Publishers Weekly recently shared their most anticipated debuts of Spring 2017, including two of our favorites:
MARLENA by Julie Buntin
Teenage friendships almost never make sense, which might explain why so many of them fall apart as people get older, and also why fiction writers often turn to them for material. When Julie Buntin was working on MARLENA, her debut novel about the aftermath of an intense friendship between two teenage girls, she was faced with the challenge of making that particular obsession legible to readers. “It’s hard to capture why a character finds someone else magnetic,” Buntin, 29, says. “How can you translate that into something the reader can connect to?”
Marlena centers on two characters, 15-year-old Cat and 17-year-old Marlena, who become pals when Cat moves to the town in northern Michigan where Marlena lives. Buntin, in the words of PW’s starred review, “is particularly sensitive to the misery of adolescent angst,” observing how Cat becomes increasingly enamored of the unstable Marlena, who is “musically talented, beautiful, and doomed to die young.”
THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR by Yewande Omotoso
Rare is the novel that features older women as protagonists, rather than as mere supporting characters or props. Rarer still is the novel willing to depict aging women in all their complications, regrets, and swarming hostilities. But that’s precisely what Yewande Omotoso, a Barbados-born South African writer, set out to do her in novel, THE WOMAN NEXT DOOR, her second work of fiction and her first to be published in the U.S.
Omotoso’s novel centers on two wealthy octogenarian neighbors: Hortensia, a black former textile designer, and Marion, a white former architect. For various reasons, they are forced to live together temporarily in Hortensia’s house, which Marion designed, in an upscale community in Cape Town. There, according to PW’s review, the women, formerly nemeses, “create their own kind of crotchety companionship” amid “changing racial relations” in post-Apartheid South Africa.
For Omotoso, who is 37, the characters’ advanced age was central to their interest. She began working on the book around the time her grandfather died, and in spending time with her widowed grandmother she began to wonder, “What’s it like to have your life behind you?”—particularly if that life has been “mean or meager.” “It’s one thing if you have all these great memories,” she says. “It’s a whole other thing if all you can look back and see is mistakes and waste and bitterness. At the end of the book, you might still not like them, which doesn’t bother me. But you possibly, hopefully, might understand them.”