Black River by S.M. Hulse (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24)
This striking debut novel by Spokane writer S.M. Hulse is a contemporary Western that has earned critical comparisons to the work of Larry McMurtry, Annie Proulx and Wallace Stegner—and deservedly so. Hulse uses spare language to craft a rich portrait of inland Northwest as a backdrop for the story of Wes Carver, a man who has just lost his wife to cancer. Carver journeys from Spokane to his hometown in Montana, where, as a corrections officer, he was maimed during a riot, and where his angry stepson awaits his mother’s ashes. Brimming with grief, guilt and the glorious relief music can provide.
Me and My Daddy Listen to Bob Marley by Ann Pancake(Counterpoint, $24)
Much lauded Seattle-based writer Ann Pancake has a remarkable gift for bringing West Virginia (her childhood home) to life on the page. This new collection of short stories and novellas includes vivid tales of working-class folks living amid the devastation of a type of strip mining known as mountain top removal. She imbues her characters with powerful, poetic voices, and unspools each story—of misfortune, family loyalty, long-held secrets—with a mixture of tension and mystery that unearths many strata of emotion.