Forbidden Notebook, by Alba de Céspedes, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Astra House). Published in Italy in 1952, this intimate, quietly subversive novel is told through the increasingly frantic secret diary entries of a woman named Valeria. Against a backdrop of postwar trauma and deprivation, Valeria struggles with her household’s finances, a romance with her boss, her husband’s professional dissatisfactions, and her grownup children’s love affairs. Confiding these tensions to her diary—the only outlet for expression in her cramped life—she awakens to society’s treatment of working wives and confronts a deep ambivalence toward her husband and children. She concludes that all women, to make sense of their world, “hide a black notebook, a forbidden diary. And they all have to destroy it.”

This Afterlife, by A. E. Stallings (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). In this volume of selected and uncollected poems, Stallings’s formal ingenuity lends a music to her philosophically and narratively compelling verse. She draws inspiration from daily domestic life and from the mythology and history of Greece, where she resides, crafting clever yet profound meditations on love, motherhood, language, and time. A particular pleasure is seeing certain personae—Persephone, Daphne, and Alice (of Wonderland)—recur throughout, accompanied by ever-deepening resonances. “Song for the Women Poets” ends, “And part of you leaves Tartarus, / But part stays there to dwell— / You who are both Orpheus / And She he left in Hell.”

Read our reviews of the year’s notable new fiction and nonfiction.

Hatching, by Jenni Quilter (Riverhead). Quilter’s memoir of conceiving a child through I.V.F. provides a history of the treatment and a sharp interrogation of her experiences. Recalling that she came to I.V.F. “driven by grief and fear and desire to take a course of action that is hard enough to endure, let alone question at the same time,” she asks how much of the yearning for a child is personal and how much is historically and culturally conditioned. How do we rethink reproductive technologies so that they don’t reproduce conservative ideas of motherhood, class, and race? Quilter notes that I.V.F. “anticipates the general tone of motherhood before you are even pregnant because it anticipates, even mimics, the notion of justified pain.”

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