The temperature rises ever so slightly in Nobel winner Coetzee’s (The Childhood of Jesus) latest, the second installment of his wintry gospel that beguiles as often as it numbs. Coetzee’s fable continues as Símon—stolid, devoted—and Inés—reticent, passionless—have taken their ward, Davíd, and fled Novilla, the stultifying socialist city whose nightlife (which consists of philosophical lectures) is as flavorless as its dietary staple (bean paste). The nontraditional family begins yet another new life, now in a provincial town (in an unspecified country), Estrella, in “the year of the census.” Davíd, the “magistral” child whose true name remains a mystery, enrolls in a dance academy whose instructors espouse mystical notions about embodied Platonic forms: “To bring the numbers down from where they reside, to allow them to manifest themselves in our midst, to give them body, we rely on the dance.” Símon initially views this as “harmless nonsense,” an attitude that widens the gulf between him and his inquisitive charge. He responds to Davíd’s ceaseless questions with “dry little homilies” that seldom satisfy the otherworldly child. These Socratic sallies can grate rather than illuminate, and the novel’s Biblical allusions can seem more coy than revelatory. In The Childhood of Jesus, Don Quixote’s visionary gusto inspired young Davíd; here, there are darker, Dostoyevskian drives at play. Davíd is attracted to exuberant characters who, unlike his guardians, flout conventional morality. Enter Dmitri, a museum attendant infatuated with Davíd’s ethereally beautiful dance instructor, to provide a welcome, and violent, jolt of immeasurable passion to the novel’s measured world.
At the start of bestseller Woods’s thrilling 40th Stone Barrington novel (after 2016’s Dishonorable Intentions), the debonair New York lawyer agrees to do a favor for his friend former U.S. president Will Lee, who’s visiting Santa Fe, N.Mex., where Stone has just bought a house. All Stone has to do is drive into the nearby mountains and retrieve a strong case (a sort of high security suitcase) from another ex-president, Joe Adams, and deliver it to Will at the Santa Fe opera after that night’s performance. When a rock slide on the mountain road prevents Stone from making his rendezvous, he ends up spending a lot of time looking after the strong case, which contains a retired CIA agent’s memoir with explosive secrets. One person whose reputation could suffer from the memoir’s revelations is charismatic Nelson Knott, who’s considering a run for president as a third-party candidate—and whose wealthy supporters are prepared to go to any lengths on his behalf. Woods keeps the suspense high all the way to the dramatic conclusion.
In this adrenaline-spiked adventure, teens race souped-up vehicles through a postapocalyptic wasteland in order to win the ultimate prize: a life of luxury aboard a utopian orbital habitat. For best friends Cassica (a daredevil driver) and Shiara (a mechanical genius), the Widowmaker, a three-day road rally known for its high body count, represents the only way to escape their tiny dying town of Coppermouth. When they are signed by an ambitious manager, they figure it’s time to go for the gold. But as the race gets underway and the lure of fame threatens to ruin their partnership, Cassica and Shiara are beset by danger and treachery on all sides as they traverse a wasteland filled with ancient war machines, roaming cannibals, and fellow drivers out to kill them. Wooding (Poison) starts strong and never lets up on the gas, delivering a terrifying, tense thrill ride filled with cinematic moments. With the dystopian setting, fiercely resourceful heroines, fast cars, and an explosive climax, Wooding’s story is perfect for fans of Mad Max: Fury Road, but it carves out its own identity along the way. Ages 12–up.
This searingly sad but often hilarious novel chronicles the last dance of a few old codgers, and Drabble (The Sea Lady) has filled her tale with characters desperately trying to make sense of life and loss, of beauty, talent, missed opportunities, faded passion. She burrows inside the head of Fran, a manic 70-something elder-care specialist who drives around England studying—but would never in a million years actually live in—retirement communities. She introduces us to Fran’s literary friend Josephine, with whom she shared her first few harrowing years of solitary “baby-minding,” and who now teaches adult- and continuing-ed classes, and to Claude, Fran’s ex-husband, whose career as a surgeon left Fran home alone to take care of the children. Claude is now bedridden, listening to his beloved Maria Callas while waiting for Fran to bring him plated dinners. We meet Fran’s childhood friend Teresa, dying of cancer, and Bennett, a benignly pompous Spanish Civil War expert who lives with the slightly younger Ivor in the Canaries. Fran’s two children, Christopher and Poppet, provide some relief from hammer toes, fractured hips, and terminal illness. Each character has a passion—classical music, art history, Beckett, Unamuno, and Yeats—which gives rise to Drabble’s exposition on issues that dog her. And expound she does, on “effortless, meaningless, soulless beauty,” on the philosophy of free will and coincidence (including Jung, Catholicism, and moral luck), indeed on “what on earth literature is for.”
Each searing tale in Nguyen’s follow-up to the Pulitzer-winning The Sympathizer is a pressure cooker of unease, simmering with unresolved issues of memory and identity for the Vietnamese whose lives were disrupted by the “American War.” In “Black-Eyed Woman,” a writer is visited by the ghost of her teenage brother, who was murdered trying to save her from Thai pirates while fleeing the Vietcong. “War Years” is about a family of Vietnamese grocers in San Jose, Calif., challenged by another refugee to donate money to rebels still fighting the Communists back home. When an armed intruder invades the family’s home, the piercing irony is that their youngest son thinks it’s safe to open the door because the man is white. In “The Transplant,” Arthur Arellano is the recipient of a new liver from Men Vu, a Vietnamese man killed in a hit-and-run, whose son befriends him, then makes him complicit in his shady business selling fake designer goods. The most disturbing story is “Fatherland,” in which a man names his second set of children in Vietnam after his first set, who have fled to America with his first wife. When the American Phuong (now Vivien) visits her sister Phuong in Vietnam, Vivien reveals she is not the doctor her mother boasted she was. It is clear that author Nguyen believes the Vietnamese Phuong, more self-aware and resolute, is better off than her American doppelganger. Nguyen is not here to sympathize—“always resent, never relent,” as the anti-Communist exiles proclaimed in The Sympathizer—but to challenge the experience of white America as the invisible norm.
