Today's releases include a historical novel that finds accusations of witchcraft quickly infecting a grieving but resourceful community; an ungentle but poignant story of family, faith, and hard choices; and a fascinating, and dishy, account of becoming the first female literary editor at Esquire at the tender age of 25.
Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Books of the Month.
The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
It’s 1617 and there isn’t much that is not unforgiving when it comes to the far-flung and frigid town of Vardø, Norway, including the sea that surrounds it, which swallows the majority of its male population in an epic storm while they’re out fishing. The women are forced to fend for themselves or starve, but in a world where gender roles are prescribed and biblical patriarchy reigns, starving would be more acceptable than doing the “men’s work” necessary to survive. For the few that deem this option impractical, the fact that they are able to do so with relative ease means that witchcraft must be involved! And the pious are only too willing to bite the hands that are feeding them, and cooperate with the man recruited to restore the natural order of things. It’s a good thing Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Mercies is so beautifully written, it balances the brutality of what unfolds, but doesn’t blunt the impact of a cautionary tale that is surprisingly relevant for its historical setting. A page-turner that is infuriating, baleful, but full of stubborn hope, you won’t cry mercy before finishing it. —Erin Kodicek
Eden Mine by S. M. Hulse
We named S. M. Hulse’s debut novel, Black River, a Best Book of the Month in 2015, and her second novel, Eden Mine, is just as stunning, if not more so, as her first. Like Black River, there is a toughness of spirit, a bleakness of light and circumstance, which twists thrillingly with every page. In Eden Mine, Hulse weaves a rich yet understated story of a crumbling mining town in the west and the unforgiving violence that forever alters lives, communities, and the simple ability to hope. When Jo Faber’s older brother is accused of bombing the neighborhood church, Jo is left alone to deal with the fallout. Samuel is a suspect for a variety of reasons, and as Jo reckons with her brother’s crime and its effect on the lives around her, she must come to grips with the death of her mother as well as her own entrapment and future. Hulse is a master storyteller—with every revelation she leads you further into the complex realization of how fanaticism and violence can erupt in a landscape as beautiful as Montana. A searing, eviscerating novel by a great, great writer. —Al Woodworth
In the Land of Men: A Memoir by Adrienne Miller
This is the story of how the author became the first female literary editor at Esquire at 25 during what one GQ cover called “the paranoid, PC nineties.” We follow her from her childhood in Ohio as a socially aloof, Martin Amis-obsessed teen to an assistant job at GQ. After a right-time, right-place move to Esquire, she learns how to become an editor amid the deep-rooted sexism of the men’s magazine world. There, she edits authors for whom women “functioned as instruments to male enlightenment.” Those looking for insights into David Foster Wallace won’t be disappointed as she devotes most of the second half of the book to their personal and professional relationship. Many readers will already know about DFW’s puritanical work ethic and intimacy issues. The author’s ability to reconjure their conversations, though, is nothing short of riveting. She struggles with the honor and insult of being dubbed “my perfect reader.” With this deceptively complex memoir that operates by omission and transparency, the author dares us to find her any less interesting and worthy of contemplation than the vaunted literary genius she invites into her story. —Katy Ball
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