I’m late again. How is that possible? My promotion materials were due in the marketing department on Monday. I always used to be on time. I should have announced the September book of the month three days ago, and I still don’t even know which book it will be.
Xiaolu Guo’s Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth has dropped to third place. It’s the prettiest package, I admit, the best cover, with the best sales potential for the bookstore. My bookseller’s lust to have good sales figures wants me to choose this book. It’s light and airy, maybe sometimes too light, a young person’s novel skimming over the surfaces of life with grace.
I’ve been sitting on my front porch this afternoon reading the book in second place, which is really the book that should be in first place, Jean-Claude Izzo’s masterful last novel, the anxiety-inducing A Sun for the Dying. I notice I keep taking breaks while I read. Jump up to get a drink. Jump up to send an email. His novels make me nervous. He’s so forthright as a writer, so fearless in looking at the human condition without fantasies or sentimentality, that I never know what to expect from him, but I know I’ll believe it.
Izzo has just introduced a new character I find delightful, Felix, a good-natured halfwit who looks and acts like a teenager with a football he’s never without. His wife left him and he’s been a street person ever since. He and the central character Rico have just settled down in front of the television to watch cartoons. It’s a strangely touching scene. And it will lead somewhere, I know (I’m worried about that football – what if someone takes it away from him?) because I’m in the hands of a master.
But dang it, the book has a wretched cover. No one will buy this book. It has cover art that turns off even me, a wretched homeless man in a half-fetal position on the ground. That’s a big strike against it. But I’m so bonkers over this guy’s writing I’ve just ordered his most famous work, the Marseilles trilogy – Total Chaos, Chourmo, and Solea – for our little bookstore. I’m saving his best work for last.
And what’s the front-runner for September’s book of the month? There’s a new title in the number one spot, and it’s a real dark horse, because it’s a collection of eight stories. Stories are a genre many readers avoid. However, in this case, the stories are unified by theme, and the theme’s a compelling one – they’re about immigrants from war-torn Georgia, and they’re as finely crafted fiction as I’ve stumbled on in some time.
The brand new book is Sana Krasikov’s One More Year. Two of the stories I’ve read have wonderful set-ups that I didn’t spot until they paid off at the end. One story, “Maia in Yonkers,” caught me so off-guard by it’s ending that I found myself crying in surprise. Krasikov is a Ukraine native writing in English, and in powerful, concise, illuminating English at that. The cover isn’t as pretty as Twenty Fragments, and the philosophical depth is no match for A Sun for the Dying, but there’s a humanity to these Russian immigrant women making their new lives out of compromises and memories. And at the moment Georgia certainly has the world’s attention. Krasikov is a brave young talent, and whereas Izzo has passed away, Krasikov as a writer has her future before her. If the other stories are as good as the ones I’ve read, well then – guess I’ll have found my book.
Yeah, but for the moment I’m going back to reading Izzo on my front porch so I can make sure Felix still has his football…