From a 1980s literary superstar’s return to a study of American trailblazers with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.
The House of Mourning and Other Stories By Desmond Hogan A reclusive writer returns with a short-story collection of lost loves and opportunities. Back in the 1980s, Desmond Hogan was a writer to watch, one of those figures who could light up a London literary party just by showing up. The following decade, though, he fell completely out of sight—even his close friends couldn’t track him down. Today, his name elicits blank stares more than anything else, but the Irish author is back with a short-story collection that seeks to restore his place among the likes of Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, and Kazuo Ishiguro.
This week, from the women who conquered Paris and Tuscany to a man made—and ruined—by Wall Street. By Mythili Rao.
In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt BellA marriage very darkly seen.In Matt Bell’s brutally dreamlike debut novel, a young couple’s marriage is slowly consumed by darkness after a series of failed pregnancies. Gradually, the darkness extends its reach beyond the home they’ve built together into the woods and surrounding lake. Then, when things seem at their bleakest, one day the narrator’s wife produces a child—from where, though, the narrator is not sure.
From Jeannette Walls’s venture into fiction to a Chinese poet’s Kafkaesque account of life inside horrifically crowded prisons.
The Silver Star By Jeannette Walls Two girls strike out on their own across the country after their mother abandons them. It takes only 20 pages of The Silver Star, the new novel from Jeannette Walls (author of the massively successful memoir of her impoverished upbringing, The Glass Castle), before the characters dive headfirst into their adventure. Twelve-year-old Bean and her older sister Liz find themselves abandoned in their California house one afternoon when their mother, a struggling singer who never found fame in the ’60s and suffers something like an artistic breakdown in 1970, skips town without warning.
From a book steeped in all the strange junk that we’re obsessed with in the contemporary world to a novel of the Cold War experience told through ghost stories.
Note to Self By Alina SimoneA goofy, sweet coming-of-age story that captures life among all the strange trash in the modern world.Reading Alina Simone’s novel Note to Self sometimes feels like browsing a catalog of the strange trash in this modern world. Simone’s funny protagonist, Anna, is suspicious, jumpy, and self-critical. She thinks she’ll get fired from her office job for time theft, fixates on Craigslist ads for fetish parties, and parrots life-coach jargon about goals and wishes.
From Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s tale of reassimilation back into Nigeria to a road-trip novel from Bulgaria to Greece.
Americanah By Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieA woman struggles to assimilate in Nigeria after living in the U.S. for 13 years.Ifemelu, the heroine of Adichie’s third novel, fled Nigeria as a college student when universities went on strike to protest the country’s military regime. “A piercing homesickness” has spurred her return to Lagos, but she also wants to reunite with her lost love, Obinze, who is married. But after living in the United States for 13 years, she is shocked by how much Nigeria has changed.
This week, from a childhood interrupted by war in Sri Lanka to the glory days of food reviewing.
On Sal Mal Lane By Ru FreemanWar threatens to shatter the innocence of children in Sri Lanka.Sri Lankan-American novelist Ru Freeman’s latest book, On Sal Mal Lane, turns to a charming row of homes on an ordinary road in Sri Lanka’s capital. During the years between 1979 and 1983, whispers of war fill the city. But on Sal Mal Lane, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Catholics live side by side in relative harmony. The street’s most beloved residents are the Herath children, four young siblings who together form a single unit—“every word uttered, every challenge made, every secret kept, together.
This week, stories of human endurance and persistence, whether in the courtroom or behind enemy lines.
The Price of Justice By Laurence LeamerThe epic legal struggle between two Pittsburgh lawyers and an energy tycoon in West Virginia.Kafkaesque considerations lie at the heart of The Price of Justice, such as whether a citizen’s constitutional right to due process and a fair trial was violated when the judge received large contributions from one side of the legal dispute. In his 14th book, veteran journalist Laurence Leamer recounts his ground-level view of the epic legal struggle between two Pittsburgh layers, Dave Fawcett and Bruce Stanley, and the head of the massively lucrative Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, over the latter’s tyrannical and unconstitutional control of West Virginian coal mining country.
From a young girl’s real-life diary of her time in a concentration camp, to John le Carré’s new novel taking on the war on terror.
Helga’s Diary by Helga Weiss A young Jewish girl under the thumb of Nazi Germany keeps a diary of her time in the ghettos and camps.There’s no such thing as a definitive account of surviving the Holocaust. No one person lived all the horrors or found every way to express the horrors. Helga Weiss adds a new story into a shrinking community of survivors with her edited diary, full of life despite the void of humanity that surrounds her.This young girl is adaptable.
This week, from the songbirds of rural Indiana to the forgotten gothic literature of Russia.