Bestseller Greaney’s outstanding sixth Gray Man novel (after 2016’s Back Blast) finds Court Gentry, now a contract employee of the CIA, joining an effort to locate one of the world’s greatest computer hackers, 26-year-old Fan Jiang, a sergeant in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, who’s on the run after escaping from mainland China. Teams of agents from Russia and China are also involved in the hunt for Fan. Court pretends to join the Chinese, because they have captured and are threatening to kill an old spy buddy, Sir Donald Fitzroy, a British agent who once saved Court’s life. The Russians are led by Zoya Feodorovich Zakharova, an SVR operative, who’s working with an elite SVR paramilitary unit known as Zaslon. Court eventually captures Zoya, who quickly becomes a love interest. The tension mounts as Court, with the help of the talented Zoya, chases Fan all over Eastern Asia. Gray Man fans will close the book happily fulfilled and eagerly awaiting his next adventure.
Beginning on the cusp of the 2000s and spanning more than 25 years, the second novel from Darnielle (Wolf in White Van) is a slow-burn mystery/thriller whose characters are drawn together by an eerie discovery. In his early 20s, Jeremy Heldt lives with his father, Steve—Jeremy’s mother was killed in a car accident six years before—and bides his time clerking at the Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa, waiting for better prospects to arise. It’s a steady job that keeps him out of the house, though things turn weird when customers begin to report dark, disjointed, unnerving movies-within-the-movies on their rented VHS tapes. At first reluctant to become involved in tracking down the origin of the clips, Jeremy, at the urging of his acquaintance Stephanie Parsons, uncovers the tragic decades-long story behind the videos and experiences an unsavory side of Iowa that he never imagined could exist. Powerfully evoking the boredom and salt-of-the-earth determination of Jeremy, his friends, and a haunted survivor determined to redress a great loss, Darnielle adeptly juggles multiple stories that collide with chaotic consequences somewhere in the middle of nowhere. With a nod to urban legends and friend-of-a-friend tales, the author prepares readers for the surreal truth, the improbable events that “have form, and shape, and weight, and meaning.”
With echoes of The Night Circus, a spellbinding story about two gifted orphans in love with each other since they can remember whose childhood talents allow them to rewrite their future.
The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a love story with the power of legend. An unparalleled tale of charismatic pianos, invisible dance partners, radicalized chorus girls, drug-addicted musicians, brooding clowns, and an underworld whose economy hinges on the price of a kiss. In a landscape like this, it takes great creative gifts to thwart one's origins. It might also take true love.
Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1910. Before long, their talents emerge: Pierrot is a piano prodigy; Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing clown routines, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary and seductive circus show the world has ever seen.
Separated as teenagers, sent off to work as servants during the Great Depression, both descend into the city's underworld, dabbling in sex, drugs and theft in order to survive. But when Rose and Pierrot finally reunite beneath the snowflakes after years of searching and desperate poverty the possibilities of their childhood dreams are renewed, and they'll go to extreme lengths to make them come true. Soon, Rose, Pierrot and their troupe of clowns and chorus girls have hit New York, commanding the stage as well as the alleys, and neither the theater nor the underworld will ever look the same.
With her musical language and extravagantly realized world, Heather O Neill enchants us with a novel so magical there is no escaping its spell.
In a delightful sequel to 2014’s Gaston, Gaston the bulldog’s poodle counterpart, Antoinette, wonders what she has to offer compared to her bulldog brothers Rocky, Ricky, and Bruno, who are—respectively—clever, fast, and strong. Antoinette’s mother has faith: “Chin up!” she barks. “You have something extra special. I can feel it in my bones!” That something extra is persistence, readers discover, as the two canine families realize that Gaston’s brother Ooh-La-La is missing: “Antoinette felt a tug in her heart and a twitch in her nose. She could not—would not—give up!” From then on it’s an action-packed romp, as Antoinette trails Ooh-La-La to the Louvre, smuggles herself past the guards, and carries out a heart-stopping rescue—complete with an instant replay—atop a famous sculpture. Robinson’s Parisian spreads are full of retro verve, but he doesn’t overlook the city’s ordinary inhabitants—a garbage collector, a bubble blower in the park, a woman in a head scarf driving a car. DiPucchio excels in showing rather than telling, and it’s clear that beneath Antoinette’s fluffy exterior lies the heart of a hero.
Was H.P. Lovecraft, the great American horror writer, gay? That’s the question at the start of this ingenious, provocative work of alternative history from La Farge (Luminous Airplanes). All the evidence, including Lovecraft’s voluminous correspondence and the firsthand accounts of those who knew him (notably the woman to whom he was briefly married), indicates that he was not. In his letters, he called homosexuality a perversion, but then he dismissed human sexuality in general as a lower form of animal activity.
But what if this was all a pose? Lovecraft, who lived most of his life in Providence, R.I., did spend the summer of 1934 visiting a teenage fan, Robert Barlow, at the Barlow family home in central Florida. Barlow, who would later become a professor of Mexican ethnography, committed suicide in Mexico City in 1951 to escape blackmailers who were threatening to expose him as a homosexual.
In the present day of this novel, New York freelance writer Charlie Willett, an avid Lovecraft fan, manages to locate a copy of the Erotonomicon (a play on Lovecraft’s fictional Necronomicon), which purports to be the erotic diary Lovecraft kept during his time in Florida. Coded prose using names from Lovecraft’s invented mythology records his sexual exploits (“did Yogge-Sothothe in my [hotel] room”). While retracing Lovecraft’s steps in Florida, Charlie learns that Barlow may have faked his death and could still be alive. In the end, Charlie secures a substantial advance for a book about Lovecraft as a closet homosexual. Unfortunately for Charlie, he gets some critical facts wrong. He becomes a pariah and later disappears from a psychiatric hospital in the Berkshires, which is where the book’s action begins.
Lovecraft’s novel The Case of Charles Dexter Ward likewise opens with the disappearance of a major character from a psychiatric hospital, a connection made explicit by La Farge naming the first five section titles after those in Ward (“A Result and a Prologue,” etc.). The whole novel is framed as the account of the efforts of Charlie’s devoted therapist wife to find her husband. Like Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu,” the novel consists of several sub-narratives, ranging widely in time and place. But instead of a revelation about humanity’s diminished place in an impersonal universe, La Farge delivers insights into the human need to believe in stories and the nature of literary fame, while consistently upsetting readers’ expectations.
