Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s debut story collection, Sabrina and Corina (One World, $26), is a call to reconsider everything you know about the genre of the American Western. These stories dispel the myth of the West as the domain of cowboys and show us the women who have been indigenous to this landscape for centuries. Fajardo-Anstine’s writing is equal parts raw and graceful; while her characters navigate through dangers and uncertainties, she handles all of them with dignity and compassion. The eleven stories in this collection touch on the subjects of heritage, family, and poverty—in spite of hardships endured, the stories always return to a place of hopefulness. A Finalist for the 2019 National Book Award, Sabrina and Corina is a soon-to-be-classic and a necessary addition to any bookshelf.
Women are central in Kate Walbert's return to short stories after five novels. Although there are male characters on the periphery (mostly dead, divorced, or gone), the emotional stakes are all between the women. These are not stories of the sisterhood, however, but of lonely women hungering for each other's company and ultimately being unable to connect or having the promise of connection torn away. The women in this collection keep each other at a stiff distance while longing, with burgeoning self-refl ection, for something more, remembering the mothers, daughters, neighbors, and coworkers who touched their lives, remembering how She Was Like That (Scribner, $26). Anxiety is the central mood of these stories, but Walbert creates some deeply funny scenes, as in the many defi nitions of a mother in the Mother's Day school project that gives "A Mother is Someone who Tells Jokes" its title.
A critical moment in history meets an array of meticulously wrought characters in The Secrets We Kept (Knopf, $26.95), an enthralling debut novel from Lara Prescott. Set in the throes of the Cold War, the story unfolds through the eyes of Irina, Sally, and Olga—each with a poignant side of the story to tell. Irina, a CIA typist and budding spy, is mentored by the enigmatic Sally, a sharp-witted and glamorous Agency swallow, as they both work to publicize Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. Their story is deftly interwoven with the voice of Olga, whose character animates the real life figure of Pasternak’s mistress and muse. Prescott crafts her protagonists in such a way that they maintain sharp individuality, yet share a coequally powerful feminine voice. The historical aspect of the novel is carefully researched, shedding light on both the worldwide and personal impact of Doctor Zhivago. The author frames the setting in such fine detail that the reader could walk the very paths being described through Washington D.C. today. Everything about this story, from the relatable dynamics between characters to the elegantly described clothing they wear, feels close enough to touch.