Michael Schaub

Ann Beattie is one of the best writers of her generation, although it's unclear whether the author would take that as a compliment. In books like the novel Love Always and the short story collection Where You'll Find Me, Beattie employed her dry wit and sometimes chilly cynicism to paint a less than flattering picture of her fellow baby boomers. The books were never cruel, but they established Beattie as a writer unwilling to act as a cheerleader for her generational cohort.

American history, as it exists in the popular imagination, has often tended toward the self-congratulatory.

Events of the past are frequently filtered through a majority lens, focusing on the perceived heroics of, for example, white abolitionists and civil rights activists. To hear some tell it, the civil rights struggle of the 1960s ended when President Lyndon B. Johnson, having indulgently listened to Martin Luther King Jr., signed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, after which racism was solved and everything was better forever.

Fans of Amy Hempel have gotten used to waiting. In the 34 years since her debut book, Reasons to Live, was published, the short story writer has released just four books, one of which was a collection of her previous volumes. Her last book of new material, the critically acclaimed The Dog of the Marriage, hit bookstore shelves 14 years ago. In terms of literary output, she's basically the anti-Joyce Carol Oates.

New York and Los Angeles tend to get all the ink, but you could make an argument that Houston is the most uniquely American big city there is. Sprawling and diverse, the Bayou City shows us how a variety of cultures can coexist and band together after hardships, such as the hurricanes that have battered the city over the past several years.

It's hard to believe that things could get much worse for young Hans, the protagonist of The Club. As the book opens, the German boy recounts his childhood in a house in a forest, the awkward son of two loving parents. In short order, his father is killed in a car crash, and his mother dies of an allergic reaction to a bee sting. His only living relative has no interest in raising him, so he's sent to a Catholic boarding school where he's teased by his new schoolmates.

British author Helen Oyeyemi wants you to know that you're never too old for fairy tales. She's made a career out of writing books that draw on the folklore that we all read as children — her 2011 novel Mr. Fox drew on the British fairy tale of the same name, while her 2014 book Boy, Snow, Bird found its inspiration in the story of Snow White.

At some point in their careers, all authors have heard some variation on the advice "Grab the reader from the front page." For some writers of literary fiction, this translates to "Describe the sun shining on a New England lake in very exacting detail," or something of that nature.

Han Kang has been a familiar name to Korean readers for two decades, but it's only recently that English-speaking audiences have been able to read her work. She made her major American debut in 2016, when the English translation of her novel The Vegetarian was released in the States; the horrifying story of a woman who comes undone after giving up meat became an unlikely breakout hit. A year later, her novel Human Acts followed; while the subject matter wasn't similar to The Vegetarian, the critical praise it received was.

Pitchaya Sudbanthad's novel, Bangkok Wakes to Rain, opens with a woman of indeterminate age ("She is a child or a few thousand years old. Would it ever matter?") approaching "the building she thinks of as home." She enters the building's lobby, contemplates taking the elevator upstairs to see her parents, but she's suddenly hit with an unsettling feeling, and leaves. "Some uproar above compels her to look up," Sudbanthad writes, and "her instincts command her to cross her arms overhead, turn away, and brace."

On the very first page of American Spy, narrator Marie Mitchell, a former FBI agent, hears a noise in her house. Deciding it's best to be cautious, she grabs her handgun, right before her worst fear is confirmed — a man with a gun enters her bedroom. There's a struggle; Marie ends up with a few broken blood vessels in her cheeks, and the stranger ends up with a bullet in his head.

When a loved one dies, so does part of our language. Conversations we've had with the dead start to fade and eventually get lost to memory; our idiolects change when part of our audience is gone. And words become insufficient and unreliable, inadequate to convey the love we had for the ones we've lost or the void created by their absence.

The unnamed narrator of Maurice Carlos Ruffin's We Cast a Shadow has two great loves. The first is wife, Penny, with whom he enjoys a playful, passionate relationship. The other is their young son, Nigel, a sensitive, intelligent 11-year-old boy with a sweet nature and a childlike sense of curiosity. Nigel, the narrator thinks, is perfect.

There's a lot to recommend life in a large town or small city, but there's no doubt it can get claustrophobic — familiar faces can get too familiar, and it's hard to blend into the crowd when everyone in the crowd knows who you are.

It's hard to think of a more aptly named recent novel than Fever Dream, Argentine author Samanta Schweblin's 2017 book about a woman and boy who find themselves together in a country hospital. The novel, Schweblin's first to be translated into English, was haunting and nightmarish, and evoked a world where everything is distorted, unfamiliar and, above all, frightening.

In 1776, the governor of New York and the mayor of New York City conspired to assassinate George Washington. And it might have succeeded if it weren't for a would-be counterfeiter and an iron mill foreman.

It sounds like the plot of a mildly implausible historical thriller, but it actually happened and it's one of the more remarkable stories to come out of the American Revolution, even if it's not one you learned in history class.

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