Weekend picks for book lovers: Jenny Zhang's 'Sour Heart'

 

What should you read this weekend? USA TODAY’s picks for book lovers include Sour Heart, a story collection from Lena Dunham’s new book imprint.

Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang; Lenny/Random House; 301 pp.; fiction

Girls fans no doubt remember these bon mots famously uttered by twentysomething Brooklynite Hannah Horvath: “I think that I may be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice. Of a generation.”

This brilliant display of Millennial bravado/insecurity emerged from the polarizing lips of Lena Dunham, who has moved on from her seminal HBO series to a new project: launching a publishing imprint called Lenny, with her Girls creative partner, Jenni Konner.

They’ve made a savvy choice with their opening literary salvo: Sour Heart, a collection of seven short stories from Brooklyn poet Jenny Zhang, who, we can safely say, is “a voice” of a generation, and an original one who commands attention.

I couldn’t help wondering as I read these electric stories of awkward adolescent Chinese-American girls if any of them would grow up to hang out with Hannah, Marnie, Shosh and Jessa. Probably not. The lesson here is that it’s a long way from Flushing, Queens, to Greenpoint, Brooklyn. And even farther to Shanghai.

Sour Heart is about the immigrant experience, but Zhang isn’t out to bash the Good Old U.S. of A. with her coming-of-age tales. Her girls, like so many, are caught in between: different cultures, warring parents. Add assimilation to the bucket of typical teenage woes, and good luck with that.

USA TODAY says *** out of four stars. Zhang’s stories “are coarse and funny, sweet and sour, told in language that’s rough-hewn yet pulsating with energy.”

The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein; Inkshares/Geek & Sundry, 356 pp.; fiction

In the 22nd century, Joel Byram is a New Yorker trying to save his marriage to workaholic wife Sylvia, who has a super-secretive gig with International Transport, a powerful company that controls all the teleportation centers around the globe.

USA TODAY says ***½ stars. A “delightful and brainy debut… posits an intriguing future that is both inviting and horrific.”

Edward VII: The Prince of Wales and the Women He Loved; Catharine Arnold; St. Martin’s Press, 250 pp.; non-fiction

A new biography on the many mistresses of Queen Victoria’s heir, the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, among them Alice Keppel, the great-grandmother of Duchess Camilla of Cornwall.

USA TODAY says ***½ stars. “Focuses deliciously on the women who shared the scandalously plentiful sex life of Queen Victoria’s eldest son.”

Hum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais; Putnam, 432 pp.; fiction

In June 1976, the lives of Robin, a white girl, and Beauty, a black woman, are upended by the Soweto uprising, a seminal moment in the anti-apartheid struggle.

USA TODAY says *** stars. “South Africa native Marais gives us a glimpse into her country’s fevered history through the eyes of characters rooted on both sides of the color line.”

The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs; Simon & Schuster, 320 pp.; non-fiction

At age 38, Riggs, a poet and direct descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson, discovers that treatments for her breast cancer are no longer working and that the disease has become metastatic and incurable.

USA TODAY says **** stars. “Beautiful and haunting… A book every doctor and patient should read.”

Contributing reviewers: Jocelyn McClurg, Brian Truitt, Maria Puente, Charisse Jones, Matt McCarthy

usatoday.com