The Free World, Blind Sight, and Day of the Oprichnik: Reviews

Three great new novels not to be missed: A coming-of-age story about a teen connecting with his father, a sweeping tale of stranded émigrés, and a mad Russian satire.

Luke Prescott, the 17-year-old protagonist of former dancer Meg Howrey’s gently humorous, smoothly written first novel, Blind Sight, is the anti-Holden Caulfield: polite, mature, upbeat, thoughtful. After finding out that his mystery father is a famous TV actor, Luke flies out to Los Angeles to pal around with him at red-carpet premieres, on TV shoots, and on dates with beautiful girlfriends. Raised by his mother and sisters, Luke has never had a man in his life, and his cool, handsome father fits the role perfectly. Soon enough Luke learns that not all is as it seems.

A hefty, funny portrait of a family of Soviet Jewish èmigrès stranded in Rome in 1978. Family duty is The Free World’s warming theme: despite their near-constant quarreling—about where to live, what train to take, who should carry the luggage—the Krasnanskys show a piercing faithfulness to each other. So much so that the novel occasionally feels like a too-careful act of homage, the novel-as-family-tree (author David Bezmozgis’s own family emigrated from Latvia in the ’70s). But humor and a tense, illicit love affair move this novel swiftly to its sad end.

This take-no-prisoners satire from one of Russia’s literary stars depicts a futuristic, ultra-autocratic Moscow through the eyes of one of its deadliest state thugs. Over the course of a busy day he will intimidate, murder, beat, and rape anyone who poses a threat to Mother Russia and its new tsar. Vladimir Sorokin’s lurid, wildly inventive Day of the Oprichnik is a rowdy critique of Russia’s drift toward authoritarianism.

Taylor Antrim is fiction critic for The Daily Beast and the author of the novel The Headmaster Ritual.