by Julie HaleDecember 2011
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Sunset Park finds Paul Auster moving away from the studied complexity that has become his narrative trademark and into a more straightforward mode of storytelling. The shift pays off, as the new novel is one of his most sympathetic and appealing works of fiction. Miles Heller, the book’s protagonist, takes care of foreclosed properties in Florida, but a sketchy romance with a Cuban-American girl forces him to head home suddenly to New York. In Brooklyn, he moves in with four dirt-poor bohemian types, including Ellen, an artist plagued by erotic dreams; Bing, a drummer; and Alice, a grad student. Another unexpected presence in Miles’ life is his father, Morris, with whom he has long been at odds. Morris seems open to renewing his ties with Miles even as he tries to salvage his marriage and keep his business afloat. Auster handles the narrative’s multiple threads deftly, and his depiction of the father-son bond feels authentic. This multilayered portrayal of a group of lost souls explores the universal quest for identity and the precarious nature of relationships—themes Auster continues to explore, after 15 novels, with rich results.
The Bird Sisters, Rebecca Rasmussen’s impressive debut, is set in Spring Green, Wisconsin. This sensitively realized novel focuses on elderly sisters Twiss and Milly, who live together in their childhood home. Most days, they nurse injured birds and wander the property, reliving the past. Through flashbacks to the 1940s, their unhappy childhood comes to life. Their father, a professional golfer, is the hope of the family until he’s injured in a car accident. Their mother, daughter of a well-to-do jeweler, abandoned her prosperous prospects to marry him—a decision she regrets. Their union was doomed from the start, and the tragedy plays itself out in the lives of their young daughters. Milly falls for the son of the local doctor, while Twiss becomes something of a scandal. When Bett, their cousin, pays a visit, the girls learn more about love and its awful repercussions than they ever dreamed was possible. Poignant and powerful, this novel about family, memory and love will resonate with fans of literary fiction.
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A virtuoso actor, musician and writer, Steve Martin returns with his third work of fiction, a fascinating look at the contemporary art world. Lacey Yeager is an up-and-coming art dealer in New York City who will do almost anything to reach the top, including sleeping with her clientele and making dubious deals. Her ascent in the business starts at Sotheby’s, and she is soon able to open her own gallery in Chelsea. As she glad-hands her patrons and grows her business, it’s clear Lacey has guts. Her determination to succeed would be admirable if she weren’t so hard to like. A journalist friend of Lacey’s named Daniel Frank narrates the novel, providing commentary on the art world that’s smart, ironic and often hilarious. Martin, a longtime art collector, instills the narrative with convincing detail and dialogue. Fans of his previous work, which includes the best-selling novel Shopgirl, won’t be disappointed in his intriguing portrayal of the art scene.