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 Weekly Words about New Books in
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August 9, 2020

A Poet Laureate Revisits a Family Tragedy, and Two Generations of Women Tackle Racial Barriers

Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir
by Natasha Trethewey. A former U.S. Poet Laureate and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 2007 for her collection Native Guard now delivers a wrenching and memorable work of grief, remembrance, and closure. In 1985, at age 19, Trethewey had her world turned upside down when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. More than three decades later, she returns to the scene of the crime because, as she writes, "I need now to make sense of our history, to understand the tragic course upon which my mother's life was set and the way my own life has been shaped by that legacy."  
 
With penetrating insight and a poet's voice, Trethewey explores this profound experience of pain, loss, and grief as a way of understanding the tragic course of her mother's life and the way her own life has been shaped by a parent's unrelenting love and resilience. Moving through her mother's history in the deeply segregated South and through her own girlhood as a "child of miscegenation" in Mississippi, Trethewey underscores her sense of dislocation and displacement as she builds up to the harrowing crime that took place on Atlanta's Memorial Drive. In doing so, she creates what Library Journal called a "moving, heartbreaking memoir about a traumatic event and the path to healing." 
 

The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton. Following the success of her first novel, A Kind of Freedom, which was longlisted for the National Book Award, Sexton now explores the depths of women's relationships in a new novel - just out in paperback -  that People called "a powerful tale of racial tensions across generations." Sexton tells the story of a New Orleans family's rise from slavery to freedom through two women in two generations. The first is Ava, a mixed-race single mother who has just lost her job and moved in with her white grandmother, Martha, in 2017. The second is Josephine, Ava's great, great grandmother, whose rise from enslavement to ownership of a family farm in 1925 is threatened by the Ku Klux Klan. As Sexton unspools the lives of these two women, she reveals the boundaries that each runs up against in worlds shaped by racial injustice. Fortunately, both Ava and Josephine are tenacious and resilient, which adds to their appeal.
 
Even before The Revisioners was published in hardcover last November, independent booksellers across the country were raving about the novel. This blurb offers one example: "Sexton's writing is gorgeous; her rich characters and vivid descriptions pull the reader through this intense multigenerational narrative. Time feels malleable, even fragile, while emotions feel more concrete; hope and fear are carried forward by new generations in a tale that is both haunting and lovely."
- Amy Van Keuren, Bank Square Books, Mystic, CT  
Inventive Salute To Classic Murder Mysteries 
  
The Eighth Detective by Alex Pavesi. Here's a mystery that's a real puzzler, thanks to author Pavesi, a former software engineer with a PhD in mathematics. The premise is intriguing - back in 1937, math professor Grant McAllister worked out all the rules for murder mysteries,
including the need for a killer, a victim, more than one suspect, and a detective. The rest, in McAllister's view, was just shuffling the sequence and expanding the permutations, and he wrote seven perfect mystery stories to demonstrate and quietly publish. Now, 30 years later, the author lives in seclusion on a remote Mediterranean island, where he is visited by Julia Hart, an ambitious editor who wants to republish his work. But as they revisit those old stories, Julia discovers things in the stories that don't add up - inconsistencies left by Grant that a sharp-eyed editor begins to suspect are more than mistakes. They may be clues, and Julia finds herself with a mystery of her own to solve...   
 
In reviewing this cerebral mystery, Kirkus wrote, "The book abounds with complications and twists, and puzzle lovers will have fun predicting the endings of the stories...A satisfying mystery for the casual reader, even more so for the careful one."
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WHY THE COLUMN?
Hi, I'm Hut Landon, and I work as a bookseller in an independent bookstore in BerkeIey, California.

My goal with this newsletter is to keep readers up to date about new books hitting the shelves, share what indie booksellers are recommending in their stores, and pass on occasional news about the book world.

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