Small towns are torn asunder by strange phenomena, and literature-loving women are compelled to revisit the narratives of their own lives in these fascinating novels coming to bookstores in June. Whether you’re seeking a book to bring to the beach or you’re looking for a deeper, more revitalizing reading experience—isn’t that what summer Fridays are for, after all? Literature?—these conversation-sparking books are perfect for book clubs and other warm-weather reading adventures.
The haunting of Shirley’s house
Few writers’ lives lend themselves to psychological-thrillerizing, but Shirley Jackson’s may be one of them. The writer of sinister short stories and novels, including “The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House, was married to literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman. Together, the two formed a kind of bastion of intellectual prestige in their sleepy college town of Bennington, Vermont. In this novelization of their life, author Susan Scarf Merrell takes up the real-life disappearance, in 1946, of Bennington sophomore Paula Jean Welden (an incident that Jackson fictionalized in her story “The Missing Girl”).
Our protagonist is Rose Nemser, a graduate student who moves into the Hymans’ home in 1964. Though 18 years have passed since Welden’s disappearance, the event remains a seeming point of tension in between Stanley and Shirley. And, with eeriness and suspense building Jackson-style all around her, Rose begins to wonder why…
Dreams and nightmares of America
Back then, all we wanted was the simplest things: to eat good food, to sleep at night, to smile, to laugh, to be well. So begins Cristina Henríquez’s novel about a Mexican couple, Arturo and Alma Rivera, who cross the border to America with their daughter Maribel in hopes of finding doctors who can treat Maribel’s potentially life-threatening injury. As the Riveras become immersed in their new community—and as Maribel becomes involved with a Panamanian, Mayor Toro—the story of the family’s experience in North America grows into a wider contemplation of the Central and Latin American migrant experience today.
3. The Arsonist
Fires, feuds, and fidelity in small-town New Hampshire
In this novel by bestselling author Sue Miller, a series of arsons throws the small New Hampshire town of Pomeroy into chaos, while shedding light (firelight, surely!) on the growing tension between the community’s traditional locals and the newcomers who annually turn it into a chic summertime destination. As protagonist Frankie Rowley navigates both worlds—her aging parents on one side, and a bold, new-in-town former journalist, Bud Jacobs, on the other—she comes face to face with important questions about heritage, belonging, and home.
Salvation through storytelling in South Korea
Kyung-Sook Shin, one of South Korea’s foremost authors, introduces us to Jung Yoon, a literary-minded twentysomething who’s compelled, after a phone call from an ex-boyfriend, to take a trip down memory lane. Bolstered by her love of European literature, Yoon attempts to give her own life narrative structure, revisiting the death of her mother and the tragic histories of her college friends, all the while taking stock of the political turmoil rocking South Korea in the 1980s. Book clubs will find much to discuss in this eye-opening portrait of South Korea’s political, intellectual, and psychological environs.
Media under the microscope
Michael Hastings was a BuzzFeed reporter known his coverage of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq who died in an automobile accident— some say suspiciously—in Los Angeles in 2013. Now, his posthumous novel,The Last Magazine, promises to offer insight into his journalism career as well as his outlook (hint: not bright) on the changing media industry.
The novel concerns a young intern, also named Michael Hastings, fielding office politics and declining journalistic standards at a publication called The Magazine (a thinly-veiled Newsweek, where the real Hastings worked in the 2000s) as the 2003 invasion of Iraq gets underway. The publication of The Last Magazine is sure to inspire commemoration of Hastings, as well as spark debates about the fragility—and, in some cases, outright failure—of the American journalistic enterprise.
A Magellanic search for the self
On the heels of his much-acclaimed debut The Imperfectionists comes Tom Rachman’s second novel, The Rise and Fall of Great Powers—no sophomore slump to be found here! It’s the story of Tooly Zylberberg, a lit nerd who lives and owns a bookstore in sleepy Wales and who prefers the company of dusty spines to people (don’t we know the type!). But, when an old boyfriend contacts her to deliver a startling piece of news, Tooly is forced to trade her uncomplicated existence for a peripatetic journey in search of the secrets to her own past.
Who kidnapped her when she was young and why? How to piece together one’s life’s narrative when you have only scattered, incomprehensible tatters? And how to make sense of the last quarter-century, the beginning of which saw the end of the Cold War and the end of which saw the beginnings of the digital revolution? With a big themes and a restlessly global setting, Rise and Fall promises to be a heavyweight—historical, political, cinematic, and entertaining.
7. The Fever
Prom cancelled due to mass quarantine
Deenie and Eli, teenage siblings in a prototypically happy suburban family, are navigating the wilds of high school life and teenage romance when something much more urgent—a mysterious disease, the first victim of which is Deenie’s best friend—hits their small community. Though the plot smacks of the movie Contagion, as well as the real-life conversion disorderthat stunned a small town in upstate New York in 2011, The Fever also promises to address a more familiar, and increasingly relevant, theme of American life: security, and our delusion that it can be maintained.
Old war, new story
Two types of conflict—international warfare and close-knit organized crime—play central roles in Adam Foulds’ new World War II novel. In the Wolf’s Mouth is about the effort, on the part of the Allies, to reclaim Sicily from the Nazis. Our protagonists are two young men: a mannerly Brit named Will Walker and an aspiring American novelist named Ray Marfione. As The Guardian notes, “The war zone is not a place for either of them.” In the hands of award-winning poet Foulds, this combat narrative promises to remind us, via the revitalizing power of great writing, what war really feels and looks like.
Earth to (Major) Tom
In two-time Booker nominee and Australian literary heavyweight Tim Winton’s forthcoming novel, a former environmentalist, Tom Keely, falls into all varieties of emotional turmoil—including pill addiction, debt, petty crime, and the revival of an old relationship—as he tries to make some sense of his life and of the ecological situation in mining-mad Australia.
According to The Australian, Winton “bears witness to how the sprawling suburban world of this older generation, so often perched on the edge of wilder natural landscapes, has been tidied up, boxed in, the ecology of childhood imagination narrowed to PlayStation and satellite dish.” With our own, real-life environment in peril—and questions about our (man’s) relationship with and influence upon the natural world growing more gravely persistent—this existential vision of modern life promises to rattle nerves in all the right ways.