Over seven days in a psychiatric ward in 1994 in Italy, the main character Daniele Mancarelli (who shares the author’s name and some life experiences) documents his involuntary committal. We spend most of our time on the ward itself with occasional flashbacks of the six patients’ and staff’s pasts. Mencarelli (author and character) is also a poet, and the language is beautiful and delicately translated by Wendy Weathly. While not dismissing the need for the truly suffering or dangerous to be treated, the author presents much to be considered about the way society categorizes those who are simply different or passing through a difficult phase of life.
Everything Calls for Salvation by Daniele Mencarelli, (List Price: $22, Europa Editions, 9781609458065, January 2023)
It’s a great debut, spooky, atmospheric, with family drama, and full of small town secrets. Gotta love a strong female main character, who is unafraid of danger. There are twists and turns in every moment…the suspense is palpable. This book is impossible to put down.
The Hunter by Jennifer Herrera, (List Price: $27, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 9780593540213, January 2023)
A beautifully odd and weird story, full of imagination, obsession, and layers upon layers of intrigue. Katrina Kim is living on the edges of life, barely able to afford her shared apartment, struggling with her temp job, and lowkey stalking her coworker Kurt. There’s something about him and his strangeness that compels her to watch him. Then one night she sees Kurt jump off a bridge, drawing Katrina into the mystery that was his life. I can’t recommend this strange book enough!
Liar, Dreamer, Thief by Maria Dong (List Price: $28, Grand Central Publishing, 9781538723562, January 2023)
I have never really felt like the target reader for Cormac McCarthy, but this one really spoke to me. Alternating perspectives between two siblings in the past and present, The Passenger is the story of Bobby Western, a deep sea diver overcome with grief by the death of his sister whom he carried romantic feelings for. Many chapters flesh out in a very dialogue-heavy interview style with an eccentric cast of characters, some more likable than others. Experts in quantum mechanics such as Dirac, Einstein, and Oppenheimer (who worked alongside Western’s father) take on roles as symbols, legacies, and even characters unto themselves. All the while, Western gets wrapped up in a conspiracy he doesn’t know the questions to let alone the answers. McCarthy writes beautifully of the alchemic fires of devotion and the beyond, and I suspect this is a novel I will be returning to throughout my life.
The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy (List Price: $30.00, Knopf, 9780307268990, October 2022)
“I started this book in Argentina many years ago, knowing I would move to Europe soon, and finished it during my first couple of years living in Berlin. So for me it works as a bridge between two very different worlds and lives. I couldn’t see that during the writing process, but these stories are full of moving boxes, abandoned clothes, lost objects, people feeling nostalgic and lost or out of place, even when the plots have little to do with that. How tricky fiction can be…I thought I had hidden my private life behind these stories, but it doesn’t matter what I am writing about, I’m always working with material taken from my own life and experience.” ―Samanta Schweblin, Interview, Words Without Borders, National Book Awards
What booksellers are saying about Seven Empty Houses
At the root of a “good” nightmare is prime comedy and just like the dash of cinnamon to chili enhances the spicy without tasting like a seasonal cookie, a pinch of humor enriches the story’s scary without reading like a seasonal cookie. Each entry for this year’s Samanta Schweblin Chili Cookoff is wonderfully all over the flavor map, which makes for a enjoyably quick read. Always leave ‘em wanting more!
―Ian McCord from Avid Bookshop in Athens, GA | Buy from Avid Bookshop
Seven Empty Houses finds Samanta Schweblin in top form. Each story is imbued with a striking precision, as the author is funny, ominous, heartfelt, and brutal often in quick succession. Many of the scenes in this collection feature characters that aren’t often the focal point of any given story, Schweblin gives us a glimpse into their worlds and the results are stunning.
―James Harrod from Malaprop’s in Asheville, NC | Buy from Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe
Short Stories are always an odd thing to get into because they tend to drop you in a story quite in the middle of them and unceremoniously eject you before the story is truly complete. They are more snapshot than feature film. Schweblin’s snapshot stories are unsettling and comforting all at once. They speak to the tender strangeness of family and the simultaneous fear/desire for death. I want to give this book to someone as a book hangover cure for Sue Rainsford’s Follow Me to Ground.
―Annie Childress from E. Shaver, bookseller in Savannah, GA | Buy from E. Shaver, bookseller
About Samanta Schweblin
Samanta Schweblin is the author of the novel Fever Dream, a finalist for the International Booker Prize, and the novel Little Eyes and story collection A Mouthful of Birds, longlisted for the same prize. Chosen by Granta as one of the twenty-two best writers in Spanish under the age of thirty-five, she has won numerous prestigious awards around the world. Her books have been translated into twenty-five languages, and her work has appeared in English in The New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine. Originally from Buenos Aires, Schweblin lives in Berlin.
Megan McDowell has translated books by many contemporary South American and Spanish authors; her translations have been published in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Paris Review, McSweeney’s, Words Without Borders, and Vice, among other publications.
The Cloisters by Katy Hays is what I imagine Mary Shelley might write if she lived in the 21st century. There are elements of horror, a little romance, an eerie setting, characters that will keep you guessing, and an ending you won’t see coming. But more than that, The Cloisters seems to play with a lot of the same themes that Mary Shelley did – ambition and fallibility, romanticism in nature, dangerous knowledge, secrecy, and isolation. But where Shelley writes about what makes us human (or not), Hays writes about what agency we have as humans. Do we have free will? Is anything predestined? Or is everything just fate?
