Three of the best books of 2013 are now available in paperback—and guaranteed to delight your reading group. Spanning the globe from Texas to Italy to Chechnya, these memorable stories are sure to spark discussion.
A WILD WEST DYNASTY
An old-fashioned tale of the West with all the trappings—Indian raids, oil booms and plenty of shoot-’em-up action—The Son by Philipp Meyer is at once a well-crafted work of literary fiction and a wild journey through the Lone Star State. When Eli McCullough, 13, is captured by Comanches, he’s forced to assimilate and develops into a formidable warrior. After he re-enters the world of white men, he becomes a Texas Ranger and establishes a sprawling ranch in South Texas. Along the way, he has adventures aplenty, some of them amorous (involving the wife of a judge), many of them bloody (a Mexican family is slaughtered under his orders). The novel is narrated in part by Eli, who, at the age of 100, is addressed by everyone as “the Colonel.” Sharing the storytelling duties are his weak-willed son, Peter, who’s considered a failure, and great-granddaughter Jeanne Anne, who fights to keep the McCullough dynasty intact in contemporary times. Reminiscent of grand Western sagas like Lonesome Dove, Meyer’s expertly written novel has the makings of a classic.
THE WEIGHT OF WAR
Anthony Marra’s outstanding debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, tells the story of a war orphan and the doctors who try to save her. During the Second Chechen War, 8-year-old Havaa stands by helplessly as her father, accused of a crime he had nothing to do with, is taken away by Russian soldiers, who burn down their home for good measure. Akhmed, a neighbor, finds Havaa hiding in the woods and, risking his own life, takes her to a run-down hospital where he hopes she’ll be looked after. Overworked and exhausted, the hospital’s only doctor, Sonja Rabina, has doubts about taking the girl in, but Akhmed convinces her to let Havaa stay on a provisional basis. As the book progresses, connections between the characters come to light, revealing a chilling network of betrayal. Marra’s depiction of war-torn Chechnya is all too accurate, yet he balances the bloodshed with moments of humor and the creation of characters who feel real to the reader. This is a landmark first novel from a writer worth watching.
TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
A finalist for the National Book Award, Rachel Kushner’s second novel, The Flamethrowers, is set in the 1970s and narrated by a young artist called Reno. Led by an obsession with motorcycles, Reno arrives in New York City hoping to channel her love of motion and speed into art. She becomes romantically involved with sculptor Sandro Valera, whose prominent family manufactures motorcycles and tires in Italy. Their famous bike—the Moto Valera—provides inspiration for Reno, who stages an art performance of sorts by racing one on the Bonneville Salt Flats. During a visit to Italy with Sandro, Reno joins up with a group of anarchic protesters only to find herself entangled in a murder. Navigating the worlds of politics and art proves trickier than she imagined, and she soon learns the meaning of betrayal. Reno proves to be a remarkable heroine—a courageous yet vulnerable young woman who isn’t afraid of taking risks. Kushner’s inventive style and obvious delight in language make this an unforgettable read.