The mysterious relationship between language and the world” is just one of the questions troubling Selin Karada˘g, the 18-year-old protagonist of Batuman’s (The Possessed) wonderful first novel, a bildungsroman Selin narrates with fluent wit and inexorable intelligence. Beginning her first year at Harvard in the fall of 1995, Selin is determined to “be a courageous person, uncowed by other people’s dumb opinions”; she already thinks of herself as a writer, although “this conviction was completely independent of having ever written anything.” In a Russian class, the Turkish-American Selin is befriended by the worldlier Svetlana, whose Serbian family has endowed her with capital and complexes, and the older Hungarian math major Ivan, who becomes Selin’s correspondent in an exciting new medium: email. Their late-night exchanges inspire Selin more than anything else in her life, but they frustrate her, too: Ivan’s intentions toward her are vague, perhaps even to himself. Traveling to Paris with Svetlana in the summer of 1996, Selin plans to continue on to Hungary, where she will teach English in a village school, and then to Turkey, where her extended family resides. Thus Batuman updates the grand tour travelogue just as she does the epistolary novel and the novel of ideas, in prose as deceptively light as it is ambitious. One character wonders whether it’s possible “to be sincere without sounding pretentious,” and this long-awaited and engrossing novel delivers a resounding yes. (Mar.)
by Greer Macallister
Macallister (The Magician’s Lie) pens an exciting, well-crafted historical novel featuring Kate Warne, the first female Pinkerton detective in 1856 Chicago. Kate is a widow and needs a job, convincing Allan Pinkerton that a female detective can go places and do things a male detective cannot. Once hired, Kate becomes skilled at lock picking and surveillance, but she is best in disguise—as a prostitute, rich matron, spinster, clerk, Southern belle, doting sister, and false friend—an expert liar, playing a role. She investigates burglaries, bank robberies, embezzlement, counterfeiting, blackmail, and murder. The Pinkerton Detective Agency is a man’s world, and Kate is forced to prove herself, especially when someone tries to discredit her. She eventually earns the respect of her fellow detectives, learning a secret to be used later. Kate carries a pistol, but her wit, careful observation, and boldness see her through tricky and unexpected situations with desperate, dangerous criminals. In 1861 Kate comes up with an ingenious plan to protect President Lincoln from a Southern assassination plot, and she later works as a Pinkerton spy in the South during the Civil War, vowing revenge on whoever betrayed her lover and focusing on a formidable adversary, the notorious real-life Southern spy Mrs. Rose Greenhow. Loaded with suspense and action, this is a well-told, superb story.
The Hearts of Men
by Nickolas Butler
Butler (Beneath the Bonfire) returns to rural Wisconsin in this big-hearted epic full of sturdy characters that wear their hearts—and pride—on their sleeves. Told in four parts spanning from 1962 to 2022 and set against the woodsy backdrop of a Boy Scout summer camp, Camp Chippewa, the narrative follows three generations struggling to find their place in a world bent on dealing them a bad hand. In the first section, 13-year-old social outcast Nelson finds little comfort as the camp’s bullied bugler while dealing with conflicted feelings about his abusive father. A tentative friendship formed with cocky older Jonathan saves Nelson’s hide more than once while also demonstrating the limits of just how much Jonathan can give. Part two narrows in on 49-year-old Jonathan’s 16-year-old son, Trevor, falling in love with Rachel, as well as his front-row seat to Jonathan’s marriage-busting affair on the way to Camp Chippewa. The slow-burn heartbreak continues in the two final sections. Once-widowed and twice-divorced Rachel makes an ill-fated decision to accompany her and Trevor’s son, Thomas, on his last summer as a Boy Scout. In a fiery conclusion, Nelson and Jonathan reunite after more than 20 years—wealthy and reclusive Jonathan is now a grandfather, and Nelson is about to retire as Camp Chippewa Scoutmaster. Butler demonstrates enormous command over the material and sympathy for his flawed characters. This beautiful novel might be his best yet.
For this exceptional and emotionally wrenching novel, Chaon (Await Your Reply) plants the seeds of new manias into the hard, unforgiving ground that will be familiar to his readers. In 1983, when psychologist Dustin Tillman was 13, his mother, father, aunt, and uncle were murdered. Dustin accused his adopted older brother, Rusty, a sadistic kid attracted to Satanism, of the crime, and Rusty was incarcerated. The murders shaped Dustin’s life as much as they did Rusty’s; his Ph.D. dissertation was on Satanic ritual abuse, and he practices hypnotherapy despite its detractors. Now in his early 40s, he’s an ineffectual father of two boys and an oblivious husband to a dying wife in suburban Ohio. Having convinced himself of his vision of the past and clinging only to “memories of happiness,” he’s unnerved to learn that Rusty has been exonerated and released. What he doesn’t know is that Rusty has reached out to Dustin’s youngest, Aaron, a teenage junky sliding into Cleveland’s dangerous underground, urging the boy to talk to Wave, Dustin’s estranged cousin, who may know the truth of the murders. The paths of several characters converge as one of Dustin’s patients convinces him to investigate a spate of drownings and Aaron’s best friend Rabbit is pulled from the river, dead. With impressive skill, across multiple narratives that twine, fracture, and reset, Chaon expertly realizes his singular vision of American dread.
The excellent new novel from Kunzru (Gods Without Men) opens as a coming-of-age yarn and ends as a ghost story, but its real subject is a vital piece of American history: the persistence of cultural appropriation in popular music. Twenty-something white roommates Carter and Seth are audiophiles, record collectors, and budding producers living in New York. They’re obsessed with black music, whether it’s reggae, jazz, funk, or hip-hop. When Seth records an old chess player in the park, Carter remixes it into a counterfeit blues song and markets the record as the work of an obscure black singer named Charlie Shaw. Almost immediately, they are approached by a mysterious collector who insists that Shaw is real—and after Carter is savagely beaten and left in a coma, Seth begins to discover just how real. With Carter’s sister, Leonie, for whom Seth nurses an unrequited crush, Seth undertakes a perilous journey from New York to Mississippi to unravel a mystery that weaves together the blues, obsessive collectors, and the American South. What he finds is murder and the unquiet ghost of Shaw. White Tears is a fast-paced, hallucinatory book written in extraordinary prose, but it’s also perhaps the ultimate literary treatment of the so-called hipster, tracing the roots of the urban bedroom deejay to the mythic blues troubadours of the antebellum South. In his most accessible book to date, Kunzru takes on the vinyl-digging gentrification culture with a historical conscience.
