Who says beach reads have to be basic? This month’s best new books, all by women writers, follow characters on the verge of new lives. From a novel tracking a social media celeb whose #facade comes crumbling down, to a collection of darkly imaginative short stories about femininity, these reads will challenge you and make you think—even as you have your toes in the sand.
Made for Love by Alissa Nutting (July 4)
If you read Tampa, Alissa Nutting’s shocking debut satire about a middle school teacher obsessed with one of her students, then the out-there premise of her newest novel should come as no surprise. It begins when Hazel breaks up with her “genius” tech mogul husband Byron and moves back in with her father, who recently has taken up a relationship with a sex doll named Diane. (“So should I call or Diane or Di or Mom?” Hazel asks.) Meanwhile, Byron uses all of the innovative gadgets at his disposal to track Hazel’s moves and tries to convince her to take him back. Provocative and irreverent, Made for Love is an absurdly hilarious musing on love and marriage.
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong (July 11)
You may already know Rachel Khong from her work at Lucky Peach magazine (R.I.P.). Thankfully, she’s back in print with a debut novel. It stars Ruth, a 30-year-old who has not only recently broken up with her fiancé, but has also quit her job and moved back in with her aging parents. Through diary-like entries, we get glimpses into Ruth’s days spent caring for her father as his mind grows foggier and foggier, talking to her absent young brother on the phone, and recalling her now-dissolved love life. Through her tender characters, Khong has crafted a warm and real novel about the complicated, funny, and ultimately unpredictable lives we lead.
What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons (July 11)
The first thing to know is that this book isn’t a memoir (it’s a debut novel, in fact). But that’s the kind of grip that Clemmons’ writing has from the get-go—her sentences are full of raw and vivid emotion that suck readers right into the time and place of the protagonist, Thandi, a first generation South African-American. Thandi, who is half-white and half-black, has never had a complete handle on her identity—one that oscillates between her Philly upbringing and her mother’s Johannesburg roots. But when her charismatic mother dies from cancer, Thandi is confronted with all sorts of post-death questions about who she is. It sets her off on a self-discovery that not only has her digging deeper into her race, but also into what it means to move on.
Sex and Rage: A Novel by Eve Babitz (July 11)
Oh, what we would give to sip pastel-colored cocktails with Eve Babitz in ’70s Los Angeles. Following the reissues of her previously out-of-print collections Slow Days, Fast Company and Eve’s Hollywood comes Sex and Rage, Babitz’s novel originally released in 1979. It follows the breezy life of Jacaranda, a sweet surfer girl who eventually graduates from the beaches of Santa Monica to the druggy rock clubs of the Sunset Strip. After a decade of bumming around on the West Coast, she moves to New York to get, well, serious. Originally subtitled “Advice to Young Ladies Eager for a Good Time,” Sex and Rage is a the portrait of the artist as an ever-evolving young woman.
Refuge by Dina Nayeri (July 11)
It’s radical that a novel so topical and urgent as this one has made its way to bookshelves right at the height of the “travel ban.” In it, a desperate father sends his young Iranian daughter to America where she could escape the horrors of a war-stricken country. He’s left behind. From there, they only see each other four times in four countries over the course of the following 20 years. The novel follows their relationship throughout those brief encounters, as the young girl grows into a woman who has assimilated into a more privileged culture. Meanwhile, the ongoing realities of the refugee crisis in Europe has both the father and daughter connecting on levels they try to make sense of, even though circumstances don’t allow them to be together.
Hello, Sunshine by Laura Dave (July 11)
Ever wonder what the “influencers” in your feed are really up to between posts? Laura Dave’s follow-up to her bestselling Eight Hundred Grapes is a parable for the Instagram era, reminding us not to believe everything we see. It centers around lifestyle guru Sunshine Mackenzie, who seems to “have it all” (read: a successful YouTube cooking series, a doting husband, etc.). That is, until a hacking scandal reveals that her life isn’t all it appears to be. File under: delightfully addictive page-turner (and soon-to-be movie, too).
The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt (July 18)
Three novels into her singular fiction career, Samantha Hunt’s long-awaited short story collection has arrived. Through 10 surreal tales, she tackles relationships, loss, and desire, leaving the reader to examine the lonelier facets of womanhood. In an interview with the New Yorker, Hunt said she originally titled the collection “The Middle of the Night,” a fitting phrase for stories that wrestle with who we become (and where our minds wander) in the dead hours between dusk and dawn. “In the middle of the night, it’s easy to hate myself as much as the world hates me,” she writes in “A Love Story,” a blazingly raw meditation on motherhood and postpartum depression.
The Stars in Our Eyes by Julie Klam (July 18)
A book for the celeb addicts! We’re talking the entire spectrum—from the A-list to reality stars down to ridiculously niche YouTubers and Instagram personalities. This book, which one could argue as an anthropological study of our modern-day culture (hey, no judgments here), examines why and how we’ve become so infatuated with famous people. Perhaps you’re wondering if we’re all part of the problem? You’re probably right. Let pop culture expert Julie Klam explain.
Beautiful Bodies by Kimberly Rae Miller (July 25)
It seems now more than ever, honest stories of fatness and body image are celebrated regularly in books (see: Hunger by Roxane Gay). In her memoir Beautiful Bodies, Kimberly Rae Miller walks readers through what it was like to be a four-year-old on a diet, and on to diet pills, Paleo, anorexia—like most people who have suffered from food disorders and body dysmorphia, Miller has tried them all. Now a fitness and wellness writer, Miller recognizes that her struggle with her large body is ongoing.
Jinnie Lee and Maura M. Lynch are founders of the literary site STET.
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