Pandemic Fiction: Fall Books Include Virus Stories | Chicago News

This combination of book cover images shows the cover art for future releases. (AP Photo)

NEW YORK (AP) – By the end of 2020, the pandemic had lasted long enough for author Jodi Picoult to try something that seemed unthinkable to early novelists – turning it into fiction.

“At the start of the pandemic, I couldn’t even read, let alone write. I didn’t have the focus, ”says Picoult, who began the novel“ Wish You Were Here ”last November. The fall outing takes place in New York and the Galapagos during the first two months of the pandemic, from March through May of last year.

“I couldn’t find myself in my own life; writing the book was therapeutic, ”she added. “I finished a draft in February, very quickly. And all the time, I was talking to friends, I was telling them, “I don’t know if this is going to work. But I had very positive responses and I feel like, unlike almost every other topic, I wrote a book about this experience that everyone on the planet has had.

From wars to plagues to the attacks of September 11, the literary response to historical tragedies has been a trauma-absorbing process – often beginning with poetry and non-fiction and, after months or years, has evolved into a trauma-absorbing process. extending to narrative fiction. The pandemic has now lasted a second fall season for publication, and a growing number of authors, including Picoult, Louise Erdrich, Gary Shteyngart and Hilma Wolitzer, have incorporated it into their final books.

Shtyengart’s “Our Country Friends” features eight friends who meet in a secluded house as the virus spreads, a storyline he took inspiration from Chekhov and other Russian writers, and the 14th century classic of Boccace “The Decameron”. Amitava Kumar’s “A Time Outside This Time” tells the story of an Indo-American author working at an artists retreat and trying to make sense of President Donald Trump, the 24-hour media and a virus just as relentless. Kumar started the book before the pandemic, but found it good – too good – in an existing wave of disinformation, “fake news,” stretching from the United States to his native India.

“The Indian Prime Minister was asking people to slam their plates and pots at a certain time; people in his Conservative party were touting the power of cow dung and cow urine, ”he says. “A Minister of Health said the sun’s rays would boost immunity. So, I was thinking, what exactly is the job that a novel can do in the days of the novel coronavirus?

“I’m telling you all of this because I had no doubts about mentioning the pandemic – I didn’t think it was preventable. “

Erdrich’s “The Sentence,” his first since Pulitzer-winning “The Night Watchman,” focuses on a 2020 Minneapolis bookstore and the city’s multiple crises, from the pandemic to the murder of George Floyd. Like Kumar, Erdrich had the original idea – a haunted bookstore – long before the virus spread.

“In the end, I realized that while we might want to forget parts of 2020, we shouldn’t forget,” she wrote in a recent email. “Obviously, we can’t forget. We must use what we have learned.

Wolitzer’s “The Great Escape” is a new story in his “Today a Woman Gone Mad at the Supermarket” collection, which includes a preface by “Olive Kitteridge” author Elizabeth Strout. “The Great Escape” is the first short work of fiction in years by Wolitzer, known for such novels as “The Doctor’s Daughter” and “An Available Man”. The 91-year-old author lost her husband to the virus and tapped into his grief by updating the characters from the previous stories, married couple Howard and Paulette.

“I found it cathartic,” Wolitzer says. “I wrote it in a week and I couldn’t stop writing about it. The images of what had happened to us kept coming back and I felt like I had to use them.


This fall’s fiction will also include works by Jonathan Franzen, Sally Rooney, Lauren Groff, Colm Toibin and Strout, and four of the last six Pulitzer Prize winners in fiction: Erdrich, Richard Powers, Colson Whitehead and Anthony Doerr. “Silverview” is a posthumous release by John le Carré, who passed away last year. Gayl Jones’ “Palmares” is his first novel in over 20 years, and “Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth” by Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka is the Nigerian playwright’s first novel in nearly 50 years.

