Each month, I will pick a handful of buzzworthy and under the radar debut books I feel you’ll enjoy.
What is a beach read, anyway? Some say the equivalent to a romantic comedy movie. Some say it’s anything you can digest in a weekend. Some say there is no such thing and anything can be read on the beach. The titles selected below range from humorous romances, meditations on race and sexuality, and stories featuring comedic breakdowns.
Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett (Tin House; 6/4)
Arnett’s story collection technically was her debut. However, this novel is too unique and memorable to not put it on this site. Besides, what is a debut anyway? In this novel, Jess is surrounded by death. Her taxidermist father recently committed suicide, sending her mother into despair and elevating her to the taxidermy position. Set in Florida, this is laugh out loud funny with an edge.
In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow (Bloomsbury; 6/4)
A North Carolinian family drama filled with complicated and diverse characters. Beginning in the 1940s, readers follow Azalea “Knot” Centre. Over the years, expect to alternate sympathizing with her and questioning her actions. For fans of Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (Penguin; 6/4)
As a poet, Vuong has moved readers with his emotional work. He continues that trend in this novel that takes the form of a young man writing a letter to his mother who cannot read. He explores masculinity, race, sexuality, and what his life and relationships mean to him with such emotional prose that I was moved to tears a few times throughout the course of the debut.
Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (Random House; 6/18)
It’s too simple to call this a divorce novel set in Manhattan. On the surface, it’s that, but underneath it is an exquisite dissection of the human psyche. Brodesser-Akner’s work in the New York Times Magazine is just the tip of the iceberg of her creativity and skill.
A Philosophy of Ruin by Nicholas Mancusi (Hanover Square; 6/18)
The book offers up existential questions, but never gets bogged down in its own way. Mancusi touches on tough subjects, but the speed of his prose makes it feel urgent. There never seemed to be a dull moment, even when the main character becomes internally reflective.
Lifelines by Heidi Diehl (HMH; 6/18)
Told in alternating timelines and locations – Germany and Oregon; the 1970s and today – Diehl breezily explores familial drama and creativity. When Louise’s daughter with an avant-garde musician who she’s now estranged with invites her to a funeral, another daughter with another man grows jealous. The intensity of the novel comes in the silence between the arguments.