At the start of Love’s stunning debut, a messenger from the Los Liones cartel visits the Huntington Park, Calif., home of 26-year-old Lola Vasquez and extends an offer to her boyfriend, Garcia. If Garcia’s gang, the Crenshaw Six, can intercept a drop between one of Los Liones’s former dealers and the man’s new supplier, the gang will get 10% of the loot and control of the dealer’s territory; if they fail, Lola dies. Garcia accepts, but the ambush goes awry, forcing Lola—the Crenshaw Six’s true leader—to emerge from the shadows and fight for her own survival and the safety of those she holds dear. This powerful read is at once an intelligently crafted mystery, a reflection on the cycles of violence and addiction, and a timely mediation on the double standard facing women in authority. Love’s writing is artful and evocative, her story’s sense of place and culture are strong, and, in Lola, Love has created a fully fleshed-out and uniquely compelling antihero who commands fear, respect, and adoration in equal measure. (Mar.)
Diffident Arthur Prescott, the endearing hero of this thoroughly enjoyable novel from bestseller Lovett (The Bookman’s Tale), has chosen to teach at the University of Barchester, a backwater institution, because he grew up in Barchester (yes, Anthony Trollope’s cathedral city, as Lovett admits in an author’s note). A junior lecturer who’s fond of P.G. Wodehouse, Arthur finds his values at odds with those of many of his colleagues, who prefer teaching seminars on J.K. Rowling rather than Shakespeare. His life is upended by the arrival of an attractive American, Bethany Davis, who has the job of digitizing the local cathedral’s ancient manuscripts, and whom he fears threatens his own private quest for the location of the Holy Grail. Bethany gradually brings Arthur out of his emotional shell, and the two become research partners. The light tone (at one point, Arthur, Bethany, and some allies are described as having read enough classic mysteries “that they had no trouble concocting an unnecessarily complicated plan” for a well-intentioned theft) blends well with the clever academic sleuthing.(Mar.)
Shamus Award–winner Parks’s excellent domestic thriller credibly portrays a family under severe stress. Federal judge Scott Sampson’s tranquil and fulfilling personal life in rural tidewater Virginia with his wife, Alison, and twin six-year-olds, Sam and Emma, is shattered when someone impersonating Alison abducts Sam and Emma from their school. The kidnappers insist that Scott say nothing to anyone and that he await instructions about the impending sentencing of a minor drug dealer whose history merits severe punishment. The orders that Scott eventually receives threaten his professional position and prove to be but the prelude to extortion regarding another case with even greater consequences. The tension the catastrophe causes in Scott and Alison’s marriage is palpable, and Parks (The Fraud and five other Carter Ross mysteries) makes even Scott’s most paranoid suspicions reasonable in the circumstances. Veteran genre readers may anticipate some of the surprises, but they’ll still find themselves on pins and needles awaiting the reveals. Five-city author tour. Agent: Alice Martell, Martell Agency.
This mystery with possible political ramifications drives Carter’s superlative third Victorian historical featuring Jeremiah Blake and Capt. William Avery (after 2016’s The Infidel Stain). In 1842, Blake has been working regularly as a private inquiry agent for Theophilus Collinson, a man “quietly influential in London’s highest political and social circles,” but Blake chafes at being considered a hired hand and refuses a new assignment. Claiming that Blake was already paid for work unperformed, Collinson has the stubborn detective arrested and imprisoned for debt. With his sleuthing friend in the Marshalsea prison, Avery ends up having to take the lead when an MP, Charles Rowlands, is poisoned at a fancy dinner party at the Reform Club. Since the club is soon to be the site of a banquet for an Egyptian minister at a time when the Russians are trying to draw Egypt into an alliance against Turkey and ignite a Mideast war, identifying Rowlands’s killer is a national priority. Carter again has crafted an ingenious, fast-moving plot with emotional depth and plausible surprises. Agent: Bill Hamilton, A.M. Heath (U.K.). (Mar.)
This charming series launch from Delaney (Unreasonable Doubt) will please Sherlock Holmes and cozy fans. British expat Gemma Doyle runs the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium, a business started by her great-uncle Arthur (who claims to be a distant cousin of Conan Doyle), in the Cape Cod town of West London. Gemma finds herself in the middle of a real-life whodunit after a woman abandons what appears to be an original 1887 Beeton’s Christmas Annual in the store. A copy of this rare magazine, in which the first Holmes story, the novel A Study in Scarlet, appeared, is worth a fortune. Along with her close friend Jayne Wilson, Gemma traces the woman to her hotel room, only to find her strangled corpse. This grim discovery doesn’t stop Gemma from investigating further. She identifies the dead woman as Mary Ellen Longton, who turns out to have been the nurse to a recently deceased millionaire recluse, who named her in his will. Romantic entanglements and another murder victim thicken the plot, which builds to a fairly clued reveal. Agent: Kim Lionetti, BookEnds Literary Agency. (Mar.)
Linder (New York Post and Morning Edition) delivers a moving and deft account of her journey to unearth a diagnosis of the mysterious family gene that caused her father’s and six other relatives’ untimely deaths. In this fascinating journey, she seamlessly moves from instructing on complicated genomic science to revealing the relatable follies of her 20s, never shedding wit or humor. She eloquently tells the story of her father’s protracted battle with a mystery illness that led to his painful and courageous search for medical answers. Once Linder starts to develop similar symptoms she continues his quest. She consults medical experts and genomic specialists who revel in the wonders, intricacies, and unsolved mysteries of genetic science. She is able to write deftly about medicine with the same casualness and verve she devotes to stories of aimless romance and the ennui of her mid-20s. With compassion and a keen eye, she digs into her family history, medical history, and contemporary genetic science. Lessons on DNA and the significance of X chromosomes in passing genes are woven into Linder’s intimate look at her ongoing struggle to stay alive. She expertly balances the serious and often tragic with an indefatigable charm and warmth. This book is a wonderful blend of reflections on coming of age, medicine, and what it means to live against all odds. (Mar.)
