It’s best to get the main conceit of Jessica Chiarella’s debut novel, And Again, out of the way: four people with terminal conditions win a lottery that entitles them to participate in what’s called the SUB program. This is a program where their bodies are cloned and when they reach the biological age of the participants—which happens after a few months—their memories are transplanted wholesale into the new bodies.
Once in a while, a reader needs to dive into a book that makes her feel just a bit unclean. The book doesn’t have to be trashy—and Chris Bohjalian’s latest, The Guest Room, is much too well-written and psychologically astute to be close to trashy—but the author must have no compunction about dropping the reader into the muck and leaving her there. This Bohjalian certainly does, with glee.
One of the joys of reading a good mystery is feeling like a dope at the end, knowing that the answer was there in front of you from early on but the writer cleverly hid every single clue. Kate Morton’s The Lake House isn’t one of those books. This reviewer figured it all out by chapter 32, and even the book acknowledges that there are a few too many coincidences. Still, the story Morton tells is engaging.
A warning to the reader before picking up Adriana Trigiani’s All the Stars in the Heavens: do not Google Loretta Young if you don’t want major spoilers!
Clare Clark’s novel of the dislocations that befall an aristocratic English family during and right after World War I is beautifully written and enjoyable, but the reader has to wonder if it would have been published had we not been living in the age of “Downton Abbey.” Of course it might have, as the popular TV show has plenty of collateral ancestors of its own: Think Brideshead Revisited and those nice books by Nancy Mitford.
The challenge for an author who writes about a lonely character is to make that character interesting—and keep him that way. Happily, this is what Lori Ostlund has done in After the Parade, her sensitive and realistic tale of the excruciatingly lonely Aaron Englund. What’s intriguing about him is that he seems not to mind his loneliness. This may seem odd, for the difference between loneliness and solitude is that a person minds the former and doesn’t mind the latter. But Aaron holds his pain like a shield against a world that never had much use for him.
Last Bus to Wisdom is told by an orphan. He’s Donal Cameron, a Montana boy who is 11 years old in 1951. The flinty grandmother who raised him after his parents were killed needs an operation. This means Donny needs to go live with Gram’s somewhat estranged sister in Wisconsin. To do this he has to go Greyhound or, as they said back in the day, ride the dog bus. Having ridden the dog bus fairly frequently over the years, this reviewer braced herself for a horror story.
It’s sometimes amazing to realize how an obsession for sports can take over a life. In John L. Parker Jr.’s amiable new work, a prequel to his 1978 bestseller Once a Runner, Quenton Cassidy, teenage native of Citrus City, Florida, is so wrapped up in his athletic pursuits that the great upheavals of his era—the Cuban missile crisis, the assassination of JFK, civil rights and the arrival of the Beatles for goodness’ sake!—stick in his mind the way anything sticks to Teflon.
If there’s a life before this one where people are allowed to pick their parents, the two young protagonists of Rebecca Dinerstein’s debut novel came up snake eyes, or nearly so.
Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s second novel, Balm, follows a group of refugees who meet in the bustling, reeking and bewildering city of Chicago.