In brief: Small Fires: An Epic in the Kitchen; This Beating Heart; The Latecomer – reviews | Books

Rebecca May Johnson
One, £14.99, pp240

At the start of her first book, writer, scholar, and intrepid boundary-breaker Johnson confides in her desire to “blow up the kitchen.” Small fires does just that, reconstructing something epic from chunks of funny memoirs, sharp social critiques, and culinary writings like you’ve never read before. Drawing inspiration from 10 years spent cooking in so many different kitchens, he reclaims this domestic space as an intensely physical thought space. An ingredient list would contain fortune cookies and Rilke’s poetry, a serving of “bad new potatoes” (“for one, obviously”), and apron strings, both literal and inevitably metaphorical. Rich in pleasure and revelation, it is a deceptively slender work whose invigorating pages seem splattered with hot oil and splashes of citrus.

Laura Barnett
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £14.99, pp288

Even without reading his acknowledgments, you would feel that Barnett’s latest novel stems from an intense lived experience. And yet the story belongs to its heroine, Christina Lennox, who is 43 when she is forced to give up the image she has always clung to of what her life should be like. Successive cycles of IVF have resulted in miscarriages and the anguish of dashed hopes, and her husband Ed now lives in San Francisco. But what about their last embryo kept at the fertility clinic? Barnett’s well-crafted backlist is rich in emotional acuity and this novel is no different, forging from Christina’s grief an insistence that we think more creatively about happiness, and in particular the forms that our families could take.

Jean Hanff Korelitz
Faber, £8.99, pp546 (paperback)

Fans of Korelitz’s clever literary mystery You should have known find much to savor in this tale of privilege, family dysfunction, and belated personal growth. At its center are Oppenheimer’s triplets: the intelligent and arrogant Harrison, the eclipsed eccentric Lewyn and the secretive Sally. Products of a marriage linked to a tragic car accident years earlier, they were conceived by IVF; a fourth embryo was frozen, and when they left for college in 2000, their mother thawed it out and enlisted a surrogate, resulting in the birth of Phoebe, who would narrate the final section of the novel. Each new twist triggers brilliant and witty insights into the intricacies of sibling bonding as well as art, infidelity and more.

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