Namwali Serpell: The Old Drift

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My interest is in getting the reader immersed in such a way that they experience some kind of surprise that opens them up to something about the world they didn’t know before.
— Namwali Serpell

Namwali Serpell joins me to discuss her debut novel The Old Drift.

1904. On the banks of the Zambezi River, a few miles from the majestic Victoria Falls, there is a colonial settlement called The Old Drift. In a smoky room at the hotel across the river, an Old Drifter named Percy M. Clark, foggy with fever, makes a mistake that entangles the fates of an Italian hotelier and an African busboy. This sets off a cycle of unwitting retribution between three Zambian families as they collide and converge over the course of the century. As the generations pass, their lives—their triumphs, errors, losses and hopes—emerge through a panorama of history, fairytale, romance and science fiction.

“A dazzling debut, establishing Namwali Serpell as a writer on the world stage.” —Salman Rushdie, The New York Times Book Review

Buy Namwali’s novel The Old Drift.

Nathan Englander: Kaddish.com

photo credit: Joshua Meier

photo credit: Joshua Meier

We want a story’s most pressurized form. If someone’s gonna have a slice in your story, have them eat the whole pizza. Take the story to the point right before it tips over. That’s where the story should rest, on that blade.
— Nathan Englander

Nathan Englander joins me to discuss Kaddish.com.

Larry is the secular son in a family of Orthodox Brooklyn Jews.  When his father dies, it’s his responsibility to recite the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, every day for eleven months.  To the horror and dismay of his sister, Larry refuses—imperiling the fate of his father’s soul.  To appease her, Larry hatches an ingenious if cynical plan, hiring a stranger through a website called kaddish.com to recite the prayer and shepherd his father’s soul safely to rest.

“I want people to literally just laugh, laugh, laugh, cry. Like sit down and eat this book in a sitting.”

Buy Nathan’s novel Kaddish.com.

Sam Lipsyte: Hark

photo by Ceridwen Morris

photo by Ceridwen Morris

Sometimes you write early scenes, and they operate as a sort of scaffolding. They help you while you’re constructing the building, but eventually you’re going to take them down.
— Sam Lipsyte

Sam Lipsyte joins me to discuss Hark.

In an America convulsed by political upheaval, cultural discord, environmental collapse, and spiritual confusion, many folks are searching for peace, salvation, and—perhaps most immediately—just a little damn focus. Enter Hark Morner, an unwitting guru whose technique of “Mental Archery”—a combination of mindfulness, mythology, fake history, yoga, and, well, archery—is set to captivate the masses and raise him to near-messiah status

Hark is Sam Lipsyte’s fourth novel.

Buy Sam’s novel Hark.

Lauren Wilkinson: American Spy

photo credit: Niqui Carter

photo credit: Niqui Carter

I love this country and I’m a productive member of society, but there’s always this feeling that I’m in this place that doesn’t serve me or people who look like me. It feels like there’s this double life.
— Lauren Wilkinson

Lauren Wilkinson joins me to discuss her debut novel American Spy.

It’s 1986, the heart of the Cold War, and Marie Mitchell is an intelligence officer with the FBI. She’s brilliant, but she’s also a young black woman working in an old boys’ club. Her career has stalled out, she’s overlooked for every high-profile squad, and her days are filled with monotonous paperwork. So when she’s given the opportunity to join a shadowy task force aimed at undermining Thomas Sankara, the charismatic revolutionary president of Burkina Faso whose Communist ideology has made him a target for American intervention, she says yes.

American Spy has won starred and rave reviews in every publication from Kirkus to Time. Publisher’s Weekly writes, “[This] unflinching, incendiary debut combines the espionage novels of John le Carré with the racial complexity of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.”

Buy Lauren’s novel American Spy.

Garth Greenwell: What Belongs to You

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I like books that begin with a lit fuse.... You know a bomb’s going to go off, you know betrayal is in the works. In some sense, that gives the book a freedom to slow down.
— Garth Greenwell

Garth Greenwell joins me to discuss What Belongs to You.

What Belongs to You follows an American teacher, who enters a public bathroom beneath Sofia’s National Palace of Culture. There he meets Mitko, a charismatic young hustler, and pays him for sex. He returns to Mitko again and again over the next few months, drawn by hunger and loneliness and risk, and finds himself ensnared in a relationship in which lust leads to mutual predation, and tenderness can transform into violence.

