After Dark
Murakami delivers another provocative, mind-bending book with his 12th piece of fiction. Set in Tokyo, the narrative unfolds over the course of seven hours, starting at midnight and ending around sun-up. At the core of the novel are two sisters: Eri, a beautiful model who sleeps all day, and Mari, a college student who tends to stay up all night. Hanging out at Denny's, nursing a cup of coffee, Mari connects with a diverse cast of characters over the course of the book. There's Tetsuya, a would-be jazz trombonist, who was once romantically involved with Eri, and Kaoru, a big-hearted woman who runs a love hotel. When one of her clients - a young Chinese woman - gets beaten up at the hotel, Kaoru enlists the aid of Mari, who speaks Chinese and can communicate with the injured woman. Mari obliges, becoming acquainted with various hotel workers in the process. And so the long night unfolds. Part of the narrative is devoted to the sleeping Eri's dreams - strange encounters in a foreboding, alternate world. Featuring Murakami's storytelling trademarks, including fantastical turns of magical realism and strange twists of fate, this surreal tale examines human alienation and the attempts we all make to counter it. Another gem from one of the masters of contemporary fiction, this haunting book should satisfy Murakami's many followers.

Out Stealing Horses
Petterson, who hails from Norway, offers a moving tale about the power of memory and the bonds of family. Struggling to recover from the death of his wife, 67-year-old Trond Sander moves into a lonely cabin in southeastern Norway, a region that's rich with his own personal history. It's the place where Trond last saw his father before he walked out on the family. The year was 1948, the season was summer, and Trond, then 15 years old, was working as a logger. Not long after returning to the area, Trond crosses paths with a neighbor, who happens to be the brother of his childhood friend, Jon, and all sorts of memories start to surface. Looking back on the summer of 1948, Trond recalls the afternoon he and Jon decided to take some horses from a neighbor's farm. That day, Jon accidentally killed one of his own twin brothers - a tragedy that caused him to run away. Trond's father, as it turns out, was in love with Jon's mother, and their relationship is part of what tore their family apart. Decades later, Trond is still working to make sense of the formative events of his adolescence. His first-person narration - forthright, simple and tinged with melancholy - makes for rewarding reading. Told partially through flashbacks, this is a poignant, beautifully realized narrative that should earn the acclaimed Petterson new fans.

A reading group guide is available online at picadorusa.com.

Little Heathens
This beautifully written memoir takes place on an Iowa farm during the Great Depression. Kalish - now a retired English teacher - offers a plainspoken yet poetic account of her upbringing in a large family during this dark chapter in America's past. The family numbers seven, including grandparents and siblings, and in spite of numerous hardships, the clan manages to find moments of joy and occasions for celebration. The book derives its plot, in part, from the routine of farm life. There are animals to tend to, meals to be cooked, clothes to be washed. The domestic scenes are delightfully drawn: Gossip and stories are exchanged in the kitchen, and in the unheated bedrooms the children sleep under piles of quilts. Family expenditures are limited to necessities like kerosene, flour, coffee, sugar and salt. Kalish writes about everyday chores and family life with relish, adding enough humor and vivid imagery to make the reader savor every anecdote. Recreating the Midwest of her past, she writes with flair and an eye for the telling detail. Her recollections of neighbors and kinfolks, a life lived off the land, and a slower approach to daily existence feel at once old-fashioned and fresh. This is a spirited narrative about survival that fans of memoir will welcome.

A reading group guide is available online at randomhouse.com/bantamdell/bookclub.html.

comments powered by Disqus