21 books to read this summer: ‘Lapvona’, ‘The Friend’ and more

  • By Ottessa Moshfegh

    Ottessa Moshfegh’s latest novel takes place in Lapvona, a medieval fortress ruled by a vain and gluttonous gentleman, Villiam. The story begins with Marek, a masochistic, godly 13-year-old boy who longs for pain and punishment because he knows God loves those who suffer. His father, Jude, cares far more about the lambs he keeps than about his son. The village they live in is full of strange people and cruel tragedy – an old woman who survives a plague as a child and spontaneously begins breastfeeding in her 40s, becomes a wet nurse for most of the village children; a brutal summer drought overtakes the village while Villiam scoops up at his manor reservoir. Lapvona reverses all conventions on family and parenting and puts hatred where love should be or a negotiation where grief should be. It is ultimately the story of a boy whose parents really do not care about him and the corruption and tragedy he falls into because of it. Through a mixture of witchcraft, deception, murder, abuse, grand delusion, ridiculous conversations, and eerie moments of bodily disgust, Moshfegh creates a world that you certainly do not want to live in, but from which you cannot look away. – Maya Chung

  • The laggard

    By Jean Hanff Korelitz

    From birth, the Oppenheimer triplets, Harrison, Sally and Lewyn, operate with an unspoken pact of mutual avoidance. They have it all: a stately home, wealth, grandparents nearby and a mother, Johanna, who brings and keeps her family together through pure will. But she can not prevent her husband, Salo, from getting lost, and she can not bring her children closer to her or each other. In adolescence, they act as magnets with the same charge; for example, Sally and Lewyn both go to Cornell, where they claim to everyone that they do not know each other (which eventually causes them both deep damage). In adulthood, their common aversion crystallizes into open contempt and anger. But, as the title suggests, they are not the only Oppenheimers with a share in the family’s affairs. Although their domestic drama becomes more entangled with each year’s refusal to address it, eventually someone comes with the intention of cutting through the knot. Read it now to get ahead of the upcoming, inevitably star-studded TV version – the latest Jean Hanff Korelitz adaptation, The regretstarring Nicole Kidman and Mahershala Ali is linked to an upcoming series based on Korelitz’s The plot. – Emma Sarapo

  • You made death laugh with your beauty

    By Akwaeke Emezi

    Akwaeke Emezi is well versed in writing the tender destruction of the flesh. Their critically acclaimed debut novel, Fresh water, shows a slender, wounded narrator – a child of the deity speaking from the first-person plural – struggling and grieving over the limitations of living in a human body. Their memories, Dear Senthuran, looked directly at the author’s own struggles with embodiment. Emezi’s latest offers, You made death laugh with your beauty, is in many ways a classic Romanesque novel; it may at first glance seem like a radical departure for a writer who typically deals with spirituality and mortality. But here, too, Emezi makes grief their centerpiece, though sex and seduction form the basis of the book. A young widow and an artist named Feyi are tentatively figuring out living after losing their lover. Between breathlessly erotic encounters and lavish, tropical escapades, Feyi returns again and again to the sharp pain. The novel is somehow beach reading and a psychological portrait and is likely to trigger conversations both warm and vulnerable. – Nicole Acheampong

  • Happy-Go-Lucky

    By David Sedaris

    David Sedaris is back and doing what his readers have come to love: offering quirky, touching, powerful stories about his strange family. This batch also touches on some of the more tumultuous moments of our last two years, sometimes quite irreverently. Reading Sedaris about e.g. his pathetic efforts to stock up on food in the early days of the pandemic are sublimely fun – he ends up with an assortment that includes a pint of buttermilk, taco shells and a pack of hot dogs. These essays also have more darkness and death than his previous work, and are based on themes he began exploring in his previous collection, Calypso. The pieces range widely and follow the path of Sedaris’ travels and his eccentric mind, but a consistent line involves his non-year-old father, who lives in a care center and whose final death is captured on these pages. This is one of the more complicated relationships in Sedaris’ life, and he is unwavering when he tries to understand who his enigmatic father was and how living with him changed the shape of his own existence. – Gal Beckerman

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