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8 Books by Minnesota Authors We’re Excited for in 2023

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The post-holiday deadheart of winter has passed, but the early sunset reading season isn’t over yet! From a memoir mashup to climate anxiety poems to a major publishing house blockbuster, these Minnesota authors will keep readers in words through all of 2023’s false springs and icy sidewalk treachery.

V. V. Ganeshananthan 
Brotherless Night

V. V. Ganeshananthan’s literary career includes an impressive list of accolades. She’s the author of the acclaimed 2008 novel Love Marriage, an Associate Professor in the University of Minnesota’s Creative Writing Program, co-host of the fiction/non/fiction podcast, and the occasional star of her friend and fellow author Curtis Sittenfeld’s Twitter posts. Earlier this year, Sittenfeld shared a side-by-side photo spread celebrating Ganeshananthan’s new novel and showing, not telling, that good books take time. In the first photo, from 2020, Ganeshananthan holds up an unwieldy book draft and, in the second photo, from 2023, she displays a glossy hardcover. 

Brotherless Night follows Sashi, a young woman who aspires to study medicine, and her four brothers who join the Tamil Tigers’ fight for independence. Set in Sri Lanka in the 1980s, the action takes place at the beginning of a decades-long civil war. Brotherless Night is a hearty meal on its own, just packed with satisfying, literary nutrients and flavors. A recent episode of fiction/non/fiction, in which Sittenfeld interviews Ganeshananthan about her decades-long process of drafting and rewriting the novel, works as a fun companion condiment. (January 3, 2023, Penguin Random House, 368 pages.)

Ganeshananthan on Brotherless Night:

“I grew up on stories about northern Sri Lanka and specifically the city of Jaffna in the 1980s. Those stories, plus the well-timed gift of a nonfiction book called The Broken Palmyra, helped me to begin the story and to find the compelling voice of my protagonist and narrator, Sashi, an aspiring medical student growing up at the very beginning of the Sri Lankan civil war. I want readers to get a glimpse of what it might be like to be a minority civilian in a militarized society. Some of my readers will already know this, and I hope those readers see their experiences and especially the feeling of this kind of life represented accurately on the page. To me, the most exciting thing about Brotherless Night is that it’s about the power and importance of the lives of ordinary people. I also hear that it’s a page-turner!”

J. Ryan Stradal 
Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club

Like his previous novels, Kitchens of the Great Midwest and The Lager Queen of Minnesota, Stradal’s latest is a drama about blended families working in the food and beverage industry. Conflicts abound between small businesses and corporate sell-outs, between mothers and daughters, between red meat and rutabaga. The plot toggles between the perspectives of Mariel Prager, Lakeside Supper Club owner; her husband Ned Prager, a chain restaurant empire nepo-baby; and her mother Florence Stenerud, a scrappy and guarded piece of work. Part love letter to supper club fare and Midwestern stoicism, part indictment of indoor smoking mores, Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club delightfully combines humor and sadness. It’s a cute Midwestern gothic, like if a Lorna Landvik novel and a Noah Hawley Coen Brothers spin-off had a baby. 

Stradal resides in California, but the Hastings-raised author gets to be included in this round-up because his novels are so firmly grounded in white Minnesotan culture. The portions of the book that take place in the 1980s practically read like a Twin Cities greatest hits list, with mentions of the Lincoln Del, Twins games at the Met, Gerber Jewelers in St. Paul, Prince’s Dirty Mind album, Lucia’s, Mickey’s Diner, and Dayton’s. Readers will enjoy being transported to a time and place where sofas are known as davenports, and may even wish they could rent a VRBO cabin on the fictional northern Minnesota shoreline of Bear Jaw Lake and enjoy a weekend night dinner of brandy old-fashioneds and prime rib platters at the Lakeside. (April 23, 2023, Penguin Random House, 352 pages.)

Stradal on Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club:

“I feel like my Minnesota upbringing is central to my personality, my outlook. It’s given me a lot of life events to puzzle over and unpack in fiction. I also grew up in a time where I couldn’t find a lot of Minnesota authors, so I really wanted to see my home state and the type of people I grew up with represented in fiction. Of course, there are so many great Minnesota authors now! But I feel like I still write for that teenage kid in Hastings who is just overjoyed to see any mention of Minnesota. This didn’t end up in the book, but a chef I interviewed talked to me about how much he hates bakers, and I just thought that was so funny. ‘They’re lone wolves! They don’t play well with others!’ It was a darling that I had to kill early on.”