The unnamed boys of the title of Daniel Magariel’s spare and piercing debut novel are the 12-year-old narrator, his older brother, and their father. The trio are headed from Kansas to New Mexico to begin a new life after a brutal divorce and custody battle referred to by the father as “the war.” The narrator, complicit in lying about his mother’s negligence so his father could gain custody, at first treats his new life like the adventure he was promised that it would be. But when his father’s violent tendencies and severe drug addiction become increasingly apparent, the narrator finally begins to make sense of the divorce and the true source of the family’s demise. The urgent present action of the novel—in which the brothers adapt to their new life while tiptoeing around their erratic and largely absent father—is combined with flashbacks portraying life before the family’s collapse, ultimately creating a stunning and tragic portrait of both the joys and limitations of love. (Mar.)
Both unwieldy and tightly controlled, bestseller Iles’s terrific conclusion to his Natchez Burning trilogy (after 2015’s The Bone Tree) is a sweeping story that remains intimate. The Double Eagles, a savage KKK splinter group, have declared a personal war on Penn Cage, a former prosecutor who’s now the mayor of Natchez, Miss., necessitating 24-hour security protection for him and his family. The toxic bigotry escalates as Penn’s father, Tom, once a respected physician, goes on trial for the murder of his former nurse and one-time lover, Viola Turner, an African-American who was suffering from terminal cancer. Penn teams with Serenity Butler, a famous black author who plans to write about Tom’s case. Together, they look into the secrets of the Cage family, the Double Eagles, and the South. Though a side plot about J.F.K.’s assassination stretches credibility, relentless pacing keeps the story churning, with unexpected brutality erupting on nearly every page. The trial scenes are among the most exciting ever written in the genre. Eight-city author tour.
Seamlessly transposing classical myth into a quintessentially American landscape and marrying taut suspense with dreamy lyricism, Tinti’s beautifully intricate second novel is well worth the wait since 2008’s The Good Thief. As his beloved daughter, Loo, hits adolescence, longtime criminal Samuel Hawley forswears life on the run and moves with her to the coastal Massachusetts town where her late mother Lily was raised. Though father and daughter both struggle to adjust, Samuel finds a place in the town’s fishing industry as Loo experiences first love with the quirky son of environmentalists who oppose it. But the consequences of Samuel’s violent past continue unfolding, while Loo’s quest to understand the truth of her mother’s death by drowning may fracture her bond with her father forever. Alternating chapters chronicle Samuel’s past—traced through the 12 bullet wounds that scar his body—and Loo’s attempts to find an authentic self and a future. As the story lines converge, Tinti’s imagery evokes time, space, the sea, and the myth of Heracles without losing the narrative’s sure grounding in American communities and culture. This is a convincingly redemptive and celebratory novel: an affirmation of the way that heroism and human fallibility coexist, of how good parenting comes in unexpected packages, and of the way that we are marked by our encounters with each other and the luminous universe in which we dwell.
Dearborn (Mistress of Modernism: The Life of Peggy Guggenheim) revisits one of America's most popular writers with insight and finesse, in this rich, detailed biography of Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961). Hemingway came to fame in 1920s Paris amid the fabled community of American expatriates that also included F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. His sheer creative energy glowed as he wrote his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, in a little over six weeks. During the Spanish Civil War, Hemingway became a widely read, syndicated correspondent. His well-publicized African safaris and big-game hunting culminated in the celebrated short story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro." Hemingway fired the public imagination, Dearborn shows, becoming a personification and even a caricature of virility for his generation. In 1954, he received the Nobel Prize for literature. Despite the achievements and celebrity, Hemingway led a troubled life complicated by alcohol and three failed marriages, increasingly spinning his wheels and losing his gifts. His 1961 suicide shocked the world. Dearborn speculates at length on what went wrong, attributing Hemingway's collapse to manic depression compounded by brain injuries. Her fluid narrative and careful research contribute to an impressive biography. Hemingway changed our language and the way we think, she asserts. Dearborn's account shines from beginning to end, helped by Hemingway's dramatic life and charismatic personality.
Bestseller Horowitz (The House of Silk) provides a treat for fans of golden age mysteries with this tour de force that both honors and pokes fun at the genre. In the prologue, an unnamed editor sets the tone by describing how reading the manuscript of Magpie Murders, the ninth novel in a bestselling mystery series by Alan Conway, cost her her job and many friendships. In the text of the manuscript itself (which is accompanied by a bio of Conway and blurbs from real-life authors Ian Rankin and Robert Harris), Poirot-like sleuth Atticus Pünd, a German concentration camp survivor who has settled in England, tackles an Agatha Christie–like puzzle in 1955 Saxby-on-Avon. The verdict of accidental death seems warranted in the case of housekeeper and unrepentant busybody Mary Blakiston, who took a fatal fall down a flight of stairs at Pye Hall, since no one else was in the locked manor house at the time. But rumors that her estranged son wished Mary dead lead his fiancée to seek Pünd's help. The identity of the person responsible for Mary's death is but one of the questions Pünd must answer, and Horowitz throws in several wicked twists as the narrative builds to a highly satisfying explanation of the prologue.
As the male-dominated, patriarchal, modern nuclear family fragments, American society, declares Stacey, has entered the age of the postmodern family--no single pattern is dominant, and only a minority of U.S. households contain married couples with children. In a forceful, scholarly critique, she argues that much family-values rhetoric serves as a sanitized decoy for class and race prejudices, and she attacks ""family-values warriors"" Dan Quayle, Pat Buchanan and Jerry Falwell as antifeminist, antigay and politically reactionary. Professor of sociology and women's studies at UC Davis, Stacey (Brave New Families) charges that a right-wing, pro-family campaign, joining forces with centrist think tanks and policy institutions, has shaped the family ideology and politics of the Clinton administration. Advocating legalized homosexual marriages, she considers gay and lesbian families instructional models for meeting the challenges to flexibility, self-help and creativity that the postmodern family demands.
