Off the Shelf

Book Recommendations featuring Local Authors from Michelle Montalbano

This month, we’re putting the spotlight on seven titles by local authors selected by our Program Director, Michelle Montalbano. Everyone on this list is bestselling, award-winning, acclaimed–and our neighbors.

Pain Hustlers: Crime and Punishment at an Opioid Startup by Evan Hughes

Originally published as The Hard Sell and growing out of a New York Times Magazine piece, this is the true story of executives at a big pharma company who actually got their comeuppance, written in sizzling prose with kinetic momentum. The paperback edition just came out, as did a rollicking film adaptation available on Netflix with a screenplay by Wells Tower, author of the short story collection Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

What the critics are saying: 

An account of the inner workings of a pharmaceutical company could have been dull in the hands of another author, but Hughes brings it to life beautifully. He weaves together a vivid cast of characters—doctors, sales reps, and executives—with key commentary illustrating the connections between a relatively small drug company named Insys Therapeutics and the broader opiate epidemic.” – Sarah Schroeder, Library Journal
“…fast-paced and maddening … what’s most surprising and powerful…is not one company’s criminality…as much as how institutionalized these practices were across the modern drug industry.” – Dave Enrich, The New York Times Book Review

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman

Smart, funny, sharpened criticality turned on the sensitive literary male psyche–a comedy of manners set in 2010s Brooklyn, which is why people are calling her “this generation’s Jane Austen.” Adelle Waldman has a new novel coming out in early 2024 called Help Wanted–a workplace caper set in a Target-like warehouse–that we are all eagerly anticipating. 

What the critics are saying: 

“Adelle Waldman’s debut novel,The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., scrutinizes Nate and the subculture that he thrives in with a patient, anthropological detachment. Ms. Waldman has sorted and cross-categorized the inhabitants of Nate’s world with a witty, often breathtaking precision… “-Maria Russo, The New York Times

Old Flame by Molly Prentiss

It’s about so many things, but mostly about the women who build you with both their presence and their absence, about motherhood, especially when there is loss and emptiness, an insistence that joy and pain are equally inevitable. Prentiss is funny and wise. 

“Prentiss beautifully interweaves the complexities of being a daughter, becoming an adult, friendships between women, self expression, and motherhood in this introspective, energetic novel … Prentiss’ writing is lively and dynamic, allowing even secondary characters, however small their roles, to make a lasting impact. As she tracks the ever-evolving feelings involved in womanhood during different phases in life, the intimate distress, yearning, grief, and laughter she evokes makes the novel seem like her protagonist’s memoir, resulting in a tale that grants readers a sense of connection, hope, and comfort.” – Sabrina Szos, Booklist

How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue

A fearless young woman from a small African village starts a revolution against an American oil company in this sweeping, inspiring novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Behold the Dreamers

What the critics are saying: 

“A kind of moral claustrophobia hangs over the opening pages of Imbolo Mbue’s sweeping and quietly devastating second novel, How Beautiful We Were … It’s a propulsive beginning, though one that feels at first as though it’s about to roam familiar ground — a tale of a casually sociopathic corporation and the people whose lives it steamrolls. By the end of the first chapter, I couldn’t help bracing for a long march toward one of two conclusions: the corporation’s inevitable victory, or its wildly unlikely but inspiring defeat. I was wrong. What carries Mbue’s decades-spanning fable of power and corruption is something much less clear-cut, and what starts as a David-and-Goliath story slowly transforms into a nuanced exploration of self-interest, of what it means to want in the age of capitalism and colonialism — these machines of malicious, insatiable wanting.” –Omar El-Akkad, New York Times Book Review

You Never Forget Your First by Alexis Coe

A presidential biography unlike any other! The lists alone–and the amount of archival research that went into them–are worth the price of admission. Coe is the first woman to write a biography of George Washington  in over a hundred years and the only woman in over four decades. Her approach to demythologizing the man/legend is a much-needed feminist/revisionist historiography. 

What the critics are saying:

“Coe moves past the well-worn tropes we’ve come to associate with George Washington. Her nuanced portrait paints a man torn between service to country and family … Washington’s story is as well documented as anyone’s in American history. Yet Coe finds fresh angles from which to examine him. And she doesn’t shy away from the most troubling aspect of Washington’s legacy: When he died, he owned 123 slaves … Despite the heavy subject matter, Coe writes with style and humor … reminds us of the importance of public service and diplomacy, and Coe makes colonial history not just fascinating but relevant.” –Amy Scribner, Book Page
“In her form-shattering and myth-crushing book…Alexis Coe does more than deal with the low-hanging fruit of the Washington cherry tree. She provides a fresh look at the first president and, just as important, at the first precedents he set … Coe examines myths with mirth, and writes history with humor.” –David Shribman, The Boston Globe

Weather by Jenny Offill

Jenny Offill tells us that the existential, ethical question she was wrestling with in this slim but impactful novel is this: Can you continue tending to your own garden once you’ve seen the flames beyond its walls? She says, “There were saints among these accidental activists, but also stone-cold hypocrites like me. Slowly, I began to see collective action as the antidote to my dithering and despair.”

What the critics are saying: 

“Offill takes subjects that could easily become pedantic and makes them thrilling and hilarious and terrifying and alive by letting her characters live on these multiple scales at once, as we all do … fragmented structure composed of short bursts of mundane intensity that make me think of Dalí’s animal sketches, in which a few spare ink strokes evoke the essence of each beast … Offill’s writing is shrewd on the question of whether intense psychic suffering heightens your awareness of the pain of others, or makes you blind to it … part of the brilliance of Offill’s fiction is how it pushes back against this self-deception …Offill’s fragmentary structure evokes an unbearable emotional intensity: something at the core of the story that cannot be narrated directly, by straight chronology, because to do so would be like looking at the sun.” – Leslie Jamison, New York Times Book Review

The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt

Beautiful and haunting. Samantha Hunt’s first collection of stories…blends the literary and the fantastic and brings us characters on the verge–girls turning into women, women turning into deer, people doubling or becoming ghosts…

What the critics are saying: 

“Like the best short story collections, The Dark Dark chews on some delicious, evergreen themes in extraordinary ways … This is liminal fantasy with a solid literary sensibility; sure to please fans of Karen Russell and Lidia Yuknavitch. Hunt is the master of the lovely and strange tableaux vivant … she is at her best when her stories seem to almost get away from her, crescendoing into feverish, manic beauty. Horror and strangeness are her allies. But once you boil away the horror, these are stories about middle-class women imprisoned by the domestic in some way or another. Hunt’s female characters are full of deep trenches that overflow with sorrow and rage.” – Carmen Maria Machado, NPR
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