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

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.

“You have to wonder what goes through the mind of a man like Micah Mortimer,” Anne Tyler begins her newest novel. “He lives alone; he keeps to himself; his routine is etched in stone.”

Micah, the persnickety main character in Redhead by the Side of the Road, likes things just so. He starts his daily run precisely at 7:15. He works as a tech consultant and moonlights as the building super. He keeps his apartment neat and clean and orderly. He’s a good guy with a good, predictable life.

  

Chelsea Bieker’s debut novel, Godshot, is the story of Lacey May Herd, a 14-year-old girl stuck in Peaches, a drought-stricken, God-forsaken town in California’s Central Valley.

Grant Snider, with permission

I loved Grant Snider’s new book from the moment I pulled it out of the bag—a pleasant sort of surprise bag, thanks to COVID-era curbside pickup at my local independent bookstore. “I Will Judge You By Your Bookshelf,” a collection of Snider’s one- and two-page comics, features a die-cut cover with an adorable character peeking out from behind a crowded bookshelf.

Writers & Lovers, the latest novel by Lily King, centers on 31-year-old Casey Peabody, a weepy, anxious wanna-be novelist reeling from her mother’s sudden death.

The setting is Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1997. Casey lives in a converted shed attached to a garage. She walks her landlord’s dog each morning—she doesn’t even know the dog’s name—and rides her banana bike to and from her job waiting tables in Harvard Square. Her mail consists of wedding invitations and final notices from debt collectors. She’s a woman without a plan.

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As an avid reader, I envisioned a government-issued, weeks-long stay-at-home order as the ultimate excuse to tackle my shelves of unread books, to finally catch up on some old classics, to read for hours or even days at a time.

None of that has happened.

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