Dan Simmons is known for big, serious books like Drood and The Terror that mix real-life history with genre fiction. And while The Fifth Heart is certainly big, it’s also brisk, funny and a hell of a good time.
It is almost impossible to choose the most memorable thing about James Hannaham’s powerful and daring second novel, Delicious Foods (a title suggestive of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”). It might be that one of its narrators is crack cocaine, or that one of its main characters loses his hands. It might be the evocative African-American slang and dialect. Or it might be the way the novel can be read as an extended metaphor for the situation of blacks in America.
Lizzie Vogel has grown up in what she, even at age 9, understands is “a very good situation.” She has a nice home with a nanny and a chauffeur, two siblings and a dog. Then one day, her mother learns that Lizzie’s father has had an affair. The next thing Lizzie knows, her parents have split and she has been shuffled off to live in the country with her mother, brother and sister.
Of the dramatic plot twists that routinely occur in suspense fiction, one character in Harriet Lane’s Her complains that they are “unsatisfying . . . nothing like life, which—it seems to me—turns less on shocks or theatrics than on the small quiet moments, misunderstandings or disappointments, the things that it’s easy to overlook.” Lane’s novel, in which a vengeful woman infiltrates the life of an old acquaintance, features many potential shocks. But Her eschews cheap drama, instead building suspense by shedding light on two women’s inner worlds.
Scott Blackwood’s latest addition to the Texas literary canon, See How Small, is a brilliant, heartbreaking meditation on grief, parenthood and time.
Edith Pearlman has been publishing award-winning stories since the late 1970s, but became more widely known in 2012, when her story collection Binocular Vision won both the PEN/Malamud and National Book Critics Circle awards and was a finalist for numerous others. Her new collection, Honeydew, gathers tales from the last 15 years, each one a closely observed look at the ordinary graces and sorrows of everyday life.
The 1991 murder of four teenage girls that inspired my novel, See How Small, has haunted me for 23 years. It struck a deep chord in anyone who lived in Austin, Texas, then—one that reverberates even now.
Spoiled Brats is ridiculous in the very best way. It’s a short story collection that avoids the usual pitfalls because the stories work well together and don’t lose steam as they go along. A common theme (spoiled rich kids, mostly) keeps these stories cohesive, and author Simon Rich holds our interest with a unifying style—each chapter is very funny, and they’re all based on a different outlandish premise.
Anyone who thinks the compact novel of ideas is dead would do well to turn to Canadian writer David Bezmozgis’ second novel, The Betrayers. In scarcely more than 200 pages, this tension-packed story explores themes of betrayal, forgiveness, moral courage and its opposite that are both contemporary and timeless.
Southern writer Tony Earley’s excellently written and highly readable Mr. Tall consists of six stories and a short novella. The characters are a mix of country folks and city people, except for the novella, which contains a mix of real people and mythical characters. Mostly, the stories are about how men and women meet and how they live out their lives together.