The Men in My Life: A Memoir of Love and Art in 1950s Manhattan
by Patricia Bosworth
In this moving follow-up to her 1997 memoir, Anything Your Little Heart Desires, Bosworth comes into her own as a memoirist. The earlier book focused on her father, Bartley Crum, best known as a left-wing lawyer who’d represented the Hollywood 10. In this one, Bosworth (Montgomery Clift; Diane Arbus) retraces some of the same material, condensing her father’s political life and her parents’ personal struggles with absence, alcoholism, and adultery before expanding her own coming of age as an actress and, eventually, as a writer. Perhaps inevitably, many of her decisions were colored by her dysfunctional upbringing: her disastrous marriage in 1952 (she was 19) to an abusive wannabe artist was a thinly veiled escape. Her relationship with Joseph “Pepi” Schildkraut, a married actor her father’s age, came just as her father was institutionalized for substance abuse. Her abortion as she was about to film A Nun’s Story with Audrey Hepburn unleashed a torrent of suppressed Catholic guilt. The men who haunt Bosworth’s raw narrative are her beloved brother, Bart Jr., who killed himself when he was 18, and her father, who killed himself six years later. In the end, Bosworth has no firm answers. They were prey, as she was, to “the ambivalent nature of choices between career and family, between romance and responsibility, between recklessness and restraint.”
Orr (The Road Not Taken) collects entries from his New York Times poetry column from the past 15 years, analyzing the works of individual poets and the state of the form itself. He provides equal parts illuminating commentary and hilarious jabs at the poetry world’s insularity and pretensions. He playfully skewers Billy Collins in a verse that perfectly mimics Collins’s signature style and disparages poets who are “small-scale epiphany manufacturers.” Among his many skills, Orr displays a singular ability to capture a poet’s sensibility, comparing Stevie Smith to a figure skater whose “seemingly purposeless meanderings” somehow “cut into the ice the figure of a hanged man.” A very clever piece examining clichés of poetic “greatness” argues for Elizabeth Bishop’s more subtle powers over “thunderbolt-chucking wild man” Robert Lowell. More user-friendly pieces look at the tradition of wedding poetry, poke fun at an O Magazine feature titled “Spring Fashion Modeled by Rising Young Poets,” and summarily appraise James Franco’s poetic output: “Is it, you may be wondering, good? No.” Orr is an exceptional wit and critical talent, with perhaps his most brilliant feat here being how he dissolves some of poetry’s opacity and makes it more accessible (and interesting) to a wider audience.
The Book That Changed America: How Darwin's Theory of Evolution Ignited a Nation
by Randall Fuller
In this inventive work, which weaves two powerful events into a vibrant tapestry of antebellum intellectual life, Fuller (From Battlefields Rising), professor of English at the University of Tulsa, beautifully describes how the engagement by a group of Transcendentalists with Darwin’s newly published On the Origin of Species deepened their commitment to the antislavery movement. Still reeling from abolitionist John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry, Transcendentalists (and Brown supporters) Franklin Sanborn, Charles Loring Brace, Bronson Alcott, and Henry David Thoreau quickly devoured Darwin’s book and recommended it to others. All people were biologically related, Darwin’s work hinted, which Transcendentalists interpreted as a repudiation of the belief that “African-American slaves were a separate, inferior species.” Fuller shares the Transcendentalists’ knack for clearly presenting complex ideas. He nimbly traverses the details of the scientific debate between Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz and Asa Gray over the theories of polygenism and evolution. There’s a glimpse of Louisa May Alcott, inspired by Darwin’s book to write a daring story of interracial love. Elegant writing and an unusual approach to interpreting the time period make this a must-read for everyone interested in Civil War–era history.
Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life
by Haider Warraich
Warraich, a physician, writer, and clinical researcher, thoughtfully investigates the often alarming realities of death in early 21st-century America. For many it will be a “drawn-out slow burn” from a chronic illness, and where that end occurs depends largely on race and economic status. As medicine improves, it has paradoxically made death “more harrowing and prolonged today than it has ever been before.” For Warraich, the person who more than any other “would come to define modern death” was Karen Ann Quinlan, whose coma triggered a fight over keeping her on life support—a contentious battle that ended with a 1976 New Jersey Supreme Court decision that momentously introduced “the patient and the family member into medical decision making.” Around the same time, brain death was defined in a way that has made many modern deaths protracted for the patient, uncertain for the medical team, and heart-wrenching for grieving families. Dying may now include a health-care proxy, a living will, and advance directives to accommodate the patient’s wishes for their own death. as Warraich eloquently explores the act of dying, he urges the public to talk more about it and pleads for “resuscitating many of the aspects of death that we have lost.”
A Very Expensive Poison: The Assassination of Alexander Litvinenko and Putin's War with the West
by Luke Harding
Harding (The Snowden Files), a foreign correspondent for The Guardian, covers the 2006 poisoning of Russian exile Litvinenko in informative detail and sensationalist style. Drawing on interviews, original reportage, and a British public inquiry, Harding reiterates the inquiry’s findings: Litvinenko was the victim of a political assassination that was indistinguishable from a gangland hit. Born in 1962, Litvinenko had been an officer of the FSB, Russia’s national security service (and KGB successor), until he tipped off a friend, oligarch Boris Berezovsky, about a planned attempt on Berezovsky’s life. Fleeing the wrath of Berezovsky’s would-be assassins, in 2000 Litvinenko and his family found refuge in London, where Litvinenko became a security advisor, MI6 informant, and dissident speaking out against Russian president Vladimir Putin and his “mafia state.” A casual meeting with two business associates, Andrey Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, cut short Litvinenko’s activities. According to forensics experts following a trail of radiation, the two had been transporting polonium, which ended up in Litvinenko’s tea, killing him within weeks. The public inquiry found that Litvinenko was certainly killed by Lugovoi and Kovtun, the flunkeys of an FSB operation that was “probably approved” by Putin. Harding suitably conveys the shocking, violent, and tragic story of a man whose murder has gone unpunished.