When Ann Stilwell arrives in New York City, she expects to spend her summer working as a curatorial associate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Instead, she finds herself assigned to The Cloisters, a gothic museum and garden renowned for its medieval art collection and its group of enigmatic researchers studying the history of divination. Desperate to escape her painful past, Ann is happy to indulge the researchers’ more outlandish theories about the history of fortune telling. But what begins as academic curiosity quickly turns into obsession when Ann discovers a hidden 15th-century deck of tarot cards that might hold the key to predicting the future. When the dangerous game of power, seduction, and ambition at The Cloisters turns deadly, Ann becomes locked in a race for answers as the line between the arcane and the modern blurs.
Come tiptoe through the hushed hallways of The Cloisters, teeming with dark academia that whispers ancient secrets from the shadows. Mysteries smolder at the edges. What begins as a slow burn will have you holding your breath as you race to the end. The Cloisters is chock full of art history, architectural delights, and occult vibes.
This was one of those books that took over my world while I was reading it – casting a thin veil of darkness and tension over everything until I was so immersed in the characters and story that I was thinking about them and what would happen next throughout the day. Even almost a week later, I’m still pondering… the secrets we all hold, the dreams we have for ourselves and how far we’re willing to go to reach them. And whether any of that is our choice… or just fate.
Get ready to break out your tarot cards -I sure did!
The Cloisters by Katy Hays (List Price: $28.00, Atria Books, 9781668004401, November 2022)
The story of family and how lives intersect over time, Signal Fires is a quiet portrait of neighbors who lived near a 500-year-old oak tree during a large chunk of their lives. How those in the two families live and people chose to intersect or not to, choose to acknowledge weakness or tragedy- or do not- as they move through lives stages and across the country are central to this novel.
Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro, (List Price: $28, Knopf, 9780593534724, October 2022)
The Rabbit Hutch is about 18 year old Blandine Watkins, who has recently aged out of the foster care system and hopes soon to escape her earthly body like the female mystics who obsess her. It’s also about a dying Midwestern town, formerly home to an automobile manufacturer with a cultishly devoted customer base whose bankruptcy left the town in financial ruin and poisoned by toxic chemicals. And The Rabbit Hutch is also about the Rabbit Hutch, a low-income housing experiment full of residents living lives of varying degrees of quiet desperation, all of whom are brought sharply to life by Tess Gunty’s intricate, precise, dishy prose. It’s dark, but funny. It’s tragic, but affirming. And I didn’t want to skim over a single sentence, the writing is just that good. I will read anything Gunty publishes in the future.
The Rabbit Hutch by Tessa Gunty, (List Price: $28.00, Knopf, 9780593534663, August 2022)
Reviewed by Kat Leache, Novel in Memphis, Tennessee
I adore the way Iain Reid can make you feel so clueless and enthralled at the same time. During most of We Spread I had no idea what was going on and it was completely fine by me. The way he writes, even the most horrifying feeling, is soothing. I found myself trying to read slower as I neared the end because the experience passed too quickly.
We Spread by Iain Reid, (List Price: $26.99, Gallery/Scout Press, 9781982169350, September 2022)
Hawk Mountain is a meditation on how toxic masculinity can lead to trauma and how that trauma can manifest itself into violence & horror. Additionally, Habib points to the manner in which consequences of our actions can cycle through generations as well and he does so with propulsive prose that continually ratchets up the tension with every page. This novel is pure psychological horror and it takes gaslighting to a whole new level of craziness that is tough to witness, but impossible to look away from.
Hawk Mountain by Conner Habib, (List Price: $26.95, W. W. Norton & Company, 9780393542172, July 2022)
Reviewed by Stuart McCommon, Novel. in Memphis, Tennessee
I watched the Netflix Series Behind Her Eyes and loved the suspense and supernatural themes. So, when I saw that Sarah Pinborough wrote Insomnia I knew that I had to read it! The story itself reminded me of Behind Her Eyes and the movie Hereditary. You have a mother as the main character who is doing everything she can to find out about her estranged mother’s life as she tries to uncover family secrets to protect her family. But, is she protecting her family from the impending danger, or is she the danger her family needs protecting from? The whole story you are in just as much disbelief as the main character…she doesn’t know if she is awake or asleep, if she is sane or going mad like her mother, and as things twist and turn deeper into the story a mind-bending and time-bending twist is added!
Insomnia by Sarah Pinborough, (List Price: $27.99, William Morrow, 9780062856845, April 2022)
I thought I had this all figured out until the very last page, (that I had to reread several times, mind you), which then made me rethink the entire novel! Now, that’s the sign of a good book. I am still thinking about Emma and Ben and their country mansion…and whose truth I should believe. A compulsive read!
All I Want by Darcey Bell, (List Price: $17.00, Atria/Emily Bestler Books, 9781982177270, January 2022)
Reviewed by Jill Naylor, .novel in Memphis, Tennessee
WOWZA! Was not expecting this! This fast paced thriller will leave you stunned. When Wren falls hard for a man she met through a dating site she is heartbroken when he ghosts her. Was it because she showed her soul? Never read a story quite like this. Can see as a movie. Don’t read alone.
Last Girl Ghosted by Lisa Unger, (List Price: $27.99, Park Row, 9780778311041, October 2021)
Reviewed by Suzanne Lucey, Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, North Carolina
A great plot that incorporates family, lifelong friendship, betrayal, and the specter of 9/11. Avery seems like an all-American girl who has achieved her dream job. She is the new anchor for a well-received news/life show. It appears she has an amazing life. And she does, unfortunately much of it is in a deeply buried past. Walt is an unwilling retired FBI agent who has hidden away from life in the remote area of Jamaica. Their lives collide when Walt’s early career intersects with Avery’s current career. The plot is deep with several sub-plots that keep you guessing about how it will all come together. The ending is very unexpected on several fronts. Any good crime and mystery fan will enjoy this book.
Twenty Years Later by Charlie Donlea, (List Price: $27, Kensington, 9781496727169, December 2021)