by Julie HaleMay 2011
Best bets for reading groups in May
A bracing debut, an international sensation and the latest from one of our funniest writers top this month's selection for book clubs.
MARRIAGE & MURDER
Tense, edgy and disturbing, Mr. Peanut, the first novel from Adam Ross, bravely explores the dark side of love and the emotional complications that cause marriages to implode. David Pepin, a computer game programmer, claims to adore Alice, his overweight wife, even though he has the strange habit of imagining her death. When, after a tempestuous phase in their marriage, Alice really does die—to all appearances from a peanut allergy—David becomes a suspect in the investigation that follows. Detectives Ward Hastroll and Sam Sheppard (yes, the character is based on the real-life doctor accused of murdering his own wife in 1954) feel certain that David killed Alice. Add to the mix David’s odd preoccupations—M.C. Escher, Alfred Hitchcock and the violent, unpublished piece of fiction he frets over in his spare time—and he seems all the more suspicious. Ross’ novel is a searing exploration of love and its opposite, of the nature of passion and the difficulties of intimacy. Mr. Peanut is a finely crafted and unforgettable debut.
With The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi, Turkish writer Elif Shafak offers an ingenious narrative that’s rooted in the history of her homeland yet firmly connected to the present. In what turns out to be one of the most important commitments of her rather humdrum life, bored Boston homemaker Ella Rubenstein takes a job reading manuscripts for a literary agency. Her first project, Sweet Blasphemy, is a fascinating novel about the beloved 13th-century Sufi poet Rumi. Its author, an intriguing photographer named Aziz Zahara, soon becomes Ella’s email correspondent. As she reads Aziz’s manuscript, which traces Rumi’s spiritual emancipation under the guidance of Shams, a Tabriz dervish, Ella undergoes her own transformation. Thanks to Aziz, she becomes receptive to life’s opportunities and courageous enough to follow them. This is an uplifting novel about personal evolution and the pursuit of dreams. Drawing on Rumi’s writing, Shafak channels his passion and wisdom, but she has a mesmerizing voice that’s uniquely her own.
TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
Set in New York in the not-too-distant future, Super Sad True Love Story is a delightful hybrid—an old-fashioned love story with a speculative sensibility. As an employee of the Indefinite Life Extension Company, middle-aged Lenny Abramov is preoccupied with immortality. The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, he’s also an intractable romantic. The object of Lenny’s affection—a trendy Korean American named Eunice, who’s obsessed with shopping—is more than a few years his junior. Shifting between Lenny’s emotion-filled diary entries and Eunice’s robotic emails and text messages, the book is convincingly presented from both characters’ perspectives. This clever narrative device sets up a revealing contrast between generations and mindsets. Gary Shteyngart’s comic cautionary tale offers profound insights on the importance of maintaining a sense of humanity in a rapidly changing world.