By Silas House
The Sleeping Car Porter brings to life an important part of Black history in North America, from the perspective of a queer man living in a culture that renders him invisible in two ways. Affecting, imaginative, and visceral enough that you’ll feel the rocking of the train, The Sleeping Car Porter is a stunning accomplishment.
Baxter’s name isn’t George. But it’s 1929, and Baxter is lucky enough, as a Black man, to have a job as a sleeping car porter on a train that crisscrosses the country. So when the passengers call him George, he has to just smile and nod and act invisible. What he really wants is to go to dentistry school, but he’ll have to save up a lot of nickel and dime tips to get there, so he puts up with “George.”
On this particular trip out west, the passengers are more unruly than usual, especially when the train is stalled for two extra days; their secrets start to leak out and blur with the sleep-deprivation hallucinations Baxter is having. When he finds a naughty postcard of two queer men, Baxter’s memories and longings are reawakened; keeping it puts his job in peril, but he can’t part with the postcard or his thoughts of Edwin Drew, Porter Instructor.
Properties of Thirst
By Marianne Wiggins
Simon & Schuster
Rockwell “Rocky” Rhodes has spent years fiercely protecting his California ranch from the LA Water Corporation. It is here where he and his beloved wife Lou raised their twins, Sunny and Stryker, and it is here where Rocky has mourned Lou in the years since her death.
As Sunny and Stryker reach the cusp of adulthood, the country teeters on the brink of war. Stryker decides to join the fight, deploying to Pearl Harbor not long before the bombs strike. Soon, Rocky and his family find themselves facing yet another incomprehensible tragedy.
Rocky is determined to protect his remaining family and the land where they’ve loved and lost so much. But when the government decides to build a Japanese-American internment camp next to the ranch, Rocky realizes that the land faces even bigger threats than the LA watermen he’s battled for years. Complicating matters is the fact that the idealistic Department of the Interior man assigned to build the camp, who only begins to understand the horror of his task after it may be too late, becomes infatuated with Sunny and entangled with the Rhodes family.
Properties of Thirst is a novel that is both universal and intimate. It is the story of a changing American landscape and an examination of one of the darkest periods in this country’s past, told through the stories of the individual loves and losses that weave together to form the fabric of our shared history. Ultimately, it is an unflinching distillation of our nation’s essence—and a celebration of the bonds of love and family that persist against all odds.
Our Wives Under the Sea
By Julia Armfield
Leah is changed. A marine biologist, she left for a routine expedition months earlier, only this time her submarine sank to the sea floor. When she finally surfaces and returns home, her wife Miri knows that something is wrong. Barely eating and lost in her thoughts, Leah rotates between rooms in their apartment, running the taps morning and night. Whatever happened in that vessel, whatever it was they were supposed to be studying before they were stranded, Leah has carried part of it with her, onto dry land and into their home. As Miri searches for answers, desperate to understand what happened below the water, she must face the possibility that the woman she loves is slipping from her grasp.
By turns elegiac and furious, wry and heartbreaking, Our Wives Under the Sea is an exploration of the unknowable depths within each of us, and the love that compels us nevertheless toward one another. Fathomlessly inventive and original, Julia Armfield’s debut is a portrait of marriage as we’ve never seen it before.
By Leyna Krow
For the citizens of Spokane Falls, the fire of 1889 that destroyed their frontier boomtown was no disaster; it was an opportunity. Barton Heydale, manager of the only bank in Spokane Falls, is on the verge of ending his short, unpopular life. But when his city goes up in flames, he sees an ember of hope shimmering on the horizon, headed right for him. As citizens flock to the bank to cash out insurance policies and take out loans, he realizes he can command the power he craves—and it’s not by following the rules. Here is his reason to live.
When Quake Auchenbaucher, a career con man hired to investigate the cause of the fire, arrives in Spokane Falls, he employs his usual shady tactics. But this time, with Washington Territory vying for statehood, the sudden attention to due process jeopardizes Quake’s methods of manipulation.
And then there’s Roslyn Beck, whose uncanny ability to see the future has long driven her to drink, and with whom both Barton and Quake have fallen madly and dangerously in love. She is known as a “certain kind of woman,” in possession of unique talents and influence, if only she can find the right ways to wield them. As their paths collide, diverge, and collide again, Barton, Quake, and Roslyn come to terms with their own needs for power, greed, and control, leading one to total ruin, one to heartbreak, and one, ultimately, to redemption.
