I could equate reading Lydia Davis’s work to several things: being shaken awake after a long nap, taking a cold shower, drinking a strong cup of coffee. She holds her space in the literary canon for being electric, and of course, this newest collection of lectures and meditations, Essays One (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30), surpasses expectations. What makes the collection so rich and special is that there is at least one essay—if not many—for everyone. Fans of literature will adore her sharp, and sometimes tender, commentaries on some of our most beloved authors, from Berlin to Blanchot to Pynchon. Lovers of fine art will appreciate her ponderings (her essay on Joan Mitchell still holds as one of my favorites in this collection). And, of course, writers will cherish her words on craft. No matter the topic at hand, every element of her language is purposeful. Nothing is misplaced or hurried; the book is a masterclass on how to do so much with little. With this newest assemblage of musings, Davis solidifies herself as one of our greatest literary treasures.
Sally Rooney's newest novel, Normal People (Hogarth, $26) is the delightfully frustrating story of Marianne and Connell, entrenched in a complicated relationship full of miscommunication over the course of four years. Rooney gracefully explores how our emotions age and mature with us in a modern coming-of-age story; but also present in the novel is astute observation of how class and social hierarchy inevitably intertwine with our relationships. Her language is deft and precise, her psychological insight unnerving, and her characters realistically complex and imperfect. She strikes us with her subtlety, but her intelligence remains an obvious presence on every page. Although Rooney has been dubbed the “millennial novelist,” this fiction can appeal to nearly anyone hungering for a rich, character-driven story about the irrevocable effects of intimacy and young love.
Lucy Ellman pushes her characters and her readers to their limits with this explosive stream-of-consciousness narrative; she tackles what appear to be mundane subjects with adroit and exquisite skill. Despite its notable length, Ducks, Newburyport (Biblioasis, $22.95), a fi nalist for the Booker Prize, is made up of only a handful of long, boisterous sentences that seem to focus on everything and nothing: our narrator’s children, the climate, Emily Dickinson, pie, a rage that prevails as inconsolable in our current political atmosphere, her mother, her life during and after cancer. Ellman toggles beautifully between the noise of fl amboyant prose and sparse, delicate phrases. The stream-of-thought narrative grants us the privilege of unadulterated access to our narrator; this is a novel that begs to be intellectually interacted with, but in order to do so successfully, you’ll have to give in to the narrative and let Ellman take you with her.