
Cassandra King Conroy (“Moonrise”) is an established author of women’s fiction set in the South, but she makes her nonfiction debut with this memoir about her relationship with her husband of nearly two decades, Pat Conroy, the bigger-than-life author of “The Prince of Tides.” Strip the literary bits away, and “Tell Me a Story” is, at its core, a middle-aged love story about two people with storied pasts — his more storied than hers, but she’s got stories, too — who forge a tender bond on the coastal marshlands of South Carolina. It’s not a particularly dramatic story, until its sad ending, but it provides a peek into the intimacies of a sweet and simpatico relationship between married writers and insight into Conroy’s final years. (William Morrow, Oct. 29)
‘Nothing to See Here’
In Kevin Wilson’s quirky, captivating debut novel “The Family Fang,” a character who is an actress lands a role playing a governess for children who spontaneously combust. It’s a minor thread in that wacky tapestry of weird family dynamics, but the Sewanee, Tennessee, author takes the idea and runs with it in his new novel. Lillian is a lonely woman living a dead-end life who is summoned by Madison, her best friend from boarding school, whom she hasn’t seen since, to take care of Madison’s twins, who catch fire when they become agitated. (Parents of children who throw epic tantrums may relate.) In her efforts to keep things cool one hot summer, Lillian bonds with the peculiar children and discovers a purpose for her life. (Ecco, Oct. 29)
‘All Blood Runs Red’
In modern times, Eugene Bullard’s life would be considered a phenomenal achievement. That it began just 30 years after the end of the Civil War is jaw-dropping. Bullard was born in Columbus in 1895 to a father who was formerly enslaved and a mother who was an indigenous Creek woman. It didn’t take long for Bullard to realize South Georgia held little promise for his big ambitions, and he got the heck out by the time he was 12, eventually landing in Paris, where he enjoyed worldwide fame as the “Black Sparrow” boxer. When World War I broke out, he joined the French Foreign Legion and became the first African American fighter pilot and a celebrated war hero. During World War II, he was a spy. Between wars, he was a nightclub owner, and later in life, he worked as an assistant for Louis Armstrong. Co-authors Phil Keith and Tom Clavin recount Bullard’s stunning story in this fast-paced, deeply reported biography. (Hanover Square Press, Nov. 5)
Before he died of a heart attack at age 53 in 2004, Larry Brown was a celebrated writer of the grit lit genre who wrote spare, brutal stories about hard-drinking, love-hungry barflies, Vietnam vets, hunters, bricklayers and loggers. He was a self-taught writer from Oxford, Mississippi, who fed his family as a firefighter before his literary star began its ascent, and he was revered for his honest portrayals of blue-collar life in the deep South. This complete collection of Brown’s stories includes the short story collections “Facing the Music” (1988) and “Big Bad Love” (1990), which was made into a movie starring Debra Winger and Arliss Howard, as well as newly found material discovered by Brown’s friend and fellow author, Jonathan Miles (“Anatomy of a Miracle”), who worked with Brown’s literary estate and wrote the foreword. (Algonquin Books, Nov. 26)
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