Acclaimed author Joyce Carol Oates write stories with such care and precision, and the books that she recommends reflect that same consideration. From a beautiful examination of art to a genre-blurring gem, these are some recent reads that will leave you reeling from the intimacy with which the authors delve into a character’s deepest thoughts.
“A haunting tale of how a singular, devastating event in the life of a young woman photographer changes the trajectory of her life and comes to define her utterly. Beautifully imagined and flawlessly executed, SELF-PORTRAIT WITH A BOY will suggest, to some readers, the obsessive interiority of the great Diane Arbus, conjoined with an original and disturbing examination of the ill-defined borders between life and art."—Joyce Carol Oates
Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
“Fabulously written, this spellbinding debut novel is a real page-turner. A powerful, brilliantly imagined story” (Library Journal, starred review) about an ambitious young artist whose accidental photograph of a boy falling to his death could jumpstart her career, but devastate her most intimate friendship.
Lu Rile is a relentlessly focused young photographer struggling to make ends meet. Working three jobs, responsible for her aging father, and worrying that her crumbling loft apartment is being sold to developers, she is at a point of desperation. One day, in the background of a self-portrait, Lu accidentally captures an image of a boy falling to his death. The photograph turns out to be startlingly gorgeous, the best work of art she’s ever made. It’s an image that could change her life…if she lets it.
But the decision to show the photograph is not easy. The boy is her neighbors’ son, and the tragedy brings all the building’s residents together. It especially unites Lu with the boy’s beautiful grieving mother, Kate. As the two forge an intense bond based on sympathy, loneliness, and budding attraction, Lu feels increasingly unsettled and guilty, torn between equally fierce desires: to advance her career, and to protect a woman she has come to love.
Set in early 90s Brooklyn on the brink of gentrification, Self-Portrait with Boy is a “sparkling debut” (The New York Times Book Review) about the emotional dues that must be paid on the road to success and a powerful exploration of the complex terrain of female friendship. “The conflict is rich and thorny, raising questions about art and morality, love and betrayal, sacrifice and opportunism, and the chance moments that can define a life…It wrestles with the nature of art, but moves with the speed of a page-turner” (Los Angeles Times).
“Richly atmospheric, by turns coolly satiric and warmly romantic, Alexis Schaitkin’s brilliant debut novel SAINT X imagines a chorus of voices in the aftermath of the alleged murder of a privileged American girl vacationing in an exotic Caribbean country. Part “true-crime” thriller and part coming-of-age novel narrated by the deceased girl’s younger sister, SAINT X is irresistibly suspenseful and canny.” —Joyce Carol Oates
“Narrated from a painfully intimate perspective, THE ILLNESS LESSON explores the consequences of an outrageous medical treatment inflicted upon adolescent girls in 1870’s New England to cure “hysteria.” In Clare Beams’s luminous and suspenseful prose, the unspeakable is spoken, falteringly at first, then with triumphant strength. Its timeliness will be evident to readers for whom the suppression of female sexuality/identity is an ongoing and urgent issue.” —Joyce Carol Oates
“DEAR LUCY introduces a young writer with a most original voice and a tenderly eccentric vision. Julie Sarkissian has created a boldly lyrical, suspenseful, and mysterious fictional world in this striking debut novel.” —Joyce Carol Oates
“Dear Lucy introduces a young writer with a most original voice and a tenderly eccentric vision. Julie Sarkissian has created a boldly lyrical, suspenseful, and mysterious fictional world in this striking debut novel” (Joyce Carol Oates).
I go down the stairs quiet like I am something without any weight. I open the door in the dark and the cold sucks my skin towards it. It is the morning but there is no sun yet, just white light around the edges. It is the time to get the eggs. Time for my best thing. The eggs they shine with their white and I do not need the light to find them. The foxes need no light either. I am a little like the fox, he is a little like me.
Lucy is a young woman with an uncommon voice and an unusual way of looking at the world. She doesn’t understand why her mother has sent her to live with old Mister and Missus on their farm, but she knows she must never leave or her mother won’t be able to find her again.
Also living at the farm is a pregnant teenager named Samantha who tells conflicting stories about her past and quickly becomes Lucy’s only friend. When Samantha gives birth and her baby disappears, Lucy arms herself with Samantha’s diary—as well as a pet chicken named Jennifer—and embarks on a dangerous and exhilarating journey to reunite mother and child. With Dear Lucy, Julie Sarkissian has created an unforgettable new heroine of contemporary fiction whose original voice, exuberance, and bravery linger long after the final page.
“In Blair Hurley’s beautifully written first novel a young woman charts a spiritual journey into the rigors of Zen Buddhism in a Boston storefront Zendo, under the guidance of a charismatic Master who soon becomes her lover… A suspenseful and warmly engaging coming-of-age story.” —Joyce Carol Oates
“Robert Boyers writes in the great tradition of Saul Bellow, Irving Howe and Susan Sontag: a powerfully persuasive, insightful and provocative prose that mixes erudition and first-hand reportage, combativeness and sympathy, moral vehemence and humor. From his vantage point as longtime editor of the preeminent journal Salmagundi, Boyers has been in close contact with every seismic shift in literary, intellectual, artistic and academic quarters in recent decades, and for those of us who may require guidance, here is our guide.” —Joyce Carol Oates
From public intellectual and professor Robert Boyers, “a powerfully persuasive, insightful, and provocative prose that mixes erudition and first-hand reportage” (Joyce Carol Oates) addressing recent developments in American culture and arguing for the tolerance of difference that is at the heart of the liberal tradition.
Written from the perspective of a liberal intellectual who has spent a lifetime as a writer, editor, and college professor, The Tyranny of Virtue is a “courageous, unsparing, and nuanced to a rare degree” (Mary Gaitskill) insider’s look at shifts in American culture—most especially in the American academy—that so many people find alarming.
Part memoir and part polemic, Boyers’s collection of essays laments the erosion of standard liberal values, and covers such subjects as tolerance, identity, privilege, appropriation, diversity, and ableism that have turned academic life into a minefield. Why, Robert Boyers asks, are a great many liberals, people who should know better, invested in the drawing up of enemies lists and driven by the conviction that on critical issues no dispute may be tolerated? In stories, anecdotes, and character profiles, a public intellectual and longtime professor takes on those in his own progressive cohort who labor in the grip of a poisonous and illiberal fundamentalism. The end result is a finely tuned work of cultural intervention from the front lines.
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