Kyle Minor : Praying Drunk

Screen shot 2014-03-31 at 12.29.23 PMThe characters in Praying Drunk speak in tongues, torture their classmates, fall in love, hunt for immortality, abandon their children, keep machetes beneath passenger seats, and collect porcelain figurines. From Kentucky to Florida to Haiti, these seemingly disparate lives are woven together within a series of nested repetitions, enacting the struggle to remain physically and spiritually alive throughout the untamable turbulence of their worlds. In a masterful blend of fiction, autobiography, and surrealism, Kyle Minor shows us that the space between fearlessness and terror is often very small. Long before Praying Drunk reaches its plaintive, pitch-perfect end, Minor establishes himself again and again as one of the most talented younger writers in America. “I finished this book with my heart pounding and grateful, my coffee cold and my smile wide and crying like a baby.”—Daniel Handler

Helen Oyeyemi : Boy, Snow, Bird

Screen shot 2014-03-26 at 9.04.12 PMIn the winter of 1953, Boy Novak arrives by chance in a small town in Massachusetts, looking, she believes, for beauty—the opposite of the life she’s left behind in New York. She marries a local widower and becomes stepmother to his winsome daughter, Snow Whitman. A wicked stepmother is a creature Boy never imagined she’d become, but elements of the familiar tale of aesthetic obsession begin to play themselves out when the birth of Boy’s daughter, Bird, who is dark-skinned, exposes the Whitmans as light-skinned African Americans passing for white. Among them, Boy, Snow, and Bird confront the tyranny of the mirror to ask how much power surfaces really hold. Dazzlingly inventive and powerfully moving, Boy, Snow, Bird is an astonishing and enchanting novel. With breathtaking feats of imagination, Helen Oyeyemi confirms her place as one of the most original and dynamic literary voices of our time.

Gina Frangello: A Life In Men

Screen shot 2014-03-10 at 12.11.34 PMThe friendship between Mary and Nix has endured since childhood, a seemingly unbreakable bond, until the mid-1980s, when the two young women reunite for a summer vacation in Greece. It’s a trip instigated by Nix, who has just learned that Mary has been diagnosed with a disease that will inevitably cut her life short. Nix, a free spirit by nature, is determined that Mary have the vacation of a lifetime, but by the time their visit to Greece is over, the ties between them have unraveled, and when they said goodbye, it’s for the last time.

Gina Frangello is the author of three books of fiction: A Life in Men (Algonquin 2014), which was a book club selection for NYLON magazine, The Rumpus and The Nervous Breakdown; Slut Lullabies (Emergency Press 2010), which was a Foreword Magazine Best Book of the Year finalist, and My Sister’s Continent (Chiasmus 2006).

Chang-rae Lee : On Such A Full Sea

Screen shot 2014-02-19 at 5.33.44 PM“The most striking dystopian novels sound an alarm, focus our attention and even change the language. The Handmaid’s Tale crystallized our fears about reproductive control; Fahrenheit 451 still flames discussions of censorship; and 1984 is the lens through which we watch the Obama administration watching us. Chang-rae Lee’s unsettling new novel, On Such a Full Sea, arrives from that same frightening realm of total oversight and pinched individuality. . . . A brilliant, deeply unnerving portrait.”—The Washington Post

Selected by the The New Yorker as one of the twenty best writers under forty, Chang-rae Lee is also the author of Native Speaker, winner of the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for first fiction, A Gesture Life,  Aloft, and The Surrendered, and teaches fiction at Princeton University.

Gary Shteyngart : Little Failure

Screen shot 2014-01-22 at 4.58.24 PM“Gary Shteyngart has written a memoir for the ages. I spat laughter on the first page and closed the last with wet eyes. Unputdownable in the day and a half I spent reading it, Little Failure is a window into immigrant agony and ambition, Jewish angst, and anybody’s desperate need for a tribe. Readers who’ve fallen for Shteyngart’s antics on the page will relish the trademark humor. But here it’s laden and leavened with a deep, consequential psychological journey. Brave and unflinching, Little Failure is his best book to date.”—Mary Karr, bestselling author of Lit and The Liars’ Club

Veronica Gonzalez Peña : The Sad Passions

Screen shot 2013-12-19 at 9.55.41 AMTold by six women in one family, Veronica Gonzalez Peña’s The Sad Passions captures the alertness, beauty, and terror of childhood lived in proximity to madness. Set against the backdrop of a colonial past, spanning three generations, and shuttling from Mexico City to Oaxaca to the North Fork of Long Island to Veracruz, The Sad Passions is the lyrical story of a middle-class Mexican family torn apart by the undiagnosed mental illness of Claudia, a lost child of the 1960s and the mother of four little girls.

“The Sad Passions explodes the tired assumption that women’s interiority is intrinsically domestic, fanning out women’s inner lives like the vibrant sections of a peacock’s tail. It upends our expectations of a novel about women’s family life. The cumulative effect of Gonzalez Peña’s novel is that of a hall of mirrors: an intimate, personal hall of mirrors, a psychic hall of mirrors. This, she tells us, is where women live, how women live, in the company of past selves, future selves, in the anguished haunting of possible selves. This is where women’s lives happen, in the space in between memory and present, in the split-second recognition of one’s reflection, before turning from the glass and going out into the world.”–L.A. Review of Books

Kevin Sampsell : This Is Between Us

Screen shot 2013-11-20 at 10.26.56 PMThere may be no author more integral to the Portland literary scene than Kevin Sampsell.   Kevin is not only the small press curator and events coordinator at Powell’s books, he’s also the editor of the Portland Noir fiction anthology,  curated this year’s Wordstock literary festival,  was in charge of LitHopPDX, Portland’s inaugural literary bar crawl, and is the publisher of the micro-press Future Tense Books.   His own books include the collections Beautiful Blemish and Creamy Bullets, and his memoir A Common Pornography.  His work has appeared in Tin House, Salon, McSweeney’s,  Best Sex Writing 2012 and Best American Essays 2013, and he is here today on Between The Covers to talk about his novel, This is Between Us.