The Perfect Plan
Bryan Reardon begins his sibling saga in black and white: Drew Brennan is a statesman on the rise, and his younger brother, Liam, is the shadow who does his dirty work. The brothers hatch a kidnapping plot that will make the most of their two-dimensional images—and as Reardon widens the frame and adds color to his characters, the portrait he reveals becomes something else altogether.
Fleishman Is in Trouble
Taffy Brodesser-Akner, a New York Times staff writer, has been called “the Michelangelo of magazine profiles;” in her first novel, she’s aiming to be the Picasso of marriages. Her divorced couple doesn’t split in two; rather, it shatters into mirror-sharp (and deliciously tilted) shards that offer jagged and dizzying reflections of former and new roles. Fair warning: You’ll want to wait until the end of Fleishman Is In Trouble to decide which way is up.
Talk to Me
When your name trends on social media, there’s a good chance you’ve humiliated yourself or died. In a sense, once-beloved anchorman Ted Grayson has done both: his viral meltdown proves fatal to his reputation. It also drives him to reconsider the family he neglected for his career, and a post-scandal interview with his estranged daughter could gain him sympathy, give her media profile a boost, and begin to resuscitate their relationship. John Kenney’s compassionate second novel is a reminded that there are real people behind the sound bites that enrage us—and that their stories don’t end when their clips do.
The titular treat in Helen Oyeyemi’s latest novel is “not comfort food,” as readers learn right off the bat. It’s an age-old family recipe from a far-flung homeland (Druhástrana, which means “the other side” in Slovak), and eating it is “like eating revenge.” The baker, Harriet, and her daughter, Perdita, live in a London house that also functions as a fairy tale, and their not-exactly-shared history follows a path of crumbs that could end fantastically or horribly (remember, the witch who imprisoned Hansel and Gretel met her death in her own womblike oven). The secret ingredients in this dough bite back.
The Book of Essie
Meghan MacLean Weir
Like her main character, Megan MacLean Weir grew up known to everyone in her life as the preacher’s daughter. In writing The Book of Essie, Weir “drew on those childhood experiences of [her] own and then them infinitely worse.” How much worse? Seventeen-year-old Essie and her family have been reality TV stars since she was born, they’re notorious for their extreme religiosity… and Essie is pregnant. As everyone else scrambles to stage-manage her life, she decides it’s time to fight like hell for the right to her own narrative.
A Cosmology of Monsters
The metaphorical skeleton in Noah Turner’s closet is an actual monster—one that obsessed and might have killed his father, terrorizes his mother and sisters in both dreams and reality, and is now on his doorstep, offering friendship and supernatural powers. When your family business is a faux-haunted house, what’s the harm in living in a real one? Oh, Noah—your saga’s ending does not sound like a good one. A Cosmology of Monsters has already drawn praise from masters of the macabre like Stephen King and Carmen Maria Machado. Drop it in your bag, but think at least twice about letting it into your head.
Family of Origin
Before drowning, Ian Grey belonged to a group of eccentric biologists who believe evolution can make us less fit for survival. His estranged adult children, Elsa and Nolan, form a new and exceedingly reluctant relationship with one another to investigate his death—and, perhaps, to confirm his team’s far-out hypothesis through their own failures. Hauser’s incisive language splays her characters like specimens in her pages, and there’s no forgetting that each of her revelations is the result of a scalpel’s cut.
Girls Like Us
FBI Agent Nell Flynn has returned to Long Island for what should be her family’s last chapter. Her mother was murdered when she was a child, and her distant father just died in a motorcycle crash. Not so fast: she’s drawn into an ongoing investigation of two new local deaths, and the trail she follows leads right back to her parents. You can go home again, alright, but there’s no guaranteeing you’ll recognize the people who greet you there.
Go Ask Fannie
Upcyclers, take note: a beat-up, waterlogged old cookbook full of marginalia can also function as a guide (with recipes) to a mysterious mother who passed away 32 years ago. ‘Fannie’ (Farmer) is the cookbook in question; it could be the only remaining artifact of its onetime owner’s literary ambitions, and it arrives at Murray Blaire’s farmhouse in the arms of his younger daughter, who might or might not face charges for attacking a lover who dropped it in a sink. It’s an unlikely unifier, to say the least—but it brings the Blaires back to the table.
Someone We Know
A note from a neighbor apologizing for a busted taillight is bad. A note from a neighbor explaining that their son broke into your house—and hacked into your computer—is much worse. Two such notes have turned up in Aylesford, as has one bludgeoned body, and when young Raleigh Sharpe is ID’ed as the hacker in question, why shouldn’t the community suspect him of murder? Shari Lapena’s latest domestic thriller will likely be a bestseller, and it will absolutely problematize your next block party.
Might this be the year to tape an interview with your dad about his career-killing tirade, literally poison yourself with your mother’s cooking, or dump the kids at your ex’s house and disappear without a trace? Oh fine, those are all terrible ideas, but they’re fantastic premises for some of the most gripping reads. These books will keep you up ‘til the wee hours, reframe your sibling squabbles, and remind you that while, say, being trapped in a car with tiny humans who howl for “Baby Shark” is weird, the latest fictional families are having a much weirder time than you are.
Featured illustration by Jeremie Decalf