Shannon Gibney 
The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be: A Speculative Memoir of Transracial Adoption
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Sam and the Incredible African and American Food Fight

At first glance, Gibney’s latest book appears to be a nice, straightforward addition to the adoptee-literature canon, which includes Gibney’s young adult novel See No Color and works by other writers affected by adoption, like Nicole Chung, whose memoir All You Can Ever Know covers her transracial adoptee experience, and Ashley Nelson Levy, whose novel Immediate Family is about a Thai-American adoptee told from the perspective of his white sister, or Matthew Salesses, whose adopted Korean-American identity informs much of his fiction. And then—wham!—Gibney mashes up structure and genre in a brand new way. 

The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be mutates form throughout, wholly appropriate for a narrative that delves into transracial adoption and complicated identities, memories, and imagined alternate realities. Gibney uses real-life personal letters, healthcare provider correspondence, photographs, and family story transcripts as well as fictional wormholes, alternate timelines, and a doppelgänger to explore her background. Come for the memoir; stay for the speculative fiction!

In addition to transcending genre, Gibney also has a forthcoming picture book, illustrated by Charly Palmer, about a cross-cultural family figuring out the most universal question: What’s for dinner? (The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be: January 10, 2023, Penguin Random House, 256 pages; Sam and the Incredible African and American Food Fight: April 2023, University of Minnesota Press, 48 pages.)

Gibney on The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be:

“I have been really happily surprised by the reception it has been garnering. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever written, and I wasn't really sure if people would get what I was trying to do, appreciate it, or see why it might be important. But people have. They’ve understood why it’s this cross-genre work of memoir, fiction, and collage. I’ve had great conversations about craft as well as content. My first audience is always adoptees; I’ve been hearing from a lot of adoptees about how they see themselves in the work, which is incredibly meaningful.”

Gibney on Sam and the Incredible African and American Food Fight: 

“It was a long time coming. Charly Palmer knocked it out of the park with his illustrations. My son calls this book his book, because it’s about this kid who’s half African-American, half Liberian. There just aren’t many stories for kids like my kids, who are bicultural but maybe not biracial. Particularly in terms of cultural traditions like food, right? Especially in this context, in Minnesota, where we have so many African immigrant families and plenty of Black families as well. I’m excited for kids and families celebrating all these different aspects of their intercultural lives.”

Jenna Miller 
Out of Character

Debut author Jenna Miller has just published a fun and touching young adult novel that takes place over the course of protagonist Cass’s senior year of high school. Cass secretly relapses into internet addiction as a way to deal with her parents’ devastating divorce and all of the regular anxieties and indignities of being a teenager. She hides (poorly!) just how many hours she spends moderating a roleplaying fanfic Discord channel and chatting with her online friends. 

Out of Character hits all the classic elements of a good teen coming-of-age saga: troubled parental relationship, fledgling romance, the tricky balance between meeting social needs and academic goals, and deciding which parts of one’s self to share and which to hold close. Plus, the novel includes lots of contemporary updates: queer characters, body-positive themes, and online drama. Out of Character will definitely entertain its intended audience—teenagers—while also appealing to middle-aged adults who rue their adolescence, when every internet connection was dial-up, no one had ever heard of a pansexual gamer, and all the YA main characters looked like Sweet Valley High’s Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield. (February 7, 2023, HarperCollins, 384 pages.)

Miller on Out of Character: 

“I love how Out of Character features a fat lesbian who loves who she is and doesn’t want to hide or change those parts of herself. My hope for readers is that they either see themselves in Cass or see the value of teens living with pride and self-acceptance. Cass may struggle with her online roleplaying secret for many reasons, but she isn’t ashamed of who she is at her core. It’s important to me that readers feel seen and have their voices heard, no matter who they are or what they’re going through.”

Kelly Barnhill
Crane Husband 

The central conflict of Crane Husband begins when a mother brings home a human-sized, broken-winged crane and tells her children to call it Father. After this very Barnhillian hook, the beguiling and mysterious story unfolds. The narrator, a truant teenager, tries to keep her household afloat in an uncomfortably plausible dystopia where a faceless conglomerate owns every former family farm field, winter is disappearing, and drones monitor the monocultured landscape, all while the teen’s textile artist mother neglects her maternal responsibilities in pursuit of an affair with a large, mean bird.

