Seek out that 'new book' smell with a fresh bouquet of fiction

Moira Macdonald
Seattle Times
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 It's not too soon to begin your summer reading! A number of highly acclaimed 2020 books came out in paperback this month; here's a fresh bouquet of fiction to suit any taste.

"Homeland Elegies" by Ayad Akhtar.

"Homeland Elegies" by Ayad Akhtar (Little, Brown & Co, $16.99). Winner of a Pulitzer Prize for his play "Disgraced," Akhtar here draws on his own life (the narrator is a man named Ayad Akhtar, who has written a Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a Muslim American) to create a novel about a man struggling to negotiate post-9/11 America. "Akhtar bounds far beyond the cleverly engineered drama of 'Disgraced,'" wrote Ron Charles of the Washington Post about the book, a much-honored bestseller last year. "With its sprawling vision of contemporary America, 'Homeland Elegies' is a phenomenal coalescence of memoir, fiction, history and cultural analysis."

"The End of the Day" by Bill Clegg (Gallery/Scout Press, $16.99). Like his previous novel, "Did You Ever Have a Family," Clegg's latest brings together a diverse group of people united by their connection to one central character. "With detail and empathy, Clegg is particularly effective at describing the subtleties of relationships," wrote a New York Times reviewer. "His work is political without being didactic or dogmatic; and, especially in his descriptions of Hap's life, he illustrates the elusiveness of the American dream."

"The Death of Vivek Oji" by Akwaeke Emezi (Penguin, $14.99, available May 25). The author of "Freshwater" returns with this 2020 bestseller, set in a southeastern Nigerian town and centering on a family trying to understand the mysterious murder of their child. Noting that the two novels are very different, an NPR reviewer said, "It's always impressive to see a writer transform between novels in this way, but 'Vivek Oji' would be impressive regardless. Emezi deftly tucks doomed romance and family drama into mystery, then, slowly but surely, reveals their true aim: to construct a portrait of love triumphant over death."

"Sex and Vanity" by Kevin Kwan

"Sex and Vanity" by Kevin Kwan (Anchor, $17, available May 25). Should you be in need of something completely effervescent, try the latest from "Crazy Rich Asians" author Kwan. It's an homage to E.M. Forster's "A Room with a View" — but, as I wrote last year, "set in the present and crammed full of over-the-top wedding weekends, designer clothes and name-dropping ... It begins as Forster's book does — with a hotel room swap — and then spins off into its own gold-plated world, with a few unexpectedly serious stops along the way."

"The Mirror & the Light" by Hilary Mantel (Picador, $18). The final volume in Mantel's acclaimed historical series (following the Booker Prize-winning "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up the Bodies") follows the late years of Thomas Cromwell. "It feels redundant to state that 'The Mirror & the Light' is a masterpiece," wrote a reviewer in The Guardian. "With this trilogy, Mantel has redefined what the historical novel is capable of; she has given it muscle and sinew, enlarged its scope, and created a prose style that is lyrical and colloquial, at once faithful to its time and entirely recognizable to us."

"Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague" by Maggie O'Farrell (Vintage, $16.95). Winner of the Women's Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction, O'Farrell's novel takes as its subject William Shakespeare's little-known son Hamnet, who died at the age of 11. Wrote a New York Times reviewer, "This novel is at once about the transfiguration of life into art — it is O'Farrell's extended speculation on how Hamnet's death might have fueled the creation of one of his father's greatest plays — and at the same time, it is a master class in how she, herself, does it."

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