Three new novels to read in January
New year, new books - starring a lyrical page-turner and a surprisingly funny story about death
I try not to think too deeply about the new year (it makes me feel existential), but one thing I do enjoy is the fresh new note in my phone Notes app, where I write down each book I’ve read after I finish it. My as-yet empty list for 2023 feels full of possibility. Although there a number of publications I am already very excited about this year (A new Curtis Sittenfeld! An overdue Zadie Smith novel!), I love that quietly thrilling feeling of not knowing what the year in books will bring.
In the meantime, I was lucky enough to read advance copies of the following novels at the tail-end of last year, and couldn’t think of any better way for you to get 2023 started.
We All Want Impossible Things by Catherine Newman
When you describe the premise of this novel - that Ash’s best friend of 40 years is dying of terminal cancer, and the majority of the story takes place in a West Massachusetts hospice - it sounds like an unbearable read. But please trust me when I tell you that We All Want Impossible Things is also one of the most wryly funny and joyous books I have ever come across.
While visiting her lifelong friend Edi, Ash plucks her chin hairs for her, watches Netflix, falls asleep besides her, and flirts with the hospice staff. Her life outside involves co-parenting two (brilliantly drawn) teenage girls with her ex-husband, and sleeping with people she perhaps shouldn’t. Newman is so astute on all the most important things in life - friendship, family, food, love, sex, death - that my copy of the book is filled with underlined paragraphs that I have sent to friends.
River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer
Opening in Barbados in the year slavery was abolished, River Sing Me Home is the stunning, sweeping story of the aftermath for one plantation worker Rachel. A mother of five, the novel follows her desperate search for her children who were taken from her to be sold many years ago - a search that turns into an epic journey across the Caribbean.
Heading deep into the forests of Guyana and into the towns of Trinidad, Rachel meets a wonderful ensemble of characters along the way. You root for her like nothing else in this lyrical page-turner about freedom, strength and motherhood.
Really Good, Actually by Monica Heisey
Toronto-based Maggie is 29 years old and her marriage has ended after less than two years. She could best be described as a sad hot mess, but at least she is a really bloody funny one - the author was a writer for the multi-award winning sitcom Schitt’s Creek, and so it is hardly a surprise that this story is nothing but delightfully deadpan.
With the help of her excellent circle of friends, Maggie comically and often unsuccessfully tries to re-assemble her life. The narrative bursts with witticisms that millennials in particular will enjoy - a list of her Google search history includes things like “watch instagram stories anonymous” - but also observations about loneliness and failure that feel familiar and true. I loved Really Good, Actually so much that it prompted me to start watching Schitt’s Creek. (I am so late to the party that everyone has left, but isn’t it glorious?)
I make a concerted effort not to engage with Royal drama, but with the release of you-know-who’s memoir, I did find it fascinating to interview ghostwriters about what it’s like to work on big books for big names. Read the article here.