With masterful precision, devious originality, and dark whimsy, Fire Season freshly imagines the greed and misogyny of the American West to tell a rollicking, bewitching story about finding purpose in the face of injustice.
Night of the Living Rez
By Morgan Talty
Tin House Books
Set in a Native community in Maine, Night of the Living Rez is a riveting debut collection about what it means to be Penobscot in the twenty-first century and what it means to live, to survive, and to persevere after tragedy.
In twelve striking, luminescent stories, author Morgan Talty—with searing humor, abiding compassion, and deep insight—breathes life into tales of family and a community as they struggle with a painful past and an uncertain future. A boy unearths a jar that holds an old curse, which sets into motion his family’s unraveling; a man, while trying to swindle some pot from a dealer, discovers a friend passed out in the woods, his hair frozen into the snow; a grandmother suffering from Alzheimer’s projects the past onto her grandson; and two friends, inspired by Antiques Roadshow, attempt to rob the tribal museum for valuable root clubs.
A collection that examines the consequences and merits of inheritance, Night of the Living Rez is an unforgettable portrayal of an Indigenous community and marks the arrival of a standout talent in contemporary fiction.
Till the Wheels Fall Off
By Brad Zellar
It’s the late 1980s, and Matthew Carnap is awake most nights, afflicted by a potent combination of insomnia and undiagnosed ADHD. Sometimes he gazes out his bedroom window into the dark; sometimes he wanders the streets of his small southern Minnesota town. But more often than not, he crosses the hall into his stepfather Russ’s roller rink to spend the sleepless hours lost in music. Russ’s record collection is as eclectic as it is extensive, and he and Matthew bond over discovering new tunes and spinning perfect skate mixes. Then Matthew’s mother divorces Russ; they move; the roller rink closes; the twenty-first century arrives. Years later, an isolated, restless Matthew moves back to his hometown. From an unusual apartment in the pressbox of the high school football stadium, he searches his memories, looking for something that might reconnect him with Russ.
With humor and empathy, Brad Zellar (House of Coates) returns with a discursive, lo-fi novel about rural Midwestern life, nostalgia, neurodiversity, masculinity, and family—with a built-in soundtrack.
If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English
By Noor Naga
In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, an Egyptian American woman and a man from the village of Shobrakheit meet at a café in Cairo. He was a photographer of the revolution, but now finds himself unemployed and addicted to cocaine, living in a rooftop shack. She is a nostalgic daughter of immigrants “returning” to a country she’s never been to before, teaching English and living in a light-filled flat with balconies on all sides. They fall in love and he moves in. But soon their desire—for one another, for the selves they want to become through the other—takes a violent turn that neither of them expected.
A dark romance exposing the gaps in American identity politics, especially when exported overseas, If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English is at once ravishing and wry, scathing and tender. Told in alternating perspectives, Noor Naga’s experimental debut examines the ethics of fetishizing the homeland and punishing the beloved . . . and vice versa. In our globalized twenty-first-century world, what are the new faces (and races) of empire? When the revolution fails, how long can someone survive the disappointment? Who suffers and, more crucially, who gets to tell about it?
By Lan Samantha Chang
W.W. Norton & Company
The residents of Haven, Wisconsin, have dined on the Fine Chao restaurant’s delicious Americanized Chinese food for thirty-five years, content to ignore any unsavory whispers about the family owners. Whether or not Big Leo Chao is honest, or his wife, Winnie, is happy, their food tastes good and their three sons earned scholarships to respectable colleges. But when the brothers reunite in Haven, the Chao family’s secrets and simmering resentments erupt at last.
Before long, brash, charismatic, and tyrannical patriarch Leo is found dead—presumed murdered—and his sons find they’ve drawn the exacting gaze of the entire town. The ensuing trial brings to light potential motives for all three brothers: Dagou, the restaurant’s reckless head chef; Ming, financially successful but personally tortured; and the youngest, gentle but lost college student James. As the spotlight on the brothers tightens—and the family dog meets an unexpected fate—Dagou, Ming, and James must reckon with the legacy of their father’s outsized appetites and their own future survival.
Brimming with heartbreak, comedy, and suspense, The Family Chao offers a kaleidoscopic, highly entertaining portrait of a Chinese American family grappling with the dark undercurrents of a seemingly pleasant small town.