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This edition of my Freelance Press Recap contains a range of styles and genres that I hope will appeal to many types of readers and reading moods. Two of the selections below are spooky and make a perfect fall read. Two are a lovely combination of funny and sad. Several books question family relationships, in particular the mother / child bond. The remaining books include historical fiction and personal essays. I had a great time reading these fall 2020 freelance books, and I hope this list helps you find your way to some interesting new read. If you pick up one of these books you’ll be supporting an independent press, and what’s not to love?
This time of year by Marie NDiaye, Translated by Jordan Stump (Two Lines Press)
All they did was stay on vacation one more day than usual. Herman and his family have always left the French countryside for their Parisian home at the end of August, but this time they’re still there on September 1, and nothing is the same. The weather becomes rainy and cold, then Herman cannot find his wife and child. He goes to the village to find them, but no one has answers and no one seems concerned. People promise help but tell Herman he needs to be patient. They offer him to integrate into the life of the village to have the best chances of reuniting with his family. This time of year is a literary horror novel, a nightmarish description of a convention-shattered community. It is strange, terrifying and very original.
ramifications by Daniel Saldaña París, translated by Christina MacSweeney (Coffee House Press)
A 32-year-old man went to bed. He spends his time thinking about the summer of 1994 when he saw his mother walk through the door of their house in Mexico City to join the Zapatista uprising. The novel travels back and forth in time to describe the narrator’s feelings during that fateful summer and how that summer shaped who he is today. ramifications explores family dynamics and how individuals are shaped by larger historical and social forces. It is also a novel about time and memory and how a person deals with fear. It’s a sensitive and thoughtful look at how grief and loss sends ripple effects far into the future.
Goodbye, ghosts by Nadia Terranova, translated by Ann Goldstein (Seven Stories Press)
Goodbye, ghosts is a novel about coming home. Ida lives with her husband in Rome, and when her mother asks her to help clean the family apartment in Messina, she makes the trip with trepidation. In Messina, she is forced to face the loss of her father who mysteriously left the family at the age of 13. He never contacted them and was never found, leaving Ida haunted by the uncertainty of the loss. She also has to deal with a difficult relationship with her mother and deal with old memories and friends. The most difficult challenge is to face the person she has become. It’s a sensitive and subtle novel that deeply explores how childhood traumas shape the adults we become.
The hole by Hiroko Oyamada, translated by David Boyd (New Directions)
Asa and her husband move to the countryside so that he can take a new job. Ideally, Asa’s in-laws own a house next door where the couple can live without rent. Asa spends her days alone while everyone is at work. She explores the area and does some shopping, but mostly she doesn’t do much. One day, returning from the store, she sees a strange animal that she cannot identify that is prowling around. Following him, she falls into a hole. From there, things get weird. This short novel is beautifully written, full of precise and inventive descriptions of the landscape and the people. It’s creepy and weird, with a menacing landscape, mysterious characters, and a world that doesn’t quite make sense.
Armadillo by Jean-Christophe Réhel, translated by Katherine Hastings and Peter McCambridge (QC Fiction)
ArmadilloThe narrator is just trying to get out of it. He lives outside of Montreal and moves from job to job trying, and often failing, to pay rent. He writes poems and thus earns a little money, but never enough. His cystic fibrosis leads him to fight against fatigue and bad lungs. He dreams of a fictional planet, Tatouine, where life is easier. The novel is in the first person, the voice of the narrator is a combination of funny, sad, sharp, resigned, sad and honest. Her adventures, as they are, include finding a new job, visiting her sister in New York City, dating a coworker, and receiving endless medical treatment. Looking at the world through the eyes of this narrator is a wonderful combination of fun and heartbreak.
Terroir: Love, Change of scenery by Natasha Sajé (Trinity University Press)
“Terroir” is a French word which designates the entire environment in which something is grown. Natasha Sajé uses this term as an organizing principle for her collection of personal essays exploring how her identity was forged by the places she lived and the people she knew. Sajé was born in Germany but raised in the United States and never felt that she belonged to one place. Instead, she traveled extensively and sought a variety of experiences and relationships. Trials range from working in a hotel in Switzerland to buying a home in Baltimore to feeling out of place in Mormon Utah. She writes about her experiences in an interracial marriage and, later, about her marriage to a woman. The book combines a compelling personal story with thought-provoking arguments and ideas about identity, writing, race, nationality, sexuality, and more.
Starving Leonardo and Paul by Ronan Hession (Melville House)
This first novel is a perfect reading comfort. It tells the story of two men in their 30s who live with their parents and play board games. They’re just trying to live their lives and be good people. But Leonard’s mother just died. Then he meets Shelley, and new possibilities open up in his life. Paul’s starving sister is getting married and wants him to become more independent so his parents don’t have to take care of him so much. The two friends feel that their lives are starting to get complicated and they each try in their own way to figure out what they want about themselves and the world. This novel is charming, funny and wise, a perfect book to turn to when you need some calm in your life.
Villa of delirium by Adrien Goetz, Translated by Natasha Lehrer (New Vessel Press)
Located at the beginning of the 20th century, Villa of delirium takes place in a real villa that has become a museum on the Côte d’Azur. The Reinach family – or at least the three brothers at the heart of the family – are fascinated by ancient Greece. They build Villa Kerylos as a tribute to their obsession. The novel is told by a local, the son of a servant from the neighboring Eiffel Estate (famous for the Eiffel Tower). The narrator is unofficially adopted by the Reinachs, trained in ancient Greek, and introduced into the wider world of art and culture. It is the story of the narrator’s complicated relationship with this family and their new way of life. It is also the story of the changes brought about by time and especially war. It’s a fascinating and captivating story, perfect for lovers of art, ancient Greece, historical fiction and war literature.
Interested in other great books from independent presses? Check out my summary of the independent press from last summer and last May.