A Meatloaf in Every Oven: Two Chatty Cooks, One Iconic Dish and Dozens of Recipes-- From Mom's to Mario Batali's
by Frank Bruni and Jennifer Steinhauer
Veteran New York Times writers Bruni and Steinhauer offer up a remarkably inventive and solid collection of recipes for one of America’s most popular comfort foods. Fittingly opening with a classic version of traditional meatloaf courtesy of Bruni’s mother, the duo explore the boundaries of all things meatloaf, incorporating different meats such as lamb, duck, tuna, and chicken with winning results. Traditionalists will find plenty to like here, and more adventurous cooks will appreciate the South African bobotie loaf, a lamb-based loaf incorporating tamarind paste, curry powder, raisins, a Granny Smith apple, and bay leaf–infused milk; Mario Batali’s multilayered stuffed meatloaf; and Bobby Flay’s complex Korean-style meatloaf with spicy glaze. Fun riffs such as a Swedish meatball loaf and a cheeseburger and fries loaf will bring kids to the table, as will chef Garret Fleming’s decadent macaroni and cheese, which will forever alter readers’ definition of this classic side. Liberally peppered with Bruni and Steinhauer’s snappy dialogue, this is a terrific collection that deserves a look from meatloaf lovers of all ages.
Naturally Nourished: Healthy, Delicious Meals Made with Everyday Ingredients
by Sarah Britton
Britton follows up her debut cookbook, My New Roots, with seasonally inspired weeknight meals. Each recipe is labeled with symbols delineating whether they are vegan, gluten-free, raw, or grain-free and has a box instructing the reader on how to “roll over” leftovers to make another night’s preparation easier. Chapters open with a “3 Ways” recipe that provides a simple base and can easily be switched up—for instance, stuffed sweet potatoes includes instructions for three different fillings: kale, feta, and pecans; broccoli and chickpeas; and spicy cabbage and black beans. Britton is known for her inventive vegetarian recipes and they are plentiful in this title, such as her North African sun-dried tomato soup. Presentation and garnishing are the author’s strong suit and turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.
My Utmost: A Devotional Memoir
by Macy Halford
In her debut, Halford, a copy editor at the New Yorker, weaves the story of her young adulthood with the history of the popular daily devotional My Utmost for His Highest, which she, her mother, and her grandmother have all incorporated into their spiritual practices. The devotional, assembled from the writings of Scottish preacher Oswald Chambers (1874–1915), was edited and published posthumously by his wife, Biddy, and has remained in print ever since. Halford recounts her quest to learn more about Chambers’s life, faith, and writings, adding her reflections on what the book has meant in her own life. An evangelical raised in the Southern Baptist tradition, Halford attended Barnard College and has worked for many years at the New Yorker—a life far removed from the modern American Evangelical subculture. Chambers’s life and legacy, along with Halford’s own personal journey, prove to be a powerful lens through which to examine the roots of fundamentalist evangelicalism and its rocky relationship with the modern world. Although the book is first and foremost a memoir, neither a full biography of Chambers nor a history of modern evangelicalism, those interested in either topic will appreciate the “Further Reading” essay and select bibliography at the end of the work. Halford’s enlightening memoir is a must-read for those interested in My Utmost for His Highest or evangelicalism in the 21st century.
The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit
by Michael Finkel
On a summer morning in 1986, 20-year-old Christopher Knight didn’t show up for his job installing alarm systems in Waltham, Mass. Nearly three decades passed before he reappeared and revealed he’d spent most of that time camping in the woods of central Maine. In this fascinating account of Knight’s renunciation of humanity, Finkel (True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa) struggles to comprehend the impulses that led Knight to court death by hypothermia even though his family home was less than an hour’s drive away. To survive, Knight relentlessly pilfered supplies from vacation houses around his campsite, infuriating and terrifying homeowners and baffling a generation of cops. Finally apprehended during one of his raids, the “Hermit of North Pond” battled depression and contemplated suicide as he was forced to rejoin society. Drawn by the details that followed Knight’s arrest, Finkel reached out to him through letters and visits. Despite frequent rebuffs, enough of a relationship developed for Finkel to broadly outline Knight’s wilderness solitude. A fellow outdoorsman, Finkel places Knight in the long tradition of hermits, a category that has been admired and distrusted over the centuries. Yet even as Finkel immerses himself in Knight’s life—researching hermits, consulting psychologists, even camping at Knight’s hideaway—his subject’s motivations remain obscure, leaving the book somehow incomplete. The book doesn’t penetrate the mystery of Knight’s renunciation, but the questions it raises remain deeply compelling.
Armitage (The Declaration of Independence: A Global History), a professor of history at Harvard, succeeds in his quest to distinguish civil wars from revolutionary wars, and different kinds of civil wars from one another, in a learned book that cuts a trail through “an impoverished area of inquiry.” Starting with the Greeks and Romans and arriving in the 21st century, Armitage leads readers down long, murky paths that writers, historians, and philosophers have previously trod without making the type of lasting, satisfying distinctions he seeks. As Armitage shows, this is a surprisingly complex subject filled with much heavy speculation. But where others, including many whose thinking Armitage analyzes and quotes, employ laborious prose, his book is a model of its kind: concise, winningly written, clearly laid out, trenchantly argued. Armitage contends that failure to understand civil wars—which are normal and perhaps unavoidable—has burdened the understanding of history and policy in unfortunate ways. His conclusion is sobering: human societies may never be without this kind of conflict, and we’re better off trying to understand it than ignoring its problematic nature. It’s hard to imagine a more timely work for today. Historians, political scientists and theorists, and policy makers will find it indispensable.
For those who love language, this debut from Stamper, a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster, will be a delectable feast. Stamper, who also produces the dictionary’s “Ask the Editor” video series, has drawn up a witty, sly, occasionally profane behind-the-scenes tour aimed at deposing the notion of “real and proper English” and replacing it with a genuine appreciation for the glories and frustrations of finding just the right word. Stamper claims to approach her subject irreverently, and she certainly does make fun of both language and those who peddle it for a living. But her teasing is belied by a real devotion to its spirit, if not to the letter of all the stuffy so-called laws. Liberally employing a host of wonderful words—foofaraw, potamologist—she declaims elegantly on the beauty and necessity of dialect, how to evaluate emerging words, and many other topics. Stamper is at her best when entertaining the reader with amusing etymologies, celebrating the contentiousness of grammar, and quoting annoying emails from an opinionated public. If she bogs down occasionally in the swamps of industry jargon, it’s easy to forgive her. As one of her colleagues notes, “Words are stubborn little fuckers.” However, Stamper corrals them to her purpose with such aplomb that readers might just feel like applauding. Agent: Heather Schroder, Compass Talent.
