Book Review

Journalist and book reviewer Suzanne Perez reviews the latest books and such for KMUW on air and right here. Discover new reviews on alternate Mondays. You can also listen to KMUW book reviews through iTunes. Listen or subscribe here

There’s a lot of talk these days about “Own Voices” novels. It’s a term that refers to an author from a marginalized or under-represented group writing about his or her own experiences, from an authentic, lived perspective.

Earlier this year, as the coronavirus began to spread across the globe, Alice Quinn reached out to American poets to see what they were writing under quarantine. The result is Together in a Sudden Strangeness, an anthology that reflects the fear and isolation the pandemic wrought, as well as the deep reflection and creativity that has come from it.

Irish author Maggie O’Farrell won this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction for Hamnet, a novel inspired by and named after William Shakespeare’s only son—and the possible inspiration for his tragedy “Hamlet.”

Don and Mimi Galvin had a dozen children—10 boys and two girls—born between 1945 and 1965, perfectly spanning the baby boom. 

In Yaa Gyasi’s new novel, Transcendent Kingdom, a Stanford Ph.D. candidate named Gifty studies reward-seeking behavior in mice and the mysterious synapses that can lead to addiction or depression. She does it because her brother, Nana, was a gifted basketball player before an injury led to an OxyContin addiction and eventually to a deadly heroin overdose. And she does it because her mother, a Ghanaian immigrant, is depressed and living in her bed.

In her debut novel, The Bright Side Sanctuary for Animals, Kansas native Becky Mandelbaum tells the story of a mother-daughter pair and also of the prairie, a landscape she reflects with detail in this passage about the melodramatic Kansas sky:

I guess I’ve been on a bit of a short-story kick lately. After reviewing Susan Minot’s new book, Why I Don’t Write,  and rediscovering the lovely, independent little universes of short fiction, I picked up another new collection—Laura van den Berg’s I Hold A Wolf By the Ears—and dove right in.

And this one, my friends, is even better.

It’s been three decades since author-playwright Susan Minot has published a collection of short fiction. So perhaps it’s fitting that her new one, which is being released this week, is titled “Why I Don’t Write: And Other Stories.”

I knew I wanted to read Death in Her Hands, Ottessa Moshfegh’s newest novel, before I knew anything about it. Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation was one of the best books I read in 2019—a darkly comic novel about a young woman’s extended hibernation with a battery of prescription meds—and I couldn’t wait to see what the author would do next.

The tiny town of Merinac, Kansas -- the setting of KJ Dell’Antonia’s new novel, “The Chicken Sisters” -- is a fictional place. But anyone familiar with a two-lane stretch of road in southeast Kansas will immediately recognize it:

This is “Chicken Dinner Road” -- home of Chicken Annie’s and Chicken Mary’s, two restaurants that sit about 300 feet apart and have been the center of a fried chicken debate for 70 years.