What Belongs to You won the British Book Award for Debut of the Year, was longlisted for the National Book Award, and was named a Best Book of 2016 by over fifty publications in nine countries. A new book of fiction, Cleanness, is forthcoming from FSG in early 2020.

Buy Garth’s novel What Belongs to You.

Ling Ma: Severance

photo credit: Anjali Pinto

photo credit: Anjali Pinto

Work is the centerpiece of the novel. From work, you touch on everything else – you touch on skin care and modes of self care, you touch on the expectations of immigrant parents. You can keep spiraling off from the topic of work.
— Ling Ma

Ling Ma joins me to discuss Severance.

Severance follows Candace Chen, a 20-something New Yorker who works as a production coordinator at a Bible manufacturer - when the end of the world hits. Shen Fever makes people repeat their daily routines, until they die.

Candace joins a group of survivors, led by the power-hungry IT tech Bob. They’re traveling to a place called the Facility, where, Bob promises, they will have everything they need to start society anew. But Candace is carrying a secret she knows Bob will exploit.

Severance won the 2018 Kirkus Prize, was a New York Times notable book, and was named as a best book of 2018 at Elle, NPR, the Chicago Review of Books, Vulture, Marie Claire, Refinery 29, Bustle, Buzzfeed, and many more.

Severance is Ling’s first novel.

Buy Ling’s novel Severance.

Teddy Wayne: Loner

photo credit: Kate Greathead

photo credit: Kate Greathead

Write around your weaknesses. Don’t necessarily try to compensate for them. Avoid them.
— Teddy Wayne

Teddy Wayne joins me to discuss Loner.

Loner follows Harvard freshman David Federman, who becomes increasingly obsessed with his classmate Veronica. Published in September of 2016, Loner now seems a prescient look at an angry, disaffected young man who demands more from his life.  It was named a best book of the year by NPRKirkusThe New York PostBookPageand Bookish.

Loner is Teddy’s third novel. He is the winner of a Whiting Writers’ Award and an NEA Creative Writing Fellowship as well as a finalist for the Young Lions Fiction Award, PEN/Bingham Prize, and Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

Buy Teddy’s novel Loner.

Jaclyn Gilbert: Late Air

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I was really trying to reconcile this much deeper story of the self, and questions of losses from my past that in a lot of ways made it a story that I just had to write. Because the questions just would not go away.
— Jaclyn Gilbert

Jaclyn Gilbert joins me to discuss her debut novel Late Air.

When Murray—a Yale college running coach—finds his star athlete crumpled and unresponsive during a routine practice on the campus golf course one morning, he is forced to reconcile with his repressed past and increasingly tenuous grip on life. Told from interlocking perspectives, Late Air circles the story of a marriage shattered by a nameless tragedy,.

Jaclyn received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and BA from Yale University. She is the recipient of a research fellowship from the New York Public Library, a contributor to the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and her work has appeared in Post Road Magazine, Tin House, Lit Hub, and elsewhere.

Buy Jaclyn’s novel Late Air.

Joshua Max Feldman: Start Without Me

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You work something over and over and over. You apply so many thought lasers to the page – and eventually it starts to lose something. So I try to give the work space to breathe and let the magic happen on the page.
— Joshua Max Feldman

Joshua Max Feldman joins me to discuss his novel Start Without Me.

Joshua is a writer of fiction and theater. Start Without Me - his second novel - explores questions of love and choice, disappointment and hope in the lives of two strangers who meet by chance on Thanksgiving Day.

His first novel, The Book of Jonah, has been translated into nine languages.

Buy Joshua’s novel Start Without Me.

Jeff VanderMeer: Annihilation

photo credit: Kyle Cassidy

photo credit: Kyle Cassidy

You reward your subconscious, just by writing down everything your subconscious gives you even if you don’t use it all. And so I think that’s why my subconscious has been very generous to me - I don’t take it for granted.
— Jeff VanderMeer

In the debut episode, Jeff VanderMeer joins me to discuss his novel Annihilation.

Jeff is the author dozens of novels, short stories, literary criticism, nonfiction, and basically anything else a person can write, including stellar tweets. He has been called "the Weird Thoreau" by the New Yorker.

Annihilation, the first book of his Southern Reach trilogy, won the Nebula and Shirley Jackson awards, and was adapted into a movie by director Alex Garland.

Buy Jeff’s novel Annihilation.

Buy Jeff’s book on craft, Wonderbook.