Fiction is also expected from Percival Everett, Anita Kopacz, Atticus Lish and Amor Towles, and early novelists ranging from Honorée Fanonne Jeffers and Wanda M. Morris to the already famous Hillary Clinton, who teamed up with Louise Penny on the thriller “State of Terror”. . “

“There is a very comprehensive list of books to come. We have had a very good year of sales so far and I see this will only get stronger in the fall, ”said James Daunt, CEO of Barnes & Noble.


Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman released two books this fall, the illustrated story “Change Sings” and the book of poetry “Call Us What We Carry”. Louise Glueck’s “Winter Recipes from the Collective” is her first book of poetry since winning the Nobel Prize last year, and new works are also expected from Pulitzer Prize winners Paul Muldoon, Frank Bidart and Tracy K Smith, and Kevin Young, Amanda Moore and Mai der Vang.


Muldoon also took part in one of the most anticipated fall memoirs: “The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present” by Paul McCartney, a $ 79 double volume that the Irish poet helped edit. Hillary Clinton’s longtime assistant and ex-wife of former Rep Anthony Weiner Huma Abedin wrote “Both / And” and #MeToo pioneer Tarana Burke tells her story in “Unbound “.

Others with memoirs to come include Katie Couric, Jamie Foxx, James Ivory, Steve Van Zandt, Dave Grohl, Robbie Krieger and two basketball greats Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony.


The summer’s bestseller lists included Trump-related works such as “I Alone Can Fix It,” and this fall will test the continued appeal of stories about the former president, with new works coming from Bob Woodward. and Washington Post colleague Robert Costa (“Peril”), and ABC News correspondent Jon Karl (“Betrayal”).

Former national security official Fiona Hill, a key witness in Trump’s first impeachment trial, for pressuring Ukrainian leaders to investigate then-candidate Joe Biden tells her story in “There is nothing for you here”. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s “Republican Rescue” is an attack on his party’s conspiracy theories, including that the election was stolen from Trump. Mollie Hemingway’s “Rigged” argues that “Democrats, Big Techs and the media built a machine to ensure that a Trump victory was impossible,” according to Regnery Publishing.

One political genre is largely absent: the books of opposition to a sitting president, a lucrative business under several previous administrations. Conservative books have a large audience; Right-wing commentator Mark R. Levin’s “American Marxism” has sold hundreds of thousands of copies this summer. But publishers and booksellers have struggled to name upcoming works that center on President Biden’s critique.

“The focus continues to be on Trump,” says Mark Laframboise, buyer for Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, DC

Thomas Spence, editor of the conservative Regnery Publishing, said his company had benefited from books on President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama, but didn’t even see any proposals on Biden.

“The Conservatives are not worried about him personally. They worry about the policies he’s pursuing, ”Spence says. “And it’s so different from the Clinton and Obama years when Regnery sold mountains of books criticizing these two presidents.”


The debate over the significance of the founding of the country continues with works by Pulitzer laureates Gordon Wood and Joseph Ellis, as well as 700 pages of Woody Holton’s “Liberty Is Sweet: The Hidden History of the American Revolution,” endorsed by Wood and by an author that he otherwise disagreed with the creator of the “1619 Project” Nikole Hannah-Jones.

A comprehensive edition of “Project 1619” expands on the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times report, which, by placing slavery at the center of the American narrative, was either celebrated as a necessary corrective to mainstream history or condemned as unpatriotic, to the point of being banned from certain schools.

Hannah-Jones quotes Holton in the book “1619 Project,” which includes essays, poems, and fiction, with Jesmyn Ward, Terry McMillan, Terrance Hayes, and Jason Reynolds among contributors. In a note to readers, editor Chris Jackson of One World calls the book an exploration of the “twin lineage” of slavery and resistance, a conflict echoed in the subtitle of Ellis’ book, “The Cause: The American Revolution and Its Discontents. “

“Project 1619 was never meant to be a mere academic argument or, worse, partisan politics,” writes Jackson, “but a story about what’s really at stake in how we view our history and our identity as that nation: our lives and our future. . It is a clarifying and often inspiring wrestling epic, the end of which we can all write. “

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