Snapper By Brian Kimberling A lovestruck ecologist’s mission roaming the woods and fighting for songbirds.Evansville, Indiana, is the setting of this debut novel, but it’s easy to mistake the city for a character in this book. “If Indiana is the bastard son of the Midwest, then Evansville is Indiana’s snot-nosed stepchild,” the protagonist, Nathan, observes. Nathan is an ecologist who spends his days roaming the forests in a truck held together with duct tape and Band-Aids, tracking birds, using trigonometry to calculate nest locations, composing wry, anthropomorphizing field notes.
From a long-awaited sequel to a courtly farce, to a memoir of a childhood spent in the ruins of American aristocracy.
The Astor Orphan By Alexandra AldrichA debut memoir of an Astor descendant’s childhood spent living in crumbling Rokeby Mansion.Perhaps the reason that large, old mansions feel like characters in their own right is that they are given proper names: ostentatious Brideshead Castle from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, or ignominious Darlington Hall from Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. The American cousin to these homesteads, central to Alexandra Aldrich’s debut memoir The Astor Orphan, is Rokeby, a 43-room mansion in the Hudson Valley built by the Astor family in tribute to their own enormous wealth and influence.
From André Aciman’s novel of a Harvard student struggling with his immigrant identity to a history of the women who ruled Renaissance Italy.
American Dream Machine By Matthew SpecktorAn agent and his son play out the Hollywood version of the American Dream.Matthew Specktor’s newest novel shows the cutthroat nature of how to succeed in Hollywood, a world where moving up means climbing over someone else. New-York-born Beau Rosenwald moves to Los Angeles in 1960, and his charisma helps him become a wealthy Hollywood agent. His son turns to drugs in his father’s shadow. The story is familiar: a powerful man struggles to keep control of his empire; the son searches for his identity outside of his father’s shadow.
From the story of the runners who made marathons mainstream to a novel obsessed with speed by a National Book Award nominee.
Kings of the Road By Cameron Stracher The men who made marathons mainstream began their endurance run in the ‘70s.In 2012, 487,000 Americans ran a marathon; that figure would have easily exceeded half a million if not for the post-Sandy cancellation of the New York City Marathon, a race in which 9 percent of marathoners participate each year. Today, the sight of “grown men … on the roads in their long underwear and gloves, battling traffic for the shoulder,” is nothing unusual.
From a reissue of a violent 1972 classic to a macabre odyssey across a Gothic Southern landscape.
The Prince By R.M. Koster A reprint of a 1972 classic in which a fictional Latin American nation boils in violence.The value of a well-chosen reprint should go beyond merely reminding us of a good book that we might have forgotten—it should reengage us with a former state of the world and that world’s reflection in literature. The Prince, R.M. Koster’s 1972 National Book Award–nominated first installment in the Tinieblas trilogy, is the story of Tinieblas, a fictional Latin American country based on Koster’s time spent deployed as a soldier in Panama, and one of its many would-be rulers, Enrique “Kiki” Secundo.
From the tragedy of Soviet composer Serge Prokofiev’s wife to a novel about the life of Typhoid Mary.
Lina and Serge By Simon MorrisonThe remarkable story of the wife of composer Serge Prokofiev, who was imprisoned in the gulag for eight years.Carolina Codina, whose stage name was Lina Llubera, was born in Madrid, raised in Brooklyn, and dreamed of being an opera singer admired by the world. Instead, she married Serge Prokofiev, who was one of the most admired composers on the world stage, and in 1936, Stalin’s Soviet Union lured them back to Moscow.
From a journalist’s personal history with the racism of the American South to a diary of a Japanese girl that washes up on the shores of Canada.
The New Mind of the South by Tracy Thompson Looking for new hope in the land of the old Confederacy.Tracy Thompson grew up in Georgia, and concluded that the simplest way to deal with the cognitive dissonance of being from the South was to “shove the whole thing into a mental drawer and get on with your life.” As a career journalist, though, it was only a matter of time until her need for deeper answers caught up with her. In The New Mind of the South, Thompson sets out to meet historian Carl Degler’s challenge: “No Southerner, so far as I know, has yet seen fit to write about the ‘two-ness’ of Southerners.
This week, a third installment from a master memoirist, two promising debut novels, and the story of a New York City culinary institution.
Falling To Earth by Kate SouthwoodA tornado obliterates a Midwestern town in 1920s Illinois and sets a family on an unavoidable path.When listing evocative American images, near the top would have to be Mother holding open the cellar door, as the kids scramble down the steps and dark clouds roll toward them across the plains. So opens Falling to Earth, a debut novel from Kate Southwood, which takes as its inciting incident the true-life disaster that befell an entire swath of the Midwest on March 18, 1925.
Every week, we present brief but in-depth reviews of five fiction and non-fiction books.
Going to the beach this weekend? You’ll find jellyfish blooms are getting larger, and the cause is climate change. By Lisa-ann Gershwin.
Featuring Avery Corman, Patricia Bosworth, Michael Chabon, Jean Halberstam, and others. From Open Road Integrated Media.