Not to sound ungrateful for Barnhill’s second fantasy novel for grown-ups published in under two years, but the page count of Crane Husband is disappointingly slim. Readers should  regard it as a Barnhill concentrate and sip it slowly, the way one would drink a small but mighty cold brew coffee. When it’s over, her previous works await: the 2020 sci/fi novel for adults When Women Were Dragons, and her many children’s books, including the Newbery Award-winning The Girl Who Drank The Moon. (February 28, 2023, Macmillan, 128 pages.)

Barnhill on Crane Husband:

“I wrote this book by accident in a rickety RV driving across the country, trying to stay away from COVID as the virus raged. I was struck by the sense of dislocation and disconnection while driving through rural communities. I’m hoping my readers will care about these characters as much as I did. But also I hope it gives people a sense of uneasiness, and a sense of instability. Because we are living in uneasy and unstable times. Sometimes we have to be in this place of non-reality in order to look back more clearly at the reality we’re living in. I think that’s the role this kind of literature can do for people. Anyway, that’s what excites me… it sounds grim! I’m sorry, but I wrote a grim story, what can I say? [Laughs]”

Claire Wahmanholm
Meltwater

Nothing could be more suitable for wildcard Minnesota March weather than Wahmanholm’s forthcoming poetry volume about climate change. Will the daytime temperatures break records above 70 degrees? Will the snowfall measure seven to 10 inches? What icy depths lurk beneath sidewalk puddles? Meltwater, indeed.

As humanity comes to terms with the bleak future that feckless fossil fuel consumption has wrought, Wahmanholm’s books, Redmouth, the award-winning Wilder, and now Meltwater, feel necessary and urgent. And comforting. At least the poets are paying attention to the heat domes and extreme storms while industry leaders abdicate responsibility, governments stagnate, and newspaper headlines complain about the price tag of keeping Earth habitable. Art that surveys the atmospheric wreckage of the Anthropocene might be the only way to soothe the existential dread that accompanies this fast-warming planet’s forecast. As Wahmanholm writes in “Glacier,” her Montreal Poetry Prize-winning poem, “I am trying to say it’s too late without making them too sad.” (March 7, 2023; free launch party February 28 at the Hook & Ladder, Milkweed Editions, 128 pages.)

Wahmanholm on Meltwater:

“Do you know the Frog and Toad story The Shivers? It starts on a cold, dark night. The wind is howling in the trees. Frog and Toad are by the fire. Frog wants to tell a ghost story, but Toad dithers. ‘Toad,’ asks Frog, ‘don’t you like to be scared? Don’t you like to feel the shivers?’ Toad doesn’t, but he acquiesces, and Frog tells a ghost story so good that by the end, the teacups shook in their hands. They were having the shivers, the story ends. It was a good, warm feeling. People have said Meltwater is like this; that the catastrophes and dystopias it describes are literally nightmare-inducing, but because that terror is in the service of connection, of fighting alienation, it ends up being a pleasure rather than a torment; galvanizing instead of sadistic. When I read poems that give voice to my own anxiety, fear, or loneliness, it's like a hand reaching into the water. It is a good, warm feeling. I hope this book can be that hand for someone.”

Curtis Sittenfeld 
Romantic Comedy

Here it is, the Minnesota literary event of the season, possibly the year! In Sittenfeld’s highly anticipated new novel, Romantic Comedy, Sally Milz, a camera-shy television writer, and Noah Brewster, a cheesy pop song superstar, meet cute on the set of a sketch-comedy show. Technically, it’s a pandemic novel, too, as COVID-19 moves the plot along, raises the stakes, and forces characters to reveal their true selves. 

One might like to imagine that Sittenfeld was inspired to write a romance replete with “triple orgasm hair” after her 2020 novel, which explored an alternate history where Bill and Hilary Clinton never married, was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review by an esteemed political journalist and newspaper executive. That reviewer, Jill Abramson, showed herself to be doltishly unfamiliar with contemporary fiction when she squeamishly declared the fictional sex scenes in Rodham to be “TMI.” Sure, Sittenfeld conjures scenes about adults acting upon their carnal desires in consensual and tasteful ways. But it’s not smut. It’s all part of Sittenfeld’s big picture, which is a compelling and adept exploration of attraction, pleasure, insecurity, existential angst, and love. (April 11, 2023, Penguin Random House, 320 pages.)

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