Even in raw form, Didion’s (Blue Nights) voice surpasses other writers’ in “elegance and clarity,” Nathaniel Rich astutely observes in his introduction to Didion’s notebooks from her 1970 trip to Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi and much shorter 1976 musings about her California youth. Didion’s notes display her characteristic verbal power: details such as “bananas would rot, and harbor tarantulas” (about New Orleans weather) punctuate this short volume. Moreover, Didion reveals remarkable foresight about America’s political direction: Rich traces a direct line from her nearly 50-year-old musings on the Gulf Coast as America’s “psychic center” to the Trump election. But most strikingly, Didion’s observations reveal differences with today, such as a degree of civility now often missing from public discourse. In one dinner exchange, for example, a wealthy white Mississippian gripes about busing, yet says, “Basically I know the people who are pushing it are right.” Students of social history, fans of Didion, and those seeking a quick, engaging read will appreciate this work: the raw immediacy of unedited prose by a master has an urgency that more polished works often lack. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit. (Mar.)
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
by David Grann
New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Lost City of Z) burnishes his reputation as a brilliant storyteller in this gripping true-crime narrative, which revisits a baffling and frightening—and relatively unknown—spree of murders occurring mostly in Oklahoma during the 1920s. From 1921 to 1926, at least two dozen people were murdered by a killer or killers apparently targeting members of the Osage Indian Nation, who at the time were considered “the wealthiest people per capita in the world” thanks to the discovery of oil beneath their lands. The violent campaign of terror is believed to have begun with the 1921 disappearance of two Osage Indians, Charles Whitehorn and Anna Brown, and the discovery of their corpses soon afterwards, followed by many other murders in the next five years. The outcry over the killings led to the involvement in 1925 of an “obscure” branch of the Justice Department, J. Edgar Hoover’s Bureau of Investigation, which eventually charged some surprising figures with the murders. Grann demonstrates how the Osage Murders inquiry helped Hoover to make the case for a “national, more professional, scientifically skilled” police force. Grann’s own dogged detective work reveals another layer to the case that Hoover’s men had never exposed.
This collection of essays spanning two decades has the same fearless curiosity about the human psyche that Gaitskill (The Mare) exhibits in her fiction, along with the same unerring precision of prose. The broad range of her reviews, which cover art and literature from the Book of Revelations to Gone Girl, are united by her demand for complexity, her fascination with “enchantment and cruelty” (the title for her piece on J.M. Barrie), and her disdain for sentimental complacency. Early reflections tease and knead language into towering baroque shapes, but essays such as “The Bridge,” on her visit to Saint Petersburg, and the astonishing “Lost Cat,” on losing her pet, Gattino, settle down to the work of attentive, metaphor-rich descriptions. In later essays, Gaitskill’s dryness veers toward the acerbic, shearing through the reductive and the bowdlerized. Even those essays which start with the broadest of subjects—myth, religion, literature—repeatedly turn inward, drawn by Gaitskill’s interest in complicated inner landscapes, her favorite theme of “the innately mixed, sometimes debased nature of human love,” and her unyielding “moral empathy” for the perversity of the human condition. The surprising, nimble prose alone is a delight, and the pages burst with insight and a candid, unflinching self-assessment sure to thrill Gaitskill’s existing fans and win her new ones.
Kolata (Flu), a science journalist for the New York Times, shares the gripping story of how one South Carolina family has dealt with Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker disease, a deadly and untreatable genetic illness. Her wonderful presentation of cutting-edge biomedical research offers insight into some of the scientists who carry it out while exploring the struggles and unhappiness of patients and their families. Kolata also examines a host of intractable ethical issues associated with the disease: Should individuals be tested to determine whether, sometime in the future, they will fall victim to the flaw in their genome, knowing that no palliative treatment is possible? Should embryos be genetically tested and those with the variant gene discarded? The family Kolata follows is devoutly Southern Baptist, which provides the opportunity to consider the myriad ways religion and science interact in such complex situations. Observing the familial interactions and the manner by which different individuals process the same information proves fascinating. The book’s only real flaw derives from the overwrought manner in which every action, whether mundane or medically critical, gets raised to crisis level. Kolata’s book reads like a medical thriller and readers will be caught up in the lives of the protagonists.
Rosenthal, a New York Times senior writer and former physician, provocatively analyzes the U.S. healthcare system and finds that it’s “rigged against you,” delving into what’s gone wrong as well as how Americans can make it right. In the first part of this astounding takedown, Rosenthal unveils with surgical precision the “dysfunctional medical market” that plays by rules that have little to do with patient-centered, evidence-based medical care. In part two she prescribes the rigorous but necessary steps to fix the broken system. Rosenthal chronicles a startling cascade of escalating pressures that steadily drove up medical costs, including the skyrocketing spread of health insurance coverage in the 1940s and ’50s, hospitals’ adoption of big-business models, and doctors’ convoluted payment schemes. “Our healthcare system today treats illness and wellness as just another object of commerce: revenue generation,” Rosenthal writes. She also notes that politicians, insurers, hospitals, and doctors have all maneuvered to “undermine” the Affordable Care Act. Her advice for now is starkly simple: we need to question everything, including your choice of doctor, hospital, billing statement, insurance, and the drugs and devices we’re prescribed. Given the “false choice of your money or your life,” Rosenthal argues, “it’s time for us all to take a stand for the latter.”
In a landscape of rolling hills cloaked in a gentle haze, Pandora lives off civilization’s debris. She’s a lonely fox who has built herself a house atop a mound of old furniture, discarded toys, and other castoffs, all drawn in mesmerizing detail. Like the solitary hero of Marianne Dubuc’s The Lion and the Bird, she’s taken by surprise when a delicate bird falls out of the sky and into her care. A spread shows her fast asleep on the floor next to the bird’s makeshift nest in a cardboard box, her brushy tail curled protectively over it. Pandora nurses the bird back to health—it brings her twigs and flowers, “gifts from faraway lands”—but one day it doesn’t return, and she’s bereft. While she sleeps, something miraculous happens. Sprouting into life, the bird’s nest grows into an otherworldly garden, covering her room and her house with flowers and foliage—a reflection, perhaps, of the love that has grown in her heart. The bird’s return is another miracle. As an artist, Turnbull (The Sea Tiger) has two crucial gifts: the power of imagination and the ability to make emotions visible. Ages 4–7.